The Book of Cold Cases

When she was nine, Shea Collins managed to outwit and escape a child predator, hiding as he searched for her before moving on to his next victim. Still traumatized two decades later, Shea keeps to herself, working as a medical receptionist during the day and at night holing up in her apartment, heating up single serve frozen lasagna in her microwave while researching unsolved true crimes for her blog, “The Book of Cold Cases.”

This self-imposed isolation is about to change when Shea recognizes Beth Greer in the doctor’s office one day. Decades ago, the beautiful, beguiling and rich Greer went to trial, accused of killing two men. She was found innocent, but like Shea, she has locked herself away from the world, albeit in a mansion in the wealthiest section of Lake Clare where she lived with her parents before their deaths.

Surprisingly, Greer agrees to let Shea interview her and invites her to the house. Located on a cliff overlooking the water, it should be a pleasant place, but instead, almost from the beginning, Shea can feel the odd vibes and happenings that are part of the home’s atmosphere. Looking out the window, she catches a glimpse of a young girl staring at the house. Who is she? And what about Greer? Is she a murderer? Or is she a woman somehow trapped in a supernatural nightmare?

Author Simone St. James went from scheduling and spreadsheets — mostly for live sports, making sure that camera crews showed up on time and that everyone got paid — to writing supernatural thrillers, including her latest, “The Book of Cold Cases.”

“I loved what I was doing, but as time went on I loved writing even more,” said St. James, who has written five novels, including bestseller “The Sun Down Motel.”

St. James says the cases in her book are entirely imaginary.

“But the germ of the idea came from the Zodiac case, in which a man killed random people in the San Francisco area in the late 60s and early 70s,” said St. James, noting that Stephen King was the first writer to influence her and that she read and re-read her copy of “Firestarter” so much that it fell apart.

“The killer in the Zodiac case was never caught,” St. James said. “And I wondered, what if you had a Zodiac-type case, but the suspect was a woman? It changes everything about the story — who the suspect is, why they do what they do, how it’s investigated, how it’s written about in the media. Literally everything about it is different. So I made up a fictional case and went down that rabbit hole because I thought it was interesting.”

Though her books have an eerie ambiance, St. James said she’s never encountered the supernatural herself.

“But I believe it’s possible. I think most things are possible,” she said. “In my books I’m more interested in the human side of the supernatural, if that makes sense. Why one person would refuse to leave, and how the remaining people react. Haunting stories are all about grief and fear and trauma and letting go or refusing to. Those themes are fascinating to me and I always go back to them.”

This story originally appeared in the Northwest Indiana Times.

Where They Wait: A Scott Carson Supernatural Thriller

          What could be easier than for an out-of-work journalist than an offer of a high paying gig writing a puff piece for an old friend? Well, if you’re the main character in a Scott Carson novel then take it from someone like me who has read every book Michael Koryta has written including those under the Carson pseudonym, things will get much worse before—and if—they get better.

          In time for a stupendously creepy Halloween scare we meet Nick Bishop in Where They Wait (Atria/Bestler, $27) as he arrives in Maine. His assignment is to write about Bryce Lermond for the Hammel College alumni magazine. $5000 is a whole lot of money for a profile of a successful college alum but Bishop, who has reported from Afghanistan, almost turns the job down. He’s proud of his reporter credentials and this job is beneath him. Unfortunately, he’s also broke and besides, a paid trip to Maine gives him a chance to see his mother, a once noted scientist, who now suffers from dementia.

          Oh, if only it were that easy. First entering Lermond’s headquarters, Bishop notes there’s something off kilter about the whole set-up. But he agrees to try Clarity, the app Lermond’s developed that promises to soothe and relax. And indeed, when Bishop first listens to the hauntingly beautiful song, he does fall into a sound sleep. But it’s a rest followed by horrific and seemingly real nightmares. Lermond’s top assistant—and Bishop’s childhood friend—warns him not to listen to Clarity but the melody and the voice of the woman singing is addictive. No, make that irresistible despite she committed suicide and yet shows up frequently and all too real in Bishop’s Clarity-induced dreams.

