This is the second Steven P.R. book I’ve read in the last week and this one was markedly different from the apocalyptic adventure book The Turning. Instead of following a couple as they struggle to survive in a post-apocalyptic landscape inhabited by demons, A Pocket Full of Needles is a horror mystery about a dysfunctional family broken apart by the abduction of a daughter.
I have a taste for frightening novels (Battle Royale and Zombie, Ohio are two of my favorites) but this book is truly harrowing. It begins quietly and methodically creates tension between members of the family while slowly revealing their true identities. The characters themselves are complex, intricate, and genuinely surprising. The mother of the family, Lindsay, is a disillusioned school teacher who’s lost her sense of hope. The father, Tom, is an addict psychiatrist deep in denial.
Most of this book is an elaborate set up for the finale act, which is tremendous. The book’s description on Amazon hints at the conclusion, but I was not prepared:
Meryl thought that she could get away from her parents and the pressures of college when she left home after graduation. But when she accepted an offer to homeschool the Creighton’s daughter, Dara, she had no idea she would be walking into a world of pain and tragedy beyond her imagination.
As Meryl bonds with Dara, reinvigorating her with a sense of purpose, she learns of the Creighton’s tortured past, a past that will eventually catch up with them.
“I used to go to church and would get bored out of my mind. It didn’t resonate with me. I couldn’t understand why people forced themselves to go, why they felt they had to. I just think we don’t need God anymore. He’s a crutch. Religion is convenient for people that want answers handed to them rather than to cope with reality. We’re told that we need to have faith and to follow Scripture and everything will pan out. But life doesn’t work out that way.”
“Mr. Creighton shook his head, pouring himself another glass of merlot. “What a goddamn mess Lindsay, a goddamn mess,” he muttered. Meryl wondered if Mr. Creighton was another version of her father. The kind of man that called his daughter a disappointment, that said she couldn’t face reality, wouldn’t be good enough. The barrage of her father’s words echoed in her mind as she studied the calla lily in the vase, like it was the only beautiful thing in the room, sitting amongst lost souls.”
“Lies are like a dagger to the heart,” Sylvia’s mom once told her. Sylvia held onto these words like a maxim, would use it as a weapon to destroy someone one day.”
As with The Turning, I finished the book in less than three days – once I picked it up, I couldn’t stop reading. As with The Turning, these 271 pages went by extremely quickly.
The final act of this book was difficult to read because it was so horrific. Each sentence I read felt like it was confirming my worst fears for the characters in this book, but it didn’t happen in the way I that I expected. This book utilizes elaborate literary mechanics, subtle references, and foreshadowing to stun you with its smart brutality. It’s not just violent, because that alone isn’t very frightening – it’s psychologically distressing. The villain in this book is truly bone-chilling.
I won’t be forgetting this one anytime soon.
Amazon link: A Pocket Full of Needles