BWW Reviews: Massie's HELL GATE Is A Thrill Ride Of Historic Proportions
Elizabeth Massie is known to many American horror fans as a two-time Bram Stoker award winner with a flair for Southern tales and an equal flair for history. HELL GATE, scheduled to be released in September by DarkFuse (available in hard cover, paperback, and e-book). Southern it isn't, but historical it is, with a colorful touch of New York City history - the turn-of-the-last-century days of Coney Island.
HELL GATE is the name of one of the entertainment establishments at Coney, as well as being the name of a strait of the East River, along the island of Manhattan, responsible for many ship sinkings and deaths. Many deaths are certainly at issue in the story - gory, gruesome ones that seem to have no discernable connection other than the ways in which they're committed, and their ties to the amusement park complex where Luna Park, dreamland, and Steeplechase Park lived well into the succeeding decades. (A new Luna Park was opened on Coney in 2010, and other amusement parks have come and gone on the island over time.)
Suzanne Heath is one of the women who works at a ticket booth at one of the parks, and she's a woman with a troubled past. Her mother rejected her and sent her to boarding school to keep her away from the family; the boarding school was stifling, but for a small group of friends whose club, formed outside the watchful eye of the school administration. Their club's one goal was the development of psychic powers among a few young ladies who had already shown progress in certain areas. Suzanne's talents are employed by a police detective who is also the father of one of her co-workers at the park. The deaths the police have discovered are gruesome, but while Suzanne is unclear as to the actual identity of the killer, she does know one thing - the killer may also have psychic powers as great as or greater than the ones Suzanne hides.
Readers who love history will be delighted by the detail Massie has placed here; there has been excellent work done in recreating the history and settings of the amusement parks on Coney. They may enjoy somewhat less, but still be edified by, the information on race relations and the conditions of police work at the time. Those who are in it for the chills will not be disappointed either. The gore is light to moderate, while the evil is high, and the ending is unexpected but fair - the hints are there, but the reader will be hard pressed to have assembled them neatly to reach the real solution to the problem. The ending may disappoint some, but this is horror, not a fairy tale.
Like Stephen King, Massie proves regularly - and here once again - that horror doesn't rely on vampires or zombies, and that it doesn't need to rely on the completely inexplicable or unscientific; rather, all horror requires is the thoughts and behaviors of human beings. And it is those that Massie captures perfectly here. If you like your horror tinged not only with blood but with historical realism, expect to enjoy this amusement park ride.