Scares Across America Part II: Hawaii to Maryland

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Last month, we started a journey together to mark all the frights and delights across this country, with a horror novel set in every state. Now that you’re rested and ready, let’s pack our bags for the next installment of terrifying states, from Hawaii to Maryland. 


Fires of Eden, Dan Simmons

I’m not sure what’s more disturbing in this ‘90s novel: the vengeful Hawaiian gods or the sleazy billionaire who is more than a little reminiscent of a certain former president. The story plows ahead on the Big Island on two timelines: one in the present(ish) day and one in the 19th century. As much as this book is concerned with grisly forces of darkness amassed near a sprawling resort, it has a wicked sense of humor (perhaps unsurprisingly, since Mark Twain makes an appearance). 

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Pines, Blake Crouch 

Crouch has recently gained prominence with his sci-fi thrillers Dark Matter and Recursion, but his horror trilogy set in Wayward Pines, Idaho, is well worth your time too. On the surface, this small town is quirky but contented. Just below the surface, however, lurks something far weirder and more sinister. We see it all through the eyes of Secret Service agent Ethan Burke, whose search for two missing federal agents becomes much more complicated upon his arrival in Wayward Pines. 

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The Ghost Tree, Christina Henry

Mark Smith’s Hollow, Illinois, down as yet another small town you’ll want to avoid on your next road trip. Something foul is afoot in Smith’s Hollow in 1985. Shortly after the murder of Lauren’s father, two girls are murdered and torn to pieces. As is so often the case, the answer seems to lie in the nearby woods and the town’s secretive occult past. It’s a great classic creeper that will send a chill straight up the middle of the country. 

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So Cold the River, Michael Koryta

Koryta uses his Hoosier heritage in this spooky and the local, troubled landmark of the West Baden Springs Hotel as inspiration for this creepy thriller. In it, a down-on-his-luck documentarian is commissioned to make a film about a woman’s billionaire father-in-law whose story has more layers (and curses) than one might expect. You may be swept away by this story, but whatever you do, don’t drink the water…

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The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion, Margaret Killjoy

Freedom, Iowa, is an unexpected queer utopia, attracting travelers and squatters from all gender identities, sexualities, races, and perspectives. It seems like the perfect place for the itinerant Danielle Cain to rest her weary soul — until the town’s protector spirit Uliksi turns on the residents in murderous fashion. This is the first of two gloriously (gore-iously?) spooky novellas starring Danielle. 

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Kill Creek, Scott Thomas

This book has a classic (and slightly meta) haunted house setup: four best-selling horror authors agree to a publicity stunt that goes awry very quickly. Finch House is an infamous haunted house, and this group of writers has agreed to travel to rural Kansas to spend Halloween night inside its walls. I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to say that the house’s guests don’t get their full eight hours worth of ZZZs. 

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Devil’s Creek, Todd Keisling

Just in case you hadn’t gotten your fill yet of horrible little towns, welcome to Stauford, Kentucky, just a short jaunt from the titular cursed waterway. Years ago, a death cult worshipped in a nearby church. Six children were among the few survivors of a mass suicide event, when the cult’s compound burned to the ground. Now, 30 years later, one of those children has returned to Stauford, where long-buried otherworldly secrets await. 

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Exquisite Corpse, Poppy Z. Brite

Billy Martin, under his pen name Poppy Z. Brite, has never written a story that isn’t absolutely wild and unerringly grotesque. Exquisite Corpse is a book for hardcore horror enthusiasts because the action that paints itself across New Orleans is bloody and gruesome and perverse. The plot is difficult to describe, except to say that it puts you in the minds of two serial killers who consider murder their “art.” 

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Wilder Girls, Rory Power

You do not need me to tell you that you cannot shake a stick without hitting a Stephen King book set in Maine. So here’s a much different novel set on a remote island off the state’s coast, where a girl’s boarding school is besieged by a mysterious plague. It’s time we dispense with the notion that YA books are less disturbing and unsettling than adult horror, because this book right here has some truly gnarly body horror in its grotesque and unabashedly feminist story. 

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Victor LaValle’s Destroyer, Victor LaValle, illus. Dietrich Smith

This graphic novel volume collects all six issues of LaValle’s continuation of Frankenstein. The story extends Mary Shelley’s original novel and imagines a current era in which Dr. Frankenstein’s monster has been lurking in the shadows for centuries. Infused with commentary on the real-life horrors of racism and gun violence, the narrative hopscotches from Antarctica to Maryland and Montana and introduces Dr. Josephine Baker, a descendant of the Frankenstein family whose son was killed by the police. 

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Looking for more? Our next group of states is coming soon, so stay tuned!

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