Halloween is fast approaching – the perfect time of year for a spooky book or two. To help give you some inspiration for your next haunting read, we’ve asked some of our authors for their top supernatural or scary picks, posted every Friday in the run up to Halloween. First up is F. G. Cottam, whose own paranormal mysteries The Colony Trilogy is an essential in dark and eerie reading.
Here are his top terrifying tales:
Phil Rickman’s Merrily Watkins series is a truly impressive achievement, eeriness sustained through atmospheric writing and ambiguous events in action staged on the Welsh Borders involving a woman Deliverance Minister (exorcist). My personal favourite is The Magus of Hay, but Phil’s novella The House of Susan Lulham is an excellent introduction to the character of Merrily, his fictional style and his intriguing subject matter. The books don’t need to be read chronologically, but starting at the beginning is never a bad idea and you’ll be richly rewarded for doing so.
M.R. James is the master of atmosphere in uncanny stories that carry the weight and conviction of man writing as a brilliant medievalist scholar. His classical education allied to his sheer storytelling talent makes his stories masterpieces of scary plausibility. I’d recommend Collected Ghost Stories. Personal favourites include ‘The Casting of the Runes, Whistle’ and ‘I’ll Come to You, My Lad’ and ‘The Tractate Middoth’. James was writing in something of a golden age for this kind of fiction, with contemporaries including Conan Doyle and Rudyard Kipling. But for sheer sustained quality, at the length he wrote, he’s pretty much unrivalled.
Stephen King has written some very celebrated horror novels, with The Shining, Salem’s Lot and The Stand widely considered his masterpieces. I’d go for a much shorter and arguably less ambitious choice in Pet Sematary, which I consider to be the most frightening novel he’s thus far penned (though he didn’t use a pen back then, he used a word processor). This novel is about the repercussions of returning people from the dead – a process that’s never going to end well and one I’ve written about myself. Apparently, he was so disturbed writing it he stopped and then went back to it later. You can see why.
T.E.D. Klein hasn’t written anything since the 1980s but in 1985 hisnovel The Ceremonies appeared and was, back then, extremely successful. If you can find a copy, I’d recommend this as a modern masterpiece of Cosmic horror on a par with the work of the master of that genre, H.P. Lovecraft. The themes in The Ceremonies were also explored by Klein in an earlier novella entitled, The Events at Poroth Farm, which is also worth seeking out. I don’t know why he hasn’t written more, but if you’re after quality rather than quantity, this is an author worthy of your time and attention.
Susan Hill has written quite a lot of supernaturally themed fiction, but to my mind has never topped The Woman in Black. This story of ghostly jealousy and vengeance is drenched in misty, desolate atmosphere. No one has written better about a malign, abandoned location than Hill does here. The story probably benefits from its Edwardian setting, because ghosts are frankly more convincing in the age before smart phones and superstores. Quite a short read, but none the worse for that and highly recommended.
My final choice is Robert Aickman’s Ringing the Changes, which is set in a coastal village where something horrific happens once every year which in this story, catches a couple of unwary visitors by clammy and horrific surprise. Only 20-odd pages long, this is a masterclass in the building of a sense of inescapable dread. The climax, when it comes, is much more explosive than I think was common in the pre-war era in which it was written. But Aickman is such a powerful writer he makes a total success of it. You read this able to smell the stink of corruption on that strangely sea-denuded beach. The imagery is unforgettable.
If you love F. G. Cottam’s spine-chilling recommendations, try out his own dark and supernatural trilogy, The Colony Series and, The Colony on for just 99P/C from October 10th-12th.
Happy reading – you may want to sleep with a nightlight on after finishing this list! Come back next Friday for more haunting reads for Halloween.