Books like The Ruins but not like House of Leaves
January 1, 2013 1:14 AM   Subscribe

Please help me fill my Kindle with scary books! I'm currently reading and enjoying The Ruins by Scott Smith. It's not my usual style at all, so I'd like suggestions for what I should read next. Caveat: I am not interested in House of Leaves.

Overall, my taste in books is pretty broad - I'll read almost anything. I don't much like "experimental fiction," so House of Leaves really didn't appeal. The nonstandard formatting seemed gimmicky and I didn't like it at all, plus it's not available on Kindle anyway.

For background, I read a lot of historical nonfiction, particularly about World War I, but I also like historical fiction concerning any era as well as any other fiction with a strong sense of place.

I'm open to almost any suggestion! Thanks for your help!
posted by easy, lucky, free to Media & Arts (34 answers total) 88 users marked this as a favorite
You mention scary books, which is why I clicked, but I think your use of scary is "challenging" more that "oh GOD WHAT IS THAT IN THE CELLER", but since I am here, I may as well nod to
"The Great God Pan" by Arthur Machen. It's free, pre-War and if you like your Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith, a good start.
posted by Mezentian at 1:37 AM on January 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Lovecraft's The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is a lot of detailed, historically accurate fake scholarship combined with a crawl in darkness through indescribable fears.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 2:05 AM on January 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

The Ruins was a really good read. Two suggestions: Anne Rice's Vampire series and Dean Koontz Frankenstein series. Not a huge Koontz fan but have enjoyed Frankenstein and his Odd Thomas series. Also old Stephen King: Salem's Lot and The Stand are my faves.
posted by chicatlatroit at 2:27 AM on January 1, 2013

Rosemary's Baby-wonderful, scary, and not bloody.
posted by fifilaru at 2:58 AM on January 1, 2013

It's not really a scary book in the strictest sense, but George Orwell's 1984 is quite tense and did make me physically jump with fright while reading it at one point and is obviously a great book generally.
posted by *becca* at 3:37 AM on January 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Off the bat disclaimer: the author is a friend of mine. But that doesn't mean that SP Miskowski's Knock Knock isn't a terrific, atmospheric read that will creep you out but good.
posted by Skot at 4:01 AM on January 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

MR James! Of course.
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 4:20 AM on January 1, 2013 [8 favorites]

I liked The Passage, and for that matter The Twelve
posted by mattoxic at 4:58 AM on January 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

The Terror was pretty great, if a bit long. However it is a fictional account of the HMS Terror and HMS Erebus which were lost in the arctic, so that might do it for you?
posted by jonbro at 5:25 AM on January 1, 2013 [10 favorites]

Natsuo Kirino writes suspenseful, horrifying novels with a strong sense of place (Japan). My favourite is Out but all are very good.
posted by hazyjane at 5:36 AM on January 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

Adam Nevill, The Ritual. So very good, I can't recommend it highly enough. It won a British Fantasy Award this year for best novel as well.
posted by tiger tiger at 6:03 AM on January 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

House of Leaves was probably the creepiest book I've ever read, but as you say, the postmodern style can be off-putting to many.

I'll second The Passage. If you liked The Ruins, you might enjoy Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child's Agent Pendergast series. He appears in Relic and Reliquary and then becomes the main character in Cabinet of Curiosities. They're mostly detective stories that take place in unusual settings with elements of the supernatural.

Michael Crichton's books may appeal, though I would caution you to stay far away from State of Fear, which is bullshit anti-climate change agitprop of the worst sort.

For non-fiction I'll recommend The Hot Zone by Richard Preston. Melodramatic, surely, but terrifying.
posted by xyzzy at 6:11 AM on January 1, 2013

Have you read Geek Love yet?
posted by Mchelly at 6:17 AM on January 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Robert Aickman: The Unsettled Dust and Cold Hand in Mine.

Seconding M.R. James - Casting the Runes and Other Ghost Stories is a good place to start.
posted by ryanshepard at 6:19 AM on January 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

High Rise by Balliard, about a posh self contained condo tower that devolves into madness and despair, gave me literal nightmares.
posted by The Whelk at 6:26 AM on January 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Previously. Several people mentioned "The Ruins" in reply to this question, so you might find something suitably creepy there.
posted by Paris Elk at 6:57 AM on January 1, 2013

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson is classic. More recently, I enjoyed Sarah Waters' The Little Stranger.
posted by roger ackroyd at 7:01 AM on January 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

The Other.
posted by BibiRose at 7:38 AM on January 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Not on Kindle, but Vanishing aka The Golden Egg by Tim Krabbé .
posted by BibiRose at 7:48 AM on January 1, 2013

Have you read much Stephen King? With your interest in historical fiction as well you may enjoy his latest novel 11/22/63. It's not quite as scary as his older stuff but definitely super eery with a very strong sense of place.
posted by telegraph at 7:58 AM on January 1, 2013

The Ruins is working in a genre whose modern form was more or less invented by Stephen King, and which has never really produced another author to rival him, so he's probably the right place to start. I think The Shining is the closest to The Ruins -- it is also in the subgenre of "we're trapped in a small space and something bad is in here with us." But King in general, and The Shining in particular, is much psychologically richer.

