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Bringing Out the Undead

Cherie Priest's Eden Moore Novels Are Perfect Complements To An October Night

Daniel Krall

By Adrienne Martini | Posted 10/17/2007

Some stories are inextricably linked to a season. You wouldn't pick up Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol at any time but the Yule or Jackie Collins' Hollywood Wives in any month that doesn't involve sand in your bathing suit.

Halloween, however, is the seasonal-books category killer. Something about ghosties and goblins is writerly catnip. Once a novelist has a chance to roll in spookiness, the creepy season keeps calling her back with one spectral finger.

Baltimore's own E.A. Poe is a natural fit for late October, as is Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes, which I make a point of reading every Halloween week, just to get in the spirit. Some stories just resonate best when there is frost on the pumpkin. I can now add Cherie Priest's Eden Moore tales to my list of October books.

Most readers probably haven't heard of Priest, a writer whose roots are in Chattanooga, Tenn., a neglected town deep in Dixie's heart. Priest's stories about Eden Moore capture the genteel decay and itchy creepiness that lurks behind this city's kudzu-covered walls. At times in her ghost stories, Priest's haints are literally hidden by the aforementioned greenery. In her first Eden Moore novel, 2005's Four and Twenty Blackbirds, North Florida's dark forests hide a discontented soul, one whom Moore travels South to exorcise from her life. In the second installment, 2006's Wings to the Kingdom, a regiment of soldiers wanders a Civil War battlefield and Moore is pressed into service to send them to their eternal rest.

The most recent installment of Eden's story, Not Flesh Nor Feathers, continues Priest's exploration of how the South's dead don't stay that way while subtly evoking a regional landscape that won't commit to letting them go. Like the best trilogies, Flesh doesn't require encyclopedic knowledge of what has come before. A reader new to Priest could easily pick up Flesh and enjoy the hell out of its scary tale of Chattanooga, the river, and a horde of zombies.

Like most great scary tales, Priest's Eden Moore books are about more than just ghouls that go bump in the night. In addition to their many thrills--some moments of all three books will leave even the most fearless reader peering around the cover to check for spooks--these books are about Eden's inner landscape as she comes to terms with not only her past but also her plans for the future. Consider these books a ghost-filled Bildungsroman.

The character of Eden Moore evokes what was best about the title character in the now defunct but much beloved Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series. Both women are young, which means that they are faced with the perils inherent in navigating early adulthood and figuring out who you are. Both are given a power and responsibility that they don't want, and which gets in their way of being "normal." But where Buffy creator Joss Whedon made it clear that one of his grounding themes was the importance of a supportive, chosen family, Priest's work is driven by the theme of self-reliance. Eden's friends are transient; her family doesn't understand why she has to commune with the dead. Ultimately, the only one who can extract Eden from her entanglements--both of the otherworldly and earthly sort--is Eden herself.

Larger thoughts about the nature of the horror aside, Priest's books always bring chills. A sense of how these stories use genre tropes to explore the human condition isn't required to enjoy Priest's snappy novels. Four and Twenty may always be my favorite, if only because I had no expectations going in and was subsequently blown away by its deft pacing, sharp characters, and snappy dialogue. Additionally, some of the early goose bump-inducing scenes, where we start to learn about Eden's particular talents at spotting the spectral, are perfect for October nights when the lines between the living and the not feel especially thin.

The two follow-ups are thrilling in their own right but don't feel as fresh as Four and Twenty, which may be a consequence of my expectations rather than their quality. Still, Wings and Flesh are baggy in spots, as if Eden is merely waiting around for the next plot point to mosey up to her, which just isn't her style. She's more likely to run toward trouble with a snide grin and a brisk pragmatism that makes you want to spend more time with her and her world. And that urge is even greater given the season.

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