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  • Chasing the Dead
  • Written by Joe Schreiber
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  • Written by Joe Schreiber
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Chasing the Dead

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A Novel

Written by Joe SchreiberAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Joe Schreiber

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List Price: $2.99

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On Sale: September 26, 2006
Pages: | ISBN: 978-0-345-49560-0
Published by : Ballantine Books Ballantine Group
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

“You have a very lovely little girl,” breathed the voice on the phone. And just like that, Susan Young is drawn into a living nightmare.

A stranger has kidnapped Sue’s daughter, Veda. But he doesn’t want her money, only her suffering–and he will kill Veda if Sue doesn’t follow his every command. With detailed instructions, the faceless abductor leads Sue into a blinding snowstorm on the longest night of the year, to a place she has not traveled to since childhood. The voice on the other end of the line somehow knows Sue’s deepest, most chilling secret–an ominous incident from her past, buried long ago...

Across the loneliest back roads of Massachusetts, in the black expanse of a New England winter, Sue is forced to confront her most awful fears as she is met at each step by ever increasing horrors created by a monster who is surely something less than human. In the hope of saving her daughter from a kidnapper whose origin seems darker than anything she could ever have imagined, Sue will discover just how much trauma and fright the human body is capable of absorbing.

Set over the course of a single night, Chasing the Dead is a fast-paced, ferociously tense supernatural thriller. With the skill of masters like Dean Koontz and David Morrell, Joe Schreiber has created a tableau of shock and horror, death and destruction, that will draw you in and never let you go.


From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt

December 21

Present Day

6:18 P.M.

Stuck in week-before-Christmas traffic north of Boston, Sue Young is scanning the radio dial, searching for a weather report, when a song comes on from the summer of 1983, Duran Duran doing “Rio,” and oh boy, does it take her back. Without wanting to, she thinks of Phillip, something he’d said to her once: The past is never done with us in any substantial way. The most cursory exami-nation reveals its bloody fingerprints on every surface of our lives.

It’s Phillip in a nutshell, an appetizer of eloquent wisdom with a nice fluffy side salad of pomposity. In the beginning, back when they were kids, she’d only heard the wisdom. Later, after they got married, only the pomposity. Now that he’s gone Sue hears a dollop of both but mainly she just hears him, his voice in her head, and despite everything he’s done to her, she even misses it from time to time.

The song on the radio keeps playing. Sue realizes she’s stiffened instinctively against the nice leather upholstery that Phillip paid extra to have installed in the Expedition, not enjoying the crawling prickle of nostalgia, at the same time peripherally aware that traffic is beginning to slide forward in front of her. She starts punching presets on the radio dial as she gooses the gas pedal, picking up speed in little doses, and realizes that the Saturn in front of her has stopped suddenly. She slams on the brakes, the Expedition jerking to a halt just six inches from the Saturn’s back bumper, close enough to see the driver’s aggrieved expression in the sideview mirror. Sue exhales, thinking that she just used up all her luck for the rest of the night.

It is six twenty and almost totally dark.

Boston is still right there in her rearview, its stumpy conglomera-tion of mid-rises too close to even be called a skyline. Around her three lanes of commuter traffic slink forward promisingly and then congeal again. To her right, the fax machine that Phillip installed in the Expedition gives two cheerful chirps and starts spitting out a flurry of pages. Sue flips on the dome light and glances at the cover sheet. It’s a draft of the loan agreement for her to look over for tomorrow morning’s meeting with BayState, the final phase of the Flaherty deal.

Sean Flaherty is an orthodontist, a friend of Phillip’s from back in Phillip’s bachelor days, when Sean and Phillip chased cocktail waitresses from here to Cape Cod and jetted off to Club Med together to drive Jet Skis and spend their money. Sue actually doesn’t mind Sean all that much—he can be a bit overbearing at times, but ever since Phillip left her, Sean’s become more subdued, almost shy, around her, as if embarrassed by his old friend’s behavior.

