If you love to read, there are so many excellent books being published lately. From masters to rising stars, these authors have all written fantastic works in many different forms. As with any post like this, the books listed here are by no means the end-all-be-all of horror books published in the last few years, but they’re some of the best that I’ve certainly read in the last year-and-a-half. From a definitive list on lurid novels published during a certain span of time to expertly crafted thrillers and short story collection chillers, dig into this compact compendium of recent must-read horror novels, collections, and film essays — perfect reading for the Halloween season. Enjoy!
With chapters titled: “Hail, Satan;” “Creepy Kids;” “When Animals Attack;” “Real Estate Nightmares;” “Weird Science;” “Gothic and Romantic;” “Inhumanoids;” and “Splatterpunks, Serial Killers, and Super Creeps,” you know you’re in for a good time. Having seen Hendrix’s spoken word performance of Paperbacks From Hell at Fantasia (followed by performances at NecronomiCon in Providence, Fantastic Fest, and PhilaMOCA), I was instantly hooked.
Hendrix’s treatise on the pulpy horror, sci-fi, and exploitation paperbacks that were born during the late ‘60s through the early ‘90s is a rare delight. In the book, he reminisces on such oddities found in musty piles of mass-market treasures, such as: Nazi leprechauns; the phenomena of women running from houses; Satanic cults and their forbidden charms; history on the illustrators responsible for creating the insane face of these books; unwanted test tube baby mutations; evil bunnies, crabs, kitties, and insects; aliens who induce orgasms that literally melt people’s brains, and so much more.
Essentially, Paperbacks From Hell is a jaw-dropping, knee-slapping journey through the most bizarre stories in the annals of publishing — and Hendrix’s historian-esque knowledge and writing voice are so damn accomplished, that they might make me mad if I didn’t love the book so much.
Disclaimer: Fassel is a contributing writer here at Heard Tell, and yes, I know him somewhat, but neither of those reasons is why I’ve included his book here. Read on and you’ll see why his novel has made this list — it certainly left a mark!
This novel is one of the most surprising books I’ve read in a long, long time. It takes place in the grimy underbelly of 42nd Street and the grindhouses, flophouses, bus stations, and seedy vans. One of the main characters is Nicolette, a wealthy female serial killer who helps run the Staten Island landfill — which provides the perfect dumping ground for her victims. Reading the passages from her point of view is fantastic and unique, as her visions and how Fassel describes them are endlessly fascinating. For instance, she believes she is the mythical Minotaur, sent to murder the “pornai,” the working girls of New York.
On the other hand, we have Ginny, who works for “The Colonel,” the pimp who owns and runs the Misanthrope Motel. Ginny not only recruits new girls but teaches them German and runs a book club. She’s also fierce as Hell, born into a terrible childhood, and takes care of her paralyzed sister. Think of her as “chaotic neutral.” When Nicolette begins hunting Ginny’s girls, and then Ginny herself, it’s a true battle royal. Our Lady Of The Inferno recalls early Joe Lansdale and heralds Fassel as a major talent to watch. Highly recommended.
Golden is a prolific author who works in comics (often with long-time collaborator Mike Mignola), scripts (the new Hellboy reboot), media-tie-ins (movie or TV series novelizations), and short stories. He also podcasts and edits anthologies of short stories. Does he sleep? Probably not.
Anyway, Golden knocked this one out of the park. Dead Ringers is about a group of Bostonians who discover that they have doppelgangers who are also fitter, better looking, and excel at everything they do. It’s a bit Invasion Of The Body Snatchers but the richly developed characters are followed by terrors of the more supernatural sort. Genuinely chilling scenes unfold — in the vein of The Birds, for one, and by way of The House On Haunted Hill remake in a psychomanteum (a 19th Century apparition box). As the doppelgangers hunt down their targets, Dead Ringers becomes a gripping case of “who will survive and what will be left of them.” The novel is cinematic, for sure.
In Stranded, the beleaguered crew of the Arctic Promise find themselves beset in ice. Tempers heat up as the temperature falls, and circumstances become deadly. However, the crew doesn’t have just nature to fear, but a certain supernatural element that starts hunting them. Reminiscent of Jacob’s Ladder, John Carpenter’s The Thing, and elements of The Twilight Zone, Stranded is smart, speculative horror that makes you think — and in some cases, cry. Picked up for development by Warner Brothers TV, Stranded is a terrific exercise in isolation and paranoia, as well as a treatise on toxic masculinity from one of horror’s brightest rising stars.
