The Uncanny: A Novel

The Uncanny: A Novel

by Andrew Klavan
The Uncanny: A Novel

The Uncanny: A Novel

by Andrew Klavan



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Andrew Klavan reinvents the classic ghost story with this literary X-Files, a breathtaking blend of Hollywood-style excitement and literary tour de force.

Richard Storm is a Hollywood producer who has reached the top of his profession making horror movies based on classic English ghost stories. Now, with his life beginning to unravel, he flees to England on a desperate quest: to find evidence that the great old stories bear an element of truth, that the human spirit lives on after death, that in this all-too-material world there still may be reason to have faith.

But his search uncovers more than he bargained for: Sophia Endering, a mysterious damsel in distress who may just be the last love of Storm's life; Harper Albright, an eccentric pipe-smoking old woman whose researches into the paranormal mask an obsessive hunt for a malevolent killer; and the man known as Saint Iago, a seemingly immortal villain who makes a night with a vampire look like a walk in the park.

Richard Storm's nightmares are about to step down off the screen into real life. And Storm is about to begin a journey through his deepest passions and his darkest fears, to a romance that could last forever, and a secret a thousand years old-down a trail formed by the classic ghost stories themselves-into the very heart of the uncanny.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307791221
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/18/2011
Sold by: Random House
Format: eBook
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 898,151
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Andrew Klavan, a two-time Edgar Award-winner, is the author of Don't Say a Word, The Animal Hour, and True Crime, among other novels.

Read an Excerpt

A glass shattered across the room and Storm, lifting his tragical eyes,  saw, though too late, a woman worth dying for.

The book of ghost stories was still open in his hands. His lips were  still parted on the final phrase--crumbled to dust even as we gazed  upon it. But the phrase, the whole story, had been blown right out of  his mind. By the woman, by her beauty. Just the sight of her had brought  him from his chair to his feet.

Which was pretty ridiculous when he came to think of it. What was he  going to do next? Leap into the air like a cartoon character--his tongue  out--his eyes hanging from their sockets on springs--the Valentine shape  of his heart boinging through his shirtfront? He was a modern guy, after  all, an American guy, a Hollywood guy. A real person with nose hairs and  psychiatric problems and an anus. This was life, not the movies. It wasn't  possible--was it?--that he had just fallen in love at first sight?

Maybe not, but he went on gawping at her. She was standing in the  drawing-room archway, one of the guests who had drifted in when Storm had  begun to read aloud. In the sitting room behind her, the great Scotch pine  with its colored Christmas lights seemed to him to frame her, to set her  in relief. A girl of, say, twenty and some. Not the sort of anorexic  starlet he was used to, not one of his usual airheads inflated with  silicon and ambition. Hers was a real figure in low-cut black velvet. A  waist and hips of substance, womanly in the extreme. A bosom from the days  when bosoms were bosoms. A swanlike neck, damask cheeks, skin of ivory,  hair of jet. Brown eyes, the palest brown eyes imaginable, bright and  snappy and quick. Woof, he thought; Jesus.

The others around her--all of Bolt's London sophisticates--had begun to  laugh now and applaud her. She was still frozen with the hand that had  held the glass extended, with her startled gaze on the fragments where  they lay. Fragments and glistening slivers on the tan carpet. A spreading,  colorless stain. The glass had just slipped from her fingers apparently,  must've hit the edge of the butler's tray on the way down.

"Oh," she said finally, "how stupid of me."

Storm reeled inwardly, mentally clutched his chest. What an accent, too,  he thought. That real English stuff. Like Julie Andrews in Mary  Poppins. He could still remember some of his boyhood fantasies about  Mary Poppins. The things she would croon to him with that accent. Oh,  Richard. Oh, young master!

I'm sorry,
he was about to say aloud, sorry if I frightened you.  It was just a stupid old ghost story. But he was already coming to his  senses. And Bolt, anyway, was out of his armchair, was going to her, and  Bolt was the host.

"Oh, Frederick, let me clean it up, I'm an idiot," she said to him.

"No, no." He took her arm. "I've already dispatched my minions." The two  women who had knelt to retrieve the shards glared up at him: a man  plummeting into middle age like a bomb, shaped like a bomb,  squat-bottomed, potbellied in his green suit and waistcoat. A serpentine,  cynical face deeply scored by Bell's and Rothmans. Shaggy gray hair  dropping dandruff. Cigarette dropping ash. "And anyway, I rent the place,"  he said. And he led her gently from the room.

