Find it at your library!

I loved Agatha Christie mysteries as a kid, and Magpie Murders is styled in that vein with a fun twist: it’s a book within a book (for those of us who like our books with a side of…more books). Susan, an editor, is reading the ninth volume in a mystery series by her publishing company’s most famous (and perhaps not coincidentally, most irritating) author, and we get to read the manuscript along with Susan. Then we get to be eager spectators as Susan puts on her detective cap and investigates a murder herself. That’s a lot of murder for the price of one. What a bargain!

I was nervous to go with the audio version because I worried the two narratives would get confused in my head. I’m glad other readers convinced me to give it a try, because it wasn’t hard to follow at all. There isn’t much switching back and forth between the two storylines because most of the manuscript is delivered in one chunk, and the two narrators (one male, one female, both delightfully British) further differentiate them.

It had been a while since I read a classic mystery like this, so I will admit some of the tropes of the genre grated on my nerves. There were too many red herrings, requiring some of them to be unceremoniously brushed aside once proven untrue, which left me feeling manipulated and even annoyed when one of my favorite theories was explained away in particularly unconvincing fashion. The characters’ naivete also made my eye twitch a little bit. Without getting too spoiler-y, there was a moment late in the book when a character confronted another character who had committed a murder without seeming to realize the danger of doing so. Can you imagine telling a killer you know what they did and expecting it to be a polite conversation that ends with them shaking your hand and saying, “Ah, you got me old chap, now off I go to the police station to turn myself in”? I’m all for dramatic irony, but there’s a line between the satisfaction of knowing something a character doesn’t and wanting to backhand a simple bitch for their stupidity.

Those quibbles aside, Magpie Murders was a lively diversion and made for a nice addition to my creepy seasonal reading list. Just remember, kids, if you discover someone is a murderer, get police backup before blurting out what you know.

Find it at your library!

It’s October—time to scare the pants off ourselves!

I have been planning my creepy fall reading list for several weeks now. As soon as the daytime temperatures start flirting with the 60s (even if they boing back up like they’re attached to a bungee cord a few days later), it’s like an alarm goes off in my head. For some people, that alarm signals pumpkin spice time, but for me it means I start inhaling all the scary shit I can get my hands on.

First up: The Devil in Silver. I have wanted to read Victor LaValle for a long time now, but as someone who is A) squeamish about gore and violence, and B) liable to spiral into depression if the subject matter gets TOO dark, I couldn’t quite get up the nerve to dip my toe in the water. His most recent novel, The Changeling, made a huge splash when it came out in June, but after reading the synopsis and trigger warning-laden reviews, I knew I couldn’t hang. But I refused to be denied entry into the Victor LaValle fan club, so I delved into his back catalog to see if there was something for a reader like me. As soon as I saw the comparisons to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, I knew The Devil in Silver was the one.

The comparisons make sense, even though LaValle’s characters themselves talk about the Kesey novel and disdain it (I’ll let you read the book to find out why). LaValle’s novel takes place in a psychiatric wing of a hospital and centers around a new admit who doesn’t fit in and stirs things up among the other patients. Pepper, in many ways the quintessential blue-collar man’s man, is brought to the hospital by cops who know he isn’t in need of mental health services, but due to some bureaucratic nonsense, it’s easier for them to drop him off there and end their long shifts rather than take him to booking. The assumption is that Pepper will be evaluated, found to be cognitively normal, and released after 72 hours, but LaValle shows that being on the ward is enough to make even a sane person crazy, whether he started that way or not.

It doesn’t bode well for Pepper’s odds of getting released that a monster stalks the ward at night. He’s seen it, and even though he doesn’t want to get too close to anyone inside—after all, he’s not one of them—he’s pretty sure some of the other patients know what the thing is. The staff, when questioned, pretend they don’t know what he’s talking about, and an entire hallway with a reinforced door at the end is off-limits to patients. Whatever’s down that hall, it isn’t friendly.

This story starts out pretty creepy with all the talk of monsters and the not-knowing what’s on the loose at night, but midway it takes a turn and becomes scary in an entirely different, more existential way. Turns out, exhausted and disillusioned medical professionals are actually a whole lot scarier than things that go bump in the night.

I’m glad I can now legitimately count myself one of LaValle’s fans. If you too are in the market for reads befitting this spooky season, I’ll be posting my creepy fall reads all month long! See the CreepyFallReads tag, or you can see my favorite creepy books from the past under the DeliciouslyCreepy tag.