I’m not one that loves the gore and guts of the horror genre but I do quite like a book that can disturb and unsettle without always resorting to blood. The type of book that lingers long after you finish. The type of book that doesn’t neatly fit into one genre but brings all sort of story elements to bear to make you cringe and shiver.
These are some of my favorite genre-bending books for the encroaching dark nights of fall.
Darkness Take My Hand by Dennis Lehane
The second book in the Kenzie/Gennaro series this was definitely not a letdown from the Boston author’s Shamus-winning debut. If anything, it amped everything up to 11 and showed up Lehane had range and talent to spare.
The writing and deep characterization is still there but this book is visceral in how the violence and damage of the past can continue to reverberate into the future. One of the few thrillers I re-read every few years, the ending always has my fingernails digging into the edge of the sofa.
Something Wicked This Way Comes Ray Bradbury
Sometimes I feel like this should be required reading once the days get shorter and the leaves start changing colors. This book almost feels like fall personified: the deep darkness, the approaching night, and the universal fear of the unknown. No one was better at describing the night than Bradbury. “Somewhere in him, a shadow turned mournfully over. You had to run with a night like this so the sadness could not hurt.”
Bradbury’s classic story tells of an October night when a sinister travelling carnival pulls into a midwestern town and interrupts the lives of two young boys. The Pandemonium Shadow Show is really holding up a mirror to the hopes and fears of a changing small-town America.
Most of those themes still resonate today and, like the best books, it ages so well, too. While I often read and identified with the boys, I know find myself seeing the father in a new light.
John Connolly’s first Charlie Parker, Every Dead Thing, won a Shamus Award for best debut novel, and was also the LA Times Book of the Year. The character quickly became a favorite and is now approaching 20 books in the series. What’s ususual for the genre is the mystery books often detour into the supernatural. But crucially, Connolly never uses that as a plot cheat.
Like the best ghost stories, the settings are often bleak and dark small communities where the supernatural never feels that far away.
Never Let Me Go Kazuo Ishiguro
You’re likely to find this 2010 novel in the literary section but make no mistake this books conjures up a stifling sense of paranoia and doom that it would be much more at home in psychological horror.
It follows three friends through their years at Hailsham, an isolated but seemingly pleasant boarding school. When they finally leave the school’s grounds, they realize the truth about the place where they grew up. There are no out-and-out scares, but that sense of unease only grows.
Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
If you’ve only seen the movie you are only getting have the story. Actually, the movie does a great job adapting the book and nothing in the book is really left out. You just get more of it. And who doesn’t want more Lector? At least when he’s in a cage.
The move is so, rightfully, iconic that it’s easiest to forget just how good the book is and how much of an impact (and blueprint) it’s become for the modern thriller.
The second person perspective intros feel a little wonky, and the technical aspects have not aged well, but everything else from the structure, pacing, and characterization remains impeccable.
If you’ve only seen the movie or only remember Harris from the lesser and later Lecter books, do yourself a favor and set aside a few days to read this classic.
This is a classic case of a book you can read to your kids and they might find it amusing while you cringe in abject terror. Coraline lives with her busy, distracted parents in a big house with many doors, including one that leads to nowhere. Coraline’s mother has already unlocked it to show her that there are only bricks behind it.
But one long, rainy, boredom-filled day, Coraline opens the door again to find it leads down a mysterious passage and into a house that is just like her own with a few eerie differences: her “other” mother and father are very attentive but have big black buttons for eyes. The other mother is creepy as all hell and Gaiman deftly toes the line between darkly humorous and totally terrifying.