Christine by Stephen King

Christine, Stephen King, 1983

My favorite quote: “If being a kid is about learning how to live, then being a grown-up is about learning how to die.”

Notable characters: Dennis Guilder, a high school jock; Arnie Cunningham, a high school geek … with a killer new car; Christine, the killer new car

Most memorable scene: Christine, hunting down the enemies of her man …

Greatest strengths: Its playlist. Stephen King tosses in some dang fine tunes here

Standout achievements: For me, I’d say it’s the way the narrative switches from third to first person POV, out of the middle of nowhere. The reason I call it a ‘standout achievement’ is because even though it should have totally yanked me out of the story and irritated me, it didn’t. I know. I can’t explain it either …

Fun Facts: In a 1984 interview about Christine, Stephen King said, “Seriously, I don’t know how Chrysler feels about Christine … but they should feel happy, because it’s a pretty lively car and it lasts a long time. It’s like a Timex watch, it takes a licking and goes on ticking.”

Other media: The 1983 film of the same name

What it taught me: That any idea can be a good idea, depending on the delivery. I mean, think about it: Christine is basically a book about a haunted car. Sounds kinda silly, right? Not the way Stephen King tells it, it ain’t …

How it inspired me: I’ve rarely seen a character arc as compelling and emotional as that of Arnie Cunningham’s in Christine. When it comes to (dramatic) evolution of characters, this is the yardstick by which all my efforts are measured

Additional thoughts: Is it just me, or is Christine a totally sexy name? I don’t know what it is about it that gets me all hot and bothered, but it does. Seriously. Mmmm …Chrisssstiiiinnne ….

Haunt me:

The Private Practice of Michael Shayne by Brett Halliday

The Private Practice of Michael Shayne, Brett Halliday, 1940

My favorite quote: “The moon had not yet risen, and stars studded the dark velvety blue of the tropical sky, casting an illusively perceptible sheen through the still night.”

Notable characters: Mike Shayne, the PI; Larry Kincaid, his friend; Harry Grange, the crooked lawyer; Phyllis Brighton, the love interest

Most memorable scene: When Mike Shayne is arrested for murder (dun, dun, DUN!)

Greatest strengths: It’s ability to make me completely overlook the fact that I’m reading outdated, low-grade, cheesy pulp fiction ranks up there pretty high

Standout achievements: The grim seediness of this one does great justice to the hardboiled genre

Fun Facts: This is the second novel in a series that went on to produce seventy-seven books in total, not all of them written by the same author

Other media: The 1940 film, Michael Shayne, Private Detective, starring Lloyd Nolan

What it taught me: What a dewlap is. I never want one. 

How it inspired me: While many of the characters in this series — but Michael Shayne, especially — walk the gray line of right and wrong, they all believe that they’re doing what’s right. When the bad guys think they’re the heroes of the story, it adds a layer of realness to the plot that can make even the most outlandish storyline more believable. I keep this in mind in my own writing with the hope of avoiding one-dimensional villains 

Additional thoughts: While I do enjoy this series, I can’t help but hold out some hope that as it progresses, Private Investigator Mike Shayne will develop into someone a bit more lifelike. And likable. I guess you could say he’s a dick in more ways than one

Haunt me:

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

The Silent Patient, Alex Michaelides, 2019

My favorite quote: “…we often mistake love for fireworks – for drama and dysfunction. But real love is very quiet, very still. It’s boring, if seen from the perspective of high drama. Love is deep and calm – and constant.”

Notable characters: Alicia Berenson, a famous painter who shoots her husband in the face one day and then goes silent; Gabriel Berenson, the husband she shoots in the face one day; Theo Faber, the criminal psychologist intent on uncovering Alicia’s motives for shooting Gabriel in the face that day

Most memorable scene: I’m gonna go with Gabriel getting shot in the face for $500, Alex

Greatest strengths: Its intrigue. The Silent Patient has it in spades

Standout achievements: The Silent Patient in Alex Michaelides debut novel, and it spent over a year on the New York Times bestseller list

Fun Facts: Kirkus Reviews panned this novel, calling it “clumsy, silly, and contrived.” It still spent over a year on the New York Times bestseller list. Oh, and also, it broke records, selling in 49 countries, and was the bestselling debut novel in the world in 2019. Do with that what you will

Other media: N/A

What it taught me: Not to listen to critics, for one thing

How it inspired me: The Silent Patient had me questioning whether a life of abuse, lies, and manipulation justifies this kind of revenge. Ultimately, I don’t think anything justifies shooting someone in the face, but I have a better understand of it now

Additional thoughts: The Silent Patient draws inspiration from the Greek tragedies — specifically, those of Euripides. I dig it … 

Haunt me:

Affinity by Sarah Waters

Affinity, Sarah Waters,  1999

My favorite quote: “Your twisting is done–you have the last thread of my heart. I wonder: when the thread grows slack, will you feel it?”

Notable characters: Margaret Prior, a woman recovering from a suicide attempt; Selina Dawes, a mysterious spiritualist imprisoned for a seance-gone-wrong which left one woman dead another mentally disturbed 

Most memorable scene: Selina writing TRUTH on her own arm with … well, you’ll just have to read it

Greatest strengths: Its setting is sublime. Sarah Waters brings Victorian England to vivid, delicious life

Standout achievements: Its gothic sensibilities. I’m a sucker for a good gothic and this one pretty much nailed it

Fun Facts: This is the first Sarah Waters novel I’ve ever read. It won’t be the last

Other media: N/A

What it taught me: A lot about the jailing system of Victorian England. Not a pretty thing … 

How it inspired me: There’s a lot to like about this one, but what I think I really came away with was a firm sense of the bond between Margaret and Selina. It gave me a deeper understanding of the relationships between women, which is something I believe I’ll be able to draw upon in my own work 

Additional thoughts: While I’m not an expert on Victorian-style prose, I can’t say with certainty that Affinity is written with absolute accuracy — but it FEELS like it’s written with absolute accuracy, which really makes the whole experience all the more real

Haunt me:

Die a Little by Megan Abbott

Die a Little, Megan Abbot,  2005

My favorite quote: “The hardest thing in this world is finding out what you’re capable of.”

Notable characters: Lora King, a schoolteacher; Bill King, her brother, a junior investigator with the DA’s office; Alice Steele, a Hollywood wardrobe assistant with a sketchy past … and Bill’s new wife

Most memorable scene: What stands out most to me is Lora’s slow realization that her new sister-in-law isn’t what she seems — which takes place over the course of several (deliciously scandalous) scenes

Greatest strengths: The questions. This book basically reads itself, demanding the reader’s attention and insisting that you keep going. I had to soak my thumb in epsom salt after all that rapid-fire page turning. Okay, not true, but still …  

Standout achievements: Though written in 2005, Die A Little reads just like golden-era noir — which is meant as a major compliment

Fun Facts: With that cover art, I would have bought this book if it was a seventeen-pound glossary of aquatic vegetation terms

Other media: N/A

What it taught me: To mind my own gosh-danged business. I mean, I’m glad Lora was such a busybody because otherwise we wouldn’t have such a great story — but personally? Nooooo thank you. I don’t care if you’re a sexy femme fatale with so many skeltons in your closet you can’t get your babydoll nightie out without one falling out: I’m keeping my nose right where it belongs … 

How it inspired me: I’m always digging and evolving as a writer, but my discovery of noir and hard-boiled detective fiction has influenced me on a much deeper level than most genres. And this book, Die a Little, is one of the best and strongest of its kind

Additional thoughts: Now I have to read all of Megan Abbott’s other books, which is pretty annoying because I already have a million other things I have to read. So yeah. Thanks, Megan Abbott. You’re a real pal …  

Haunt me:

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Great Expectations, Charles Dickens, 1861

My favorite quote: “I am what you designed me to be. I am your blade. You cannot now complain if you also feel the hurt.”

Notable characters: Pip, an orphan who dreams of one becoming a gentleman; Mrs. Joe, his hot-tempered older sister; Joe, her husband; Miss Havisham, a wealthy spinster; Estella, her adopted daughter

Most memorable scene: Pip meeting the convict in the cemetery jumped to my mind so I’ll go with that

Greatest strengths: It’s a toss-up between the imagery and the characters. Dickens excels at both, and Great Expectations serves as a great example of either

Standout achievements: As far as I know, there is only one way to travel to another time and place — and that is to read Charles Dickens. His command of the language, his life-like characters, and above all, his vivid descriptions, remain unsurpassed. So, if you’ve ever wondered what it must have been like to walk down the streets of London in the early to mid 19th century, check out Great Expectations

Fun Facts: The first film adaptation of Great Expectations was in 1917. It was a silent movie starring Jack Pickford, and is now a lost film

Other media: Too numerous to mention

What it taught me: The first time I read this, many, many moons ago, I couldn’t help noticing the way the story arc built right up to the middle of the book, and then just kind of … petered out. For a long time, I was convinced that poor Mr. Dickens must have had a stroke right in middle of this book … until I learned the way that story arcs were constructed back then. These days, the tension climbs throughout the book, climaxing at the end. In Dickens’ day, though, story arcs frequently peaked at the midpoint and slowly simmered down for a nice, quiet ending. I didn’t know that until I read this book

How it inspired me: There are definite traces of Miss Havisham in my character, The Black Wasp (from the book of the same name) as well as in the ghostly Bride of Ravencrest in the Thorne and Cross series, The Ravencrest Saga
Additional thoughts: I’m definitely a fan of this one — just to be clear

Haunt me:

Red Harvest by Patrick C. Greene

Red Harvest, Patrick C. Greene, 2018

My favorite quote: “‘For, you see, come Halloween, Ember Hollow becomes Haunted Hollow, Halloween Capital of the World.’” That, or, “‘What is this? The Waltons? I thought men were supposed to go all corpsy after sex.’”

