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

Haunt me:

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:

Moonfall by Tamara Thorne

Moonfall, Tamara Thorne, 1996

My favorite quote: “Midnight. A dark, moonless shroud of midnight that closed in around Minerva Payne, starving her lungs, chilling her soul with its blackness.”

Notable characters: Sara Hawthorne, a woman returning home; Minerva Payne, a mysterious local with mysterious abilities; St. Gertrude’s, aka, St. Gruesome’s, a girl’s school run by sinister nuns; and, of course, Moonfall itself, a picturesque community that really gets into the Halloween spirit

Most memorable scene: The shower scene. Spooky stuff …

Greatest strengths: Atmosphere, character development

Standout achievements: The Halloween vibe it gives off. Seriously. This is THE perfect Halloween read

Fun Facts: Gremory Jones, my demon salesman in Dream Reaper, hails from the town of Moonfall — with Tamara Thorne’s permission, of course

Other media: N/A

What it taught me: No other book has taught me as much about crafting atmosphere than this one

How it inspired me: For me, this is the book that started it all. For the longer version of that story, see below

Additional thoughts: This is the first Tamara Thorne novel I read. I saw it on a shelf in the library when I was in my late teens. It sounds odd — almost supernatural — to admit that it was the name “Tamara Thorne” that jumped out at me and not the title, but it’s the truth. I checked the book out, loved it, and continued looking for more. I found her online, though at that time there wasn’t really any social media, so I just kind of stalked her website … Fast forward a few years. I got my first book published and set out to meet other authors. Once Facebook became a thing, I immediately friended Tamara there. We began talking, one thing led to another, and currently, she is my collaborator of 9 years. As Thorne & Cross, we are simultaneously working on our 8th and 9th novels together. Proof that dreams come true and that you should always, always meet your heroes

Haunt me:

The Howling by Gary Brandner

The Howling, Gary Brandner, 1977

My favorite quote: “A few minutes later he was very glad that she was asleep. Because in sleep she could not hear what he heard off somewhere in the night. The howling.”

Notable characters: Karyn and Roy Beatty, a young couple looking for a new start; Chris Halloran, Roy’s BFF; Marcia Lura, a mysterious shopkeeper … with a deadly secret! cue dramatic music

Most memorable scene: The early scene with Karyn and the gardener. It’s definitely memorable — and definitely not for the squeamish

Greatest strengths: I’m not going to lie. The (consensual) sex was fantastic

Standout achievements: For being a book about werewolves, which is a subject I’ve always had trouble getting interested in, this book — and its sequels — held me rapt. So to me, that is it’s standout achievement

Fun Facts: Brandner wrote 3 novels in this series, and so far, 8 movies have been made

Other media: The 1981 film of the same name starring Dee Wallace

What it taught me: The Howling is one of the books that taught me about pacing and tension-building. It’s a great example of both and a great place for any budding author to, ahem, sharpen their writing claws on

How it inspired me: I’ve never written about werewolves. Honestly, I’m just not sure how I would put a unique spin on that. Reading the Howling series makes me wish I’d hurry and figure out a way, though

Additional thoughts: There’s really no comparison between the book and the movie. Aside from sharing the same title, the two have next to nothing in common with each other. I just feel like that should be said

Haunt me:

Haunted by Tamara Thorne

Haunted, Tamara Thorne, 1995

My favorite quote: “He’d always thought of supernatural horror as something that arose in daydreams and nightmares, fantastic thoughts born of facts and twisted to the imagination’s wishes. It seemed to be the other way around now.”

Notable characters: David Masters, author an new owner of Baudey House; Amber, his daughter; Minnie Willard, my favorite housekeeper; Theo Pelinore, the sexy realtor

Most memorable scene: I seem to remember ghosts rutting on a dining room table …
Greatest strengths: The way Haunted weaves the past and present together is so seamless that it should teach classes where other books can come and learn how it’s done

Standout achievements: The blend of horror, humor, and sexiness here is rivaled by none. For real

Fun Facts: The character of Bea Broadside was based on one of Thorne’s neighbors who planned to euthanize her cat so she could go on vacation. Thorne took the cat, saving its life, and brought Ms. Broadside to justice in Haunted

Other media: N/A

What it taught me: The power of blending the spooky and sexy together at just the right times

How it inspired me: A lot of times I kind of groan when the main character of a book is a writer. In the wrong hands, a writer writing about a writer has a way of feeling a little … masturbatory. This isn’t one of those times, though. Rather than waxing eloquently about the life of writers, Thorne — like King — finds ways of putting her fictional authors to good use, exploiting their professions to further the plot. I was so impressed by this that I wanted to do the same thing. So I did. David Masters, Thorne’s hero in Haunted, is the reason I made Cade Colter, my protagonist in the Crimson Cove series, a writer

Additional thoughts: I love that David Masters is setting out to disprove ghosts when he buys this house. Heh. Silly, silly skeptic …

Haunt me:

The Rolling Darkness Revue

It’s that time of year again!

Join Peter Atkins (screenwriter of Hellraiser 2, 3, 4, and Wishmaster), Glen Hirshberg (Shirley Jackson Award-winner) and us (Tamara and Alistair) as we sit around the campfire and tell scary stories. You’ll even get to hear a crazy ghost story out of the upcoming Thorne & Cross thriller, Spite House!

