Friends, we have come so far together and seen so many horrifying things in our journey across these United States. Through three terrifying installments, we’ve criss-crossed the country, checking in with horror novels set in states from Alabama to New Jersey. But the road continues, and in this slice of our travels, we’re working our way through the state alphabet, starting in New Mexico and ending in South Carolina.
Little Heaven, Nick Cutter
Little Heaven is an isolated compound in the New Mexico mountains; it is also a misnomer. This is a grisly, hellish tale that kicks off with a ragtag team of bounty hunters recruited to track down a nephew abducted and taken to Little Heaven. None of the three mercenaries hired here are new to violence or murder. When they arrive at the settlement, however, nothing in their shared experience has prepared them for what’s to come.
The Ballad of Black Tom, Victor LaValle
Who doesn’t love a good reimagining of Lovecraftian horror? There’s a lovely horror trend of modern authors (among them, many authors of color) reclaiming Lovecraft’s brand of supernatural terror from the author’s own racism. In this novella, LaValle transforms one of Lovecraft’s most racist and xenophobic stories, “The Horror at Red Hook.” Here, the main character is Tommy Tester, who ekes out a living selling occult artifacts. In his story, the racist reality of 1920s New York is almost as unnerving as any encounter with cosmic horror.
The Twisted Ones, T. Kingfisher
Either of Kingfisher’s horror novels would work here, as both are set in small town North Carolina. But The Twisted Ones is more permanently rooted in its sense of place — in those mysterious woods with all their secrets. In a story that marries horror and heart, Mouse arrives in the North Carolina backwoods to clear out her hoarding grandmother’s house. Accompanied by faithful dog Bongo, Mouse soon discovers there’s more to fear in these parts than her grandma’s doll room.
The Only Good Indians, Stephen Graham Jones
Jones’ supernatural modern masterpiece has its roots in the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana, but its wild ride starts in the parking lot of a North Dakota dive bar. In many ways, this is a classic revenge tale, one stitched together with historical injustices and modern realities of its four Blackfeet protagonists. At its simplest, the story shows how one night’s youthful mistake comes back to (quite literally) haunt four adult friends.
The Devil All the Time, Donald Ray Pollock
Pollock was born and raised in the town Knockemstiff, Ohio. It’s important to me that you know this was a real place before you dive into Pollock’s debut novel, which is partially set in a fictionalized version of post-World War II Knockemstiff. The town and this story are populated by flawed and curious characters, whose sufferings run the gamut and for whom violence is quite often not the last resort.
The Outsider, Stephen King
The HBO miniseries moved the setting of this supernatural mystery to Georgia, but the source material takes place in the small town of Flint City, Oklahoma. This twisty and long novel mashes together murder mystery and supernatural horror in a way that is uniquely King. Did amiable Little League coach Terry Maitland really kill an 11-year-old boy? Or is there something spookier, less easily explainable going on?
Heartsick, Chelsea Cain
On the more solidly criminal end of the spectrum, we find Portland homicide detective Archie Sheridan haunted by trauma. Two years ago, he was kidnapped and tortured by serial killer Gretchen Lowell. Now, addicted to painkillers and estranged from his previous life, he is unable to move forward — still visiting his tormentor every week in prison. A new spate of murders kicks off the action in this complex and unpredictable thriller.
Someone Like Me, M.R. Carey
As winter descends, it’s the perfect season to immerse yourself in a twisty-turny, uber-dark thriller. First a content warning: this novel opens with disturbing domestic abuse. From those circumstances springs Liz Kendall’s otherworldly dilemma. In her furious attempt to protect herself and her children from her husband’s abuse, she begins to feel something else — another presence — controlling her actions. The story that follows is creepy and surprising and defies categorization.
The Red Tree, Caitlín R. Kiernan
Recovering from a personal trauma, author Sarah Crowe moves from Atlanta to a rural Rhode Island farmhouse — and there her troubles continue. The story unfolds in found-document style, in the form of a posthumously published manuscript. As one does, Sarah begins to explore her new home and local folklore, with special focus on the enormous and ominous red oak tree in the yard. What’s real and what’s not matters less than what very much is happening to Sarah.
The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, Grady Hendrix
This Southern-fried thriller isn’t Hendrix’s first novel set in his hometown of Charleston, South Carolina, but it is my favorite. Hendrix is a master of juxtaposing horror with the mundanities of modern life. Here, he finds terror within ‘90s Southern white suburbia, in which the only people willing to pay attention to a new supernatural threat are the members of a housewives’ true-crime book club.
Looking for more? Our next group of states is coming soon, so stay tuned!