Storm watched--bleakly--as the two of them turned out of sight down the  front hall. He could hear their voices receding.

"I am sorry, Frederick, I shouldn't have come, I'm just knackered. I was  in Ohio yesterday, and Berlin last week . . ."

"Don't be ridiculous. I live for your visits. I'll save the pieces as a  relic. I'll build a shrine on the spot . . ."

Someone clapped Storm on the shoulder. Someone else said, "Well read.  Spooky stuff. You put the wind up her anyway."

"Who is she?" Storm murmured, staring at the place where she had  stood.

And someone answered: "Oh, that--that's Sophia Endering. Her father owns  the Endering Gallery in New Bond Street. Not half bad, eh?"

Storm nodded. Remained on his feet a few moments more, his gaze now  wandering aimlessly over the room. A cozy alcove, chairs clustered  together, run-of-the-mill pseudo-Victorian prints hung above low shelves  of frazzled paperbacks. A wide archway into the long sitting room where  the Christmas tree sparkled and the gas fire burbled and recessed lights  beamed on bottles of white wine. And where the group that had gathered to  hear him read was now dispersing. And the party conversation was  resuming.

Above the rising chatter, he heard the front door shut. He could feel it:  she was gone. He sank slowly back into his chair.

Sophia Endering, he thought. He sat there with the book held slack  on his thigh, his thumb holding the place for no good reason. Sophia  Endering.

But what difference did it make? It didn't matter now. He was not in love  with her. He could not be in love with her. He could not be in love with  anyone.

He sat there, silent, slumped, withdrawn again into his unhappy  depths.

* * *

But why? thought Harper Albright. Why should he be so sad?

From her perch among the embroidered cushions of the window seat to  Storm's far left, she had seen everything. She had seen Storm rise to his  feet with his first look at Sophia. She had seen the ache of passion  animate his features, had watched as it drained away again, as his eyes  became hollow again, and his expression once more grew distant with  despair. It made her think of certain mud crabs who can "throw" their  claws, actually detach their claws to break the grip of an enemy. It  seemed to her that Storm--she supposed she had to call him by that  ridiculous name if only out of respect for the American miracle of  self-invention--it seemed to her that Storm had similarly "thrown" his  heart, detached his heart to break the grip of life.

And she pondered on this, sitting there, her withered hands clasped over  the carved wooden dragon's head that topped her walking stick. She was a  grim, peculiar-looking person, this Harper. Not an old woman particularly,  sixty perhaps, but dilapidated nonetheless. With lifeless gray hair bobbed  on a furrowed brow. Slack, sagging cheeks under deep, gray pouches. And  spectacles thick as goggles, through which she blinked intently. A pipe  with a meerschaum skull for a bowl was clamped between her yellowing  teeth, yellowish smoke trailing out of it. She rested her round chin on  the back of her hands. And she wondered:

Why shouldn't Richard Storm love Sophia Endering? He was older  than she was, certainly--forty at least. But he was youthful and handsome.  Rangy, muscular. With a full head of short, sandy hair, and features as  rugged as the great western land from which he came. More rugged,  probably, seeing as he came from Los Angeles. And Harper knew him to be  unmarried; that is, divorced. Humorous and easygoing, and gentle in a  lady's presence. She herself was aware of having developed some  sentimental feelings for him since he had come to her. Possibly. Some. So  why should he disengage himself? From Sophia. From everyone, really.  Harper Albright turned the question over and over.

He was, she thought, for all his American amiability, a man of mystery to  some extent, of hidden depths at least. A producer, a highly successful  producer of Hollywood films, some good ones, some she'd seen, many that  were in her line, having to do with horror and the supernatural, ghosts,  werewolves, the occasional latex demon or two. And yet, a month ago, he  had apparently left this lucrative career behind. He had turned up all  unknown in London. He had arrived at her door without introduction and  volunteered to serve as an unpaid intern on her little magazine,  Bizarre! He was tired of making movies about the paranormal, he  told her. He wanted to work with her, to get at "the real thing." And that  was pretty much all he told her. But uncomplaining--and, again, unpaid--he  took to bounding after her like some great red setter, joining her  journalistic investigations into claims of haunting, witchcraft,  vampirism, alien abductions, and the like. And the question of what he was  really after--and why it was he remained, in some way, set apart--had  begun to worry at her.

