Robert Kirkman is already a seasoned veteran of horror-themed graphic novels, so it should come as no surprise that Outcast, his latest offering, is an unqualified success. Scary, tense and mysterious, this book checks all the boxes to make readers love the story and want to come back for more.
Outcast tells the story of Kyle Barnes, a man hiding from the world. Haunted by memories of violence in his childhood and divorced after an incident with his wife and daughter, he is entirely alone. He is given new life when he is offered the chance to help a possessed child. When the possessed child calls Kyle “Outcast” and speaks about Kyle’s childhood, he becomes determined to get to the bottom of it all. To tell any more would be to spoil the many, many surprises awaiting readers.
Kirkman does a great job of revealing just enough to keep the readers hungry and guessing — each answer leads to more and more questions. Just what does “Outcast” mean? How does this all tie into Kyle’s troubled life? And what is the sinister endgame behind it all? He also does not spare us from the gory horror and violence — panels are viscerally painted with the bloody results of interactions with the possessed. With his trademark prose, Kirkman makes us feel the exhaustion of Kyle’s struggle against darkness on all sides.
Definitely a great read for fans of the horror graphic novel genre or Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, this was so well received that it’s currently showing as a TV series on Cinemax. If you enjoyed this, I’d also recommend Joe Hill’s Locke and Key, James Tynion’s The Woods, and Scott Snyder’s Wytches — all series that are terrifying in their own right.
A great read whether you’re new to the genre or a seasoned veteran of horror fiction, Joe Hill’s The Fireman is a complex and unsettling book that will leave you with a lot of deep questions but thrilled that you came along for the ride.
The Fireman tells the tale of Harper Grayson, a school nurse who is living in New England when a plague erupts across the world. Dubbed “Dragonscale,” this parasite covers its victims in luminescent scales before eventually causing them to combust into a pyre of flames. Although infected and facing her end, Harper finds a new will to survive when she becomes pregnant, and decides that her child will survive even if she does not. She must attempt to survive the dangerous parasite as well as the groups of people who begin hunting and killing the infected to prevent its spread — a group that includes her husband.
This book has a subtle burn — a gentle build of horror that occasionally sparks into a blaze of terror but typically smolders in the background. Hill masterfully uses foreshadowing to build tension and unease, letting you know that disaster waits just ahead but leaving it agonizingly uncertain when and how it will strike. The real terror of this book, though, is not in looming villains or gory scenes, but the darkness in man. The story examines how evil can grow and live in all people, and how all it takes is circumstance to fan it into a flame. Impressively, the story also crafts a believable protagonist who maintains her positivity throughout, remaining strong despite the horrors she faces.
With his latest offering, the son has truly surpassed the father. Joe Hill, son of Stephen King, is one of the freshest and strongest voices in horror fiction. If you enjoyed The Fireman, I’d also recommend NOS4A2, an earlier work of his that also deals with a mother seeking to protect her child. I’d also recommend Stephen King’s Cell, which shares a focus on humanity trying to survive after an apocalypse.
For suburbanite Ben, what starts out as a dull business trip to the Poconos rapidly becomes a horrifying ordeal of epic proportions when he decides to go for The Hike through the local woods. Pursued by a menagerie of monsters through locations found nowhere on Earth, Ben struggles to survive. As he stumbles from one nightmare into the next, he longs for a way to escape the path and return to his family. But to leave the path is to die, and Ben will have to find his way if he ever wants to make it home again.
The Hike is a bloody mash-up of genres, as if author Drew Magary threw The Odyssey, Alice in Wonderland and the top 10 B horror movies of all time into a blender to see what would happen. The book is a wild ride from start to finish; once the action starts, it never really lets up. Some of the images are gory, yes, and some of the monsters are really grotesque, but Magary never lets Ben’s experiences on the path descend into the literary equivalent of torture porn. There is a purpose to what Ben is enduring and a destination he has to reach, and the quest-like feel of the narration keeps the plot from being bogged down by too much horror. The violence and heartbreak Ben endures is balanced by Ben’s deadpan humor and determination to see this journey through to the end. The inclusion of some seriously fun characters, including a talking crab, is an added bonus, and there are plenty of surprise twists awaiting Ben and the reader.