Notable characters: Stuart Barcroft, an Ember Hollow Junior High School student; Candace Galeens, the very cool love interest; Dennis, his recently-sober, punk-rocker older brother; DeShaun Lott, Stuart’s lifelong BFF; Hudson Lott, Chief Deputy and DeShaun’s father; Ruth, a local church-goer hell-bent on putting a stop to the festivities

Most memorable scene: The string of horrors Candace sees when she’s walking home — and it only gets worse from there

Greatest strengths: The characters. OMG. There are some seriously f*cked up people in this book — and I dig them all. Especially Ruth. GAWD, how I loved that despicable little nut-job! Disclaimer: This book has a massive cast — but don’t let that scare you. Greene not only pulls it off but makes it look easy  

Standout achievements: This book absolutely nails the Halloween atmosphere … and as a big fan of Halloween Atmosphere, I appreciate that. Oh, and it’s got great music, too

Fun Facts: Red Harvest is book one of the Haunted Hollow series 

Other media: N/A

What it taught me: A little about music and a lot about punk 

How it inspired me: Red Harvest made me want to center one of my own books on Halloween — and after thinking on it a little, I think I know how to do it 

Additional thoughts: There’s a lot going on here, but Greene balances gore, creep, religious zealotry, and the slow descent into madness with a quick, deft hand that pulls no punches — and that’s how I like it

Haunt me:

The Obsession by Nora Roberts

The Obsession, Nora Roberts, 2016

My favorite quote: “You put something behind you, Nome, it’s got its eye on your back. I’d rather keep it in front of me, so I can see where it’s going.”

Notable characters: Naomi Bowes/Carson, a photographer and daughter of a serial killer; Xander Keaton, the Nora-Roberts-style sexy car-mechanic-love-interest who makes men everywhere look and feel substandard; Mason, Naomi’s brother, the FBI profiler

Most memorable scene: What young Naomi discovers in the root cellar in the woods out back

Greatest strengths: Smooth(ish) head-hopping. I’m still not a fan of unexpected point-of-view shifts within the same scene, but I’ll say that good old Nora does it about as well as it can be done 

Standout achievements: Its twist ending. I thought for sure I knew who the baddie was. I thought wrong  

Fun Facts: Nora Roberts was the first author to be inducted into the Romance Writers of America Hall of Fame

Other media: While I wouldn’t doubt there’s some Hallmark-esque film version of this floating around out there somewhere, I’ve found no evidence of its existence 

What it taught me: That romance can go anywhere. That’s what I like about Nora Roberts. It’s romance, sure… but it’s also suspense and drama and comedy and horror and … well, you get the idea

How it inspired me: I think about Nora Roberts a lot when I’m writing scenes that involve the squishing of the gibbly bits. I like the way she does it … not too tame, but not too explicit, either. Of course, I always go straight for the vein when it comes to parking the Plymouth in the old love garage, but I do admire Nora’s subtler sexual finesse. In short, no one does gland-to-gland combat quite like her

Additional thoughts: Even if you’re not into romance novels, this one’s worth checking out. It’s been a long time since I read it, but as I recall, the love story wasn’t in the driver’s seat. Or maybe that was just my perception — I’m far more interested in the suspense elements

Haunt me:

The Blackstone Chronicles by John Saul

The Blackstone Chronicles, John Saul, 1997

My favorite quote: “The dark figure cradled the doll, gazing into its porcelain face in the moonlight, stroking its long blond hair, remembering how it had come to be here.”

Notable characters: The truth is, they’re all notable. Seriously. This is some of the best work Saul has ever done

Most memorable scene: Early on, when the little girl goes to the asylum. I was stunned. STUNNED. And so was the nurse who helped her undress

Greatest strengths: The shock value. Here there be many, many shocks … 

Standout achievements: For technically containing six different stories, it’s remarkably cohesive

Fun Facts: The Blackstone Chronicles is a serialized novel consisting of six installments, all of follow the lives of different characters living in the fiction New Hampshire town of Blackstone 

Other media: It’s been adapted into a graphic novel, a computer game, and ALMOST a miniseries … but apparently plans fell through

What it taught me: Because of the way it’s weaved together with a few interesting threads, this collection reads like a complete novel — something I paid very close attention to for later use in my own work

How it inspired me: When Tamara Thorne and I began our gothic horror collaboration, The Ravencrest Saga, it was originally released in serial form. It’s thanks to Stephen King’s The Green Mile and John Saul’s The Blackstone Chronicles that we were able to do that. Those serializations paved the way and warmed modern-day readers to the idea of serial installments

Additional thoughts: When we interviewed John Saul on our podcast, he told us a wonderful story about how this book prompted Whoopi Goldberg to get in touch with him … good stuff  

Haunt me:

Blackmailed by Annamarie McKenna

Blackmailed, Annamarie McKenna, 2006

My favorite quote: “‘No sane man would whore his daughter for the sake of an heir.’” Spoiler alert: He does 

Notable characters: Brianna Wyatt, a virgin who’s blackmailed into reproducing with an obscenely rich sex god; Cole Masters, the obscenely rich sex god; Tyler Cannon, his friend with whom he shares everything (and by everything, I mean women) who also happens to be an obscenely rich sex god

Most memorable scene: The forced shaving scene — which was a little distressing. I’ve always been of the belief that one should have a say in whether (and where) they are or are not shaved. I looked into this afterward and guess what? It’s an actual fetish some folks have. Forced shaving is a real thing

Greatest strengths: Its sexual creativity. This book explored every possible male/female/male configuration I could think of — and a few I hadn’t. And kinda didn’t want to … but also kinda did. It’s a mixed bag … 

Standout achievements: Its ability to keep me reading despite the fact that I never cared a single shred for any of the characters

Fun Facts: I’ve always said that I enjoy reading for its own sake — that I love 99% of the books I read, no matter what they’re about. I picked this one up for the sole purpose of finding out once and for all if that’s really true. And guess what? It is

Other media: N/A

What it taught me: That sharing is caring

How it inspired me: If by “inspired” you mean “aroused,” then yes. Yes, it did. Well, you’re the one who asked, you pervert. Don’t judge me. You don’t even know me

Additional thoughts: If you’re willing to overlook some serious plot problems for the sake of a little easy-reading smut that won’t tax your imagination in the least, you’ve just struck gold

Haunt me:

Icebound by Dean Koontz

Icebound, Dean Koontz, 1976, 1995

My favorite quote: “Politics was an illusion of service that cloaked the corruption of power. It was lies, deceptions, self-interest, and self-aggrandizement: suitable work only for the mad and the venal and the naïve.” Also, “In the end, no lamb could escape the slaughter.”

Notable characters: Harry Carpenter, a scientist; Rita Carpenter, his snow-phobic scientist wife; Franz Fischer, a big negative-Nelly; Peter Johnson, whose name I hope I’ll never be so mature that I don’t laugh at every time I read it

Most memorable scene: That moment when the scientists realize they’re stranded on an iceberg … with bombs ticking under it

Greatest strengths: The suspense. It never stops

Standout achievements: The science. If Mr. Koontz took any creative license here, it doesn’t show

Fun Facts: This book was first published in 1976 under the pseudonym David Axton, and was re-released in 1995 under Dean Koontz’s real name

Other media: N/A

What it taught me: This book led me down a research rabbit hole about suboceanic earthquakes. I now have more knowledge on the subject than I’ll probably ever need — which isn’t a complaint

How it inspired me: While reading Icebound, I realized there’s tension on every page. Sometimes it’s big, sometimes it’s small, but it’s always there. That’s something to keep in mind in my own work

Additional thoughts: While I have a very complicated relationship with Dean Koontz, this book is ALMOST the quintessential embodiment of all the things I like about him: good characters, suspense, great pacing, descriptions that put you in the story, and nice, smooth prose

Haunt me:

Gilded Needles by Michael McDowell

Gilded Needles, Michael McDowell, 1980

My favorite quote: “You are falling into inanity,” said Judge Stallworth coldly. “I have told you, the lower classes do not take revenge upon the upper.” (P.S. – like hell, they don’t)

Notable characters: Black Lena Shanks; the family matriarch who heads a group of female criminals; Judge James Stallworth, her enemy; the twins, Ella and Rob, young expert pick-pockets 

Most memorable scene: When the Stallworth family receives invitations to their own funerals

Greatest strengths: While McDowell is a master at placing the reader in any scene he chooses, his descriptions of New York’s poor area, known as the Black Triangle, and his analysis of life there in the 1880s, stand out singularly as some of the best stuff I’ve read. Like, ever 

Standout achievements: More dark crime than horror, this book is not only beautifully written, but it brings into clear and terrifying focus the old adage that Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Seriously … Gird your loins, ya’ll 

Fun Facts: Stephen King once described McDowell as “the finest writer of paperback originals in America today.” Not that I put a whole lot of stock into King’s recommendations at this point, but in this case, I agree  

Other media: N/A

What it taught me: Nobody brings a scene to life like McDowell and every time I read him, I come away with a new perspective and a deeper understanding of how it’s done. There is simply no way I could narrow down a single lesson I learned from this book

How it inspired me: There’s a character in this book called Weeping Mary, who dresses in widow’s weeds and attends funerals where she pretends to be grief-stricken in order to pick the pockets of the mourners. It’s from her and Black Lena Shanks that my character, The Black Wasp (from the Vampires of Crimson Cove series) was born. Though nothing like either woman (aside from the black clothes) the Black Wasp undoubtedly made her way to me through these two shady ladies

Additional thoughts: I only wish this one had been longer … 

Haunt me:

In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash

In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash, Jean Shepherd, 1966

My favorite quote: “Heat, in Indiana, is something else again. It descends like a 300-pound fat lady onto a picnic bench in the middle of July. It can literally be sliced into chunks and stored away in the basement to use in winter; on cold days you just bring it out and turn it on.”

