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 Whisper Man

When a writer and his young son move into the local village “scary” house, the boy becomes the target of an insidious child killer. This creepy thriller will ensure that you don’t leave your doors half-open…or “soon you’ll hear the whispers spoken…”

The Whisper Man—Alex North, 2019.  Rating 4/5

Tom Kennedy and his son, Jake, are grieving the death of wife and mother, Rachel. Tom is an introvert, and still suffering from childhood memories of his alcoholic father. Now, Tom struggles to understand his own quiet boy. Jake is hard to reach; preferring to draw and talk to what Tom thinks are imaginary friends than to interact with other kids. Tom hopes the move to their new house will be a fresh start for them both. Tom has no idea that they have moved to the village where years ago, the infamous Whisper Man abducted and butchered a string of young boys—and the abductions seem to be starting again.

Career Detective Pete Willis is credited with capturing Frank Carter, the Whisper Man, twenty years earlier, but remains haunted by the memory of the one boy he never found. Now, with a new boy gone missing, Pete worries that either Carter had an accomplice, or a copycat is on the loose. Time is running out to find the new killer, who is already grooming lonely Jake to be his next victim.

The Whisper Man is a lightning-fast read. Alternating points of view between Tom, Jake, and Pete builds the tension to nail-biting levels as the threat to Jake incrementally, but relentlessly increases. North incorporates the barest touch of the supernatural into the story—just enough to give you chills. Characters are solid. Jake, especially, is relatable (well, to a fellow introvert) and sensitive. This makes his vulnerability more acute, and his danger more nerve wracking. Frank Carter, now a prison kingpin, is terrifyingly slimy. Tom, working through his own father-issues and grief, has both selfish and whiny tendencies, but knows he is a flawed father. At the same time, his love for Jake is complete.

North adds layers of complexity to the plot by skillfully exploring father-son relationships and deeper issues of forgiveness, self-worth, and self-acceptance. The only off-note in the book is the change in perspectives: Tom and Jake both narrate from the first-person, while the stories of Pete and lead investigator Amanda Beck are told in the third person. The switches are just jarring enough that I never quite got used to them. That cavil aside, The Whisper Man is both a satisfying, if disturbing, thriller, and an affirmation of the power of love.

rating system four crows


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Review: The Devil Aspect

Everyone has the potential for evil, according to Carl Jung. Psychiatrist Dr. Viktor Kosárek agrees. He has revolutionary plans to expose this Devil Aspect in six of Czechoslovakia’s most notorious serial killers. But will Kosárek’s findings come in time to help the police stop a madman’s bloody spree? Keep a light on: This intelligent, profoundly disturbing thriller will have you physically looking over your shoulder while intellectually pondering the true nature of evil.

The Devil Aspect—Craig Russell, 2018. Rating: 4.5/5

Young Dr. Kosárek is eager to begin his new position at the remote Hrad Orlů Asylum for the Criminally Insane. The asylum, located in a forbidding castle with a dark history, has always attracted evil. Now it houses the Devil’s Six, the most violent madmen—and women—of the modern age. Kosárek ignores the unfriendly attitude of the of local villagers as well as the castle’s ominous legends and begins his narcosynthesis sessions. Kosárek fully intends to restore each criminal’s memories of their evil side, unify their dichotomized selves, and if not cure them, at least ease their “great sadness.”  Kosárek’s quest intersects with that of experienced police detective, Kapitán Lukáš Smolák, who is desperately tracking the infamous Leather Apron–a killer who is literally butchering German women in Prague.

The Devil Aspect is an exceptional read. On one level, the novel is a fast-paced police-procedural crossed with a psychological thriller, but Russell weaves in many other threads that add depth and color (dark, dark color) to the story. The setting is 1935, and Russell integrates the growing tension—fueled by the rise of Hitler—between the Sudeten Germans and the Czechs. Kosárek’s Jewish transcriber, Judita, foresees the coming cataclysm, and fears becoming a victim. Compounding the real unease of the political situation is the growing menace of sinister figures from Slavic folklore which assume terrifying reality as motivators for the Devil’s Six. Both Kosárek and Smolák also struggle with memories of traumatic childhood incidents that now inform their adult lives. What have they—and we—walled off to protect fragile psyches? An electric, unnerving read.

rating system four and a half crows


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Review: The Lying Game

The Lying Game—Ruth Ware, 2017.  3.5/5

The lies four friends told seventeen years ago return to haunt them when a set of skeletal remains turns up on the beach.

