Fall is upon us—as if you couldn’t tell from the scent of pumpkin spice in the air, the renewed sounds of mysterious scraping emanating from that empty attic room above you, and, of course, a veritable cornucopia of new horror books arriving on shelves everywhere. This season offers a suspiciously robust harvest of grim reads; below, we highlight eight of the most terrifying.
Echoes: The Saga Anthology of Ghost Stories, edited by Ellen Datlow
A book to keep you busy long after October 31, this beautifully atmospheric anthology full of eerie stories by some of the best horror authors of the last 150 years, from cult figures to mainstream successes. Assembled by venerable horror anthologist Ellen Datlow (who also has a new volume of her long-running The Best Horror of the Year series out this season), it includes such stories as Ford Madox Ford’s classic “The Medium’s End,” a tale of a seance gone horribly wrong; Richard Kadrey’s darkly comic “A Hinterlands Haunting,” in which a dead man seeks his wife; and Paul Tremblay’s “
Ice Cold Lemonade 25¢ Haunted House Tour: 1 Per Person,” a pop-cultured infused nostalgia bomb about a haunted drawing and the pain of middle school. Full of creepy houses, vengeful dog spirits, and an author whose presence refuses to leave, this colossal volume is bursting with ghosts— real, metaphorical, and metaphysical—and is sure to have a story to spook just about anyone.
Standout Stories: “Icarus Rising” by Richard Bowes, “The Ghost Sequences” by A.C. Wise
Violet, by Scott Thomas
Scott Thomas’s debut Kill Creek was a revelation: a bloody, beating-heart valentine to the genre of horror that showed the writer knew his chosen arena inside and out and was more than capable of building something new inside of it. In Violet, he proves that first book was no fluke. It’s a brooding, methodical novel about grief, trauma, family bonds, and an inability to let go of the past. After her husband is involved in a horrific auto accident, Kris Barlow takes her daughter to her family’s house on Lost Lake to find an escape from the trauma. But rather than an idyllic lake house and a bright cheerful town, Kris encounters a grim, dilapidated mansion in a dying lakeside community. Worse still, something is definitely off about the house—a feeling that the past still haunts the place, and it isn’t quite done with Kris yet. Violet is a bit of a slow burn, but its relaxed pace and small-town vibes give it a grounded Twin Peaks flavor that allow Thomas to ramp up the psychological tension and dread the further it goes, as each subsequent scare or reveal further shatters the sense of quiet unease like a hammer blow.
Trolls, by Stefan Spjut, translated by Agnes Broomé
Ten years after a brush with the insane cult leader Lennart Brösth traumatized Susso Myrén in Stallo, a strange shapeshifting wolf creature escapes from a research facility just as Lennart breaks out of psychiatric care, hell-bent on revenge against the woman who put him away. As Lennart draws closer to Susso, these bizarre events begin to intertwine with yet others, including the existence of a woman with strange powers of suggestion, a group of mouselike creatures able to drive people into a violent rage, and the web of murder and ghostly intrigue surrounding Susso’s family and friends. While there are definite supernatural influences at play, Spjut’s multilayered, darkly surreal narrative spends much of its length examining the inner lives of its human characters—meaning the titular shapeshifting “trolls,” when they do appear, are even odder and more alien. With occasional flashes of pitch-black humor and one bizarre, near-comic circumstance after another, this is a dark novel with just enough cracks in it to let in a little bit of light.
The Twisted Ones, by T. Kingfisher
T. Kingfisher (pen name of writer and illustrator Ursula Vernon) serves up a bizarre story with Southern gothic flavor. Mouse is a young freelance editor tasked by her elderly father with cleaning up her late grandmother’s house. What she finds is a rotting heap in the isolated woods, filled to the brim by her with creepy dolls and countless newspapers. But while sorting through the increasingly unsettling detritus of her grandmother’s life, Mouse discovers her step-grandfather’s journal, a seemingly insane collection of ramblings mentioning both “the twisted ones” and a book her grandmother apparently hid. Mouse can’t quite pass it off as deranged nonsense, especially after the neighbors begin to drop hints about “things in the woods” and her own odd encounters with things on the property make her begin to question wether there’s more truth to the journal than it at first appeared. Mouse’s sardonic observations and humorous asides about the bizarre events she’s become entangled in are reason enough to pick up the novel, but Kingfisher’s most imaginative touch—and the one thing that keeps this truly hair-raising book from being too scary to read while home alone—is the inclusion of Bongo, her protagonist’s dumb, dutiful, and extremely loyal canine companion, who is just the kind of four-legged savior we’d all be lucky to have should we ever face our own brush with the supernatural.