Listen in any time at Thorne & Cross: Carnival Macabre

Winterwood by Dorothy Eden

Winterwood, Dorothy Eden, 1967

My favorite quote: “She had never felt so radiantly alive — nor so aware of potential danger and heartbreak

Notable characters: Lavinia, the beautiful, strong-willed new governess; Daniel, the distant, broad-shouldered, square-jawed master of the house; Winterwood, the sprawling, mysterious manor

Most memorable scene: The opium poisoning situation

Greatest strengths: The characters. I think that’s what really sets Dorothy Eden apart from her contemporaries. In a lot of old Gothic romances, the characters are just kind of … there. But Eden has a way of making her people pop a little more than most

Standout achievements: Its descriptions of Venice and Winterwood are sublime

Fun Facts: This is the first Dorothy Eden book I ever read — and it made me want to keep reading her. Which I have. So stop nagging me about it. Jeez

Other media: N/A

What it taught me: There’s an effective device Eden uses in this book that’s always stayed with me as a writer. Rather than having her main character, Lavinia, stand in front of a mirror and describe her own beauty to herself (yawn), Eden sends Lavinia to an opera where she overhears a little girl exclaiming, “Look, Papa! Isn’t she beautiful!” So there. Now we know she’s beautiful without having to listen to her tell us she’s beautiful

How it inspired me: I love old gothic romances so much that I gave the same quality to Cade Colter, my main character in the Crimson Cove series. He, like me, harbors a love of what it’s widely considered a “feminine” genre. Unlike me, however, he’s a little embarrassed about it. Aside from that, Cade and I have little in common, but I wanted him to inherit his good taste in books from me

Additional thoughts: People can say what they want about how predictable and formulaic gothics are (and they kind of are) but this one kept me guessing

Haunt me:

Vertigo by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

Vertigo, Lauren Baratz-Logsted, 2006

My favorite quote: “John always said writing was a way to cheat the rules of the living. ‘Without it,’ he would say, ‘I would only get to live one life.’”

Notable characters: Emma Smith, a Victorian wife; John, her husband the novelist; Chance Wood, a man serving a sentence for the murder of his wife

Most memorable scene: When Chance is pardoned and freed from prison — I was as nervous as a manwhore in church that he’d come and murder Emma! Instead, they did … other stuff

Greatest strengths: Setting

Standout achievements: Its bodice ripper sensibilities. I’m a sucker for slightly over-the-top sexual spectacles

Fun Facts: Baratz-Logsted’s novel, The Thin Pink Line, was the first book from a Harlequin imprint to receive a starred Kirkus review

Other media: N/A

What it taught me: I think any reader will come away from this story with a clearer idea of the social and sexual repression that were women’s cross to bear during the Victorian era 

How it inspired me: This book managed to make me feel like a sexually dissatisfied Victorian housewife. Seriously. I almost began an erotic correspondence with a prison inmate like Emma did, but came to my senses when I began reading a different book: The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty by Anne Rice. Now I’m not sure how I feel about sex at all

Additional thoughts: I really should check out more of this author’s work. I don’t know why I haven’t yet

Haunt me:

Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie

Hallowe’en Party, Agatha Christie, 1969

My favorite quote: “You and I have a principle in common. We do not approve of murder.”

Notable characters: Hercule Poirot, the sleuth with a really, really great mustache; Ariadne Oliver, an author who calls on Poirot for help; Joyce Reynolds, a bratty little busybody with whom you should never bob for apples

Most memorable scene: Bobbing for apples gone wrong …

Greatest strengths: The fall setting. I love Agatha Christie and I love all things fall. Put them together and BAM! It’s almost guaranteed I’m really gonna like it

Standout achievements: While some argue that this book doesn’t show Christie at the peak of her prowess, I thought the mystery was solid. There are a lot of iron-clad alibis to contend with here …

Fun Facts: This book was dedicated to P.G. Wodehouse. It’s the 39th Christie novel to feature Hercule Poirot, and the 7th featuring Ariadne Oliver

Other media: This novel was adapted as part of the series, Agatha Christie’s Poirot, starring David Suchet. It was also released as a graphic novel by HarperCollins in 2008

What it taught me: I love this book for the glimpses it gave me into mid-century Halloween traditions. I didn’t know what “snap-dragon” was until I read this. (spoiler alert: it’s an old parlor game that was most popular around the 16th century)

How it inspired me: Aside from making me want to write more murder mysteries, this book has also given me serious misgivings about attending apple-bobbing parties

Additional thoughts: This book has a certain darkness to it that a lot of her earlier work doesn’t — and I, for one, really like that

Haunt me:

Bad Things by Tamara Thorne

Bad Things, Tamara Thorne, 1994

My favorite quote: “Icky Ricky, icky Ricky, come out and play.”

Notable characters: Rick Piper, a single father looking to rebuild his life; Robin Piper, Rick’s abbreviated (and very creepy) little brother; Jade Ewebean, their wonderfully nasty aunt; Dakota O’Keefe, Rick’s good friend; Big Jack, a dude you don’t want to meet on Halloween night

Most memorable scene: For me, it was Robin and the frog — because Jesus #*@%ing Christ …

Greatest strengths: The characters. There are a lot of fascinating folks to get to know here … if you dare (dun, dun, dun!)

