“Bedbugs” by Ben H. Winters

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“Bedbugs” by Ben H. Winters

c.2011, Quirk Books
$14.95 / $16.95 Canada
253 pages

 

By TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER

Did you hear that?

It was loud, like a clunk but not quite. And it smells like smoke in here. Or minty; definitely something.

You can’t smell it?  Unbelievable that you didn’t notice; you’re usually really observant. And did you do something different with this room?

So.

Is it hot in here, or is it me?

Am I losing my mind?  That’s a question Susan Wendt asks herself over and over in the new book “Bedbugs” by Ben H. Winters. And she won’t like the answer…

Until their daughter, Emma, was born, Alex and Susan Wendt had been quite happy with their Brooklyn apartment. It was cute, just one-bedroom-plus-nook, perfect for two-plus-baby.

Four years later, it was getting cramped in there, and though the idea of a move made Alex want to scream, Susan was looking for a new home. When she found the adorable old brownstone walk-up in Brooklyn Heights, she couldn’t believe their luck.

At 1300 square feet, the apartment was bigger than their current one. The price was right, the landlady was a little quirky but nice, and the place included a charming studio so that Susan could go back to painting again.

The Wendts couldn’t move in fast enough.

Life at 56 Cranberry Street was good – at first. Emma loved the parks surrounding their new neighborhood and Susan loved the stores. There was even an old-fashioned butcher shop nearby, which was handy. And though there were problems with the apartment that they hadn’t noticed before, Susan actually felt like picking up a brush for the first time in ages.

But then the pings started.

They sounded like they came from the walls, low and soft, like a bumblebee trying to get out of a jar. Then there was that nasty old handyman, a friend of the landlady’s, who seemed to be watching Susan. The bites began right around that time, but only on Susan’s body: three, in an intensely itchy group, just like bedbugs but not on Alex or Emma.

And when Susan’s new painting seemed to be screaming, it was only a matter of time before Susan did, too…

Are you scratching yet?  If not, you will be when you read this very creepy book.

Right from the start, “Bedbugs” is subtly unsettling. You’re made to believe from the beginning that Susan might not be quite stable, that perhaps she’s downright unhinged, and that Alex knows more about this than you might care to learn.

Watching Susan spiral downward feels squirmy and it seems a little voyeuristic, but it’s hard to look away – mostly because you just know that author Ben H. Winters has more in store for you and it’s probably going to be really, really bad. That leads to a deliciously shivery undercurrent of evil throughout this book and, well, who can resist?

You won’t be able to, if you’re a fan of scary books like this. You might not even be able to take this book to bed with you, but bite into “Bedbugs” anyhow.

And night-night.

Terri Schlichenmeyer is based in Wisconsin.

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