“I need you.” Kate’s terse text sends her three best friends in the world hurrying to her side. Kate, Isa, Thea, and Fatima have been besties since they spent a year together in boarding school. There at Salten House, they play the “lying game” on their credulous classmates, earning points by telling shocking lies. Their game and cliquish attitude isolate them from the rest of the school but solidifies their friendship. Most weekends they spend at Kate’s dilapidated house on the coast, drinking, smoking, hanging with her handsome French “stepbrother,” Luc, and swimming in the waters of the Reach. Kate’s permissive, artist father, Ambrose, draws them incessantly, clothed and dishabille. One day, Ambrose turns up dead: Suicide. Maybe. The girls secretly bury Ambrose on the beach. Now grown, the women live with the guilt of hiding the body and the lies they told over a decade ago. But someone (or someones) knows their secret and the truth could ruin their lives.

The Lying Game is a page-turner that ticks all the boxes on the psychological thriller checklist. We have a completely unreliable first-person narrator with a fragile emotional state. An ominous, gothic setting: The decrepit old Tide Mill that is Kate’s home, and to an extent, her prison, is literally being washed away. Natural elements like water and light and wind take on threatening qualities. The flashbacks to the fifteen-year old girls’ life in boarding school are among the best parts of the book, and significantly add to the novel’s tense, slow burn. There are red herrings. Secrets. Blackmail. A remote, creepy village literally (and symbolically) covered in nets. A gaunt, hostile postmistress with a grudge. The list goes on. These elements shine.

The novel stumbles, for me, in two places. First, the narrator, Isa. Her borderline over-obsession with her tiresome (mostly screaming) six-month infant, and her willingness to lie to (and forsake in a heartbeat) her significant other are off-putting. I didn’t like her. Consequently, I was not rooting for her, and did not care if her lies were exposed. Unfortunately, Ware spends most of the time crafting Isa’s character, and so Fatima and Thea read a little flat. Second, the women’s big secret, the one that has driven them to extreme coping mechanisms, haunted them for seventeen years, riddled them with guilt, etc…wasn’t really that big a secret. Lois Duncan’s excellent YA book, I Know What You Did Last Summer—which The Lying Game pays homage toharbors a more serious secret.

That said, I flew through The Lying Game. Ware is undisputedly skilled at building tension and keeping interest. I do, however, recommend The Death of Mrs. Westaway and In a Dark, Dark Wood over The Lying Game.

rating system three and a half crows


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Review: Baby Teeth

Baby Teeth  Zoje Stage, 2018. Rating 4/5

A picture-perfect family reveals evil at its core: an icily intelligent seven-year-old who wants her mother gone. One way or another.

The Jensens live an upscale life in urban Pittsburgh. Alex is a highly sought-after architect, and his wife Suzette, is a talented artist and interior designer. Their young daughter, Hanna, seems perfect too, except that she has chosen not to speak, and no amount of testing reveals why. She communicates nonverbally, using sounds, gestures, and facial expressions. Hanna and her father are a mutual adoration society of two. In Alex’s eyes, Hanna can do no wrong. In Hanna’s eyes, only Suzette stands between her and a perfect life with Alex, whom she intends to marry when she gets older. Suzette is a “bad mommy.”

Suzette has been homeschooling Hanna because certain…incidents…resulted in her explusion from other schools. Suzette is at the end of her rope. Before Hanna, Alex and Suzette were the stars in each other’s worlds. Now, Suzette misses her freedom, her creativity-—and Alex. She laments that she doesn’t seem to have Hanna’s love, or really any bond with her daughter. Suzette’s own dysfunctional relationship with her mother may have something to do with her emotional distance from Hanna. Or, it could just be the fact that Hanna is a murderous psychopath.

Hanna plots to make Suzette go away. She gaslights her mother, speaking—only to Suzette—in the persona of a French witch who was burned at the stake. (Hanna, unbeknownst to her parents, has mad Internet skills). Alex begins to doubt Suzette’s stability when she tells him of some of Hanna’s malicious exploits. Suzette’s stance is further compromised by her low self-esteem and her ever-present fear of her Crohn’s disease. When Hanna (mostly) fails to drive a wedge between Suzette and Alex, Hanna ramps up her efforts and plots to make Suzette go away permanently.

Baby Teeth is a thoughtful, slow-burn novel. Alternating perspectives between Hanna and Suzette works to build tension. But, while I enjoyed hearing from both adversarial females, Hanna’s point of view is much more engaging, in an deliciously evil way. Hanna is an imaginative, creative, manipulative little terror. I was intrigued to see how her vicious machinations would unfold. Unfortunately, the book bogs down a bit with Suzette’s repetitive complaints and guilty self-recriminations. It takes a lot for Suzette to realize the threat her daughter poses and to react. Frankly, I wanted more of an edge. More psychological terror. That said, Baby Teeth did leave me thinking about it for a long time after I finished reading: the sign of a good read.

rating system four crows