cover image PHANTOM NIGHTS


John Farris, . . Forge, $24.95 (301pp) ISBN 978-0-7653-0778-1

Farris takes a break from the paranormal pyrotechnics of his Fury series (The Fury , etc.) with this well-wrought period tale of vengeance from beyond the grave. It's 1952 in the sultry Tennessee town of Night Shade, and black nurse Mally Shaw has just heard her white patient, Priest Howard, use his dying breath to accuse his slimy son, Leland, of being a thief. Soon thereafter, Leland, who assumes (correctly) that his daddy has entrusted Mally with criminal evidence that could sink his budding political career, abducts Mally to his home, where he rapes and kills her and then covers up the evidence to make her death look accidental. Only days before, though, good-hearted Mally had shown kindness to Alex Gambier, an emotionally troubled mute boy whose brother is the town's deputy sheriff, and her psychic rapport with Alex persists after death. This is a more streamlined story than Farris's usual supernatural extravaganzas, but the plot still has ample room to twist and turn around the complications of Alex's inability to speak and Mally's second-class citizenship in a racially divided town. Solidly developed characters and an authentic sense of period and place contribute to the story's impact, as does the unusual blend of tenderness and grue. Farris remains one of the most effectively surprising horror writers of his generation. (Feb. 15)