What timing! That our discussion of books that fit into the Horror Genre fell into October is nothing but coincidence! (That is, if you believe in coincidences -which don’t seem to happen much in this particular genre…) The broad definition of horror could be that these stories are meant to frighten the reader through strange and unnatural occurrences, which may or may not be attributed to the supernatural world. Some of these books are more violent than others, but there are also plenty of stories that are even more frightening because it’s about perception and how your own mind might be turned against you. -Did you just get a shiver down your spine? Me too!- Mostly, I’d say everyone found a book they found satisfying, and few nightmares were reported, so there is a strong chance you too can find something in the following list that you just might enjoy!
Julie: Johnny Dixon is a reoccurring character in a John Bellairs series that has 13 year old Johnny and his friends, Professor Childermass and schoolmate Fergie, getting into supernatural trouble. In The Revenge of the Wizard’s Ghost, Johnny lies near death as a long dead enemy of the Childermass family has taken possession of him in hopes of wreaking revenge on the Professor. It’s up to his friends to save him from sure death! While Bellairs is considered to be for children/young adults, anyone looking for a creepy story with a nostalgic feel can enjoy.
Megan: In the Shadow of the Blackbirds by Cat Winter is a chilling debut novel set in 1918, during the height of the Spanish Influenza epidemic. Sixteen-year old Mary Shelley Black is sent to San Diego to live with her aunt after her father is arrested as a traitor. Despite the ever present fear of the flu and war, Mary Shelley is eager to reunite with her childhood friend, Stephen. When she learns that Stephen’s brother has made a name for himself among Spiritualist by claiming to photograph the spirits of the dead, she sets out to prove him a fraud. Her plans are derailed when she herself is visited by an unsettled spirit. Illustrated with haunting photographs of the era, this is a must-read ghost story!
Emma: The Picture of Dorian Gray was the only novel written by Oscar Wilde. Dorian’s portrait is painted by Basil Hallward as a gift to 20-year-old Dorian. It is such a beautiful painting, Dorian wants the portrait to age and not him, and he gets his wish. As Dorian and Lord Henry Wotton become close friends, Dorian’s life becomes more corrupt and the portrait changes. Suicides, murder, and accidental shootings occur, and the portrait becomes more grotesque. Dorian is determined to change his corrupt ways and decides to destroy the portrait, but he himself is destroyed. The novel received harsh criticism when it was first published in 1891 but today is considered a great classic work.
Maureen: Night Shift by Stephen King is the first collection of short stories ever published by the author. The book was published in 1978 and covers a wide variety of typical King creepiness, from a deadly new flu virus strain to a serial killer to deranged trucks demanding humans do their bidding to a college student stalker. Most of the stories in the book were later made into motion pictures (most notably “Children of the Corn”) or adapted for television, even though several of them are less than 20 pages long. One of the best and most interesting things about this book was the foreword, which King wrote himself, and which provides a good deal of insight into his reasons for writing in the horror genre. He describes writers as filters and his theory of writing surrounds the different types of material (which he calls “sludge”) that make it through different peoples’ filters. For him, it is the stuff of fear. As bits and pieces catch in his particular filter, over time he pieces them together into a horror story. One of the best stories I read in this collection was called The Man Who Loved Flowers. In typical King fashion, he takes a simple, everyday action like a man buying a woman flowers, and turns it into a twisted, psychotic, demented tale of murder in broad daylight. A very interesting read and a peek into one of the greatest horror writers of all time at the beginning of his career.
Steve: The Ruins, by Scott Smith, is a creepy horror story that starts with a great premise. Six college age vacationers in Cancun set out to look for the brother of one of them, who has disappeared while off exploring some Mayan ruins with a girl he has met. On their way to the ruins, the tourists find a covered trail and soon notice Mayan villagers following them. When they step over what seems to be an imaginary line in a clearing, the Mayans pull out guns and arrows, keeping the vacationers trapped with-in the perimeter. Stranded on a hill above the clearing, on their own for survival, the group soon discover the horror that they must fight. If you are ok with the events not being explained at the end, this is a good enough read, but I would have liked more of a conclusion.
Ann: In The Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Koontz the main character is Amy Redwing who rescues dogs. When she rescues Nickie, a golden retriever from an abusive home, she immediately senses a connection. Her own dogs, Fred and Ethel also sense that Nickie is special and defer to her as the Alpha dog. Amy and her boyfriend Brian both have baggage from the past, and when evil comes back to haunt them, the dog Nickie is right there with them. The horror in this thriller is the horror that one person inflicts on another. There are lots of twists and turns in this story with supernatural elements. Ultimately this is Dean Koontz’s book to honor his own beloved golden retriever Trixie.
Dori: In The Devil in Silver by Victor LaValle, Pepper is admitted to an underfunded, urban psychiatric hospital in New York City after accosting a couple of policemen. Quick to anger, but not mentally ill, he’s brought there for convenience, but is then drugged and forgotten. As he gets to know his fellow inmates, he learns about a monster who is kept at the end of one of the hallways behind a steel door, but escapes at night to terrorize, and sometimes kill, the patients. Banding together, the patients form a plan for eliminating the monster and escaping the hell of their hospitalization. Black comedy mixes with social commentary in a book where the monster may not be what he seems.
Stacey: For readers interested in finding something classic *and* unnerving, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward by H.P. Lovecraft,in graphic novel format, should be just right. Charles Dexter Ward began looking into his family’s past to unearth the truth of local gossip. It was said that one of Ward’s ancestors remained youthful beyond when it would have been reasonably possible, it was rumored this man was a necromancer. The more Charles discovers about this ancestor, the more he seems to lose touch with reality. Finally committed to a hospital for his own safety, there is a good chance that Charles might be in as much danger from outside sources as he is from the workings of his own mind. The gifted illustrator of this graphic novel took a dark, mysterious story and boosted it into something even better.
See? Not so “horror”-able! Next time? Well, we’ll be looking for you cowpokes around the campfire! That’s my hint that we’re reading… Westerns! If you want to read along, you should hunt down a story that takes place in the western North America. There should be a clearly defined conflict and resolution, with heroes that might be flawed but get the job done! Enjoy!