One autumn day in 1992, former pop singer Lennart Cederström finds something unexpected in the forest: a baby girl in a plastic bag, partially buried. He gives her the kiss of life, and her first cry astounds him; it is a clear, pure musical note. He takes her to his wife and persuades her that they should keep this remarkable child. But the baby becomes a strange girl, made more unusual by their decision to hide her in their basement to keep her from the prying eyes of government departments. When she reaches puberty, a terrifying scene sees her kill both her parents. When her scheming adopted brother returns to find her over their bodies, he seizes the opportunity and enters her into an X Factor-style talent competition. She quickly becomes famous. In spite of this, she remains very lonely, until she befriends another damaged girl on the internet. They form a powerful bond and soon create a growing gang of other disgruntled girls and, calling themselves the Wolves, they set out to take revenge for all they’ve ever suffered.
I read the book before I read the above blurb and I’m glad I did. If I had read the blurb first, I may never have bothered to read the book and I would have missed something truly great. Don’t get me wrong, that little synopsis is accurate, but what Lindqvist delivers is something far more chilling, far deeper, far more disturbing than those few lines would ever have you believe. After the first couple of chapters the reader knows something terrible and shocking is going to happen – but I defy anyone to guess what it is. I’ve said often enough when talking about my own writing that I am a slow writer; I’m a slow reader, too. So take as a sign of the brilliance of Little Star that I read it in little more than two days. The pacing is faultless. The prose (and this is, I guess, praise also for the translation by Marlaine DeLargy – so many translated works fail to lift the reader’s spirits) is sharp, edgy and produces some memorable phrases (if this doesn’t touch you, you’re not human):
If anyone who didn’t know her had seen her getting on the train, that person would have seen a girl getting on the train. If anyone who knew her had seen her taking her seat, that person would have seen Teresa taking her seat. After all, nothing had really happened from the world’s point of view, except that a girl had given up all hope. Hardly even worth mentioning.
Rarely do female characters stay with me after I’ve finished a book. Theres and Teresa are looking over my shoulder as I write, making me nervous.
With Little Star, Lindqvist earns his place as a master of horror, perhaps the best so far of the 21st century.
A dream inheritance, a dark legacy, a new beginning…
When Gareth Balaam inherits Harbinger House, he thinks his problems are over. But unfortunately, they’ve only just begun. Harbinger House has a dark past. Shrouded in mystery, what may have occurred within its walls is still a matter of conjecture. The locals at the pub talk about the place in whispers. Gareth’s partner, Tim, thinks the house is haunted.
Gareth doesn’t believe in ghosts, but he does believe Tim is using the house as an excuse to not work on their relationship. Their trip to the country to bring them closer seems to be doing the opposite. Tensions and resentments flare, and through it all, someone is watching…
Luka is lonely and bored. Confined to the shadows of the house for decades, he has driven all the previous occupants insane with lust. Except the last. The one man Luka had loved had broken his heart and had left rather than lose his mind. The house stood empty, and Luka was alone. But not anymore. There’s life in the house again, two delicious lovers, two new humans to seduce. Except one refuses to play…
I’d looked forward to reading Kiran Hunter’s debut release because it’s one of those hard-to-classify cross-genre stories that always intrigue me. A good old ghost story of the M R James variety, coupled – if I can be forgiven for using the word – with a gay relationship (I avoid the use of the word romance intentionally) between two asking-to-be-smacked middle class men from the Alan Hollinghurst school. The result is a wonderfully creepy, emotionally charged, sometimes explicit, short story that positions Hunter ready to take the world of gay/mm/paranormal fiction by storm. Read it or miss out.
“Where the hell are we?”
Gareth braked hard as yet another blind bend approached. Each tight corner had him holding his breath as he anticipated a too-close encounter with a local driver hurtling the other way. He swore at the satnav, then instinctively ducked his head as the trees overshadowing the narrow road suddenly reached down even farther. Low-hanging branches tried to pluck the car from the tarmac, and rampant brambles flailed across the road as if trying to snare foolhardy travelers and drag them into their spiky embrace. For a second he wondered no traffic had actually come this way for years and nature was trying to reclaim the road.
“Not sure it’s the satnav’s fault, Gareth. You kept telling her to shut up. I think we went wrong at the junction back there.” Tim smiled at him. Gareth had bought the damn thing because it was preferable to his partner’s map reading skills, and to save the arguments. Didn’t stop Gareth from arguing with the ever-patient gadget instead, but at least it merely calmly recalculated the journey every time he ignored it, instead of throwing a terminally battered map book into the back seat and sitting in resolute silence as Tim was prone to do.
