2013 was a stellar year for horror fiction, and while these five titles made the cut for this column I could have easily added a dozen more. There are familiar names here, and a couple of newcomers I hope you’ll seek out. If you’re so inclined, I’d love to hear what your favorite reads of the year were – feel free to share them in the comments below.
I’m a sucker for “quiet” horror, the kind of stuff that relies heavily on atmosphere and suggestion to conjure up its scares. There are no shortcuts to making fiction of this sort work; if a writer doesn’t have the particular skill set for this kind of storytelling, you’ll know it in the first few pages. McMahon proves he’s up for the challenge in this devastating novella about a haunted man who lives next door to a haunted house. The author pulls us through page after page, slowly and slyly peeling back the layers of the story right up to its devastating end.
Usually I greet the news of a new Stephen King book with cheers, applause, and maybe a few cartwheels if I’m having a good day. But when I heard that King was going ahead with a sequel to The Shining, one of the most beloved books in his catalog, my enthusiasm was muted. Maybe it was the years of inferior horror sequels Hollywood has fed us over the years that trained me to expect little more than a watered-down rehash of the original; maybe it was the way The Shining has wrapped its own little saga up so tightly, leaving little in the way of dangling plot threads for King to explore.
Whatever it was, I should have known better. Rather than making Doctor Sleep a direct sequel to the events of the original, he simply treated it as “this is what happened next.” Dan Torrance is profoundly scarred by the winter he spent at The Overlook, but that experience also prepared him in many ways for his encounter with the True Knot, King’s terrifying twist on vampires. The Shining was the white-hot result of a young author on fire with talent; Doctor Sleep is the measured, impactful work of a master who has honed his skill to a razor’s edge.
The Fallen Boys was one of those delightful discoveries I look forward to each year, a book (and author) that cuts through the clutter of new releases and familiar names to demand your time and attention. Dries takes a variety of common ingredients and influences and whips them into a fresh tale of adolescent vulnerability and family tragedy punctuated with vivid characterization and sharp prose.
Yeah, it was a good year for King. With Joyland King returned to the Hard Case Crime line which he first contributed to back in 2005 with The Colorado Kid. Hard Case Crime specializes in throwback crime novels of the type that used to be found on drugstore spinner racks, paperback books with lurid covers and content. King’s contribution doesn’t really harken back to those particular novels, but it does revisit the type of “coming of age” tale he did so well with “The Body.”
Joyland is a small amusement park, and Devin Jones is a college student working there for the summer. It’s that summer which is the heart of the book; yes, there is a murder, and even a ghost, but it all plays second fiddle to watching Jones bloom amid the bright lights and quirky characters that inhabit Joyland’s midway. King’s character work takes center stage here, and Devin Jones is one of those magical creations that feel like a living, breathing person – a person whose story you may want to revisit summer after summer.
Joe Hill is the kind of writer whose career will be hard to stuff into one particular box. Already he’s given us a collection of masterful short stories (20th Century Ghosts), a quirky supernatural drama (Horns) and a compelling comic book series (Locke & Key). With NOS4A2 he returns to the kind of straight-up horror that many expected after his debut novel Heart-Shaped Box (and after his relationship to dad, Stephen King, was revealed). Hill clearly has horror in his DNA; NOS4A2, with its ageless, child-abducting villain Charlie Manx, is a lengthy and intoxicating exercise in terror. Hill has fully embraced his legacy and simultaneously established his own unique territory. The best, I’m willing to bet, is yet to come.
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.