With the increasing popularity of e-readers and lit websites, is has become harder and harder for good horror fiction to go unrecognized. Nevertheless, I’m grateful to the various bloggers and Tweeters and genre authors who shared their fiction recommendations as I was compiling this list. It doesn’t matter if you’re reading a 6-pound Justin Cronin hardcover or Gillian Flynn’s latest on a 2-ounce e-reader, the fiction market flourishes through word-of-mouth. Sure, e-readers don’t have a wicked cool cover you can sneak a glance at, but if the owner looks engaged, reach out, ask what they’re reading. Personal recommendations are the internal combustion engine of the fiction market.
With that in mind, approach the following list of novels as my personal recommendations for 2013, rather than the best of the year. A couple of colleagues have stated that this was a somewhat shitty year for horror fiction, but I disagree. There was plenty of good stuff out there. But it helps if you ask around.
10. Corrosion, by Jon Bassoff
(September 10; DarkFuse)
Jon Bassoff’s debut is a fever dream of a horror novel. With its unreliable narrator, shady characters, and themes of identity and memory loss, Corrosion is a trippy slice of neo-noir that reads like a brief detour through hell. Using tight, descriptive prose that cuts to the quick, Bassoff is a literary stylist on the rise.
9. Cain’s Blood, Geoffrey Girard
(September 3; Touchstone)
There’s high-concept, and then there’s high-concept, and Geoffrey Girard’s debut novel––about teen clones of renowned serial killers set loose upon the world––is about as high-concept as it gets. Mixing hardcore science with a breakneck pace, Cain’s Blood is like taking a bitchin’ college class in madness and murder.
8. NOS4A2, by Joe Hill
(April 30; William Morrow)
Whimsical to a fault, Joe Hill’s newest novel is jam-packed with enough imagination for an entire series. His child-warping, Christmas-loving villain, Charlie Manx, is one of the best end-level bosses in all of fiction, evil and memorable enough to receive a mention from none other than Stephen King (Hill’s father, who name-dropped Manx in Doctor Sleep). This guy Hill is a world-builder working at the top of his game.
6. (Tie) The Darkling, by R.B. Chesterton (April 1; Pegasus)
This House is Haunted, John Boyne (October 8; Other Press)
These slow-burn ghost stories are equally good, and they have too much in common not to share a spot on this list. Both are deeply rooted in the gothic tradition, and if you like one, you’re virtually guaranteed to dig the hell out of the other. R.B. Chesterton is the alias for Carolyn Haines, the author of a cheeky series of novels about a female P.I., while John Boyne wrote The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, which Miramax made into a heart-crushing movie. But strange minds think alike. The authors did some sort of Vulcan mind meld for their respective ghost stories, resulting in a killer double-feature custom-made for fans of movies like The Others and The Orphanage.
5. Let Me Go, by Chelsea Cain
(August 13; Minotaur Books)
So you like your serial killer fiction a little dirty? Well, Chelsea Cain has got your fix. Her titillatingy twisted Sheridan/Lowell series––about an aging detective’s steamy relationship with a foxy serial killer––nails the fun side of perverted with her newest entry, Let Me Go. Currently in development at FX, this is one of the best fiction series out there. The prolific Cain has released one book a year for the past six years, all bestsellers, and all a little bit naughty. Yeah, those horror fanboy crushes on Cain are completely understandable. Save me a place in the stalker line-up.
4. Doctor Sleep, by Stephen King
(September 24; Scribner)
As a sequel to what may be the scariest novel of all time, Doctor Sleep can’t help but disappoint. But judged on its own merits, Stephen King’s psychic thriller is an unmitigated success, a rollicking tale of mayhem and mind-reading that’s as satisfying as a steak dinner. Unspooling his story with the effortless grace of an aging pro, King is a living reminder that old dogs can learn new tricks. With 2011’s 11/22/63 and now Doctor Sleep, he’s an author confidently striding into a golden age.
3. Red Moon, by Benjamin Percy
(May 7; Grand Central)
Benjamin Percy’s riveting novel imagines an alternate universe where werewolves are responsible for the majority of anti-American terrorism. While it may lay the political and cultural symbolism on a bit thick at times, Red Moon is first and foremost a rich, absorbing epic about bad-ass werewolves. Stop by for Percy’s thought-provoking allegory, but stay for the super sweet lycan attacks.
2. Scowler, by Daniel Kraus
(March 12; Delecorte Press)
Possibly the most depraved and disturbing novel I read this year––and Scowler is a Junior Library Guild Selection. No shit. Aggressively pushing the boundaries of YA horror, Daniel Kraus’s haunting tale of child abuse is staggeringly violent, featuring grisly scenes of torture and mutilation. But Kraus’s narrative isn’t exploitative, instead adopting a stark, sober tone that forces the reader to face the grim reality of child abuse, as well as the legacy it leaves behind. We’re excited to see if Kraus’s brand of dark, morbid horror will make its way into the Trollhunters novel he’s currently co-writing with Guillermo Del Toro.
1. Wayward, by Blake Crouch
(September 17; Thomas & Mercer)
Book two of the best horror/sci-fi series you haven’t been reading. Blake Crouch’s brilliantly paced, meticulously plotted novels––about the mysterious developments in ‘Wayward Pines‘, an isolated, heavily surveilled mountain town–– deserve a much wider audience. With M. Night Shyamalan’s Fox mini-series arriving in 2014, Crouch and ‘Wayward Pines’are about to hit the big time.
Best Horror Anthology
The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All, Laird Barron
(September 3; Night Shade)
In what was an unusually weak year for horror anthologies, Laird Barron’s much anticipated, much delayed collection of stories was the clear stand out. A Barron story is essentially a short novel. He establishes settings and characters with a speedy, sly panache, whisking the reader away to a different time and place inside of the first few pages. And once he starts setting shit in motion, there’s simply no backing out. As Barron is both a native Alaskan and a Lovecraft enthusiast, many of his stories are rooted in hunting and the outdoors, or the Cthulu mythos, or both. In short, it’s an anthology perfect for your next camping trip. Through his brief career, Barron has developed a fervid fan base amongst other horror authors. There’s a reason why.
Best Picture Book
Alternative Movie Posters, by Matthew Chojnacki
(October 28; Schiffer Publishing)
When it comes to creating decent movie posters, the Hollywood studios have obviously lost the flavor, but the heart of cinema beats loud and strong in this stunning collection of underground movie art. Matthew Chojnacki has compiled over 200 fan-made posters for this fat, gorgeous tome, many of which reference deep cuts from the horror genre. Put it on your coffee table and get yourself laid.