Three Uncanny Guides to Revelation and Horror

Three Book covers

Samantha Mabry’s Clever Creatures of the Night is a master class in atmosphere with a literary bent and a few surprising turns up its creepy sleeve. At once a murder mystery, a post-apocalyptic narrative, and a story about friendship, this novel about a missing friend and some strange young people living in a house by themselves is as tense and enigmatic as it is entertaining. 

Case is a young woman whose more or less living by herself. She carries a bottle of pills to helps her deal with the pain from the damage and scars she got when she almost died during a house fire. When her best friend Drea sends her a letter asking her to visit, Case is happy to get to spend time with her friend, who also happens to be the person who was with her on the night of the fire. However, when Case arrives at a dilapidated house in a small in the woods in West Texas, Drea isn’t there. Instead, Case finds Abby, Steph, Kendall, and Troy, Drea’s housemates, and none of them want to talk too much about where Drea went or why. Case decides to wait for her friend, but the strange tension in the house and the way Drea’s housemates behave keep her on edge. When Case starts looking around the house in the kind of spots she and Drea used to hide stuff in in other houses, she finds hidden pages of Drea’s journal. The writing allows Case to piece together a narrative of Drea’s life in the strange house, and case begins to think the housemates murdered her friend. Case wants to get to the bottom of things, but between the cageyness of the housemates, the strange behavior of the animals in the woods, the river rising, the fact that someone took her phone away, and the things she learns from reading Drea’s writing, things get complicated. As the situation deteriorates, Case realizes she could be next.

 Mabry is a talented storyteller with a knack for atmosphere and dialogue, and those two elements shine here. Case has a lot of questions and knows something bad happened at the house, but Abby, Steph, Kendall, and Tory are evasive and keeping telling her Drea went to see her mom. Their interactions take place on two planes: the words being said and the hidden meaning of their evasions, silences, and lies. Mabry navigates these conversations, and Case’s thoughts about them, very well. The result is a narrative that becomes tense early on and then keeps getting more and more tense with each chapter. 

While this could be considered a post-apocalyptic narrative because it takes places after an important event that changed the country, said event—the eruption of a volcano in Austin, Texas—is never really at the center of the story. That might sound like a bad thing, but it’s the opposite. Mabry addresses the event in a few passages and describes how people had to evacuate their homes, the traffic jams and mayhem that ensued, and how things changed due to the smoke and ash that came from the volcano. However, she never fully embraces the gritty, ultraviolent, bleak atmosphere that other novels with similar elements embrace. Instead, she focuses on her characters and allows the eruption and its aftermath to exist in the background while Case’s suspicions and the lingering mental and physical scars of the house fire that almost killed her occupy center stage.

Clever Creatures of the Night is an eerie and very atmospheric narrative that mixes elements of mystery, YA, and horror to deliver a haunting story about friendship and survival that also includes a good amount of violence and a few scenes in which feral hogs and hawks cause a lot of chaos. This fast, entertaining novel will surely please YA readers regardless of their age. 


Sometimes awards don’t mean much, but Angela Slatter’s accomplishments—a Shirley Jackson Award, a World Fantasy Award, a British Fantasy Award, three Australian Shadows Awards, and eight Aurealis Awards—point to one thing very clearly: she’s a superb writer. She’s also one a writer who’s constantly pushing the envelope of what can be done with short stories, and her latest collection, The Wrong Girl and Other Warnings, shows Slatter firing on all cylinders. 

There are two impressive things about this collection. The first is that there are no throwaway stories and Slatter brings the same care and wonderful prose to all of them. The second is that they are all very different while still showcasing Slatter’s voice. The book kicks things off with “Same Time Next Year,” a melancholic and somewhat fuzzy tale about the ghost of a girl on the anniversary of her death. Short and, fun in a strage way, the opening story helps set the mood, but it has little in common with the rest of the collection other than having a female as the main character. 

