(Editor’s note: DOUBLE FEATURE is a column where I read at least two horror books per month in 2020 and review them for my website.)
Dear Laura is a masterpiece of horror suspense. A 2019 Bram Stoker Award nominee for Superior Achievement in a First Novel, Dear Laura is a woman’s heartbreaking and obsessive journey to closure as she battles years of guilt caused by a ghost from her past. At age thirteen, Laura watched her best friend Bobby enter a stranger’s van and disappear forever. She was the last person to see him alive. Dear Laura begins three decades later with Laura walking in the rain, her hand wrapped around a mysterious letter. We learn the letter is not the first. After Bobby disappeared, the letters start to arrive on her fourteenth birthday, messages from a stranger claiming to know Bobby’s location. The stranger provides clues in exchange for personal items from Laura. The author Gemma Amor chronicles the effects of the secret pen-pal relationship on Laura’s mental state. Once started, Dear Laura was impossible for me not to finish. Amor establishes a perfectly paced momentum fueled by a tragically layered mystery. Flashing back and forth through Laura’s life, Amor crafts an intimate portrait of a fractured soul driven to repair herself with the dim hope promised by a deranged psychopath.
Night of the Rider
Book 18 of Demain Publishing’s Short Sharp Shocks! series, Night of the Rider opens with a suspenseful chase scene reminiscent of Washington Irving’s Headless Horseman in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” The supernatural Rider on horseback is hunting a man named Barnabas, whose failure to pay a gambling debt while in London has drawn the Rider’s attention. However, the story quickly shifts to Leonie, the teenage sister of Barnabas, who is betrothed to a “solid man from excellent stock.” Sheltered on a rural farm, Leonie is unhappy about her arranged marriage, stoking her interest in the Rider and in the world beyond the farm. “Tell me please, Barney, what is the big city like? Is it true a woman can be as free as a man there and she doesn’t have to wear corsets? You can love whomever you wish?” Barnabas dismisses his sister’s questions. The author Alyson Faye then follows with a trio of effective and efficient scenes filling in the backgrounds of Barnabas, the Rider, and Leonie. With the stage set, Faye injects the dark and bloody climax with a powerful declaration of freedom. Atmospheric and descriptive (“hooves detonated the undergrowth” – what a line!), Night of the Rider is a masterfully written gothic tale with a feminist bent.
December’s DOUBLE FEATURE: Monstrous Domesticity by R.J. Joseph and The Night Creatures by Lee Allen Howard.