Are there Any contempory horror novelists writing truly scary books?

I was thinking about this this thread, and how I don’t usually find horror novels to be scary. Maybe I’m just reading the wrong people? Am I too sucked in by mainstream writers?

If I don’t find the authors below scary, can you think of ones I might? Just contemporary authors, please (definitely more contemporary than Shirley Jackson, and preferably still writing) Just about any horror theme- be it monsters, hauntings or more psychological- is fine by me.

Authors I read but find not to be really scary:

Stephen King
Peter Straub
Clive Barker
Anne Rice
Dean Koontz
John Saul
Laurell Hamilton ( I haven’t read any non-series novels yet, however)
Mark Danielewski (although I don’t realy think House of Leaves was horror)
Dan Simmons (at least of what I’ve read of his)
Elizabeth Hand (at least of what I’ve read of hers)
Robert Mccammon

I’m interested in the OP. I’m going to look into some works of the authors you listed.


Well, there’s an automatic problem with your quest.

Horror, as a literary genre, isn’t very hot right now. As a result, there aren’t just a ton of recognized writers out there breaking new ground in the field.

You might want to try some folks who have written horror in the past (and, frankly, who helped shape the genre into what it is today). Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont, Robert Bloch, some of Harlan Ellison’s work … there’s good horror out there, if you know where to look.

Of course, what is possibly the best horror novel of the past five years sits moldering in my desk drawer, because publishers just don’t recognize quality when it hits their slush pile. :slight_smile:

Richard Mattheson is good. I didn’t think that “I Am Legend” was all that scary, but his short stories were quite suspenseful. “Dance of the Dead” and “Where Shadows Lurk” (er, I think that’s the title of it…too lazy to walk across the room and pick up my copy) stand out as being creepy.

Robert Bloch’s short stories aren’t bad. But take that with a grain of salt, because I read them a few years ago, as well as his novel “Psycho.” I utterly loved that last one when I read it in high school. Recently, though, I reread–God, what was I on when I gave it that ringing endorsement?

Also, if you like creepy, Roald Dahl’s adult books/stories are not to be missed.

Although I agree, it is difficult to find something really scary these days. Sometimes the older stuff (horror and suspense) just feels better.

And I forgot to mention … even well-known, well-established writers miss the mark occasionally. So if you’ve read two or three books by, say, Stephen King, and dismissed him, you might not have gotten very good books to read.

Personally, I think “The Shining” by King is one of the best horror novels around. I can remember reading it in high school and not being able to stop once I got to a certain point. I kept the light on and read until three in the morning.

Your taste, obviously, may vary considerably.

Sorry, unless I said otherwise, I’ve read most of the books by the authors on that list. There are only 4 or 5 SK books I’ve never read.

What I’ve found is that a modern novelist choosing to work in the “horror” genre is fairly rare. Most modern novelists seems to staty away from the label, even though what they’re writing is almost definitely horror of one variety or another. It depends what “horror” you mean, really. However, if you’re looking for some scary stuff, here’s a few. Bear in mind that some of these are not necessarily by “horror” novelists per se.

David Searcy’s Ordinary Horror is definitely one of the creepiest books I’ve read in a while. Bear in mind that this is very psychological horror, not really supernatural monster horror (though it might be…).

Neil Gaiman writes some good horror-ish stuff. His story in the last issue of the “Hellraiser” comic series was the best one of the whole run, and his new young-adult novel Coraline has some exceptionally scary moments.

Stephen King never scared me much in general, though his book Gerald’s Game had a part that made me very reluctant to turn out the lights when I finished it at 2 AM.

James Lasdun’s The Horned Man is another good example of modern psychological horror. It’s not boogeyman-scary, but it definitely kept me jumpy while I was reading it.

Funny you mention Dan Simmons… I never saw him as much of a horror novelist. He’s written a few good horror novels, but most of them aren’t good because they’re scary. They’re good because they’re well-written, they tell a good story, and he does some genre-twisting tricks in them. He’s a good writer in general, and I’ll read anythng he writes, but he’s usually not very scary. That being said, there are some powerfully frightening images in his recent novel A Winter Haunting, which is a sequel to Summer of Night. The first book wasn’t very scary, in my opinion, while the second one really had some nice creepy moments.

There are more, but that’s a good list to start with. To me, a truly scary book is pretty hard to come by. I can think of only a few that really do it for me… Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, for example, or some of Lovecraft’s work. They could hardly be considered “modern,” however.

