Prolific author Stephen King is widely regarded as the Master of Horror. Since 1974, King has published over sixty novels, a handful of nonfiction books, and countless short stories, as well as penned graphic novels, a screenplay, a musical libretto, and a straight out of his own Dark Tower universe. From his first novel, , to 2019's , King conjures tales suffused with snappy dialogue and frank explorations of human nature's dark impulses. The author has won over a dozen Bram Stoker Awards, four World Fantasy Awards, and was honored with the National Medal of Arts—all of which to say, Stephen King knows good horror when he sees it.
A masterpiece like is proof enough. A haunting exploration of fear and the everlasting impact of childhood trauma, King's horror novel terrified an entire generation of readers, introduced us to Pennywise the Dancing Clown, and served as the inspiration for a number of killer horror movie adaptations.
Yet after you’ve read all of King’s thrills and chills from front to back, and then returned to a few of his greatest hits for a second go, it’s time to move on to something new. But where could you possibly go after reading some of the best horror and thriller novels around? Well, as an avid reader himself, Stephen King has a few helpful recommendations.
It’s safe to say that you know you’ve made it as a horror writer when your book scares the King of horror. Ranging from the Victorian era to today, the following thriller, suspense, and horror books recommended by Stephen King are sure to give you something to scream about. From the disturbing to the downright terrifying, these twisted tales all deserve a place on your “to be read” list.
Speaks the Nightbird
Set in 1699 in the Carolinas, a young widow named Rachel Howarth is about to be hung as a witch when Matthew Corbett, the magistrate’s clerk, becomes convinced of her innocence. When he examines the situation, it turns out many in the town have much to gain by Rachel’s death. Rather than the work of the devil, the true evil lies within the townspeople.
King said: "A rarity in popular fiction, a book that manages to be thoughtful as well as entertaining."
Before and King's own short story "Children of the Corn" from his short story collection , there was Thomas Tryon's 1973 pagan horror classic. A city-dwelling family, exhausted by urban life, decamps for the country and moves into a 300-year-old farmhouse in the rural village of Cornwall Coombe, Connecticut. The fresh arrivals are curious about the tight-knit community, and want to know more about their new neighbors and traditions. But they soon discover the townspeople—especially the women—are into something much, much darker.
King said: "Sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, it is a true book; it is an honest book in the sense that it says exactly what Tryon wanted to say... [I]n forty years, when most of us are underground, there will still be a routine rebinding once a year for the library copies of Harvest Home."
Big-band singer Johnny Favorite is in the middle of a performance for Allied troops when a Luftwaffe squadron opens fire, wiping out the audience. The singer survives, barely, and is transported back to New York state to recover. Johnny living out the rest of his days as a vegetable is bleak—not just for the singer, but for Louis Cyphre, who had a contract with the singer and is due to receive a substantial amount of money upon Johnny’s death. So Cyphre hires private investigator Harry Angel to travel to New York and make sure that the news of Johnny’s survival hasn’t been exaggerated.
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But when Angel arrives at the hospital, Johnny has disappeared—but it’s not like the man could have just waltzed out on his own. Things take a turn for the very strange when bodies begin to pile up. To make matters worse, Cyphre starts making ominous appearances in Angel’s dream. It seems like the detective has gotten himself caught in the middle of a terrible tangle of black magic.
King said: "A terrific book...I've never read anything remotely like it. Trying to imagine what might have happened if Raymond Chandler had written The Exorcist is as close as I can come."
The Great God Pan
Published in 1894, The Great God Pan scandalized its first readers. Today, the novella is considered to be an early work of gothic fiction. A man named Clarke is witness to a strange medical experiment, only to come in contact with a woman years later who is allegedly responsible for a string of suicides. Clarke comes to suspect that there is something sinister about this woman…and that she may not be human.
King said: ”One of the best horror stories ever written. Perhaps the best in the English language.”
The Midwich Cuckoos
This author recommendation comes straight from the pages of King’s nonfiction book on horror in popular culture, . Among all of John Wyndham’s works, The Midwich Cuckoos, which inspired the horror classic Village of the Damned, falls most in line with King’s style of horror, reminiscent in some ways to .
It’s a perfectly normal day in the English village of Midwich, until a strange silver object suddenly appears, and all of the town’s citizens fall unconscious. When they awake, every woman of childbearing age is pregnant—and the children they come to birth are eerily similar. With no emotions, incredible powers, and immeasurable intelligence, these children are possessed by cruel, domineering creatures on a mission to create a superior race.
