Parajunkee’s View has issued a six-day Spooky September Challenge. I figured I’d participate, as there’s nothing I like better than the run-up to Hallowe’en. Seriously, folks, you have no idea how much I love Samhain. I love October 31st so much that I book time off from work to coincide with the day (usually a full week). I love Hallowe’en so much that my significant other is boggled by my enthusiasm for handing out candy at the door.
When we lived in the Ottawa Valley, I loved watching the trees turn colours and feeling the leaves crunching under my feet. I loved the crisp scent in the air. For me, it’s a magic. It is the one time of year that I honestly feel homesick for somewhere else. September is just the lead-in to that feeling.
So the topic for today is Top Ten Spooky Books. I went on a safari to remind myself of all the “spooky” books in my home, and try to distill down to the ones that hit me the hardest. To give full disclosure, my home is stuffed with books. We love books so much that we haven’t had the heart to donate all the “duplicate” books that occurred when we moved in together. Even the ones with the same covers.
There are likely spookier books in our home that I haven’t read yet. I grew up at a time when librarians didn’t recommend Lovecraft to precocious 10-year-old girls, and I’m squeamish enough that hardcore horror movies aren’t in the cards. If it weren’t for a father who loves science fiction movies and a grandfather who used to slip me Stephen King novels when nobody else was looking, I think my list would likely be the best of “Nora Roberts writing as J.D. Robb”.
Here are some of the more memorable favourites from our collection:
by Frank De Felitta, 1975
“Suppose a stranger told you your daughter was his daughter in another life? Suppose you began to believe him? Suppose it was true?”
My paternal grandfather believed in literacy. As a result, there were all kinds of books squirrelled away wherever there was space. I think I found this one hidden away under a lamp in my Dad’s old bedroom. Years later, I picked it up at a used bookstore. Once you get past the fact that a very young Brooke Shields modelled for the cover (!), you quickly get engrossed in the story of a family torn apart by a stranger’s belief that his little girl has been reincarnated into their daughter. What’s worse is that it seems to be true. The copy I have includes pictures from the movie, so it’s really easy to get into a 70’s kind of mood, complete with dated wardrobe. I definitely recommend giving it a read!
Darkly Dreaming Dexter
by Jeff Lindsay, 2004
“He’s a serial killer whose one golden rule makes him immensely likeable: he only kills bad people”
The Husbeast and I discovered the book around the same time we discovered the TV show. They were both good. You somehow believe that Dexter truly believes that he is harnessing his dark needs to do good work. The book gives even more insight into the character than the TV show does, to the point where you really start to notice when the series diverges from the books. That said, this first adventure is amazing. The hunt for the Tamiami slasher really does come alive on the page. It’s no wonder the series lasted as long as it did.
There is an excellent article on Wikipedia detailing the differences between the novel and the series.
The Amityville Horror
by Jay Anson, 1977
“On December 18, 1975, a young family of five moved into their new home, complete with finished basement, swimming pool, and boathouse. Twenty-eight days later, they fled in terror, leaving most of their belongings behind.”
How could you not be chilled by this book? Yes, the movie is famous, but because of my difficulty with visual horror, the book has always been my go-to. It’s a classic ghost story, complete with manifestations, possessions, and ghost hunters. The one unfortunate part of the story is that whether or not you believe that the Amityville home was haunted (many don’t), there was a horrific murder on the site. Once you get past the realities and allow yourself to sink into the story, however, there are lots of good scares to be found. This book makes a wonderful gateway to discovering all the ghostly tales of ghost hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren.
by Stephen King, 1978 / 1990 (uncut)
“Because something was coming. He could feel it, almost taste it on the night air. He could taste it, a sooty hot taste that came from everywhere, as if God was planning a cook-out and all of civilization was going to be the barbecue. Already the charcoal was hot, white and flaky outside, as red as demons’ eyes inside. A huge thing, a great thing.”
I first tried to read The Stand somewhere in the mid-80’s, before the uncut edition came on the market. I just couldn’t get into it. I’d get only so far, and the story would just…slip away from me. A couple of my male classmates (who found it a bit odd that A Girl was reading horror) remarked that they’d had the same problem. Once the book was re-released in the uncut form, it made a lot more sense. I couldn’t tell you exactly what was added into the book, but apparently it was significant.
The Stand starts off as a novel about a large-scale flu/plague epidemic. We meet a diverse group of characters in their everyday lives and get to know the good and the bad, warts and all. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that there is more than everyday survival at stake. People aren’t just finding a convenient place to hole up for the winter and learn how to build fires, slaughter their own livestock and knit socks — they’re choosing sides in a greater struggle between good and evil.