Standout achievements: The creation of a whole new monster — the greenjack — which Thorne deftly brings to life (of sorts) in fascinating and terrifying detail

Fun Facts: Bad Things was previously published under the title, Panic, by Pocket Books. Get it? PANic??

Other media: N/A

What it taught me: That terror doesn’t always wear the same face. This book made me afraid of things I never thought about being scared of before. Like tree leaves, for instance. And poodles

How it inspired me: Tamara Thorne and I have been using greenjacks in our collaborative series, The Ravencrest Saga, and just recently (with Tamara’s approval, of course) I introduced these precious little monsters into my Crimson Cove series

Additional thoughts: According to Tamara Thorne, this book is based on a childhood game she liked to play in which she looked for faces in the ivy at night. She did it to scare herself because, to her, being scared is fun. I agree with her on that

Haunt me:

The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler

The Lady in the Lake, Raymond Chandler, 1943

My favorite quote: “He was quite easy to hate,” she said emptily. “And poisonously easy to love. Women — even decent women — make such ghastly mistakes about men.”

Notable characters: Philip Marlowe; the best PI ever; Derace Kingsley, the wealthy businessman who hires him; Crystal Kingsley, Derace Kingley’s wife; Chris Lavery, the playboy

Most memorable scene: The discovery of the lady in the lake, which was surprisingly gruesome

Greatest strengths: Plot. It’s sharp, intricate, and unpredictable

Standout achievements: I chose plot as this book’s greatest strength but the characters here are just as strong. You don’t often see that. Usually, authors excel at one or the other. Some are more plot-driven, others more character-oriented. Both are valid, but it’s rare that something like this comes along that excels at both

Fun Facts: The making of the 1947 film of the same name was actor Robert Montgomery’s (who played Phillip Marlowe) idea

Other media: A 1947 film, several radio adaptations

What it taught me: Chandler has a unique way with words. One of the techniques he uses that stood out to me is a kind of merging of the senses — comparing sounds to something touchable, for example. I found that to be a very effective contributor to the imagery and overall experience

How it inspired me: This was my first Chandler novel (I know, right? What have I been doing all these years?) and it only took a few pages before I realized I’d fallen head-over-heels in love with the voice and tone of this book. So much so, that I knew I wanted to read the rest in the series before I’d finished the first chapter. I’ve already bought the next one

Additional thoughts: It was depressing to learn that Chandler only wrote seven full novels in his lifetime. This means I’m just going to have to read them over and over …

Haunt me:

The Circus of the Damned by Laurell K. Hamilton

Circus of the Damned, Laurell K. Hamilton, 1995

My favorite quote: “The serpent must have smiled at Eve like that: pleasant, amused, dangerous.” Followed closely by, “If you came here to call me names, get the hell out of my office. If you have real business, state it, then get the hell out of my office.”

Notable characters: Anita Blake, vampire hunter; Jean-Claude, the master of the city; Richard, a naked guy; Oliver, one of the creepiest peeps you’ll ever meet

Most memorable scene: I’m somewhat reluctant to admit it, but for me, it’s when Naked Richard makes his naked debut and rises naked from the bed. Naked. I don’t know why this moment was so memorable to me. I mean, generally speaking, I’m more interested in the Anitas of this world than the Richards (unless, of course, we’re talking about Jensen Ackles, but that’s a given). Anyway, that’s what I remember most. Probably because it was so unexpected. I was just reading along and BAM! — Naked Richard all up in my face.  

Greatest strengths: That’s easy. The action 

Standout achievements: I’m most impressed by Hamilton’s ability to work in back story and information from previous books in a smooth, unstilted way, and her talent for that really shines in this one. There are no “As-you-know-Bob,” moments here and as a reader and a writer, I appreciate that. It’s not an easy thing to handle, but Hamilton does it like, well … a pro

Fun Facts: By the time I made it to this book, which is the third in the series, I had insisted that everyone around me read them, as well. And they did. We seriously had a great big huge Anita Blake book club going for a long, long time

Other media: This one, too, is part of the graphic novel series

What it taught me: That the city of Arnold is an actual place. I lived right by it and had no idea

How it inspired me: I haven’t yet given any of my own characters a naked debut (I don’t think, anyway) but if I do, it will most assuredly be inspired by Naked Richard’s grand entrance. And by grand, of course, I mean, naked

Additional thoughts: While I obviously enjoyed the first two books (I kept going, didn’t I?) I feel like this book is where this series really hits its stride. And hoo boy, what a stride!

Haunt me:

The Rome Affair by Laura Caldwell

The Rome Affair, Laura Caldwell, 2006

My favorite quote: “I understand now that innocence is relative.”

Notable characters: Rachel Blakely, a software salesperson; Nick, her husband, the surgeon; Kit, her BFF

Most memorable scene: For me, it was the description of the Roman mornings

Greatest strengths: Great plot structure

Standout achievements: Its surprises. I didn’t see them coming

Fun Facts: The research for this book led the author, a former civil trial attorney, to a case that became the basis for her first nonfiction book, Long Way Home: A Young Man Lost in the System and the Two Women Who Found Him

Other media: N/A

What it taught me: If there’s a writing lesson to be found here, it’s show, don’t tell. Some of the most pivotal events in this story take place “off-stage” and are only experienced through flashback and dialogue, which really weakened the effect

How it inspired me: At the time I read this book, I was seriously contemplating a writing career myself, so I was paying close attention to the structure and ingredients of the things I read — and while I liked the plot of The Rome Affair, I couldn’t get into the characters at all. It was then I decided that in my own books, compelling characters would be a top priority

Additional thoughts: This is one of the books that come to my mind when people talk about “vacation reads”

Haunt me:

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Spear

The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Elizabeth George Spear, 1958

My favorite quote: “People are afraid of things they don’t understand.”

