The Ghost of Flight 401 by John Fuller – R.I.P. VII

I bought John Fuller’s The Ghost of Flight 401 at a book sale recently. The copy looked and smelled wonderfully old, and that combined with the word ‘ghost’ in the title is what made me buy it. It was only after I came home with my bag full of books, read the back cover and looked it up on the internet, that I discovered that it is supposed to be a non-fiction ghost story. Wow. I was hooked. A week-long vacation and my unfortunate choice of the travel read (Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago) interrupted my reading of this fascinating book, but as soon as I came back, just yesterday, in fact, I immersed myself into the book once again.

Summary: In the dead of night in December, 1972, Eastern Airlines
jumbo jet flight 401 plunged into the Florida Everglades killing 101 passengers
and crew. Months later, the ghosts of its pilot and flight engineer began to
appear on sister ships carrying parts salvaged from the crash.

Ace investigative reporter John Fuller heard rumors of the ghosts and swore he
would uncover the true story, no matter how bizarre. At first, airline
employee, fearful of retribution, refused to talk. But Fuller persisted and
finally, one after another, stewardesses, pilots, and ground crews came forth
to tell one of the most astonishing stories in recent aviation history. This is
their tale–a hair-raising jet-age ghost story that can no longer be denied!

My thoughts: I never thought I would actually like a book where the author is convinced that the ghosts do exist and has written the book in the form of a non-fiction. I was certain I’d find it ludicrous. I was surprised right at the very beginning, when I actually liked the way the author wrote about his experience with the planchet. The author tries repeatedly to convince the reader that this ghost story is not just a story and that even though it sounds entirely crazy, it’s not.

That being said, this is not really a horror story. It’s more like a detailed study of a horror story. There are scenes when you’re absolutely scared, but there are also parts where you are absolutely bored by the author’s repetitiveness. I thought the premise of the book was fascinating. Though it may be best to keep in mind that this makes a good read for someone who dives in not expecting a scary tale. The book does have a good flow, even if at times there are too many unnecessary details. The writer could have withheld some of his extensive research to avoid information dumps. A thing I loved was how writer-ly his obsession with the new story sounded, the way he conducted his research, just travelling and talking to people and it was the most romantic concept. I’m sure it’s not quite as pleasant being a writer but he made it sound amazing.

Of course, people have said that Fuller tweaked a lot of the facts and made up almost half of what he’s written. People have said that there is no way they could believe what he’s written, because half the details aren’t even true. Considering the fact that I wouldn’t believe what he’s written even if he stuck to the entire factual truth, I’m not really bothered by the inconsistencies in the facts. That makes the book neither a history lesson nor an entirely made-up horror story. Call it the author’s point of view on what must have happened or just a made-up non-fiction, if there is such a thing as that. Either way, I liked the book and am glad I bought it.

And that’s my last read for the R.I.P. Challenge. Before I forget, Happy Halloween!

The Dreams in The Witch-House by Howard P. Lovecraft – R.I.P. VII

The Dreams in The Witch-House is a short story / novella by H. P. Lovecraft, part of his Cthulhu Mythos. I read it for the R.I.P. Challenge. I can’t believe I read so few horror-ish books for R.I.P. this year, but I am going to spend this last week making up for all the lost time.

I’ve always said, that the one thing that I love about Lovecraft’s stories, is the way he dives right into the mystery, horror and absurdity of the situations his characters are in. I also like how there is usually one lead character and the story revolves around his experiences with something beyond reality. It’s as if he strips off all the elements that may complicate a story, many characters, dialogues, small plot twists and other fluff and focuses the entire plot on the one thing that he does extremely well: intrigue and terrify the readers.

This story was no different. It is a tale about Walter Gilman, a student of mathematics and folklore, who moves to the Witch House, a place where the witch Keziah Mason lived after she escaped from Salem. Like all the previous occupants of the place, who mysteriously died prematurely, Gilman begins to suspect that he is being haunted by her. He spends nights dreaming feverishly of alien worlds and indescribable evils till he eventually encounters the witch and her freaky, rat-like familiar.

“May Eve was Walpurgis Night, when hell’s blackest evil roamed the earth and all the slaves of Satan gathered for nameless rites and deeds. It was always a very bad time in Arkham, even though the fine folks up in Miskatonic Avenue and High and Saltonstall Streets pretended to know nothing about it. There would be bad doings, and a child or two would probably be missing.”

