I love ghost stories. They’re one of my guilty pleasures. Sometimes there’s just nothing better than sitting at home in my PJ’s watching Ghost Adventures on TV. So, when I received word that one of my favorite writers, John Connolly, authored a collection of spooky short stories, I literally ran to Barnes and Noble to pick up a copy. Eight hours later, I was dozens of pages into some of the scariest literature I’ve ever read (which isn’t saying much because I’m also a coward when it comes to scary stuff).
Nocturnes is a collection of 15+ scary stories that will have you tossing and turning in the night, thinking twice about shaking someone’s hand, and locking every door and window before you fall asleep. For this review, I’ve broken the book down into segments and reviewed each story individually…since I found it difficult to review it as a whole. This is a great collection of scary literature for any spook enthusiast…and the Stephen King fans out there might consider this a bit of a guilty pleasure as well. While it’s no where near as complex as one of King’s novels, many of the stories follow a similar format…especially the first story…which gave me nightmares for days…
“The Cancer Cowboy Rides”
I made the grave mistake of jumping into this story after nightfall. I kid you not, I had nightmares for two nights following. After reading this story, I made my daily readings of Nocturnes at 6:00 am. Once the sun went down, the book went down with it.
“The Cancer Cowboy Rides” is an excellent opening into Connolly’s collection of fiction. Far out on the eastern side of the United States, a man by the name of Buddy finds himself wandering around a rundown New Hampshire town. He’s on a mission to rid himself of some burdens, if you will, and is not at all picky about his choice of victims.
This story will have you squirming in your skin. You will never again trust anyone by the name of ‘Buddy’ and you will forever be cautious about town strangers and crowded venues. Of all of the stories in this collection, this one creeped me out the most. It’s on par with Stephen King’s literary style, always keeping the readers on their toes and rising the level of suspicion to near uncomfortable levels.
“Mr. Pettiger’s Daemon”, “The Shifting of the Sands”, and “The Inkpot Monkey”
These three stories reminded me of that old Nickelodeon show, Are You Afraid of the Dark?. They are great campfire stories about daemons, monsters, and angry gods. They are in no way psychologically thrilling like their literary neighbors, but they don’t fail to satisfy.
“Mr. Pettiger’s Daemon” and “The Shifting of the Sands” deal with beings not living or dead…just present. They can’t be killed, stopped, or subdued…and they will stop at nothing to achieve their means on earth for, after all, “…they have eternity”, as Connolly says.
“The Inkpot Monkey” honestly just made me smile. All I could picture while reading it was watching an Are You Afraid of the Dark? special on TV. It’s more comical than scary and will have you questioning all your quirky antique mall purchases.
“The New Daughter”, “Mr. Gray’s Folly”, and “The Underbury Witches”
These three stories all share one similar theme: possession. In the case of “The New Daughter”, possession of a child forces a father to rethink his role as protector and guardian and in “Mr. Gray’s Folly” and “The Underbury Witches”, beings that once were take on the form of a living host to take care of unfinished business from long ago.
“The New Daughter” is an old formula of storytelling and possession. After moving into an old, dilapidated, and run-down home, a single father and his two children begin experiencing weird phenomena in the night…especially the young daughter. The father is told about some shady things that happened in the house years before; yet he remains skeptical…that is until his daughter falls victim to the evils that surround their home. I thought this was the weakest of Connolly’s stories, only because it lacked creativity when compared to the other stories in Nocturnes.
“Mr. Gray’s Folly” and “The Underbury Witches” are both stories of the supernatural influencing innocent women to do their bidding. In “Mr. Gray’s Folly”, a man and his wife move into a home with a mysterious folly in their backyard. When first stumbled upon, it doesn’t seem to have a purpose in being there…but Mr. Folly soon discovers that this folly was indeed built for a reason…and that reason is after his wife.
“The Underbury Witches” is your basic witch hunting/witch revenge story. When someone in a little English town ends up brutally murdered, accusations run wild. The culprits are discovered in a scene similar to one in The Crucible, but the outcome is much different. The thing that freaked me out the most about this story was that people are not always as they appear to be…or maybe they are but we force ourselves not to see it.
“Some Children Wander by Mistake”, “The Erlking”, and “The Ritual of the Bones”
Clowns and spiders. Maybe the top two phobias of young kids and even some adults (including yours truly)…and these three stories were chock full of circus freaks and eight-legged arachnids.
“Some Children Wander by Mistake” tells the tale of a young boy who stumbles upon the wrong circus tent and meets a handful of clowns…and, well, you can imagine what happens. Circus-fearing readers, beware…this one will have even the Bozo fearing crowds running for the hills.
“The Erkling” is another old formula of a story. A young boy is visited in the night by a spider-like creature who steals children. But this little boy isn’t biting the bait and is not scared to put up a fight. Just when he thinks he’s beaten the Erlking at last, the creature turns the tables on him and, as is often the case in these tales, has the last laugh…for now…
“The Ritual of the Bones” was perhaps the goriest and most disturbing story in this anthology. Two scholarship students attend a prestigious school in the hopes of gaining an award-winning education. While one of the scholarship students is shunned from his peers (he’s our main character and is telling the story), the other student (Smethwick) is welcomed with open arms, despite his somewhat below average persona. These two students begin to notice some strange things going on in this school, strange ceremonies and behaviors. The main character remains suspicious as Smethwick enjoys the new friends he’s made. However, when the narrator witnesses the capture of Smethwick by the same students who once befriended him, his suspicions become fears. What he sees and discovers the night of the capture are haunting images for any student who is far from home. If you thought Dead Poet’s Society and School Ties were bad, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
“Nocturne”, “The Inn at Shillingford”, and “The Furnace Room”
If you’re looking for some good ol’ fashioned ghost stories, check these guys out. “Nocturne”, “The Inn at Shillingford” and “The Furnace Room” are your basic walking dead tales of ghosts behaving badly.