A Lush and Seething Hell, by John Hornor Jacobs
Comprised of two novellas about found art and grim history, A Lush and Seething Hell delivers an upsetting and incredibly vivid pair of cosmic horror stories. In The Sea Dreams It Is The Sky, an enigmatic poet from a fictional South American country tasks a literature professor with taking care of his apartment, where she finds his troubling memoir and a set of pictures that draw her into a nightmarish world in which twisted beings feed on the turmoil of others. In My Heart Struck Sorrow, a folklorist with the Library of Congress finds a diary and a box of field recordings of Appalachian and Southern folk musicians with a secret occult history centered around variations of the song “Stagger Lee.” Both tales present a beautifully surreal nightmare for the reader, their horror quickly building as their respective researchers dig deeper into their unsettling investigations.
Imaginary Friend, by Steven Chbosky
Written in a kind of stream of consciousness that fits its vivid and surreal tone, Chbosky’s second novel (and a total U-turn from his first, the YA classic The Perks of Being a Wallflower) begins with a strange encounter between a little boy and a monstrous old woman and only gets weirder from there. Imaginary Friend follows Christopher, a young boy who vanishes into the woods near the small town he lives in with his mother, only to emerge days later with no memory of the time he spent there, and afflicted with weird nightmares and a drive to build a odd sort of tree house in the trees where he disappeared. Chbosky absolutely nails the voice of his young narrator, with Christopher referring to the presence that supposedly led him out of the woods as “the nice man,” and depicting his thoughts moving from one topic to the next in almost a seamless stream. But this is far from the novel’s only strength; Chbosky fleshes out the town of Mill Grove via the points of view of several other narrators, creating a vast work of suburban horror that stands alongside classics like Stephen King’s IT and Dan Simmons’s Summer of Night.
Full Throttle, by Joe Hill
Joe Hill has a knack for creating situations and places that seem familiar to us, and then twisting them slightly, revealing hidden horrors glimpsed only from our skewed new perspective. Full Throttle, his second collection after 2005’s 20th Century Ghosts, brings together some of his best short works from between 2006 and the present, covering stories of friendly robots, bookmobiles that serve the deceased, sinister carnival rides, werewolf stockbrokers, and lake monsters—stories of bizarre events that nevertheless retain a distinct and unusual touch of humanity. Hill is a versatile talent, and this kaleidoscopic collection whirls from crime premises that sound like they could be out of a hardboiled noir, to lyrical and magical-realist works dripping with atmosphere and impressive visuals, to midwestern gothic nightmares straight out of the ’70s horror heyday. Across them all, Hill’s clear voice and talent rings through loud and clear..
Standout Stories: “Late Returns,” “Mums,” and the new Netflix original “In The Tall Grass”
Hollywood North, by Michael Libling
Subtitled “a novel in six reels” and based on the World Fantasy Award-nominated novella of the same name, Libling’s debut novel follows three children in 1960s Ontario obsessed with movies and comics, who also happen to be the only ones able to sense the wrongness in their town, a place where the adults seem determined to ignore the strange events unfolding all around them: plane crashes, train accidents, dog attacks, and disappearances. Gus, Jack, and Annie are the closest of friends, only pushed closer together by the other kids’ rejection of them for being weird—Jack in particular becomes local-paper famous for his knack for finding weird objects, including a trove of old film props dating back to the towns days as the “Hollywood North” of the silent movie era—a discovering that leads to a menacing warning from a local reporter to destroy them and never mention it again. Libling dives into the ominously quiet town of Trenton and builds up the relationships between the three leads as they slowly figure out the dark secrets lurking beneath Jack’s discovery and the town’s black history. The chemistry between trio, who love to talk movies and engage in playful disputes on the monkey bars, provides an emotional grounding to a story that only grows more sinister as it chugs along.
What new horror reads are scaring you this fall?