King said: "Perhaps the best writer of science fiction that England has ever produced."
Against the Wind
Will Alexander was once a famous and flamboyant criminal lawyer, raking in cash and making headlines with his high society wife. But that's all in the past now. Abandoned by his wife, Will's career is now in shambles thanks to his boozing and philandering. Will’s partners insist he take some time to get his act together—but not before he accepts a case for the Scorpions. Four bikers in the gang are on trial for a heinous murder, and the only lawyer they’re willing to let touch their case is Will. Despite all the evidence seeming to say otherwise, when the Scorpions say they’re innocent, Will is somehow inclined to believe them.
King said: “A rip-snorting, full-throttle novel . . . It kept me up late into the night.”
The cell phones of today are capable of just about everything. They take amazing photos, have frighteningly clear reception—and some even open a gateway to Hell! Adult film director Peter Russell, grieving the death of his daughter, takes up work with a Los Angeles startup to promote their latest product: Trans, a revolutionary phone promising unparalleled mobile communication anywhere in the world. But sinister energies emanate from the device. Soon, Peter begins picking up messages from his murdered daughter, and comes into contact with the voices of angry, malevolent, hungry souls from beyond the grave.
King said: "A really excellent novel."
Fans of post-apocalyptic epics are sure to love this sprawling tale by South Africa's Deon Meyer. Nico Storm is just a boy, yet he's forced to confront a harsh and unforgiving land. The world lies in ruin after a virus devastates the planet's population, leaving behind few survivors. Together with his father, Willem, Nico must use his wits and extraordinary marksmanship to survive.
King said: "Reminiscent of The Stand and The Passage. Great stuff."
Hunting Down Amanda
This Edgar Award-winning author, Andrew Klavan, comes highly recommended by Stephen King. For those readers who got a thrill out of King’s —a story about a young girl whose pyrokinetic abilities make her a target for a nefarious government organization—Klavan’s novel Hunting Down Amanda is a great next read.
Five-year-old Amanda is playing outside when a plane flying overhead explodes, sending down a fiery carnage from the sky. The small child wanders off from the devastation into the woods, and when her mother, Carol, finally finds her, she’s fallen asleep in the arms of a strange man. Carol flees with Amanda to New York, terrified of what will happen if Amanda is found—for Amanda is gifted with the incredible power of healing. With evil in hot pursuit of the family, her mother’s determined love is all that can keep Amanda safe.
King said: Andrew Klavan is "the most original novelist of crime and suspense since Cornell Woolrich."
This thriller follows Los Angeles cartoonist Max Fischer, who falls head over heels for quirky restaurant manager Lily and her precocious ten-year-old son. The intensity of his feelings seem to be echoed in the pair, and soon Max is moving in with them to build a new life together. But it seems that Lilly possesses a dark and dangerous secret, one that will change Max's life forever.
King said: "Compelling... The only thing harder than putting it down is forgetting it after the last page is turned."
The Shrinking Man
King has identified Matheson as one of his primary influences. Read Matheson's genre-bending tales of doomsday viruses, irradiated shrinking men, and monsters run amok, and it's easy to track back the influence. In this early horror thriller, a brilliant pianist with a disturbed mind breaks free from the asylum in which he is held, and sets out on a revenge-fueled rampage of terror.
King said: "The author who influenced me the most as a writer was Richard Matheson."
Peter Abrahams is another phenomenal author recommendation from Stephen King, and when looking for a place to start in his literary canon, you can’t go wrong with Hard Rain. Jessie Shapiro’s irresponsible ex-husband has disappeared, which might not be much of a problem if their daughter didn’t go missing with him. When Jessie goes to her ex’s house to investigate, she finds an ominous warning on his answering machine. The next thing she knows, her best friend is getting run over while wearing Jessie’s slicker.
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The pattern seems too sinister to be a coincidence, but when Jessie turns to the police for help she gets the brush off. Jessie takes matters into her own hands, searching for her daughter across the United States. But what happens when she discovers a dangerous secret from her ex-husband’s past?
King said: "Peter Abrahams is my favorite American suspense novelist."
More Than Human
Stephen King is a big fan of Theodore Sturgeon’s provocative work. If you’re looking to dive into the library of this International Fantasy Award-winner, then More Than Human is the perfect place to start, as its unique and suspenseful nature is in line with King’s own style.
