I’m binge-reading horror novels this winter. Not a genre I’m familiar with, and I hate horror movies, but ghost stories are cool. These novels have made my commute a lot more fun lately.
Horror must be a tough genre to get right. From what I’ve heard and seen, the novels have this way of petering out towards the end, guess it’s easy to get some explanation wrong and turning an exciting mystery or spooky monster into something plain silly.
Endings can leave a lot to be desired, too – happy endings don’t make sense and “and then everybody was dead” isn’t very satisfying, either.
In the order I read them:
“The Outsider” (2019) by Stephen King
A kid is murdered, solid evidence points to the town’s beloved football coach, but he has a water-proof alibi. Like, what’s going on? The murder mystery’s engrossing as hell for the first half or so, but doesn’t quite stick the landing. Fun read, but not as good as “The Shining” or as spooky as some parts of “It”.
(My favorite King novel so far, is “The Long Walk” (1979), written under his pseudonym Richard Bachman.)
“The Gone World” (2018) by Tom Sweterlitsch
Gritty “True Detective”-style crime novel, but wait, there’s time travel, too, and it goes to the end of the universe, which, it turns out, is terrifying and also soon! The tone is a bit dry for my taste (the first chapters felt like they were mostly police and military abbreviations), but the story, characters and atmosphere more than made up for it.
“The Haunting of Hill House” (1959) by Shirley Jackson
A haunted house classic, for good reason. A scientist invites a couple of young women to take part in an investigation of a creepy, old mansion. Looks a bit clichéd today and isn’t all that spooky, but the author sure knew how to build tension. Well worth the read, short and sweet.
“Hell House” (1971) by Richard Matheson
Now this is more like it, like “Hill House” cranked up to 11! On his deathbed, a media mogul gives a scientist and a pair of mediums a week and a handsome sum of money to give him the definite answer to the question of whether or not there is an afterlife. They get to work, looking for answers in the most evil house in the world, apparently. The main protagonist, a sceptic who calmly explains every phenomenon away, is accompanied by a medium straight out of your typical “what was that!?” ghost hunter reality show and the only survivor from the previous “Hell House” expedition. A couple of the other characters are bordering on comic relief, but at least the relief is welcome, because the house lives up to its name.
“The Shaft” (1990) by David J. Schow
Total page turner, pulp-tasting “splatterpunk”. This time, the haunted house novel has (in the novel’s parlance) had a giant toot of nose candy, met up with “The Thing” and invited a Miami drug dealer, a sassy prostitute and... a lovesick graphic designer. Loved every page of this coke-fueled bad trip, definitely a lot better than it sounds. Highly recommended.