2020 has been an intense year, so much so that listing all of our grievances here would be a horror book in and of itself. 2020 has also been the year horror has shot back up onto the bestseller lists, and Netflix seemingly has a few new films and series in the genre every week. It’s no surprise that people are excitedly escaping the horrors of reality for the fictional horrors found in the latest novel. If you’re looking to escape into another world, here are 15 of the best horror books that were published in 2020.
Related: 15 Best Horror Movies of 2020
The latest from Nebula and Locus Award-winning author P. Djèlí Clark, this novella blends Lovecraftian horror with one of America’s historical blemishes, the Ku Klux Klan. Strong-willed Maryse Boudreaux is a monster hunter who also dabbles in bootleg whiskey during the height of Prohibition. When the sorcery of D.W. Griffith gives way to a plot involving the KKK and the unleashing of Hell on Earth, it’s up to Maryse and her magic sword to upend the sinister plan.
Tender Is the Flesh
This novel will horrify you. The premise is so deviously simple, yet wonderfully perfect: a virus has caused a mass extinction of animals, leaving humans without any source of meat. Rather than adapt to a plant-based diet, society resorts to cannibalism. People begin harvesting, growing, and processing other humans for meat the same way they did with animals. In this world, factory human farming is big business. Our protagonist, Marcos, oversees this operation and remains complicit—until someone enters his life and causes him to reexamine how people treat one another.
The Only Good Indians
Stephen Graham Jones is highly prolific and has been publishing innovative horror for the last two decades. The Only Good Indians is his latest novel, and it has fittingly graced the New York Times Best Seller list.
In this prescient and timely thriller, a group of four friends are on a hunting trip when they accidentally injure a pregnant doe and then outright kill her and her unborn calf. The guilt of the kill haunts the friends, and nature itself vies to ensure that they meet their due for the doe’s unjust murder. It’s every bit as suspenseful as it is tender, with Jones’s trademark command of language and atmosphere. If there’s one book on this list you read, make it this one.
Written in the structure and tone of an oral history, B.R. Yeager’s latest novel blends cosmic horror with an epidemic of suicides in a small town. At the center of it all is a mysterious message board populated by people fascinated with the growing suicide rate and Tyler, an enigmatic teenager with a self-destructive pattern. As the suicides increase in frequency and the veil between realities blurs, the novel takes readers even deeper into the sort of horror that makes you question human will and the concept of choice.
If It Bleeds
Much like Stephen King’s classic quartet of novellas, Different Seasons (which included the basis for two equally memorable films, The Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me), King’s latest collection consists of four novellas that take us into vastly different, yet reliably frightening territory. The standout is If It Bleeds, a novella that returns to the world King rendered in his novel, The Outsider. The other novellas are King at his creepiest, which is always a good thing.
The subject of Alma Katsu’s latest novel is the RMS Titanic. By taking the tragedy of its sinking and blending together a sinister and supernatural twist, Katsu created one of the most memorable horror page-turners of the year.
Protagonist and runaway stewardess Annie Hebbley acts as the reader’s looking glass into the world of the rich and decadent aboard the ship as it sets off to sea. Katsu’s novel extends beyond the impending tragedy to the years and relationships that follow, with Hebbley’s memory as the anchor between the past and the present. Like her previous novel, The Hunger, Katsu has taken historical fiction to new uncharted seas.
Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s novel was, to put it simply, a highlight during the summer of 2020, and it has continued to be an oft-mentioned title among a multitude of readers. Noemi’s cousin Catalina has moved to her husband Virgil’s secluded Gothic estate. But Noemi’s father seems to think the worst of the situation, citing bizarre circumstances. Naturally, Noemi accepts her father’s wishes to intervene. The events that transpire are every bit as suspenseful as the best in the world of horror.
Talk about timely and prescient—Paul Tremblay’s latest novel is about, you guessed it, a pandemic. But it isn’t necessarily reminiscent of COVID-19; rather, the virus in question is akin to a more intense version of rabies. The incubation period of the virus takes only an hour before the infected reveals horrific symptoms like flailing and foaming at the mouth.
Tremblay has a deft eye for human psychology and made the classic pandemic novel that much more believable, right before an actual pandemic was about to become our reality. This is a must-read if you like flying close to the sun and want to escape into a story that mirrors the present day.
This is one of the best anthologies of the year, no matter the genre. Editors Lincoln Michel and Nadxieli Nieto have gathered work from authors like Brian Evenson, Rion Amilcar Scott, Jac Jemc, and more, and the horror is beyond topical. With 42 stories running the gamut of the genre, the anthology becomes more like a roadmap of fearful possibilities. With plagues, serial killers, dismemberment, body snatching, and more, reading the anthology is like getting a highlight reel of the best that literary horror has to offer.
The Boatman’s Daughter
If you like your horror with a side of Southern crime, Andy Davidson’s novel is your next best read. Miranda Crabtree’s father was killed when she was a child. Ever since, she’s been trapped in a life of crime, working as a drug smuggler for an unstable preacher. When she discovers sinister forces in the bayou surrounding her home, her already tenuous grip on normalcy is pulled apart.
Jeremy Robert Johnson’s thriller is pure adrenaline and corporate conspiracy fun. The small town of Turner Falls was idyllic and serene, until a murderous outbreak appeared out of nowhere. The culprit is none other than pharmaceutical corporations, and when their nefarious experiments become uncontrollable, Turner Falls pays the price. The Loop is reminiscent of the Resident Evil novelization we’ve always wanted, modernized and done with a deft eye for social commentary.
To say Wallwork’s novel is ominous is an understatement. Children have been going missing, completely disappearing without a single trace and no leads. The novel focuses on the different perspectives surrounding the disappearances. There’s a writer looking for the next big story to bolster his career, a detective determined to crack the case, and a secret cult that delves into the world of ritualistic murder. Wallwork has crafted a surprising and masterfully-written investigative thriller with flecks of horror.
Clown in a Cornfield
Cesare’s novel is technically YA, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a sendoff to the horror of the 80s and 90s, all that campy stuff involving supernatural presences, kids bonding together to fight for their lives, and the feeling of nostalgia that can’t be beat. Clown in a Cornfield is a book for all horror fans, written by a master and horror fan himself.
If you like your horror weirder than weird, Charlene Elsby’s slim volume is going to be the antidote for your current dilemma. An unnamed protagonist uses the power of sex and attraction to seduce and kill a man over and over again, with increasingly potency. This one will get under your skin and infect your thoughts.
We Need to Do Something
In this set piece of a novella that takes place entirely within the confines of a bathroom during the height of a hurricane, a family endures the natural disaster while battling an increasingly tense unveiling of their secrets. They’ll have to deal with one another, and find some sense of redemption…or not.
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