Notable characters: Kit Tyler, an orphan (with a really cool name); Hannah, a Quaker who is rumored to be a witch; Nathaniel “Nat” Eaton, Kit’s true love

Most memorable scene: When the angry mob burns poor Hannah’s house because they’re idiots. I was also struck by the scene, shortly afterward, when Hannah refuses to leave without her cat. I liked that

Greatest strengths: It’s glimpse into the world of the Puritans (shudders.) Gawd, how I loathe those Puritans

Standout achievements: One of the best descriptions of fall I’ve ever read: “After the keen still days of September, the October sun filled the world with mellow warmth … The maple tree in front of the doorstep burned like a gigantic red torch. The oaks along the roadway glowed yellow and bronze. The fields stretched like a carpet of jewels, emerald and topaz and garnet. Everywhere she walked the color shouted and sang around her … In October any wonderful unexpected thing might be possible.”

Fun Facts: This book won the Newbery Medal in 1959

Other media: N/A

What it taught me: Had I read this as a kid, I would have been given a whole new perspective on American history — without being bored to tears, btw. If this book isn’t required reading (it wasn’t for me), I think it should be 

How it inspired me: Even though I didn’t read this book until just a few years ago, I saw it floating around in grade school a lot, and always wanted to read it. Maybe it was the title, maybe it was the cover, but it had all the mystique to me of something magical. A lot of books have that effect on me, even if I haven’t read them (yet) and this was one that perked my ears up and somehow, even from a distance, got me interested in reading

Additional thoughts: This book is unrivaled in its ability to take the reader to a different time period (in this case, the late 1600s) using a surprisingly sparse amount of words

Haunt me:

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

The Woman in Black, Susan Hill, 1983

My favorite quote: “Whatever was about, whoever I had seen, and heard rocking, and who had passed me by just now, whoever had opened the locked door was not ‘real’. No. But what was ‘real’? At that moment I began to doubt my own reality.”

Notable characters: Arthur Kipps, a young lawyer; Mrs. Drablow, a deceased widow; the Woman in Black, a mysterious entity who just keeps showing up

Most memorable scene: When Arthur hears the screams coming from the marshes

Greatest strengths: Susan Hill has total command of the language, a talent that fully shines in The Woman in Black

Standout achievements: Though quiet and virtually free of violence, this book is creepy AF. It haunted me more than any gory horror story  

Fun Facts: The Woman in Black is the second-longest running play in the West End theater in London

Other media: The 1989 television film, the 2012 movie starring Daniel Radcliffe, both of the same name. Also lots of plays and radio adaptations 

What it taught me: This book is all about atmosphere and mood and Susan Hill shows us how it’s done

How it inspired me: Women in white, women in black, these archetypal apparitions are all frightening and inspiring, but to me, none are so striking or spooky as a woman in black. Though two very different entities with two very different motives, the Black Wasp character in my book of the same name is often referred to as “the Woman in Black,” which is indeed, a tip of my hat to this novel. However, the Black Wasp’s appearance, though similar to the ghost in The Woman in Black, was inspired by the character of Black Lena in Michael McDowell’s Gilded Needles

Additional thoughts: In the same vein as Turn of the Screw, this book is subtle and, for some, slow. While I loved it (I love all things gothic), I wouldn’t recommend it to those looking for high action, bloodshed, or jumps-scares

Haunt me:

Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie

Death on the Nile, Agatha Christie, 1937

My favorite quote: “Love can be a very frightening thing. That is why most great love stories are tragedies.”

Notable characters: Hercule Poirot, the investigator; Linette (Rideway) Doyle, an heiress; Simon Doyle, her new husband; Jacqueline de Bellefort, Simon’s ex-lover; Colonel Race, Poirot’s friend; Miss Van Schuyler, a kleptomaniac; Salome Otterbourne, a romance novelist; Andrew Pennington, a greedy trustee

Most memorable scene: The big reveal — specifically, the how … which I can’t say anything about lest folks with twisted knickers hunt me down and shake their proverbial torches and pitchforks at me for giving spoilers away

Greatest strengths: For me — aside from the mystery, of course — it’s the great setting and lively dialogue

Standout achievements: This book features some of Christie’s most multidimensional characters 

Fun Facts: In chapter 21, Poirot makes mention of a scarlet kimono he found in his luggage — a reference to a major plot point in the previously written, Murder on the Orient Express

Other media: The adaptations of this book include film, TV, radio, theater, graphic novel, and even a computer game, for Christ’s sake. Suffice it to say, I only have so many characters if I want to post this on Instagram (and I do) so, most notably among these are the 1978 film starring Maggie Smith, Simon MacCorkindale, Mia Farrow, and Bette Davis, and the upcoming 2022 follow-up to Murder on the Orient Express, directed by Kenneth Branagh

What it taught me: That when it comes to Christie, I may figure out the WHO but I will never, ever, EVER figure out the HOW. Dammit. 

