There are few things we love more than a scary story. Whether it’s a horrifying novel or a spooky short tale, we love to curl up by the fire and dive into a dark and twisted narrative that will keep us reading long into the night.
This year saw some truly terrifying new tales hit the shelves, from bold new voices in horror to the thrilling return of genre masters. Here are the best horror books of 2019, to keep your lights burning well into the new year…
Newlyweds Titus and Melanie are driving toward their honeymoon destination when they cross a bridge that isn’t on the map. The next thing you know, Titus is gone, and Melanie is stuck in a weird, out-of-time town called Staywater, trying to figure out what happened. Of course, since this is Cherie Priest we're talking about, the weirdness has just begun. The Toll invites you on a nightmarish trip to some very different places before all is said and done.
Over the last few years, Paul Tremblay has become one of the biggest names in horror, thanks to the success of novels like A Head Full of Ghosts and Disappearance at Devil’s Rock. 2019 saw the publication of Growing Things, which no less a horror luminary than Stephen King called, “One of the best collections of the 21st century.” These shivery short stories include a Bram Stoker Award nominee and tales that tie into the dark realms and themes of Tremblay’s novels in fascinating ways.
Related: 20 Horrifying Books Like The Shining
A Lush and Seething Hell
What’s midway between a short story collection and a novel? How about this double-feature of one novella and one short novel, which combines the horrors of the human condition with the twisting, turning strangeness of the classic weird tale. In The Sea Dreams It Is the Sky, a poet-in-exile attempts to translate a maddening text, while My Heart Struck Sorrow features a musical recording that just may have been made by the Devil himself.
The Monster of Elendhaven
From debut author Jennifer Giesbrecht, this dark fantasy paints a portrait of a dying town haunted by murder, monsters, and magicians. A thing without a name prowls the streets of Elendhaven, its pale fingers outstretched, in search of the next throat to strangle. The creature's master sends it out into the dark to commit terrible deeds and further his sinister plan. And yet something else stirs in the monster’s heart, in this novel that Joe Hill called, “A black tide of perversity, violence, and lush writing.”
Speaking of Stephen King, he’s still going strong, and this year he published The Institute, his… you know, we’re not actually sure how many novels he’s published at this point. We lost count. It’s getting close to a hundred, though. Anyway, The Institute is perfect for new readers who are coming to King because of shows like Stranger Things, or anyone who ever wondered, “What would it be like if Stephen King wrote the X-Men?”
The Dead Girls Club
Those who don’t read a lot of short stories may not know Damien Angelica Walters. But that’s about to change with the release of her first novel. The Dead Girls Club tells the story of two friends and what happened to them on a fateful night in 1991 when a scary story became far too real. If you miss the thrill of standing before mirror and chanting “Bloody Mary” until nightmarish images flash before your eyes, then this book and its Red Lady are just what you’ve been looking for…
Let's talk origin story. In 2015, Ballingrud published a novella called The Visible Filth. Filth served as the basis for the 2019 psychological horror movie Wounds, starring Armie Hammer, Dakota Johnson, and Zazie Beetz. This year, Ballingrud published Wounds: Six Stories from the Border of Hell, a sinister collection that includes the novella Wounds—which may be the tamest tale in this book of devils and deviltry, human and inhuman evil, cannibal priests, apocalyptic visions, terrible angels, and much more. Jeff VanderMeer called Ballingrud “one of my favorite short fiction writers,” while The New York Review of Books called Wounds “one of the most disquieting and memorable short story collections to come out this year.”
As is clear by now, 2019 was a banner year for horror short story collections. Among those making it such a good year was the second collection from Joe Hill, including two stories co-written with his father—for those who don’t already know, Hill’s father is none other than Stephen King. One of those stories was recently adapted into the Netflix horror movie In the Tall Grass.
A Spectral Hue
"A Spectral Hue might just be a horror story," Kai Ashante Wilson, author of A Taste of Honey, writes, "though if it is, I’ve never read another so full of beauty, found family, and the rapture of art, rather than terror or gore." If that sounds like your cup of tea—or if you simply want to read a haunting horror novel like no other, filled with diverse voices and conjuring a "phantasmagoric mythos" (Wilson again) from the power of art and obsession—then Craig Gidney’s A Spectral Hue is the book for you.
Sefira & Other Betrayals
The bizarre tale of a woman who pursues a succubus across the country anchors this searing collection of doom-laden short stories from an award-winning master of the form. Of course, since this is John Langan, it’s not your usual account of a succubus hunter—if there is such a thing. Instead, these are stories about betrayal and complicity, about love and grief, pain and hunger, that illuminate the darkest corners of the human imagination. We told you it was a good year for short story collections.
Related: A Recipe for Madness
Camp Ghoul Mountain Part VI: The Official Novelization
We love a good lost film story, and this clever metafictional jumble is just that—half novelization of the sixth chapter in a fictional slasher movie franchise, half intertextual account of writing the book, complete with sinister cults, dangerous conspiracies, and strange lights in the sky. Come for the exploits of Henry the Horror and his young victims, stay for Raab’s extended footnotes and behind-the-scenes commentary that conjures a realm far stranger than the world witnessed on the movie screen.