By now most of you know me as a comic fan, and while that will always be true, there’s another world of geek in me that was born about the same time. Evident from my new book, “Nightmare Noir” (available here), I’m also a horror fan. I’ve long been fascinated with the macabre. With that in mind, I present to you my top ten horror books (not written by me). Now keep in mind, the keyword of that title is ‘my’. I’m not claiming these are the ten best horror books of all time, just the ten that I most appreciated.
10. Meg by Steve Alten – When putting this list together, Meg was the first book I could think of and not because it was particularly good either. I don’t know what it is about this book, but ever since I read when it was first published in 1997, I loved it. I think (I hope) it’s more about my fascination with the ocean and my abandoned dream of being a marine biologist, and every young kids love of dinosaurs. The book is about a prehistoric megalodon surviving to current day and terrorizing swimmers and boats alike. Seriously, who wouldn’t love a book about a giant dinosaur shark eating people? Sure, it wasn’t scientifically accurate, and I was aware of that as 15 year old reading it, but sometimes fun trumps all, and that’s what we have here.
9. World War Z by Max Brooks – If we were talking about my favorite books in general, this would rank higher, but as it stands, it wasn’t a very scary book. While it certainly fits in the horror genre, what with the ‘Z’ of the title referring to zombies, the style of writing removes the fright factor of the book. That said, this was a fantastic take on a zombie book exploring the effects of a zombie breakout on a planet wide scale, while still making it about the individuals affected.
8. The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker – As far as his writing goes, Clive Barker is probably best known for ‘The Books of Blood’ volumes 1-6, or perhaps ‘The Great and Secret Show’, but my favorite of his that I’ve read has to be “The Hellbound Heart” the basis for the ‘Hellraiser’ movie series. Hellbound is without a question the goriest entry on this list, and it’s so viscerally written the images left in your mind are some of the most disturbing things you’ll ever force yourself to picture.
7. Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz – Dean Koontz has one fatal flaw when it comes it his writing; he doesn’t know when to leave well enough alone. He’ll drive an idea into the ground well past its entertainment value. Thankfully “Odd Thomas” is a fresh idea from the scribe. Odd Thomas is a young man who is able to see the dead, and he uses this ability to solve their deaths and help them move on to the afterlife. I know, you’re waiting for the original part, and that’s found in the writing. This novel starts off solving murders, but progresses into stopping a mass murdering spree.
6. Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton – Setting out to create this list, one of the things I wanted to avoid using an author’s best known work; as such I was going to use Michael Crichton’s ‘Eaters of the Dead’ (which is a fantastic read itself) the basis for the movie ‘The 13th Warrior’, but I couldn’t ignore the sense of wonder “Jurassic Park” instilled while building to the fears that I knew were coming. It’s a fantasy/science fiction book that evolves into a horror novel that attacks the same elements of wonder it just built up in the beginning of the book.
5. The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath by H.P. Lovecraft – The creator of the Cthulhu Mythos, H.P. Lovecraft has plenty of stories to choose from, but I decided on a book that doesn’t actually have Cthulhu in it. What this story does include is a man plagued with night-time visions of a wonderful foreign land. But here we don’t mean foreign as in across an ocean, but actually across the cosmos into a different dimension. Once these visions go away, he’s haunted by the memories of this land, Kadath, and dedicates all he has to finding a way to travel there. ‘Dream-Quest’ is most notable for greatly expanding on the Cthulhu Mythos, and introducing concepts and characters that have gone on to star in their own stories.
4. Dracula by Bram Stoker – Do really I need to say much about this? What I will say is that if you liked the movie but haven’t read the book, you don’t know what you’re missing. This book is truly one of the best reads you’ll ever have.
3. The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe – I mentioned the first criteria I gave myself for this list that I already broke, which was not using the author’s most famous work. The second self-imposed criteria was to avoid any short stories/poems. This entry breaks both of them. Edgar Allan Poe has more horrific stories in his catalogue, but the way he subtly drives the narrator insane with so few words is truly a masterpiece. Besides, if “The Raven” was good enough for The Simpsons, it’s good enough for all of us. Full disclosure, I have a raven tattoo for Edgar Allan Poe, that may have influenced my voting on this story.
2. Salem’s Lot by Stephen King – No list of horror anything is complete without at least one entry from Stephen King, and while I could make an entire list of King novels (which I just might do later on), I limited myself to one entry per author here. For this list, I’m picking “Salem’s Lot”, one of King’s earliest novels. “Salem’s Lot” (which I think everyone mispronounces since it is a shorter use of Jerusalem, but I digress) is a vampire story, and in some extremely broad sense is actually a sequel to Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”. It poses the question, what would happen if Dracula, going by a different name, attacks a small town in Maine, USA. The real ‘charm’ of this book, is the slow build; almost too slow. This is a long book to begin with, but it’s made even longer by drawing out the first half, where King introduces you to every citizen of the town. He makes you comfortable with your surroundings, yearning for a soda-pop at the drive-in movie, then he shatters that allusion with a chilling tale. A tale, mind you, that you knew you were getting ready to read, before he lulled you into a false sense of happiness. It’s that mastery of making you forget what you were reading, to only remind you in such a dark way that earns Stephen King such a top spot.
1. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde and Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – IO understand that when there’s a tie I should only be using 9 books, but screw that, this is my list and I’ll do what I want. Besides, this isn’t a traditional tie in the sense that I couldn’t choose which book was better than the other, they tie because they’re both incredible examples of a similar story. Heinrich Faust and Dorian Gray both make deals for their souls, although only Faust is aware his deal is with the Devil. The books then detail the downfall of each of these men. “Faust is the more classic approach to this narrative, but for my money, “The Picture of Dorian Gray” told a much better overall story, one that should be on everyone’s list of books to read. The stories themselves aren’t gory, or even chillingly terrifying, in fact many people wouldn’t consider them ‘horror’ novels by today’s standards. What make these books so significant for me, is how they explore the darkness within each of us and what happens when we embrace that darkness. Faust’s dealings with Mephistopheles, the devil, are the basis for many of the images we have of the devil in modern media. The skewed reflection of Gray’s tragic visage in his portrait is a stark reminder of the evil that lives in his soul, and possibly our own.
• Feed by Mira Grant – This was a fresh take on life after the zombie apocalypse with a technological twist that I found new to the genre.
• The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells – If you’ve never heard of this book and/or can’t figure the premise from the title, don’t bother.
• Criminal Macabre: The Complete Cal MacDonald Stories by Steve Niles – The only reason this book didn’t make it into my top ten is because it is sort of a cheat. This is a collection of all short stories and two novels of the supernatural/hardboiled crime sort of detective, part monster hunter, Cal MacDonald. The entire book was great, and I couldn’t decide on a single entry to highlight.
• Everything by C.J. Henderson. This is a personal one for me. C.J. is an author I met on several occasions, and his work strongly inspired my book “Nightmare Noir”. I even put an homage to his main character, Teddy London, in the book. I recently learned of his passing after a battle with cancer, and can think of no better way to honor his legacy by introducing new readers to his work. Get to it faithful readers.
Remember to keep reading, and enjoy life.