Six misfits walk the world with incredible powers: a simple-minded man who can hear and control thoughts, a runaway with the ability to move things with her mind, inarticulate twin sisters who can teleport great distances, and a baby who might be Earth’s greatest genius. Together, they comprise one remarkable being—the Gestalt. But then the group meets Gerry, a telepath with a complete lack of a moral compass. Will these extraordinary people herald in the next stage of evolution, or will they be the downfall of humanity?
King said: "One of the greatest writers of science fiction and fantasy who ever lived. I can't recommend his work too highly!"
Carl Martin should have had it made when his late father left him a house in a trendy, up-and-coming London neighborhood. However, with nothing but spare change in his pockets, Carl is desperate to bring in some cash. He rents the upstairs room of his new house to Dermot McKinnon—a man fortunate enough to be nothing more than the first person Carl could find. But Carl’s financial pursuits take a nosedive when he sells some of the alternative pharmaceuticals left behind in his father’s home, and the buyer ends up dead.
King said: “Every aspect of Ruth Rendell’s dark art is splendidly showcased in Dark Corners. One can’t say she saved the best for last, because a great many books by Ms. Rendell and her alter ego Barbara Vine are so splendid, but it’s among the best. You won’t put it down. I loved it.”
From the author of The Shining Girls, a book that owes much to King’s masterpiece, The Shining, Lauren Beukes’ fourth novel, Broken Monsters, is the story of serial killer with a strange M.O. He, or she, fuses the victims’ bodies together with the body of a deer. Detective Gabriella Versado is tasked with solving these bizarre and violent crimes, and at the same time, she must struggle to keep her willful teenage daughter safe from another kind of predator.
King said: "Scary as hell and hypnotic. I couldn't put it down. Next month. I'd grab it, if I were you.”
When a wealthy publishing magnate gets news that his days are numbered, he decides it’s worth his time (and money) to discover if there’s life after death—offering a $100,000 reward to anyone who can prove it. A group including a physicist, two mediums, and a medical doctor take him up on the challenge, going to Belasco House in Maine, which is also known as Hell House for the intense paranormal activity within its walls.
King said: “Hell House is the scariest haunted house novel ever written. It looms over the rest the way the mountains loom over the foothills.”
Dutch author Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s English language debut impressed the likes of Stephen King and George R.R. Martin. The Black Rock Witch haunts Black Spring, a small town in the Hudson Valley, and is out to avenge her death in the seventeenth century. The town’s officials know they have to keep the witch under wraps, or she’ll wreak havoc on the outside world. But Black Spring’s teenagers have a different, far more dangerous plan to rid their home of this monster.
King said: “A wicked witch holds an upstate New York town prisoner. This is totally, brilliantly original.”
A Head Full of Ghosts
A modern take on the classic exorcism story, the Barrett family at first thinks their 14-year-old daughter is suffering from severe schizophrenia. But when the doctors are baffled by her symptoms, the family calls in a Catholic priest for help. Desperate and strapped for cash, the Barretts agree to have their daughter’s exorcism filmed for a reality television show.
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King said: “Scared the living hell out of me, and I’m pretty hard to scare.”
What begins as a relaxing vacation in Mexico quickly escalates into full-blown horror when two couples stumble upon some ancient Mayan ruins in the jungle.
King said: “The Ruins is your basic long scream of horror. It does for Mexican vacations what Jaws did for New England beaches in 1975.”
Soon to be an HBO series starring Amy Adams, Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn’s debut novel tells the story of reporter Camille Preaker who must return to her hometown to cover the murder of two young girls. There’s only one problem: Camille is fresh from the psych ward herself, and in uncovering the story she’ll uncover demons from her own past.
King said: “I found myself dreading the last thirty pages or so but was helpless to stop turning them.”
The Haunting of Hill House
This classic horror novel from the author of the chilling short story “The Lottery” is not your typical haunted house tale. A doctor hopes to prove that Hill House is in fact haunted, and brings together four strangers in hopes that they will witness something paranormal. But as it turns out, the house has something else in mind for one of the strangers in particular—a young woman named Eleanor.
King said: “It seems to me that [The Haunting of Hill House] and James’s The Turn of the Screw are the only two great novels of the supernatural in the last hundred years.”
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Featured photo of Stephen King: Wikimedia Commons