          Koryta, who grew up in Bloomington, Indiana, says that he was struck during the pandemic lockdown at how many relaxation apps were coming to market.

          “I thought this is good but then wondered what if it isn’t good for you,” says Koryta in a call from his home in Maine. “And writing the book during the backdrop of the constant question of how communication is being used to either save democracy or destroy it as well as the power and responsibility of communication soaked into my work. The power of song is really striking to me. Song has a staying power that most things do not, we remember songs and what they say.”

          As the song and the nightmares begin to overtake him, Bishop tries to delete Clarity but it reappears. He also begins to discover secrets about how his mother, who now only seems able to talk in riddles, worked at rewiring his memories. What he remembers about his past never happened.

          “You can peel a lot of things away from a person but as long as they have their own sense of the truth, they’re going to find their way but if you tell them what they know is a lie it changes all that,” says Koryta. “That’s part of the emotional experience I want to impart.”

          Typically, any of Koryta’s books can be read at distinct levels. If you want a great read that moves fast, he delivers. But you can go down to deeper levels, such as his intense research into memory when writing Where They Wait and into how the actions of the characters’ ancestors impact the choices they make now.

          Koryta says the fun part of writing is in the journey of discovering how it will end.

           “When I’m start a book, I don’t know where it’s going,” he says. “You have to personally embrace the unease. I can scare myself when writing and I perversely enjoy that.”

The Hollow Ones

               I didn’t intend to spend the last three days speed reading “The Hollow Ones” by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan (Grand Central Publishing 2021; $28). Indeed, I had other things to do—deadlines to meet, a new workout program to keep up with, and my daughter’s wedding to help plan. But I didn’t do any of those. Instead I caromed around the universe, going back and forth in time, following this complicated by fascinating novel written by two greats in their field. del Toro is a prolific writer, producer, and director who wrote and director the four time Academy Award winning movie “The Shape of Water.” Hogan, an American novelist, screenwriter, and television producer, who co-authored, with del Toro,  The Strain trilogy. He also wrote the novel “Prince of Thieves” that was made into a movie “The Town” with Ben Affleck .

Guillermo del Toro. Photo by Lorenzo Agius.

               This is not a book for the faint of heart—and I typically fall into that category. But I just had to figure out what was going to happen next after the first chapter. That’s when  Odessa Hardwick, a young and inexperienced FBI agent arrives at the scene of a gruesome murder taking place along with Walter Leppo, her seasoned partner. Inside an upscale home, the two encounter the owner butchering his family. Odessa, believing her partner is under attack by the murderer, shoots and kills him. But then the unexpected occurs, Walter takes a knife to the only surviving family member and Odesssa is forced to kill him to save the child. She already is under a lot of stress when she had to question if that was a shadowy figure she saw fleeing from Walter’s body after his death?

               Most likely, given the supernatural forces that are in play here starting with why this prosperous home owner killing his family, why did Walter suddenly take over the job of butchering them, and what the heck is going on anyway? Odessa, distraught and doubting her actions and indeed, her own sanity, is  given the assignment while awaiting the results of the inquest into the killing of Leppo, to clear out the desk  of ailing FBI agent Earl Solomon who started his career investigating lynchings during the early 1960s in the American south.

               “Solomon puts her on the trail of a mysterious figure named Hugo Blackwood, with whom the dying Solomon has been professionally — but unofficially — aligned since his rookie days,” says Hogan, who describes his collaboration with del Toro as long talks over breakfast batting around ideas which they then expand until finally turning out chapters.

Hugo, an immortal has seen a lot through the centuries. To solve the mysteries of the moment, they must retrace what happened in 1582 when he was a young attorney and a portal to another world was accidentally opened allowing the evil and dangerous hollow ones to enter ours.

