50 States, 50 Scares – The New York Times

50 States, 50 Scares - The New York Times

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Ethan Burke, tasked with finding fellow Secret Service agents who vanished in a small Idaho town, arrives there and finds it … strange. For one thing, the whole place is surrounded by an electric fence. For another, his phone won’t work. And most alarmingly of all, why does he find it so difficult to leave?

Every page in this heart-thumping horror novel — about five 12-year-old boys confronting an ancient evil lurking in their picture-postcard small town — is shot through with menace and nostalgia.

Mineral water with occult powers flows through the pages of this eerie thriller, set at the gloomy (and very real) West Baden Springs Hotel in rural Indiana. Our critic, Janet Maslin, said it “does its best to deliver a King-size dose of scary.”

Someone at the Video Hut “has been surreptitiously modifying the rentals, stitching mysterious, vaguely malevolent clips into the films,” wrote our reviewer, Joe Hill. He did not find the book frightening — “Darnielle’s aims are finally sweeter, quieter and more sensitive than one would expect from a more traditional tale of dread” — but I certainly did.

As a Halloween publicity gimmick, a pop-culture website hires four famous horror writers to spend the night in a haunted farmhouse. Things do not go well for them. Thomas is adept at tapping into primal fear; if you’re one of those people who worry about what’s under the bed or behind the shower curtain, this book will keep you awake at night.

“If anyone had ever told me that I could be mesmerized by a story involving hypnosis and regression into ‘previous lives,’ I would have said such a person was a little crazy,” our critic, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, wrote in 1983. “Fortunately, no one ever did, so I don’t owe any apologies after reading Charles Maclean’s ‘The Watcher.’”

The writer John Berendt called this novel “Extreme Southern Gothic, New Orleans Division,” telling The Times, “The protagonists of this dark French Quarter novel are knee-deep in murder, torture, sex and cannibalism. … Even arm’s-length readers are apt to find themselves being drawn further and further into the story — seduced in spite of themselves. Material that would be merely sick, disgusting and unreadable in the hands of a lesser writer is, with Brite at the controls, surprisingly erotic and captivating.”

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