Maine Librarians Share Their Scariest Books

No screaming in the library, even if the book scares you to death!

No screaming in the library, even if the book scares you to death!

As our readers are well aware, Maine Crime Writers love our Maine librarians, so it’s fun for us to turn to them from time to time with questions. This month’s question, in honor of Halloween, was to ask them what was their scariest book.

You will not be surprised to find that Maine’s own Stephen King tops the list. Dogs and cars have never been the same since King got his pen on them, and he was onto the risks of bullying long before it became a topic of general conversation. Of course, King is not the only choice, so read on, to see what our librarians had to say.

Peggy O’Kane, Coordinator of Public Services, Maine State Library:

In 1974, when Helter Skelter: The True story of the Manson Murders was published I was a junior in high school. My home was across the Ohio River from Moundsville, WV site of the West Virginia State Penitentiary a location mentioned more than once in the book describing Charles Manson’s youth. My social studies class toured the prison. Its castle like stone walls painted a perfect picture of a gothic castle in decay.

The night I read the book I was, naturally, home alone. Yes, there was a torrent of wind and rain. Yes, my old house creaked and yes, prison breaks were not uncommon. There followed many sleepless nights waiting for knives, ritual murder and blood.

Peggy adds: Much as I enjoy your writing, Kate, I no longer read true crime…

A rather spooky looking photo of the Belfast Library

A rather spooky looking photo of the Belfast Library

Steve Norman from the Belfast Library is also in the nonfiction camp with this book:

A Need to Kill, by Mark Pettit (c 1990).

A serial killer with roots in Maine.  I read it right after moving to Maine.  His mother worked in the same room where I was working.  Too close to home!!!

Katie Connor, director of the Brewer Library, offered a very interesting book and some insights about why she chose it:

I am not a huge fan of horror, suspense, etc, so I tend to veer away from those books. I can say that Cujo by Stephen King was terrifying enough in the first two chapters that I closed it and never picked it up again. Dark nights and things lurking in closets are already nightmares, and I found myself not being able to sleep at night, waiting for a voice to call me from my closet. Silly, I know, but like I said– not really my thing.

A sunny photo of the Brewer Library contrasts with the tale of a dark book

A sunny photo of the Brewer Library contrasts with the tale of a dark book

The scariest book I read and finished was The People of Forever are not Afraid, by Shani Boianjiu. It is the coming-of-age story of three best friends who grew up in the same Israeli village, begin their mandatory military service the same year and receive vastly different assignments. From guarding Palestinian checkpoints, to checking trucks on the Egyptian border, to patrolling small village areas, from “safe” service to active duty, the girls are assaulted, again and again, by the violence both of their inner lives and the world they live in. Forced to enact decisions they hate, and enabled to become things they’d always hated, each girl makes choices that slowly drive them closer to insane violence . . . or will their choices veer toward salvation in the end?

I think this book terrified me because of the inner changes the reader witnesses in each protagonist. The entire structure of how our environment can wreck or redeem us, how each person’s inner turmoil is generally about a hundred times worse than the outward chaos of their worlds, was sobering. I also found it horrific how, though each girl cried for justice in different areas of her life, her hopes were slammed into the earth over and over. The smashing of their hopes led the girls, in different ways, to become the sort of monsters that they had abhorred. It was a striking reminder that, though each human being has a choice in whether they will join or defy the violence of the world, all too often it is the easier road of violence that we choose– especially if violence has been inflicted upon us.

As readers and writers, we appreciate these kinds of insights. Not simply books that make us worry about monsters under the bed, but about the monsters we might become and how the monstrous people we write about have been shaped.

In a similar vein, Gretchen Asam from SAD1 offers this:

It has to be Shirley Jackson’s Haunting of Hill House, not because of what it says but because of what it doesn’t.  It’s like a catalyst between the page and the imagination.  She doesn’t scare you as much as you terrify yourself.  Winner hands down.

Perrin Joel Lumbert, from the Bates College, Ladd Library has suggestions for both fiction and nonfiction:

Scariest Books:

Fiction: The Alienist, by Caleb Carr (1994)

Nonfiction: The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance, by Laurie Garrett (1995)

Harold writes: when I think of scary literature, “Blood Music” is what comes to mind. Greg Bear is a science fiction writer with a flair for biological science. His stuff tends to be apocalyptic and cerebral.

Also tossing both fiction and non-fiction into the ring is Dina McKelvey, librarian at Maine Medical Center, who chose:

Communion by Whitley Strieber

In Cold Blood by  Truman Capote

Saying: Could be because I read them both straight through and into the middle of the night!

