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Review: The Reluctant Dead

 The Reluctant DeadThe Reluctant Dead, by Nuzo Onoh

Rating: A+

A scorned wife returns to wreak a terrible vengeance on the husband and mistress that caused her untimely death!

A morgue assistant fails to follow the strange night-time rules of the mortuary and gets himself “a follower”, the restless spirit of a murdered young woman.

The ghost of a young boy returns to his school to complete his classes, tragically cut short by the cruel fists of death.

The Reluctant Dead is a unique collection of six spine-chilling ghost stories from the farthest lands of Africa. Be warned! These stories will leave you glancing over your shoulders for a very long time!


As soon as I read that description, I knew I had to have this book. It’s not often that a book description literally gives me chills, but this one did. An anthology of ghost stories set in Africa, rooted in the folklore of West African peoples? Sign me up.

The six stories in this collection are set in Biafra, with Igbo culture woven skillfully throughout. Nuzo Onoh is able to balance educating those who may be unfamiliar with the setting while not descending into lectures. Background information the reader needs to grasp a reference or some aspect of the mythology drops into the narrative naturally. This is especially important in horror because distracting the reader with things they don’t understand can break up the rising tension and make the scares fall flat. No risk of that here!

By frequently using young people or those who have turned their backs on traditional ways, the author can build the terror step by step as the protagonists learn just how horrifying things have become. More than simply a narrative device, however, this leaves the reader with a lesson as well: be careful about turning your back on your people and their ways. There may be wisdom there you need to honor to survive.

Dead women seeking bloody vengeance is a recurrent theme, as it is in a great deal of folklore. My favorite story in the entire book is an example of this trope, ‘The Follower’. The stark contrast between the arrogant Afam and the humble, gentle spirit of his follower makes the eventual climax that much more shocking and satisfying.

Each story has its own unique voice that caters to the themes and characters within it, so that it would be easy to believe that this wasn’t a single author collection at all. However, there are elements of Nuzo Onoh’s skill that remain apparent throughout. All of the stories have an almost lyrical, rhythmic feel, begging to be read out loud. While I’m eager to read more from this author, I’m especially hopeful that this book does well enough to justify an audiobook version.

One last word of warning: Don’t do what I did and read any of these stories late at night, all alone in a creepy old building with bats in the attic. There may have been some undignified squealing.


Title: The Reluctant Dead
Author: Nuzo Onoh
Genre: African Horror
Length: 258 pages
Release Date: May 1, 2014

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This entry was posted on July 18, 2014 by in Blog, Reviews and tagged , , , .
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