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Everyone likes a good scare, and over the years there have been many excellent horror books and stories to make even the bravest fear the dark. Modern day masters of horror include Stephen King and James Herbert in a genre that dates back to the likes of Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley.
Because tastes in horror vary wildly among readers, any selection of ten of the best is bound to be controversial, and so please feel free to disagree with these ten, and add alternative selections in the comments box below.
The books are listed in alphabetical order, and the date in brackets shows when they were first published.
'Christine,' by Stephen King (1983)
This haunted car story was a tough choice to elevate above the rest of Stephen King’s great horror books, especially as it was made into what, it has to be said, was a mediocre film at best. Yet the book brings out the best in the author’s storytelling ability, and his knack of getting into his characters’ murkier depths. The star of the novel is the 1958 red-and-white Plymouth Fury.
'Dracula,' by Bram Stoker (1897)
Considered by many as the original vampire novel, Dracula was in fact not the first, but it has certainly become the most influential. The format of the book is a series of diary entries revealing the tale of Jonathan Harker who travels to Transylvania to provide legal help in property buying to Count Dracula. Dracula later travels to England to prey on Harker’s fiancee Mina, and her friend Lucy. This is also listed as one of the top fantasy novels of all time.
'Lamia,' by Tristan Travis (1984)
The Lamia in Greek mythology is a snake with the head and breasts of a woman. In this modern retelling, the subject is a young woman possessed by the Lamia. The book tells both her story, and that of her friend Lieutenant Valjohn who is trying to solve a series of horrific murders in Chicago, not realising how close he really is to the source. There is a lot of speculation that the author’s name is a pseudonym for a more well known writer working outside his or her normal genre.
'Flowers in the Attic,' by Virginia Andrews (1979)
Not all horror is supernatural, and this is a prime example of the horror within human beings. The story is that of four siblings locked up in an attic while their mother tries to win back the love of her dying father, so she can inherit his wealth. But over the years, the mother loses interest in the children, and they are abused by their grandmother. And it gets worse.
'Frankenstein,' by Mary Shelley (1818)
Subtitled The Modern Prometheus, this tells the story of Victor Frankenstein who builds a man out of bits of body parts, and is then horrified by what he has created, and leaves the monster to its own devices. But when the monster kills his brother, Frankenstein realises he needs to act. The monster’s telling of his observations of humans is one of the best parts. This is also listed as one of the top science fiction novels of all time.
'Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde,' by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886)
This famous story of the lawyer investigating the evil Mr Hyde, and being puzzled at why the apparently respectable gentleman Dr Henry Jeckyll appears to be helping, and protecting him has been told in many forms, but the original book is still a good read, and a worthy entry in this list.
'The Devil Rides Out,' by Dennis Wheatley (1934)
No horror collection would be complete without a good old dose of black magic, and this book is arguably the best example. Two men try to help their friend who has become part of a devil-worshipping cult, but one of them is in love with another member of the cult. Their exploits attract the attention of the cult leader who uses black magic to attack them.
'The Exorcist,' by William Peter Blatty (1971)
Arguably even scarier than the horror movie that it spawned (and that is one of the best horror films of all time), the book tells the story of a young girl possessed by a demon, and the attempts by a priest to exorcise the demon. The book is believed to have been based on a real exorcism that the author heard about while at university.
'The Rats,' by James Herbert (1974)
This is here to represent the complete The Rats trilogy, the second and third books being Lair and Domain, respectively. The number of rat attacks is increasing, and some of these rats are as big as dogs. But as well as being a straightforward rats-killing-people horror, it also attacks the way governments operate at times of crisis. True, the book is very raw, but a cracking tale, and the subsequent books in the trilogy add depth to the story.
'Weaveworld,' by Clive Barker (1987)
A world hiding in a rug from both an evil being, and the nastiness of the human race is the basis for this fantasy tale, which sees the daughter of the guardian of the rug trying to discover its secrets. But when the rug is unwoven, the book takes a few quite disturbing turns. There have been rumours for years of a planned television mini-series based on the book.
The Best Horror Book Ever
There are some great books missing from this list, for example the large number of horror novels from Stephen King from Carrie to The Shining and from It to The Stand, but the table has been limited to one per author and Christine took that place. Likewise, James Herbert also has a catalogue of books that would have graced the list, The Fog being a prime example, but The Rats trilogy won the day. HP Lovecraft is an obvious omission and many would have had The Call of Cthulhu or the like in the list.
To pick the best, the classics of Frankenstein and Dracula have to be near the top, and in ability to scare Christine and The Exorcist are both in the running. But in the end, for its sheer uncompromising horror, the top spot goes to The Rats.
Ronnie Deboer is an Android developer. He graduated from the University of Arizona. He works at review apps service as a freelance writer, and at an IT company as Android developer. He's keen on technology.