The Best Horror Books of 2024 (So Far)

Our favourites are digging grim tunnels into territory old and new, from haunted houses to whimsical horror comedies.
Published: 16 May 2024

There’s a long-standing theory that in times of real-world strife, readers lose their appetite for fictional horrors. That has never been true. The carnage of pulp magazines only gained popularity after the world wars, while Vietnam and the end of the hippie dream led directly to The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, and the ascendency of Stephen King. And now our freshly unstable world is proving fertile ground for the growth of new budding nightmares.

So far, 2024 has been brimming with fantastic horror stories. I’ve done my absolute best to curate a list of the must-read titles released up to this point. The most promising element of the list below is in the breadth, depth, and variety of the darkness at play. Unlike previous “golden” eras of horror, there is no dominant trend. Rather, horror writers are digging their own grim tunnels into territory old and new. Retro haunted-house stories sit alongside extreme body horror. Whimsical horror comedies work in tandem with serious political subcurrents. Horror is not just responding to the perma-crisis we’re all living through; it’s providing respite and escape from it. Horror teaches as much as it terrifies. It heals as much as it hurts.

This list contains titles from the whole spectrum of the genre. There are stories to satisfy the most bloodthirsty tastes, and some that will lead the uneasy on their first forays into the shadowy end of the library. Stay with us, because we’ll be updating the list as the year continues.

Enjoy. It’s good to be scared.

The House of Last Resort, by Christopher Golden

Really good haunted houses are few and far between. These days, the spirit-infested home too often falls into high camp or is put to such elevated metaphorical purpose that it forgets to actually be scary. The House of Last Resort has no such problem. When Tommy and Kate relocate from the U.S. to a drowsy Italian village, it’s supposed to be a better life. Of course, their new abode makes a mockery of this well-being kick. The titular house comes complete with hidden rooms, hallucinations, and a historical entanglement in the Catholic Church’s struggle against some very persistent demons. Golden draws on the very best of seventies and eighties pulp-horror influences, with hordes of rats, ambulatory corpses, and a grand diabolic finale. But he makes time for quiet moments of chilling intensity, including a kitchen-table conversation that ranks among the most disquieting scenes of the year. The House of Last Resort is horror that goes hard but never forgets to be fun. It’s the author’s finest novel to date.

This Wretched Valley, by Jenny Kiefer

If you watched the climbing documentary Free Solo and thought, Okay, climbing a nine-hundred-foot cliff face without a rope is scary, but you know what it really needs? Murder ghosts!, then Kiefer’s debut will scratch your itch. This Wretched Valley follows four intrepid fools into the deep Kentucky woods, where they plan to map and climb a brand-new ascent. Of course, like any backcountry worthy of a horror fan’s time, their chosen ground is saturated with bloody history. It doesn’t take kindly to interlopers, either, particularly these vain, self-absorbed numskulls. There are comparisons to be made to Scott Smith’s adventure-horror classic The Ruins, but most crucial is Kiefer’s absolute lack of mercy for her characters. For much of the book, you gleefully anticipate their foreshadowed deaths, but the manner of their end is so brutal and so desolate that you can’t avoid a creeping empathy. Kiefer has stared you down. She has more belly for this than you. She wins.

Among the Living, by Tim Lebbon

Lebbon’s most recent novels serve as a loose thematic trilogy, connected by a focus on high-octane adventure and a backdrop of quickening climate disaster. However, whereas Eden and The Last Storm were genre-splicing affairs, Among the Living goes full-bore on the horror, pitting an uneasy assemblage of climate activists and mineral excavators against a viral threat long buried in the Arctic tundra. This is no mere illness, though. What Lebbon conjures up is an intelligent disease, able to control its hosts’ thoughts and behaviour, creating a paranoiac trap in which the characters cannot even trust their own motivations. It’s easy to think of comparisons—The Thing, The Last of Us—but Lebbon brings a flair for action scenes and his experience with endurance sport, propelling the story with unexpected physical and psychological dimensions. Fast-paced, compulsive, suitably horrifying: Among the Living reads like Michael Crichton having a particularly bad dream.

In the Valley of the Headless Men, by L.P. Hernandez

If you’re familiar with Canada’s Nahanni Valley, you’ll know that wilderness has a history and lore thick enough to fill several novels. Seriously, you should take a Wikipedia dive; thank me later. All that mystery is buried in the substrata of In the Valley of the Headless Men, but Hernandez’s excursion resembles the surrealism of Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation, though less cold and less austere. Hernandez has a particular gift for the details of grief: the final sip of a dead mother’s lemonade, a lost child’s sock tucked safely in a purse; each is a small totem of heartbreak. And though the flesh of his novella is pared to the bone, somehow he still accommodates a trio of characters—each with their own arc of loss and redemption—on a shared journey to some ineffable, elusive truth. As for what else waits there, I shan’t tell you. it’s best you decide for yourself…and I’m still not sure that I even really know.