In DeMeesters’ first collection of short stories, certain pervasive themes bubble up from the surface, of what may be subconscious on the part of the author. I’m not sure if she’s a fan of David Lynch, but her stories are on the same wavelength — filled with terrifying visions of things muted or just out of periphery. These deeply female stories are nightmarish fairy tales that often involve cannibalism of and by mystic creatures from folklore-like beginnings that appear to women, sisters, and mothers.
This collection is a relentless look into our shadow selves and is so disturbing in ways hard to articulate, that I had to put it down a few times. In other words, it’s intense. And it’s not a common occurrence that a work of fiction disturbs me, but that’s just what Everything That’s Underneath managed to do. Recommended if you really want to be freaked out on a rare level.
Released this summer by Kier-La Janisse’s Spectacular Optical imprint, Lost Girls is an in-depth look into the films of notorious French exploitation auteur Jean Rollin. Diabolique Associate Editor Deighan lovingly curated and edited the extensive tome, a deluxe paperback bursting with over 400 pages of lurid stills and posters (lots of bloody women in all their glory, of course). I never imagined we’d have such an incredible coffee table book that describes Rollin’s work in such an intelligent, elegant manner, and yet here we are.
Chapters in Lost Girls are written by Deighan herself, in addition to Kat Ellinger, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, Marcelline Block, Rebecca Booth, Heather Drain and many more, with an afterword by Janisse. Some chapters are more digestible than others; that is to say, the academics can be heavy enough to turn some fans off. This book could be used as a textbook to teach a course in film theory, in fact, but if that’s your thing — or you adore Rollin’s work, you’ll revel in this special little tome.
Long-Form Religious Porn isn’t strictly horror, but a blend of genres, particularly noir and thriller mixed with horror. Imagine if a book was directed by John Waters by way of Paul Verhoeven, then you’ll get a taste for the special Bahr flavor — a psychosexual, bizarro romp seasoned with lots and lots of murder, Hollywood ladder-climbers, Vince Vaughn, and a vampire cult similar to Scientology. Long-Form Religious Porn is strange like a new food you’ve never tried that your taste buds can’t quite place, but satisfying as hell. Bahr’s an awesome writer whose work I hope to see more of soon — Long-Form Religious Porn being the most entertaining book about murder I’ve ever read. You’re welcome.
Lois Cairns, a former film professor, reviewer, and exhausted mother of autistic Clark, is the unlikely hero of Files’ terrific book — which also doubles as a primer on Canadian film history. (Cairns is a semi-autobiographic mirror of Files.) Cairns sees something “off” and incredibly different in the work of trust fund filmmaker Wrob Barney. His experimental film is a pastiche of samples, including a piece of silver nitrate film that appears to be early 20th Century.
As it turns out, the footage is the work of Mrs. Iris Dunlopp Whitcomb, a deceased socialite who disappeared under very creepy, mysterious circumstances. Whitcomb might very well be Canada’s first female filmmaker — a huge discovery for film history. As Cairns investigates, she becomes obsessed, and she and her son become deeply affected in disturbing ways; her health deteriorates, and her son may be receiving visits from a supernatural being. For an excellent read on folklore, film, and characters who don’t come out unscathed, read Experimental Film.
Stephen King tweeted that Tremblay’s previous book, A Head Full Out Ghosts, “scared the hell out of me.” Having read Disappearance At Devil’s Rock, I can’t say I’m surprised. It’s a well-crafted novel about Tommy, a child who went off into the local state park with friends one night and never came back. The novel is also about a family put through the paces of grief — as pages torn out of Tommy’s diary and a very disturbing drawing — materialize in the middle of the night. Tommy’s scent and shadow appear just beyond his mother’s periphery. As things unravel, terrifying and horrific events occur. With Tremblay, we are in the hands of a master of the craft — someone who can channel the waking nightmares we hear about in true crime shows and podcasts. I dare you to read Disappearance At Devil’s Rock — and be able to put it down.
If you love Patricia Highsmith or Gillian Flynn, start reading Pinborough. Behind Her Eyes features a hellish love triangle with (mostly) level-headed, single mom Louise and the perfect couple, the probable sociopathic pair of Adele and David. Once the veil is drawn back, David is controlling and Adele is a master at manipulation. We get to see each character’s point of view, and all the red herrings turns, and harbingers that come into play as the relationships between each of them become twisted and horrifying.
This multilayered book is difficult to review without spoiling it, but it’s full of surprises, with not just one, but two endings — the second of which I never saw coming. There’s nothing like psychosexual madness, night terrors, supernatural elements, and double-crosses to get the blood flowing. I can’t wait to read more of Pinborough’s work. If she were a film director, she’d be Brian De Palma.