Top Ten Scary Books: Books That Scared the Undead Rat

Horror Book Lists, Popular

I’ve resisted doing a top ten list because I’m not as well read as I feel I need to be to make a declarative list. The truth is, I’ll probably never feel like I’m a well read in horror as I need or want to be.

That being said, I have put together a list of ten books that have scared me at some point in my life. It is a very personal list. I would recommend any of the books on this list for a good read but I cannot guarentee that they’d scare you as they did me.

I’ve broken the list into two parts.

The first group of books are those that have scared me in the last 10-15 years, basically since I became the Undead Rat and made a study of horror literature my life long passion.

The second smaller group of books are those that scared me when I was a teenager or a young man in college and the willing suspension of disbelief was as easy as breathing. I don’t know if I’d find these books scary if I were reading them for the first time today.

  1. City of Masks (The Cree Black Series #1) by Daniel Hecht — This book taught me that ghosts can be frightening and one of the ghosts that rampages throughout this novel is one of the most frightening of all.

  2. The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum — This book is disturbing on many levels and spikes into outright fear several times, but the height of fear, for me, came when Meg tried to escape but stopped long enough to collect her sister.

  3. Vessels (The Timmy Quinn Series #3) by Kealan Patrick Burke — In the first two books (The Turtle Boy and The Hides) you come to care about Timmy Quinn. In this book the stakes become explicit and any easy way out — like suicide — is barred — lest Timmy become a murderous ghost.

  4. Ghost Story by Peter Straub — One of the two protagonists in this book, Ricky Hawthorne, is an older man with years left but not in the best health. The scene where he is running through the forest was surprisingly scary and left me fearing for his life.

  5. Fear In a Handful Of Dust: Horror as a Way of Life esp. “Duty”, both by Gary Braunbeck — The short story contained within this non-fiction book was horrific and emotionally devastating. But the biographical elements — like Gary’s recollection of the night the police invaded his childhood home — were frightening too. Although I read and treasure Fear in a Handful of Dust, I suggest these days you pick up To Each Their Darkness, which is Fear rewritten to be the book Gary wanted it to be but couldn’t make it all those years ago. To Each Their Darkness has all those horrorifying bits and “Duty” as well.

  6. The Shining by Stephen King — I can’t pin down a scene that was scary like I can in other books but the night I finished this book I slept with the light on.

    I read the stories below when I was a teenager and willing suspension of disbelief was as easy as breathing. I don’t know if I’d find this scary reading it for the first time today.

  7. Phantoms by Dean R. Koontz — A monster that seemed to be everywhere and all powerful? This was the first time I’d encountered this type of story — an all powerful, seemingly invincible monster vs. the good guys. I still love this kind of story — all the way back to the Hittite myth “The Song of Ullikummi.”

  8. Soulstorm by Chet Williamson — A ghost story but what frightened me as a young adult was Seth Cummings who accepted the deal with the trapped spirits and began weightlifting only to emerge a few hours later and visit the protagonists in the kitchen. It was a scary scene and my mind eagerly visualized what had been done to his body and I have that image to this day.

  9. The Wolfen by Whitley Strieber — As Detectives George Wilson and Becky Neff come the realize the Wolfen exists, the book gets truly scary. The reader soon realizes — from several points of view — including one of the Wolfen’s — that George is burnt out, used up . . . and in Wolfen terms: easy prey.

  10. The Fog by James Herbert — This book about a fog that turns people into homicidal and suicidal monsters is a delicious list of gruesome yet humorous deaths. Fear set in when a woman attempted to drown herself in the Ocean before realizing she really wanted to live and turned back to shore and got the shock of her life. I read this at a time in my life where I battle depression and the urge to “end it all.”

Well, that’s it. That’s the list. So tell me, what books have scared you?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Oleksiy Markunin Feb 16, 2011

    Thanks for sharing! “The Girl Next Door” is not scary, it’s “disturbing”. You’ve picked the right word.

    • The Undead Rat Feb 17, 2011

      Hey Oleksiy,

      You’re right. And it’s even more disturbing when you read about the real life case that Jack Ketchum’s book was based upon. I read the book first and then checked out Wikipedia to find out about the torture/murder of Sylvia Liekens. It left me shaken, to say the least.

      Thanks for dropping by and commenting.

      • Mark Gamer Feb 20, 2011

        I read the book , saw the movie and saw a documentary based on it. One of the most disturbing books I ever read and it sounds like some of it was worse for her .

        • The Undead Rat Feb 22, 2011

          Hi Mark,

          I agree. It’s a very disturbing book — the first Ketchum novel I’d read. I’m now reading the second novel he ever wrote (although not the second to be published) called Ladies’ Night and despite all the rampant violence (I love rampant violence in my books) it still seems tame compared to The Girl Next Door.


  • Midnyte Reader Feb 16, 2011

    Great list! I’ve only read Phantoms and I *think* I read The Shining. The books that have scared me are Pet Semetery and I just Dracula and I thought that was pretty scary!

    • The Undead Rat Feb 17, 2011

      Hello Midnyte Reader,

      Thank you!

      Pet Sematary has truly scared a lot of people since its publication. I don’t know why it didn’t scare me. Perhaps because I was too young?

      If I’d read after having kids it would have scared me silly. I’d probably never let them go outside and would have kept a death grip on their hands whenever I we needed to walk near a street.

      By the way, why is it you only *think* you read The Shining?

      By the way, I enjoyed your review of Dracula. I can’t believe you called it messed up. That made me laugh.


  • Rabid Fox Feb 16, 2011

    If you’re worried about coming off as not well-read, don’t be, because I’ve only read four of the books on your list. Still, I’ll say The Wolfen was a disappointment for me. The Shining, Ghost Story, The Girl Next Door, however, all scared and disturbed the heck out of me.

    • The Undead Rat Feb 17, 2011

      Thank you Rabid Fox,

      I’m sorry The Wolfen didn’t come through for you but I’m glad the others scared you. Based on what you’ve read, I’d suggest finding To Each Their Darkness. You’d get a pair of short stories by Gary Braunbeck (including the Stoker Award winning “Duty”), a list of movies that will becomes “must sees”, a bit of biography (Outside of the stories these were the horrifying parts) and great advice for the horror writer.

      Yeah, I peeked at your blog, Wag the Fox to find your pressure points. ;)