Notable characters: Ralphie Parker, Flick, his friend from childhood; 

Most memorable scene: For me, it’s a part about a drunk neighbor who nearly blows up someone’s house on the 4th of July. That part wasn’t in the movie

Greatest strengths: The humor — it’s as good in the book is as it is in the movie

Standout achievements: Since most folks are more familiar with the movie (A Christmas Story, 1983) it seems fair to warn them that there are some significant deviations from the book. For example, the book bears the unfortunate absence of the “triple dog dare” scene. But that doesn’t mean the book isn’t good. In fact, I think its “standout achievement” is that it manages to make a great book AND a great movie (albeit, in slightly different ways) 

Fun Facts: This book surprises most folks because it’s actually a short story collection — not all of which are about Ralphie Parker’s childhood 

Other media: The 1983 classic, A Christmas Story, starring Peter Billingsley

What it taught me: Like the movie, this book gives the audience a vivid — and very entertaining — glimpse into Depression-era American life 

How it inspired me: It made me laugh. A lot. And that’s the greatest inspiration there is

Additional thoughts: I knew this book was a separate entity from the movie and I think that’s part of why I liked it as much as I did. So, if you plan to read this, my advice is to go in knowing that it’s not a mirror image of the movie  

Haunt me:

Skipping Christmas by John Grisham

Skipping Christmas, John Grisham, 2001

My favorite quote: “Why do we eat so much and drink so much in the celebration of the birth of Christ?”

Notable characters: Luther and Nora Krank, a couple who want to break tradition; Vic Frohmeyer, the neighbor who won’t let them

Most memorable scene: Luther, trying to get his Frosty the Snowman on the roof

Greatest strengths: It’s ability to rack up such massive outrage, lol. Like any book, some people love it and some people hate it … but the folks who hate Skipping Christmas are in a different class. They REALLY hate it!! With extra, extra exclamation points!!!! Seriously. The negative Goodreads reviews on this one are hilarious. Give it a gander when you have some time to kill — you’d think John Grisham shot Santa in the face or something …   

Standout achievements: For a former attorney who mainly writes legal thrillers, John Grisham is a surprisingly funny guy

Fun Facts: Within a month and a few days of its release, Skipping Christmas reached number one on the New York Times best-seller list

Other media: The 2004 film, Christmas with the Kranks, starring Tim Allen, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Dan Aykroyd

What it taught me: This book really does shine a light on the absurdity and social pressures of Christmas. Not that I have a problem with that. I like traditional Christmases — but I certainly wouldn’t give into the kind of pressures the poor Kranks were under

How it inspired me: While writing our collaborative thriller, Mother, Tamara Thorne and I thought often of Nora and Luther Krank’s horrible controlling neighbors. We wanted Morning Glory Circle (the cul-de-sac in the Mother) to be like the Kranks’ neighborhood year-round, complete with a self-appointed leader (Mother, herself) who would take it upon herself to dictate the the lives of her neighbors — but in a way that was more frightening than funny  

Additional thoughts: This is one of those rare cases where the movie is actually better than the book. That’s not to say the book isn’t good — it is, but the movie just has more sparkle. The characters are more alive, the humor is much funnier, and the film addition of Marty, aka, Santa the umbrella salesman, the plot is given a more meaningful layer that I felt the book was lacking

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8 More Days For Your Free Book!

The Christmas edition of the Purple Probe is on its way! And if you sign up before December 31st, you’ll get a free ebook copy of our gothic thriller, The Ghosts of Ravencrest!

In our free monthly newsletter, The Purple Probe, you’ll get character interviews, behind-the-scenes tell-alls, a gossip column that sheds light on the darkest monsters in the Thorne & Cross Universe, and much, much more. Sign up today at: or by visiting our websites at or

After you sign up, just email our publicist at Let her know whether you’d like epub, mobi, or pdf. She’ll verify your subscription, then send you your free copy of The Ghosts of Ravencrest, Book One of the Ravencrest Saga.

SEX: A Man’s Guide by Stefan Bechtel

Sex: A Man’s Guide, Stefan Bechtel, Laurence Roy Stains (tee, hee, hee — Stains), 1996

My favorite quote: “Some ancient philosophers thought that semen’s grayish froth was a little bit of the gray matter between our ears — and, therefore, not something to be indiscriminately spent.” Umm .. gray? I don’t know whose you’re looking at but, gross. And btw, I’ll spend mine as indiscriminately as I see fit, thank you very much. If God didn’t want me spreading it around, he wouldn’t have given me so much of it

Notable characters: Well, it’s non-fiction so it’s pretty much just you and your penis — if you have one

Most memorable scene: It’s been a while since I read this, but as I recall, the chapter on the male g-spot had me clutching my pearls, pretending to be scandalized in case “they” were watching me. I don’t know who “they” are but I know they’re watching, and I’d hate for them to think I’m desensitized to such heathen practices

Greatest strengths: Its heft. This book packs a punch! I know, because I once found myself hurling it at what I believed to be an intruder. Turns out it was just a moth, but I’ll tell you what: that sucker won’t mess ME again

Standout achievements: I was so drawn into the chapters on sexual positions that I found myself re-enacting them as I read along. It gave me a real feel for what my body is capable of — even if it did upset the other people on the bus

Fun Facts: This book dedicates 6 pages to the clitoris and only 1 page to sexual duration. Do with that what you will

Other media: N/A What it taught me: Honestly, not that much. Maybe if I’d read it when I was 12, things would be different, but I pretty much already had things figured out

How it inspired me: The section on STDs inspired me to take a vow of abstinence. Lamest week and a half of my life

Additional thoughts: I don’t even know why I read this book. All I remember is that one day, I was walking through a bookstore and I saw the word SEX in bright red letters beckoniong me from the shelves. The next thing I knew, I was at home reading it — which, I’m sure, is exactly how “they” planned it all along …

Haunt me:

The Unloved by John Saul

The Unloved, John Saul, 1988

My favorite quote: “He pitched forward, his vision going black as he died. The last thing he saw was the scarlet gash of Marguerite’s mouth, twisted into a vicious parody of a victorious smile.”

Notable characters: The Devereaux family, Kevin and Anne, and their children Jeff and Julie; Helena, Kevin’s rude-ass dying mother; Marguerite, Kevin’s weird-ass creepy sister

Most memorable scene: When Jenny sees old Aunt Marguerite dancing in the ballroom. Her strange limping waltz is really effective in creeping the reader out. And by “the reader,” I mean me. It creeped me out. There, I said it

Greatest strengths: The horror. And by that, I don’t necessarily mean blood and gore. I mean that it’s seriously scary 

Standout achievements: The Unloved has the sole distinction of being the only book that actually made me jump. There’s a line at the end of chapter 20 that says, “… a bolt of lightning flared in the sky outside and a sharp clap of thunder shook the house.” I read this book on a stormy night and right as I read those words, real lightning flashed followed by a big crash of real thunder. It scared me so bad tears were running down my leg

Fun Facts: I know it’s morbid but I was laughing out loud when the little kid corpses were being dragged up the stairs for a dead-kid tea party. I’m calling this a ‘fun’ fact because when I met John Saul many years later, he said he thought that part was hilarious, too, and was cracking up while he wrote it. And that’s when I knew this man was my kinda guy

Other media: N/A

What it taught me: That sometimes, there are no heroes … and that’s okay

How it inspired me: John Saul’s work has influenced me in a million ways, but his ability to foreshadow without weakening the storyline tops the list.  Foreshadowing is a tricky thing, but when it’s done well — as it is here — it adds an exciting sheen to even the weariest plotline

Additional thoughts: After giving it a lot of thought (and I actually do give a lot of thought to such things) I’ve decided that this is probably my all-time favorite John Saul novel. Probably. I might feel differently later 

Haunt me:

Silent Night by Mary Higgins Clark

Silent Night, Mary Higgins Clark, 2000

My favorite quote: “God rest you merry gentlemen let nothing you dismay.” While this is obviously not the intellectual property of Ms. Higgins Clark, it’s the best collection of words in this book

Notable characters: I don’t know that I’d call any of them “notable,” but the main characters are Catherine Dornan, a mother; Tom, her dying husband; Michael and Brian, her sons; Cally Hunter, some rando who steals Catherine’s wallet; Jimmy, Cally’s brother, who kidnaps little Brian

Most memorable scene: If there was a memorable scene here, it must have slipped past me

Greatest strengths: It tried very hard to capture the spirit of Christmas. Like any wise spirit, however, it fled. Slippery little bastards 

Standout achievements: On the cover of the copy I had, there was a bulbous-headed little boy pressing himself against a car window, looking out in what I assume to be terror as the car drove away. I’m not sure I’ve ever laughed at a book cover before but this one made me chuckle

Fun Facts: I recommended this to the small book club I belonged to, and when we were finished a new rule was set in place: No more Mary Higgins Clark. Ever. It’s the only rule our club has ever had 

Other media: Who knows. I was about to go look it up and then I was like, meh … who cares

What it taught me: That flat characters and predictability can hollow out even the swiftest pace 

How it inspired me: It convinced me never to use the old “life-saving-operation” trope in anything I write, ever. It just feels tired and trite. Or, at least it does in the hands of the “Queen of Suspense,” anyway

Additional thoughts: Of all the Mary Higgins Clark books I’ve read, this one’s my favorite. That’s not an endorsement

Haunt me:

My Interview at Masters of Horror

What inspires me? What are my favorite novels? My greatest accomplishment? All this and more at Masters of Horror.

I had a good time with this interview. Thank you, David Kempf, for inviting me.

Bunnicula Meets Edgar Allan Crow by James Howe

Bunnicula Meets Edgar Allan Crow, James Howe, 2006

My favorite quote: “Did you ever find yourself doing something that, even while you’re doing it, you’re asking yourself, “How did I get myself into this? Have I lost my mind?” Well this was one of those moments.”