               Hogan, who describes the hollow ones as “nasty creatures who live to possess human victims, jumping from host to host” is vague about whether this is the first in a series focusing on Hugo and Odessa solving supernatural crimes. He does acknowledge though that Blackwood’s story which in this novel encompasses England 1582, the Jim Crow South of 1962, and New Jersey in 2019 is only 20% told.

               If they do have another book coming, I need to get all my chores done ahead of time so I can immerse myself once again.

I Know What I Saw: Modern-Day Encounters with Monsters of New Urban Legend and Ancient Lore

Linda Godfrey has spent almost 30 years hunting down tales of the supernatural.

       Linda Godfrey’s blog identifies her as an author and investigator of strange creatures and now in I Know What I Saw: Modern-Day Encounters with Monsters of New Urban Legend and Ancient Lore, her 18th book on such sightings as the Wernersville Dog Woman, Killer Clowns, The Red-Eyed Monster of Rusk County, Wisconsin, The Hillsboro Hairless Thing and the Goat Man of Roswell, New Mexico.

Linda Godfrey

      Godfrey, a journalist, never intended to become an expert on urban legends, ghostly tales and creatures half human and half animal or whatever—there are so many different things that she categorizes them in her book with chapter titles like “Haunts of the Werewolf,” “Phantom Quadrupeds,” “Other Nonconformist Canines”  and “I Saw Bigfoot.” 

      It all began in 1991 when Godfrey, a local interest reporter at The Week, a weekly county newspaper in Delavan, Wisconsin, was listening to similar stories told by sober locals about the frequent sightings of what they described as a large wolf walking—and sometimes running on its hind legs, devouring large amounts of road kill on Bray Road.

      “I was trying to keep an open mind,” says Godfrey, who was seriously skeptical.

      But when she kept hearing the same story—or relatively the same story—repeatedly from everyday type of reliable people, she began to reconsider, wondering what they really were seeing. Could it be a wolf that could, like trained dogs, walk up right like humans? Her first book, Beast of Bray Road, Godfrey shared results from her investigation and gained her national attention.

      “It’s easier to record encounters than understand them,” says Godfrey who has become more open to believing that there are other-worldly things as well as real. “There’s a good chance that what we call monsters are actually unknown and unidentified natural creatures that have learned to be very elusive. After all, the people who report monsters come from all demographics. They are police officers, businesspeople, teachers, housewives, doctors—they’re from all walks of life. Sometimes they are too traumatized to talk about it or report it.”

      Many of Godfrey’s stories reflect her geographic location—she still lives in Wisconsin. But she travels all over the country to follow up on sightings. They not only cross state lines but also timelines—many of the creatures she hears about today have their beginnings in legends hundreds of years ago.

      If you have a sighting you’d like to report, she’d like you to email her at lindagodfrey99@gmail.com says Godfrey, noting as a journalist, she’d like both facts as well as the feelings and emotions engendered by encounter.

      “Provide as much information as possible including date, time of day, weather, lighting conditions,” she says, citing a long list of what she’d like to know. These include physical characteristics as well as any thoughts or emotions that occurred when a person made a sighting, how they felt afterward, whether they observed the creature leave the scene, any interactions with the creature, whether, after the sighting, the person returned to check for evidence such as footprints or hair and such.  And for those who can draw, a sketch would be great. Those reporting sightings should know that Godfrey keeps all the information she gathers confidential unless she has permission to reveal it.

      “For those who do go looking for these creatures or who have encounters, Godfrey is both reassuring and cautioning.

      “We need to take care,” she says. “As we would of any wild thing.”

Ifyougo:

What: Reading, Q&A and signing with Linda Godfrey

When: Thursday, July 25 at 7:00 PM

Where: The Book Cellar, 4736-38 N Lincoln Ave Chicago, IL

Fyi: (773) 293-2665; bookcellarinc.com

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