Sunday, October 20, 2013

Hell Gate by Elizabeth Massie - Horror at Coney Island in early 1900s

5 of 5 Stars

Hell Gate by Elizabeth Massie is totally unlike anything else I've read in 2013.  Original in concept and execution.  At times terrifying.  And a fascinating look at Coney Island in the early 1900s.

The story of Suzanne Heath, a child of wealth and privilege, who has a gift.  The gift to see events from a touch.  A gift her mother is convinced is of the devil.  So much so, she sends her to Madame Harlow's School for Young Ladies where she becomes part of the Morgans a group of girls with similar talents.

Events and circumstances lead to a loss of memory and a new home at the Hudson Colored Waif's Asylum where she was allowed to live in the attic and work in the kitchen.  While there, parts of her memory return and she and her friend Cittie make their way to NYC.

Years later, living in the Bowery and working as a Luna Park ticket-seller on Coney Island, Suzanne is called upon to use her gift to help in solving a series of grisly murders.

What she discovers is shocking, yet so clear, I was surprised I never saw it coming.

In addition to a compelling story, I found the setting to be amazing.  "While Steeplechase Park fronted on Surf Avenue, the main entrance was on the side, off the Bowery.  Suzanne took Bushman's Walk into the crowded hubbub of independent shows, theaters, rides, shops, game booths, and eateries.  Bright posters and billboards promised everything from 'best lunches in all the world' to 'most fun you'll ever have.'  Countless American flags flapped overhead as people of all shapes, sizes, and ages squeezed past, laughing, shouting, arguing, carrying parasols, packages, babies, cheap prizes.  Past Henderson's Vaudeville Theater, Stauch's Restaurant, clam and crab venders, pony rides, haunted houses, and the steep and narrow Drip the Dips roller coaster.  Stepping over spilled beer and ice cream, downed toddlers, and lost handkerchiefs.  Then, like a behemoth, appearing through the fog, there was the gigantic, garish, Funny Face, grinning with huge red wooden lips and vicious white wooden teeth, hanging directly over the entrance to Steeplechase."  It's almost like being there.

There are many kinds of horror in Massie's Hell Gate, including the horrors of prejudice, racism and domestic abuse.  Not for the faint of heart and definitely not a casual read, but if you like a little meat with your horror, this one's for you.

Hell Gate is available now from Darkfuse and

Highly recommended.


  1. Thanks for the stellar review! So glad you enjoyed Hell Gate. :)

  2. A lot of what I read is top of mind today and gone in a week. Hell Gate is going to hang around a while.