How it inspired me: Agatha Christie is the reason so much of my work contains elements of murder-mystery — even if that isn’t my primary genre (except in the case of Sleep Savannah Sleep.) Christie is the Queen of Mystery for a reason and I learn everything I can from her about the proper concealment of killers.

Additional thoughts: If only to see a drunken Angela Lansbury rubbing a statue and waxing romantic about its flaming nostrils, you MUST see the 1978 movie

Haunt me:

Francesca’s Party by Patricia Scanlan

Francesca’s Party, Patricia Scanlan, 2001

My favorite quote: “Her energies rubbed off on him. He never felt middle-aged with her. He glanced surreptitiously at the tell-tale grey hairs threading the brown tangle of chest hair that Nikki liked to run her fingers through. He wondered, was it possible to dye them?” (Idiot, lol)

Notable characters: Francesca’s Kirwin, the spurned wife; Mark, her cheating husband; Nikki Langan, Mark’s younger lover

Most memorable scene: For me, it was when Ralph showed up to the party. Or rather, HOW he showed up at the party

Greatest strengths: Well-drawn, believable characters

Standout achievements: This book managed to draw me into the mind of a dejected Irish housewife. I felt everything Francesca did, and that’s pretty remarkable. Ah, the power of books … 

Fun Facts: This is another book I bought based solely on the cover. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you should totally judge books by their covers

Other media: N/A

What it taught me: Until I read this, I didn’t know that in Ireland, being “pissed” means being drunk. I was pretty confused there for a while

How it inspired me: Even when you’re writing about ghosts, vampires, and killer sea creatures (or whatever) nothing is stronger than human emotion. That’s what this book is all about and every time I read it, I’m reminded that when it comes to powerful writing, nothing should come before the emotional experience

Additional thoughts: I read this book once a year. It’s a nice break from the crazy, gory, wicked, spooky stuff I usually go for 

Haunt me:

Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn

Wait Till Helen Comes, Mary Downing Hahn, 1986

My favorite quote: “A breeze sighed through the leaves of the oak. It was the loneliest sound I’d ever heard, as lonely as a ghost who had been lying alone in the dark for a hundred years.”

Notable characters: Molly, the twelve-year-old main character; Michael, her little brother; Heather, their strange younger stepsister; Helen, Heather’s mysterious friend  

Most memorable scene: What Molly sees — and hears — when she follows Heather to the graveyard

Greatest strengths: Emotional impact 

Standout achievements: Though written for kids, this book holds up amazingly well when I’ve read it as an adult

Fun Facts: This was the first book of author Mary Downing Hahn’s to be turned into film, and Hahn has a speaking role in the movie

Other media: The 2016 film of the same name

What it taught me: I was introduced to this book at ten years old when my fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Jorgensen, read it aloud to the class for Halloween. This was great for me, because I had a huge crush on Mrs. Jorgensen and this allowed me unlimited opportunity to admire her without feeling like I was staring. Somehow, I totally got into the story though and that’s when I learned that even as a child, there was one thing that could distract me from beautiful women: Ghost stories

How it inspired me: This, as I recall, is the book that truly began my love of ghost stories. While I’d read ghost stories before this one, it was Wait Till Helen Comes that really gripped me

Additional thoughts: Because this book deals with such subjects as death and suicide, many parents have long tried to have it removed from school libraries. I, for one, am glad those attempts have failed

Haunt me:

The Purple Probe is Coming!

The Purple Probe is on it’s way … and here’s what you can expect to find:

Greenjacks. Tis the season! Signs and symptoms that you have a greenjack infestation, and what they’ll do to you on Halloween night if you let them!

Scandal at Ravencrest Manor! Rumors are flying and Purple Probe reporter Regina Von Kuntze pollutes the air with her take on the latest goings-on at Ravencrest! 

The Dirtiest Dozen. Who are the most offensive characters in the Thorne & Cross universe? This article by Crimson Cove’s own Jojo McFerrell says it all. McFerrell exposes himself (and everyone else) in this down and dirty tell-all!  

All this and more, coming your way soon. Bend over and sign up! 

Haven’t signed up to be Probed? Just go to either of our websites ( or and sign up for our newsletter!

Make Them Cry by Kevin O’Brien

Make Them Cry, Kevin O’Brien, 2002

My favorite quote: “‘Why am I standing in this stupid empty tub?’ she asked. ‘So it catches all the blood,’ he replied.”

Notable characters: Father Jack Murphy, a widower and spiritual advisor at Our Lady of Sorrows seminary; Johnny Costello, Jack’s friend who dies under mysterious circumstances; Maggie Costello, Johnny’s sister and Jack’s friend; Peter Tobin, a talented young artist

Most memorable scene: When Jack finds John in the lake. There are others, though … oh, there are others … 

Greatest strengths: The tension. There’s a little — and sometimes, a lot! — on every page

Standout achievements: There’s a lot to admire here, but I’m going to go with its guts. With its seminary setting, list of Catholic schoolboy suspects, and sexually-charged indecencies, this storyline is bound to raise some eyebrows — to which I say, Yay!  

