The other day one of my Twitter followers mentioned The Woman in Black by Susan Hill. I haven't read it but saw the movie adaptation years ago. Think along the lines of The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. A Gothic ghost story.
Of course, when I saw my local library had a copy of Susan Hill's book, I had to add it to my TBR list. I love reading horror novels. And this got me thinking. Why not talk about some of my favorite books and stories I've read since childhood? In fact, it was probably those stories that inspired me to become a writer.
Tales of Terror (Ida Chittum) This illustrated collection of Ozark-based ghost stories still resonates with me well into adulthood. One particular story, "The Haunted Well" stands out, a tragic story of an enraged father who murders his family, leaving behind a daughter who witnesses the massacre. Filled with pathos, dark humor, and unique characters (including a woman who can read the future with a feather pillow), this is a book I'd read again. (From what I understand, one of the stories, "The House the Dovers Didn't Move Into," is based on a true account.)
The Haunting of Hill House (Shirley Jackson) If you're a horror fan and haven't read this novel yet, why not? Quit reading this post and grab a copy now. I'll wait. Got it? Good. Because Shirley Jackson's novel is probably one of the best horror stories ever published. Jackson successfully creates a malevolent character in Hill House, a hulking manor guarding dark secrets. Sometimes the most effective horror is what you don't see. The ending is probably one of the most disturbing I've read. (Also check out We Have Always Lived in the Castle.)
The Shining (Stephen King) Another haunted house story, this time with a hotel has the malevolent character. (I don't know if King was influenced by Jackson but the homage seems to be there.) I remember the part about the concrete tunnel on the playground being especially disturbing because the reader doesn't know if something is lurking there or if it's Danny's imagination. Add the isolation in the mountains and a father slowly going mad and this ranks as one of my favorites by King. Want to scare your readers? Put the characters in jeopardy with supposedly no way out of their situation. But make them sympathetic. Jack Torrance may not be a candidate for father of the year, but he loves his wife and son and struggles to do the best he can. This is what makes his descent into madness such a powerful struggle between good and evil.
"Eyewitness" (Robert Arthur) Okay, it's not horror but this tale is pretty damn clever. A detective knows an actor murdered his wife. The only problem is proving it, which he does with the help of a magician. Whether the technique they use to catch the killer really works is debatable but I'm willing to suspend disbelief.
Is this list complete and comprehensive? Of course not. But these are the stories out of many that have remained with me over the years. I'm sure I've forgotten one or two which will rear their heads after this post is published. If that happens, I'll just chalk it up to Murphy's Law.