Caitlin R. Kiernan,
(Roc, 2001; 2007)

"Everything you know is wrong."

A friend of mine says this is the mark of the best horror. Well, not quite everything is wrong in the almost gothic-feeling Birmingham, Alabama, where Threshold takes place, but a significant amount to make readers turn pages with an increasing mixture of fear and wonder.

Budding paleontologist Chance Matthews is haunted by a night of drunken exploration in an old waterworks tunnel. She awakens to discover her boyfriend, Deacon Silvey, has slept with her best friend Elise while Chance slept off her high.

But, there was something else....

Elise commits suicide a few weeks later, taking a month's supply of pills and slitting her arms open from wrist to elbow. That recalls her grandmother's suicide.

And these two women have that waterworks tunnel in common. Chance discovers this fact after her grandfather's funeral, when she finds a crate of her grandmother's (also a noted paleontologist) work. Included in that work is a trilobite fossil far older than the fossil remains claim the species to be. In addition, there's a jar holding a preserved recent bug -- which is far too similar to the trilobite for Chance.

She's got enough on her plate when Dancy, an albino girl claiming to be a monster hunter, shows up. Dancy's got a human finger in a jar and says she's seeking a monster that only Chance can help her kill.

As time moves forward, we realize the monster is real -- and it can be anyone. No place is safe -- not even a Greyhound bus. This monster touches on everything from Beowulf to the Crossroads myth to protect itself.

The characterization is excellent. Caitlin Kiernan has found a tatterdemalion cast of misfits with their personal demons scarcely at bay before the greater monster comes into the picture.

It's hard to believe Threshold is only Kiernan's second book. Her writing is slightly oblique -- like a fog with the light of the idea shining through. Then, she literally blows the fog away and leaves readers wide-eyed, with hearts pounding.

I really haven't been so frightened since Lovecraft. I strongly suggest you read this book with the lights on -- preferably on a sunny day. And don't go to bed right afterward.

review by
Becky Kyle

26 April 2008

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