Book Review: The Perfect Place to Die

A teen takes on America’s first serial killer!

Hello, friends and foes! I’m back at it again with another book review. This one isn’t unlike the last (Check out The Corpse Queen book review here) as it’s a YA historical horror, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite sub-genres.

Bryce Moore released The Perfect Place to Die in 2021 and just recently published another YA historical horror (this time about the axe-man of New Orleans), Don’t Go to Sleep. The covers are pretty similar and they’re both about 17 year old girls fighting against a historical bad-guy. If this is Moore’s brand moving forward, I won’t complain.

This book follows 17 year old Zuretta of rural Utah. She and her sister live at the hands of their abusive father and, in the middle of one fateful night, her younger sister Ruby escapes. Ruby sends letters about her new life in Chicago, and the sights and sounds of the incredible World’s Fair. She even met a man- a man she plans to marry! When Ruby’s letters stop coming, Zuretta decides to pack up and go to the big city to find her. Even if it means facing a monster on her own.

Zuretta takes a job as a maid in a questionable hotel called The Castle, where girls are said to be disappearing. It was Ruby’s last place of employment. Perhaps the last place she was seen alive. If Zuretta can survive her harrowing job and three (or four?) bosses, she might just solve the murder of what happened to her sister. Even if the Pinkerton Guard won’t help her.

**SPOILERS AHEAD**

Okay. So I’ve been sitting on this review for a while because I wanted to be fair. I don’t like to give negative reviews (if the book was really terrible, I usually just leave a goodreads star rating and move on with my life), but I felt like I had to get something off my chest with this one.

If you know who H.H. Holmes is, then there’s honestly no point in reading this book. Let me explain.

Evan Peters as James March in American Horror Story: Hotel

Maybe it’s because I’m kind of a history nerd (or maybe I just watch too much History Channel in general), but I’ve been hearing about H.H. Holmes and his death-trap of a hotel for YEARS. Hell, American Horror Story even had Evan Peters play a caricature of him in Season 5, AHS: Hotel. We follow Zuretta on her quest to find her sister which leads her directly to H.H. Holmes’ doorstep. Like, literally, H.H. Holmes. No fake name for the man proclaimed to be America’s first serial killer.

Then we’re made to question who the killer is out of multiple people. Zuretta doesn’t know which of the several strange men who work at The Castle is the killer but she presumes it’s one of them. And she shouldn’t know, because Holmes hasn’t been ousted as a murderer yet in American History.

But the reader knows. At least, some readers will know.

So the whole plot of Zuretta trying to solve the mystery of the strange hotel and the strange owner and trying to figure out who killed her sister is a moot point. You’re sitting there after the first quarter of the book already knowing who killed Ruby, and who will try to kill Zuretta next. There are some smaller plot “twists” in between but all in all, if you know who H.H. Holmes is in real life, you know who the murderer is in the book.

I think Moore made the choice to use Holmes’ real name rather than making up a new name because the book is supposed to be an alternate version of true history. And if you didn’t know who Holmes’ actually was in real life, then the plot twist and finding out who the murderer is would probably a much more thrilling experience.

I wonder what if it would have been more interesting for the story to be told with a different goal: so the goal isn’t to discover who the murderer is (as in, is it Holmes or one of his henchmen) but perhaps who he’s trying to kill next? Or trying to stop him before he’ll kill again? If the entire plot wasn’t centered around discovering WHO the murderer was, it would have been a more exciting read.

Also, the back of the book made me think the World’s Fair would be more of a part of the plot but Zuretta only visits it one time. It could have been the perfect backdrop for a dramatic chase or some spooky scene but… it kind of fell flat in my opinion.

All in all I feel like the book was entertaining and a quick read. I just wish I didn’t already know the story of H.H. Holmes and have the entire plot ruined for me by real life (I hate when real life does stuff like this).