I always seem to find myself reading this book when I have a cold of some sort or another. If combatting the common cold while reading a book about a plague doesn’t scare you, maybe the fact that influenza still outbreaks yearly will. It has caused at least three pandemics in the last hundred years, too. Remember, there’s still no sure-fire cure for the flu.
The Bone Collector
by Jeffery Deaver, 1997
“With police detective Amelia Sachs by his side, Rhyme must follow a labyrinth of clues that reaches back to a dark chapter in New York City’s past — and reach further into the darkness of the mind of a madman who won’t stop until he has stripped life down to the bone”
I saw the movie first. I admit it. It looked like a good movie, and I have no regrets. The cast is wonderful. There are certain roles that don’t care what colour an actor is as long as they can act, and Lincoln Rhyme is one of them (Rhyme is white in the book, but played nicely by Denzel Washington). To this day, I see Queen Latifah’s “Thema” in my head instead of the novel’s “Thom”, and I really don’t mind. I read a Lincoln Rhyme book, it’s a diversity party in my brain.
That said, Deaver expertly weaves the story of a disabled former forensics specialist who only wants to end his torment. When a talented young cop finds and preserves a crime scene just before her transfer off the beat, he finds himself intrigued enough to solve that one last case — with her as his surrogate on the scene.
Deaver is a master of the mid-novel twist, and if you like surprises, you’ll enjoy this book. You could compare it to a modern day Sherlock and Watson, but I like to think that the characters survive quite nicely on their own merit!
by Alan Moore (story), Dave Gibbons (artist), and John Higgins (colourist), 1986/87
“None of you understand. I’m not locked up in here with YOU. You’re locked up in here with ME.”
Wait, what….a comic book? And one with superheroes? Not Weird Tales or something? Yep. You may not think that Watchmen fits in the categories of “thriller” or “horror”, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t elements.
I grew up in the 80’s, when the cold war was on the wane. That doesn’t mean that the times weren’t still coloured by the Cold War. These days, people are scared of terrorist actions within large cities. I grew up with a strange foreboding that a large foreign country would accidentally land nuclear warheads on Canadian soil enroute to the US. Terrorism was something that mostly happened in the UK, and if anyone knows how to deal with terrorism on their native soil, it’s the British.
Moore is British, but his story is set in an alternate version of the US. Nixon was never impeached. Instead, his term has been indefinitely extended. Superheroes exist, though only one of them can really be considered superhuman. The threat of nuclear war is ever-present.
You can get all of this from the movie, which was really quite well done. The actors are almost spot-on in their resemblance to the comic, and the sets are very similarly picture-perfect. What you don’t get are the extras (and the real ending, which wouldn’t have suited the movie as well as one would have hoped).
You don’t get the Tales of the Black Freighter, a comic book within the comic in which a shipwreck survivor becomes the one thing he fears — curiously paralleling the greater story. You don’t get the byplay between the reader of The Black Freighter and the news stand owner who doesn’t like the friendly loiterer. You don’t get the greater story of why scientific and artistic lumiaries around the globe are disappearing, part of Rorschach and Night Owl II’s investigation after the death of The Comedian.
You want chills, thrills, and a damn good story? Hit up your local bookstore (or comic shop) and pick up the graphic novel. The Husbeast has lost at least three of them to various friends over the years (and if you want more of Moore’s dark tales, pick up From Hell and V for Vendetta (not the movie) while you’re at it).
Interview with the Vampire
by Anne Rice, 1976
“You see that old woman? That will never happen to you. You will never grow old, and you will never die.
And it means something else too, doesn’t it? I shall never ever grow up.”
Bram Stoker gave us Dracula, but it was Anne Rice who made vampires truly sexy. By the time I found this gem in the Arnprior Public Library, my parents (and the Librarian) had given up hope of keeping me away from the “adult” section. Besides, it had history! Romance! Brooding Heroes! Bisexual Vampires!
The thing with Rice’s vampires is that whether they are brooding or bon-vivants, they are still savagely lethal. They are terrific in every sense of the word. Louis is the vampire who, like a vegetarian at a Rodizio, doesn’t want to live off humans. Lestat is the self-aware creature of the night. Together they create Claudia, who becomes a grown woman trapped in the body of a little girl. Through them we get to see a world shrouded in mystery and power, just out of our touch. Like his guest, we want to join Louis and his brethren rather than learn from his tale of darkness.
(I’m including both the front and back covers for this book because that portrait on the back always caught my sense of whimsy. Seriously, how gorgeous is that??)
“‘Everything down here floats,’ that chuckling, rotten voice whispered, and suddenly there was a ripping noise and a flaring sheet of agony, and George Denbrough knew no more.”
