As October opens, reading enters the dark realms of Horror and the catacombs of Crime-based Fiction. For our opening stanza, it is best to give time to the latter. Lurid tales of Jack The Ripper and H.H. Holmes make a great place to start; however, the best Crime-based Fiction needs to take you within the mind of its elusive killer. I recommend “Hexis” by Charlene Elsby, “The Killer Inside Me” by Jim Thompson and “The Collector” by John Fowles.
In this trio of terror, the most frightening place can often be how quickly you go from hearing the writer’s voice to feeling both repelled and unable to put down the book. The careful orchestration of that information in any good read makes it readable time and time again – even as your skin crawls and you audibly gasp as the screw turns on this harrowing tale.
In Charlene Elsby’s masterful new “Hexis,” we begin a conversation with the protagonist. With all conversations, you are roped in by their grace and skill at showing their intimacy. However, you very quickly notice that several details are setting off the smallest of red flags. While her lead character is startlingly “human,” the inhuman acts she does are bone-chilling. Elsby’s prose works beautifully. “Hexis” is about ratcheting up the tension and making you feel like an accessory to a crime you would never commit.
What if you were an officer sworn to uphold the law? What if you made decisions that had no real long-term benefit to you where the empathy of “Hexis” was completely absent? Jim Thompson is one the 20th century’s best writers and is woefully underappreciated. Thompson and James Ellroy elevated Crime-based Fiction to carry far more importance than the Pulp Fiction of old. This 1952 novel continues to haunt you even after you put it far away from you.
A Texas deputy sheriff is either bored with his small-town or an unhinged sociopath. Thompson is on a tear in this frightening novel. By living inside the mind of Ford, we get a front-row for depravity, dark thoughts and the ticking time-bomb inside of him being discovered.
There is an eloquence and economy in Thompson’s prose. He is constructing a character you are visibly afraid of. On its surface, “The Killer Inside Me” is a pitch-black Noir, but the journey you take will have you losing just as much sleep as you would over any other Horror tale.
John Fowles in his literary debut in 1963 found a way to shock audiences and simultaneously make you almost constantly afraid to flip to the next page. “The Collector” establishes the blueprint for much of today’s modern psychological horror. A lonely young man collects butterflies only to see and become obsessed with an alluring female art student.
In his half of the book, you are given details with a weirdly false modesty. As you sift through this confession, a more sinister side shows through everything he is trying to cover up. Make no mistake, as meek as he may seem, he is just as much of a sociopath as Lou Ford and perhaps somehow more of a threat. Her attempts to escape and his reaction are the stuff nightmares are made of.
However, midway through the story, Fowles gives us the entire incident through the discovery of the art student’s diary. As she writes and becomes more willing to accept this situation, you as the reader feel more helpless and truly lost. As their individual philosophies begin to intertwine, you do not feel like you were along for the crime (“Hexis”) or even carry the guilt of knowing the truth about what is happening (“The Killer Inside Me.”) Instead, you feel like you are next.
NEW MUSIC RELEASES
As Long As You Are [LP/CD]
In the wake of the success of The National, we have been treated to a number of low, bellowing voices in Indie Rock. Samuel T. Herring gives this SynthPop all of its humanity. His soulful croon turns “Thrill” into a hymn of sorts while their more elegant Pop moments (“Moonlight”) work best when they respond to his singing.
Atlas Vending [LP/CD]
Noise bands are often the hardest to write about, yet the easiest to hear and understand. Canada’s blaring rockers Metz have long been showing their potential to be this generation’s Sonic Youth. Their massive drone has never sounded better than it does. It is anger with a righteous thrust. It is loudness with the purpose of you feeling it envelopes both your body and mind. Songs collapse and take you with them into their mezzanine of suspended disbelief. This is not Post-Punk. This is Post Post-Punk. A track like “A Boat To Drown In” (one of the best of the year) is about making you a believer in, of all things, the cathartic power of wordless noise.
Mik Davis is the record store manager at T-Bones Records & Café in Hattiesburg.