The Avid Reader: Halloween reads best done in daytime

For the Ledger-Transcript
Published: 10/22/2020 1:39:34 PM

October conjures impressions of a shadowy passage from summer to winter, adjusting of clocks, portals to “another place” during Halloween, hauntings, and just a little more magic in the world. Thus, no one should go through this month without reading Ray Bradbury.

“Something Wicked This Way Come” by Bradbury is one of those deliciously spooky books that classify as: “to be read during the day, with the lights on.” I know I tell people all the time to read this classic, but how can I possibly not? It has all the elements of scary, and Bradbury’s exquisite skill with language is amazing. His words push us across the pages like leaves before a storm. We are helpless to not continue reading – just for the sheer joy of the literary experience.

This is a real October story. A week before Halloween, Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show comes into Green Town, Illinois, with a mission to destroy all the lives that come near it. Yet, everyone who hears the siren call of the show’s calliope is drawn toward this carnival. Two pre-teen boys, next door neighbors, best friends, and born two minutes apart, one just before and one just after Halloween eve, find the advertisement for the exhibitions and know they must go.

The boys, filled with wishes based on the calliope’s songs of promise, discover too late, the carnival’s secrets, and the price they have to pay for this knowledge.

Dark, eerie, compelling, and haunting are only some of the words I use to describe this magnificently written story. The veil between “here” and “there” is thin this month, and if ever there was a time to test our mettle now is it. Make sure you read this enduring classic with the lights on.

Next to be read is “The Devil and the Dark Water” by Stuart Turton. You can read this at night, but it certainly will keep your heart pounding. Turton’s tale is an historical novel set in 1634. The duplicitous protagonist is really The Dutch East India Company, a chartered syndicate that started out as a venture for trading with Mughal India. This operation eventually expanded across the globe. Considered the first “modern” conglomerate, The Dutch East India Company was known to destroy any that stepped wrongly into its path. Well renowned for its evil deeds, many speculated that one didn’t become an official in the organization without selling his soul to the devil – in this saga appropriately named “Old Tom.”

We start with the Indiaman-style galleon named the Saardam as the setting as it travels from Indonesia back to Amsterdam. This three-masted, square-rigged sailing ship of some 1,000 tons displacement carried an assortment of passengers including the company’s Governor General, his wife Sara and daughter Lia, his mistress Creesjie, several nobles, musketeers, renegade sailors, a witch hunter searching for Old Tom, and the world-famous detective Samuel Pipps, along with his bodyguard Arent Hayes.

Interestingly, although no one can figure out what Pipps, this once-exalted prisoner did to warrant execution, he was brought aboard in chains and kept in a prison room on the ship in preparation for his sentence once they arrive in the Amsterdam.

That is, if they arrive. Just as they leave the port a mysterious symbol is found on the mainsail, a thought-to-be-dead (twice dead actually) leper flits about the ship and cannot be caught, and just a few days out, the ship is plagued by a two-week typhoon that follows them across the Indian Ocean

Strange whisperings at night, supposedly from Old Tom, torment all the passengers, perplexing demonic alters inexplicably materialize in the hold, the leper appears – as if by magic – to kill a man, and then disappears again like vapor in the wind. Is it Old Tom? Has this ship been marked to be taken by the devil, or is this torment mortal in nature?

There are layers upon layers in this story, stretching back into the pasts of crew and passengers alike, building to a conclusion and eventual dénouement that will shock the reader. Dark Water, by the way is a sailor’s reference to the soul. Yes, a delightful read.

While we are about possible hauntings, “The Ghosts of Summerleigh,” by self-published author M. L. Bullock, is a fine way to get your creepy on. There are four books in the series, which is best read during the day, and they should be read in order starting with, “The Belles of Desire, Mississippi.”

In this first book, Jeopardy Belle, the oldest of the four Belle daughters, went missing in 1942. She was 15. Seventy-five years later her sister Harper, now elderly and dying, wants her sister back home. But no one knows what happened to Jeopardy Belle, and a body was never recovered. Was she murdered? We start by going back to 1942 and seeing Jeopardy through Harper’s eyes – the last time anyone living saw Jeopardy that is.

Quickly, Bullock jumps forward in time to the present and introduces our modern-day heroine, Jerica Poole. She is a well-educated nurse in charge of the home where Harper is spending her last days. Harper and Jerica become friends, and just before Harper dies, she asks Jerica to find Jeopardy and bring her home. After Harper passes, Jerica finds that Harper has left her the Belle plantation home and enough money to comfortably restore it. Restoration is required because no one has lived in the place for over 30 years. Why Because whoever/whatever menacing presence is in residence makes it very clear they don’t like the living.

Jerica goes back to 1942 in her dreams and then wakes up in the present day to use her knowledge to finally solve Jeopardy’s mystery.

The following books continue with the discovery of several more ominous residents, and as each mystery is solved leads it towards another tantalizing question. Tension abounds, and every so often chills tingle up the reader’s spine.

There is nothing like a ghost-filled murder mystery to make us keep the lights on and experience a deliciously sinister October.


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