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?
Familial upset, unyielding love for music, and raising the dead, Schader’s Chord checks so many boxes that piqued my interest upon seeing the synopsis months ago. If you’re on social media, you’ve probably seen the amazing marketing campaign behind this book. Seriously, I want some of those graphics as prints to hang in my own home. To boot, Scott Leeds gave us a whole playlist to accompany this deep exploration into records, love, loss, and family. The good folks over at Tor Nightfire were gracious enough to send a copy my way before the book releases on September 5th of this year. Let me just say that no aspect of this book disappoints the hype and attention; in fact, it far exceeded every expectation I held.
To say that this is a strong debut novel would be a severe understatement. Many people use the phrase, “I couldn’t put it down!” in relation to the compelling nature of a novel. Truer words have never been spoken regarding my reading experience with Schrader’s Chord. Within the first fifteen pages, I knew to clear my schedule for the rest of the weekend. Despite being a four-hundred-page entry, never once did I feel that this book lacked pacing or character development. There’s an equal gravity placed on moments of grief and loss in addition to moments of humor and joy, not to mention downright horror. It’s one of those books that blends plot and character focus so well, you don’t even realize how quickly you’re moving.
Another aspect in which Leeds truly shines is writing anxiety-inducing scenes surrounding our “big bad” of the plot. Multiple times I caught myself sweating or correcting my eyesight to not jump to the end of a page to see how things play out. I even slammed the book shut at one point and gave myself a breather. Make no mistake, there are some terrifying aspects of this novel, but the most heart-racing moments are created by Leeds’ use of dramatic irony. He builds situations you just know will have dire consequences without playing his hand or giving you a foreseeable solution to the issue.
While the focus of this novel is The Man with the Magic Ear, Charlie Remick, many other characters captured my attention immediately. There is something very natural to the chemistry built around each character whether it’s between family members or strangers. I’m someone who lives for character-driven books, and I absolutely adored each of these characters for their own unique quirks. Leeds’ exploration into familial turmoil was executed so organically that I found myself experiencing the anger, sadness, or confusion Charlie, Ana, Raymond, and Ellie felt. There is something tremendous to be said for being able to extend that level of empathy.
Lastly, the song references placed throughout the novel are a real treat for anyone who enjoys a good tune. To prevent spoiling any aspect of this book, I won’t list all the tracks that warmed my heart but just know there are plenty. The power of sound is thoroughly traversed, exhibiting the magnitude of “moments” between people. Music is known to evoke strong emotions among us mere mortals and what better way to reach across the page to a reader than to give us a song?
More than just a horror novel, Schrader’s Chord takes us on a transformational journey, bringing us up close and personal with loss, love, and sacrifice. This is a story about what it means to give part of yourself for another’s betterment, which is above all else, love. Scott Leeds has created an earnest story with an original premise to explore emotions felt by so many. The horror aspect of this novel creates excitement; while it serves as a vehicle to propel the plot at a rather quick pace, it does not take away from the emotional aspects of this work. Lovers of the genre will leave this book feeling satisfied in addition to those who may be browsing the horror aisle of their bookstore for the first time. The story of The Man with the Magic Ear will linger in my mind for quite some time.