Notable characters: Harold, the canine author; Chester, the paranoid cat; Howie, the little punster; M.T. Graves, the author of the “FleshCrawlers” series; Edgar Allan Crow, his pet bird

Most memorable scene: When all the crows fly up from behind the house and land on the roof

Greatest strengths: I found this book to be a perfectly worthy conclusion to the series

Standout achievements: All the birds in this book were actually kinda scary. Or at least, they definitely would have scared my little kid self. That is, if this book had been available for my little kid self, which it wasn’t. It was published in 2006. I was all grown up in 2006

Fun Facts: In this book, we finally get an answer to a question posed way back in Nighty-Nightmare: What about the baby Bunniculas? You’ll have to read this one to find out about them, but it does get addressed

Other media: N/A

What it taught me: That my adult self still loves these books (even the ones I didn’t read until now) as much as my kid self did. That said, reading this was a sad experience for me. It’s the last book in the series — there are more ‘Bunniucla’ out there somewhere — but this is the last book “written” by Harold. For this reason, I milked out reading it for as long as I could. I didn’t want it to be over. Alas, it is, and I am sad

How it inspired me: This series is the reason I started writing scary stories about talking animals when I was a kid. Those scary stories evolved with me and I’m still writing them today (albeit, without the chatty cats and dogs) so in a way, this is where it all began. Thank you, Bunnicula and friends — and thank you, James Howe, for creating them

Additional thoughts: Under it all, this book (and the series, really) is about growth and change, and over the course of its seven books, there is a lot of change, especially here. Toby and Pete have cell phones and laptops now (even though they’ve remained 10 and 12 for the better part of 30 years) and Harold the writing dog is (sadly) retiring on account of his arthritis. Most importantly of all, though, Mrs. Monroe has shed the mob-wife look she adopted in the previous book. I can’t prove it, of course, as there are no illustrations of her in this one, but I CHOOSE to believe her midlife crisis has passed and that she’s gone back to her original, gentler look 

Haunt me:

Get Probed This Christmas!

The Christmas edition of the Purple Probe is on its way! And if you sign up before December 31st, you’ll get a free ebook copy of our gothic thriller, The Ghosts of Ravencrest!

In our free monthly newsletter, The Purple Probe, you’ll get character interviews, behind-the-scenes tell-alls, a gossip column that sheds light on the darkest monsters in the Thorne & Cross Universe, and much, much more. Sign up today at: or by visiting our websites at or

After you sign up, just email our publicist at Let her know whether you’d like epub, mobi, or pdf. She’ll verify your subscription, then send you your free copy of The Ghosts of Ravencrest, Book One of the Ravencrest Saga.

The Laughing Corpse by Laurell K. Hamilton

The Laughing Corpse, Laurell K. Hamilton, 1994

My favorite quote: “People say I’m a feminist, but in truth, I am an equalist. I believe that everyone, male and female, should be free to be whom and what they are. Not to fit into some tight cultural box.” Oh, and also, “Hope is a lying bitch.”

Notable characters: Anita Blake, vampire hunter; Bert, her boss; Harold Gaynor, the client; Jean-Claude, the master vamp of St. Louis; Dominga Salvador, a badass vaudun priestess to end all badass vaudun priestesses

Most memorable scene: Near the end of the book, in the cemetery. I’m not sure how much I should say. It’s just … awesome. And f*cking terrifying (read this and tell me it’s not some of the horror-iest horror out there. I’ll wait …)

Greatest strengths: Description. Laurell K. Hamilton has always been a hero of mine in the description department and this book brims with reasons why. You feel what her characters feel, see what they see, and taste what they taste. Few authors are able to deliver this caliber of sensory experience 

Standout achievements: If you read this fast like I did, it will actually leave you a little breathless. I’d call that an achievement 

Fun Facts: It’s been ten years so I can talk about it now: I called in sick to work to finish this book. I seriously just-one-more-chaptered it all night long, and into the morning. I’ve just-one-more-chaptered it before but never like this. So yeah, if my former boss is reading this — sorry, Becky. In my defense, it was a really, really good book … and I DID have vacation days to cover my time …  

Other media: The Laughing Corpse is part of the graphic novel series, Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter

What it taught me: To never go easy on your main character. Seriously. Just when you think things can’t get any worse for poor Anita, BAM! — another layer of hurt. Cruel? Maybe — but it keeps the characters growing and the readers reading

How it inspired me: This series doesn’t just bend genre, it transcends it, and these are the books I was reading when I realized I didn’t necessarily have to follow all the “rules” in my own writing. **Disclaimer: There is a place for rules. It’s just that there’s a way to break them, too — and this series is a fine example of how to do it well

Additional thoughts: I’m (slowly) working my way through this series for the 4th (or is it the 5th?) time, and I gotta say: it holds up

Haunt me:

Discover Ravencrest Manor … FREE Now!

From now until December 31st, you’ll get one free ebook copy of our paranormal thriller, The Ghosts of Ravencrest, by subscribing to our free monthly newsletter, The Purple Probe. In The Purple Probe, you’ll get character interviews, behind-the-scenes tell-alls, a gossip column that sheds light on the darkest monsters in the Thorne & Cross Universe, and much, much more.

Sign up today at: or by visiting our websites at or

After you sign up, just email our publicist at Let her know whether you’d like epub, mobi, or pdf. She’ll verify your subscription, then send you your free copy of The Ghosts of Ravencrest, Book One of the Ravencrest Saga.

Darkness Never Dies …

Ravencrest Manor has always been part of the family. The ancestral home of the Mannings, Ravencrest’s walls have been witness to generations of unimaginable scandal, horror, and depravity. Imported stone by stone from England to northern California in the early 1800s, the manor now houses widower Eric Manning, his children, and his staff. Ravencrest stands alone, holding its memories and ghosts close to its dark heart, casting long, black shadows across its grand lawns, through the surrounding forests, and over the picturesque town of Devilswood, below.

Dare to Cross the Threshold …

Ravencrest Manor is the most beautiful thing new governess, Belinda Moorland, has ever seen, but as she learns more about its tangled past of romance and terror, she realizes that beauty has a dark side. Ravencrest is built on secrets, and its inhabitants seem to be keeping plenty of their own – from the handsome English butler, Grant Phister, to the power-mad administrator, Mrs. Heller, to Eric Manning himself, who watches her with dark, fathomless eyes. But Belinda soon realizes that the living who dwell in Ravencrest have nothing on the other inhabitants – the ones who walk the darkened halls by night … the ones who enter her dreams … the ones who are watching … and waiting …

Welcome to Ravencrest …

Who is the man digging in the garden beyond Belinda’s bedroom window? Who – or what – is watching her from the vents? From ghostly screams and the clutching bony fingers of death in the indoor pool, to the trio of gliding nuns in the east wing who come at Belinda with black blazing eyes, to the beckoning little girl in the red dress who died more than two centuries ago, Belinda is thrust into a world of waking nightmares where there is no distinction between the living and the dead, and there are no limits to the horrors that await. Witchcraft is afoot at Ravencrest and as unspeakable terrors begin to unfold, Belinda realizes that her beautiful new home is a keeper of tragedy, a collector of souls. And it wants to add her to its collection …

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, 1843

My favorite quote: The opening line: “Marley was dead, to begin with.” What a great way to start 

Notable characters: Ebenezer Scrooge, a heartless miser who finds redemption

Most memorable scene: My favorite scenes have always been those early moments when the spookiness is just beginning to take shape. That first appearance of Jacob Marley’s ghost is the kind of stuff that made me a fan of ghost stories in the first place. I still can’t get enough of it

Greatest strengths: Character development, of course 

Standout achievements: I don’t think the general public has any idea how profound a cultural impact this little novella really had — not only at the time of its publication in England, but even today, in America. One example of this is the fact that this book popularized the terms “Merry Christmas” and “bah humbug.” Before A Christmas Carol, no one really said those things. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If you’re looking to have your mind blown, give it a Google 

Fun Facts: Dickens originally intended A Christmas Carol to be a pamphlet called, “An Appeal to the People of England on behalf of the Poor Man’s Child,” which would be about child labor in the British society.

Other media: Well … how much time do you have … ?? (My favorite is a toss-up between Mickey’s Christmas Carol and Disney’s version with Jim Carrey)

What it taught me: The importance — and the power — of character development. I mean, can you imagine how lame this story would have been if Ebenezer hadn’t changed? 

How it inspired me: My collaborator, Tamara Thorne, and I have the honor of beginning a new venture called Horror Classics with Thorne & Cross, where we’ll be writing introductions for and giving our thoughts on classic horror-themed novels, stories, and novellas.We chose A Christmas Carol to kick it off because we can’t think of a more important, meaningful, and enduring classic in ANY genre. The ebook, paperback, and audiobook (narrated by Jamison Lee Walker) is available now at Amazon and Audible

Additional thoughts: Because his previous book didn’t sell well, Dickens wasn’t able to find a publisher for A Christmas Carol and paid for the printing himself … making him one of the early self-published authors

Haunt me:

Dividend on Death by Brett Halliday

Dividend on Death, Brett Halliday, 1939

My favorite quote: “After carefully spreading the damp gown on the toasting tray, he closed the oven door and left it to dry, reflecting on the convenience of being able to destroy evidence while you prepared breakfast.”

Notable characters: Mike Shayne, the PI; Phyllis Brighton, the damsel in distress … kinda; Dr. Pedique, Phyllis’ ill-fated physician (say that 5 times fast)

Most memorable scene: The gunfight

Greatest strengths: Its straightforward, no-nonsense prose is as straightforward and no-nonsense as its main character, private dick, Mike Shayne

Standout achievements: I was frequently impressed by Mike Shayne’s brains. Apparently, I’d make a lousy 1930s PI because I was like, HUH? a lot of the time

Fun Facts: The first book I read in this series was A Taste for Violence, which is either #15, 16, or 17, depending on your source. I had no idea it even was a series, but I’m glad it is because I love this sh*t

Other media: There are a few — most notably, The 1940 film Michael Shayne, Private Detective, which is the first in a series of twelve movies

What it taught me: That a little adverb goes a long way. Seriously. This book is absolutely riddled with them. You kind of have to train your eye to stop seeing them, otherwise it gets distracting 

How it inspired me: This book helped make me aware of the women I’m writing. Specifically, to keep them smart and strong. I know this was written in the 1930s, but I seriously doubt women were EVER the senseless bunch of wet dish rags portrayed in the fiction of this era 

Additional thoughts: Though far-fetched, politically incorrect, somewhat generic, and sodden with adverbs, I liked this book. While I don’t think the character of Mike Shayne holds a candle to Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, he’s entertaining enough when taken for what he is: a product of his time

Haunt me:

Guardian by John Saul

Guardian, John Saul, 1993

My favorite quote: “Suddenly MaryAnne Carpenter had an uneasy feeling that there was a dark facet to Joey Wilkenson’s personality that she knew nothing about. A darkness she was just beginning to see.”

