My Haunted Library

All things spooky. Your source for paranormal and supernatural book and movie reviews, strangeography, Halloween crafts and a little cozy fall baking.

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Review: The Store

A mysterious store offers tempting high-end bargain goods, but people’s excitement wanes when they realize cost may be their lives.

The Store—Bentley Little, 1996. Rating: 3.5/5

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The small desert town of Juniper, Arizona is thrilled when The Store, a discount chain offering every product imaginable, comes to town. Heck, The Store even has an espresso café and sushi bar. What more could people want? No more long drives to malls at Flagstaff or Phoenix. Work-from home tech writer Bill, however, is wary. He hates The Store’s slash and burn construction approach, and notices in alarm that animals come to die in droves in The Store’s parking lot.

The Store starts exerting…untoward influence. There are disappearances. Sightings of the spectral and terrifying Night Managers. Bill and two of his buddies know they need to do something to stop The Store—especially when Bill’s two teenage daughters get jobs there. But fighting The Store isn’t so easy. A contract is a contract, after all.

The Store is not subtle. It is not woke. It was originally published in 1996. The social commentary hits you like a blunt force object. There are gobs of things to get offended by including some cringeworthy sexually charged scenes; one in particular that breaks a deep-seated taboo. Little doesn’t play by convention. Nothing is sacred, and everyone will find something to be icked out over.

But you know what? The story is a fun ride. Little has a knack for creating everyday, generally likeable characters, and subjecting them to profoundly twisted situations (i.e., pure evil), to see what they’re made of. Everyone is fallible, but some have stronger mettle than others.

The Store will stick with you, which may or may not be a good thing: The next time you drive by a big box store after closing, see if you’re not fearfully scanning for Night Managers behind the darkened windows. And you’ll probably nervously promise to give a little more support to small businesses.

Happy Halloween!

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Review: The Sanatorium

Snowbound in a former sanatorium, now luxe resort, emotionally fragile Elin must rally her rusty detective skills to stop the perpetrator of a series of ghastly murders.

The Sanatorium—Sarah Pearse, 2021. Rating: 3/5

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Elin and her boyfriend Will travel to the Alps to celebrate the engagement of Elin’s brother Isaac and her former childhood friend, Laure. Le Sommet is a gleaming, minimalist architectural achievement. Once a tuberculosis sanatorium, it is now an opulent destination, albeit one that is so remote it quickly gets cut off from civilization by a major avalanche.

Elin, a police detective on leave, is prone to panic attacks after nearly dying while working a case. And after the death of her mother. And after the death of her little brother Sam, for which she blames Isaac. Elin hasn’t told patient, well-adjusted Will that she plans to accuse Isaac of Sam’s murder on this vacation. Complicating their stay, mutilated bodies wearing vintage gas masks keep turning up, and, with the staff and most of the guests evacuated because of the weather, people now depend on Elin, the only quasi-police presence available. The result is a potentially awesome locked room mystery.  

Except that it doesn’t hit the awesome mark. I was primed to love The Sanatorium: I expected (hoped for) a twisty, spooky mystery for cold autumn nights. I felt let down. Here is the good bit: the atmosphere did not disappoint. One can easily visualize the isolated resort, its echoey empty halls, the blizzard raging outside. It calls to mind the classic Overlook Hotel. Props for spectacular mood.

Unfortunately, the characters and the story don’t live up to the spectacular setting. We are supposed to like Elin, empathize with her losses, and understand that this investigation is a journey back to confidence or whatever, but her righteous self-pity is off-putting. Elin’s absurd go-it-alone investigative approach has predictable adverse effects. The rest of the characters walk stiffly through their roles as suspects. We don’t care about much about them, either. Or really, any of the dead people, whom we hardly know. The entire mystery itself strains credulity all the way to the end, with a long-winded windup by the villain and a confusing epilogue that (may?) be a teaser for the next novel.

The Sanatorium is not horrible. The writing is solid, and there are some nicely creepy scenes—by the pool, and other lonely places—that create enjoyable tension. I am just crabby because I had such high expectations, and the book felt like opportunity lost.

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Review: Bloodless

A spate of exsanguinated corpses spawns whispers of vampires amongst Savannah residents, sending FBI agents Pendergast and Coldmoon on a hunt for the truth behind the killings—be it man or monster.

Bloodless—Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, 2021. Rating 3.5/5

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Aloysius Pendergast, cool, brilliant, uncanny, and occasionally insufferable, along with his de facto partner, Armstrong Coldmoon, are railroaded into clearing up these so-called vampire killings post-haste before they give a Georgia senator any more bad press. Accompanying the agents is Pendergast’s enigmatic ward, the equally brilliant Constance. Pendergast and Coldmoon examine blood-drained bodies and investigate the famous 1971 D.B. Cooper airline hijacking, while Constance stalks the reclusive elderly lady living on the top floor of their hotel—and yes, these disparate puzzles are all connected. A television crew filming a special on paranormal activity and a jealous true-crime writer muddy the waters, but our heroes unflaggingly pursue—and discover—the shocking truth. The result is devastating for both Savannah, and Pendergast.

Agent Pendergast has been around for a while, first appearing as a supporting character in Relic (1995) before becoming a star in his own right in Cabinet of Curiosities (2002). I am a Pendergast fan, especially of the early novels, notably Still Life with Crows, and Brimstone which are dark, intelligent, and thought-provoking. Bloodless falls solidly in the breakneck thriller category. There is minimal character evolution. The writing feels hasty. Bloodless lacks the gravitas and intensity of the early novels. It is the literary equivalent of empty calories. That said, a patently unhealthy donut now and then is a guilty pleasure, and Bloodless is a fun read. Spooky, historic Savannah provides an atmospheric setting, and the oddly improbable mystery is enjoyable.

A warning to purists: The novel takes a bizarre, abrupt jog into full-on sci-fi/horror territory. This is a major departure from other Pendergast novels. Really major. This radical genre change might be off-putting for some readers. Since I was ready to accept bloodless corpses from the get-go, I found the deviation enjoyable, even though implausible and flat-out bizarre. An entertaining addition to your Halloween reads.