The Haunting of Velkwood, by Gwendolyn Kiste

What if an entire neighbourhood became a ghost? Not just the people but the buildings and the street itself? And what if three girls escaped that fate, then returned twenty years later to see what remained of the homes and families they left in that sunlit purgatory? It’s a concept high enough to give you a nosebleed, but Kiste reins it in masterfully, never worrying too much about the mad logic of the situation. Instead, she centres the story on more mundane forms of haunting: the dark gravity of memory, family, and trauma. The Haunting of Velkwood reads like a literary double negative, a brand-new thing emerging from the overlap of Twin Peaks’ suburban uncanny and the melancholy nostalgia of The Virgin Suicides. Kiste doesn’t shy away from these references (David Lynch is everywhere in Velkwood), but she’s still written one of the most original—and downright strange—novels of the year so far.

Mouth, by Joshua Hull

Before turning to fiction, Hull wrote the screenplay for Glorious, a cult horror movie about an eldritch entity invoking apocalypse through a glory hole in a public-bathroom stall. Though not a sequel of any kind, Hull’s debut novella shares much of his movie’s grindhouse DNA. It also has a hole of its own in the titular Mouth: an inexplicable toothed orifice in the ground inherited by Randy, a good ol’ all-American drifter. Randy’s attempt to satisfy Mouth’s hunger forces him into a partnership with Abigail, a young woman with secrets to keep and vengeance to seek. Mouth comes in handy there. The novella is rapid and raw and unburdened by plot complexity, but there’s something so endearing about both the book and its innocent monster that you can’t help but cheer them on. Imagine Roger Corman’s take on Frankenstein and you’re somewhere close to Mouth’s goofy charm.

King Nyx, by Kirsten Bakis

King Nyx is at the softer end of the horror colour chart. There are no ghosts or demons, and there’s barely any blood (though there are life-size marionettes to haunt your dreams). Instead, Bakis has crafted a compelling period mystery centred on the island home of a wealthy tycoon whose wives just keep dying before their time. When a young woman accompanies her husband on a personal writing retreat to the island, everything seems immediately off. The couple are quarantined in a private cabin. She sees strange bearlike figures in the woods and finds mysterious notes aplenty. All the oddity suggests something very wrong is going on in the Big House. It’s all wonderfully bizarre, but buried beneath the novel’s gothic veneer is an interrogation of supposed male genius, balanced so precariously on the shoulders of unremembered women. King Nyx is one of those thrillers that smuggle real substance into their scares without ever taking on a lecturing tone. It’s also a great gateway novel for readers who would usually shy away from horror’s excesses.

The Angel of Indian Lake, by Stephen Graham Jones

Graham Jones made this list in 2022 and again in 2023 with the first two instalments of the Indian Lake Trilogy. Now, with The Angel of Indian Lake, he absolutely sticks the landing. In this third and concluding volume, we return to the bruised and bloodied town of Proofrock, Idaho, for a final confrontation between Jade Daniels and the many monsters in her past, her present, and her head. Just as in the preceding books, Angel begins in the cold chaos of violence and metatextual references, which slowly coalesce into something human, heartfelt, and, by the end, emotionally overwhelming. Unexpected bodies rise and fall, and at no point could even this seasoned horror reader rest easy that the absolute worst would not come to pass. The Angel of Indian Lake is an almost indecent success; Jones should not have been able to guide this freewheeling, snowballing mass of story home. But he does. And like its now-iconic heroine, it remains defiant and unbowed to the end.

The Black Girl Survives in This One, edited by Desiree S. Evans and Saraciea J. Fennell

As I’ve covered elsewhere, horror has not traditionally been kind to characters of colour. Evans and Fennell’s anthology is sure to become a key text in the Black horror renaissance working to correct that injustice. The stories included here share one crucial characteristic: Each features a young Black female protagonist who must survive—but otherwise, it’s a sprawling survey of horror’s various subsections, every one refreshed by the Black female gaze. L.L. McKinney’s “Harvester” is nightmarish Americana about a very unusual cornfield. Zakiya Dalila Harris’s “TMI” is an of-the-moment technophobic satire about privacy and identity, while Evans’s “The Brides of Devil’s Bayou” offers old-school Southern Gothic of the finest stripe. The Black Girl Survives in This One may be billed as young-adult literature, but stories like Monica Brashears’s “The Skittering Thing” are pure adult-grade nightmare fuel. The best of them pose a question that underlies the entire anthology: Is surviving the same thing as having a happy ending?

