Schrader’s Chord (Scott Leeds) – Book Review

There’s no such thing as a bad time to read a horror book. Whether that’s snowbound slashers, summery suspense thrillers, or spring-set serial killer tales, there is always plenty of time, and fortunately releases, around the year to celebrate the genre. There is something, however, to be said for autumn; crisp leaves, cold air, lingering shadows, and Hallowe’en around the corner, to really stir the spooky spirit and send readers diving for horror stories.

Scott Leeds’ debut Schrader’s Chord, has taken advantage of this (and the September publishing boom), releasing just in time for avid readers to dive into the first great horror book of the season. Schrader’s Chord follows Charlie Remick, a successful music exec Svengali who heads back to his small hometown after the unexpected death of his estranged father. While there, he discovers that his father has left him both the family music shop and also four mysterious LPs that, when played together, can conjure a portal to the land of the dead, potentially bringing out about the end of days, sending him, his sister, and two shop employees scrambling to undo the deadly curse and prevent the apocalypse.

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Leeds clearly has a passion for his genre and the horror elements in Schrader’s Chord are enjoyable and grisly, unafraid to experiment with body horror, Lovecraftian dread, and thrilling chase sequences as characters hurry to save one another from the dark curse that the long-dead Schrader has invoked upon them. There’s a neat real-world inspiration evident in the initial premise – interested readers should look up Rezső Seress’ Gloomy Sunday and the (fictional) Black Tapes Podcast – and the conceit of a killer song is always a wonderful conceit to mine for terrifying content.

The real strength of Leeds’ writing lies with his character work, as the reader grows to care for the players in this twisted tale, whether that’s the complicated dynamics with the Remick siblings and their own relationships with their deceased parents, or whether that’s with Ana Ortiz, the music shop’s stalwart employee and champion who joins forces with the Remicks and her colleague Dale to break the curse before it claims more lives.

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Schrader’s Chord is full of heart, whether that’s the anguish of loss, the pain of discovering a loved one isn’t what you envisioned them to be, or the compassion that the heroes find to fight another day. There’s a true sense of warmth in Leeds’ attention to his characters, which while not saving them from the horrors in store, makes them infinitely relatable and will make any reader root for them to win and survive to journey’s end.

There are some nit-picks here – several characters seem set up in Act I to return or play an important part in the endgame but instead disappear from the narrative altogether, and those expecting a bleak gore-fest will close the book feeling a little disappointed – but Schrader’s Chord is a marvel of invention, blending together creeping suspense, dark existential horror, and a warm beating heart at its core. Schrader’s Chord may well be Leeds’ debut, but it’s a strong foundation for what looks to be a prolific career in horror, which, pun very much intended, sounds good to this reviewer.

Schrader’s Chord is out now from Titan Books

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