Sean has always wanted to open a little bar downtown, in a narrow old space on 151 Exeter Street that he’s been lusting after for at least a decade. For years Phillip promised Sean he’d get him 151 Exe-ter, which has been tied up in probate for ages since the previous owner died intestate and the offspring squabbled over the inheritance. But in the end, the promise to get Sean his bar turned out to be just another broken vow Phillip left in his wake when he abandoned Sue eighteen months ago.

In the end it was Sue herself that closed the deal for Sean, just today. Upon hearing the news Sean dropped by the office, ecstatic, with two freshly steamed lobsters and a gift-wrapped case of liquor that he insisted Sue take home with her. Sue was happy to accept the lobsters, but she hasn’t had anything stronger than club soda in five years. She hadn’t even bothered unwrapping it to see what it was. And right now, as the traffic shifts forward and the bottles in the back of the Expedition clink softly together, she wonders what on earth she’s going to do with an entire case of hard liquor. It’s too late to give it out for Christmas. Does Goodwill accept alcohol?

She reaches over and pulls out her cell phone from her coat pocket. It would be easier to pick up the car phone mounted in the Expedition, just twelve inches away from the steering wheel. But she’s so in the habit of using her cell—sometimes it feels grafted between her shoulder and her jaw—that she’ll often catch herself using it even when she’s home sitting right in front of the land line.

Sue hits the programmed number for the house and waits, but there’s no answer. No messages from Marilyn on her voicemail or the machine. No text messages except Brad at work reminding her about the bank meeting with Sean tomorrow morning to close on his bar. She dials the number in the Jeep and after three rings Marilyn picks up with a disorganized-sounding “hello.”

“Hey,” Sue says, “it’s me.”

“Oh, hey, hi.”

Sue checks the clock again even though she just did it twenty seconds earlier. It’s a habit with her. Time is a rival. “You headed out for dinner?”

“Actually just getting back,” Marilyn says, and in the background Sue can hear Veda doing a running commentary in the blithe, hyper-inflective nonsense of toddler argot. “Her Creative Movements class ran a little late and we ended up grabbing an early dinner at the Rainforest Cafe. Should be home in twenty minutes or so.”

“So you already ate?”

“Yeah.”

Sue looks at the Legal Seafood box on the floor next to her, the one that Sean had produced with such pleasure that she couldn’t help getting caught up in his excitement. “Too bad for you. Somebody gave me a couple of lobsters.” It’s the sort of remark that invites questions—somebody gave you lobsters?—but she only hears Marilyn grunt on the other end, uncharacteristically quiet, distracted. A red light goes on in Sue’s mind. “Is everything all right?”

“Yeah,” Marilyn says, “this loser in a van is just riding my tail. Sorry.”

“I’ll let you go.”

“We’ll see you back at the house,” Marilyn says, and clicks off. Sue drops the phone on top of her coat, folded on the passenger seat, and concentrates on her driving. It isn’t snowing, not yet, but it still takes her the better part of an hour to get back to Concord and by the time she pulls up to the house she’s hungry and frustrated enough that she forgets the lobsters and the liquor in the car.

Inside, it takes her a moment before she realizes that Marilyn and Veda aren’t home yet. She kicks off her shoes and calls the Jeep’s phone again but this time nobody answers.

Odd, she thinks, heading into the kitchen. Not alarming, nec- essarily, but definitely out of character for Marilyn, who wouldn’t normally deviate from the plan without letting Sue know. Marilyn’s been Sue’s nanny for over a year now and they work well together because they think alike. Veda loves Marilyn, and that’s terrific, that’s a real plus. But at the end of the day what matters is that Marilyn and Sue share the same peculiarities, the same worries, the same little neuroses about raising a child in a world where handguns cost less than a pair of sneakers and nobody washes their hands. When the agency first sent her over for an interview, Sue took Marilyn out to lunch and watched her use her hip to bump open the ladies’ room door so that she could keep her hands clean. Sue made her an offer before their salads arrived.

The phone rings as she’s pouring herself a cranberry juice and tonic with a wedge of lime.

“Hello?”

