An acquaintance of mine looking to start a horror novel reprint line recently asked me to make some book recommendations for the line. The only books that could be considered, though, had to fulfill a difficult set of requirements. They had to not only be out of print but also not in the public domain and not yet an e-book. I managed to find seven personal favorites that fit the criteria. Each deserves to be reprinted.
Here they are:
FINISHING TOUCHES by Thomas Tessier (1986)
A young American doctor in London in the 80’s meets a strange plastic surgeon and his beautiful assistant and the American gets drawn into an increasingly bizarre and sensual world where sex and medical horror mingle and all morals and inhibitions fall away. This is a superb non-supernatural horror novel. It charts very well how quickly the barriers between the tolerable and the once intolerable can fall away. Tessier has a smooth, very readable style and he never overwrites or overstates things as events become more and more horrifying. I found it to be a brisk read that once started is extremely difficult to put down.
THE CORMORANT by Stephen Gregory (1986)
This one is beautifully written and very creepy. It’s set in Wales and is about a man, a teacher, who moves with his wife and young son to a rural cottage he has inherited from his uncle. To take the cottage though he has also has to accept with his inheritance his dead uncle’s pet cormorant. He does, thinking the inheritance request strange but not much more than that, and after that, slowly and insidiously, the cormorant casts a malignant influence over the entire family. It’s a very atmospheric psychological horror story that has a feeling of looming disaster throughout. Also, very tight. Not a wasted word in the book. This book has really stuck with me since I read it years ago.
MASTER OF THE DAY OF JUDGMENT by Leo Perutz (1921)
Perutz was an Austrian novelist, born in Prague, who was a master of the fantastic. MASTER OF THE DAY OF JUDGMENT is a great weird tale about a rash of mysterious suicides in Vienna. None of the people who committed suicide had any apparent reason to do so, but they all die with horror etched on their faces. Why? It’s a scary, weird masterpiece and the answer to the riddle is as good as the riddle itself.
THROAT SPROCKETS by Tim Lucas (1994)
Tim Lucas is a prolific and insightful film writer and the creator of the magazine Video Watchdog. He does a lot of DVD commentary tracks as well and is basically a walking encyclopedia of film. In line with that, this is a book about obsession with cinema and images. A guy comes across a disturbing X-rated film called THROAT SPROCKETS and his obsession with the film and finding the “complete” version of the film, which seems to exist in many variants, takes over his life. A sort of ultimate book about the power of film and images to hook and obsess a person. It’s told from the point of view of the guy obsessed and unwinds in a very unpredictable and suspenseful way.
SONGS OF A DEAD DREAMER by Thomas Ligotti (1989)
The first collection by Ligotti who has a baroque style unlike any other. All his stories are highly original, often somewhat oblique, and truly weird and grotesque, and he is as good at suggesting something horrible as he is at showing it full force. As many have said, he is one of the very very few contemporary horror short story writers who in quality and richness belongs on the same shelf with Poe and HP Lovecraft.
THE DOLL WHO ATE HIS MOTHER by Ramsey Campbell (1976)
Ramsey Campbell's first novel follows two people searching for a disturbed young man with a taste for human flesh. It is primarily a psychological horror story, and as well as its unnerving plot, its evokes with icy vivid prose the ugliness of bleak, starkly-lit, mid-seventies Liverpool (where Campbell is from). The hallucinatory climax, which takes place in the basement of a dilapidated building and involves the digging of a hole, is a tour de force.
GHOST STORY by Peter Straub (1979)Hard to believe this is out of print and not an e-book, but that seems to be the case. This is a definite classic, an early Peter Straub novel, that has a very layered complex plot that shifts between past and present. It's modern but also consciously evokes masters of classic American horror like Poe, Hawthorne, Shirley Jackson, and so on. There are stories within stories within stories in the book and part of the fun is just enjoying how the thing is so beautifully put together but also very scary.