The Man in the Picture

In 1924, M. R. James wrote: ?Two ingredients most valuable in the concocting of a ghost story are, to me, the atmosphere and the nicely-managed crescendo.? In her new novel, The Man in the Picture, Susan Hill mixes those ingredients with other elements of classic gothic fiction to deliver a story that will have readers nervously avoiding art galleries. This ghost story, easily read in one nerve-jangling sitting, begins as a man named Oliver visits his old Cambridge professor and learns the deadly secret behind an oil painting of a Venetian carnival scene. As literary tradition dictates, the tale is spun beside a fire ?one bitterly cold January night? as the wind ?howled round and occasionally a burst of hail rattled against the glass.? Like Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker, Sheridan Le Fanu, and the two Jameses (M. R. and Henry), Hill knows how to carefully dole out the tension. The horror here creeps up slowly and reaches a ?nicely-managed crescendo? in its final pages. Hill never condescends to parody-her frights are in earnest. The smallest detail like ?the faintest smell of fresh oil paint? will prickle the hairs of the reader?s scalp. Poe would be proud.

July 23: Jessica Mitford died on this day in 1996.

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

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Paradise and Elsewhere

Canadian short story marvel Kathy Page emerges as the Alice Munro of the supernatural from these heartfelt tales of shapeshifting swimmers, mild-mannered cannibals, and personality-shifting viruses transmitted through kisses.

Pastoral

When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).