One of our favorite horror/mystery authors here at PopMythology, Eric Rickstad, is back with a fantastic new sequel for the fall! (To refresh your memory, his most recent books were bestsellers The Silent Girls and Lie in Wait, both of which we’ve reviewed here and here.) If you are searching for fresh names to add to your list of authors whose new books you just automatically add to your to-read list, Rickstad is a great one for the stated genres. All the best elements of his previous books – multiple, dynamic protagonists, vivid settings, and psychological themes – are present in full force in The Names of Dead Girls.
In the PopMythology review of The Silent Girls, we discussed Rickstad’s unique, boundary-straddling style which encompasses both the mystery and the horror genres. A story of a murder investigation can readily entail the element of mystery by assuming a non-omniscient point of view and allowing the reader to discover the facts along with the characters. But an aspect of horror can be added via graphic (and sometimes seemingly gratuitous) depictions of the crimes. Or sometimes in mystery fiction, the reader is given a first-person view from the perspective of the psychopathological thinking of the killer. This, however, typically removes the “mysterious” nature of the story.
Rickstad offers us glimpses into the criminal mind, but not to the extent of revealing the mystery. The crimes are abhorrent, but not displayed as a shockingly graphic tableau. Instead, the element of horror derives primarily from the rustic Vermont setting. Rural is the wrong word to describe it, as that invokes more benign images of farmland and outdoor privies. Primal is the word here – primal and wild. Yes, these places are beautiful. But as anyone who spends more than just a cursory vacation drive-by, in the wrong weather, under the wrong circumstances, their very remoteness can become a life-threatening liability. And as those who have experienced a fair bit of backwoods hiking can attest to, there are many reminders in the places that you are not the top of the food chain.
This is the quintessence of the gothic: the story setting alone sufficient to raise goose pimples and short hairs. Rickstad’s vivid descriptions develop the inherent foreboding of his dark Vermont woods perfectly.
Rickstad’s characters are as well-shaped as his settings. Sonja Test, the heroine of his previous book, is here in The Names of Dead Girls, but has moved to the passenger seat to allow former detective Frank Rath, the hero of The Silent Girls, to assume the lead in this case. Rickstad’s books, similar to Steven King, also contain those thought-provoking psychological explorations that lend extra depth to the story. In this novel, he explores elements of conflict between criminal rehabilitation with a fair parole system, and the often permanent trauma dealt to the victims by the crime.
In short, with his third release in the Canaan, Vermont mysteries, Rickstad has fully developed his stomping grounds into an eerie place comparable to Stephen Kings’s iconic Castle Rock, Maine, locale.