As far as reading goes, 2012 was a strong year for me. I’ve discovered a couple of new authors that I’ll be following for years to come; some of my favorites have weighed in with their strongest work in years; and, most importantly, the duds have been few and far between.
I’m flattered that FEARnet has asked me to present a list of my “Best Reads of 2012.” What follows is not a ranked list. I have trouble ranking things, especially when I’m holding a book I read in January up against a book I read a week or two ago. So, I figure the best approach is to present this list of favorites alphabetically by the author or editor. I think it’s a pretty diverse list, representing something the horror genre proved to me over and over again this year: it’s one of the most flexible genres an author can work in, with room for mystery, suspense, humor, action, terror, and of course, gallons of blood.
When you’re done reading about my favorite reads, I’d love nothing more than for you to share your favorites in the comments below. I’m always on the lookout for a good read, so if there’s a book out there that really fired you up, let us know!
Nemesis by Kealan Patrick Burke
Burke’s finale to his “Timmy Quinn” series followed a rocky road to publication, and had a load of expectations waiting for it in the end. Nemesis came to us two years after the last installment, Peregrine’s Tale, and a full eight years after the one that started it all, The Turtle Boy. In that time, Burke had aborted one false start on the book, and even stepped away from writing altogether for nearly a year. In the meantime, the fans who’d followed the series through its small press origins were wondering if the end would ever come, and the thousands of new fans discovering it in digital were clamoring to know what happened next. Fortunately, Burke came out swinging with a novel that tied up all the loose ends while expanding the world in such a way as to ensure there are more stories yet to be told.
Video Night by Adam Cesare
The most pure fun I had reading all year. A throwback to the home video heyday of the 1980s, Video Night makes good on every promise made on the sleazy, clamshell covers of the horror movies of that period. Cesare captures what it was like to be a shy young movie fan whose best guess at how to impress a girl is to show her Re-Animator. Full of warmth, humor and buckets of blood, Video Night announces Cesare as one of the best new voices in horror.
This Dark Earth by John Hornor Jacobs
Jacobs brings the hammer down early in this one, kickstarting the undead apocalypse with an outbreak in a small Arkansas hospital, then having the world react with a volley of nuclear bombs. And if you think he’s going to hit you with that deadly combination only to back off and let you catch your breath, think again. Jacobs maintains this blistering pace for over 300 pages, and the beauty of it is that it’s not all empty set pieces – there’s a fair amount of characterization, too, resulting in a story where bad things happen to people you’ve developed a strong rooting interest in. At its heart is Gus, a child prodigy who, in a normal world, would’ve grown up as an outcast due to his fierce intelligence and social awkwardness. Instead, he becomes a leader and a savior, one of the few men standing between humans and total extinction.
Appalachian Undead edited by Eugene Johnson and Jason Sizemore
Editors Johnson and Sizemore produce a collection that narrows the typically large-scale focus of zombie fiction down to the dark and mysterious Appalachian region, which proves to be fertile ground, indeed. Some of the genre’s best and brightest are visibly having a good time mixing the area’s rituals and traditions with tales of the living dead, producing stories that depict mining tragedies, home invasions, conjuring and moonshiners in a whole new light. This one’s as good an argument as any for the continued health and vitality of the zombie subgenre.
The Dark Tower: The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King
In revisiting his Dark Tower series, which ostensibly wrapped with a seventh volume back in 2004, King smartly avoids tampering with the main storyline to take us on a little side journey set between the fourth book, Wizard and Glass, and the fifth book, Wolves of the Calla. As the familiar ka-tet of Roland, Eddie, Susannah, Jake and Oy wait out a storm, Roland shares a tale from his childhood, one which itself encapsulates an old Mid-World fairy tale. King is at his best when writing about the power of storytelling, leading Keyhole to emerge as one of the most quietly powerful chapters in the series. With this book, King has opened up the possibility of more trips back to the immense universe he’s created by showing that there are many dark corners left unexplored.
Edge of Dark Water by Joe R. Lansdale
When this first came out, I kept reading reviews saying that Lansdale had taken his writing to “the next level.” I’m not sure what other Lansdale books those guys have read, because in my opinion Lansdale has been operating at the top level for years. Edge of Dark Water is just another in a long line of excellent books showcasing the pure storytelling mojo of one of the best writers working today. No, it’s not a horror novel in the traditional sense, but if you can point me in the direction of a more terrifying figure than the legendary killer known as Skunk, I’ll shake your hand. I read this one early in the year, and even now there are complete passages and images that spring fully to mind when I think back on it. An excellent coming-of-age novel that ranks right up there with Robert McCammon’s Boy’s Life and Stephen King’s “The Body.”
Honorable Mentions, or, Books from 2012 That are Sitting on My Desk, Taunting Me
These are books that were published in 2012 that I’ve not yet had a chance to read, and that I anticipate would have made this list if I’d just gotten around to them.
Dark Faith: Invocations edited by Maurice Broaddus and Jerry Gordon
The Twelve by Justin Cronin
Coldbrook by Tim Lebbon
Blu Gilliand is a freelance writer of fiction and nonfiction. He covers horror fiction at his blog, October Country, and contributes interviews to the Horror World website. Follow him on Twitter at @BluGilliand.