Susan Taylor from Hampden’s Edythe Dyer Library says her scariest books was “Secret Smile” by Nicci French.  “It was psychologically suspenseful, hard to put down, and totally creeped me out.”

Karen Westerberg, librarian at the Wells Elementary School, is in the Stephen King camp, choosing Cujo by Stephen King

As is Cathy Perkins at the Waterville Public Library:

Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot! Couldn’t put in down, finished it at 2 in the morning – didn’t sleep a wink afterwards while I watched every shadow on the wall with great trepidation!

The Simpson Library in Carmel

The Simpson Memorial Library in Carmel

And Becky Ames:

Here at Simpson Memorial Library in Carmel, it would have to be Stephen King’s books. When someone asks for horror the next word out of their mouth’s is usually Stephen King. OF his books, Salem’s Lot, for me, takes the cake. When it came out I was pregnant with my first child, didn’t realize what it really was about. I started reading it at 10:00 at night, hubby was working. I’m alone in a 200+ year old house with big… windows. Scared myself silly.





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Oh yes, even FOOD can be scary

We’re entering the Halloween season, when pumpkins abound and houses and bushes are bedecked with spiders and ghosts and witches. But as crime writers, our minds often also turn to whimsy at the table. So here, for your seasonal delectation, are some ways you can make your dinners as scary as your decorations.

How about Spooky Spider Eggs?

Screen Shot 2014-10-22 at 9.04.42 AM








Recipe at:

Everyone loves chocolate cake, right? And frosting? So here’s how, with just a few small additions, you can make it look absolutely spooky. Yup. Red food coloring and a carving knife.

A red velvet cake with a twist?

A red velvet cake with a twist?








Roasted brains, anyone?

Okay, so this is really whole roasted cauliflower, but it sure would look spooky on your Halloween table. Here’s the recipe:

Screen Shot 2014-10-22 at 8.48.31 AM





And for more creepy ideas, try these websites:

Stay tuned for our Halloween specials, when Maine librarians tell us about their scariest books.

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Books You Should Never Read at Night . . .

When your imagination is tweaked, even the ordinary can be scary

When your imagination is tweaked, even the ordinary can be scary

Two years ago, in our Halloween post, we listed our scariest books and asked our readers to share theirs. So here are some of the responses that we got. Now you can join the conversation:

Sandy Gardner: The scariest book I ever read, hands down, was “On the Beach.” I think the writer was Nevil Shute, but I’m not sure. The whole scenario, about a nuclear war and its aftermath, scared me for years. I still get shivers when I think about it. The reason, I think, was that it was so real– especially during that time, the Cold War.

Mo Walsh: I found “River of Darkness” by Rennie Airth so scarey because it was so realistic. The novel starts with the murder of a household in a small village in post-WWI England. We quickly learn who the killer is (though the detective does not yet know) and follow him as he stalks his next victims. The tension between the killer spiraling out of control and the detective’s methodical investigation kept me figuratively on the edge of my chair, shouting “Hurry up! Think faster! He’s going to kill them!” It’s heightened by the killer’s psychopathology: he’s a born killer whose instincts finally find free reign when he’s trained by the Army in how to kill efficiently. Serial killers have always been with us.

Jeanne at the Bristol Public Library: I’ve been posting some of our favorite spooky books at the library

Hauntingly beautiful by day, but at night?

Hauntingly beautiful by day, but at night?

bookblog, but honestly I sort of quit reading horror after having the dickens scared out of me by Richard Matheson’s Legend of Hell House aka Hell House aka Richard Matheson’s Hell House. I didn’t think it was all that scary while reading it but it gave me terrible nightmares. The other one that creeped me out was Helter Skelter. The randomness of it all, I guess.

Thelma Straw: I’m with those of you who named Red Dragon… whenever I start a new novel with a creepy killer, I reread bits of it to get myself in gear to write that sort of thing – As a person, I am generally peaceful and calm-thinking, but I seem to always write about a really creepy scary psychopath!

Librarian Shannon Jensen: As a reader of thrillers, suspense, horror and supernatural fantasy, I always assumed that I’ve read so much graphic violence, murder and mayhem that over the course of my reading career I had become jaded to it. That was, until I read SHADOW MAN by Cody McFadyen.
At first I though it was just going to be another run-of-the-mill thriller, I’ve read thousands of them.
But this one had me glancing over at the door to make sure it was locked and doing a round of the house’s windows to make sure they were all secure.
When a patron comes into my library telling me they want something scary, it’s the first book I go for. We’ve replaced it three times since it was published because it goes out that often.

