The Question of the Month has a simple premise: each month I’ll ask a handful of authors to answer the same question and then I’ll publish their responses exactly as I receive them. In these posts you’ll discover how these authors think, giving you insight into where their darkest tales come from. These responses are listed here in the order they were received.
This month’s question is: If you had to recommend just one horror novel for everyone to read, what would it be and why?
Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. Why? Because it’s not only the scariest novel I’ve ever read, it’s also a “literary” novel, so it can demonstrate to snobs and skeptics that the genre can have intellectual heft. In addition, it’s a mainstream work of fiction with no overt sex or violence, so it has the potential to win over milquetoast Middle America, those wimpy readers who flinch and flee at the sight of blood. It’s the perfect poster boy for horror. As far as I’m concerned, Jackson’s masterful novel should be required reading for every human on the planet.
— Bentley Little
I’m going to hail Richard Matheson’s Hell House, because I still recall finding it impossible to put down and wishing I hadn’t stayed up after midnight by myself to finish it. Truthfully, it’s the only book that made me realize that looking over your shoulder because of what you’re reading isn’t always an exaggeration. Forget the timid movie adaptation and go straight for the real thing—Matheson certainly does.
— Ramsey Campbell
The Shining by Stephen King. I love that man. I love that book.
— Nancy Holder
The one horror novel that I would recommend that everyone should read is Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. As an inward and an outward journey of discovery it exposes the narrator to the nature of evil. Both it and its palimpsest (Coppola’s Apocalypse Now) resonate for a generation (mine) that went to college, San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury, or Vietnam in the ’60s. Those of us who did those things (I did all three) understand perfectly Kurz’ (or Brando’s in the film) cry at the end: “The horror! The horror!”
— Robert Booth
My answer is Reprisal by Mitchell Smith. Reasons: the nightmarish scope of his human imaginings, the austere and limpid grace of his prose.
— Michael Shea
Dracula by Bram Stoker. As a King “expert” it would be expected of me to recommend The Stand, It or even the under-rated Bag of Bones. But, our whole genre is founded and fed by certain great classics. Stoker’s great novel has influenced the horror genre more than any other, and no horror book has had a greater impact on popular culture. Yet, most of those who still read entire books have not actually read this novel. Surprisingly that goes for many horror or dark fiction genre readers. Yes, it is written with a Victorian sensibility and the epistolary style is difficult for many but the payoff from this carefully crafted novel, full of the back-imagery of our minds, is immense. The sexual tension, the multi-layered representational use of blood, the ancient fear of the unknown, and the tools of a newly scientific age, all combine with tremendous characterization and a rollicking good story. Best of all, when the tale is done, a mighty genre lies downstream from its headwaters.
— Rocky Wood
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. This is a classic novel for a reason. The story evolves from two thirteen-year-old boys, James Nightshade and William Holloway, who are still at that age where the world is full of unknown mysteries and anything can happen. They are opposites, one adventurous and daring and spur-of-the-moment, the other cautious and grounded and wary. They are at the crossroads of innocence and adulthood. And when a dark carnival comes to town, they find themselves drawn to the darkness by all the possibilities.
And while that’s the core of the story, it’s not the whole story. Something Wicked This Way Comesalso explores a part of human nature deeply rooted in all of us … wishing things were different. The aging school teacher who wants to be young again. The disabled ex-football player who dreams of playing again. The father with a bad heart who fears experiencing life to its fullest because it might mean his death.
And of course, there’s the dark carnival and the small town and the library.
How can you go wrong!
— David B. Silva
‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King. It’s my favorite book by the best writer in the field. It shows King at his best, with wonderful characterizations of a small town filled with fear. I was 20 years old when I first read it and it dazzled me. It showed what horror writers were capable of and I never looked back. Even three decades later I remember the story vividly. No other book has ever hit me so hard and I recommend it at every opportunity.
— John R. Little
This, at least for me, is a deceptively difficult question because so many exceptional books so easily come to mind. On a strictly personal level, Clive Barker’s The Books of Blood and, before that, Richard Matheson’s Hell House, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula were all huge influences that I believe remain as exceptional “ambassadors of horror” for new readers. However, if I must choose only one, (and possibly a bit of an uncommon or even contentious choice as it is often labeled as “fantasy” rather than horror) I’d have to select Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. The novel is beautifully written, can be appreciated equally by readers of all ages, and touches upon some of our deepest universal fears and aspirations including our fears of growing old, of dying, of lost opportunities, and of lost friendship, among others. The book examines horrors of both supernatural and entirely mundane, human origin and manages to be mutually terrifying and life-affirming and a thoroughly entertaining read.
— Norman L. Rubenstein