As we head for the longest, darkest night of the year, it seems the perfect time to gather round for a ghost story, so the staff of Queen’s Park Library would like to recommend some horror fiction.
The major trend in recent years has been toward the paranormal romance provided by authors such as Charlaine Harris and J R Ward, but there are still many readers who prefer their heroines to flee the vampire, not fall for him. There are plenty of excellent titles in stock at Westminster Libraries, well worth recommending to the fan of ‘conventional’ horror.
Readers who enjoy a subtler, more traditional creepy story have been in luck recently with a couple of brilliant releases from bestselling authors:
Dark Matter, by Michelle Paver
An atmospheric novel set during an ill-fated Arctic expedition. It’s an unsettling read and conveys a genuine sense of isolation and dread.
One of our favourite titles (scary or otherwise) of the year.
The Small Hand, by Susan Hill
Like Hill’s previous ghostly tales The Woman in Black and The Man in the Picture, this short novel steadily builds an eerie mood as the tale of an antiquarian bookseller plagued by spectral presences unfolds.
In addition to these well-known titles there are lots of other options:
Collected Ghost Stories, by M R James
The master of the understated ghost story, James’ quintessentially English ghost stories remain hugely influential and are a must for any fan of the genre.
Best Ghost Stories, by Algernon Blackwood
Think M R James but with a touch more occultism, Blackwood’s weird tales are another genre essential. This volume contains two of his most celebrated stories, The Wendigo and The Willows.
The House of Lost Souls, by F G Cottam
The crimes of the past resonate as the protagonists attempt to uncover the secrets of the sinister Fischer House. A modern take on the classic horror themes of cults and devil worship with some effective 1920s period detail.
Florence and Giles, by John Harding
A gothic chiller which drew favourable comparisons to Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw and features not one but two sinister governesses.
Twelve year old Florence is determined to protect her younger brother Giles from dark forces, but is everything what it seems? Florence is a memorable character and numerous plots twists keep the reader intrigued.
The Woman in Silk, by R J Gadney
An army captain retreats to his remote ancestral estate to recover from the horrors of Afghanistan. Needless to say his recuperation doesn’t go according to plan and a series of troubling events leave him questioning his own sanity. Descriptive and disturbing.
Some readers prefer their horror with a bit more bite, and authors such as Shaun Hutson, James Herbert, Richard Laymon and Edward Lee are probably best avoided by the squeamish. Horror fiction has earned an unsavoury reputation but a selection of contemporary novels shows it is possible to combine hard-hitting horror with decent writing:
Mr Shivers, Robert Jackson Bennett
During the Great Depression Marcus Connolly heads west in pursuit of the man who murdered his daughter. This book convincingly describes both the collapse of a nation and the personal tragedy of one man, reminiscent of Neil Gaiman with respect to the mythology Jackson Bennett creates.
World War Z, by Max Brooks
Survivors of the zombie apocalypse recount their experiences to a researcher. Despite the presence of zombies the book is played absolutely straight and reads as if it were non-fiction; it’s surprisingly poignant as a result. A major film adaptation starring Brad Pitt is due for release in 2012 so one to keep an eye on.
The Passage, by Justin Cronin
A humanity versus vampires epic (not the suave caped kind of vampire either, but the very unpleasant results of an anti-ageing experiment). A mammoth read but plenty of action to keep the pages turning.
Hell Train, by Christopher Fowler
Better known for the Bryant and May detective series, Fowler is also a respected author of dark tales. January 2012 sees a return to horror with Hell Train. Touted as ‘the supernatural chiller Hammer Films never made’, it certainly sounds promising!
Horns, by Joe Hill
Stephen King’s son proves to be a credible author in his own right. The premise sounds utterly bizarre- protagonist wakes one morning to find he’s sprouted a pair of small horns and some unsettling powers – but somehow it works. Offers some interesting ideas about the nature of good and evil, the characters are strong and well-developed plus a devilish sense of humour runs throughout.
The Ritual, by Adam Nevill
Nevill is earning a reputation for producing contemporary horror that remains true to the spirit of M R James and his latest novel is no exception. The bleak Scandinavian wilderness is the perfect setting as four hikers encounter an ancient evil.
Anno Dracula, by Kim Newman
Dracula has established himself as Queen Victoria’s consort and England’s ruling classes are now blood-suckers in this entertaining alternate history. Sounds daft but Newman skilfully blends historic fact, well-known literary characters and his own creations to brilliant effect.
Haunted, by Chuck Palahniuk
Perhaps not an obvious choice but the author himself describes this as the last in a trilogy of horror. Set in a writers’ retreat, this collection of inter-linked short stories is undeniably extreme and very graphic.
The Forest of Hands and Teeth, by Carrie Ryan
Yes, it’s another post-apocalyptic zombie novel! This successful adult/teen crossover is a bit different though; there is action, certainly, but the focus is protagonist Mary’s determination to escape the suffocation of life in her small village. The story unfolds long after the dreaded event and the exploration of established post-zombie society is fascinating.
Zone One, by Colson Whitehead
Colson Whitehead is not really a horror author and consequently this isn’t typical horror, although there are zombies a-plenty. Gore takes second place to intelligent writing and sharp satire and the end result is rather touching.
[Queen’s Park Library]