I had read about Lovecraft somewhere, before I had actually ever read his books and the article said, that the only way to enjoy Lovecraftian horror was to leave your brain aside and believe everything he throws at you. I don’t think that is very accurate now, because it doesn’t include the fact, that Lovecraft makes it very easy for the readers to believe in all the things that would seem ludicrous when written by most other writers. He has the uncanny knack of making just about anything seem completely realistic. It may be true, though, that not everyone can enjoy his books, but I do think everyone ought to try at least a few stories; you never know, you may actually like them.

If you like Lovecraft, if you’ve read anything by him and are used to his style, this is quite a good story. If you haven’t, you should, but this is not the best place to start. The first book I read by Lovecraft was The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, his only novel, and I would suggest that to first-timers, mostly because it is easier to get used to all the absurd, when it is novel-length. And of course, if you happen to read any similar authors or books on such cosmic horrors, recommendations are welcome!

The Terror by Dan Simmons – R.I.P. VII

I wanted to buy a non-fiction book on Mary Celeste (I don’t remember its name) when I came across this one. If there is one thing I have always been scared of, it’s water and oceans and sea life and such and the premise of this book, a lost expedition, seemed fascinating. 

It was snowing during the burial. The wind was blowing
hard, as it always does here on this godforsaken Arctic Waste. Just north of
the burial site rose Sheer Black Cliffs, as inaccessible as the Mountains of
the Moon. The lanterns lit on
Erebus and Terror were only the
dimmest of glows through the blowing snow. Occasionally a fragment of Cold Moon
would appear from between quickly moving clouds, but even this thin, pale
moonlight was quickly lost in the snow and dark. Dear God, this is truly a
Stygian bleakness.

Summary: The Terror by Dan Simmons is a fictionalized account of Captain Sir John Franklin’s Expedition to the Arctic to find the Northwest Passage. As the two ships, Erebus and Terror are stuck in the ice, the crew is stalked by a monster, that is killing them off one by one. Almost all the characters in the book are based on actual members of the expedition, including Franklin, captain of Erebus, Captain Crozier, captain of Terror, Fitzjames and Dr. Goodsir.

My thoughts: This was supposed to be my first read for the R.I.P Challenge. I have to admit, it took me much longer than I had expected to finish reading this book. There were times when I felt absolutely bored, but trudged on, determined to complete the book, and I am very glad I did. The book is massive, but entirely worth it. If I’d written a review halfway through the book: I would have said that I didn’t like the book, which is why this review is going to seem haphazard. I don’t know what else to say, but, all the boring details in the first half of the book are thoroughly redeemed by the immense excitement in the last few hundred pages. 
For those of you who want to read the book to actually find out what happened to the Franklin expedition, here’s a fair warning: it’s historical fiction, you won’t get anything that seems remotely plausible. Then again, when someone is lost in the Arctic and never heard of again, who’s to say, what can be possible. If you read the book for the horror fiction and not for the history lesson, you will love it (Okay, I can’t guarantee love, but I’m sure you’ll at least like it.)
Very few authors can master as many different voices as Simmons has in one book! I especially liked Crozier’s point of view and sometimes, Dr. Goodsir’s. The shifts in the points of view and time took some getting used to, but the book was so long that I did have enough time to get fully accustomed to the writing style. The characters are really wonderful and so is their desperation, you almost experience the dreary atmosphere in the air. The book is tastefully gruesome, if there is such a thing as that, and the writer knows exactly how to shock, scare and amuse you. 
Crozier enjoys his
walk in spite of the creeping cold that has made his face, fingers, legs, and
feet feel like they are on fire. He knows that this is preferable to them being
numb. And he enjoys the walk in spite of the fact that between the slow
moanings and sudden shrieks of the ice moving under and around him in the dark
and the constant moan of the wind, he is certain that he is being stalked.
I’m going to end this clumsy review-rant by saying that, if not anything else, this book is definitely unlike anything I have read before. It is a haunting mixture of the eerie feelings that history and fate bring on, freaky descriptions of ice and being lost at sea, not to mention, we do get a glimpse of Eskimo mythology, again very tastefully managed. Even without the haunted mansions, pale white ghosts or vampires and zombies, it still does scare. So if you have some time on your hands and seem to like horror fiction, spend this Halloween experiencing The Terror! 

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.

