Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Hallowe'en Post 3 - Top Ten Scary books..!

I found choosing favourite spooky books easier than making a list of films. I wonder why?

Books are creepier anyway. They get under your skin because that's where they begin. They sneak into your dreams and you're stuck with them. Their stories keep on playing and continuing inside you. It's something to do with carrying the book around with you - and the time and concentration you put into it, I think. Films reach out to you - with 3D this is quite literally the case. But books are inverted 3D. They invite you in.

And that can get scary. Here's my list...

10. SHADOWS BEND by David Barbour and Richard Raleigh. I bought this on a whim in a nice bookshop in Edinburgh celled Transreal Fiction, several years ago. It's a road movie adventure with writers H P Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard making their way across the US in order to save a friend from unearthly forces. On the way they hook up with a Vegas Showgirl, who proves to be a handful. I've never heard anyone mention this book, or write about it or say it's wonderful. I loved it, though!

9. LOVE OF THE SEVEN DOLLS by Paul Gallico. A Parisian puppeteer and his poor assistant. He treats her cruelly, and she can only talk to the dolls in his puppet booth show. It's one of Gallico's heartbreaking fables - saved from sentimentality by the sheer creepiness of the thing. Due for a reread, I think.

8. FALLEN ANGEL by Kim Wilkins. Third in a row in this list that's out of print. This is a wonderful novel - in which we slip back in time to the plague and the Great Fire of London. Milton's daughters have colluded to summon up a sexy daemon and they hide him from their blind father in the house next door. Wilkins is a wonderful writer of dark fantasy / horror / paranormal romance - whatever you want to call it. I've read all of her books, I think - but it's this first one that i'm fondest of.

7. THE HOUSE NEXT DOOR by Anne Rivers Siddons. I've read her wonderful family sagas - all of them without a single shred of supernatural stuff going on. But at some point in the 70s she turned her hand to writing a gothic ghost story, telling the tale of successive owners terrified out of a particular house. It's an astonishingly scary book.

6. THE DEVIL RIDES OUT by Dennis Wheatley. I've read all of his 'satanist' books and I think this is the one I like best. The film is smashing, too. He's hopelessly unfashionable and nobody rates him. His politics stink and all the rest of it. But he's a page-turner. At least he is for me, and I never argue with that. This is the first book on my list to still be in print, I believe. Wordsworth did one of their El Cheapo editions a couple of years ago.

5. THE LAND OF LAUGHS by Jonathan Carroll. You'll think me a fool for banging on about this one again. But at every opportunity I have to say that this creepy classic is one of my very favourite novels, ever. A lifelong fan of a dead children's writer / illustrator is lured to his reclusive hero's hometown with the promise of writing his biography. When he gets  there he finds that everything is true. Every last, wonderful, absurd, scary thing. Oh, just read it. I believe Gollancz do a 'Masterworks' edition.

4. THE DEAD ZONE by Stephen King. I love others of his just as much. Salem's Lot, maybe. But The Dead Zone was the first King I read - on a Lake District holiday when I was 17. It has stayed with me. Indelibly. All that stuff - that strange stuff - about waking up from comas. I couldn't care less about the thriller plot and assassinations and all of that. It's the deep, abiding strangeness of it all - and how familiar King can make it seem.

3. THE BLOODY CHAMBER by Angela Carter. One of those life-changing books. I can still remember the sensation of reading it for the first time, at twenty. Mocking, salacious, frightening, lavish. I just wish my ancient Penguin copy didn't have such small print. Why isn't there a deluxe copy with lovely pictures and large print..? I think it's the feeling of joyful freedom I love about this book. She is let loose - and if you listen hard, you can still hear her cackling with laughter as you read.

2. THE DARK IS RISING by Susan Cooper. Now this one i know I've written about way too much. But I love it. The menacing birds outside the church. The creepy, possessed adults and never knowing who to trust. Learning that you belong to the order of the 'Old Ones' and have responsibilities in the ongoing battle against the dark. Snow and time travel and always being under siege. Horned men on horseback with owlish eyes. Nothing like it.

1. ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS. More than Wonderland, which was creepy enough. Looking Glass was a revelation to me at eight, or however old i was when i first read it. I had a very fancy edition, a red hardback, during a very unhappy time with family. It was something I could hide inside. And the darkness of the book was perfect. The way scenes and characters would morph one into the next. Old faces returned, but they were subtly altered and not always friendly - which seemed very true of family life, too. Another one I think I'm ready to revisit... i think I'll still find it as scary as ever. For me it taps into those moments in dreams when you're forever running to catch up, or language escapes you, or other people's behaviour becomes as bizarrely unfathomable as it is in real life.

So - those are my ten. What do you think? Predictable? Any surprises? I want to hear about yours, too. I'm sure I'll be reminded of things I missed out. Right now I'm thinking I should have included the non-fiction 'Monsters of the Movies' - which was mostly pictures from scary old films. But it's still one of the scariest books I own.

Happy Hallowe'en, everyone! I hope you'll find some time to spend with a story - in a book, film or TV show - that you love. And that you'll get to share it with someone you love, too.


  1. Wonderful mix of familiar and unfamiliar there, as is only right on Halloween. Fantastic that Alice is there. Did you ever have that book of 100 Great Horror Novels – by Kim Newman? It was a bit of a bible when I was nineteen, though I couldn’t find everything in it. It made me read Mythago Wood, and Gustav Meyrink, whose The Golem would be one of my favourites. The Three Impostors by Arthur Machen would definitely be another; The Turn of the Screw; The House with the Clock in its Walls, too. And lots and LOTS of ghost stories. (Actually most of the above are ghost stories.)

    Hope you have a lovely Halloween too.

  2. Oh, and Something Wicked This Way Comes too. I'll be thinking of these all day...

    1. Great suggestions there, Nick. I don't know '100 Great Horror Novels' - that would have been helpful to have! I did love Mythago Wood - though not the sequel.

    2. There's a review here that gives some guide to the content. Wish I'd never lost my copy...!

  3. I haven't read enough horror, I'm only really starting to get into it in print. Although my flatmate has pretty much everything Stephen King ever wrote, so I can easily pick up some of his!

    The one I will pick out is 'A Christmas Carol.' I know it's not really horror, but it is a ghost story with a couple of genuinely chilling moments. The part where the Ghost of Christmas Present reveals the starving children of Want and Ignorance... The one book I read every year.

  4. Nice to see 'Land of Laughs' featured; I REALLY must dust my copy down and re-read!