Shadow on the Sun by Richard Matheson

My next read for R.I.P. IX. Thanks, Delia, for the recommendation. I loved the book.

He started as a fire brand seemed to burst forth from nowhere. He saw it moving in the darkness like a flaming insect. 
Then the bonfire was ignited and its stacked wood flamed up with a crackling roar.
Now he could see the Apaches gathered in a giant circle around the mounting fire, all of them seated  cross- legged, their faces reflecting the flames like burnished oak, their dark eyes glowing as they stared at the fire. Who were they? he wondered. What were they thinking? Once again, he felt completely foreign to the moment, trapped in some unearthly vision.

Summary: Southwest Arizona, a century ago. An uneasy true exists
between the remote frontier community of Picture City and the neighboring
Apaches. That delicate peace is shredded when the bodies of two white men are
found hideously mutilated. The angry townspeople are certain the “savages” have
broken the treaty, but Billjohn Finley, the local Indian agent, fears that
darker, more unholy forces may be at work. There’s a tall, dark stranger in
town, who rode in wearing the dead men’s clothes. A stranger, who is incredibly strong, looks neither white nor Injun, who has a scar around his neck, a stranger who may not be
entirely human.

My thoughts: I’ve always felt that all horror works on suspense, not
knowing what comes next, not being able to understand what happens; that causes fear. Shadow on the Sun by Richard Matheson shows the
difference between suspense and intrigue.
The plot of this western, as you can see, is fairly
straightforward. About six pages in, and with one glance at that first cover, you can guess what should have been the
biggest mystery of all – what mauled the two young men and how is it related to
that strange man with the scar around his neck? But that’s the thing about this
book. Knowing who is behind the killings, knowing how a man is able to brutally
mangle his victims, the knowledge that the crux of the mystery lies in
Native American mythology doesn’t make the story any less scary. Suspense – uncertainty of fact – is one quality of horror. If wielded
effectively, intrigue is a much better tool. You have all the answers you could
ask for and yet, every time the stranger steps onto the page with his scornful smile you find yourself shuddering. 
Shadow on the Sun is about a clash of cultures. About the suspicion with which we view every new thing, the evil inhuman intentions, the capacity to swiftly lay blame, the misplaced high mindedness that lies at the heart of every colonization. That the young Harvard graduate officer Boutelle, or the vengeful brother of the two victims believe the murders are the work of the savage Indians shows a terrible conviction that humans are capable of every bit as much horror as a supernatural demon. It makes you wonder how we think so little of ourselves.

(Spoiler!) Billjohn Finley is the bridge between the two cultures and you can see him struggling to make sense of the savagery to the sceptical Boutelle – the fact that Little Owl died of fear, that his remains would be burnt inside his house, that Braided Feather and his tribe would perform a cleansing ceremony to dispel the work of evil forces. The dreamlike scene when Boutelle witnesses the ceremony and learns the story of the son of Vandaih, the man-eagle, is important because that’s when a part of his mind opens up to the possibility of some truth in the myth, because all the details start falling neatly in place, the man and his scar, the shaman, the Night Doctor, the mutilated bodies, the Indians’ obvious uncontrollable fear of the stranger, the inhuman shrieks in the forest. (end of Spoiler!) 

The stranger, the tall large man with the scar around his neck, from his physical description and his alienated behaviour, his desperation, his unthinking ruthlessness, is reminiscent of Frankenstein’s monster. The fact that he’s looking for a Night Doctor only strengthens the impression. Whether he carries the blame for what he was turned into is not a question to address in this story, but the likeness could not be unintentional.

The thing that makes this book special, like the other two I’ve read by Matheson, is the clean-cut precision of the story. It begins mid-action and ends on just the right note, leaving us to conjure up a suitable tying up of loose ends. The plot is crisp, the mood evocative, and every word seems deliberately chosen to make you shiver. A nice, short read by a great writer – recommended by Stephen King as the author who influenced him the most as a writer – what more could you want?