These twists make The Hike the engaging and fun read that it is, culminating in a shocking revelation right up to the last page. The Hike is a quick read, with enough bizarre world-building and action to make it perfect for any fan of shows like The Twilight Zone, video games like Limbo or podcasts like Welcome to Night Vale.
What happens when author and former Washington Post Best Science Fiction & Fantasy winner Victor LaValle writes a story that combines horror, science fiction and mystery? The result is his latest novella The Ballad of Black Tom.
The Ballad of Black Tom takes place in 1920s New York. Readers quickly enter the world of Charles Thomas Tester, a 20-year-old African American hustler from Harlem. On the streets of New York, Charles goes by the name of Tommy, and Tommy likes to put on a show. He portrays himself as the “dazzling, down-and-out musician” by wearing a gray flannel suit, an aging seal-brown trooper hat and brown leather brogues with nicked toes and completes the look by toting around a guitar case (once in a while there's an actual guitar inside). Although Tommy has no musical talent, it doesn’t stop his hustle. Yes, he'll play the role of a musician, hum a few sour notes and scam people all for the sake of supporting himself and his ailing father. Things take a turn for the worst when Tommy attracts the attention of a wealthy white man named Robert Suydam. A cop and private detective, who are watching Suydam, now have their eyes on Tommy, after witnessing their first encounter. Suydam offers Tommy a couple hundred bucks to play a few tunes at his upcoming party. Astonish that someone actually likes his non-vocal abilities, but not one to turn down money, Tommy accepts. Suydam introduces him to a realm of crime and magic that sets off a chain of dark events that will forever change Tommy's life. Suydam tells Tommy about awakening a Sleeping King that sleeps at the bottom of an ocean. Once this Sleeping King awakes, he’ll create a new world where a select few will be rewarded. Tommy is intrigued. When he immerses himself into this magical world, he becomes a different person, a monster, who no longer goes by the name of Tommy, but "Black Tom."
If you're looking for a quick entertaining read, I recommend The Ballad of Black Tom. This book is a page-turner and would make for a great film. If you’re interested in more books by Victor LaValle, check out Big Machine and The Devil in Silver.
There are books with racist subtext, and then there are the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Although his books defined the horror genre, Lovecraft was also an unrepentant racist who made xenophobia a major theme of his work. As time goes by, this has become harder for readers to tolerate, and his image was recently removed from the World Fantasy award trophies for this reason. But Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country explores Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos from the perspective of the people Lovecraft deplored, creating a moving story about race and the supernatural in one unforgettable novel.
The book begins in 1950’s Chicago, where Atticus and his Uncle George report for the Safe Negro Travel Guide, a book with real historical roots that guides black travelers through areas of the Jim Crow south where they’re likely to be harassed. The two men also share a mutual love of science fiction that the rest of their family finds hard to understand. But when Atticus’ father Montrose sends him a mysterious letter, they find themselves pulled into a fantasy of their own, a conspiracy of magic and elder gods that reaches far back into their family history.
Never before has a horror book engaged with race in such a thoughtful way, with supernatural evils serving as metaphors for social ones. But none of it would land if Ruff hadn’t crafted characters of such depth and complexity. I could go on about the family’s rich interpersonal relationships, like young Horace who sweetly draws his mother her own comic book series because she wants to read a story about a black woman for once, or the book club discussions between Atticus and George which could’ve filled the entire novel and been perfectly satisfying. These are characters to root for, who never back down from a challenge, whether they’re being chased by a sheriff or a shoggoth (which, believe me, are creepy). Fans of Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins series will enjoy this similarly pulpy piece of historical fiction.
Imagine urban fantasy. Now, remove the skyscrapers and the taxicabs and the cell phones. Replace them with clapboard buildings, dirt tracks and 10-gallon hats. Add a generous pinch of scary stuff. You might come up with a terrible episode of Gunsmoke — or you might get some idea of Holly Messinger’s first novel The Curse of Jacob Tracy.
