cover image The Uncanny

The Uncanny

Andrew Klavan. Crown Publishers, $24 (343pp) ISBN 978-0-609-60112-9

Thriller fans who expect the unexpected from Klavan (True Crime) won't find that anticipation dashed with his new novel, a series of clever riffs on the classic ghost story. The main plot follows the adventures of Richard Storm, 40, a producer of Hollywood horror films who's come to England to work on Bizarre! magazine, find a real-life ghost story and, perhaps, win some emotional relief from the cancer rotting his brain. At a party, Richard reads aloud ""Black Annie,"" the ghost story that inspired his career (which story Klavan presents in all its neo-gothic glory, as one of several ghost tales embedded in the narrative). One partygoer, beautiful Sophia Endering, drops her glass in shock while listening. She, Richard learns, has lived some of the events of ""Black Annie,"" which centers around the sacrifice of a youngster--a sacrifice explained through an ancient tale recorded by the great dark fantasist M.R. James (whose widow makes a cameo here). The sacrifice is also depicted in an ancient, disassembled triptych now sought by a diabolical presence known as St. Iago, because the triptych, when whole, reveals the secret to immortality--and its terrible price. Klavan pulls out all the stops, repeatedly blindsiding the reader with shifts in plot, tone and point of view, peopling his tale with wild eccentrics and wilder settings, winking at the genre but honoring it too, right through the over-the-top climax set in a ruined abbey on a dark and stormy night. Not all of the Sturm und Drang works (Klavan's principals, especially, are more caricature than character), but suspense is high, the fun factor higher, and Klavan, cackling all the while, demonstrates again that his ability to make a genre his own is simply... uncanny. Foreign rights sold in the U.K., Germany and Italy. (Feb.)