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Mike’s Book Report: What Moves The Dead (2022)


★★★★  out of ★★★★★
Written by T. Kingfisher (Ursula Vernon).

HP Lovecraft dug writing short stories. Edgar Allen Poe did too. Even the great Stephen King has been known to clack out a short story or two (hundred). Most horror writers have the keen ability to take a simple concept and extemporarily expound the idea in fairly concise and confined was. Sometimes this works and sometimes there’s a lot of questions begged and a lot more exposition that’s required. 

Edgar Allen Poe’s 1839 work the Fall of the House of the Usher is no exception to this literary adage. Sometimes you leave your audience wanting more and more and more. Poe’s chilling tale of mansions, madness, and mushrooms only clocked in at around 6,500 words — a couple long-ish Vanity Fair articles —or 26 pages. Sure it’s a chilling bit of business, but it also left a lot to the imagination of horror-nuts everywhere. 

That is until 2022, when horror author T. Kingfisher jumped on Poe’s work for a little update and a pinch more exposition. By no means should Kingfisher’s work be considered fan fiction. This is a studious and meticulous update to one of Poe’s most terrifying tales. In What Moves the Dead Kingfisher is able to perfectly posit answers around Poe’s vague descriptions regarding Madeline’s illnesses and her brother Roderick’s motivations. 

ATMOSfx! Woo!
Rabbits can be pretty darn scary.

For the uninitiated, the Fall of the House of the Usher has been turned into 10+ films, multiple operas, musicals, and graphic novels. At this point the only thing it hasn’t been turned into is a video game. But if it does, you heard it here first!

The original story follows an unnamed narrator who travels to a remote estate to check in on his old and infirm pal Madeline and her brother Roderick. Madeline’s taken to cataleptic death-like trances and Roderick is beside himself trying unearth a solution to her growing madness. 

Kingfisher allows the story to more slowly unfold by giving the narrator a name (Easton), a backstory, and a true and interesting purpose for traveling to the Usher estate. Along the way other characters, including a clumsy American, Denton, and the fictional aunt of Beatrix Potter — who also happens to be an amateur mycologist. 

Allowing the story to unfold in a more languid fashion creates additional character interest and fascinating levels of dread. While the death-like state is still in this modern-ish update, it’s the unrelenting moldy fungal presence that creates true scares. In horror parlance this would be the equivalent of a goopy mashup of the Ruins, Gaia, and Day of the Triffids. 

The scares ultimately come from the unknown and nearly unobservable. What Moves The Dead corners the market on this very sentiment. Whether it’s weird rabbits, odd hair-like fungal tendrils, or dead bodies wandering through the house, T. Kingfisher perfectly explores those things that makes us really scared! If Poe’s old-timey language and dusty manuscripts have you a little intimidated then What Moves The Dead is the perfect jumping off point to explore his works.

ISBN 978-1-250-83075-3 (hardcover)

Pick up a copy at your local bookstore or right here!

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