Jacob Tracy is a novel, but its chapters are grouped into sections that read like short stories that are knit together by an overall plot arc, much like the setup of a TV series. Trace, himself, is a fascinating individual and an extraordinarily engaging and original character. He is a former seminary student and former Confederate soldier. His best friend/traveling companion, Boz, is an illiterate former slave. Though an odder couple is hard to imagine, both have each other’s best interests at heart as they travel the American western frontier, working as trail guides for city folk who are trying new adventures on for size.
Why Trace and Boz refuse to settle down for long is teased out over the several episodes in this book (hint: Trace sees dead people), but their loyalty to each other is never in question…until Trace meets Miss Fairweather, a recluse, who tricks him into performing a “simple task” during the lull season in trail guiding in order to earn much-needed room and board money. Taking Boz with him, because you never leave a friend behind, Trace is forced to start facing the demons of his past when he crashes into the middle of a long-running battle between the forces of the sane and the forces of the mad. The question is: When his visions start to overwhelm him, and he begins to realize Miss Fairweather might have set him up, who can he trust?
Come for the ghosts and not-so-urban legends. Stay for the pragmatic, yin and yang, stronger-than-family friendship of Boz and Trace.
This is Messinger’s first novel, but fans of the Harry Dresden novels or fans of online zine Beneath Ceaseless Skies (wherein Messinger has published short stories) will certainly approve of this story.
Do you have time in your busy schedule to read a short story? Not just any short story, but a ghost story. Not just any ghost story, but a ghost story by Gillian Flynn. You may have heard of her. She is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Sharp Objects, Dark Places and Gone Girl, one of most talked about novels of 2014 . Flynn’s latest release is a stand-alone copy of her 64-page, Edgar Awarding-winning short story, The Grownup. It made its first appearance in author George R. R. Martin's Rogues anthology.
The Grownup is about an unnamed and “barely thirty” female con artist who works at a sketchy place called Spiritual Palms that provides fortunes and illegal sex services. Viveca, her boss gives her a job promotion, which makes the con artist no longer a sex worker but a fraudulent fortune-teller. A troubled customer by the name of Susan Burke stops in to have her fortune told. The con artist learns that Susan is being terrorized by her 15-year-old stepson,Miles, and that a trickle of blood drips on the wall inside Susan’s renovated Victorian house. The con artist helps Susan by cleansing the inside of her home. During one of her house cleansing visits, the con artist meets Miles, a menacing teen who gives her an ultimatum: stay away or die. However, the con artist ignores his threat and soon finds out that she is the one being swindled. Swindled by who? You’ll just have to read it and find out.
If you are a Gillian Flynn fan or you just want to read an entertaining short story, I encourage you to check out a copy of The Grownup at a BCPL branch near you. And whatever you do, avoid a place called Spiritual Palms.
Vulnerable, shimmering and desirable. Oh, to be a soul in David Mitchell's disturbing and fun new novel Slade House. Here horror meets plain old weirdness in a Faustian-like brew, stirred up by creepy twin siblings, Norah and Jonah Grayer. The two house residents must refuel in order to “live” out their immortal existence. But it's their energy of choice that is the stunner for those who enter their seductive property through their garden’s small iron black door.
Spanning 36 years starting in 1979, the story’s epicenter is the enigmatic haunted mansion that only appears once every nine years. One by one, Mitchell’s five “engifted” narrators are tricked by the twins into visiting the house, allured by a theatrical setting that conjures up images they want to believe in, images that make their lacking lives better. They end up in a precarious situation, trapped and doomed, while the unthinkable happens.