There are dozens and dozens of S King novels, only some of them truly great but most of them pretty good. So in a sense that's a complete answer to your question.

But let me make a couple of more obscure out-there suggestions anyway.

Strange Seed, by T.M. Wright, is $2.99 on the Kindle and lives in the same kind of nature-is-more-awful-than-you-think vibe that the Ruins has. It obeys none of the usual rules of novel construction but it was authentically scary and stuck with me and it is truly strange.

We're in Trouble, by Christopher Coake, is a book of short stories with no supernatural elements which is nonetheless as scary and disturbing as any Stephen King book. Oh, I see now that he came out with a novel this year which is a ghost story, You Came Back; I'll bet it's good!

By the way, The Passage is brilliant for 250 pages and then terrible for 600 more, just so you're prepared.
posted by escabeche at 8:12 AM on January 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you like historical nonfiction and want scary, try The Devil in the White City. Reading it now - fascinating and delightfully creepy!
posted by Ms. Toad at 8:45 AM on January 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Grin of the Dark by Ramsay Campbell was the first book to genuinely creep me out in a long time. The main character becomes progressively more out of touch with reality as the story progresses, but it's handled more like it would be in a genre film than in something like House of Leaves.

I've heard Campbell's other stuff is just as good, but haven't gotten around to any of it yet.
posted by anaximander at 9:19 AM on January 1, 2013

The Weird anthology, edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer. I'm currently working my way through the print copy. Contains many of the authors already mentioned in the thread. Works its way through 101 stories from about 1925 - the now. A very broad range of stories, creepy, and scary.
posted by New England Cultist at 10:02 AM on January 1, 2013

You might like Little Stranger by Sarah Waters.
posted by klugarsh at 10:38 AM on January 1, 2013

It seems I just answered this question in a recent thread ...

What I said there:

The quick summary for Kem Nunn's Dogs Of Winter goes like this:

"Jack Fletcher is hired to take pictures of a dangerous, premier mysto surf spot off the Pacific Northwest. But disaster soon strikes when an Indian boy drowns -- and the men from his reservation seek vengeance."

And it's accurate, except it doesn't go nearly far enough toward telling how deeply it will creep you out, how brilliantly it is written. By which, I don't mean it's "writerly". Anything but. It's just a complex noir, very effectively told.

posted by philip-random at 11:14 AM on January 1, 2013

The Rats In The Walls by HP Lovecraft. You can get most (if not all) of his stuff for free online, though there's a nicely formatted-for-Kindle version of basically everything he wrote on Amazon for around $1.

Also, it's not an in-your-face horror story, but I found PD James' The Children of Men to be a deeply unsettling book. It differs enough from the movie adaptation to be worth a read even if you've already seen it.
posted by jquinby at 11:39 AM on January 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

Patricia Highsmith does a great job of evoking a creepy, unsettled feeling. The Selected Stories and Nothing that Meets the Eye are short story collections that are full of creepy themes. Of course, there is her famous Talented Mr. Ripley series that somehow makes you identify with the homicidal title character.

Another creepy book: In the Woods by Tana French. Set in the woods outside of Dublin, the main character is a detective investigating a crime that is similar to a horrifying event he survived in childhood. This is one of those books that can be hard to read when it's dark because it's so creepy.

I haven't read this book yet but it was mentioned in my favorite podcast, Books on the Nightstand, so I have added it to my list. It's called Devil in Silver by Victor LaValle. It's set in a mental institution and one of the patients is an old, frail man with the head of a bison and he roams the halls at night. What? The podcaster described it as very creepy.

Finally an author who gives me the creeps, strangely enough, is Raymond Carver. Many of his stories are about alienated, troubled people and there's something about the way he writes that gives me that "the other shoe is about to drop" feeling. It's a different type of creepy than you get from reading The Shining or The Passage. It's more like this lonely, desperate realism that is uncomfortable to read.
posted by Soda-Da at 12:39 PM on January 1, 2013

Algernon Blackwood. his short story The Wendigo is one of the only things i've ever read that scared me. smart, well paced and human enough to actually have an effect.
posted by Conrad-Casserole at 2:45 PM on January 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