In “Nocturne”, a man and his son find themselves in an old spooky house with a terrible secret (sound familiar?). The house, or rather an item in the house, manifests itself into the living nightmare of this father and son, who have both recently endured quite a tragic event. Forget the song. This story tells you exactly what happened the day the music died.
Here’s a fun formula for you. What do you get when you mix Sweeney Todd with Psycho? Have a gander at “The Inn at Shillingford” and find out. All I’m gonna say is that the hungry, the pregnant, and the weak stomached beware. This story might make you queasy.
Now I know times are tough in the world today…but no amount of money could convince me to work the graveyard shift at an industrial plant…and reading “The Furnace Room” just reinforced the point.
When one man finds himself unemployed and desperate for money, he decides to take a shady job as a security guard at a local plant near his home. Like anyone this guy has some secrets, but little does he know that this place is aware of them…and is looking for revenge. Fans of science fiction will enjoy this story, as will those who like to see people get what they deserve.
“The Wakeford Abyss” and “The Man from the Second Fifteen”
These two stories tugged at my heartstrings a bit. While they weren’t necessarily spooky, they were frightening in that they dealt with human submission and the inevitable death. In any given situation, your adrenalin can only last so long…and when that’s gone, it’s nothing but heart, courage, hope, and strength.
I was literally screaming at my book as I read “The Wakeford Abyss”. This is the campfire story that never gets old…the tale of two naïve macho men and their desire to conquer the world. When the unexpected get in the way, be it natural elements, wildlife, or large flesh eating spiders, it’s a battle to the death…and nature always wins.
Or maybe you think you’re not quite good enough as everyone else…and you come to a point in your life where you have to prove to yourself that you’re just as good as those big-headed doofuses you admire, if not better. When Asquith arrives at this point in his life in “The Man from the Second Fifteen”, he’s faced with a fight or flight situation…and as a man of capability and testosterone, he grabs his nine iron and goes in swinging. Whether he comes out again is where the real story lies…
“The Bridal Bed” and “Deep, Dark Green”
As the old saying goes, people do crazy things when they’re in love. In the case of “The Bridal Bed” and “Deep, Dark Green”, young men try to change the fact that they’ve lost their one true love too early in their relationship and will stop at nothing, and I mean nothing, to rekindle the lost flame.
When a young man’s bride to be is taken from this earth a few days before their wedding, he starts loosing all hope for himself. He doesn’t eat, he doesn’t sleep, and finds it near impossible to think he may ever love again. It’s not until he’s visited by his fiancé’s spirit that he finds his hope restored; however, she is wanting to cash in on a promise he once made her and, as a man blinded by love, he will stop at nothing to please her.
Similarly, “Deep, Dark Green” tells of a young man who not only lost his one true love too soon, but watched her die before his very eyes. In a heroic tale of failure and remorse, a poor man must live with this dark secret and all too soon finds himself considering how he can make up for past wrongdoings.
“The Cycle” and “Miss Froom, Vampire”
Do we have any fans of the TV show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the house? Well, these two stories are for you.
I loved “The Cycle”. I loved the imagery of it, the word play Connolly so appropriately uses, and honest and brutal humor of it. Our main character is never given a name, which I love…because she could be any woman. She’s just about to begin her cycle and her entire day has just been nothing but problems. When two horny guys pull the last string, she fights back for all womankind. This story is a Buffy lover’s dream.
As for “Miss Froom, Vampire”, all I’m going to say is that it will leave you with some questions about bombshells like Charlize Theron and Halle Berry. It’s what Spike and Angel did for Buffy…and what what’s his face did for Twilight…but obviously way better than Twilight.
“The Reflecting Eye: A Charlie Parker Novella”
“The Reflecting Eye” is a small novella inside this anthology that takes up a good portion of the end of the book. I unexpectedly got really into this story and plan on diving into other Charlie Parker novels.
Charlie Parker is a P.I. with all the baggage. He’s sarcastic, funny, smart, witty, charming, and intuitive. When he hears about a photograph turning up in the mailbox of an abandoned house, he’s on the case to discover what the deal-o is. When Charlie learns about the history of this house, he becomes worried for this little girl’s safety, as well as his own. Throw in Charlie’s partners in crime (two gay detectives) and a mysterious antique collector and you’ve got yourself one fun and adventurous mystery story.
The only problem I had with “The Reflecting Eye” is that I thought it ended too soon. It felt like things were just getting going when Connolly pulls the carpet from under our feet. I can only hope that he has plans to continue this Charlie Parker story…because I can guarantee that you will be hooked to this house and to this mystery after reading this little gem of a novella.
SUGGESTION: Read it! But seriously, don’t make it a before bed tradition. You will be very sorry very soon.
NEXT WEEK: What happens when you mix a man, a woman, and all the culinary adventures the USA has to offer? We’re gonna find out.
Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.