Just a street display. But at night, how would they seem?

Just a street display. But at night, how would they seem?

Pat Brown: The scariest book I ever read had to be Phantoms by Dean Koontz. Reading it, I had no idea what was going on which is what scares me. The first time I read Salem’s Lot by King I was so unnerved I couldn’t read it at night (I lived alone then) up until the moment I knew the monster was a vampire. After that it no longer bothered me and I not only finished it, but read it a couple more times.

Lorraine Gelly: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. I still think of the daughter putting her watch in her shoe. For some reason that always seemed to stay with me.

Lisa: Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House”.

“…silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”

I get goosebumps just thinking of it. My goodness, I love her. Brilliant.

Chris Colter: Most likely it was a function of my age at the time (11 years old), but a novelization of

Just some twisted roots, or a monster? Old bones? Something waiting to come alive?

Just some twisted roots, or a monster? Old bones? Something waiting to come alive?

George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead” rocked my socks more than any horror/suspense novel before or since. Stephen King’s “Pet Sematary” also got to me, but I was a bit older and not quite so impressionable when I read it.

Janet McCord: Patricia Cornwell’s first Kay Scarpetta book, “Postmortem” was the first book I ever read that gave me nightmares. I was living in Virginia at the time, not too far south of Richmond where the book was set and to know that it was based on a real case I suppose, made it all the more real and frightening to me. I was never one to seek out or enjoy graphic crime or hard-boiled mysteries but this one gripped me because Cornwell is such a good writer. It was my first “serial killer” book and it was very scary. Right now I’m reading “Dracula” for the first time and I wasn’t expecting how atmospheric and chilling it is. I’m completely repulsed by the descriptions of the insanity of the character Renfrew. It’s making more of an impression on me than I thought it would!

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A Modest Proposal-Maine Style

I'm ready to cap unnecessary spending.

I’m ready to cap unnecessary spending.

Do you have the same urge to cringe every time the phone rings these days? Between the artificially cheery college students trying to make a connection with a codgerly alum from 40 years ago and get said alum to pony up an additional donation to the college they can barely remember, and the drone-voiced person who insists the survey they want you to complete over the phone has nothing to do with politics, it’s almost worth disconnecting the blasted thing.

Last I heard, this off-year election was costing better than three billion. That’s sixty million per state. What if we took that money and did something useful with it. At $30,000 per inpatient stay, we could treat 500 addicts and alcoholics per year (15 million) and probably keep a third of them out of the criminal justice system for a fair amount of time, netting some sort of return. If we invested the remainder in two and four year college scholarships and required the recipients to stay in-state for a corresponding number of years after graduation, we might actually create some of that work force everyone agrees we don’t have and desperately need. (at an average cost of 15,000 per year, we could fund 3000 years of scholarships with the remaining 45 million).

I know how to dress for success.

I know how to dress for success.

Instead we’re getting our airwaves filled with nastiness and our mailboxes with political filth. If you look dispassionately at the people running for the top offices, they’re not very sexy in terms of fresh and innovative ideas IMHO. While it’s late in the game, I can’t resist putting my alternative candidacy out there for those hungry for a real choice.

Let’s start with disclosures. These days you can’t burp in a cave without someone noticing, so it’s best to come clean right from the git-go. I used to be the person everyone’s mother warned them about. I lied, stole, terrorized and was scary as hell when I got behind the wheel. My language was terrible and when I was a kid, I hated to brush my teeth (dentists have been thanking me ever since) I drank too much, used more drugs than ten medicare recipients combined and sold my conscience in Uncle Henrys for $25.00. I’m sober, drive carefully and am boringly honest these days, although my teeth will never grace a TV ad. If you can wrap your head around that, then vote for me. If you can’t, no hard feelings, but at least I’ve saved the muckrakers a lot of wasted time digging into my past.

Now for the planks in my platform.

As you can see, all my planks are out in the open.

As you can see, all my planks are out in the open.

#1-Legalize marijuana. Moral issues never work well when government is involved. Heck, half of Somerset County grows it already, so why not give them more incentive to earn a decent living. It beats the heck out of getting 34 hours at minimum wage in a big box store every week with no benefits. We’ll tax the heck out of it and use every cent to fund substance abuse treatment. The minute ANY legislator tries to shift a dime, we flog them on live TV, no exceptions.