Fun Facts: This is the first Kevin O’Brien book I ever read and I liked it so much I made it my mission to meet him. Seriously. I didn’t stalk him exactly, but — well, I guess I kinda did. Anyway, he has since become a very dear friend to both me and my collaborator, Tamara Thorne, so it paid off

Other media: N/A

What it taught me: I was surprised by a lot of the scandal that took place in this book — and even more surprised when I did my own research and realized how much of it stuff really happens

How it inspired me: Tamara and I created a character in Kevin’s honor — Ryan O’Brien in the Ravencrest Saga. Ryan is Kevin’s (fictional) nephew who aspires to be a writer just like his uncle Kevin 

Additional thoughts: Even after several reads (I think I’m up to number four or five now) Make Them Cry not only remains one of my favorite Kevin O’Brien books, but one of my favorites of all time. I attribute this to its uniqueness. There just aren’t many books out there like this one

Haunt me:

The Damnation Game by Clive Barker

The Damnation Game, Clive Barker, 1985

My favorite quote: “Hell is reimagined by each generation. Its terrain is surveyed for absurdities and remade in a fresher mold; its terrors are scrutinized and, if necessary, reinvented to suit the current climate of atrocity; its architecture is redesigned to appall the eye of the modern damned.”

Notable characters: Marty Strauss, ex-con and bodyguard to Mr. Whitehead; Mr. Whitehead, a rich eccentric; Carys, Whitehead’s daughter; Mamoulian, a devilish man with mysterious powers

Most memorable scene: Mamoulian (kind of) raising the dead

Greatest strengths: The world-building here is absolutely outstanding

Standout achievements: Its dark, morbid eroticism is paralleled only by the dark morbid eroticism of other Clive Barker books

Fun Facts: This was Clive Barker’s first full-length novel

Other media: N/A

What it taught me: From Clive Barker, and this book in particular, I learned power of using beautiful language to describe horrific things — something no one does it better than Mr. Barker

How it inspired me: The opening scene — the thief making his way across the city — was the inspiration for my poem, Warlords and Thieves, in The Book of Strange Persuasions

Additional thoughts: Love him or hate him, I will always admire the integrity of Barker’s work. No one else could write the books he’s written. No one. And that’s a surprisingly unique quality in this field 

Haunt me:

The Shadow Man by Stephen Gresham

The Shadow Man, Stephen Gresham, 1986

My favorite quote: “She haunted herself from within like an old house.”

Notable characters: Joey Stuart, ; Jeb “The Dixie Strangler” Stuart, Joey’s father; CAP, Joey’s Computer*Assisted*Playmate; Sharina Marie, Joey’s stepmother; Mr. Zeeker, a former engineering professor; The Shadow Man, an evil entity whose existence could use a little more explaining

Most memorable scene: What Joey sees when Miss Sheba comes for tea. I also really liked the scene when Joey comes across a strangle girl named Nandina in the woods. But mostly Miss Sheba. Creepy old bat

Greatest strengths: Its unique execution 

Standout achievements: The relationship between Joey and his pet ferret, Snowflake

Fun Facts: From 1982 to 1991, Stephen Gresham wrote and published 12 novels, two of which were bestsellers: ROCKABYE BABY and MIDNIGHT BOY.

Other media: N/A

What it taught me: Until reading this book, I had no idea that Coca-Cola (and other soda pop) used to be called “dope” or “dope soda,” due to the fact that it once contained cocaine

How it inspired me: I teethed on 1980s horror and even now, every time I read it, I’m reminded of why it was I wanted to be a writer

Additional thoughts: This book reads like a B movie horror film — and I mean that in the kindest, lovingest possible way

Haunt me:

Bend Over …

The Purple Probe is coming …

What’s the Purple Probe, you ask? In short, it’s the Thorne and Cross newsletter … with a facelift. Starting with it’s first edition this October, the Purple Probe will including interviews with our characters, inside information on what’s coming up next, behind-the-scenes tell-alls, and a gossip column written by none other than Jojo McFerrell (from the Crimson Cove series) that will shed light on the darkest monsters (human and otherworldly alike) in the Thorne & Cross universe. Of course, there will be announcements of special deals and sales, but this monthly newspaper-style periodical will focus on the fun stuff.

Subscribe by visiting either of our websites at: or and don’t miss out on the first edition, coming this month! So BEND OVER and pick up your copy of the Purple Probe today!

The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty

The Exorcist, William Peter Blatty, 1971

My favorite quote: “Head propped against a pillow while eyes bulging wide in their hollow sockets shone with mad cunning and burning intelligence, with interest and with spite as they fixed upon his, as they watched him intently, seething in a face shaped into a skeletal, hideous mask of mind-bending malevolence.”

Notable characters: Chris MacNeil, a famous actress, Regan, her possessed daughter, Father Damien Karras, the priest called upon to help them; Father Merrin, the exorcist; Pazuzu, the demon

Most memorable scene: All I know is, no one spider-walks like little Regan

Greatest strengths: I’ll take the creep factor for $500.00, Alex …

Standout achievements: There are a lot of horror novels from this era that undoubtedly paved the way for contemporary horror writers, and this one is assuredly one of the most — if not THE most —  relevant on that list

Fun Facts: This book was inspired by a 1949 case of demonic possession 

Other media: The 1973 film of the same name

What it taught me: That sometimes, the book and the movie are equally as good

How it inspired me: My collaborator, Tamara Thorne, and I both like the way the priests in this book (and the movie, too) were represented, and both enjoy writing priests of our own. Good ones though, because we also both think bad, nasty priests are way overdone. The priests in The Exorcist are thoughtful — they question good and evil. They question faith. The priests Tamara and I write follow their example 