A man’s voice, one she doesn’t know. “Susan Young?”

“Speaking,” she says, already thinking: telemarketer. She hasn’t been Susan to anybody but distant relatives since eighth grade. There’s still half a chicken Caesar in the fridge from last night at the Capital Grille and she opens the Styrofoam box with the phone tucked under her jaw, picking off slightly soggy croutons and cherry tomatoes.

“Is this Susan?” the man asks again with irritating slowness.

“Yes, this is she. Who’s calling?”

“You have a very lovely little girl, Susan.”

And Sue freezes, feeling the tiles of the kitchen floor vanish beneath her feet. “Who is this?”

“She’s beautiful. Gorgeous green eyes, precious blond hair, those little dimples on the backs of her hands when she uncurls her fingers. And that smile, Susan. She certainly favors you.” The voice pauses. “Susan? Are you there?”


From the Hardcover edition.
Joe Schreiber|Author Q&A

About Joe Schreiber

Joe Schreiber - Chasing the Dead

Photo © Christina Arndt

Joe Schreiber is the author of Chasing the Dead, Eat the Dark, and No Doors, No Windows. He was born in Michigan but spent his formative years in Alaska, Wyoming, and Northern California. He lives in central Pennsylvania with his wife, two young children, and several original Star Wars action figures.

Author Q&A

Interview with Joe Schreiber author of Chasing the Dead

Question: Tell us about your new novel, Chasing the Dead.

Joe Schreiber: It’s a horror story that starts out with a phone call–the sort of call that, within five minutes, whisks away all the good things we take for granted. Our heroine is a single mom whose only child is abducted one snowy December night. She’s forced to do the bidding of the voice on the other end of the phone in order to get her daughter back and eventually realizes that her involvement is more than just an unfortunate accident.

More than anything the novel is about realizing that the worst and most nightmarish aspects of our lives are never quite behind us — may, in fact, be lurking just around the bend, waiting for us to feel safe. There is an ongoing pop culture mania for somehow “owning” our past and moving on, but I’ve always been more partial to Faulkner’s notion that the past is not dead; it’s not even past.

I wrote the book during the brief, at one point unimaginable point in my life where I had been forced by certain economic realities to return to school. I was 35 years old, attending a full-time radiography program which required me to commute 40 minutes from my home where my wife was raising our first child and pregnant with our second. It was during these long highway drives, often in darkness, that I thought about what it might be like to find a corpse in the backseat of my middle-aged Olds 88 or — worse — to not find it there until I felt a cold hand reaching forward, touching my shoulder. Hence Chasing the Dead was born.

Q: The action takes place in and around the Boston area. What was it about that area that caught your interest?

JS:I grew up everywhere–mainly in the Midwest — but I am at heart a New England boy. It’s in my blood. I’ve logged summers and winters in Boston and Martha’s Vineyard. Something about the hard-headed Yankee mentality and snowy winters combined with extremely mixed feelings about Puritanism and its earliest precedents somehow moves in lockstep with everything I love about horror. Which is everything I love about life.

Q: How did you get from aspiring author to published author? Do you have any pointers for would-be writers in the audience?

JS: My only advice is to keep writing. Seriously, I can’t tell you how many thousands of pages —and I’m not exaggerating here — I’ve generated that will never see the light of day, nor should they. In a sense I suppose I’m lucky because some demented part of myself has always used writing as a barometer of self-worth. I’m not advocating this as a means of inspiration, but I do think that, barring Haruki Murakami-level out-of-the-box genius, there are only two avenues of success in writing. The first is complete, balls-out, pathological commitment to financial reward, in which case one ought to move to Los Angeles and pursue a career writing for television. The second is to read everything you can get your hands on and deny yourself the first hint of gratification until you’ve written at least five pages of fresh prose every day. For years. And for better or worse, that’s the kind of twisted sensibility that’s bred in the bone. It’s like drug addiction: you either crave that brand of self-flagellation, or you don’t.