The scene in the topiary in The Shining was absolutely terrifying. Great horror writing.

I didn’t think so, it was a little creepy, but not nearly enough. However, my overwhelming response that particular novel was disgust that he very blatently ripped off ** I’ll Be Seeing You** by Peter Straub.

There are far too many similarities for it to be accidental
Both books are about a man, who is going home to where a childhood companion died young, under mysterous circumstances (some people think the deaths were accidental, others convinced it was murder) to write a book. People avoid them because they’re not “right.” Both get into a lot of seemingly undeserved trouble with the local sheriff. Both are suspected of crimes that happened only after they arrived. Both confuse the living and the dead. Both get harassed by neo-nazi type punks. Both get into confrontations with who they think was the “real killer.” There’s a supernatural “return” of sorts of each dead kid… No wonder so many people at amazon who liked the first book- which I haven’t read- complain in the reviews of it this book not being a good fit as a follow up. The narration style is the only big difference between the two books!

However, I do like Gerald’s Game and The Shining. They were really creepy. Wish more books were.

Dammit. I know, if you’re going to rant, at least get the title correct, right? I meant If You Could See Me Now. I’ll Be Seeing You is a horror movie. <sigh>

I hadn’t read If You Could See Me Now, elfkin, so I’ll take your word for it. However, the difference in narrative style you mention makes a big difference for me. I never enjoyed one of Straub’s books, while I enjoy almost all of Simmons’ work. However, if he did indeed rip off Straub so blatantly, I’m a bit disappointed. I really liked A Winter Haunting.

I can’t understand why some works had produced me true horror in certain stages of my life. Here are a few short stories:

Window - by Bob Leman
Adjustment Team - by Philip K. Dick
The Death Hound - by Agatha Christie
The Xipehuz - by J Rosny-Aine
The Autopsy - by Michael Shea

Some people shiver, some people don’t. What is horrifying for one is not for others.

Jonathan Carroll isn’t a horror writer but has written some horrible stuff. His stories all present a metaphysical world as a given and many of his books are deeply unsettling. I bought Land of Laughs secondhand many years ago and dug up most of his early stuff cheap. Although notionally a fantasy author his books are much more than that.

Having been reminded of Carroll I was browsing around and found a review of his The Panic Hand at this terrific horror site DarkEcho and their list of best books. Hope it helps and check out the rest of the site.

The University by Bentley Little.

Maybe Bentley Little? He’s written several books like The Mailman and Night School.
His books got a bit gross for me, so I’ve not read his more recent ones.

Avalonian, I tried Ordinary Horror but put it down about halfway through. I’m definitely okay with low-key, creepy, psychological horror, but this one didn’t work for me. About the third or fourth time he put lemons in the garbage disposal, I gave up.

I haven’t found anything “truly scary” in horror fiction for quite awhile. The new writers (most of them) are so over the top, they’re almost laughable. You find yourself going “ew” or “gimme a break” when you should be going “ahhhhh”.

I was very creeped out by a scene in a fantasy book I’m reading now, The Hidden Warrior, sequel to The Bone Doll’s Twin by Lynn Flewelling.

One of the characters has encountered a ghost (not for the first time). There was no lengthy atmospheric buildup to the scene, and all the ghost did was turn around and look at the character, “face shifting to an angry mask”, and I was outta there.

What made that scene work for me was that this ghost is a mystery. We don’t know what she’s up to, whether she’s evil or misunderstood, whether or not she has the power to hurt anyone even if she wanted to.

The new writers are all out describing and explaining everything – they’re not giving their audience any credit at all.

I do have to admit that I don’t care for most of the contemporary horror novelists, so they could be writing scary stuff and I’m missing it.

There were good scares in The Shining, like everyone says. Also Ghost Story by Peter Straub and The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson will make you turn on the lights.

Oh, and Burnt Offerings – the one by Robert Marasco. not the Laurell Hamilton.

I don’t know about scary, but Poppy Z. Brite is definitely disturbing!

I’m a big fan of Thomas Ligotti. He writes short stories, not novels, and perhaps they’re more creepy than scary…in that existential, Lovecraftian way. But I think he’s one of the most talented writers alive, in any genre.

Two contemporary novelists I would recommend are Stephen Gregory and Patrick McGrath, but again they’re more gothic/creepy than scary…although if you like Shirley Jackson, I think you’d certainly appreciate them too. Personally I find psychological horror much more satisfying and disturbing than your vampires, zombies etc.–at least in literature.