Murder. Suicide. Accident. Natural. These are the four facets of death according to Ivan Schrader. Anyone who performs the ritual correctly and plays the four records Schrader left behind is marked for death – and cursed to see the dead come alive. Scott Leeds’ Schrader’s Chord is a powerful debut, simultaneously scary, haunting and emotional. Strong characters and a well-paced plot round off the package. I do want to flag a trigger warning for suicide and self-harm, both on the page and off. For those who are perhaps a bit squeamish, there are strong elements of body horror throughout the book, discussed in detail at times.
Charlie thought he’d left his father’s record shop behind him when he moved to New York to work for a record label. Compartmentalised, just like other painful things, not to be remembered or thought about. And then, Raymond Remick dies and leaves him the shop – and a case with four mysterious records. Schrader’s records. Turns out they make the dead come back to life, and Charlie, his sister and their friends need all the help they can get to survive this. From Charlie’s dead father, for example. Maybe Charlie needs to deal with his unresolved feelings after all…
And that really is the central strength of Schrader’s Chord. It’s not a splatter horror novel, though there is plenty of gore. The story itself, however, is about relationships and family. The nuance and development of Raymond’s relationship with both his biological son Charlie and Ana, a young employee at the shop who is perhaps something of a chance to do better, stands out especially. These relationship arcs slowly unravel over the course of the story, as unspoken things get uttered and emotions need to be confronted. The story doesn’t shy away from showing the ugly, the fallout of decisions years ago – and use it as a cathartic element. Much of what takes place outside of the main quest plot is rooted in these relationships, in struggles the characters have carried around for years. It is clear throughout that the characters all deeply care about each other even if they don’t know how to approach certain topics or harbour resentment. These relationship arcs add another dimension of narrative tension to a story that is already compelling and fast-paced on a plot level.
I found myself completely immersed in Schrader’s Chord, and its vivid prose. The writing makes the story come alive in a tangible way, evoking atmosphere without distracting from plot and characters. Like Charlie, many readers will find themselves falling for Ana and her stubborn determination. Charlie and Raymond are brilliant characters too, flawed and prone to hurting others when they themselves feel vulnerable. Other characters perhaps don’t get quite the same level of detail, but as they are drawn through emotions and relationships, the reader gets a sense for them that exceeds what is on the page.
Schrader’s Chord proves that Scott Leeds has a promising future as a horror writer. A perfect book for spooky season – and one that will make you want to dust off the record player and perhaps return to the analog world for a bit.