Notable characters: Joey Wilkenson, a boy with special abilities; MaryAnne Carpenter, Joey’s godmother; Alison and Logan Carpenter, his new faux-siblings; Rick Martin, the deputy 

Most memorable scene: I’m thrilled to announce that one of the characters in this book does, indeed, go sailing off a cliff in true John Saul style. I won’t say who it is, but I always wait for someone to go sailing of a cliff in John Saul books and they are always my favorite scenes

Greatest strengths: The quality of writing here is a step or two above some of Saul’s other works

Standout achievements: Its pacing is impeccable. Not more than a page or two goes by without some kind of horrific twisted tragedy taking place … and that’s the way (uh-huh, uh-huh) I like it

Fun Facts: This is one of Saul’s more sciency (rather than horrory) books (though it has plenty horror) and I love it

Other media: N/A

What it taught me: I always pay attention to my own emotional responses when I’m reading, and — for my sensibilities anyway — this book is a lesson in creating and sustaining suspense, in keeping the reader in nice tight grip throughout

How it inspired me: Saul’s prose is simple, straightforward, and therefore, effective. I always return to him when I find myself getting too caught up in technique. John Saul always reminds me that simplicity is power

Additional thoughts: If you’re reading this book and can’t figure out why you keep getting “Livin’ La Vida Loca” stuck in your head like I did, I’ve figured it out: it’s on account of the deputy’s name. Rick Martin. As in Ricky Martin. You’re welcome 

Haunt me:

Bacchanal by Veronica G. Henry

Bacchanal, Veronica G. Henry, 2021

My favorite quote: “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” 

Notable characters: Eliza (Liza) Meeks, the new recruit; Clay, the talent scout; Jamey, his assistant

Most memorable scene: There are a few that stand out, but my heart will always belong to Officer Anderson’s ill-fated excursion through the House of Wax

Greatest strengths: The concept. I can’t really elaborate without giving away surprises, but the whole idea — specifically, the idea behind the carnival itself — is pretty great

Standout achievements: That cover! I don’t know who designed it but could somebody go get them on the phone?  Seriously. It’s gorgeous 

Fun Facts: Bacchanal is author Veronica Henry’s debut novel 

Other media: N/A

What it taught me: The importance of characters the reader can connect with — which was something that, for me, this book profoundly lacked. There were other problems to be sure, but for me, the greatest failure here was the absence of engaging characters. My inability to connect with anyone made for a long, unsatisfying, and at times, tedious read 

How it inspired me: Henry has a powerful knack for figurative language that makes me want to broaden my linguistic horizons. You’ll see no “cute as kittens” or “happy as clams” cliches here. When Veronica Henry decides to plant an image in the reader’s mind, she makes sure it’s something you’ve never seen before

Additional thoughts: I wanted to love this book. I tried really hard to love it … but the best I can say is that it was okay. I certainly wouldn’t tell someone not to read it — I just wouldn’t break my neck telling them they should. It was a great idea — I just felt the execution was lacking. I love multiple points-of-view, but here they felt messy. The writing seemed rough-drafty, the plot got too scattered, and in this case, the genre-bending resulted in a narrative that seemed like it couldn’t make up its mind. There were moments when it felt like there was a good story in here trying to to get out, but it never quite broke the surface in my opinion

Haunt me:

Live and Let Die by Ian Fleming

Live and Let Die, Ian Fleming, 1954

My favorite quote: “The gain to the winner is always less than the loss to the loser.”

Notable characters: James Bond, agent 007; Felix Leiter, Bond’s friend in the CIA; Mr. Big, the Voodoo Baron of Death; Solitaire, Mr. Big’s fortune-telling employee

Most memorable scene: The note pinned to Leiter’s chest: “He disagreed with something that ate him.” Ha, ha, Mr. Leiter … ha, ha 

Greatest strengths: The way it just gets right to the point. All these books are like that. No real foreplay, just … BAM! — right to the point. Which is cool with me 

Standout achievements: Its clear view of the Harlem jazz clubs of the 1950s

Fun Facts: While I’m probably one of the last people on the planet to get one, I do have a Kindle now, but I put off using it for a long, long time. I have enough technology in my life, you know? When I finally decided to give it a try, I decided on Casino Royale, the first book in the James Bond series, as my maiden ebook voyage. I picked that one for two reasons: first, it’s short, and second, I didn’t think I’d like it very much, which would give me the perfect excuse to stick to paperbacks. But that’s not how it turned out. It turned out that I liked it. A lot. So much that I completely forgot I was reading it on an electronic device. I promptly bought the others in the series, and the rest is history. Now I use my Kindle all the time, and am even further enslaved to technology. So, yeah. Thanks, James Bond  

Other media: The 1973 film of the same name, starring Roger Moore as Bond … among others

What it taught me: All about jazz clubs in the 1950s which, when you write about ghosts and vampires and other creatures from various time periods, is likely to come in very handy one day

How it inspired me: This, along with a patchwork of other works of fiction and non-fiction, helped me get a solid understanding of voodoo, Obeah, and other such practices — information that came in handy when I was writing The Black Wasp 

Additional thoughts: I noticed a few improvements in this book from the first one — especially regarding the characters. Even James Bond feels a lot more well-rounded here than he did in Casino Royale. And villains seem more … well, villainous  

Haunt me:

The Servants of Twilight by Dean Koontz

The Servants of Twilight, Dean Koontz, 1984

My favorite quote: “It began in sunshine, not on a dark and stormy night.” (Best opening line ever, IMO)

Notable characters: Chrsitine Scavello, the single mom; Joey, her son; Charlie Harrison, the PI; Grace Spivey, the leader of the religious cult for which the book is named; Kyle Barlow, her right-hand man

Most memorable scene: Mother Grace, watching Joey through the window. For some reason, that sticks with me. Probably because, Jesus, that’s creepy

Greatest strengths: Its hook. It will get you from page one 

Standout achievements: The villains. These are not the typical one-dimensional bad guys of (some) later Koontz novels … these ones are real people with real motivations … nasty ones, too  

Fun Facts: This book was originally published under the pseudonym Leigh Nichols and it’s title was … wait for it … TWILIGHT! LOL

Other media: The 1991 television film adaptation of the same name

What it taught me: How to properly “cat-and-mouse” in my own writing. I teethed on the chase scenes in this book 

How it inspired me: This was the second Koontz book I ever read and is one of the handful of horror novels I was reading when I decided I wanted to be a writer

Additional thoughts: This is, in my opinion, one of the best Koontz books out there. It has a lot of what makes Koontz great … and not much of what frequently works against him.

Haunt me:

A is for Alibi by Sue Grafton

A is for Alibi, Sue Grafton, 1982

My favorite quote: “Except for cases that clearly involve a homicidal maniac, the police like to believe murders are committed by those we know and love, and most of the time they’re right – a chilling thought when you sit down to dinner with a family of five. All those potential killers passing their plates.”

Notable characters: Kinsey Millhone, my favorite PI ever; Nikki Fife, a convicted murderer who hires Kinsey to identify her husband’s real killer 

Most memorable scene: An unexpected hit-and-run

Greatest strengths: Its style. I just really dig the “voice” of this book (and series)

Standout achievements: For a book that’s set up to introduce a twenty-plus series, this is a surprisingly strong installment. Confident in its abilities and well put-together, A is for Alibi kicks things off just right, if you ask me

Fun Facts: Grafton has openly admitted that the idea for this novel came from her own fantasies about murdering her husband during their divorce. Heh. I love it

Other media: N/A

What it taught me: How to develop a character over the course of a series. In the first installments of these books, Kinsey often feels … unattainable. As the series progresses, though, she becomes more layered and more interesting 

How it inspired me: This is the series that made me want to write a series and every time I read it I’m reminded of why it was I wanted to do what I do

Additional thoughts: I think Kinsey Millhone is right up there with Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe in the PI department, and I can see her going down as as one of the classics

Haunt me:

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

The Turn of the Screw, Henry James, 1898

My favorite quote: “I seemed to float not into clearness, but into a darker obscure, and within a minute there had come to me out of my very pity the appalling alarm of his perhaps being innocent. It was for the instant confounding and bottomless, for if he were innocent, what then on earth was I?”

Notable characters: The governess, our unnamed narrator; Flora and Miles, her strange young charges; Mrs. Grose, the housekeeper; Miss Jessell, Flora’s mysterious new friend; Peter Quint, a former employee

Most memorable scene: When the governess tells Miles he’s no longer controlled by the ghost

Greatest strengths: Its mystery

Standout achievements: This little story handles the unknown with a self-possession and balance rarely seen, keeping its secrets close, without (somehow) eluding the reader

Fun Facts: A common theory is that the ghosts in this story are representations of the governess’s burgeoning awareness of evil. I like that theory

Other media: Lots and lots, my favorite being Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting of Bly Manor on Netflix — even though it diverges markedly from the original tale

What it taught me: The importance and power of short, clear sentence structure. I mean, I know it was the way they did things back then, but the endless, meandering sentences throughout this novella make it a frustrating — and sometimes confusing — read. There were times I was shaking my fist and cursing the moldering bones of Mr. Henry James for his refusal to just get to the damn point. But again, that’s just the way they did things then. Of course, they also shared bath water and whatnot, so …  yeah. I’m glad we’ve evolved

How it inspired me: As a lifelong lover of gothic horror, I regard Turn of the Screw as one of my primary influences

Additional thoughts: Women in black, faces at windows, eerie disembodied songs, mystery men appearing on the towers — this one has it all … if you can cope with the writing style

Haunt me:

The High Window by Raymond Chandler

The High Window, Raymond Chandler, 1942

My favorite quote: “The moonlight was cold and clear, like the justice we dream of but don’t find.”

