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Patricia Flaherty Pagan

dark Fiction & Poetry 

The Three Best Suspense Tales That You Haven’t Read

1. Class Trip by Emmanuel Carrere
In Class Trip, French master of tension Emmanuel Carrere depicts the ease with which lives can come undone when a boy disappears from a school ski trip. Neither the young protagonist Nicolas’ fear nor the rising suspense is lost in translation. Readers will understand why The New York Times Book Review called this work “authentically eerie.” Furthermore, the author uses unique and particularly potent nightmares to convey the sense of impending danger in anxious Nicolas’ life. He highlights the fear that Nicolas associates with the unknown through the use of a vivid, frightening dreams. A short novel, it is paired in American editions with Carrere’s creepily absurd tale The Mustache. It is available online through Powell’s Books (, Amazon, and in person at select local bookstores.

2. “Handcarved Coffins” by Truman Capote
Was it truly nonfiction or did Capote bend many of the facts? The question often asked about this supposedly “Nonfiction Account of an American Crime” misses the point. One should ask, does Capote ensnare and disquiet the reader? Because he sure as hell does. In this novella, Capote tells the story of everyday citizens receiving miniature coffins in the mail, and soon thereafter dying gruesome deaths. Capote aptly quotes Twain, “Of all the creatures that were made, man is the most detestable. Of the entire brood he is the only one, the solitary one, that possesses malice.” Malice and murder snake their way through Capote’s small, western ranching and farming town like the river. Ignore the fact vs. fiction debate and enjoy a good story. Unless you’re afraid of snakes. You’ll find this novella in Capote’s Collection Music for Chameleons, available online from Book People of Austin (, Amazon, and in person at your local independent bookstore.

3. The Church of Dead Girls by Stephen Dobyns
This weekend is the perfect time to read, or reread, Dobyns 1997 thriller. It is a masterful depiction of not just kidnapping and murder, but of the mistrust that guts a community when children begin to die. While the novel enjoyed some success, and contains a couple of macabre scenes not for the easily offended, I am always surprised when thriller fans admit that they never got around to reading it. It doesn’t grab you. It shakes you by the shoulders. Neighbors suspect neighbors of heinous crimes. Shrewd, Dobyns presents a sufficiently broad clue to the identity of the violent predator that the case seems simplified yet remains a compelling mystery. Dive in. I would offer to lend you my copy, but I keep giving it out to friends. It is available online from Amazon and as a hardcover book at select independent bookstores and libraries. (The mass market paperback version is no longer available at many brick-and mortar stores.)