Short Take: “The Ladderman,” Angela Archer

Rating: 4 out of 5

Angela Archer’s horror/urban legend novella The Ladderman is a quick read–about an hour or so. It’s hard to build up enough suspense and tension in that kind of space, especially when we’re talking multiple deaths. Catherine Palmer is a hotel caterer who makes the mistake of reading out loud the Ladderman rhyme when she comes across it. Her death is not the last that this peaceful little town will experience. Friends Rik, Kev, and Will also invoke the rhyme while out drinking, and a mysterious force goes after them one by one.

The manner of death is connected in some way to a game each person played–something that will only marginally make more sense once the origins of the Ladderman are explored. It seems a bit of a stretch, and also fairly silly.

That said, I like the character of Rik and how he handles all of this. He used to live in the city and was stabbed, and the police did a terrible job of trying to catch the culprit. So he’s loath to involve them–yet he tries to do so, because he’s afraid he may be the next to die and he doesn’t know how to stop it. He has a lot to lose, too, because his wife Becky is pregnant.

I don’t think this book is genuinely trying to be humorous horror, which is a shame, because it’s so close to the line that if it had been pushed over it might have been interesting. (Or if it had backed off further from the line–it just doesn’t seem to be entirely certain what it wants to be.) A fun little diversion, at any rate.

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