American Cryptic: Jim Towns
Reviewed By J.A. Sullivan
Ghosts and things that go bump in the night have always fascinated me, especially when the retellings are based on actual events. So, when I saw American Cryptic by Jim Towns, I couldn’t resist diving into these true paranormal stories.
Broken into three main areas, the book delivers 6 Ghost Stories, as well as 4 essays on Boogeymen and 3 covering Uncanny Places, providing a nice balance between firsthand accounts of strange activities, urban legends, and locations you may want to steer clear of (or, in my case, places you definitely want to visit).
The first section, Ghost Stories, was what I had been looking forward to most, but unfortunately, they didn’t quite scratch my spectre-shaped itch. Describing mysterious shadowy figures, signs left by deceased loved ones, and even a spirit that hitchhiked across the country with a family, these encounters were interesting but could have been told in a more effective way. To me, the best ghost stories unfold like fiction, with a setup, a climactic incident, and a conclusion. These beats build the story up to something frightening and when they aren’t all there in the right proportion the payoff is lessened for the reader.
However, the essays in American Cryptic were fantastic and this is where the author really shone. In the Boogeymen section, Towns examines how urban legends are created and how they are adapted to different time periods through retellings. He highlights the commonalities that appear in legends and how they tap into our collective fear of otherness. Well crafted and thought-provoking, the essays probe into how boogeymen serve as warnings to younger people, as well as how creating these myths help society deal with tragedy.
The last essays in the book discuss creepy locations, specifically a forest, an asylum, and strange burial grounds. Here the author looks at the nuggets of truth behind our fears, like how knowing the atrocities endured within old mental health facilities can make us leery of abandoned hospitals, and how actual skeletons discovered in burial mounds of the Adena people help build a belief in giants.
While this collection may not deliver tales of terror, it’s an interesting read for anyone keen on digging behind how legends create fear.
AMERICAN CRYPTIC is an open-minded cynic’s take on the uncanny and sometimes frightening things which border our accepted reality.
Through thirteen stories and essays, author and filmmaker Jim Towns examines several legends native to his own roots in Western Pennsylvania, and recalls some of his own unexplainable experiences as well.
From legends of Native American giants buried under great earth mounds, to a haunted asylum, to a phantom trolley passenger, this work seeks not only to present the reader with new and fascinating supernatural tales, but also to deconstruct why our culture is so fascinated by their telling and re-telling.
J. A. Sullivan is a horror writer and paranormal enthusiast, based in Brantford, ON, Canada. Attracted to everything non-horror folks consider strange, she’s spent years as a paranormal investigator, has an insatiable appetite for serial killer information, and would live inside a library if she could.
Her latest short story can be found in Don’t Open the Door: A Horror Anthology (out July 26, 2019), and other spooky tales can be found on her blog. She’s currently writing more short stories, a novel, and reading as many dark works as she can find.
You can follow J. A. on Twitter @ScaryJASullivan
Check out her blog https://writingscaredblog.wordpress.com
Find her on Instagram www.instagram.com/j.a_sullivan