Henry Thorne is a clever, sensitive 10-year-old who has already been through more than most children his age after the death of his parents. He’s living with his uncle and aunt, trying to find a new way of being, when he is kidnapped by a gang of very nasty men for the millions in insurance money paid out on his father’s death. They take him to an isolated house deep in the woods while they await the meeting of their demands. But Henry, who has always been more attuned to the world than most, knows that his kidnappers aren’t the only danger lurking in the forest.
LA-based writer Philip Fracassi’s A Child Alone With Strangers (Talos, £20) has all the elements of a police procedural, as the FBI desperately hunt for Henry while the boy does his best to stay alive. But it’s also a perfectly pitched horror novel, visceral and terrifying, delving deep into an eldritch world that sits alongside our own. It reminds me of early Stephen King – It; Firestarter; The Shining – but Fracassi also brings a depth of understanding to his monsters, human and otherwise, that makes A Child Alone With Strangers deeply moving. I only picked this up because of a recommendation from the excellent horror podcast Talking Scared. I am now forcing it on everyone I know. Highly recommended.
Something uncanny also stalks the pages of Sharon Bolton’s The Buried (Orion, £16.99), a follow-up to The Craftsman, in which Florence Lovelady, Britain’s most senior serving policewoman, is tasked by imprisoned serial killer Larry Glassbrook with solving the mystery of the remains discovered at abandoned children’s home Black Moss Manor. Florence has no desire to return to Sabden, the small industrial town in the shadow of Pendle Hill where she almost lost her life years earlier, but as she digs into the crime she discovers that things might not be quite as she remembers them.
Bolton infuses Sabden with claustrophobia, with the sense of something evil stalking the streets, as she moves her narrative between the days after Larry’s arrest for murder, and the period around his death 30 years later. “Superstition was still rife in the place that had produced the Pendle witches,” she writes. And “something in the town had slipped. A veneer of civilisation had been rubbed away. It was as though with the unmasking of the killer – Larry – something dreadful had been unleashed.” Menacing and complex, this is lots of fun – but read The Craftsman first to enjoy it to the full.
Paula Rodríguez’s debut novel Urgent Matters (Pushkin Vertigo, £12.99) opens with a devastating train crash in the suburbs of Buenos Aires, the reality of the horror brutally laid out, the bodies “piled up, jumbled together, crushed against the walls of the carriage, spilling out the window, dislocated, broken, busted”. Forty-three people are dead, but not Hugo Lamadrid, a man wanted by the police who uses the chaos to go on the run. Detective Domínguez believes Hugo survived the crash and is on his tail. Hugo’s partner, Marta, questioned by Domínguez and unaware – uncaring – of Hugo’s whereabouts, flees with their daughter, Evelyn, while his mother-in-law uses the situation for nefarious purposes of her own.
Translated from the Spanish by Sarah Moses, this is fast-paced and funny, breathing life into a disparate and intriguing cast of characters: Marta’s sister, who sells sex toys on the side; the teenage Evelyn, obsessively worrying about having stolen her teacher’s mobile; the focused detective who loses his rag over a yoghurt. “It’s a fruit base, you idiot. When’s the last time you bought yoghurt? They all come like that now.”
Emma Haughton hit the bestseller charts last year with her locked-room Antarctic thriller The Dark. Follow-up The Sanctuary (Hodder & Stoughton, £16.99) is another locked-room mystery, this time set at a retreat deep in the Mexican desert. Zoey, estranged from her family, going nowhere, wakes up one morning to find herself at the Sanctuary with no idea how she got there, and only vague memories of what happened the night before in New York. She’s told that a mysterious benefactor has funded her stay at the luxurious, remote refuge, but as she investigates what’s really going on she becomes increasingly afraid. This is a great slice of creepy escapism, which, like The Dark, makes full use of its inaccessible, deadly setting.
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