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.

April 19: "What you see first, after the starting gun's crack, is a column of bobbing runners, thousands of them, surging downhill..."

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

advertisement
Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.