There are perhaps no two “genre categories” as closely knit to the point of synergy than crime and horror. Both commercial categories attempt to put narratives of often intense darkness and deceit into saleable categories that might be attractive to anybody looking to be an armchair investigator, a voyeur into a world they (hopefully) will never know.
We gathered a number of excellent examples of when both crime and horror work together to create a synergy of tension and terror.
Tony & Susan
I’m going to start with perhaps an odd choice. Austin Wright’s Tony and Susan has been touted as one of those slow burns, a book that was universally rejected by publishers, picked up by a small press willing to take the risk, only to find it catapulted into bestseller status. Somewhere along the lines, it was optioned and eventually adapted to film by x under the title, Nocturnal Animals.
Tony and Susan are about a couple on the outs, effectively the romance in their lives fading alongside life’s many financial and existential worries. Nested into the narrative is a book, called Nocturnal Animals, written by Susan’s ex-husband, that effectively informs the main narrative, particularly by way of regret, despair, and loss. It’s understated in both crime and horror but as you read, you can’t help but notice that it’s playing those cards, using a horrible crime nested in the aforementioned fictional book, to prey on the reader’s own mind.
In The Miso Soup
If you want something gritty, you can’t really go wrong with most of Ryu Murakami’s work. However, In the Miso Soup is, by far, his best.
A relatively quick read, readers are introduced to a hustler named Kenji, who pays the bills as a nightlife tour guide, of sorts. The job forces him to see things he doesn’t wish to see, interacting with low-lives and other opportunists. Yet when he meets Frank, an American tourist, things get even murkier. Murakami managed to toy not only with a serial killer narrative but also that sense of mystery that only horror can provide, by way of a smoke and mirrors effect. It’s intensely alarming and truly a cult classic.
The Devil Takes You Home
Gabino Iglesias’s latest takes what he calls “barrio noir” to new heights. Mario has a dark past that he’s walked away from in favor of living a “normal life.” This means working a day job that pays very little, trying to support his daughter and wife. Things seem to be fine until his daughter dies of cancer and his marriage subsequently falls apart. Bills pile up, despair is unrelenting, and then Mario is lured back into his life of crime in hopes of finding financial levity.
Iglesias ratchets up the tension by way of adding supernatural elements that blur the lines between genres. The pace is enough to cause whiplash and readers will find a sense of vulnerability in its characters, especially the wounded and broken down Mario, to keep the pages turning.
Man with No Name
You could cite any one of Barron’s books as excellent examples of the synergy of horror and crime, yet I’ll go with a personal favorite, and perhaps lesser-known Man with No Name.
This novella is pitch black, dropping readers into the life of crime and cutthroat violence by way of Nanashi— a trained gun and knife wielding enforcer for the Heron Clan. It should be another job, swipe Muzaki, a famous wrestler and property of a rival clan, but soon Nanashi and his subordinates discover that this is no ordinary feat. Barron elevates the tale of bleak crime and gang warfare with cosmic horror undertones that secure Man with No Name into that hybrid concoction of speculative bliss that only can be found when these categories intersect.
The Last House on Needless Street
Ward’s latest begins like what might be a serial killer thriller, but if there’s anything one should learn about a book rendered by Catriona Ward is that she masterfully weaves twists and turns into every plot point, making it so that you can’t quite be sure if what’s labeled true is, you know, actually true.
As the title suggests, readers are introduced to one Ted Bannerman who lives on Needless Street in a broken down, boarded up house. He’s in a rut, drinking too much, and has a tumultuous relationship with is daughter Lauren. When someone moves into the abandoned house next door, things soon take a turn for the worse. This is where The Last House on Needless Street really shines as an example of the genres creating a unique hybrid. The intrigue of a mystery followed by the increasingly unreliable and odd setting, are launchpads for a truly harrowing, fascinating, and horrific read that shouldn’t be missed.
Erika Wurth’s debut novel, White Horse, looks to be a premier example of crime and horror’s synergy.
Kari James lives for Stephen King novels, punk attitude, and heavy metal. It’s a life that many readers will relate to and know well. It’s the stuff of escapism, Kari having already enough tragedy for one like in the way of a mother that abandoned her, a father enduring a horrible car accident, and a boyfriend that dies via an overdose… yeah, that’s enough to render someone unwilling to view reality at face value. It’s also a good enough series of events to go ahead and drown it out with alcohol. Kari finds herself spending more time with her cousin Debby at a bar called White Horse when Debby hands her a bracelet that supposedly belonged to her mother. It’s a gift and an occasion that conjures a supernatural horror that makes it impossible to ignore the past. What results is an utterly unique read that demonstrates crime and horror working wonders at painting a complexly layered depiction of vulnerability.