Heart-Shaped Box meets The Haunting of Hill House in Schrader’s Chord , Scott Leeds’s chilling debut about cursed vinyl records that open a gateway to the land of the dead.
I told you they were real.
After his estranged father’s mysterious death, Charlie Remick returns to Seattle to help with the funeral. There, he discovers his father left him two parting the keys to the family record store and a strange black case containing four antique records that, according to legend, can open a gate to the land of the dead.
When Charlie, his sister, and their two friends play the records, they unwittingly open a floodgate of unspeakable horror. As the darkness descends, they are stalked by a relentless, malevolent force and see the dead everywhere they turn.
With time running out, the only person who can help them is Charlie’s resurrected father, who knows firsthand the awesome power the records have unleashed. But can they close the gate and silence Schrader’s Chord before it’s too late?
Schrader’s Chord announces Scott Leeds as a strong new voice in horror literature, and it does so with style. Despite what the ad copy would have you believe, the novel has none of Heart Shaped Box’s bone-deep meanness, and little of The Haunting of Hill House’s palpable dread. Instead, it presents a journey through grief and reconciliation that is both fast paced and moving.
Charlie Remick is an A&R man. The Man with the Golden Ear has a knack for picking out the diamonds in the rough and tumble world of the music biz. But when the news of his father’s death arrives, he packs up and flies home to Seattle.
Charlie’s relationship with his father was more than strained, and they hadn’t spoken in years, so Charlie comes home with very mixed emotions. These emotions settle quickly into rage when he learns of his inheritance. But it’s hard to tell which piece is more distressing: his dad’s record shop or the odd case containing 4 old records with a message affixed to it reading “I told you they were real.”
There’s a bit of mystery as Charlie and a small cast of supporting characters attempt to figure out what dad had been up to, but at the center of it all is an urban legend about Schrader’s Chord, the project of a nineteenth century composer. Legend has it that if all four records are played at once, the sound will open up a door between the living and the dead. So, naturally, it takes very little time before those records are spinning.
Playing the record leaves the characters both haunted and hunted by the specter of Schrader, the mad composer. Charlie’s dead dad appears in ghost form and acts as guide. There are a few grisly scenes as Schrader begins to catch up, more than a few spooky moments, and one particularly harrowing scene in which our heroes attempt to save one of their number from Schrader’s revenge.
But all of this is secondary to the real story, which is about a father and son, who—thanks to a supernatural mediary—now have the opportunity to have it all out, clear up all of the misunderstandings, and maybe find some kind of common ground. This is messy territory, and Leeds navigates it with deft assurance, even if the resolutions do tend to feel a bit neat. It’s this relationship and its arc that elevate the novel.
That isn’t to say that there isn’t a great deal else that’s working here. There’s a romance between Charlie and his father’s protege, Ana. There is a cross country road trip that involves attempted murder by horse. There is a dramatic and, dare I say, cinematic climax. And there’s a genuine boogeyman in the figure of Schrader, who haunts the gang, warping reality around him.
A story with a strong shape, characters who are instantly vivid and fully fleshed, and a horror story set within the fascinating milieu of the music world, all add up to a tremendous debut.