Here’s a concise pick of the best books I read in 2010. In what time I have to read for pleasure, it’s been a year of reading the massive backlog of unread books acquired over the last few years, so only a couple of these are recent titles (though that shouldn’t really matter in any discussion of books).
I missed this first time around in 1999 because my reading of contemporary horror at that time virtually came to a standstill (after too many disappointments in the preceding years). But what a superb coming together of horror and science thriller. Literary style, a great story, and an epic imagination that gave me those requisite weird fiction pleasures of wonder and awe.
White Devils by Paul McAuley
Again a terrific blend of style, imagination, hard science and story. The first novel I have read by this author. Could not put it down.
Charles Manson: Coming Down Fast by Simon Wells
Encyclopaedic with real investigative depth. Full of curiosities, solved mysteries and loose ends tied up for those interested in this cultish topic and period. Much detail about Manson’s musical ambitions and his infiltration of the Beach Boys – and Neil Young even gave him a Harley. Insightful and enthralling throughout. A terrific companion piece to the definitive trial masterpiece Helter Skelter.
American Fantastic Tales (1940s to now) Ed Peter Straub
A handsome and expertly selected collection of literary pleasures. I was revisiting nearly all of these stories, but it’s wonderful to have them all collected in a beautifully bound book with lavish specs.
A Dark Matter by Peter Straub
Second title by Mr Straub in my year’s favourite reads. I sat riveted to a chair in the garden for the best part of two days with this novel that displays a real writer at the top of his game. One of the most complex and ambitious novels of weird fiction I have read in recent years.
American Rust by Philipp Meyer
An absorbing, insightful, and poetic literary debut. The kind of novel men in their twenties should be reading now with hard times and diminished opportunities ahead.
Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow
Innovative and compelling prose-poem about werewolf tribes in LA. A welcome literary antidote to the disco-in-disguise treatment of traditional spectres these days.
A book everyone needs to read. An intelligent and highly detailed argument as to why organised crime is the biggest threat facing civilisation, and what we/our elected representatives should be doing to combat it. Had me literally walk into a wall in a Catalan airport while engrossed in its pages. Made me flow with radical thoughts too, which I always enjoy.
Creatures of the Pool by Ramsey Campbell
In terms of speculative horror, disorientation, bleak humour, all round literary weirdness, and a masterful style, I never thought I’d read the equal of The Darkest Part of the Woods or Grin of the Dark again. But I enjoyed and admired this book just as much as my two personal Campbell faves.
Quenched my thirst for classic retro British sci fi with this lush, imaginative tale of worlds reclaimed by nature carnivorous in thorn and vine. One of the strangest novels I have ever had the joy of sampling too.
Dark Matter by Michelle Paver
Knocked Apartment 16 off a three month residencey of the number one spot in the Amazon Horror Chart. Wonderfully precise, almost photographic prose rendering of arctic Scandinavia, with the chilly draught of an old school ghost story and study of isolation running through it. Great for all reading ages.
We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
Just might be the last person on the planet to have read this book. Completely received the wrong impression from its title and cover when it was first published (not the cover shown), and worried it was some kind of Adrian Mole style diary. I could not have been more wrong about this great American novel. I’ve been looking for a new first class female literary writer that appeals to me for a while, and I think I have found one. Frighteningly, intimidatingly intelligent writing, insightful, and a harrowing story. Couldn’t wait to return to it each evening. I intend to read her complete works (though, again, the covers are surely miscasting this author?). Deserves a throne and crown made from bones in the horror hall of fame.
The Death of Grass by John Christopher
First time I have read this author since I was thirteen. Bizarre apocalyptic vision of Britain after the grasses of the planet are blighted by a virus. Curious stilted idiom sets it firmly in post-war Britain, but after the current trend of worker bees dying out in the US (and now Europe), it’s one of the most prophetic disaster novels I have read. One link irreparably severed in a vast and complex ecosystem is all it may take to take us out of the game. I also admired his instant dismissal of any teary-eyed sentiment about Britain’s spirit in the face of adversity – we’d be killing each other before the sun set on the first day and Christopher knew it. Good on Penguin for bringing this back into print too.
Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay
Again, to my shame, I failed to read this novel until 2010. As a writer of supernatural horror I blush. Particularly as I’d place it as one of the very best of all weird tales taken to novel length. Enchanting, surreal, and ghastly by turns. Lovecraft’s requisite wonder and awe truly delivered. Already looking forward to rereading the novel.
The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell
It may seem like a pretty standard Romero undead-world build, but what distinguishes this novel is the writing style, which is wonderfully fluent and lyrical throughout. It also has a multi-sensory southern Gothic landscape and atmosphere, and the primary relationship reminded me of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, though here we have a backward zombie and a teenage girl. It’s literary aspirations reach for Cormac McCarthy as opposed to Play Station logic, which I applaud while standing up. An intriguing exploration of instinctive faith and a remarkable ability to seek beauty in devastation really took it to a higher level. If there is such a creature as a new wave of Horror then it needs more literary style and less pulp if it is to be taken seriously and if it is to endure. Highly rated innovation on a popular concept, and the fact that it’s a debut, is even more admirable.