A Stir of Echoes by Richard Matheson – R.I.P. VII

(Another R.I.P VII book.)
I read I Am Legend about a year ago and loved it, which
makes me wonder why I waited so long before reading another one of Matheson’s
books. A Stir of Echoes by Richard Matheson is a horror novel and is a great
book. I haven’t seen the Kevin Bacon movie, but I’ve heard the book isn’t as
obviously freaky as the movie. It’s creepy, though, and something I would
recommend to a first-time horror reader.
Summary (from here): Tom
Wallace lived an ordinary life, until a chance event awakened psychic abilities
he never knew he possessed. Now he’s hearing the private thoughts of the people
around him – and learning shocking secrets he never wanted to know. But as Tom’s
existence becomes a waking nightmare, greater jolts are in store when he
becomes the unwilling recipient of a compelling message from beyond the grave!

My Thoughts: You know how so many people say that they wouldn’t believe in ghosts until someone proved they exist. Or until they saw one themselves. If I did see, sense and feel an actual translucent ghost someday, I will be shocked, of course, initially. But if I see it again or more closely, if I’m more prepared the next time, I might even believe it exists. We trust our basic senses too much. It is quite believable, that my first thought on witnessing something seemingly paranormal would be to wonder if it exists, rather than wondering if I’ve lost my mind. After a while it would just stop freaking out my conscious self. When our narrator sees what seems to be a ghost, he doesn’t spend too much time convincing himself it’s a hallucination. He just knows. I loved that reaction, you hardly ever get to read it, but it seemed to me the most convincing reaction to a supernatural experience. He doesn’t readily question his sanity, instead he decides he has stumbled across the proof for the afterlife. He consciously decides to find ways to avoid encountering this ghost, he wonders and thinks about it, he actively tries to find out more about it. The only time the apparition truly haunts him is at night, in his dreams. 

I tried to joke but it was a mistake. “What’s the matter,” I said, “do you have something to hide? Maybe a-“

“Everyone has something to hide!” she burst out. “And if they couldn’t hide it, the world would be in a lot worse mess than it is.”
The telepathy was just as wonderfully dealt with. I used to think that Stephen King describes what goes on in people’s heads most convincingly, but reading this book makes me wonder if he overdoes it. The way his wife reacts when Tom begins to recognize her thoughts is perfectly believable, and more importantly, so is the way Tom begins to react to the people around him. What seemed like a power at first begins to be a burden. He becomes a victim of people’s deepest, darkest secrets: just imagine how that would be like! What I loved the most is that even knowing people’s emotions doesn’t give him what he needs to uncover the truth. The more I thought about it, the more correct it seemed: Tom knew what everyone felt, but not what they intended to do with it. It is very hard to figure out, don’t you think, which emotion binds with which action. You can’t know someone’s every move by knowing their feelings, it is so much more complicated than that! And the author has managed to make it work perfectly realistically in this book.
The focus is more on the people than on the scenery or the atmosphere. I could relate quite easily to Tom, the narrator, which made the book even more enjoyable. The characters may seem stereotypical at times, but I feel, that sometimes cliches do work. As they say, they are cliches for a reason. The book feels spooky when the narrator himself is spooked, there are no monochromatic images in the mirror, creaking doors and scratching sounds on windows. It is not the classic horror tale, in that it is not too gory or gruesome and it is not overly descriptive. But it has its moments, subtle but effective: times when you feel absolutely terrified, wondering what’s about to happen. The suspense builds up beautifully and the mystery draws you in well. If you like thrillers, mysteries and subtle horror, this is the book for you.

Wonderfully Wicked Read-a-thon Update #3

Wonderfully Wicked Read-a-thon is hosted at Kindle Fever and My Shelf Confessions for this weekend. With Halloween coming up, I decided to have a horror/thriller reading list (Though that is not a must for the read-a-thon.)

Reading Stats:
Total Books Read – 4
Total Pages Read – 973

Last Book(s) Read: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson – This is definitely one of the best horror/thriller novels I have read. It’s eerie and creepy and really just a classic ghost story

I am Legend by Richard Matheson – The story of a the last man surviving in a strange, new world, where every other creature is a vampire. If the “apocalypse due to a disease” theme sounds too cliched too you, you ought to keep in mind that this book is one of the books that introduced the theme. Cool, huh? This makes me want to read books about zombies.
My (tentative) to-be-read list: (I can definitely manage one more book)
The Case of Charles Dexter Ward by H. P. Lovecraft