#2-Are you as tired of bond issues as I am? It seems that every other year, we’re promised that going into hock for another twenty million is going to create gazillions of jobs. Has it ever happened? How many of the jobs promised ten years ago are still there? Thought so. This may seem like a completely unrelated question, but have you tried to get a plumber or an electrician on short notice recently? How about a furnace repairman? Every one I’ve talked to in the last few years had had the same lament. Kids aren’t going into the trades any more, and if they do, they go to work for big companies of leave the state. How about we take a lesson from the middle ages and try a modified guild approach? There are kids in almost every town who are naturally adept at things like plumbing, auto repair and electrical wiring. Many don’t think about going on to school or just plain can’t afford it. Why not pass a bond issue that will pay for them to apprentice with local, close to retirement people in these trades. When the mentor is satisfied the young person knows their stuff, money from the bond goes into a no-interest loan so the younger person can buy out the retiring skilled person and their shop so they can go right to work. In return, they sign an agreement to remain in the area for a ten year period, and the loan is held in abeyance until the ten years is up. If they fulfill the commitment, the loan is wiped out.

#3-If you’ve followed what the UMO research folks can do when they’re turned loose, you know how awesome the Bridge in a Backpack is and that they’re getting some pretty interesting results with their wood composite research. Let’s give them enough money so they can do some ‘star wars’ kinds of product research. Think how cool it would be if they were able to take the ‘you can’t kill me’ gene from poplars and get it to work in pine, spruce and hemlock. Instead of a giant stump left behind to rot, three or four new evergreens pop up the year after the original tree was cut. Next, we get them to grow a successful hybrid using blueberries and Macintosh apples. We know how popular blueberries have become, thanks to their antioxidant properties. Suppose you could harvest ones that were three inches in diameter.

#4-Look around most towns and cities in Maine. There are still plenty of buildings and factories that are unused and will eventually fall down. If you’ve seen what has been done with some of them in terms of retrofitting them (like the Cotton Mill Apartments in Hallowell), many can be turned into pretty decent housing. We have an underutilized resource in our older citizens, many of whom have raised children quite successfully. Plenty of them are having trouble making ends meet. We also have a terrible problem with twenty-somethings who couldn’t parent properly if you put a gun to their head, but we’re bound and determined that we must preserve dysfunctional families. Folks, it doesn’t work. I propose that we offer those wise elders free rent in retrofitted housing in return for their foster grandparent skills. We reduce anxiety in senior citizens and provide loving and stable living arrangements for kids who desperately need them. A potential bonus is those who bond will be more willing to help care for the elderly when they need someone.

A famous Maine author with her paternal grandmother

A famous Maine author with her paternal grandmother

#5-I worked for the State of Maine for over 30 years and know from personal experience that many state employees get burned out and become cynical when they’re stuck in the same job too long. I propose that state employees have a ‘sabbatical’ every five years and swap jobs with someone in a completely different field. Imagine battle fatigued caseworkers from human services getting a chance to work as a park ranger for a year. It might backfire big time, but it’s worth a try.

#6-We have a shortage of devils advocacy in state government. If elected, I will veto ANY bill that does not clearly indicate where funding to keep it working will come from ten years down the road. I’ve seen too much stuff mandated on schools and town government by both the federal and state governments without either or both ponying up the coins to cover costs in subsequent years. Who gets blamed when the taxpayers are upset at having to pay for them once the outside money dries up? Generally it’s the poor souls on the local school board, that’s who.

#7-I’ve had a chance to work with plenty of good Maine people who have lost jobs because plants closed or downsized and sent jobs overseas. Many of these folks worked hard for many years. All of a sudden they’re dropped into a world where everyone expects them to be computer literate and understand how to fill out a job application online. Heck, many of these people never touched a computer until they got laid off. Their anxiety and stress levels are through the roof already without the added expectation that they must fill out a form that, to them, makes as much sense as ancient Greek. I have a huge beef with many online applications. Human resource higher-ups think it’s cool as hell to have them on the web, but very few of them ever take time to road test them before letting them become the only way to apply. I’ve sat with perfectly intelligent job seekers who have ended up in tears because the blasted form timed out, wouldn’t work with any browser except internet explorer (which I hate with a passion), failed to save data, or refused to allow the person trying to fill it an opportunity to edit what they’d already entered. I’m proposing that there be a single job application form on the Maine State website with easy to understand instructions and has been tested so it’s bulletproof. All jobs offered within the stare must be linked to this database. That doesn’t mean they can’t be advertised in the classified section of Maine newspapers, but if we have one portal for employers and job seekers, we’re going to have fewer frustrated people and jobs could be filled faster.