“Widow’s Walk,” the second story, is a feminist manifesto that serves as a good reminder that while witches exist, when we heard about them what we’re hearing about is usually smart, independent women who subvert the status quo. At once a touching story about a young girl finding her place in the world thanks to a group of widows who are also witches and a tale about the way a small town perceives said women, this is one of the crowning jewels of this collection. The second jewel is a story titled “A Matter of Light.” It follows detective Kit Casswell after she is asked to assist Sherlock Holmes in cracking a recent murder. The story reads like a feminist answer to Arthur Conan Doyle’s brilliant detective, one in which Holmes looks like a guy who needs help instead of an all-knowing master of detection. The witty dialogue, twists and turns, and eventual supernatural angle at the end of the story made this one of my favorites. 

Other standouts include the titular tale, “The Wrong Girl,” which is a heartbreaking story of deadly art, love gone wrong, and messing with the wrong girl and “When We Fall, We Forget,” which brings together angels, anger, vengeance, a despicable crime, grief, and sacrifice to tell the story of a mother willing to do anything for justice. 

Slatter is one of the best short fiction writers out there, and this collection will hit the mark with her fans while also being a perfect introduction to her work for those who haven’t read it yet. Don’t miss it. 


Henry Hoke’s Open Throat is unlike anything else in speculative fiction. A story that follows the adventures and misadventures of a queer mountain lion living under the Hollywood sign and stalking LA when he can, this bizarre story takes readers deep into the thoughts of an angry, scared feline while also filtering the world through his very peculiar lens to show the best and worst of humanity.  

There’s a drought in LA. The sun is out. So are people, walking and drinking and talking and yelling into their cell phones all along the trails near the Hollywood sign. In the bushes is a mountain lion. One who can more or less understand what people are saying. He’s lonely, hungry, haunted by his past, and very interested in the things people say and do. He spends his days looking for food and water and protecting a nearby homeless encampment. Life in those dry hills and a small cave isn’t easy, and things are made even more complicated by the fact that the mountain is struggling with his identity as well as the myriad problems that come from being forced to live so close to people. When an angry man sets the homeless encampment at the base of the hill on fire and the flames feed on the drought-stricken hills, the mountain lion is forced to leave his hiding place and find another refuge. What follows is a fast-paced story about finding a kindred spirit in a hostile world and making decisions about the past that can dictate the future.

This is a short novella that shouldn’t work, but Hoke makes it work, and the result is amazing. Through the eyes of the mountain lion, the narrator, we see LA as an aggressive, unsympathetic place full of people who are too busy with the minutiae of their own lives to pay attention to anything else. The mountain lion remembers where he came from, a “deep forest at the edge of the water where we could taste the salt carried up by the wind at night.” He remembers his vicious father and the name his loving mother gave him. None his memories match his reality now, and that, in a way he can’t articulate, is slowly destroying him. His sadness, melancholy, and desperation are relatable even though he’s a big cat roaming the hills and killing small animals for sustenance. 

Besides the strange nature of the story’s narrator and the combination of primal instincts and deep thoughts coming from a creature who can’t fully comprehend humans or even himself, Open Throat is also unique in the way Hoke approached the writing. In this book, every short sentence occupies its own paragraph, there is no capitalization, and there are no commas, periods, or any other punctuation. It’s jarring at the start, but the lack of everything soon becomes part of the cat’s voice and it stops mattering. After a few chapters, I even understood that having perfect grammar would’ve been strange and might’ve affected the way the narrator sounded in my head.

Anthropomorphizing is far from new, but we rarely see it done this way now. Hoke took a big chance here, and he could’ve easily failed or delivered a gimmicky book about a sad mountain lion on the run. Instead, he delivered a triumph: a strange book that delves deep into what it means to feel alone, to care for strangers, and to be forced to make important decisions. This is a bloody gem that demands to be read in one sitting, and I highly recommend you do so.  


Clever Creatures of the Night
by Samantha Mabry
Algonquin; 240p.


The Wrong Girl and Other Warnings
by Angela Slatter
Brain Jar; 336p.


Open Throat
by Henry Hoke
MCD; 172p.


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