DarkEcho Horror
The New Dollar by Rick Berry
BOOK REVIEWS: January 2001
By Paula Guran

Off the Beaten Path:
As readers of HORRORONLINE's book section should know by now, dark delights can be found in books without "horror" imprinted on the spine. This month, we take a look at a "suspense" novel, a nonfiction book, and an unusual mystery.

Kate Wilhelm
St. Martins Minotaur/ $23.95/ 288 pages
ISBN: 0312261438

book cover There are gothic overtones to this superb psychological suspense novel: family secrets to unlock, a missing fortune to trace (and missing computer files), an odd will, and clues in a final manuscript. There's even a family mansion of sorts -- an extremely isolated lakefront house in which successful novelist Jud Vickers is mysteriously murdered. The dead author's daughter, Abby Connors, is left with not only a need to understand more about her father, but -- when she realizes that the murderer must have known her father well to make it past his well-trained dogs -- a growing obsession to track down the killer. By discovering and then delving into the semi-autobiographical creative process that Jud employed to produce his fiction, Abby begins to untangle the complications of both the man and the crime. As tension and danger mount, Abby also begins to finds out about herself and an extraordinary trio of women who shared her father's life. But there's even more to this well-crafted thriller than gothic mystery. It is a mythic quest of both self-discovery and greater truth guided by three Fates who will also determine what justice should be meted out. Both haunting and harrowing, entertaining and thought-provoking, THE DEEPEST WATER is further proof of Wilhelm's dark mastery.

Stewart O'Nan
Doubleday/ $24.95/ 370 pages
ISBN: 0385496842

book cover Published in June 2000, THE CIRCUS FIRE was one of the most compelling and horrifying books of last year -- all the more so because it is excruciatingly true -- and deserves the attention of those who read fictional horror. On July 6, 1944, in Hartford, Connecticut, the big top of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey caught fire during the middle of the afternoon performance. In seconds the tent -- waterproofed with a mixture of paraffin and gasoline -- was a holocaust. Thousands escaped, but scores died. O'Nan re-creates the heroism and horror of the event with exceptional narrative, then sifts through the ashes of the aftermath to detail a story that has never been so fully told before. O'Nan applies his powerful story-telling skills (read A PRAYER FOR THE DYING, now available in paperback for proof of those) to the facts and delivers a moving epic with historic reverberations.

Don Webb
St. Martin's Press/ $23.95/ 288 pages
ISBN: 0312265824 book cover Webb is one totally weird writer. In this, his third novel, Webb's unique blend of outrageous satire, noir, mystery, and strange romance is osterized into a Texas road novel featuring married merry pranksters Willis and Virginia Spencer. The "Natural Born Killers without the blood" get off on staging elaborate scenes intended to scare mean nasty folks -- pre-selected by software, of course -- into turning nice and kind. They cross paths with a notorious serial killer (and, it turns out, developer of the program they have been using to select their own victims) who has been murdering the mean and cruel for decades. A former FBI agent and his agency successor are after the killer and the Spencers finally provide them with a solid lead. One strangeness leads to another and Webb manages to keep the bizarre ball bouncing throughout.

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