My love for horror has recently been rekindled. With yet another dreadful Saw instalment out there, one would almost forget that there’s still plenty of original stuff around. Not only that, older works are increasingly at risk of being forgotten. To support my own memory as much as anything, here’s a quick overview of some good books I’ve read in the past month.
James Herbert – The Fog
A true classic, which has nothing to do with the equally excellent John Carpenter film (apart from a mutual interest in fog, obviously). Herbert’s fog is a bacterial disease which turns people who come into contact with it into murderous monsters. This premise results in many memorable scenes. Sure, some parts of the novel are dated, particularly its attitude towards women and queer people. And its scientific accuracy is, well, non-existent. But the novel is fast-paced, entertaining, and will leave your retinas scarred with mental images you’re unlikely to ever forget.
Graham Masterton – Taken for Dead
Once upon a time, Masterton gained notoriety as an author of horror novels and sex instruction books. He has since turned his hand to crime writing but his previous interests shine through in this novel, particularly in its terrifying opening scene. I don’t really like contemporary crime novels normally – they all seem eerily alike – but Masterton adds a freshness to the genre that got me hooked. Sure, a few loose ends remain at the end, but then again this book is part of a series and they may well be resolved in the books that follow.
Grady Hendrix – The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires
I’d already read two other books by this author – the excellent Paperbacks from Hell and the somewhat disappointing Horrorstör – so I thought I knew what to expect. Wrong. Hendrix is clearly writing about what he knows here – American Southern suburbia – and it gives the story a satisfyingly realistic edge. It also offers a refreshing twist on the vampire novel, no mean feat in a market oversaturated with Twilight.
James Herbert – The Secret of Crickley Hall
I love big fat books but I agree with the readers who argue that this book is way too long. Too much repetition, it takes too long to get going, its characters remain wooden, plot twists don’t make sense, so for a horror novel about a haunted house it turns out surprisingly un-scary. It’s by no means the worst novel I’ve ever read and it even has some good bits – they’re just buried in between endless exposition a good editor would have gotten rid of. Shame.
Michael Faber – Under the Skin
No, not the film with Scarlet Johansson. Although said film was based on the book, albeit very loosely. It’s very difficult to discuss this book without giving away major spoilers, and since it’s a mystery depending on The Big Reveal, I won’t discuss its content at all. Suffice to say that I was expecting a mildly erotic thriller about a woman who picks up fit male hitchhikers and got something very different. Something terrifying and creepy and weird. Oddly funny and moving too. Some say it’s a plea for veganism. I don’t agree. It’s more complicated than that. Just read the damn thing. You won’t regret it.
And that’s not all. My bedside table is a bit crowded at the moment, with books by George R.R. Martin (before he wrote THAT series), Dean Koontz (I can’t resist, though the last book of his I tried was a stinker if there ever was one) and Richard Laymon (more retro weirdness, I hope). Surely some of the literature professors who scolded me at uni for not having read many of the so-called classics would choke if they knew, but who cares, I’m having fun. Don’t we all need much more of that?