A History of Fear: A Novel by Luke Dumas

A History of Fear: A Novel
by Luke Dumas

By page three, I was hooked. The ending comes to a perfect, organic conclusion — but I readily admit that if Dumas writes a sequel, I’m all in.

A History of Fear unfolds like Stoker’s Dracula, adopting an epistolary approach, delivering the story via journal entries, letters, official reports from doctors, prison officials, and newspaper articles. The novel dives deep into the most disturbing parts of human psychosis reminiscent of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. It delivers gothic horror too, in the manner of Shelley’s Frankenstein. In the end, the reader can’t be entirely sure of who is the monster, if demons are real, if evil is more human than we comfortable with. A History of Fear is a horror fan’s feast: gore and psychological terror stride side-by-side, the paranormal and the divine and the mundane intertwine to create a world the reader is never entirely sure is real. Illusion may very well be reality… or worse.

But the story is not fantasy; there is a real history embedded in this novel — and a commentary on a history of monstrous bodies, sexuality, religion, and intergenerational trauma. There is a reality underlying the one Dumas weaves for us. This is what makes the novel so appealing; there is a real horror here, one that we can recognize. This history is one that might be so common as to be truly terrifying because it might actually exist within ourselves. Or someone we know.

A History of Fear follows the main character’s slow descent into madness — or his ascent into clarity, depending on your interpretation. There is a true mystery here and this drives the story forward. The reader needs to discover what the main character also seeks: some sense of closure and parental acceptance. The main character is driven by a need to know themselves and their past. This is a genealogy of a family and the homophobic culture of the West. Dumas focuses on the psychological damage inflicted on those who deviated from the dominant norm and those who dared to question their place in it. The novel travels between the past and the present, each part of the jigsaw puzzle adds to the image of the whole of time, allowing the reader to witness the unraveling of the man’s mind and the suffering caused by intergenerational trauma.

The novel opens with the main character’s eventual, inevitable fate; this is the mystery. We know what happens to him. The mystery is why and how. The horror is the long arm of intergenerational trauma.

A wonderful book to have read in October, the Halloween month, but really, a fantastic gothic horror for any time of the year.

Ghost Eaters: A Novel by Clay Mcleod Chapman

Ghost Eaters: A Novel by Clay Mcleod Chapman

I was fully expecting a traditional ghost story. Maybe a haunted house. Something that is tried-and-true in the ghost story genre. And I don’t mean that as shade; I like ghost stories that follow a formula. They are still scary as F if they are written well. The creepy ethereality of gothic horror is my jam. And that’s what I thought Ghost Eaters was going to deliver.

Was I wrong in the most deliciously skin-crawling way! Ghost Eaters reads like a mature Young Adult novel that merges the horror of fresh-out-of-college, emergence-from-the-chrysalis loss with the ghostly supernatural. Chapman’s prose fits the YA genre; this novel borders on YA and contemporary adult horror. It feels like YA to me because, well, I’m not in my early twenties like the characters are. But the events and themes in the novel are better suited for an adult (if young adult) audience. There are mature themes here of death, grief, the loss of friends, parents, and loved ones. There is the threat of loss of the self: perception is a two-way mirror in this novel, and you’re never quite sure which side of the glass you’re on.

The story follows a young woman and is told from her perspective. Erin is a privileged, educated woman. She has family, family money, family connections, but despite this, she flounders in life. That’s the first horror, one that is banal and familiar to many. Erin is part of a group of friends; their leader has floundered in worse ways than Erin. Silas seems to be drowning in a drug-induced depression. When their social circle falls apart as the result of an untimely death, each one of them seeks to find meaning and reconnection in different ways.

Some of them take the task literally.

And that’s the second horror of this novel. The dark mental and physical adventure that ensues as Erin, Amaya, and Toby play dangerously with the line between living and dying, the present and the afterlife. I won’t ruin this for the reader. Just know that “ghost” in this novel has multiple meanings, and the loss that one associates with death is more than never seeing someone again.

A worthy Halloween horror read that haunts in multiple ways!

See my other early Halloween Horror reviews here: The Ghosts That Haunt Me: Memories of a Homicide Detective by Steve Ryan, Gallows Hill: A Novel by Darcy Coates, A Fig For All The Devils: A Novel by C.S. Fritz, and Anybody Home? A Novel by Michael J. Seidlinger

Gallows Hill: A Novel by Darcy Coates

Gallows Hill: A Novel by Darcy Coates

If you love horror movies and gothic horror this is a book for you. Gallows Hill reads like an independent, low-budget horror film that successfully builds tension out of nothing but silences and thoughts that teeter on the edge of madness.

The story begins with Margot at the funeral of her parents whom she’s never met. And no, she’s not adopted. That’s the first mystery. The rest is classic haunted house and horror flick stuff. Very gothic horror; the scares are all Margot’s. The story is told from her perspective, though in 3rd person not first. The readers are silent witnesses, like ghosts trailing her in her every move, watching her. Nothing is left out of the reader’s sight; chapters pick up exactly where they’ve left off. Every detail is accessible to the reader.

Coates evokes a proper sense of dread with well-chosen words; her descriptions are succinct and sparse, giving the images that are spun in the mind an appropriate filter of blue-grey darkness. There’s always a sense that Margot could escape this, that this is just all in her mind, and real life is just beyond the gate, down the road, in the town nearby. But the reader becomes quickly acquainted with Margot and knows that that’s not possible; like Margot, we are compelled to read on to discover the history of her, her family, this place.

The story unfolds in a matter of days. Most of the events take place at Gallows Hill and the house; it is the hill on which the house is built, the hill in which the cellars of the winery were dug. She inherits Gallows Hill, a winery and an estate that has belonged to her family for hundreds of years. That’s the second mystery; the people who work and live on the estate are a strange cast. Even the townsfolk are an odd bunch. Their interactions with the estate and the land will compel the reader to read on: What happens after dark? Why does the land need a blessing? The reasons given are mundane and reasonable; there’s a normal explanation for everything, but the reader — like Margot — will find them unsatisfactory.

The ending is satisfying. It is explosive and a tad Hollywood-esque. But it does answer every question and its brings the story to a complete and organic close. You’ll close the book feeling like Margot got what she needed. A really great, creepy Halloween read!

See my other Halloween Horror reviews here: The Ghosts That Haunt Me: Memories of a Homicide Detective by Steve Ryan, A Fig For All The Devils: A Novel by C.S. Fritz, Anybody Home? A Novel by Michael J. Seidlinger – More coming soon!