Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Too much horror business

The vast majority of horror novels are not mediocre or even bad, but fully execrable. Given to the worst writing in nearly all of publishing, disturbing fascination with acts of violence and sadism and an utter disregard for a reader's intelligence, most people would rather pick up a Sweet Valley High story than anything found in the horror section. That's unfortunate because there are horror novels that don't make you hate humanity for allowing these literary abominations to see print. Here are but a few.

Stephen King, in particular late 70s, early 80s King. King's books are the rare airport reads that are worth a damn. Yes, they are stacked next to pages of airy nonsense, but his books are actually quite good. While his books are marked with graphic violence, the true focus and value of his books is the examination of the petty and not so petty evils lurking just below the surface of humanity and society. And they are very often great stories to boot. The Shining, Salem's Lot, and Pet Sematery are well worth any reader's time.

Eat the Dark by Joe Schreiber. This one is creative and frightening without a recourse to gross-out violence to make it "scary." I particularly like how the hints of nastiness he gives that create lingering feelings of dread.

The Ruins by Scott Smith. This one is controversial to say the least. Many people hated it, especially the way the victims fail to see ways of escape. I liked it as a grim picture of people slipping into despair.

Ghost Story by Peter Straub. If you ever go to those paperback bookshops that sell beat up copies of popular fiction, you will find lots of Straub. Despite his good sales, I think he is overshadowed by King and perhaps lumped in with Dean Koontz. Do not make this mistake. While I think Straub's books vary in quality, this one is every bit as good as the best of King.

Dark Harvest by Norman Partridge. Partridge has been writing horror novels for over a decade and this most recent one is quite strong. It is short, but it is an effective and nasty story.


Anonymous said...

I really appreciate this post (coming from someone who likes a good horror, but tends to not find them easily).

If I'm not mistaken, Peter Straub *is* Stephen King. King just used a different name.


kwandongbrian said...

I think Straub and King collaborated on a young adult book involving a prince locked in a tower by his brother and an evil wizard. Dragon.... was the title.

I read Dark Harvest on your recommendation and enjoyed it but it didn't feel 'horrory" to me. It was a dark tale of death and revenge, sure, but just didn't feel that scary to me.

I hope I don't earn your scorn by saying so but some of Saberhagen's books, chiefly in the Dracula series he wrote, made me feel some dread. I think they were lightweight work but they made me shiver on occasion.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget that Straub and King collaborated on The Talisman, which I loved as a 14 year old. Not sure whether it would stand up 20 years later.

I always liked King's short story collections, which contain some of his scariest and best work. His son, who writes under the name Joe Hill, published a good (if somewhat uneven) collection called 20th Century Ghosts last year. Some of the stories reflect Hill's inability to decide whether he wants to write for the New Yorker or for a horror audience, but the first story in the collection, "Best New Horror", is a showstopper. Scared me to the point of sleeping with one eye open.


Tripp said...


Glad you liked it! Finding good horror is such a chore. They all look the same and there aren't even any good trade paperbacks to call out the decent ones. On Straub=King, are you thinking of Richard Bachman?

Kwandong Brian,

You are right about Dark Harvest, it isn't really scary. But does the scary pumpkin cover count for something?

Saberhagen did Dracula novels? I had no idea. When I think Saberhagen, I think Berserker.


There is something to what you say about New Yorker vs. horror (and it is quite amusing), but do you think that the two are exclusive? Maybe yes, but I am not sure.