Notable characters: Philip Marlowe, the world’s favorite wise-cracking PI; Elizabeth Bright Murdock, the wealthy widow who hires him to locate a very valuable missing coin; Leslie Murdock, her irritating negative-Nelly son

Most memorable scene: Not that this book lacks action or exciting moments, but what really stands out to me about this one is Chandler’s character descriptions. Seriously. He has a way of bringing them to life like no other

Greatest strengths: Pacing

Standout achievements: I think I’m developing a bit of a man-crush on Philip Marlowe. You heard me 

Fun Facts: The script of the 1942 film was rewritten to include the character Mike Shayne. I don’t know why

Other media: There have been two film adaptations of this novel made. The first, a 1942 film titled Time to Kill, and The Brasher Doubloon in 1947

What it taught me: What a Fatima is. And a Brasher Doubloon. Also, a lot of 1940s slang terms, which, although frequently very politically incorrect, are interesting in a historical context

How it inspired me: His descriptions of sun-baked Los Angeles of days long gone makes me want to travel back to the 1940s and take a trip there. On paper, of course. I can’t actually travel back in time. But if I could, I would totally want to meet Philip Marlowe. Except he isn’t real. Neither is time travel, though, so, yeah …  

Additional thoughts: Even though this is only the second book I’ve read featuring Philip Marlowe, I’m already depressed to be that much closer to the end of the series. I’m kinda crossing my fingers that the rest of them will inexplicably suck, thus sparing me the inevitable book/series hangover. I don’t think that’s going to happen though … 

Haunt me:

Dark Lover by J.R. Ward

Dark Lover (book 1 in the Black Dagger Brotherhood), J.R. Ward, 2005

My favorite quote: “Whoa. Fangs. She had fangs. She leaned in, prodded them a little. Eating with those puppies was going to take some getting used to, she thought. On impulse, she brought up her hands, turned her fingers into claws. Hissed. Cool.”

Notable characters: Wrath, the last purebred vampire left; Beth Randall, his ‘shellan’ (it’s complicated)

Most memorable scene: Beth’s transition

Greatest strengths: The chemistry between Wrath and Beth. Smokin’ hot …  

Standout achievements: Its ability to keep me reading even as I wonder why I’m still doing it. As a friend of mine once said about this series: “Am I reading one of those bad romances you find in the grocery store? Yes. Yes, I am, and I’m okay with that.”

Fun Facts: The J.R. in “J.R. Ward” stands for Jessica Rowley Pell Bird Blakemore. Say that 5 times fast

Other media: N/A

What it taught me: That vampires can be sexy. Until the Black Dagger Brotherhood, I kinda had a hard time seeing it. I mean, they ARE dead and all …  

How it inspired me: This is one of the series that, back in my early days as a budding writer, convinced me that a third-person point-of-view was probably the way to go. J.R. Ward, like me, has a LOT of characters, and a third-person POV allows the reader (and the writer) to more deeply explore the inner lives of the various characters 

Additional thoughts: I’m not going to lie. There are a lot of eye-rolling moments in this series. A lot. But somehow, it works. Or at least it did back when I read them (it’s been a long, long time)

Haunt me:

The Throwaway Girls of Olympia by Ian Totten

The Throwaway Girls of Olympia, Ian Totten, 2020

My favorite quote: “In the last month, two young women, both brunettes, have been tossed to the side of the road in Olympia, both dead from apparent strangulation.”

Notable characters: Alan O’Tool, the haunted small-town sheriff; Darcy, his not-very-likable ex-wife; James, his son; Amy, his deceased daughter

Most memorable scene: The big reveal. Which I won’t reveal. Because that would a total dick move

Greatest strengths: There’s a lot to admire here, but one of my favorite things is the setting. Under Totten’s deft hand, the little farming town of Olympia, Iowa, really comes to life

Standout achievements: The whodunit. Holy sh*t. Nicely done, sir

Fun Facts: This book reads like a true crime case — in the best possible way — and as it turns out, there’s a reason for that. Mr. Totten is quite prolific on the subject of serial killers and crime, and even has a popular podcast that explores various (and often lesser-known) murder cases. It’s called the Deathcast and I highly recommend it. Also, Mr. Totten’s new novel, Maggie, comes out November 30th — and I’m so stoked I could piddle on the rug. Twice

Other media: N/A

What it taught me: This book gave great insights into the inner-workings of (and the relationship between) small town law enforcement and U.S. Federal agents

How it inspired me: There’s something I’ve always loved about small-town murder (in fiction, of course) and The Throaway Girls of Olympia does it right. So right it makes me want to try my hand a full-force crime thriller of my own

Additional thoughts: I don’t believe in telling writers what to write (it’s rude — go write your own book if you’re so sure what needs to be done, you smarmy little a-hole), but when I started reading The Throwaway Girls of Olympia, all I could think was: ‘OMG! This guy could totally be a noir writer!’ I love noir, so this is a major compliment. Anyway, as it turned out, I didn’t need to write to him demanding that he write noir because as I kept reading, I realized that, in essence, he already had. This book has everything I love about that genre — but with more sex and violence. A winning combination

Haunt me:

Bunnicula Strikes Again! by James Howe

Bunnicula Strikes Again, James Howe, 1999

My favorite quote: “Some of my readers have written expressing their concern about the potentially detrimental effects of chocolate on dogs, to which I can only say that while it is true some dogs have been known to become ill from eating chocolate, others have not. Luckily, I fall into the latter category. Also, I hasten to remind my readers that I, like the books I have written, am a work of fiction.”

Notable characters: Harold, our canine narrator; Chester, his feline friend; Howie, their young dachshund companion; Bunnicula, the alleged vampire bunny

Most memorable scene: Chester and Bunnicula in the theater at the end. The younger me would have totally bawled. I know this because the grown-ass-man-me almost bawled. Not to worry, though … it does have a happy ending. But for a minute there, I was worried … 

Greatest strengths: Its emotionality. Not gonna lie: it kinda got to me 

Standout achievements: This series is every bit as good as a grown up as it was as a kid 

Fun Facts: This book features return visits from Bob and Linda, as well as Felony and Misdemeanor from the previous book, Return to Howliday Inn

Other media: N/A

What it taught me: That apparently (according to the drawing on page 17 in which she’s scowling down the staircase at her a-hole children in what appears to be a fur coat), Mrs. Monroe looks like a mob-wife. I don’t know if she looked like a mob-wife all along and I just missed it, or if she had some work done or what. But yeah. She looks like a mob-wife now

How it inspired me: It actually DID take me back to childhood in a way — even though I didn’t read this one until I was an adult. But apparently, I still have an emotional connection with these characters. I love that

Additional thoughts: This is, oddly, the first book that gave me a real sense of Bunnicula. Even though this little vampire bunny is often at the center of the stories, he doesn’t actually make that many appearances — and when he does, he’s pretty static. Not so in this one. In this one, I finally fell in love with the little guy

Haunt me:

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson, 1886

My favorite quote: “With every day, and from both sides of my intelligence, the moral and the intellectual, I thus drew steadily nearer to the truth, by whose partial discovery I have been doomed to such a dreadful shipwreck: that man is not truly one, but truly two.”

Notable characters: Dr. Henry Jekyll, a kind Victorian gentleman; Edward Hyde, his dark side; Gabriel John Utterson, his friend

Most memorable scene: When Mr. Hyde plows over the dumb little girl on the street. That little brat got what she deserved. I’m kidding. But seriously, what was she doing out at that hour, anyway? 

Greatest strengths: Stevenson’s entire concept of duality is seriously brilliant — especially when you take into account that this was written before Freud came up with this theory about the ego and the id

Standout achievements: On top of essentially oozing atmosphere, intrigue, and suspense, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is smart — brilliant, really. Under all its Victorian charm and gothic elegance, it asks us to examine ourselves, begging the question: is man good or is he evil — or is he both? For its ability to philosophize and entertain in equal proportion, I think it deserves all the accolades it gets and then some 

Fun Facts: According to his wife, Fanny, some of the scenes from this story were inspired by Stevenson’s nightmares

Other media: More movie, film, radio, and stage adaptations than you can beat with a broken cane

What it taught me: To me, this is an example of how creative works can absolutely have layers and deeper meaning without compromising entertainment value

How it inspired me: Because of that fact that to me — whether it was the author’s intention or not — this has always been, above all else, a tale of drug and alcohol addiction, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is what inspired, in its very odd way, the venom and venom addiction aspects of my vampires in the Crimson Cove series. I wanted to express similar thoughts on the subject of addiction in an equally unobtrusive way

Additional thoughts: Somehow, I’ve never seen any of the film, television, or stage adaptations of Jekyll and Hyde. Not one! Well, unless you count the Bugs Bunny cartoons, that is

Haunt me:

The Bad Seed by William March

The Bad Seed, William March, 1954

My favorite quote: “She will destroy us all. I did not escape, either. She will destroy us all, in time.”

Notable characters: Rhoda Penrose, the bad seed; Christine Penmark, her long-suffering mother; Leroy Jessup, the warped maintenance man who recognizes (and relates to) the evil that dwells in  little Rhoda (dun, dun, DUN!)

Most memorable scene: For me, it wasn’t a single scene, but the slow unveiling of Rhoda’s character — the things she did along the way that shocked (and oddly delighted) me

Greatest strengths: When it comes to character development, this book has it in spades… 

Standout achievements: This book raised questions about nature versus nurture, leaning toward the theory that nature ultimately prevails (not only was Rhoda a well-nurtured child, but later in the book, her mother, Christine, who was adopted, discovers that her own biological mother was serial killer, which implies that a violent gene runs in their blood). It asked hard questions in a time when there was very little awareness about crimes committed by children (I’m sure they happened, but they were undoubtedly very rarely documented.) The Bad Seed helped change that

Fun Facts: Not that it’s a FUN fact, of course, but the author, William March, died just one month after this book’s publication

Other media: Most notably, the 1956 film of the same name starring Patty McCormack. It was also adapted as a Broadway play and as a 2018 lifetime movie directed by Rob Lowe

What it taught me: To stay away from little girls with cleated shoes. And also, that some stories shouldn’t have happily-ever-afters 

How it inspired me: As my collaborator, Tamara Thorne, and I wrap up our current gothic thriller (Spite House) we’re starting to think about the next book. We have a lot of ideas for upcoming projects and haven’t quite settled on what to write next, but we both agree on one thing: evil child horror is definitely on the menu at some point. Soon. And you can thank The Bad Seed for that    

Additional thoughts: Though nearly 70 years old now, this novel not only holds up remarkably well, but remains a relevant piece of work that entertains as much as enlightens. And yes, I realize that I sound like a commercial, but seriously, I love this book 

Haunt me:

Lock Every Door by Riley Sager

Lock Every Door, Riley Sager, 2019

My favorite quote: “Never take anything you haven’t earned, my father used to say. You always end up paying for it one way or another.”

