Written By: Hayden Claborn, Writer
Don’t Fear The Reaper by Stephen Graham Jones
Writing anything of quality is already an accomplishment, and by that metric, Stephen Graham Jones writing his 2021 horror novel My Heart is a Chainsaw is equivalent to climbing Mountain Everest without the help of a Sherpa. That novel was able to thread the needle of being self aware and telling a worthwhile narrative. But now in 2023, Jones delivers the sequel, Don’t Fear The Reaper, which is equivalent to breaking the sound barrier; after reading the novel twice I’m comfortable Jones saying has outdone himself.
Taking place four years after the events of Chainsaw, former horror-obsessed protagonist Jade Daniels has been released from prison and returns to Proofrock where a new serial killer named Dark Mill South is on the loose and goes on a rampage. Don’t Fear The Reaper is the ultimate slasher film you’ve always wanted just in novel form. The killings are gruesome and the body count is high. Within the first view pages a character gets sliced in the stomach and their guts spill out.
But if you know anything about Jones, he doesn’t feel comfortable stopping at cheap thrills. His literary style allows for some dreamy imagery like a group of teens playing basketball in the dark only being lit by candle night or moments of serious introspection. For two-thirds of the novel Jade actually goes by Jennifer in an attempt to shed her former identity; horror films are no longer the center of her world. In actuality, survivor Letha who has taken that mantle. It’s suggested that she has done this as a way of atonement for not believing Jade but she also now has a baby daughter with a town cop. Unlike most slasher narratives where teen protagonists get their lives cut short, we see what happens when they grow up.
Don’t Fear The Reaper is less of a sequel and more a continuation: a window into how horror transforms people and what it does to them down the road. Sometimes you have to go back home even if it hurts.
Blaze Me a Sun by Christoffer Carlsson
Despite his untimely death in 2004, Steig Larrson has become one of the most important crime authors to come out of Sweden with the publication of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and its two sequels (not counting the entries commissioned by his estate). He’s the reason why Scandinavian Noir is as notable as it is today, and Larrson echoes throughout the pages of Christoffer Carlsson’s Blaze Me a Sun, translated from the original Swedish by Rachel Willson-Broyles. The novel effortlessly brings the reader along through its examinations of national trauma, guilt, and the desire for answers.
The 1986 assassination of Swedish prime minister Olof Palme looms large over the characters in Blaze Me a Sun, so much so you almost expect a late-game twist that directly connects the foreground and background. But this never occurs as the real mystery revolves around the murder of a young woman in Tiarp, Sweden which occurs hours after the assassination. “I’m going to do it again.” the perpetrator tells the police over the phone.
Despite beginning in present day 2019 where a novelist returns to his hometown, much of the novel centers around police officer Sven Jörgensson in which the case mentally and physically destroys him. Carlsson showcases how determination to do the right thing can lead to moral gray areas that morph into bad decisions. This sickness is passed onto his son Vidar who attempts to solve the case years later.
Dividing the novel into three parts, Carlsson astutely captures the fear and paranoia of these characters. They’re afraid to leave questions unanswered which results in a false sense of closure. These are people who need to face the uncomfortable truth that they might be blind to reality. This is a crime novel for those who want a taste of the cerebral and are okay with little action. I was blown away.