2 stars overall, 1 star on the scare scale

Reader beware, you’re in for a scare! Or, not. Trick-or-treat, after all.

xo Allison

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Book Review: The Corpse Queen

A different brand of body snatchers…

Hello, friends and foes! It’s time for another book review! I post about one of these a month because I read about one book a month. At least, one spooky book that’s fit for the blog. Shockingly, I do have other literary interests outside the macabre.

I finished Heather M. Herrman’s sophomore novel The Corpse Queen in about a day and a half. One of those, “if I put this book down right now it’s all I’m going to think about for the next few hours so I might as well just not put it down” type of reads. It was fast-paced, witty, topical (who knew we would still be facing the same sexism in modern day as we were in 1855!!), and just the right amount of gritty and gory. I’m a sucker for a period piece, and this book about an 1850’s orphan in Philadelphia was exactly what I needed to quench my thirst for something I could only comp as Jack the Ripper x Body Snatchers x grave robbers.

We meet down on her luck orphan Molly at a strange time in her life. Her best friend Kitty has just been murdered, presumably by the young doctor-in-training with whom she had recently fallen in love. Molly doesn’t think she has any family left to claim her – but she’s wrong. A long-lost aunt brings Molly to her rich, gated estate in high-society Philadelphia. Molly is shocked at a member of her family having so much wealth when all she has ever known is poverty. How could someone from the same roots as her family be so rich??

By robbing graves and selling the corpses to medical schools. That’s how.

Molly joins the family business and does her best to collect the bodies alongside practiced grave-robber Thomas. But she learns more from her strange aunt than just how to steal. Molly learns the true value of a corpse, and in turn the value of the person they were when they were living. Every body gives the medical students a chance to make impressive scientific and medical discoveries. Every day they come closer to uncovering the great biological secrets of mankind. It wouldn’t be possible without the work of Molly’s aunt and her system of grave robbery.

But Molly’s aunt isn’t the only person in Philadelphia with a liking for the dead. There’s a killer on the loose, somehow connected to Molly’s family business. There’s a menacing figure called the Tooth Fairy who, you guessed it, takes only the teeth from found cadavers. There’s love and drama and intrigue and a mystery that culminates into a final grave being dug, once and for all – and if Molly can outsmart all those who told her she was worthless, the grave won’t be her own.

I loved 99% of my reading experience with this book. I found Molly’s character to be a bit stand-offish (in the best way – like how would you act if you found out your long lost aunt made a fortune scavenging dead bodies?) but very intelligent. It was rewarding to watch Molly grow from a grief-stricken and penniless orphan into a confident young woman who wants to break free of the grave-robbing business and study to become a doctor – an incredible feat for American women of the time.

The plot had some super interesting twists and turns that held my attention from beginning to end. No spoilers (because we don’t do spoilers here) but the BIG REVEAL was, like, HUGE. And very well executed, in my humble opinion.

I don’t tend to write negative reviews (if I don’t like a book I just don’t review it but I will still mention it in my Twitter thread here ). I actually don’t even tend to mention the negative qualities of books I’ve read because, overall, I really really liked them. I’m pretty quick to DNF a book I’m not into.

All this is to say that there was only one aspect of The Corpse Queen that threw me off – the mad dash rush to the end. Maybe it’s a YA thing, maybe it’s a me thing, but I felt like there was such a massive push to explain everything and get as much last minute action as possible in the last four or five chapters that just left a weird taste in my mouth. The Epilogue set that taste right again, however!!! It was very good and, in my opinion, very necessary and satisfying. Maybe I have to do some of my own soul-searching and think about why I just don’t like the rushed and dramatic endings of some of my recent reads.

In any case, I’m 100% happy I read this book and would absolutely recommend it to anyone looking for an eerie and bloody read about a girl, her family, and some dead bodies. And a deranged doctor, some guy named the Tooth Fairy, and a Vaudeville performer/prostitute with a pet duck.

4 stars overall, 3 stars on the scare scale

Reader beware, you’re in for a scare! Or, not. Trick-or-treat, after all.

xo Allison

COPYRIGHT DISCLAIMER:

Book cover art is used Pursuant to 17 U.S. Code § 107 under the “fair use” defense.

All other images are certified public domain.

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