Additional thoughts: I didn’t read this book (or see the movie, for that matter) until I was well into adulthood. I don’t think being older lessened the effect, though. I can understand why this book was (and still is) so controversial, but underneath the subject matter is a truly good story. The plot the impeccably executed, the characters are fully fleshed-out, the dialogue shines (and in some cases, scathes) and the prose is simple and powerful

Haunt me:

Happy All the Time by Laurie Colwin

Happy All the Time, Laurie Colwin, 1978

My favorite quote: “Most of his time appeared to be spent bumming cigarettes from people whose annual income was about a fifth of his own.” (Because we all know guys like this) 

Notable characters: Holly Sturgis; Guido Morris; Vincent Cardworthy; Misty Berkowitz 

Most memorable scene: It’s been a long time since I’ve read this one. What I remember most is the scenery. Mmm … New York … 

Greatest strengths: Dialogue. Colwin’s mastery of the language and the way people speak is really what pulled me into the story. There aren’t major plot twists here. There’s no real fighting, no crime, no serious drama. Just well-drawn, flawed but lovable characters who do a lot of talking … and somehow, it works

Standout achievements: A great sense of place (and it’s set in New York, so of course, I love it)

Fun Facts: Laurie Colwin (who sadly passed away at the age of 48 in 1992) was also a food writer. If you know this, you can actually see it

Other media: N/A

What it taught me: That when it comes to language, simplicity is power 

How it inspired me: I’ll be honest: This book isn’t anything like what I would ever write. In fact, it’s so far out of my own genre that it’s probably a little strange that I read it all. But sometimes, you just need something simple, straightforward, and, well … sweet (I know, I know, but cut me some slack here. I’m not totally immune to occasional tenderness) 

Additional thoughts: At the risk of further damaging my reputation as a big badass Viking (ha, ha) this book is the perfect rainy-day-by-the-fire-with-hot-cocoa read. Sweet, simple escapism at its finest

Haunt me:

The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie

The Body in the Library, Agatha Christie, 1942

My favorite quote: “What I feel is that if one has got to have a murder actually happening in one’s house, one might as well enjoy it, if you know what I mean.”

Notable characters: Miss Marple, a spinster with a penchant for solving murders; Arthur Bantry, retired army colonel; Dolly Bantry, his wife; Inspector Slack, the official investigator

Most memorable scene: When the charred corpse of a sixteen-year-old girl is found in a burnt-up car

Greatest strengths: The mystery, of course. I didn’t come anywhere near figuring out who the murderer was with this one, but then, I suppose that’s what the idea is

Standout achievements: For being 80 years old, this book holds up considerably well 

Fun Facts: In the Author’s foreword of this book, Christie admits that finding a body in the library, however unlikely, is a cliche in the mystery fiction genre, and basically admits that she wrote this book to turn the trope on its head

Other media: Most notably, the 1984 BBC film of the same name starring Joan Hickson in her first appearance as Miss Marple 

What it taught me: That in mysteries, the who is as important as the how. While this book is undoubtedly considered a “whodunit,” it’s real strength, like much of Christie’s work, is the “HOWdunit.” To me, that’s where she really shines, and this book is a fine example of that

How it inspired me: In my murder mystery, Sleep Savannah Sleep, my main character, Jason, is reading a novel (Moonfall) by my collaborator (Tamara Thorne). This idea was inspired by one of the character’s in The Body in the Library — young Peter Carmody, a mystery reader who says he has Agatha Christie’s autograph. The fact that she name-dropped herself cracked me up

Additional thoughts: While a lot of folks might not agree with me, I think Miss Marple is a lot more fun and interesting than Poirot

Haunt me:

BEND OVER and Pick Up Your Copy Today!

What’s the Purple Probe, you ask?

In short, it’s the Thorne and Cross newsletter … with a facelift. Starting with its first edition this October, the Purple Probe will include interviews with our characters, inside information on what’s coming up next, behind-the-scenes tell-alls, and a gossip column written by none other than Jojo McFerrell (from the Crimson Cove series) that will shed light on the darkest monsters (human and otherworldly alike) in the Thorne & Cross universe. Of course, there will be announcements of special deals and sales, but this monthly newspaper-style periodical will focus on the fun stuff.

Subscribe by visiting either of our websites at: or and don’t miss out on the first edition, coming this month! So BEND OVER and pick up your copy of the Purple Probe today!

Murder in the Wind by John D. MacDonald

Murder in the Wind, John D. MacDonald, 1956

My favorite quote: “Johnny Flagan would look over his glasses at you and grin wryly about his morning hangover and you would never notice that the grin did nothing to change the eyes. The eyes were small and brown and watchful and they could have been the noses of two bullets dimly seen in the cylinder when you look toward the muzzle of a gun.”