Her reverie was interrupted, however, as Bolt reentered through the  archway.

"Well," he growled nastily at Storm. "It was well read anyway, I'll give  you that."

This was what had started the incident. The ghost story. About half an  hour before. Bolt had been holding forth, pronouncing upon ghost stories  in general: Christmas and December gatherings and ghost stories and so on.  Storm had said that he had always loved the English variety. Loved  them, he'd said--that's what had done it--all that Yankee enthusiasm. It  wasn't that Bolt disliked Storm in particular, or Americans in general.  But there was some vivacious something about both of them that was an  insult to his cherished pessimism. Suddenly, anyway, after that, Bolt had  felt that he had to play the expert. He'd shifted up a notch from  pronouncing to pontificating. And when Storm had said that he thought the  Oxford collection was sensational--Absolutely sensational!  he'd  said--it had just been too much for poor Bolt.

"Well, I suppose," the journalist had said. "If you don't mind the fact  that they left out "Thurnley Abbey.' I mean, I don't expect it to be  complete, but, after all, it is The Oxford Book of English Ghost  Stories, which I think entails certain responsibilities. I mean, they  left out "Thurnley Abbey'!"

"Yeah, "Thurnley Abbey,' that was a good one," said Storm. "I think they  put that in the Victorian collection."

"Pff!" said Frederick Bolt.

And Storm, mildly, changed the subject. "Hey, have you ever read "Black  Annie,' by Robert Hughes?"

It was a soft answer, Harper Albright thought, meant to turn away wrath.  But it had only made things worse. Because it rapidly became clear that  Bolt hadn't read "Black Annie," that he'd never even heard of it.  Which meant it couldn't possibly be worth considering. And he said so.

"Oh no, no, you're wrong!" cried Storm. Rising from his chair, he went to  the shelves. Strolled over, too familiarly, as if it were his flat instead  of Bolt's. He plucked out The Fourteenth Fontana Book of Great Ghost  Stories. "It's in here. You oughta read it, it really is good."

He held the book out to Bolt. Bolt scowled at it. "Fourteenth! They  must've been pretty thin on the ground by then." But Storm continued to  proffer it. And Bolt's lips curled wickedly. "Why don't you read  it?" he sneered. "Go on--Christmas by the fireside--a gathering--a ghost  story--give us a reading, Storm."

"Oh, for pity's sake," Harper Albright had muttered. Bolt could be  intolerable.

Later, though, she wondered whether he hadn't perhaps fallen into the  American's trap. Storm took the book back to his chair and began to read  "Black Annie" aloud--and Harper was immediately reminded that his father  had been an actor; he had told her that. He proceeded to deliver a  witty and yet genuinely spooky rendition of the piece. And by the time  Quentin and Neville were making their candlelit way down the ominous,  sombre and melancholy corridors of Ravenswood Grange, most of Bolt's party  guests were here in the drawing room and most of them were spellbound. At  the last sentence, there were one or two people who actually gasped.

And the lovely Sophia Endering had dropped her glass.

"It was well read, certainly," Bolt conceded now again. "And not without  interest. Without originality, or irony or invention--or literate prose.  But no one could say it was without interest."

Storm only spread his hands and spoke with such sincerity that Harper  Albright thought it would kill Bolt on the spot. "Ah, well, you know. I  first read it when I was maybe ten years old. And it just hit me, like:  Pow! The English Ghost Story. It got me started in a way. The first film I  ever made, twenty years ago, I was, I don't know, twenty-two.  Spectre, it was called. I'd never even been to England. I wrote it,  directed it, shot the whole thing in California. But I set it here, you  know, in this total "Black Annie' world I made up from the story. It  just--I don't know--it always stuck with me in this . . ."

His voice trailed off. He shook his head. Well, he was American, Harper  reminded herself, and had evolved beyond the need for complete sentences.  But what he said--what he was trying to say--did set her thinking again.  Chomping on her skull pipe, leaning on her dragon-headed cane, blinking  through her goggly spectacles. He certainly did love the English  Ghost Story, did young Storm, she thought.

And perhaps, she thought, that would ultimately explain everything.

* * *

Outside, meanwhile, in the bleak city of midwinter, Sophia Endering  hurried up the slope of the narrow mews, her heels rapping the  cobblestones. The bosom that Storm had so admired was thrumming with  agitation. That story, Sophia thought. That idiotic American and that  idiotic story.

