One of my most interesting 2020 developments has been my renewed commitment to reading. I’m on my 24th book right now. I’ve read 3 fantasy series and a lot of horror. I may talk about fantasy later, but here are the best horror novels I read in 2020.
The Good House is probably the best haunted house story I’ve ever read. It starts with a 4th of July party, where protagonist Angela Touissant’s son kills himself without warning. It ruins her life, driving her to move away from her family home, passed down from her grandmother. The book picks up 2 years later, when she agrees to stay at that house again, before putting it on the market to sell. The Good House has great characters and relationships, a good control of feeding you information, and its back-story is extremely creative. I cannot recommend this enough if you want to read a high-quality literary horror novel.
If you’ve never read Tananarive Due, she’s like Steven King but better. I also recommend her novel My Soul to Take, which I read a few years ago. That one is also incredible.
I wasn’t sure I was going to like this one, but it sucked me in almost immediately. This follows Charleston housewife Patricia Campbell, who starts a book club with the other neighborhood wives to read true crime and thriller novels. But when a new neighbor moves in, things start taking a harsh turn. There is such a sense of place and character in this book. You really feel like you know these women and become invested in their little lives. So when James Harris comes to town, manipulates this neighborhood, and menaces Patricia, you really fucking feel it.
I think this belongs in the canon of must-read vampire novels, because it’s such an interesting take on how a vampire would operate in a realistic world. James Harris barely needs his powers. He’s smart, manipulative, and socially charming to everyone. He makes himself indispensable and beloved. And that allows him to be an insidiously predatory piece of shit. I haven’t hated a villain this much in years, nor felt this threatened by one. I got really pulled into this book.
This is an interesting choice for me, because “The Troop” by Nick Cutter, which I also read this year, was one of the scariest books I’ve ever read full-stop. So why this one instead? Because it’s a better book. Not as scary, but a better book. Why? Because I love these characters and I think this is Cutter’s best story. Little Heaven is about 3 mercenaries hired by a woman to infiltrate a cult compound in a deep forest and make sure her nephew is okay. Simple, right? It should’ve been. But this forest has got worse things than a cult. Way worse.
Our mercs are: level-headed Micah Shughrue, the deadly and professional Englishman, and the hot-headed, untested Minerva, who has vowed to kill the Englishman when they’re done. The book is split between the cult operation in the 60s, and a final reckoning 15 years later, which is an odd choice. But it contributes to a feeling of this being a modern western. Of Cutter’s books, Little Heaven scared me the least, but it’s definitely his best story. But I say read them all if you want some hardcore horror. They’ve all got some fucking nasty deaths and they’re all good stories.
If you haven’t heard of Junji Ito, he’s a legendary horror manga artist, and for good reason. His stuff is both incredibly creative and crushingly brutal and nasty. Tomie collects the entirety of his first comic. Tomie is teenage girl who gets murdered and comes back. Over and over. But Tomie is a monster who only resembles a teenage girl. Any part of her that gets cut off grows another copy. And Tomie herself is evil and inspires intense desire in men. Men who will do anything for her, until they feel compelled to cut her up and kill her. The comic explores what she is, what the rules are, and all the ways Tomie can ruin people’s lives. It’s fucking incredible. I blazed through the whole thing and barely stopped. I will absolutely read Uzumaki in 2021.
Good lord this book ruled. First of all, this isn’t so much “horror” as brutal action. It feels like a female-driven Die Hard movie about the most fucked up wedding I’ve ever experienced. Basically, this insanely rich couple invite their perceived past enemies to an isolated destination wedding in the Swiss Alps. They accept, because from their perspective it was no big deal and these are old friends. The destination is called The Venue and they specialize in doing any crazy thing the client wants. And what the client wants is violence and death. I really dug how this went down. I found it very cool and very funny.