Horror fiction is a mixed bag. There are masterpieces and then there are novels that are about as scary as an ice cream on a sunny day. But the best horror drags you in and makes you scared to turn off the light. Here are three of the best horror novels that all fans should read.
The scariest book I have ever read and contender for greatest horror story ever told. Stephen King is the master of horror – you could write a lengthy article about his best works. But The Shining is one of the greatest (alongside IT and The Stand – which I recommended in my article: The Best Dystopian Fiction).
When Jack Torrance gets a job as winter caretaker at the Overlook Hotel in the Rocky Mountains, it seems the idyllic location for quality time together with his family. But as winter takes hold, the hotel comes to life and only Jack’s son, Danny, can save his family before it is too late.
We’ve all seen the film based on the novel, directed by Stanley Kubrick. I am a fan of the film, but the novel is far superior. The backstory of the hotel and the horrors it holds are explored in much greater depth. And the scene in the children’s playground with Danny still gives me chills.
In short, if you like horror fiction but haven’t read The Shining, then you don’t like horror fiction.
James Herbert is one of Britain’s most celebrated horror novelists. Although The Fog is perhaps his most famous work, my personal favourite is ’48.
In 1945 Adolf Hitler unleashes a deadly biological weapon on Britain as a final act of vengeance before his defeat. The virus, known as the Blood Death, kills most of the population: some quickly, some over years. Our protagonist, Hoke, is one of the few with a rare blood type that makes him immune to the virus. ’48 tells the story of his battle to escape London and the fascist Blackshirts who are chasing him for his blood (literally).
’48 is a superb mix of horror, suspense thriller, and dystopian masterpiece. It provides an alternative history that is truly terrifying to contemplate. The least known of my three recommendations, but no less worthy of your time.
A timeless classic of the horror genre. Written over two hundred years ago, Mary Shelley’s tale of Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist who creates a monster in a science experiment is as frightening and compelling now as it was then.
The style of Frankenstein is great. It begins with a series of letters from a ship’s captain, who recalls finding Victor Frankenstein on a journey to the North Pole. The novel then goes on to tell the story from both Victor and the monster’s perspective.
The novel has inspired a plethora of horror fiction and, later, television and film. One to read for your horror fiction bucket-list, for sure.
Things that go bump in the night
There are lots of good horror authors but there are few great ones. King, Herbert and Shelley are masters of the genre. Their stories combine suspense with scares by the plenty. So grab one of these books, turn out the lights and read by torchlight if you dare…
(Image by Daniel Jenson, courtesy of Unsplash)