I was building consensus early on.

I was building consensus early on.

#8-Paul LePage has things completely backward in terms of immigrants. Let’s face it, Maine is rapidly getting older, whiter and wrinkled as all get out. Unless we get really creative, we’re all going to have to ‘depend’ on each other and the results will NOT be anything we want. I’m proposing we welcome as many immigrants as want to come to Maine. Here in Hartland, we currently have some 45 abandoned of for sale properties. Why not fill them with eager, intelligent and grateful people who can, and probably would, fix them up and create that workforce we’re going to need if we expect the state to have a snowball’s chance in hell of remaining viable. There will be one caveat. Every one signs a good behavior pledge and if they screw up often enough or bad enough, they waive due process and are shipped down to the coast where they become lobster bait.

#9-Ever hang around the state house when the legislature is in session? Talk about pompous windbags, they go on forever. It’s ten times worse in Washington, but we can’t do much about that. If elected, I’m issuing the following edict: All legislative hearings and debates will be conducted in the nude with public TV having full access to stream live broadcasts. In addition to speeding things up, it should encourage more legislators to take physical fitness seriously.

#10-If you spend much time in rural areas away from the coast, you probably know that dental hygiene isn’t a priority. Sadly, teeth are seen as a disposable commodity in many parts of the state. If elected, I’m pushing to find a way to provide free dental care for everyone until age 21, with low-cost dental insurance after that point. Sure it will be expensive, but are you going to hire a twenty-two year old with half his/her teeth rotting? It’s also something that affects good dietary habits and does a big number on self-esteem. My hope is that in a generation or two, we can change the prevailing mindset.

#11-Last, but not least, it’s time we made guys more accountable for their part in unplanned pregnancies. Sure, anyone can make one mistake, but when I see or hear about someone in their late twenties who has four kids by three different women and is still blowing most of whatever money they has on four-wheelers and Twisted Tea, that dude needs a dope slap. If I’m elected, you’re gonna wear a male chastity belt after the second kid and it doesn’t come off until you sign up for a vasectomy and go through with it. I hear those stainless steel models are a bear when you hit a bump when 4-wheeling.

I knew things weren't what they were cracked up to be at a very young age.

I knew things weren’t what they were cracked up to be at a very young age.

Well, there you have it. I hope I’m offering voters a clear and refreshing choice this time around. As Boss Tweed so aptly put it many years ago…Vote early and vote often on election day.

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Off, Off, and Away

Dorothy Cannell here: In forty five minutes, it would be shorter if my husband had his way, we will be leaving for a writers conference in Indiana. I am not packed, and I have yet to have a bath. I look around my house in disappointment that it has allowed itself to get muddley without any assistance from me, and I think vaguely about the panels I am assigned to participate in and wonder if it possible to suddenly refuse to leave unless we fly (first class) instead of driving. We travel decidedly fourth class because our car is small. My husband (presently current one, but just let him put one foot wrong) views traveling from Maine to Indiana in a cramped state guaranteed to worsened arthritis as a fun-filled adventure. Stopping for meals always adds to the excitement. I point out a restaurant, the first seen in one hundred and thirty nine miles, and he says “Oh, woops! Missed it” as if we just escaped a bullet as we head into a desert. Nitpickers may say there are no deserts between Maine and Indiana, and maybe I am stretching to include rutted gravel paths that wind on until every motel looks certain to be a mirage, if only spouting plastic palm trees.

I am in this doleful frame of mind because I have been racing to finish a project and am now left wondering if I’ll ever come up with anything else to write about; and half hoping I won’t because sometimes it comes to me that writing is real work, and I get crabby when people keep asking if I’m not done yet as thought I’ve been indulging in a three month manicure. Of course once I get to the Magna Cum Murder the conference in Indiana I will cheer up enormously and remember what a wonderfully fun breezy job this is, because I so much love being around the ‘write’ sort of people.

Sorry this is a short blog, though I don’t see why I should feel guilty, except that being married to a retired lawyer I know that when the they write briefs they really mean ‘longs’, so I guess that makes their job a lot more real than mine. Still, I do hope I may be excused to go and have my bath, remember to pack for more than one day, and plot how to get the driver to stop at a slow food restaurant.

Happy rest of the month. Be lazy – Read! That’s my goal.


(Note: Dorothy got this post to me on time to post for her, but I was crazy busy

and neglected to post it for her. But everyone at MCW is glad she’s been allowed

out of writer’s jail!!)




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