Chills by Mary SanGiovanni

Kathy Ryan has problems. Her brother is a psychopath who tried to kill her when they were young, and now a band of cultists have unleashed an otherworldly invasion on the otherwise quiet town of Colby, Connecticut. Kathy is also emotionally drained from her job battling supernatural monsters. Guarding the inter-dimensional gateway against ancient intruders is difficult work, described in Mary SanGiovanni‘s Chills as:

“It was science and science fiction and magic and religion and physics and mathematics all sort of rolled into one.”

And:

“This here is the language of creation and destruction itself, the language that echoes the sound of the Convergence, the substance between dimensions and the space between the stars.”

It is no wonder that Kathy drinks. Heavily.

Mary SanGiovanni creates an otherworldly winter wonderland in Chills. Described as “H.P. Lovecraft meets True Detective,” Chills reads more like a road episode of the X-Files, if Fox and Mulder or combined into one powerful female protagonist.

Kathy has help on her quest to shut the inter-dimensional doorway and keep the world-eating Old Gods out. Teagan not only provides a romantic foil for Kathy, he also helps her solve a linguistics problem (who knew Old Gods spoke Gaelic? Top o’ the mornin’, Cthulu!)

Detective Jack Glazier loses a loved one, but saves the day, surviving a face-to-tentacle brush with the Old Gods. SanGiovanni makes magnificent monsters, from her Blue People, to her fish-headed assassins, to the messy tentacle-monsters at the novel’s conclusion. But her finest achievement is the way she transforms the weather itself into a fully flesh-out character in Chills. The snow is alive, spawning screaming creatures who “sound not much different in timbre from the waling gust of wind.” Old Man Winter is a mean bully.

“The creatures, though, had raised an incredible din. It sounded to Jack like wind and thunder, and it was growing louder.”

The backbone of this novel is Kathy’s relationship with her damaged brother, Toby. SanGiovanni does an excellent job describing Toby’s detachment:

“Everything is happening around you and you’re in the center of it, but you’re not real, not really there. You’re just . . . superimposed on the world.”

And the suffering of individuals with mental disorders:

“It was unsettling to watch anyone die slowly of intellectual malnutrition in the deserted wasteland of a broken mind…”

SanGiovanni is at her best when she’s world-building (or, other-world building, as the case my be). Her mythos borrows Lovecraft’s structure, but expands upon it in delightful and strangely logical ways (something Lovecraft himself often failed to achieve). SanGiovanni’s prose is lyrical — almost poetic —her characters are believably flawed human beings, and her mastery of tone and atmosphere makes Chills a chilling, edge-of-your-seat read.

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What Do Monsters Fear? by Matt Hayward

What do monsters fear?

Responsibility. Withdrawal symptoms. Owning up to their past mistakes.

One of the recovering addicts in Matt Hayward’s creep-fest What Do Monsters Fear? sums up the plot in a few well-chosen words:

“Three strung-out fucks are gonna stop an ancient evil god?”

Hell, yeah, they are! Because the ancient evil god—a body-snatching baddie called Phobos—has underestimated the drive and determination of men with nothing left to lose.

There’s a claustrophobic quality to this novel comparable to the trapped arctic explorers in John Carpenter’s The Thing. Tensions ratchet up by as Phobos picks off victims and terrifies those that remain. Like Freddy Krueger or Pennywise, Phobos knows what scares you, and takes perverse pleasure in torturing victims with their own deepest fears and phobias.

Hayward’s writing engages the senses and propels the story forward, like when he introduces the shifty doctor:

“A waft of aftershave drifted from him, tainting the honest smell of raw wood.”

Or describes the death of supernatural beings:

“Unlike in the movies when a supernatural entity died, the cat didn’t dissipate into nothingness with a sizzle. Instead, it burned and burned, the smell of charred flesh and singed hair filling the space. Dark smoke packed the room.”

Hayward employs the same multi-sensory technique even when the scenes get visceral:

“Shelly’s body slopped from the table and splashed to the floor.”

Poor liquified Shelly makes another appearance later on:

“He stepped in Shelly Matthews. The liquefied blob of flesh quivered like a fried egg beneath his heel. One eye blinked within the mess and stared back at him.”

Yuck! Sucks to be Shelly! Beyond the blood and monsters, What Do Monsters Fear? tackles the issue of addicts in recovery, and the way they view themselves as they attempt to turn their lives around.

“Peter hated to admit it, but for the briefest moment, he related to the monster.”

But men and monsters alike get second chances. Seeing elderly drunk Henry’s redemption is perhaps the novel’s most triumphant moment.

“I was useful for once in my miserable piece of shit life… My actions meant something.”

That’s the kind of validation we all seek, both addict and non-addict, man and monster alike.

Hayward has a great sense of pacing and a cinematic writing style that makes What Do Monsters Fear? a fast, fun read! He leaves the door open for potential sequels, and implies that the worst kind of monsters don’t live in alternate, cosmic dimensions but inside the hearts of men.

(And women. Chill out, ladies. You’re evil, too.)

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