Book: “Where They Wait” by Scott Carson
Publishing Info: Atria/Emily Bestler Books, October 2021
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.
Book Description: Recently laid-off from his newspaper and desperate for work, war correspondent Nick Bishop takes a humbling job: writing a profile of a new mindfulness app called Clarity. It’s easy money, and a chance to return to his hometown for his first visit in years. The app itself seems like a retread of old ideas—relaxing white noise and guided meditations. But then there are the “Sleep Songs.” A woman’s hauntingly beautiful voice sings a ballad that is anything but soothing—it’s disturbing, really, more of a warning than a relaxation—but it works. Deep, refreshing sleep follows.
So do nightmares. Vivid and chilling, they feature a dead woman who calls Nick by name and whispers guidance—or are they threats? And soon her voice follows him long after the song is done. As the effects of the nightmares begin to permeate his waking life, Nick makes a terrifying discovery: no one involved with Clarity has any interest in his article. Their interest is in him. Because while he might not have any memory of it, he’s one of twenty people who have heard this sinister song before and the only one who is still alive.
Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!
At one point I requested the Scott Carson horror novel “The Chill” from the library, and when it came I waffled about starting it, and then only got a couple chapters in before giving up. I wasn’t sure if it was the book itself or something that was gelling with my reading needs at the time, but I returned it and went on to the next. When I saw he had a new book coming out called “Where They Wait”, and that it involved a mindfulness app that could have deadly influence, I decided to bite. After all, as an anxious person who has barely been getting by during a full on global pandemic, I’ve done my time with meditation apps on my phone. So why not scare the piss out of myself in regards to some of the things that actually calm me down during an anxiety spiral?! That’s a joke. Kind of. Anyway, I was fully in, expecting full on tech horror. But “Where They Wait” took me by surprise.
“Where They Wait” is a slowly building horror novel that makes you think it’s going to go in one way, but it takes you in a completely different way instead. The mystery surrounding the Clarity app and Nick’s connection to it are slowly revealed as the book goes on, and it builds at a good pace and ratchets the tension up accordingly. As Nick dives deeper and deeper into the various sleep and relaxation programs on the mindfulness app Clarity, strange things start to happen, from bad dreams (dreaming being something he was never able to remember until now) to shady and cagey interactions with the makers and associates of the app. One of whom is his teenage years friend Renee. But what I thought was going to be fully tech and corporate conspiracy horror was a bit more complicated than that. In that realm, the book hits a lot of beats we’d expect it to. Nick clearly has an unknown connection to Clarity, specifically the strange song that he keeps hearing, and the song that, he finds out, has done some serious damage to other people just by listening to it. I loved following Nick as he started to piece together the origins of the song, and how they connected to him, and where those origins eventually took us in terms of setting and horror type. Again, I thought that we were going to be going into science fiction tech horror, but Carson surprised me by taking us down a different path. Well, at least in terms of the origins of the song. Those behind Clarity have the obvious motivations to harness a song that has a violent fall out, and it definitely references recent ‘in the news’ themes of things like Havana Syndrome, and how something like that could be unleashed on a tech hungry populace.
So yes, there are definite tech horror aspects to this book, but there are also more primal horrors about what happens when we dream, and how vulnerable we are when it comes to our subconscious. When Nick is in what is possibly a dream (or is it?), there is a sense of ethereal dread that Carson just nails in tone and eeriness, be it the way that the song is written out or the descriptions of visions of a dead woman that is guiding Nick through his dreamscapes. But along with that are the fears of what we may do without realizing as our subconscious takes over, be it lost time, manipulated memories, or full on inability to control ones actions. Nick is the one bearing the brunt of this, though his experience is a bit of an exception to a rule that makes him a very sought after player for those who are pulling the strings. This whole aspect of the book was very unnerving in terms of the psychological manipulations, and I found these parts, especially in his dreams, to be very trippy and intense.
Overall I enjoyed “Where They Wait”. It makes me want to go back and give “The Chill” another try, as Carson taps into some basal fears and makes them very, very unsettling.
Rating 8: A creepy horror novel that goes places I didn’t expect, “Where They Wait” is eerie and unsettling and made me side eye my mindfulness apps.
“Where They Wait” is included on the Goodreads list “Horror To Look Forward To In 2021”.