Must-Read Contemporary Horror Books About the Horrors of Modern Life
You’ll hear people saying that we’re in something of a horror renaissance right now, a new golden age of terrifying fiction across page and screen. I think that’s true, but it’s worth noting that the world itself is also pretty horrifying right now. So it’s no surprise that there are any number of contemporary horror novels on shelves that address, both explicitly and less so, a lot of the issues that face modern society.
For Dixie Wheeler, the theme music for her story was chosen on the day her father butchered her family. Twenty-five years later, Dixie is desperate for a connection to the family she can’t remember. But the more she learns, the more she opens up the possibility that the sins of her father may belong to another. Dixie must find a way to expose the lunacy behind her family’s massacre to save her few loved ones who are still alive—and whatever scrap of sanity she has left.
There’s a place for the girls whom no one wants. It’s called Idlewild Hall. Twenty years ago, journalist Fiona Sheridan’s sister’s body was found in the overgrown fields near the ruins of Idlewild Hall. And Fiona can’t shake the feeling that something was never right about the case. While Idlewild Hall is being restored, a shocking discovery is found that links the loss of Fiona’s sister to secrets that were meant to stay hidden—and a voice that won’t be silenced….
This mesmerizing novel tells the story of a brutal murder in the staid Tokyo suburbs, as a young mother who works the night shift making boxed lunches strangles her abusive husband and then seeks the help of her coworkers to dispose of the body and cover up her crime. The coolly intelligent Masako emerges as the plot’s ringleader, but quickly discovers that this killing is merely the beginning, as it leads to a terrifying foray into the violent underbelly of Japanese society.
Within hours of the birth of Seraphine Mayes and her twin brother, their mother threw herself from the cliffs, the au pair fled, and the village thrilled with whispers of the couple who drew a young nanny into their inner circle. Now an adult, Seraphine uncovers a family photograph that raises dangerous questions. It was taken on the day the twins were born, and in the photo, their mother, surrounded by her husband and her young son, is smiling serenely and holding just one baby. Who is the child, and what really happened that day?
Two years after her disappearance, Julie reappears with no memory of where she’s been or what happened to her. Elise always knew her best friend was out there and would one day come back. The women decide to reunite, but the second Elise sees Julie, she knows something is wrong. As the weekend unfurls, it becomes impossible to deny that the Julie who vanished two years ago is not the same Julie who came back. But then who—or what—is she?
Carly Kirk has never been able to let go of the story of her aunt Viv, who mysteriously disappeared from the Sun Down before she was born. She decides to move to Fell and visit the motel, where she quickly learns that nothing has changed since 1982. And she soon finds herself ensnared in the same mysteries that claimed her aunt.
If you’ve traveled in the last few years, there’s a good chance you’ve found lodging through Airbnb or a similar home-sharing service, but after The Apartment, you may think twice before putting your trust in strangers. After falling victim to a traumatic crime, Mark and Steph decide it’s time for a break, so they trade their Cape Town home for a flat in Paris on a popular home-swapping site. But their Parisian pied-à-terre turns out to be un-lived-in—and not for the living.
Unless you were a member of the armed forces or a loved one of someone who was, the American invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 didn’t fundamentally alter the fabric of daily American life—but the same can’t be said for those countries who suffered invasion and occupation, even today. Set in U.S.-occupied Baghdad, Frankenstein in Baghdad follows Hadi, an eccentric local character who collects body parts from bombings and stitches them together, intending his creation as an expression of rage and frustration at what’s been done to his city and country. But the corpse disappears, and a series of grotesque murders follow in its wake, and Hadi realizes his creation has quite literally taken on a life of its own.
Brian Coldrick’s webcomic Behind You is horror distilled down to its essence: a single image, a couple words of text, and the lingering certainty that something is watching you from just outside the radius of the bedside lamp. And in the age of internet-shortened attention spans, a single image can be just what you need. This collection of comics is perfect for dipping into when you just need a shot of horror or a jolt to the senses.
The water wars are coming. Access to clean water is the sine qua non of human civilization, Day Zero is on the horizon in scattered locales all around the world, and it’s only going to get worse. So what happens next? In The Water Knife, Paolo Bacigalupi imagines a near future where climate change has triggered devastating droughts, horrifying in its plausibility. Fresh water is controlled by dueling business interests, with all the corporate intrigue and sabotage you might expect. When news of a new water source arises, forces mobilize to take control—with deadly consequences.
The opioid crisis gets most of the news coverage, but meth addiction is on the rise again in America. Peter Stenson’s novel imagines a vision of the zombie apocalypse where a group of addicts discover that their meth dependency is the only thing keeping them from succumbing to the virus that’s turned the rest of society into shambling, ravenous monsters. But how do you survive when the thing that’s keeping you alive will eventually kill you?
The way most of us relate to our own bodies is the stuff of horror without any fictional embellishment—unrealistic beauty standards, endless diet culture, dysmorphia, and more—so a collection of short stories about body image? A no-brainer. These five stories, each named after a different body part, explore vanity, fear, expectations, and health in ways that are as surprising and suspenseful as they are horrifying.
Apollo Kagawa is a very proud new father, and like so many parents, he loves to post pictures of his baby on Facebook. But before long, Apollo and his wife Emma discover that someone or something else is watching their digital presence, and that someone or something is taking an unhealthy, otherworldly interest in their son. This is a cautionary fairy tale for the digital oversharing era, and you’ll think twice before posting any photos after you read it.