The Terror was already mentioned, but Dan Simmons has a lot of scary stuff. Both his Drood and The Summer of Night scared my pants off. I read a lot of horror and am pretty jaded but holy crap, Summer of Night made me afraid to walk home alone at night. Ooh, also read his Song of Kali. All good.
posted by silverstatue at 7:02 PM on January 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Well, nuts - I just noticed that the Kindle Lovecraft collection I posted is no longer available to US customers. You can get it directly from the curator at
posted by jquinby at 9:23 AM on January 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Clive Barker is an underrated author. People associate him with the Hellraiser movies, but there's much more to him than greasy grimey gopher guts and pale baritones in leather. At his best, he's witty, well-observed, and effortlessly frightening. The Great and Secret Show, Weaveworld, and The Damnation Game are all excellent novels, bobbing and weaving between dark fantasy and straight-up horror. Sacrament is more in the vein of magical realism, but it's a good book either way. His Books of Blood contain many very well-done short stories. The Hellbound Heart, on which Hellraiser is based, is actually a very good novella, as well. Last but not least, his "children's" book The Thief of Always is awfully scary, and it's a fine book for readers of any age.

Peter Straub is solid as well. I'm just getting into his work, but I've enjoyed Koko and Floating Dragon. He's somewhat reminiscent of Stephen King, but maybe a little more poetic and atmospheric. He actually co-wrote The Talisman with Stephen King, and while that one's more fantasy than straight-up horror, it's very much worth reading.

Straub edited Poe's Children, which is a terrific anthology of new horror.

The Dark Descent is a generally excellent anthology of shorter horror pieces.

Kathe Koja's The Cipher is a cool slice of 80's griminess. I forget the title of her book of short stories, but that was also very good. She's since largely moved on to writing non-horror YA, which I haven't yet read.

I'm normally averse to self-consciously pomo antics like in House of Leaves, but I actually very much enjoyed Pontypool Changes Everything, by Tony Burgess. It's experimental, after a fashion, more like a series of related short stories than a proper "novel", but it's actually pretty damn good.

Liminal States by Zack Parsons is a pretty cool spin on horror, sci-fi, and historical fiction. I'd file it alongside Pontypool Changes Everything as far as experimentality goes, but I really did like it quite a bit. More of a mood piece than a story-story, though, if you catch my drift.

Thomas Ligotti is a must-read. He writes like a cross between Lovecraft, Borges, and Cioran. His work flits rapidly in and out of print, but his stuff is worth hunting down.

The Unblemished by Conrad Williams is gross and strange and weirdly well-done. Wetbones by John Shirley is gross and strange and almost as weirdly well-done.

I enthusiastically second the recommendations for J. G. Ballard, H. P. Lovecraft, Arthur Machen, and Algernon Blackwood, as well as Stephen King.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:11 AM on January 2, 2013

I recommend the following:

Ghost Road Blues, by Jonathan Maberry. It's a solid horror offering with lots of ominous atmosphere. It's the start of a trilogy, and reading it more-or-less commits you to reading all three.

Ashes, by Scott Nicholson. A book of short stories that scare rather than gross-out. "The Three Dollar Corpse" and "The Endless Bivouac" still give me nightmares, and I read this over a year ago.
posted by OrangeDisk at 10:52 AM on January 2, 2013

I really enjoyed The Ruins too.

I'm reading The Keep by F. Paul Wilson at the moment, shit's pretty tight. It's basically a haunted castle (well, keep) scenario set during World War II with Nazis and stuff in it.

Seconding Preston/Child (and some of their standalone/solo stuff is pretty good).

Highly recommend Jeff Long's The Descent. Sequel is balls though.

Probably my most favourite-st horror read from recent years was Conrad Williams' The One. It's slightly waffly in places but is a great read. (I see Stitcherbeast has mentioned Williams' The Unblemished, above. I personally couldn't get through it but it was certainly very creepy in parts.)

You'd be surprised how well Wyndham's Day of the Triffids holds up (since, y'know, plants).

I really loved World War Z and actively disbelieve anybody who says they didn't. I think it's pretty damn scary.

I've been pretty unimpressed by the Brian Keene stuff I've read (Conqueror Worms and The Rising) but can see how it would appeal to others. Might be worth a shot.

A Colder War by Charles Stross is a novelette available for free online and is super-good and I reiterate my statement that if Stross writes a proper book-length book in that vein I will buy the living shit out of it. I will buy it so hard and so fast his head will spin. Hot-damn.

OH! Declare by Tim Powers is a cracking read too. I don't like any of his other stuff I've tried but Declare is creepy and historical-y and just plain good.

Seconding Dan Simmons. The Terror does go on a bit though, but I think it's probably worth it.

Thomas Ligotti is an author you might want to keep an eye out for. I don't like him but others go on about him a bit so he might be right up your alley!
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 2:11 PM on January 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

« Older Who performed these music videos?   |   Poor results from Win-7 desktop search index Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.