“Once, during the drinking phase, Wendy had accused him of desiring his own destruction but not possessing the necessary moral fiber to support a full-blown deathwish. So he manufactured ways in which other people could do it, lopping a piece at a time off himself and their family.”
I’m giving these two a tie, because they’re both equally chilling.
When I was a kid, I liked to read ghost stories and books about things that went bump in the night. Often they were library books, but sometimes a relative would gift one to me. I had one book that was particularly terrifying at a young age — and for the life of me, I can’t remember what it was called. I do know that until I came up with some coping mechanisms, it gave me some horrible nightmares, mainly because I would insist on reading right before bed.
My coping mechanism was to substitute the kind of monster I was reading about with the word “it”. If I wasn’t actually absorbing the word “ghost” or “werewolf” or “troll”, things were easier to deal with.
And then Mr. King came out with a creepy, horrifying thriller about a monster known as “IT”. Worse, it involved kids just a few years younger than me!
Oh yeah. Nightmare time.
And yes, I was in high school by the time I read the book. Doesn’t make it any less creepy.
As for The Shining…I think I purloined my mother’s copy. At least, I think it was Mum’s. Every so often a Stephen King book would appear in our house, and I never bothered to question where it came from. You see, if you question where a book comes from, there’s always the risk someone will take it away from you (and you don’t want that). My parents weren’t the worst culprits for this…they were just happy to have literate children. My grandmothers, however, had very clear ideas as to what a young lady should and should not read. I can’t remember what I thought of it at the time other than liking it. At the time I first read it, I was taking home up to twenty books from the library per visit, and generally returning them before the two week lending period was up. Motorists on John Street North became used to the sight of a pre-teen girl walking down the street from the library with her nose in a book (a talent that I still possess).
I re-read the book last year after being gifted Doctor Sleep. I decided that I wanted to read them back-to-back. It was a good decision. The story of a family slowly eroding to pieces as isolation and a malevolent environment slowly chip away at them was haunting.
I feel that the movie and the book are two separate entities. I have my reasons.
by Neil Gaiman, 1996
“Richard did not believe in angels, he never had. He was damned if he was going to start now. Still, it was much easier not to believe in something when it was not actually looking directly at you and saying your name.”
I was pretty sure that Neil Gaiman was a Fantasy guy until I read Neverwhere. Don’t get me wrong, Neverwhere is fantasy, but it’s also a good old-fashioned scary book. We have a clueless hero who is even an outcast in his regular life (even though he might not realize it), a damsel in distress who is determined to save herself, a vast supporting cast of London’s supernatural underground, and two of the most chilling villains I’ve ever read. Croup and Vandemar are as much a team as Laurel and Hardy or Abbot and Costello, but their humour is of the funny-peculiar sort rather than funny-haha…and stopping to laugh could be the death of you.
House of Leaves
by Mark Z. Danielewski
“However, The haven-Slocum Theory also points out that this course is not without risk. An even greater number of people dwelling on The Navidson Record have shown an increase in obsessiveness, insomnia, and incoherence: “Most of those who chose to abandon their interest soon recovered. A few, however, required counseling and in some instances medication and hospitalization. Three cases resulted in suicide.”
This is my number-one spooky book. Numero uno. Some call it an academic satire (more footnotes than Pratchett), some a love story…I call it horror.
This book has screwed with my sense of dimension and comfort level in dark places. I don’t think that my co-worker L has ever seen me that jumpy. Ever. I had trouble going down into the basement in my own house, and it’s a well-lit, fully-finished basement.
Johnny Truant’s best friend lets him know that an apartment has opened up in his building. When Truant takes possession, he finds the previous occupant’s personal effects are still there…and he finds the old man’s study of a documentary called “The Navidson Record”. There are references to a video in which a house spontaneously starts changing dimension on the inside while remaining the same size/shape on the outside. The weird thing is that despite the incredible amount of scholarly work on the documentary, the actual film doesn’t seem to exist.
The story happens on multiple levels — The story of Johnny Truant and his family, the story of the previous tennant, Zampanò, and the story of the Navidson family featured in the documentary. There are literal twists and turns, and codes hidden throughout the text. You can jump from one end of the book to the other, then go back to where you left off. There is also apparently a soundtrack inspired by the book that was written by the author’s sister (Poe).
Ever get the feeling that something is following you up the stairs? Nipping at your heels? Threatening to trip you? Yeah. I had that feeling a lot. To the point where I took a break from the book to get my equilibrium back. I probaby should have just soldiered on through, but I’m a wuss.
If you haven’t read this book and you like mysteries, puzzles, and feeling off-balance? Buy this book. If you have a choice, get the full-colour version with all the annotations, appendices, etc. I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy it as much as I do!