Originally posted on The Nerd Daily.
In The Boy in the Box [Flame Tree Press, April 2020] a group of childhood friends with a dark secret set out to make amends for the sins of their past only to discover that some dark deeds don’t stay buried.
Ten years ago, lifelong friends Jonathan, Gene, and the Braddick brothers—Michael and Conner—took a hunting trip deep in the Adirondack Mountains to a remote piece of land known as Coombs’ Gulch. What was meant as a weekend getaway to celebrate the last days of singledom for soon-to-be-wed Jonathan culminated in a night of drunken machismo wherein Gene accidentally shot and killed a young boy. Despite the men’s questions—What was the boy doing wandering alone in the woods at night? How did he get so deep into the forest? Did they all see the same thing?—they buried the boy’s body in a makeshift tomb and swore to take their secret to the grave.
In the end, that termination point is exactly where the four men in the woods that night will find themselves—but not until the strange force that inhabits Coombs’ Gulch is ready to bring them home. After Gene’s untimely suicide, the Braddick brothers and Jonathan decide to return to the woods and relocate the boy’s body, otherwise they risk their secret being brought to light in upcoming construction. The three remaining members of the ordeal are already haunted men; they don’t want their darkness exposed to the people they love most—their families.
Once back out in the woods, the sleeping terror of that long-ago night stirs again, but the accident that seemed so straightforward before doesn’t seem to make sense now and the guilt-ridden trio finds themselves ensnared in a supernatural trap that transcends time and place. Like all ancient gods, the being in Coombs’ Gulch requires a sacrifice, and Jonathan and his friends are just the beginning.
Reminiscent of Neville’s The Ritual (2011), Fitch’s journey into the dark unknowns of ancient forests builds at a measured pace, pushing you forward in slow-building horror that exhibits all the stamina of a hike out into the woods. For all its narrative pontifications and redundancies, Boy in the Box is nevertheless still surprisingly creepy—one of those books that might not be too intimidating in the daytime but will have you leaving a light on at night, just in case.
Originally published on The Nerd Daily.
“Let me tell you something…there is nothing nice about Southern ladies.”
Pitched as “Steel Magnolias” meets Dracula, The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires is everything a reader like me—who grew up simultaneously reading The Babysitter’s Club and Goosebumps—has been waiting for. Thank you, Grady Hendrix, thank you.
Set in the 1990s, former-nurse-turned-disaffected-housewife Patricia Campbell is bored. Life as a stay-at-home mother to two children and a husband that works too much is unfulfilling, to say the least. If it weren’t for her book club and her troupe of mismatched girlfriends, Patricia might simply fade into the wallpaper of her well-cared-for home. Luckily—or, more aptly, unluckily—things are about to get a lot more interesting (and bloody) in Charleston’s quaint, and usually very safe, Old Village District.
Even though Patricia and the other ladies of her book club—wacky Kitty, uptight Grace, religious Slick, and somewhat ambiguous Maryellen—can’t get enough of the very-murdery true crime they read about, none are prepared when a handsome young stranger moves in with an elderly neighbour. Nor are they ready for the series of spiralling, odd events that begin when the seemingly mad old woman attacks Patricia—chomping off one of her earlobes in the process.
After an ominous warning about “the man in the ice cream suit” from her mother-in-law, Miss Mary, who suffers from dementia, and a series of odd occurrences that start to slip from strange to surreal, Patricia (slowly) begins to realise that her new neighbour isn’t at all what he seems. And, there’s danger afoot: children are missing, being preyed upon by some Big Bad that inhabits the woods outside Six Mile. Unfortunately, not only is no one listening to Patricia’s warnings as she begins to connect the pieces to something not only sinister but otherworldly; they think she’s caught up in her gory book club reads and maybe a bit loose in the head to boot, making the horror of this story not just atmospheric but personal. Which is worse: the monster Patricia sees in James Harris or the suspicions that lurk in her own head, eating her away from within? The only trouble, Patricia’s already invited the darkness in, and there’s no getting it out—not without a fuss and a good bit of scrubbing, anyway.
From cryptic warnings to the lurid romanticism associated with blood drinkers, plus ghosts, rats (dear gods, the rats!), and the special kind of nightmarish terror that waits for mothers in the dark when their children and families are threatened, The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires does not disappoint, offering an entirely unique approach to established vampire lore in a tale as warm as it is chilling. A master of nostalgia, Hendrix slays in his latest—and so does a very unlikely group of heroines.
Lindy Miller Ryan is an author, editor, and spooky things enthusiast who occasionally makes crafty things and bakes.