Thursday, October 22, 2009

Halloween Reading

This is a post that went live in October 2007. It is far from a complete list, but I still really like the novels and authors I chose to include. If I were to do it over I would also include a few other authors / books that have brought a nasty bit of entertaining fright and horror since I wrote this. A few—Cage of Night by Ed Gorman; Stir of Echoes by Richard Matheson; Terminal by Brian Keene; and Afraid by Jack Kilborn.
Also, the numbering next to the authors name means absolutely nothing. It is simply a means to separate the authors into their own tidy category.
The end of October is in sight, and that means one thing: Halloween. Halloween is a favorite holiday of mine, and as it approaches I find myself filled with an unexplainable sense of excitement—it is the twelve year-old boy in me craving a past that no longer exists, but it is also more than that. It is the excitement of autumn—the days are shrinking, the shadows are lengthening, and nights are deepening. I love the cool crisp air, the idea of coming winter, but mostly the spooky chill that is Halloween.

So in honor of Halloween I’m going to list a few of my favorite horror writers—five to be exact. The only rule in this selection of authors is: there are no rules.

1. Jack Ketchum. The work of Jack Ketchum is truly frightening. He generally doesn’t employ the horror norms of demons, goblins, and poltergeists, but instead he creates truly frightening evil in the form of humanity. He shows us the worst elements that can exist in us all, and then unleashes it on the characters of his stories. If you haven’t tried Ketchum, do it soon.

My favorite Jack Ketchum novels are: The Girl Next Door, Off Season, Red, and his short story collection Peaceable Kingdom.

2. Richard Laymon. I discovered Richard Laymon in the autumn of 2000, and I quickly found and read every novel that was available in the United States for less than the price of a small automobile, which at the time was about sixteen of them. His work can be gross, violent, and very nearly pornographic in places, but somehow—especially in his better novels—he lightens it with humor, and adolescent innocence.

My favorite Laymon novels are: In the Dark, The Traveling Vampire Show, One Rainy Night, Night Show, Into the Fire, and Among the Missing.

3. Stephen King. This is a writer who truly needs no introduction, but I’m going to give him one anyway. Mr. King writes with a power that few modern writers have—he creates working class characters so real and vibrant that when he eases mysticism and fantasy into the stories it doesn’t feel forced or unreal. It is simply part of the story, and very believable.

My favorite King novels—specifically aimed at Halloween are: The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, The Stand, ‘Salem’s Lot, and his short story collection Skeleton Crew. I have never read a Stephen King novel I didn’t like, but the aforementioned titles are spooky enough for any Halloween.

4. Douglas Clegg. Mr. Clegg probably has more raw talent than any other horror writer currently producing mainstream horror. His voice is strong, clear, and very frightening. His work runs from chilling ghost stories to vampires, to the more cinematic and gory. I have yet to find a Clegg novel I didn’t like.

My favorite Douglas Clegg novels are: The Infinite, The Attraction, The Hour Before Dark, and Nightmare House.

5. Dean Koontz. Mr. Koontz is another writer who needs no introduction. His work is difficult to categorize because he is able to mix and match genre elements with ease. His early work was mainly in the science fiction genre, but he also wrote in the suspense, horror, romance, and mystery genres—now all of these genres can be found in his work. I especially enjoy his work from the 1980s, but I really haven’t found a Koontz book I didn’t enjoy.

My favorite Dean Koontz novels--with a Halloween twist--are: Lightning, Midnight, The Bad Place, Twilight Eyes, and The Face of Fear.
An additional word on Dean Koontz. I have read several Dean Koontz novels in 2009, and with each reading I gain more and more respect for his work. He is the master of the big suspense novel. His style and ability allows him to write a large and complex novel without losing the intimacy of a smaller voice novel. He truly is the voice of modern suspense and his work, at least parts of it, should survive his and my generation. At least I hope it does.


Realtor from Toronto said...

Hi. Nice review. I think I will choose something from these books. However, I've already started reading something classical - Dracula from Bram Stoker. I love stories about vampires and this one is my favorite. Halloween without some good book or horror movie is not Halloween, at least for me.

Best regards,

MP said...

I used to love Koontz, but think he peaked in the late 70s and early 80s. After that he seemed to get too caught up in pushing his Libertarian philosophy at the expense of storytelling, and I say this as someone who mostly agrees with him. Robert Heinlein did the same thing in his later novels, and the books really suffered for it. Clegg can be really good, but he's wildly uneven. Your most startling omission is Peter Straub, who has been King's only serious competition over the years. His "Ghost Story" has been my favorite horror novel since I read it nearly 30 years ago.

Ben Boulden said...

Julie. I agree. The best part of Halloween is the scary films and novels. I also enjoyed DRACULA when I read it several years ago. An interesting note: There is a new Dracula novel titled DRACULA THE UN-DEAD by a great-great nephew (or something) of Bram Stoker. It is written in the letter-journal format of the original. It sounds interesting.


Ben Boulden said...

MP. I agree that Heinlein's later work was deeply flawed. His early stuff was terrific. STARSHIP TROOPERS, which contained a massive dose of libertarian ideas (dare I say propaganda?) was well enough written that it didn't bother me a bit. Although the later, larger novels, weren't nearly as fortunate.

As for Peter Straub, I'm embarrassed to admit that I haven't read any of his work. I have both KOKO and GHOST STORY in a box. Maybe I'll get GHOST STORY out and read it before the month is over.


Craig Clarke said...

All great choices, especially Stir of Echoes, which I think is highly underrated, even among Matheson fans.

I really enjoy Al Sarrantonio's Orangefield novels. He offers a very Ray Bradburyesque feel to Halloween horror.

Also, if you haven't read it, Norman Partridge's Dark Harvest is by far one of the best Halloween stories. I'll have a review up on Monday.

Tosser said...

If you ever get the urge to review Kilborn's AFRAID, please don't fight it. I thought it was a fast, fun, and very entertaining novel. Oddly, for a book with so much carnage, it almost had a sweet air to it. Hope more people grab a copy.

Ah, Halloween...

Ben Boulden said...

Craig. That is an apt comparison between Bradbury and Sarrantonio's Orangfield novels. I've read most of the Orangefield stories and while I enjoyed the heck out of them, I never made the connection. But now that you have, I completely agree.

And DARK HARVEST has been on my "wanna-get" list for too long. I'll check out your review.

Tosser. I really liked AFRAID. It reminded me something of 1990s Dean Koontz--particularly the paranoia--and it was a fast heady ride. I wish there were more novels of that type being released.

Oh, and I actually did write a review for AFRAID earlier this year. You can read it here:


Tosser said...

So you did. Just got back from reading it, and agree with everything you wrote.

Looking forward to Mr. Kilborn's future novels.