'Hypothermia' and other chillers for your Halloween bag

It's the most frightening time of the year: Halloween is upon us again. Whether you dress up for a night on the town or turn out the lights to avoid trick-or-treaters, the Book Bag has you covered. Scaring up a good read will be the least of your worries.


by Arnaldur Indridason

Picador, $15

Arnaldur Indridason continues his Inspector Erlendur series here with a foray into the supernatural for the Reykjavik detective. Maria, a historian, has invited her friend, Karen, to use her country house for the weekend. When Karen arrives, however, she finds her friend hanging from the ceiling. It is obviously a suicide: Maria was distraught over the death of her mother. But something seems off to Erlendur, and he continues to investigate.

When Karen hands over a tape of Maria's session with a medium, the inspector's path grows murkier. He soon discovers human endeavor, as well, haunting the present. A college theater group and a reckless medical experiment come to bear on the case, threads that Indridason ties together expertly in the novel's finale.

In classic police procedural fashion, Erlendur also has personal demons to face. His daughter, newly clean of drugs, and son are pressuring him to meet with his ex-wife, whom he hasn't seen for years. And the childhood death of his younger brother continues to fill him with guilt. Though "Hypothermia" is a solid series entry, it also works perfectly as a stand-alone. The novel's depth of characterization and beautifully chilly atmosphere make it ideal reading for an autumn night.

"Vertical Motion"

by Can Xue

Open Letter, $13.95

Acclaimed Chinese writer Can Xue delivers a haunting baker's dozen of surreal tales. In the title story, a beaked, subterranean creature dreams of digging to the world above, which its grandfather is rumored to have reached years ago. "Cotton Candy" finds a group of children fascinated by a stoic vendor with a seemingly magical ability to spin the title confection. A cat fears for its master's soul at the hands of his mysterious nighttime visitor.

Can Xue's stories unfold with an eerie, dreamlike intensity. The ingenuity of her uncanny vision calls to mind a mix of Jorge Luis Borges and George MacDonald. But her most striking accomplishment is the way she brings her characters to life. Despite the bizarre situations in which they find themselves, the narrators of these stories are utterly identifiable, imbued with an endearing pathos.

"No More Mr. Nice Guy"

by Howard Jacobson

Bloomsbury, $16

Horror doesn't have to come in a gory or supernatural package. Howard Jacobson's tale of a man in a full-blown midlife crisis is not for the faint of heart.

Frank Ritz is a television critic who views his profession with an increasingly jaundiced eye. Even worse is his relationship with his longtime girlfriend, Mel, who writes feminist erotica. When Mel reaches her breaking point and kicks him out of their house, Frank hits the road. He's looking for casual sex. But from a militantly overweight female comic to an ex-lover who may or may not be married to his friend and constant sexual rival, the women Frank encounters get only more complicated. At last, Frank finds a semblance of peace — in a monastery — when a letter from Mel sends him right back where he started.

Jacobson won the Mann Booker Prize for his novel "The Finkler Question," and his "No More Mr. Nice Guy," which first appeared in 1998, is just being published in the United States. Its advent is long overdue for fans of such unsparing relationship chroniclers as Philip Roth and Erica Jong.

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