Over the course of my reading in 2018, I found myself drawn to the dark corners of the library and my own book collection. As you can see from this photo of the books I read and gleaned from the first in this three-part series, darkness makes its way into a lot of my book selections.
With this post, I’m going to focus on two horror writers who captured my imagination repeatedly this year: Stephen King and Lauren Beukes. I may not have torn through the books as quickly as I’d hoped, but I still walked away from all six of these thankful that I’d stuck with them and gone on those rides.
All told, I made my way through four different Stephen King books last year, including his two latest. I began the year by finally reading the Desperation alternate-reality sibling story The Regulators (1996). Both books use the same characters, but put them in vastly different settings. Instead of a dusty western town, we’re dealing with a suburban street that comes under siege by killer trucks from a cartoon.
I dug this one a lot more than it’s sister book. Sure, it’s got a lot of well worn road for King — a kid with powers who also happens to be mentally different, a rag tag group surviving a wild event, killer autos, old gods and even a writer hero — but the super-fast way King got us into the story and the ways he played with all those familiar toys just worked really well for me, though I could totally see why this Richard Bachman book might not work for everyone.
As an added bonus, this book features a number of connections to places I’ve lived. One of the families is from Toledo (my home town), it’s set not too far from where I went to college AND it ends at a place that’s about 45 minutes from where I live today. I now fully believe that King is writing these stories just for me, even though I’d never been to two of those locales when the book originally came out.
Later on I made my way through the second Bill Hodges book, Finders Keepers (2015). I’d intended to get into something older like maybe Firestarter, but this was the only one available digitally through the library at that time and I really enjoyed Mr. Mercedes. This book actually spends the first 100-ish pages with a criminal who killed a reclusive writer, stole a ton of money and journals from his house and then hid it near his mother’s house.
In the present, a kid finds the stash and secretly presents it to his parents which saves not only their house — which the crook grew up in — but also their marriage. However, when the criminal got out of jail he tried getting the cash back only to find it gone. Thanks to the kid’s sister, he finally got some help from Hodges after the con figured out who got his score.
Though ostensibly about money, the real meat and motivations of the story wind up boiling down to the lengths and depths some people will go in the name of fandom and how terrible that can be for everyone. I’m sure that’s something King’s dealt with and thought about over the years. He also leads the series into supernatural territory at the very end which directly flows into not only the third book in the Hodges Trilogy — the as-yet-unread-by-me End Of Watch — but also the first of two King books to debut in 2018! One last quick detail to carry through a thread from the previous post, I finished this book while waiting for my tire to get looked at.
When I saw on Amazon that King had not one, but two books hitting in the same year, I did something I never do and pre-ordered them both. Usually, I wait around for them to hit the discount racks at Barnes & Noble, but I really wanted to get in on the action early this time around. That lead into The Outsider, a book that, even though it doesn’t seem like it at first, is definitely set in the Hodges Universe and also definitely spoils elements of End Of Watch. Had I known that, I would have ripped through that book while waiting for its follow-up, but I also did no reading about Outsider ahead of time, wanting to go in blind.
The novel begins with a small town’s legal leaders arresting the beloved baseball coach during a game because they have irrefutable evidence that he committed a horrible crime against a child. We’re not just talking eye-witnesses setting a pretty solid timeline, but also DNA evidence. The problem, though, is that there’s also airtight evidence that comes to light that he was in a totally different town.
As everyone tries to figure out exactly what’s going on, the story becomes an interesting cross section of King’s other works. As in ‘Salem’s Lot, you have a group of people slowly — sometimes agonizingly so — coming to terms with the very real supernatural threat in their midst. At the same time, said threat feels like something old and evil, like the ones seen in Desolation, Regulators and I assume a bunch of others that I haven’t gotten to yet (It comes to mind). I personally found myself fascinated by the title creature and also found it bizarre that I read, Regulators earlier in the year and there were so many similarities between the two.
My final King trip came in the form of his most recently released tome, Elevation. This one’s probably more accurately described as a novella. Heck, it’s not even really horror, more of a grown-up fairy tale that didn’t actually seem to have an endpoint message (or, more likely, I just didn’t get it).
Set in Castle Rock, Elevation finds a man coming to terms with the fact that, though he’s not changing physically, he’s losing weight at an alarming rate. Along the way he informs his former doctor and tries making nice with a generally shunned, restaurant-owning lesbian couple and tries to figure out the best way to live with his new affliction.
Real quick, it also made me smile that both of King’s 2018 releases reminded me of his son Joe Hill’s works. I like that they both wrote tales about crazy child-killing monsters (Outsider/NOS4A2) and people who can’t help floating away (Elevation/”Pop Art”).
I realized at some point in the year that I don’t read enough stories written by women, especially in the horror genre. So, I asked on Twitter for suggestions and my friend Sam returned with Lauren Beukes and her first horror novel The Shining Girls (2013) which I weirdly kept called Glitter Girls in my head.
Anyway, like some King books, I had a hard time digging into this book because she kicks off not only with a small army of different characters, but also a variety of eras. See, this book’s about a crazy guy who can go to this mystical house that exists at all times that the structure has stood for. He pops out, gives young women items belonging to his other victims and then murders them when they’re older. However, when he fails to kill one of his “shining girls” she starts tracking him down and uncovers the unbelievable evidence he’s left behind.
A truly epic and incredible story, Shining Girls also excels in the easy integration of historical information that must have taken months to research. More importantly, Beukes has this knack for creating characters you care about even if you don’t like every aspect of them. To me, though, her greatest strength comes through when she’s describing just about anything. They’re always super easy to understand, but also seem like they’re pulling away pieces of mostly see-through cloth from your eyes so you think, “Why have I never thought of that comparison before?!”
Going back to those strange story connections I mentioned before, I started both King’s Outsider and Beukes’ Broken Monsters at around the same time, stopping the latter because the former came in the mail. As it happens, both novels feature incredibly graphic and horrible murders perpetrated against children that have connections to extra-natural creatures posing as humans.
In Monsters, something seems to be driving an artist to commit crimes that the police can’t quite solve. As we roll out, we meet a ton of different characters ranging from the lead investigator and her daughter to a last-chance journalist embracing and trying to profit from the poverty porn industry that’s sprung up around the city of Detroit, where all this madness takes place.
I didn’t find Monsters as poetic as Shining Girls, but I did find it easier to keep track of and fully wrap my head around. I will say that some of that might have come from having so recently read King’s Outsider. By the way, I’m in no way implying any copying or stealing here, it’s just interesting how similar stories can come out at the same time.
Looking back, I find myself so glad that I not only have a lot of unread older King books to go through, but also — if the novels I ingested this year are any indication — a lot of incredible efforts that haven’t even come out yet! At the same time, I can’t tell you how happy I am to have found a new author whose books I will now instantly pick up in Beukes. She’s got a few non horror books like Moxyland, Zoo City, the upcoming Motherland and even some comics work that I will definitely keep an eye out for.
That luck in finding new authors perfectly ready to scare me continued on towards the end of 2018 as you’ll see in the third and final installment of this series!