– a case study in what happens when horror congregates
“I used to be Snow White, but I drifted.” (T. Bankhead)
In September of 2016, something major and entirely unexpected happened to yours truly. I was accepted as a member – it’s invitation only – of the Danish Horror Society, on the basis of – you guessed it – Quantum Demonology.
That was thrilling enough, but since then, the thrills have become infinitely bigger. My debut as a writer in Danish awaits in September/October in an upcoming anthology. Best and greatest of all, I’ve been accepted into the rarified company of People Who Write, and for a severely alienated and socially isolated weirdo Geek Gal like me, that has been almost as good as free champagne and twice as intoxicating.
I suddenly gained friends and acquaintances who just got all those strange writers I love so much and so fiercely. I’ve spent an evening discussing why I’ll never write a zombie book (too one-dimensional) or vampire books (because Anne Rice wrote the last words on vampires better than I ever could), and why, by Golly, horror on virtual paper is the whipped cream and cherries on all our life sundaes.
At the last general assembly of the Society, I came home with five new books. My life being what it is these days – studying to become a teacher – if having to choose between didactic theory, cognitive psychology or the latest from fellow writer X, Y or Z, my fellow writers always, but bloody always win out. (I do get around to the theories, honest!)
Having said that, one of them was placed in (yet another) teetering stack of books, and entirely my bad, forgotten. Until Lars Ahn, the writer in question, won the Danish Horror Society’s prize for the best horror publication 2018 at Krimimessen for his anthology “The Night We Were Supposed To Watch Vampyros Lesbos” (my translation).
I’ve had my nose stuck in it at intervals all this Easter break, and it’s no surprise to me that these nine stories, written with verve, nerve and gusto in a deceptively simple style should get all the credit they – and their author – surely deserve because dayum, they’re good. I’ll never look at sidewalk cracks, cult B-movies or even Facebook in quite the same way ever again.
To an English speaker, it might seem strange that one of Denmark’s largest book fairs – and one dedicated to crime novels – is also a platform for horror – whether in novels or anthologies. I write this even as it pains me more than you know to label it ‘horror’. Why lump them in together?
For one thing both genres are, shall we say, morbidly preoccupied with ‘gruesome’, either murderous or supernatural/fantastical in theme. For another, it’s a chance – even for complete unknowns like yours truly, who doesn’t even have anything new out yet for other people to read – to meet new writers, greet new friends, network and make new discoveries.
I say this as someone doesn’t even read that many crime novels in any given year, partly because of other preoccupations in reading material (Used English paperbacks in a multitude of genres bought on the dirt-cheap), partly because I can’t afford Danish literature on a student grant, but mostly – thanks to that membership into the Danish Horror Society and the ever-awesomesauce Henrik Sandbeck Harksen – because I’d rather read something r-e-a-l-l-y strange.
Like I said above, I’m weird.
Which brings me to … Randvad, by Jacob Holm Krogsøe and Martin Wangsgaard Jürgensen. Henrik hurled Randvad at me before I left Krimimessen. I began reading the very next morning. And couldn’t stop. I thought about it during a hectic school week, and snuck in more reading every chance I got and a few I certainly didn’t. By the following Wednesday night, I had not read it so much as inhaled it, even all the nasty chewy bits, of which there were more than a few.
Randvad is the story of an unemployed young academic with a skeleton in his own closet who is hired to find out what became of a rich man’s great-grandfather, who disappeared under mysterious circumstances in 1887 while collecting local folklore in southern Jutland. It’s not just the surly locals who are strange – it’s also the place, the eponymous Randvad. As his investigation continues, the academic finds himself in ever-deeper water – with the locals, with the foreboding atmosphere of the nearby forest, with the demons in his own mind and the ghosts of the past. As the saying goes, it’s all downhill in a most gruesome fashion from there …
In its tone and general atmosphere, if not so much the actual story, Randvad reminded me in several splendid ways of another book that also scared the bejeezus out of me back in its day: Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, but without the vampires. It’s no slight to the authors to say that – in my book, that’s a compliment of the highest order. The writing gave me chills, thrills and spills for days.
Martin Wangsgaard Jürgensen is also coming out with his own book, Thelema, about an Aleister Crowley-inspired cult, and I have a copy coming I’m thoroughly over-excited about, since this book had me at Al…, or rather, The … Anyone who knows me knows I have an
unhealthy preoccupation/Major Thing for all things Aleister.
At Krimimessen, I was also lucky to attend a discussion about fantastical literature and the limitations of genre labeling. One of the participants – and a fellow member of the Danish Horror Society – was Anne-Marie Vedsøe Olesen, whose tenth book Lucie was published last month to near universal acclaim. Her books have been some of my most favorite literary discoveries of the past two years, and Lucie is no exception – if anything, she really outdid herself. The story of a thousand-year-old soulless cannibal – the Lucie of the title – it is by turns existential, fantastical, horrific and impossible to pigeonhole as mere ‘horror’. From its gruesome beginnings at a metal festival in Copenhagen to a hellride on an epic scale along the pilgrim trail to Trondheim and the book’s climax, you’ll find a man in search of redemption, another who talks to birds, a cannibal in search of origins she can’t recall, hallucinogens, Norse gods, early Christianity and a story that grabs you by the scruff of your neck as well as the seat of your pants and will. Not. Let. Go. If you’re a Dane, buy this book, too. I can guarantee it will rearrange your mental furniture.
Meanwhile, you’ll find me this Easter banging away on my own pathetic prequel titled The Book of Abaddon. In company this stellar, it’s time to show what I alone can do – or else die trying!
Special thanks to my sister Stephanie Caruana, to the Mr. Ever-Awesomesauce Henrik Sandbeck Harksen, to Amdi Silvestri, Michael Kamp, Lars Ahn, Patrick Leis and Anne-Marie Vedsøe Olesen for the infernal pleasures of their company, the books and conversations great and small.