If you were to ask me my favorite genre in literature, I would quickly and easily say, “Horror.” From a very young age, I have enjoyed thrilling myself with tales of ghosts, monsters, vampires, etc. And though Stephen King is undoubtedly a VIP of the genre, someone whose stories I have enjoyed over the years, he is not the only horror author out there. In this list, I will be recommending to you just a few horror novels that I think you should check out.
I Remember You by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir
Crime thriller meets paranormal horror, I Remember You tells two intersecting stories. First, there’s that of Katrin, her husband Garðar, and their friend Líf. The trio has recently purchased a hamlet on a small, isolated island with the intention of turning it into a vacation getaway, and are staying on the island during the dark, cold winter months to finish renovations. Then there is Freyr, a doctor assisting police in the investigation of an elderly woman’s apparent suicide, during which he discovers that the woman was obsessed with the years-old disappearance of his own son, Benni. In this storyline, we are treated to a classic detective tale as Freyr delves into how the woman’s death is connected with his missing son, while in Katrin and company’s storyline, we get a chilling and claustrophobic ghost story that gets scarier and more dire with every turn of the page. Sigurðardóttir wields a mastery of the horror genre comparable to that of Poe, and expertly weaves the two separate storylines together in a way you won’t see coming. Be warned before opening this book. . .it won’t leave you with a warm feeling when you close it.
My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix
If you were caught up in the 80s nostalgia craze that came with the release of Stranger Things, or are obsessed with cheesy slasher films, then this is the book for you. Containing all the gory thrills of Nightmare on Elm Street and Sleepaway Camp, but with far more emotional depth, this novel tells the story of Abby and Gretchen, two best friends growing up in the decade of neon and legwarmers. After a night of drug experimentation gone wrong, during which Gretchen disappears for several hours, only to emerge from the woods naked and confused, Abby notices a change in her friend. She’s cooler, more confident, but also suddenly cruel, psychologically screwing with her friends’ heads and playing evil tricks. There can be only one explanation. . .demonic possession. In the ultimate test of their friendship, Abby sets out to save Gretchen, the only arrow in her quiver being the hope that the love she has for her soul sister will be enough to save her from the forces of Hell. Carefully balancing humor with horror, as well as some surprisingly touching moments, My Best Friend’s Exorcism is a rare thing indeed.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Noemí Taboada is a fashionable, party-loving debutante, well-adapted to a life of leisure, dancing, and flirtatious young men. Yet when she receives a panicky and rambling letter from her newly-married cousin, Catalina, accusing her husband and his family of poisoning her, she drops everything to rescue her beloved family member. What she finds upon her arrival is a mist-shrouded mansion overlooking a desolate town, containing chilly occupants who seem less than pleased to welcome their headstrong and inquisitive new houseguest. To top it all off, Catalina’s demeanor is strangely chipper, far from the prisoner Noemí expected to meet, and she has no recollection of the pleading letter. The longer Noemí stays in the house, the more uneasy she becomes, her sleep becoming plagued by strange nightmares. By the time she realizes she needs to leave, it may be too late. Set in 1950s Mexico, this novel contains compelling commentary on women’s rights and their efforts to grasp any measly bit of power they can (Moreno-Garcia does a great job of evoking the imagery in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper), as well as eugenics and the exploitation of native people by white invaders. This is definitely one of the better Gothic novels written in recent times.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
I would be remiss to compile a list of some of the greatest horror novels without including Shirley Jackson’s classic haunted house tale, The Haunting of Hill House. It’s the story of four unlikely individuals coming together at the infamous house with the intention of studying the supposed paranormal hauntings that have been fabled to occur there. There is Dr. Montague, the obscure professor of ghosts and hauntings who has brought everyone together for his study; Theodora, a vivacious young woman who professes to have psychic abilities; Luke, the untrustworthy, yet charming, playboy and future heir of Hill House; and Eleanor, a lonely and emotionally brittle young woman, also in possession of psychic abilities, and through whose eyes we see most of the hauntings. The phenomena the quartet experience start out innocently enough: doors closing on their own, cold spots, etc. But as the hair-raising occurrences ramp up and become more menacing, it becomes clear that the house will not be letting its new inhabitants go on their merry way once they have collected all their data. No. It intends to claim one of them as its own, turning them into one of the specters that roam its labyrinthine halls. A beacon in the horror genre, Hill House is a novel that will terrify you and have you questioning what is real and what is imagined.
The Night Sister by Jennifer McMahon
As children, sisters Piper and Margot, along with their best friend Amy, spent many of their days playing at the Tower Motel, once a thriving business in their small town that now sits in dilapidated ruins. However, while exploring one day they discovered something that made them look at their treasured playground in a more sinister light, something that irrevocably changed their friendship from that day forward. Years later, Piper is living miles away from her old home, her excursions into the Tower Motel a distant memory. . .that is, until Margot calls her with the news that Amy has committed an unthinkably evil crime, drawing her back home and forcing her to confront the unsavory discoveries she, Margot, and Amy happened upon at the motel all those years ago in an attempt to understand why her old friend did what she did. A story spanning three generations, this novel explores not only Piper, Margot, and Amy’s timelines, but also that of Rose and Sylvie, Amy’s mother and aunt respectively, who lived at the motel as young girls in the 1950s and whose own horrifying secrets have impacted the lives of those who came decades after them. I went into this novel expecting nothing more than a mystery thriller, but found it to be so much more. Full of creepy atmospheric tension, twisted family secrets, and monsters (both literal and figurative), The Night Sister is a slept-on read that is well-deserving of more praise.
Violet by Scott Thomas
I was not a fan of Thomas’s first novel, Kill Creek, so when I picked up a copy of Violet at the bookstore, I knew I was taking a risk. Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised. Kris Barlow is a newly-single mother, following the death of her husband, Jonah. In an attempt to process their grief in a comforting setting, Kris and her eight-year-old daughter, Sadie, travel to Kris’s family’s summer house, intending to isolate themselves from the rest of the world for three months. But rather than the peace they seek, they are instead met by a small, disturbed town living in fear of the ominous thing that resides in Kris’s house, an evil thing that has led many little girls to their dooms. And now, it seems to have set its sights on Sadie. As the novel progresses, and the longer she stays in the house, Kris is reminded of all the trauma she suffered there as a young girl, and is forced to confront the old friend she left behind all those years ago. A friend who has been missing her. She soon learns that this house is not the haven she sought. Full of psychological twists and deeply disquieting moments, this novel is a must-read for any lover of the horror genre.