Creepy may not be strong enough for this one. Terrifying is perhaps more accurate. So here it is, the Terrifying, Book #4:
Peter Straub began to write horror novels as a way to exorcise the darkness of fear that pervaded his soul. The darkness had crept in some thirty years before his first novel was written, when Straub was only in kindergarten and a collision between himself and a vehicle taught him that the world is a dangerous place.¹ After his near-death experience, Straub spent a year mending broken bones, enduring surgeries and recovering before he was able to return to school. By then, he had developed a stutter (which he has for the most part overcome) and a tendency to have terrifying nightmares.¹ These nightmares, as it turned out, were a good hand dealt by fate, (albeit cleverly disguised) for when Straub turned to writing horror novels he found both the antedote to the nightmares and an extremely successful writing career.
In “Ghost Story,” published in 1979, Straub combines a shape-shifter, werewolves, vampires and other paranormal activities in what is perhaps an ode to the classic ghost stories of Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne and the like and, he does it really well. In the words of the Master of Horror himself, Stephen King: “[Ghost Story is] A horror classic written in prose that is both gorgeous and readable. This book creeps into the reader’s fear centers and takes charge of them.”² And truly, from the very first lines of the novel:
“What was the worst thing you’ve ever done?”
“I won’t tell you that, but I’ll tell you the worst thing that ever happened to me… the most dreadful thing…”
it is clear that you’re in for a suspenseful and terrifying experience.
The Chowder society, originally a group of five elderly men, recently reduced to four, (John Jaffrey, a doctor; Lewis Benedikt, a retired entrepreneur; Sears James, an attorney; and Ricky Hawthorne, an attorney and James’ partner) meet regularly in the small New York town of Milburn to surround themselves in a cloud of cigar smoke to drink whiskey and tell each other ghost stories.
Their connection is much deeper than a mutual enjoyment of ghost stories however, and goes back some fifty years to when they were involved in the accidental murder (and subsequent cover-up) of Eva Galli. However, the terrible events that begin to plague the town and the relatives of the Chowder society, have the men thinking that the incident involving Eva Galli will not be staying squarely in the past. After the death of one of their members, Edward, who appeared to have been frightened to death (judging by the look of absolute terror frozen on his face when he was discovered, dead, at a party held for an actress passing through town) the men decide to contact his nephew, Donald Waverley whose research skills as a horror fiction writer may come in handy.
By the time Donald arrives, the Chowder society are but three, having lost Jaffrey, to an apparently suicidal jump off a bridge. Donald’s research reveals that Eva Galli is most likely a shape-shifting creature, who has been appearing in the faces of women close to the men and their relatives and in seemingly innocuous females in the town. The Chowder society looses another in the forest, leaving Donald, Ricky and Sears, who are joined by a man who has lost a loved one to a shape-shifting creature, and together they discover that Eva Galli is not alone in the attempts to avenge her murder and that the forces they must contend with are powerful and supernatural.
A more in-depth summary can be read here.
Peter Straub later collaborated with Stephen King on a couple of novels and has himself written many bestsellers, as well as accumulating a sizable list of awards and honours. Ghost Story is certainly a chilling tale befitting of the Halloween season.
For an interesting biography on Peter Straub, visit his official website.
1. Peter Straub. About the Author. web. 29, October, 2012. www.peterstraub.net/
2. Barnes & Noble Review. Scares for Scribes. 22, October, 2012 web. 29, October, 2012.
The final Creepy Tale, on the spookiest of all days, coming up tomorrow! Stay tuned…