She held her handbag pinned to her overcoat with one elbow. Her other arm  was swinging freely, march-style. Her face was set resolutely forward. She  felt the wind brush her cheeks; flecks of a faint, cool rain.

Tick-tick. Tick-tick.

It was an absurd coincidence, of course. That story, that repeated noise,  that race down the corridor of the haunted house. Tick-tick. The  way it echoed her memories almost perfectly. Her earliest memories. Her  worst memories . . .

At the top of the mews, at the brink of the junction, she pulled up, had  to breathe in the night chill to calm herself. Above her, a burly sea of  clouds, backlit by the full moon, billowed swiftly overhead. It rolled  over the impending tree wall, into the cryptic reaches of Holland  Park.

Tick-tick. Tick-tick.

Irritated--more upset than she admitted--Sophia scanned the road for a  cab. It was unusually quiet here. No cars at all. No people, no sound of  footsteps, no sound but her own breathing. It must be late, she thought,  after midnight. She checked her watch: in fact, it was after one. She  could feel the deserted mews behind her. To her right, there was the  unbroken hush, unnerving. She glanced to her left, down the street, down  the hill, to the corner. A dreadlocked Jamaican kissed a poxy blonde in  the glare of a streetlamp. Some cars rushed by. A group of boys swaggered  past, jostling each other. Their laughter reached her and then they were  gone and it faded away. She would go down there, to the avenue, she  thought. Hail a taxi. She would be sure to find one. She was a woman cabs  stopped for.


Sophia went rigid. It had almost sounded real that time. Had it been  real? A ticking noise on the cobbles behind her? She braced herself.  Looked over her shoulder. Brought her body half around and faced the  mews.

The passage sloped away from her between old brick walls hung with dead  ivy. No. It was empty. Most of the small houses were dark. Even the  lighted windows here and there were heavily curta


The ghost stories I've always loved -- the ones that really frighten me -- aren't slice 'n' dice horror stuff, but eeries tales of a presence just beyond the edge of vision. "The Monkey's Paw" by W. W. Jacobs, "The Room in the Tower" by E. F. Benson, just about anything by the master, M. R. James -- those are the tales I've loved since I was a kid. So, having moved to England several years ago -- having lived now among all the ruined abbeys and graveyards in which those great stories are set, I wanted to see if I could raise the genre from the dead, so to speak, and make it matter again to the modern reader.

Because the present age isn't really so different from the Victorian and Edwardian epoch of the great ghost stories. Then as now science was claiming to answer the questions once answered only by religion and, as the poet Matthew Arnold wrote, the "Sea of Faith" was receding with a "melancholy, long, withdrawing roar." In ghost stories, writers posed the question best expressed by the phantom Jacob Marley in Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol: "Man of the worldly mind, do you believe in me or not?" Is there still room to believe in the eternal spirit in this increasingly impermanent and material world?

Myself, I've done a lot of ghost hunting in my time. I've followed the trails of many of England's "gray ladies," slept in many a haunted bedroom and patrolled many a dim hall and dark graveyard with camera in hand. I've heard footsteps in an empty corridor from time to time, found the occasional suspicious anomaly on a photograph, and once heard organ music from an apparently empty church. To tell the truth, I'm such a skeptic that it would take a transparent figure rattling his chains and wailing "Woe is me!" before I was thoroughly convinced. And yet the arguments of materialists seem faulty to me, and my mind remains open.

But my search has taught me something at least: Ghost stories are not only about the spirit. They're also about the past, about the indelible impression left by the past. Through ghost stories, we tell how the deeds of people long dead still haunt the living, how no one is ever completely free from history. Americans used to believe that bygones could be bygones, that we could all be whatever we want without reference to yesterday. Nowadays that attitude is changing -- and in Europe, the past is alive everywhere, it clings to things.

So my book The Uncanny is about a very modern American man, Richard Storm, who comes to England on a spiritual quest -- and who finds that the search for the spirit and the search for history are inevitably intertwined. Storm and his friend, the eccentric ghost hunter Harper Allbright, discover a series of interlocking ghost stories -- all told within the book -- and these stories lead them on a quest for truth which is both spiritual and historical.

And scary -- most of all. I hope it's scary. That to me is the main point of any ghost story. Like the Fat Boy in Dickens's Pickwick Papers, "I wants to make your flesh creep."

—Andrew Klavan

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