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Book review: Atlas of Cursed Places - where you don't want to be

Tome's subtitle, A Travel Guide to Dangerous and Frightful Destinations, sums up aptly this journey through time

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 August, 2015, 11:55pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 August, 2015, 11:55pm

From blood-soaked Nuremberg, Germany to ruddy Nevada, Atlas of Cursed Places boldly exposes some of the most unnerving destinations on the map.

"The honest traveller is surprised to observe that the red sand is ringed by snow-capped mountains and impenetrable forests populated by tetchy bears," writes journalist Olivier Le Carrer, in a chapter on the so-called Nevada Triangle. Le Carrer adds that any offer of an excursion by plane should be politely refused.

The reason: thanks to the turbulence generated by the rugged landscape, more than 2,000 aircraft have gone missing there over the past five decades - more than that of the fabled Bermuda Triangle.

Some sites with bland or benign reputations are lethal, Le Carrer shows. His white-knuckle ride across America and around the globe features 40 stops ranging from Golgotha, the site outside Jerusalem of Christ's crucifixion, to the Japanese suicide venue, Aokigahara Forest, and Australia's Cape York, where crocodiles noted for explosive attacks approach speeds of 30 km/h.

Augmented by 70 vintage maps, Le Carrer's macabre atlas should appeal to map lovers, the travel or history buff, and fans of the paranormal.

The atlas is especially winning because Le Carrer's reflections stem from his true-life adventure. The part-time sailor has spent the last three decades roving the planet, cranking out several books on cartography and navigation with the illustrator Sibylle Le Carrer. His commitment to the oddities documented in his new atlas shows. The content feels fresh, instead of scraped from the web.

Witness his update on Tennessee's Bell Witch, a legend of a poltergeist that tormented a 19th-century farmer called John Bell and his family. The Bell house was plagued by a person or persons unknown thumping the walls at night, while invisible animals apparently chewed through bedding and furniture. In addition, weird humming was audible outside. "Ancient history? Not so fast!" Le Carrer writes.

Eyewitness accounts of eerie happenings continue, he says, and cites the film director Ric White. While making his historical thriller The Bell Witch Haunting, White was shocked to hear his name screamed by a female voice coming from nowhere. Later, an inexplicable fire wrecked his studio and drove him to finish the editing at home, only for his equipment to start running backward. Seriously spooky.

Besides the witch who dogged White, all kinds of terrifying entities - paranormal and otherwise - emerge from the narrative.

The most striking observation Le Carrer offers must be that an old submarine haunt in Russia's extreme northwest hosts 30 times more radioactive fuel than the Chernobyl reactor, making the local Kola Peninsula "the antechamber of hell". It's the last place you would want to be.

Atlas of Cursed Places: A Travel Guide to Dangerous and Frightful Destinations  by Olivier Le Carrer  (Black Dog & Leventhal)