Gus Moreno's debut novel, "This Thing Between Us," is a genuinely creepy supernatural horror novel, a book that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and prompted me to turn on the nightlight at bedtime.…

1/ The cover for Gus Moreno's 'This Thing Between Us.
I almost didn't read it. It's billed as a book about a widower whose smart-speaker is haunted by his wife's ghost, which sounds gimmicky and foolish, but that's a very poor summary indeed.

Thiago is the book's narrator, and as described, he's a widower. Vera, his wife, was way out of his league. She was a finance industry striver from a driven Mexican-American family.

Thiago's also Mexican-American, but his family is anything but driven; he wasn't so much raised as abused, and his dad and uncles were marginally employed and frequently incarcerated - the kind of family Vera's folks despise for giving them a bad name.

But Thiago and Vera made it work in their weird, tiny apartment in a gentrifying Boston neighborhood - right up until Vera is accidentally killed in a botched robbery on public transit.

When we meet Thiago, he's numbly going through the motions at Vera's funeral, narrating it to her memory in the second person, describing his alienation from her family and friends. Alone, Thiago returns to their home.

The home is haunted - but not by Vera. Or not JUST Vera. Ever since they moved in, there had been cold spots, inexplicable lights, and yes, a smart speaker that did all kinds of strange things, from playing music to ordering hanging ropes and knives, all on its own.

It was creepy enough that they'd tracked down the seller's agent, and learned from him that the old woman who'd been evicted after a lifetime's tenancy had left the flat in a revolting state, strewn with garbage and decorated with the carcass of a ritually slaughtered animal.

After Vera's death, the strange activities intensify, and now the scratching in the walls can no longer be dismissed as an infestation of squirrels. The smart speaker seems to be talking to Thiago, hinting at contact with Vera's restless spirit.

So yes, there's a smart speaker that may be haunted with the widower's wife's ghost, but that's just the hook. Because whatever is going on for Thiago, it's more curse than haunting. He is subjected to random, spectacular acts of violence, driven to self harm.

He tracks down the old woman who lived there before and she talks to him in Spanish that he can't understands - his language deficiency is another way in which Thiago shames his proud Mexican-American in-laws. Whatever she's saying, it carries an air of supernatural menace.

Thiago is haunted by a cuycuy, a bogeyman out of his awful boyhood, only glimpsed fleetingly and perhaps not there at all. The monster haunts him as he flees cross-country to a remote mountain cabin he buys with Vera's life-insurance.

He can't outrun it. It torments him in ways that are ever more terrifying - even as the tormented messages from Vera, trapped on the other side, increase in tempo and intensity.

This kind of supernatural horror is hard to pull off. On the one hand, if there are no rules to the curse, the tale can descend into the tedium of listening to a stranger tell you their dreams in excruciating detail.

On the other hand, if the rules are too explicit, then the whole thing becomes a kind of pointless card-trick performed in the dark - "I made up these rules, and I found a loophole in them. Tah-dah!"

Moreno walks this fine line expertly and only falters a few times, and then only slightly. The story is hard-driving and terrifying and well-wrought. It's not just a promising start to a long career - it's a fantastic novel in its own right.

ETA: If you'd like an unrolled version of this thread to read or share, here's a link to it on, my surveillance-free, ad-free, tracker-free blog:…

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