The Werewolf of Paris by Guy Endore – R.I.P. VII

Summary: Our unnamed narrator, an American grad student living in Paris, chances upon an old manuscript, and the reference to “luperal temples”catches his eye – “lupa” being Latin for wolf. The manuscript, which he calls “the Galliez report”, is the defense at the court-martial of Sergeant Bertrand Calliet, the eponymous werewolf. His research leads our narrator to the sad story of Aymar Galliez and his strange nephew Bertrand.

“The vast strides of our generation in the conquest of the material world must not mislead us into thinking that when we have plumbed the physical world to its depths we shall thereby have explained all there is to explain. The scientists of a former day strove mightily to fathom the depth of the spiritual world and their successes and conquests are all but forgotten.
If today the lonely traveler can walk fearlessly through the midnight shadows of the silent forests of France, is it because of the vigilance of our police? Is it because science has taught us to be unbelievers in ghosts and monsters? Or is not some thanks due the Church, which after a millennium of warfare succeeded at long last in clearing the atmosphere of its charge of hidden terror and thus allowed for the completer unfolding of the human ego?

The story starts with the ominous birth of a boy (on Christmas Eve) to a young servant girl, who has been raped by a priest. The woman is a maid in the house of Aymar Galliez. Aymar raises the boy as his own and soon begins to realize something is terribly wrong with him. With long curves fingernails, eyebrows that meet and hair on his palms, Bertrand resembles his father, the wayward priest Pitamont and is a descendant of the curse Pitamont clan, who spread evil wherever they went. As Bertrand grows up, he begins to have nightmares of running free in the wild, chasing and being chased and his step-uncle realizes with growing terror that the mystery behind the disappearing wayfarers and mauled livestock lives in his own house. Bertrand, in spite of his Aymar’s continued efforts to lock him up, escapes his home and runs off to Paris. The account follows Bertrand’s struggles to calm the beast inside him. Set in France, the story has its gory ending during the fall of the Paris Commune.

” When the body of a man weakens, the soul of that man begins to detach itself from the tentacles of flesh and prepares itself to fly off the instant the body dies. (…) It happens occasionally that the soul of a beast gains entrance into a man’s body while he yet lives. Then the two souls war with each other. The soul of this man may depart completely and leave only that of the beast behind. And that explains how there are men in this world who are only monsters in disguise, playing for a moment at being men, the kings of creation. Just as a servant plays with his master’s clothes.”

My Thoughts: This book is nothing like I expected. The great combination of horror and historical fiction makes it thoroughly engaging. Apart from being a very exciting read, the book gives a glimpse into this brutal time in the French history, with characters who were actually there then. It is hard to distinguish fiction from fact and the blend of fantasy and reality adds to the horror. The book is filled with endless horror, gore and gruesome death, but it is so much more than just another tale starring some supernatural creature. The book, with its social commentary and metaphors reminded me constantly of Stoker’s Dracula. We are shown, throughout the book, how inherent violence is in man. The werewolf is compared to the people of Paris who killed each other viciously right on the streets. The wolf appears more to be a victim of his own intrinsic and uncontrollable violent urges rather than a monster. The book is written in a very frank, precise manner, which was, for me, one of the best things about it. The narration does become incredibly gloomy at times, but it’s a short book and can be read in one sitting. The Werewolf of Paris is undoubtedly a great book and and I am sure I will read it again.

This was the first book I finished reading as part of the R.I.P. VII Challenge Peril the First! (Although, on a side note, I’m also considering it for the Back to The Classics Challenge.) I say finished, because I have been reading The Terror by Dan Simmons for the past week, but it’s just a really very long book! This is also the first time I have read any werewolf fiction, and I have to say, I liked it. Would you recommend any books on werewolves or similarly terrifying supernatural creatures?

Readers Imbibing Peril VII

I participated in the R. I. P. (hosted at Stainless Steel DroppingsChallenge last year and read spent two months discovering some of the greatest authors. The point of the R.I.P Challenge is to enjoy books that could be classified as: Mystery, Suspense, Thriller, Dark Fantasy, Gothic, Horror, Supernatural. R.I.P. VII runs from September 1st through October 31st.

I am signing up for Peril the First, which means reading four books of R.I.P. literature and am also taking part in Peril of the Group Read. I might add a few Perils of the Short Story!

I’ll update and link the reviews here along the way:

Peril the First:

Peril of the Short Story:

Peril of the Group Read:

1. The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters: This readalong is hosted at The Estella Society. You can sign up for it right here

I haven’t planned what I’m going to read, my only goal is to to try new authors! 
Happy Reading!