It also helps to have an honest reader, one whose opinion you can trust. My wife is pitiless. If she doesn’t like my stuff, she simply puts it aside without comment, the way a kid shoves his creamed spinach off to the side of his plate and eventually feeds it to the dog. I knew I had a winner, relatively speaking, with Chasing the Dead when she stayed up long past midnight to read the unfinished manuscript and woke me up to find out the ending. The joke was on her, though: after I told her, she couldn’t sleep.

Q: What writers have influenced on you?

JS: The obvious ones: Stephen King, Peter Straub, Clive Barker. Outside of the horror genre I love the work of Jim Harrison, Elmore Leonard, Cormac McCarthy, and Peter Abrahams. At the moment my favorite “mainstream” novelist--though it sounds funny to call him that–is probably Elwood Reid. He’s got great chops and Red Bull energy and is absolutely fearless about writing exactly what he wants without so much as a backward glance at the marketplace.

I love first novels, and ‘70s paperback originals, especially scary ones about packs of rabid dogs that take over mostly deserted resort islands. Because, like they say in hip-hop, that shit is tight.

Q: One of the things I liked about the book is how you keep readers guessing about what kind of book it is: a straight-up thriller, a suspense machine, a horror novel. It keeps taking unexpected twists and turns. Did you plot them all out beforehand?

JS: For me, plotting strangles the pleasure out of storytelling. I’m not assembling a model car; I’m watching as my people fight to survive the worst and most terrifying moments in the lives. Unless I’m actually out there on the front lines with them, living and dying on a page-by-page basis, they’re not alive to me at all. And they have to be, in order for the electricity to flow and bring them to life.

If the suspense in Chasing the Dead does work, and I’m so pleased that it does for you, then it’s because I don’t build escape hatches into the story beforehand. If my characters find them, great -- if not, I’m bleeding right along with ‘em.

Q: Let me go back to the phrase "suspense machine," because your book is one of the most suspenseful I've read in a long time. The book has the feel of progressing in real time; it reminded me of a literary take on the 24 Hours formula.

JS: Real time is at once a very intoxicating and intensely claustrophobic thing. Some of my fondest reading experiences were books I gobbled down in a matter of hours, almost literally unable to put them down. Scott Smith’s A Simple Plan was one of these, a fine, delirious example of a story that simply refuses to release you until it’s finished with you. Elwood Reid’s If I Don’t Six is another.

I wrote Chasing the Dead under some very uncomfortable personal deadlines, trying to learn how to make a living and support my family while indulging an almost shameful need to make up stories. When the baby is screaming in dirty diapers and your pregnant wife is throwing up too much to change him, real time is pretty much the only time you have.

Q: Where did you come up with the Engineer? Is he a figure of urban legend or based on real a serial killer? What about Isaac Hamilton?

JS: The Engineer and Isaac Hamilton are all me. I am fascinated with the darker figures that haunt our American landscape — from Albert Fish to Jeffrey Dahmer — and New England seems like a perfect home for them. Personally I think Halloween is the official holiday of every state north of Connecticut, or if it’s not, it ought to be. Basically as soon as the leaves change color up there, as far as I’m concerned, it’s Crypt Keeper time.

Q: I have the sense that there's more to this story; that it hasn't quite finished yet by the end of the book. Is there the possibility of a sequel?

JS: You know, it’s funny because the route between those towns is so old. I have a very clear vision of a Civil War general leading a wagon train of the Union dead through those seven towns, as one by one, the corpses of young soldiers sit back up and pick up their muzzle loaders to return to battle. You can’t help but think of the possibilities, you know? Like I said, it’s pathological.

Q: Has there been any interest from Hollywood?

JS: We’ve had a few nibbles. Of course, they’re all fine nibblers out there, which is probably why they’re all so skinny.

Q: What are you working on next?

JS: My next novel is about a small group of people trapped inside an old hospital that’s about to be closed down. They’re on the last night of operation when the police bring in an infamous serial killer for a brain MRI. The killer gets loose inside the hospital. Our heroes have to find a way out before they’re hunted down, one by one. It doesn’t look good.


From the Hardcover edition.


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