One of the things I miss most during this time of quarantine is just aimlessly wandering around stores. Obviously, there are so many other more important things going on, but it’s one of the little things about the old days I look back on fondly, especially when it comes to book stores. I haven’t been in a Barnes & Noble in months and it really bums me out! I’d love to go to a used or independent book store too, but there aren’t any around where I live, much to my chagrin.
To at least partially fill that void, I’ve signed up for a few ebook mailing lists to bring cool new books and some hot new deals into my life (see what I did there?). If you’re interested, you can sign up for one through Amazon, but there’s also a site called BookBub that I’m a big fan of. You just go in, add the genres you like and they’ll hit you up with daily sales on digital books that run between one and three bucks. That’s how I first came upon Craig Davidson’s The Saturday Night Ghost Club!
I had not heard of Davidson or this book, but was instantly drawn in by both the nostalgia-filled cover and the title. I know some people are sick of the 80s-based entertainment wave inspired by Stranger Things, but I’m all about it. It certainly helps that all of these tales are based in the era that I grew up in and feel a strong connection to.
Much like Riley Sager’s The Last Time I Lied, Saturday Night Ghost Club bounces between the present and the past in the first person. Our storyteller is Jake, a neurosurgeon who grew up in Niagara Falls without many friends until Billy and Dove Yellowbird moved to town. When they lost their grandmother, Billy asked Jake’s Uncle Calvin — owner of an occult shop — to help with a seance. From there, this trio (and sometimes Dove) began the titular group which visited a series of local landmarks where terrible things happened. Calvin would tell the tale of what happened and the kids would often feel like they had experienced something supernatural.
I really enjoyed this book which clocked in at a quick, but perfectly paced 211 pages. Davidson clearly put a lot of research into the neuroscience portions of the story and presented the information so that I had no trouble understanding it. And, without digging into it too hard, you can understand how the events of Jake’s past influenced his present. I felt similarly about the setting of Niagara Falls. I’ve been there once, which helped frame things a bit for me, but it also felt like the kind of town I grew up in. Plus, I’m always drawn to stories about people who live in a touristy place like this. That’s not a huge part of the book, but I appreciated its presence.
Of course, the real reason you’d pick up a book like Saturday Night Ghost Club is to see if it’s spooky, right? For me, that’s a definite yes. Davidson has an incredible grasp of the language and expertly turns a phrase both macabre and otherwise. Through Calvin, he sets the scare stage like the best fireside tale tellers, but then switches gears to show how Jake remembers the experience as a kid, but told from an adult’s perspective. In addition to The Last Time I Lied, that aspect of this book also reminded me of Paul Tremblay’s excellent Head Full Of Ghosts. Plus, there’s a reveal at the end that added an intense level of sadness to everything.
Like all good stories, this one can be enjoyed on a variety of levels. There’s the straight-ahead spookiness of the proceedings that gave me a few chills along the way. But, there’s also a lot of interesting ideas about how the mind works and deals with trauma. Even as an expert in the brain, Jake still doesn’t know why Dove or Calvin acted the way they did with one mind seemingly working overtime to protect itself while another couldn’t seem to get out of its own way.
While I may not have come across The Saturday Day Night Ghost Club at a book store, I’m very glad I stumbled upon it on Amazon (fun fact: had I seen this alternative cover for the book, I also would have bought it immediately too). It offered the exact mix of scares and the drama of youth in a way that I could easily relate to. Plus, and it may seem odd to mention this twice, but I really appreciated the shorter length of the book. I’d always rather leave a story wanting a little bit more than wishing an editor had busted out the red pen with more gusto (see: my review of both The Damnation Game and The Reaping). Plus, it allowed me to move on to another book I really enjoyed!