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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?