Mitchell, whose previous novels Cloud Atlas and The Bone Clocks received critical acclaim, started this latest work out of a series of tweets. It is a narrative that hints of larger life questions for which there are no answers. And while Mitchell deftly nods to his heftier previous works and the universe therein, it is not necessary to start there. In fact, Mitchell’s latest effort is a nimble and accessible stand-alone. It may be the perfect introduction to this author’s thought-provoking, imaginatively clever writing whose style blends mind-control and the supernatural with the essence of time, beguiling it might be. Mitchell fans have come to expect nothing less while newcomers will hopefully get what all the fuss is about.
Audrey Niffenegger is mostly known for her bestselling and film adapted novel The Time Traveler’s Wife, but if you know her other work, the gothic novel Her Fearful Symmetry or her dark graphic novels such as Raven Girl, you won’t be surprised to learn she’s had a lifelong fascination with the otherworldly. Ghostly collects her favorite ghost stories, from the classic to the obscure, with illustrations and introductions to each. It’s like receiving a thoughtful mixtape from a friend who wants to unsettle you.
There are perennial classics here such as M.R. James’ “The Mezzotint,” in which a collector is troubled by something in the background of a photo that appears to be moving. There are also modern masterpieces like Kelly Link’s “The Specialist’s Hat,” in which a babysitter teaches two girls how to play Dead, which is different from being dead and has its own rules. And there are also very funny pieces like Amy Giacalone’s “Tiny Ghosts,” in which a woman is taking a bath and reading her favorite book when a tiny door opens next to her faucet and a little ghost comes out.
Ghost stories traditionally focus more on mood and atmosphere rather than the jump scares and viscera that are obligatory in other horror genres, and so there’s almost no blood dropped in any of these tales (apart from Poe’s “The Black Cat,” which is terribly gory and ironically the only story here likely to be read in elementary schools.) This means that theoretically you could read some of these stories to the little ones by campfire or by flashlight. Just don’t be surprised if they don’t thank you for it!
For edgier scares, check out the new teen horror anthology Slasher Girls and Monster Boys or for safer horror, the children’s classic Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.
They say "Don't judge a book by its cover," but if you glance at the front cover of Stephen Kings' novel Finders Keepers then you can assume one thing, and that is: There will be blood. Oh, and there will be crime, violence and gore.
Finders Keepers goes back and forth between the past and present to follow the lives of two main characters — Morris Bellamy and Pete Saubers, born decades apart. Morris and Pete eventually meet face to face because they have a great deal in common. For instance, they are both obsessed with the same person, who happens to be dead.
The story kicks off in 1979 and introduces us to Morris Bellamy, a 23-year-old criminal obsessed with a famous American author named John Rothstein and his Jimmy Gold trilogy. Morris and his partners in crime pay Rothstein an unwelcome visit. They rob the author of his bank envelopes stuffed with cash, his Moleskine notebooks filled with unpublished writings...and his life. Paranoia sets in. Morris thinks the cop will track him down. This causes him to hide the stolen goods in a trunk and bury it in the woods behind his house. Although Morris robbed and killed Rothstein, he ends up receiving life in prison for committing a different crime.
Decades later, a teenager named Pete Saubers, who now lives in Morris’ house, discovers Morris’ trunk and takes the cash and notebooks. He behaves like a secret Santa by mailing the cash to his parents, who had fallen on hard times and were on the verge of a divorce. When Pete reads what’s inside the Moleskine notebooks, he becomes a devoted fan of John Rothstein and his Jimmy Gold novels. John Rothstein changes him.
Morris, now nearly 60 years old, gets parole. He only has one thing on his mind, the Moleskine notebooks. After spending 35 years in prison, Morris believes his trunk is still safely buried behind his former home. When Morris finds out that Pete is the new owner of the Moleskine notebooks, it infuriates him. There is a standoff between the old Morris and the young Pete. They both want the Moleskine notebooks. There will be blood, lots of it.
Finders Keepers is a keeper. I definitely recommend this book. The story gets better and better after each turn of the page. If you like this novel, you will certainly like Mr. Mercedes also by Stephen King. While not required, I highly recommend Mr. Mercedes since it provides backstory for important events and characters mentioned in Finders Keepers. To find out more about Stephen King and his upcoming projects visit stephenking.com.