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Depression-Era Evil: Horror In A Haunted Land
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Depression-Era Evil: Horror In A Haunted Land

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish. It's time now for another installment in our series You Must Read This, where authors talk about a book they love. Author Julia Keller likes her fiction creepy, that's why she's recommending a forgotten American classic that she calls terrifying. It's "The Night of the Hunter" by Davis Grubb.

JULIA KELLER: You could call it good bad luck. It's what happened to Davis Grubb in 1955. A book he published - "The Night of the Hunter" - was turned into a movie, and it's a good one. Robert Mitchum is the sinister predator. He's got love, L-O-V-E, tattooed on one hand and hate, H-A-T-E, on the other. It's such a vivid, menacing movie, but a lot of people forgot all about the book. And that's a shame because it's a gorgeous novel. It's rough and raw and melodramatic with some social commentary tucked in there too.

Pearl and John are two small kids being raised by their mom, Willa. They live in a sorrowful speck of a town along the Ohio River in West Virginia. The father of this family has just been executed for a murder he committed during an armed robbery. Only his kids know where he hid the money. Then we meet a creepy, twisted waste of a man known as Preacher. Now, he's certain the kids can lead him to the dough, so Preacher woos and marries the widow, while the boy, John, watches in mounting terror.

Soon, John and his sister are on the run from their stepfather, escaping from what the book calls something as old as evil itself. Davis Grubb was born in Moundsville, West Virginia, in 1919, but he left for New York City when he was 21. He wanted to be a writer, and he had some real success. "The Night of the Hunter" was a huge hit, a bestseller. But by the time he died in 1980, Grubb was a forgotten man.

So if you like your stories blunt and unpolished, then get your hands on this novel. But beware: You may end up feeling a little like poor young John, who runs from the smell of dread in his nose until - doglike - his flesh gathered and bunched at the scent of it.

CORNISH: Julia Keller is the author of "A Killing in the Hills." The book she recommended was "The Night of the Hunter" by Davis Grubb. You can comment on this essay at nprbooks.org. You can also like us on Facebook for updates on books throughout the day.

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