Notable characters: Bunny Hollis, a tennis bum; Betty Hollis, his wife, the heiress; Billy Torris, an escaped convict; Jean and Hal Dorn, a young married couple; Ginny Sherrel, a widow carrying her husband’s ashes; Steve Malden, an agent for something akin to the CIA; Hurricane Hilda, the deadly hurricane

Most memorable scene: For me, it was Bunny’s backstory — a uniquely told tale of squandered potential

Greatest strengths: Character development. Everyone here has a story — and an interesting one at that

Standout achievements: In an era when female characters were often written as cardboard cutouts whose sole duty was to support their male counterparts, John D. MacDonald gives his women surprising strength 

Fun Facts: This was John D. MacDonald’s eighteenth novel — and his third that year

Other media: N/A

What it taught me: This natural-disaster-meets-murder-meets-love-story really piles on the drama … and it’s great. This book proves that a good story really can’t have too much tension

How it inspired me: In much the same way John D. MacDonald did in Murder in the Wind, my collaborator, Tamara Thorne, and I love the idea of locking up a group of strangers and slowly turning up the heat, so we’re putting our own spin on the concept with our current work-in-progress, Spite House — a ghostly tale of haunted history and twisted family secrets 

Additional thoughts: I absolutely love old pulp fiction. This book is one of the reasons why 

Haunt me:

Get Your Ghost On!

Tis the season and today’s the day!

Shadowland, book 4 in the Ravencrest Saga, is out now!:

Something ancient stirs in the Raven Woods …

A creature out of the darkest fairy tales calls to Thad and Cynthia, seducing them with promises of gingerbread and magick. Belinda must keep them safe, but her patience with the children has run thin. Her senses are on overdrive, and her appetites are voracious as she wanders the woods, heeding a siren call only she can hear.

Meanwhile, in Ravencrest Manor, new employee Ryan O’Brien is tormented by a trickster spirit that seems harmless, even humorous. Belinda and Grant assure Ryan he’s safe, chalking up the paranormal activity to a harmless poltergeist, assuring him that levitating mops and flying vegetables are nothing to worry about. But as it gathers power, the entity turns dark, dangerous, and when a suit of armor comes to life with deadly intent, they realize that something more is going on in the mansion.

Deep in the bowels of Ravencrest Manor something is waiting and watching; something that will change everything Belinda and Grant ever thought they knew about the secrets … and the ghosts … of Ravencrest.

Get the rest of the series (so far):

The Ghosts of Ravencrest, book one




Also available on Kindle Unlimited

The Witches of Ravencrest, book two




Also available on Kindle Unlimited

Exorcism, book three




Also available on Kindle Unlimited

Fog Hides the Fury by Paula Minton

Fog Hides the Fury, Paula Minton, 1967

My favorite quote: “I could snap my fingers and suddenly the gray strands of fog would begin to curl around my body in a strange and mystical garment.” 

Notable characters: Arlene Dade, a young woman who inherits a house of unhappiness; Alan Caswell, the handsome with mysterious intentions

Most memorable scene: The discovery of the old diary

Greatest strengths: Atmosphere

Standout achievements: This book, along with others of its genre, proves that scary stories don’t need torture chambers, ax-wielding maniacs, demonic possession, gross-outs, or jump-scares to be effective

Fun Facts: Paula Minton is a pen name for Paul Hugo Little, who wrote 700 historical fiction, romance and erotica novels, often under female pseudonyms 

Other media: N/A

What it taught me: This book sent me down a rabbit-hole where I learned all kinds of things about the writing and publication of books during various time periods. Most notably, I learned that when this book was written, it wasn’t believed that the audience would accept any kind of romance written by a man, so male authors frequently wrote under female pen names, which still happens today

How it inspired me: All the creepy fog in this book gave me an idea for a new ghost for the Thorne & Cross gothic series, The Ravencrest Saga. The ghost has yet to make an, ahem, appearance (that place has altogether too many damned ghosts!) but she is stored away and ready for her close-up just as soon as the time is right … 

Additional thoughts: When Tamara Thorne and I first began writing together, we quickly agreed that we wanted our first collaboration to be a gothic. We didn’t know then that it would become a series (The Ravencrest Saga) that was still continuing to this day, but I’m happy to say that it is and that I love it now more than ever. Tamara and I both love this genre and are grateful to books like this one for all the inspiration they’ve lent us

Haunt me:

Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin

Rosemary’s Baby, Ira Levin, 1967

My favorite quote: “She opened her eyes and looked into yellow furnace-eyes, smelled sulphur and tannis root, felt wet breath on her mouth, heard lust-grunts and the breathing of onlookers.”

Notable characters: Rosemary Woodhouse, the mother; Guy Woodhouse, her husband; Minnie and Roman Castavet, their strange, flamboyant neighbors

Most memorable scene: The conception scene. Creepy stuff. Seriously 

Greatest strengths: It’s nerve. This book has more balls than a bowling alley … and I love it

Standout achievements: Despite being over 50 years old, this book remains surprisingly timeless

Fun Facts: Rosemary’s Baby was the top bestselling novel of the 1960s and is considered a major catalyst for the “horror boom” of the subsequent decades

Other media: The 1968 Roman Polanski film of the same name starring Mia Farrow and Ruth Gordon

What it taught me: In its simplest interpretation, Rosemary’s Baby is the story of the birth of Christ turned on its head, proving again that there are no new ideas under the sun, only new variations on old ones — something that all writers should take comfort in

How it inspired me: In the Thorne & Cross collaboration, Darling Girls, we have a character named Erin Woodhouse — who’s mother’s name is Rosemary. We think we’re pretty funny … 

Additional thoughts: Rosemary’s Baby is one of my favorite novels of all time, coming in at number seven on my list of top ten

Haunt me:

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