Bless Your Heart, by Lindy Ryan

This has been a pretty bleak and bloody list of stories so far. Let Ryan pour some sunshine into your TBR. Bless Your Heart is the tale of the Evans women, a matriarchal dynasty who runs the funeral home in their small, quaint corner of Southeast Texas. Unfortunately, the dead in their town don’t always stay dead, forcing generations of Evanses to moonlight as ghoul killers. During a particularly bad infestation of undead, the elderly Ducey (horror’s best octogenarian for a good while), her daughter Lenore, and her adult granddaughter Grace must deal with the problem while indoctrinating young Grace into their clandestine guardianship. The word that immediately springs to mind is charming, as this novel has plenty of local colour and turns of phrase. However, what elevates Bless Your Heart beyond pastiche is Ryan’s willingness to revel in full-on gore and to follow through on some genuine, last-minute emotional stakes. This was announced as the first in a series of novels, and I can’t wait to see—and try to work out—what’s going to happen next.

This Skin Was Once Mine and Other Disturbances, by Eric LaRocca

In the few years since LaRocca burst onto the horror scene with Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke, he has steadily grown a reputation for wielding disgust and excess to singular effect. This new collection contains four novelettes, each spinning around twin themes of obsession and harm. In the title story, an estranged daughter goes home for her father’s funeral, only to discover truly hideous secrets in her family home. “All the Parts of You That Won’t Easily Burn” may go off in a batshit-crazy direction toward the end, but the central conceit of a self-harming cult with a penchant for broken glass evokes the very best of Clive Barker’s Books of Blood body horror. It’s the closing story, though—on the surface the smallest and most superficial—that really got under my skin. “Prickle” presents a vicious game of one-upmanship between two elderly friends that takes the book to a gleeful, capering conclusion. It shows that beneath his coat of many nasty colours, LaRocca has a very good (and very dark) sense of humour.

Diavola, by Jennifer Thorne

I talk a lot about “fun” horror—the kind of horror that tries to scare you, for sure, but makes the process entertaining, enjoyable, a romp, rather than a raid on your psyche. This is exactly what Thorne delivers in Diavola. As with Christopher Golden’s The House of Last Resort, Thorne transports the reader to a tiny Italian village for some very dysfunctional family drama, though any loving central relationship is replaced with the hilariously maddening repartee between Anna and her siblings. Their scratchy dynamic is a grounding contrast to the supernatural goings-on, revolving around a tower in their villa that should not be opened. Shocker: It’s opened, and craziness ensues. Diavola is a gothic gem, as full of sharply observed characterisation as it is genre tropes. I read it in two sittings and even now I’m not sure if I was supposed to laugh as much as I did. Pack this for your next holiday and avoid talking to your own family.

The Underhistory, by Kaaron Warren

The Underhistory may be the most intriguing horror novel of the year so far. It’s a blend of ghost story and home-invasion thriller in which a group of criminals descends upon a haunted house in the middle of a guided tour. That’s enough of a concept to set the novel apart, but Warren fully commits to a structural conceit that exposes how the architecture of houses and story are one and the same. Each chapter is titled after the whimsical name that the elderly guide, Pera, has given to the rooms of her home. While she takes her customers through the details of the house—all the while trying to placate and manage the bad men in their midst—she also reveals her own gothic history, embedded in the peculiarities of each room. Gradually, we learn that Pera is far more capable than we (or her assailants) imagine her to be. And her house is a very bad place to invade. The Underhistory reads like Shirley Jackson or Catriona Ward at their most gothically playful. It’s a wholly unique intellectual exercise and a deeply compelling page-turner.

Incidents Around the House, by Josh Malerman

Malerman’s Incidents Around the House is the only book on this list not yet published. But I include it now rather than in later instalments because I want to give you the chance to buy this on the very day it’s released. It’s a deeply discomfiting, imaginatively ripe, yet ruthlessly efficient novel in which eight-year old Bela is targeted by a malign presence in her home. This “Other Mommy" hounds the girl with a request to “go into your heart.” What follows is a chase narrative of claustrophobic terror that almost transcends articulation. Glimpses of Other Mommy are elusive to the point of impressionism (she has long, hairy arms and “ slides across the floor”). What does this mean? What is she? We never know, as we are only ever given the compromised perspective of a frantic child or a terrified adult. It’s as if Malerman has channelled something into the very sentences of this novel, something that is so much greater than the sum of its linguistic parts. Simply put—and I do not say this lightly—Incidents Around the House is the most purely effective horror novel I have ever read.

Originally published on Esquire US

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