I've been reading scary books all month. Here's my recommendation for the two scariest if you want to face your fears about technology, stalkers and ID theft --- That Night by Nidhi Upadhyay and Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon.
These two stories are about humans who hide behind false identities and use electronic networks to f*** around with their victims. In todays all too real world of computer scams and identity theft, it's enough to keep anyone awake nights.
For true technophobes who fear what they don't know, both books offer a quick immersion into what really does lurk out that.
That Night, Nidhi Upadhyay's best-selling debut novel is a mystery featuring 4 woman professionals who are visited by an online stalker intent on reminding them of a college acquaintance's death twenty years ago.
The story starts with an ouija board. Meetings with the stalker take place at well known haunted spots in Singapore. The true 'ghosts' however are the secrets the four women haven't revealed about 'that night', the true 'monsters' their non-longer trusted electronic devices, and the true horror the death of trust.
Who can you turn to when social media is hacked and you can't trust people you've known for twenty years? The women receive messages they did not send from each other. When, finally, they meet in Singapore to get to the bottom of the mystery, they find their host's home security system invaded and her children put at risk.
The screws tighten until all are forced to confess and the secret as well as the stalker's identity is revealed.
The language is a little awkward and the book could have done with a more careful copy edit. But who cares? This is a totally engaging mystery thriller. The 4 women's long ago friendship and their current circumstances is wonderfully evoked. Plot and pacing are impeccable. The use of the devices is truly frightening. Plus, there are two bonuses -- First, we get an insight into the lives of the 21st century professional Indian diaspora which, believe me, scares lots of people in Singapore hugely. And second, we're re-introduced to some of Singapore's less visited spooky places. Highly Recommended.
Dan Chaon's Await Your Reply is a highly rated US mystery that also explores false identities, mysterious presences sending messages to their victims and (spoiler alert!) a truly malign puppet master.
Unlike That Night, the book begins with three seemingly unrelated characters - a son about to have his hand cut off by mysterious men who've invaded his remote Michigan home, a high-school graduate who's running away from her small town with her history teacher, and a twin chasing after his lost brother near the Arctic circle.
Here it is not the seemingly unrelated plot lines that drives you but the amazing prose. The strange settings the characters are led through - a wilderness of identity theft and credit card scams backlit by Las Vegas neons; a quest that starts in an online magic shop and follows game-like clues to a tower in the tundra; a runaway trip that features a rest-stop in a Psycho look-alike Victorian house and ends in a Ivory Coast grand-dame hotel that's seen better days.
We likely won't get it till the very end. But then we'll be left with chills for days. We could have been any one of those victims lured by 'that presence', conned by it. Recommended if you're seduced by amazing prose and immersive confusing journeys.