Notable characters: Jules Larsen, the apartment-sitter; Nick, another resident

Most memorable scene: The fire

Greatest strengths: The character motivation. I think most people would take a job that would allow them to earn $12,000 in three months. Also, I love that the building she moves into (the Bartholomew) is the setting for Jules’ favorite book. That just adds to the reasonability — and believability — of the decisions she makes

Standout achievements: Its mystery. This book has many, many unexpected layers that are peeled back in all the right ways at just the right time

Fun Facts: Lock Every Door is dedicated to Ira Levin

Other media: Announcements were made in 2019 that it was in development as a TV series

What it taught me: That there’s always a way to put a new spin on classic concepts. I thought for sure I knew where things were going (ala, Rosemary’s Baby) but nope. I definitely didn’t see THAT coming

How it inspired me: Riley Sager’s got serious skills — the kind that speak to my writerly sensibilities. His writing is clean, clear-cut, and concise … but his plots, the layers, the secrets … these things are deep and complex, creating an interesting balance to the almost deceptively straightforward prose. The overall effect is an unexpectedly thorough emotional experience — and Lock Every Door is a great example of that

Additional thoughts: Despite the sex and murder that frequently takes place in my own work, I have a great appreciation for books that can scare your pants off without getting all up in your face about it. Lock Every Door is one of those books. Some will say it’s slow, but I would disagree. I’d say it’s quiet … it creeps up on you, like a good little monster … 

Haunt me:

Horror Classics with Thorne & Cross: A Christmas Carol

Tamara Thorne and I are honored to be part of new series called Horror Classics with Thorne & Cross where we introduce and give our thoughts on various horror stories through history. We’re starting off in time for the holidays with Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Here, along with the classic tale itself, we talk about the spirits in A Christmas Carol and how they’ve influenced ghosts stories ever since.

The ebook is available now at Amazon, with the paperback and the audiobook (narrated by the one and only Jamison Walker) coming soon.

Craven Manor by Darcy Coates

Craven Manor, Darcy Coates, 2017

My favorite quote: “For the few brief days he’d worked at Craven Manor he felt as if he’d escaped into a better life. His work mattered … even if it was just to a ghost and a man made of shadows.”

Notable characters: Daniel, the new caretaker; Bran, his not-quite-normal boss; Kyle, the a-hole cousin and former roommate; Annalise, a late-night visitor

Most memorable scene: Annalise making her first appearance. While repeated exposure lessened the effect (though the utter cheesiness of those appearances may have had something to do with that) those first few incidents were pretty spooky

Greatest strengths: The first 25% of this book was actually pretty good

Standout achievements: This book made me laugh, though I’m not sure that was the writer’s goal. Still, when the main character is running around hurling salt at the giant-mouthed shadow-monster thingy (not to mention when a ghost is chasing a red laser-dot around, cat-style) I was ROTFLMFA

Fun Facts: This is my first foray into Darcy Coates. I have another by her on my Kindle and am hopeful I’ll like it a little more than this one
Other media: N/A

What it taught me: That a main character needs flaws. I mean, I knew that already, but reading this book was a good reminder that there are such things as characters that are too virtuous, too noble and upright, too saccharine-sweet, and hence, too boring. It isn’t believable, and I found myself rolling my eyes quite a bit at Daniel’s chronic wholesome goodness.

Also, I don’t think readers need to be beaten over the head with character motivation. We get it. Daniel has no choice but to move into the spooky old manor. For me, it was enough that his roommate/cousin Kyle is a total drunken loser parasite douchebag who moved his gaming buddy in and made Daniel sleep on a vomit-covered couch.

But apparently, we needed a clearer picture, so then Kyle raises the rent, kicks Daniel out, and for reasons that are never explained, even changes the locks. And it doesn’t end there. Then drunk cousin Kyle breaks into Craven Manor to steal from Daniel’s employer, thus compromising Daniel’s new job which would put him back on the streets which is super terrifying because poor Daniel used to be homeless and … Enough. We get it. After a while, it just starts to feel insulting.

The point is, Kyle’s a dick and poor, tender-hearted Daniel has no choice but to move into — and remain at — Craven Manor. Got it

How it inspired me: This starts out like an old Gothic … but with a male main character, which is something I’ve always wanted to do. Of course, as Craven Manor progresses it becomes … something else, but when it started, I was like, YAY!!

Additional thoughts: I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book with so many chapters that end with some variation of the sentence: “Glowing eyes glinted in the darkness.”

Haunt me:

The Silent Companion by Laura Purcell

The Silent Companions, Laura Purcell, 2017

My favorite quote: “Sometimes, the brain cannot cope with the information it has to process. It makes sense of trauma in odd ways.”

Notable characters: Elsie Bainbridge, co-manager of a factory; Rupert, her recently (and mysteriously) deceased husband; Sarah, Rupert’s unusual cousin

Most memorable scene: When the locked door of the attic room opens on its own and Elsie sees the Bainbridge family’s vast and strange collection of silent companions

Greatest strengths: The prose is absolutely beautiful here without being evasive or over-flowery

Standout achievements: I’d put this Victorian ghost story right up there with the best of them — Turn of the Screw, A Christmas Carol, you name it — in my opinion, The Silent Companions is worthy to stand beside any one of them

Fun Facts: While there are a few theories about the purpose of dummy boards, aka silent companions (a practical joke? A form of home security? Combatants against loneliness?) I’m not convinced anyone really knows quite what the European elite were thinking when they began this curious trend

Other media: N/A

What it taught me: That anything — and I mean ANYTHING — can be creepy. It’s all about the delivery (not that painted wooden figures of Victorian children need any help being creepy)

How it inspired me: Before I’d finished reading it, I suspected that this book would leave an indelible impression on my writer’s mind, and I wasn’t wrong. There’s a LOT of interesting stuff here. For one thing, this was the first time I’d ever even heard of dummy boards. I was fascinated, and after learning about them, I began exploring other strange, lesser known Victorian traditions. This led to a whole slew of spooky new story ideas — so thank you, creepy Victorians, for that

Additional thoughts: If you’re looking for gothic horror at it’s finest, you’ve just arrived

Haunt me:

Return to Howliday Inn by James Howe

Return to Howliday Inn, James Howe, 1992

My favorite quote: “‘My fate is a mirror in which to see / One will look in and end like me.’”

Notable characters: Harold, our narrator; Chester (also known here as Cute Whiskers, his friend; Howie, their young companion; Felony and Miss Demeanor, two cat burglars; Bob and Linda, boarders at Chateau Bow-Wow; Hamlet, a forlorn Great Dane

Most memorable scene: Harold and company at the nursing home

Greatest strengths: Its heart. This one has it in spades

Standout achievements: The storyline switches gears at about the midway point, going from a paranormal murder-mystery to a heartfelt tale about humans and their pets — and it really works

Fun Facts: This installment features a return appearance from Georgette, a feathery-voiced poodle from the book 2, Howliday Inn

Other media: N/A

What it taught me: This is the first book in the series that I didn’t read until I was an adult — and what it taught me was that my adult self loves Harold, Chester, and the gang just as much as my kid self did

How it inspired me: It makes me want to be a better cat-daddy lest my own feline children go the way of Felony and Miss Demeanor, burgling innocent people for better food

Additional thoughts: All the animals in this story — regardless of their species — working together to achieve the same goal is a lesson in unity that feels very appropriate right now

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Psstt. Want a Free Book?

From now until December 31st, you’ll get one free ebook copy of our paranormal thriller, The Ghosts of Ravencrest, by subscribing to our monthly newsletter, The Purple Probe. In The Purple Probe, you’ll get character interviews, behind-the-scenes tell-alls, a gossip column that sheds light on the darkest monsters in the Thorne & Cross Universe, and much, much more.

This month, Ravencrest’s own Essie Biltmore, debuts her new advice column, “Essie to the Rescue!” Meet Essie, and many others, by signing up today at: or by visiting our websites at or After you sign up, just email our publicist at Let her know whether you’d like epub, mobi, or pdf. She’ll verify your subscription, then send you your free copy of The Ghosts of Ravencrest, Book One of the Ravencrest Saga.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte, 1847

My favorite quote: “If all the world hated you and believed you wicked, while your own conscience approved of you and absolved you from guilt, you would not be without friends.”

Notable characters: Jane Eyre, governess turned wife; Mr. Rochester, the master of Thornfield Hall

Most memorable scene: The discovery in the attic, of course …

Greatest strengths: This book has all the gothic goodness I love: a naive heroine, a brooding hero, and a massive house with plenty of secrets and mysterious goings-on

Standout achievements: For an old-timey book written with a lot of old-timey language, this novel just zips right along …

Fun Facts: Jane Eyre was originally published under the gender-neutral pseudonym, Currer Bell. Even the publisher didn’t know it was written by a woman

Other media: Movie, film, television, radio, and theater adaptations too numerous to mention

What it taught me: This book, above so many others of its time, gave me a clear look at the Victorian mindset — a component that has come in handy more than once in my own work

How it inspired me: Unlike many of the heroines in gothic novels, Jane faces seriously troubling challenges and suffers real sorrows. The outcome is a novel that’s as gut-wrenching as it is intriguing — a blend of qualities Tamara Thorne and I discussed at length when creating our own gothic series. While The Ravencrest Saga certainly has its lighter — even silly — moments, we wanted our characters to face real problems … and grow from them

Additional thoughts: This book came highly recommended from a friend many years ago. After hearing how I JUST HAD TO read it, I finally bought it, and for the better part of a decade, admired the way it looked on my bookshelf. Fast-forward to over ten years later. That same friend and I are chatting, and Jane Eyre comes up. Well … come to find out she never actually even read the f*cking thing! She even denied telling me she had!

