One of the things that fascinates me most about the horror genre is the vast array of approaches the author has at his or her disposal in order to achieve the desired effect of scaring the reader. Some go for aggressive, in-your-face attempts at pure shock; some fill their inkwells with blood and guts to go for the gross-out; and some simply sidle up next to you and whisper terrible, disquieting things in your ear.
That last approach is the one Gary McMahon takes in his new novella The Bones of You, the latest entry in the Earthling Publications Halloween Series. It takes serious chops to make that route work, and McMahon’s effort here is an unqualified success.
The Bones of You centers on Adam Morris, a guy who has carried some serious baggage into the new home he’s just rented. Morris is divorced, but he and his ex-wife share a terrible secret that’s kept them bound together even though their marriage has dissolved. They also share a young daughter, Jess, the only byproduct of their time together that Adam views as being worth what the relationship has cost him. Adam’s time with Jess is limited, and that separation is getting more difficult to deal with as time wears on.
As Adam is settling into his new place, he discovers some unsettling information about the house next door – it used to belong to a serial killer, a woman dubbed “Little Miss Moffat.” Katherine Moffat liked luring small children into the basement of her home and doing terrible things to them, and for Adam the idea of living next to such a place is just one more weight on the burden that’s already dragging him down.
McMahon has a lot of puzzle pieces he’s playing with here, and he lays them out at a deliberate pace, maintaining a very creepy vibe from page one. McMahon is happy to show us the little off-kilter corners of things here and there, but he delights in holding back the flashier scares until the very end. Fortunately the book has more than enough substance to tide readers over until then.
As much a human drama as it is a supernatural one, The Bones of You is a welcome addition to the rich tradition of “quiet” horror stories. McMahon employs a number of tried-and-true devices (mysterious sounds, things moving on their own, figures in the shadows…and even a cat!) to create a suffocating atmosphere of unease and dread. He caps it off with an unforgettable confrontation, one that takes place on Halloween night but avoids the clichés you might expect.
The Bones of You is my introduction to Gary McMahon’s work, and I couldn’t be happier to make its acquaintance. I’ll happily shelve it right up there with Charles L. Grant, and will be sure to leave room for whatever he writes next.
The Bones of You by Gary McMahon from Earthling Publications: http://www.earthlingpub.com/gm_thebonesofyou.php
Blu Gilliand is a freelance writer of fiction and nonfiction. He covers horror fiction at his blog, October Country, and contributes interviews to the Horror World website. Follow him on Twitter at @BluGilliand.