My rating: 5/5 stars
By now my love of scary books is well-known for sure (see post Books to Scare the Sh*t Out of You) but now I’m wishing I had read The Broken Hours by Jacqueline Baker when I wrote it because it would rocket to the very top of the list! This is not just a masterfully creepy book, this is a very well-written piece of literature from a Prairie author (yes! she’s one of our own. Love it!)
In 1936, Arthor Crandle goes to work as an assistant to the chronically-ill, financially burdened, reclusive horror author H.P Lovecraft. As soon as he arrives at Lovecraft’s home, however, strange things begin to happen. The author himself is absent for most of the novel, communicating with Crandle in cryptic letters left on a table. Between the dark, violent presence on the stair landing, the spectre of a little girl that Crandle sees in the garden, the light in Lovecraft’s study that is not visible from the outside of the house, you can be guaranteed that this book will give you tingles. Crandle’s mission soon becomes unravelling the mystery of both his employer and the bizzare events occuring in the house. When a pretty girl suddenly arrives to rent an apartment in the house, the complexity deepens ever further.
Obviously this book is a work of fiction, but Baker has used details from Lovecraft’s actual life to craft her story. She has a powerful grasp of setting and uses it to its fullest potential in this novel. Everything is so bleak and forboding. Although it is April, even spring won’t come. Time ceases to have the meaning it once did. Every time Arthor sits down to type Lovecraft’s assignments for him, hours can be like moments and vice versa. The story takes place over aboout a week, but seems to encompass much more time than that. Arthor is a magniciently awkward and effective narrator. Baker has a wonderful talent for dialogue and uses it effectively to create tension and mystery. There are no wasted words in this book! Everything works together to propel the story toward its staggering conclusion.
I admire an author who can take an old-fashioned ghost story and make it freshly terrifying. Baker definitely uses traditional horror devices (like phantoms, flickering lights, etc), but deftly combines them with little moments and details to create excitement and apprehension (a piece of rock Arthor finds under his pillow that turns out to be a piece of tombstone, a jar of childrens’ teeth). She starts off strong and keeps it going to the very last page without crossing the “scary/lame barrier” in the least (this is my term for a story that starts off terrifying but has to up the ante so much in following chapters that it has you rolling your eyes by the end). The Broken Hours is hair-raising right until the very end!
I actually had to close the book a couple of times and think about whether it was a smart idea to be reading it after dark and I buried it under a pile of other books so that I could go to sleep. That should tell you everything you need to know about it. Jacqueline Baker is a masterful storyteller. I cannot express enough praise for The Broken Hours. The writing is stunning (AWESOME!), the writer is Canadian (EVEN BETTER!), and it scared the bejeezus out of me. What more could a horror reader ask for??
Seriously, if you’re a fan of creepy books, then give this one a shot. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Just don’t read it when you’re home alone!