This is Horror. One of the latter's publications, Conrad Williams' The Fox was indeed one of my picks of the best of 2013. I was very much looking forward therefore to their latest release, The Elvis Room by an author I must shamefully admit was new to me, Stephen Graham Jones.
My shame deepened after reading The Elvis Room, along with a growing sense of annoyance that I hadn't read any of Stephen's previous work as this is already a contender for my favourites of 2014 and is the best thing I've read so far this year.
It's a marvellous concept behind the story, a disgraced experimental psychologist investigating the urban mythology behind the so-called "Elvis Rooms" - a term made up by the psychologist to describe the room in every hotel that is kept empty just in case someone famous and/or important turns up unexpectedly needing a room. The myth is expanded to incorporate the death of a resident or residents when the "Elvis Room" is occupied.
It's a first person narrative from the perspective of the psychologist and so skilfully done as to create a brilliant character study. Driven would be a polite way to describe him, obsessive probably more accurate as his personal life and relationships wither and die, the price paid for his compulsive quest for knowledge. Obsessive? Yes. Unreliable? Maybe...
That obsessiveness is first displayed in the events that lead to his dismissal and disgrace (as well as that of a colleague) - a wonderfully atmospheric passage in which high-tech equipment provides evidence that ghosts do exist and that atmosphere intensifies as the story progresses and the (now maverick) investigations relocate to hotels, institutions that are quite possibly the spookiest places on the earth.
It's all high-concept stuff - something that often fails in horror writing as the original idea, intriguing and original as it may be, doesn't always resolve into a satisfactory conclusion. This is absolutely not the case here, the denoument and the explanation which is uncovered makes absolute sense, tying in perfectly with all that has preceded it and providing an eminently satisfying conclusion to the story.
Oh, and it's really scary too with some genuinely creepy moments that will make your hairs stand on end. (The reason for using that particular cliche will become apparent when you read the story...)
The Elvis Room is an outstanding piece of writing; intriguing, clever and downright scary and I thoroughly recommend it.