Halloween Takeover: Allen Eskens
Allen Eskens chooses his top five books for Halloween
Posted on October 31, 2018 in Author Recommendations
In the lead up to Halloween, we asked some of our favourite authors to recommend the most frightening and unnerving books they’ve read. Take a look and tell us if you’ve dared to read any of these chilling stories.
Allen Eskens lives with his wife, Joely, in out-state Minnesota, where he has been a practicing criminal defense attorney for 25 years. He is the bestselling author of The Life We Bury, The Guise of Another, The Heavens May Fall, and The Deep Dark Descending. He is the recipient of the Barry Award, the Rosebud Award, and the Silver Falchion Award, and has been a finalist for the Edgar Award, the Thriller Award, the Anthony Award, and the Minnesota Book Award. His debut novel, The Life We Bury, has been published in 16 languages and is being developed for a feature film.
Allen’s next book, The Shadows We Hide, is published in November and follows a young reporter who is investigating the murder of a man he believes could be his father.
Let me begin with this caveat: I am an absolute skeptic when it comes to ghosts and ghouls. I do not believe in the supernatural, or the paranormal. If I’m staying in a bed and breakfast and feel a chill run up my neck, my thoughts go directly to the quality of the insulation in walls. Therefore, I rarely read what might be considered classically scary books. The suspension of disbelief for that genre is too great of a leap for me.
I do, however, get brought to the edge of my seat by novels where the author has created a frightening villain drawn from the world around me. My list of scary favourites comes not from the supernatural, but from books where I know – or at least I believe – that what I am reading is all too real of a possibility.
What I find brilliant about this book is how the scariest character in the novel is the mentor character. Mentors are normally a kind, grandfatherly character who gently guides the hero along their journey (think Obi-Wan Kenobi from Star Wars). Harris got me good with Hannibal Lecter because I both liked him and feared him in equal measure.
This book had a particular impact on me because before I became a writer, I practiced law, and a large part of my practice dealt with handling cases at the nearby State Security Hospital for the mentally ill. I acquired an appreciation of those whose world views were so completely convincing and yet so completely wrong. I represented a man once who claimed to be the prophet Elijah returned to Earth. He was absolutely convinced (and convincing) in that belief, and I had no proof that he wasn’t Elijah other than my own understanding of reality. The confusion Lehane creates between being on this side of the fence or the other side hit close to home for me.
My third pick is The Road by Cormac McCarthy, with a runner-up shout out to Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. Both of these books create a truly believable, post-apocalyptic world where the thing to be feared most is your fellow man. Humans are civilized; thus we become content in our belief that we need not fear our neighbor. What these books expose is how a small adjustment to our world could turn those neighbors into to the very thing we should fear the most. The Road, with its father/son relationship is particularly gripping.
I love this book because it is the best example of a literary thriller that I have ever read, with a villain (Anton Chigurh) who reaches up from the page and grabs you by the throat. Every good thriller requires a great villain, but McCarthy’s talent as a writer puts Chiguhr in a league by himself.
While not usually considered to be a “scary” book, it is, again, an example of how thin the line is between civilized society and a breakdown of that society. It holds a mirror up to what we aspire to be and shows us what we really are – or at least what we could become if we do not remain vigilant.