cover image Daphne


Josh Malerman. Del Rey, $28 (256p) ISBN 978-0-593-15701-5

The inventive plotting, plausible characterizations, and atmospheric prose that marked bestseller Malerman’s Bird Box are wholly absent in this dull horror yarn centered on an urban legend from the unlikely named town of Samhattan. Supposedly, Daphne was a seven-foot-tall local teen decked out daily in “KISS makeup” who was continually taunted about her height during high school in the ’90s; those torments ended when jocks, angered that Daphne never joined the school basketball team, knocked her out with a baseball bat and left her to die in the toxic fumes of her garage. According to local lore, Daphne periodically returns from beyond the grave to kill dozens of teen athletes. This story gets new life when Kit Lamb, a member of the girls’ hoop squad, follows a tradition of asking a question while shooting a free throw, with a successful shot signaling an affirmative answer. She asks, “Will Daphne kill me?” just before sinking a game-winning shot—and the team victory is quickly followed by the gory murders of several teammates, forcing all to wonder how much of the legend is true. Few, if any readers, will feel remotely scared by the setup, and Malerman offers little reason to invest in Kit or the other characters. This time, the gifted author shoots an air ball. (Aug.)