Naturally, I was outraged. So outraged there was only one thing to do: actually read Jane Eyre and go ON and AND ON and ON about how fan-f*cking-tastic it is. So that’s what I did — and the best part is, I didn’t even have to lie. It really is that good

Haunt me:

Dolores Claiborne by Stephen King

Dolores Claiborne, Stephen King, 1992

My favorite quote: “An accident is sometimes an unhappy woman’s best friend.”

Notable characters: Dolores Claiborne, a housekeeper who’s had enough; Joe St. George, her husband, with whom she’s had enough; Vera Donovan, the woman who employs Dolores … and lets her know that sometimes, it’s okay to have had enough

Most memorable scene: Aside from old Joe making good friends with the well out back, I love when Dolores has that telepathic vision of young Jessie Burlingame from Gerald’s Game

Greatest strengths: Reader buy-in. I’m drawn into stories often enough but I’m not sure I’ve ever become such a part of one before. When I read this book, I tell you, I am WITH poor Dolores, urging her along even as she committed her so-called crimes

Standout achievements: This book is written as a recorded confession, a transcribed monologue, with no chapters or other breaks of any kind in the narration. This sounds tiresome, but it flows like silk — a feat that only a master like King could achieve

Fun Facts: In addition to the 1995 film, Dolores Claiborne has been adapted into a play and an opera. An opera! LOL (I’m picturing old Joe, singing in the well … “Duuuhh — LORRRRR — USSSS!!”)

Other media: The 1995 film starring Kathy Bates

What it taught me: That if the set-up is solid, you can get the readers to root for anything you want them to (still picturing old Joe, singing in the well … God, that was satisfying)

How it inspired me: It’s hard not to come away from this book with Dolores Claiborne’s voice in your head and I’m pretty sure a little of it leaked out onto old Edna Furlocke, a mysterious old woman in my Vampires of Crimson Cove series

Additional thoughts: I read this book once a year, usually around Halloween, and it seriously gets a little better every time

Haunt me:

Nighty-Nightmare by James Howe

Nighty-Nightmare, James Howe, 1987

My favorite quote: “‘In the woods it’s always dark,’ he said. ‘In the forest of the soul it’s always night.’”

Notable characters: Harold, our canine narrator; Chester, his feline friend; Howie, the young punster, the Monroes, their oblivious human family; Bud, Spud, and Dawg, their mysterious camping companions

Most memorable scene: Chester’s entire story about Dr. Emil Alphonse Diabolicus, aka, Dr. E.A.D., was to, ahem, die for

Greatest strengths: The pure (well, strongly implied, anyway) creepiness of Bud, Spud, and Dawg

Standout achievements: This installment has serious Dracula vibes … a big part of why I love it so much

Fun Facts: This was the last one in this series that I read as a kid — so I’m excited the read the rest of them and see if I love them as much as an adult

Other media: N/A

What it taught me: That St. George’s Day is an actual thing … and that it’s actually on April 23rd

How it inspired me: Reading this book (and the others in this series) reminds me that there’s great power in simplicity — that as a writer, you must resist the power to overwrite, and always, always trust the imaginations of the readers

Additional thoughts: I feel bad that Chester is always wrong in the end. Just once, I’d like his terrible suspicions to be founded. But alas, everyone likes a happy ending …

Haunt me:

Shattered by Dean Koontz

Shattered, Dean Koontz, 1973 (originally published under the pseudonym K.R. Dwyer

My favorite quote: “The things we regret most in life are the things we don’t do.”

Notable characters: Alex Doyle, the new groom; Courtney, his bride; Colin, her little brother

Most memorable scene: The ax attack (even though they really, really should have reported it and saved themselves a lot of trouble)

Greatest strengths: George Leland, the villain. Unlike many of Koontz’s baddies, this guy isn’t terribly over-the-top

Standout achievements: Koontz did a bang-up job portraying the deranged metal state of the bad guy. I actually wanted to know more about him lol

Fun Facts: Because Koontz’s early novels didn’t make much profit, he wrote several per year, which prompted his publisher to encourage the use of pseudonyms (the theory being that too much material too fast will compromise the attention of each release.) And this is why Dean Koontz wrote under so many different names. 

Other media: The Passengers (1977)

What it taught me: Sometimes, simple is better

How it inspired me: One of these days, you mark my words, I am going to write a cross-country car-chase thriller. I dig that shit … 

Additional thoughts: This is a short novel (just over 200 pages) with a super simple plot (people being stalked on a cross-country road trip) and yet it remains a personal favorite. Especially when stood next to some of Koontz’s later efforts. That’s when things get tricky between Dean and me. But that’s another story for a later book review. The point is, although a little generic, Shattered is simple, straightforward, and doesn’t wear out its welcome. So yeah … sometimes, simple is better

Haunt me:

Endless Night by Agatha Christie

Endless Night, Agatha Christie, 1967

My favorite quote: “‘Nobody shall drive us away,’ I said. ‘We’re going to be happy here.’ We said it like a challenge to fate.”

Notable characters: Michael Rogers, a young man who can’t quite figure out what he wants to do with his life; Fenella Goodman, a business-smart heiress; Greta Andersen, Fenella’s overbearing companion; Esther Lee, the local gypsy

Most memorable scene: As it is with many Agatha Christie novels, the scene that stand out to most is that moment when it all comes together and you learn who (and how) dunit. Endless Night is no exception … but the big reveal here is extra EXTRA shocking. I never see it coming with old Agatha, but this time, I was shook …

Greatest strengths: Agatha Christie’s ability to play hide-and-seek with the reader is, as we all know, absolutely unrivaled … but here, in Endless Night, her skills are downright humbling …

Standout achievements: This book somehow made me feel simultaneously cozy and disquieted. It’s like a warm blanket wrapped snug around you … that just keeps getting tighter and tighter and tighter …

Fun Facts: This book came out the day before Halloween in 1967

Other media: The 1972 film of the same name starring Hayley Mills What it taught me: That good gothic vibes can go anywhere … even in a murder mystery

How it inspired me: Whenever I write a scene with my character Edna Furlocke in the Crimson Cove series, Esther Lee from Endless Night is never too far from my mind. Of all the creepy old local women who make ominous predictions about the fate the main characters, I guess Esther just gives my crank that little extra turn or something

Additional thoughts: This is it. My favorite Agatha Christie novel. And I’ve thought about it a lot. For years, it was a toss-up between And Then There None and Endless Night — but at last, I have made the big decision … one of the biggest decisions in my career as a reader (okay, not really, but it makes me feel important, so just leave me alone) and that is this: Endless Night is my all-time favorite Agatha Christie novel

Haunt me:

The Rats by James Herbert

The Rats, James Herbert, 1974

My favorite quote: “Harris smiled thinly at him. ‘Are there any safe places around here anymore?’”

Notable characters: Harris, an art teacher; Mr. Foskins, the Minister of Health; Stephen Howard, a researcher; Ferris, an exterminator

Most memorable scene: Karen Blakely and her baby. Yikes. That’s all I’m gonna say about that …

Greatest strengths: One of the things that impressed me most about this novel is how smoothly it relays backstory and exposition. In lesser hands, backstory can feel stilted and … removed. But Herbert does it with great finesse and aplomb. An example can be seen when he gives us the history of the character Mary Kelly. At first, you wonder where he’s going with things, but soon, you find yourself so wrapped up in it you don’t really care

Standout achievements: This book is unflinching in its portrayal of violence, mutilation, and death. I call this a standout achievement because, as a lifelong lover of horror, I rarely react to the things I read — but let me tell you guys, there were times my skin crawled and my stones wanted to crawl right into the safety of their fortress of NOPE … that’s saying something

Fun Facts: This was James Herbert’s first novel … and the first one I read

Other media: The 1982 film, Deadly Eyes

What it taught me: Critics and consumers absolutely lambasted this book when it came out. They rebuked it for its violence. They called it cheap for its excess of gore. They very publicly called James Herbert’s morals and sanity into question. They feared for their children’s delicate sensibilities. In short, it was a sh*tshow. And the result of all that derision? The paperback sold out in three weeks (it had a 100,000 copy print-run) and a star (James Herbert) was born. In the words of The Observer, this dirty little book “irrevocably mutated British horror.” Take from that what you will

How it inspired me: What really inspires me here is the author himself. The man’s got guts

Additional thoughts: The theme here is clear: neglect of the underclass. I think that applies as much now as when this novel was written. That it resonates so powerfully nearly 50 years later says something about its precision and forethought

Haunt me:

Darkness by John Saul

Darkness, John Saul, 1991

My favorite quote: “Tonight, she was certain, she was finally going to find out who she was, and why she had always known she was different from anyone else.”

Notable characters: Kelly Anderson, a teenage outcast in a new town; Michael Sheffield, her new friend; Amelie Coulton, a swamp dweller; The Dark Man, a mysterious man with mysterious powers

Most memorable scene: When George Coulton’s body is discovered in the swamp looking … well, the way it looked (shudders)

Greatest strengths: The murky swamp atmosphere. You can almost feel the humidity and heat

Standout achievements: Its mystery. This one reveals its secrets nice and slow … the way I like it. While it does require some pretty hefty suspension of disbelief regarding the science, this book is good, creepy fun

Fun Facts: Before his first novel, Suffer the Children, was published in 1977, John Saul was writing murder mystery comedies. Unable to get much interest in these, his agent eventually found an editor who suggested he try his hand at psychological occult thrillers — and the rest is history

Other media: N/A

What it taught me: What a nutria is. Seriously. I had no idea there were such things

How it inspired me: When I first read this many, many full moons ago, I was struck by the cult-ish horror of it and decided I would one day write something in that vein. I was able to do this in my novel, Dream Reaper

Additional thoughts: I’ve never read a book with so many children scattered about and getting lost. Jesus Christ. As soon as one was found, another went missing. There were times I wanted to step into the book and slap the parents for not keeping a better eye on their offspring, but I refrained, figuring meh … not my problem. This is precisely why I chose not to have children — so I wouldn’t have to worry about them running around and getting lost in the swamps and falling prey to creepy old people who want to suck their souls out of them in hopes of staying young

Haunt me:

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