“Where in God’s name are we?” Gareth repeated through clenched teeth.
“Ask the satnav.”
“According to the satnav, this road doesn’t exist—we’re driving across a wasteland.”
“We are somewhere near Rippington.”
“And you know that how?”
“There was a sign.”
Gareth sighed and braked hard again. The trip wasn’t going well. He had hoped the day would herald a fresh start. Fingers crossed, they’d soon be moving to a new place away from the city and he would be able to spend some time with Tim without distractions. To try to get to know each other again. A new beginning.
But even with the prospect of a change of scenery, they were still bickering.
The tiny hamlet gradually staggered into being. The scattered cottages, almost hidden in the hedgerows on each side of the road, became closer together, merging into the High Street. The small and almost imperceptibly beating heart of the community sat huddled around the small village green. The place was deserted. The only sign of life was a cat wandering, tail up, across the road. No kids playing soccer on the green—no senior citizens leaning on walls and talking about the weather.
It’s almost pretty, Tim thought. Almost, but not quite. A bit isolated. Christ knows where the nearest wine bar is. Maybe that’s a good thing? The idea of moving into the country because Gareth couldn’t keep his dick in his trousers rankled—but better that than climbing into the car in the early hours to retrieve him when he phoned from a club unable to drive or, worse than that, wondering where he was when he didn’t phone and didn’t return home, either. No temptation—and no social life…
“There’s a pub,” Gareth said, as if he’d been reading Tim’s thoughts.
“Well, it says ‘food,’ so maybe it’ll open shortly. It’s turning into a nice evening; we’ll check out the house and maybe take a walk. Kill some time before the pub opens and then get something to eat.”
“Walk where? Around the green? That should take us all of five minutes.”
“For God’s sake, Tim. At least try.”
Gareth slammed the car door shut and activated the central locking system. It was later than he’d hoped; the sun was setting, a flock of birds wheeling up into the sky before turning back on itself and settling in the trees surrounding the village church. Almost pretty, he thought, turning on his heels to take in the rest of the scene. Almost, but not quite… Good God. He cleared his throat. Tim wasn’t going to like this. “Well, there it is, I think. Somewhere in there,” he said.
“What? That?” Tim followed Gareth’s gaze across the road. “No! Look at the place!”
The gate squealed in protest, as if it hadn’t been opened for decades. The sun had almost disappeared, the tops of the trees surrounding the house now brushed with a pink glow and the garden beneath consumed by shadow.
“I suppose it could have been beautiful once upon a time. It’s a little overgrown,” Tim said.
“Adds to its charm.” Gareth hoped he sounded convincing.
“Erm, not sure charm is the word you’re after.”
“Let’s take a look. Reserve judgment until we’ve seen inside the place.”
With Tim a footstep behind, Gareth made his way up the path, negotiating crumbling concrete and easing past rampant shrubs. Beside the front door, a plaque was just visible through the ivy clinging on to the building. He pried the stubborn stems away from the wood to read the carved words beneath.
“Well, that’s reassuring, Gareth. Harbinger of doom, and all that.”
“Curious the place isn’t called that on the deeds…just 20 Willow Green.”
Gareth slid the key into the lock and turned it. There was a moment’s hesitation before the catch clicked and the door eased open an inch, as if the house wasn’t quite ready for them. He smiled at Tim and, with a dramatic flourish, gestured for him to enter first. Tim shook his head.
“After you. The place is yours.”
“Ours, Tim. It’s ours.”
The warning cry from the rusting gate ripped his senses awake, but his mind was slow to follow. All Luka was aware of at first was the agony of sound and the warm trickle of blood from his ears. His muscles stretched as he moved, tendons almost tearing from the bone as he unraveled his body from its fetal position. He wailed with the new pain—a feeble echo of the metal against metal outside. His first intake of breath rasped down his throat and burned into his lungs. He clamped his mouth shut and breathed in deeply through his nose. The house was different—the odor of dust and mold and damp was still there, but something else too. The protesting gate had heralded the arrival of new flesh. He could smell it.
A river of cold air flowed across his pain-wracked body, caressing his arms, his chest, his legs—the outside world finding a way through a crack in his prison and reawakening his nerve endings to remind him of what he had been without for so long.