Someone asked for a list of modern classics, but ones that are more under the radar. This request was seconded by a handful of others too.
Before I get to the list I created in response to these requests, I wanted to call out the Paperbacks from Hell line by Valancourt. All of those are vetted under the radar horror titles also worth your attention. Each reprint includes a new introductions by Grady Henrdrix or Will Erirckson and come in well priced 5 book bundles. On top of the books mentioned below, you should be ordering the Paperbacks from Hell titles for your libraries.
Now here are the 10 titles I am calling, Becky's Under the Radar, Modern Horror Classics. I have included a little information about why I included each title and linked to the Goodreads record where you can find out what readers have to say. [They are in no particular order by the way.]
- The Ring by Koji Suzuki: Look I know most of you have heard of the movie, but have any of you read the book. You should. It is a classic work of horror fiction and very different from the movie. Also, I needed a Japanese Horror title in this list because any discussion of modern horror classics needs to acknowledge how amazing Japanese horror is, both in and of itself and its influence on the entire genre. In fact, here is an article from Book Riot entitled, Beginner's Guide to Japanese Horror, to back me up. The Ring is a listed as a "Landmark Title" in that article, and I agree.
- The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum: This is probably the most divisive book I have listed. A classic of extreme horror [another subgenre I needed to make sure I included somewhere on this list], The Girl Next Door is graphic and brutal, but also masterfully written. It is based on a true story which makes it all so much worse. Readers feelings about this title run the gamut, but there is no one who knows the genre who doesn't acknowledge its importance in the pantheon of modern horror.
- Cipher by Kathe Koja: This is the beginning of 4 novels in a row on the list that won or were nominated for the Bram Stoker Award for the Best First Novel. Cipher won that award and the Locus Award for Best First Novel. While the former award was for horror only, the later is for all speculative fiction of the year. Cipher begins as a tale about a young couple who find a small black hole that can transform things, but then morphs into a charactered centered, coming of age tale of psychological terror, body horror, and salvation.
- The Rising by Brian Keene is widely considered, along with the movie 28 Days Later and the Walking Dead Graphic novels, as the trifecta that spawned our 21set Century zombie revival. This is THE ZOMBIE novel of this century, it won the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel, but many libraries don't own it. Why? Many did in the early 2000s but it went out of print for a while [very long and important publishing story but this post is not the place for all that], and, as a paperback, it probably had to be weeded. You can buy it now here and that is the preferred author edition. Consider buying the entire series while you are at it. Keene is an author whose entire bibliography should be on every library shelf. If you have every Stephen King, you should have every Brian Keene.
- Crota by Owl Goingback: Another winner of the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel. This is an #OwnVoices novel from back in the late 1990s, a horror novel featuring Native Americans, a legendary monster, evocative and atmospheric frame, and terrifying thrills. This is a monster story with real teeth. It's a shame that more people aren't still reading this great pulp crime-horror story. Fix that and add it to your collections today. Goingback also had a new novel out this year, Coyote Rage.
- The Hollower by Mary SanGiovanni ends this mini list within a list as The Hollower was a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel. It is also the first of a trilogy. This novel is a great example of cosmic, monster driven horror. Many readers have compared it to IT by Stephen King. If for no other reason than that comp you should be aware of this book, but also, SanGiovanni is an important author to be aware of in general, She was one of the first women to be recognized for writing violent, monster driven horror, a type of horror that before SanGiovanni, many readers thought only men could write [and they let her know about that in the early days, as you can imagine]. You can read this essay "Women in Horror,"where SanGiovanni honestly discusses being one of the only women in her position. She is the woman who carried the torch for today's plethora of excellent female horror writers who write violent stories full of monsters that all readers crave. And let's remember, we are not talking about very long ago here. She's only in her early 40s. Check out her other books too.
- Clickers by J.F. Gonzales and Mark Williams: There are so many reasons you need to know about this book. First, it's killer crabs and there is a whole series of these books. I mean I could stop there, but I won't. Second, it is considered by many to be the first ebook published. Third, Gonzales was a trail-blazing author who died too young. Last year, there was an anthology tribute to him that contained a mini reboot of the Clickers series, called Clickers Forever [link to my Booklist starred review]. And finally, the series is being rebooted in full, with a line of new novels coming out soon. There is a commitment to also acknowledge Gonzales' support for authors of color and women in horror in the choices of those who will write for this new series. So get on the Clickers bandwagon now, before it is too late. All of the books are being reissued.
- Afterage by Yvonne Navarro: Navarro's vampire novel is often one that is missed when lists of the best vampire novels are compiled, and it is shame because this is truly one of the best. What makes this book different than your run of the mill vampire novel is that here a apocalypse at the hands of the vampires has already happened. There is no sugar coating the vampires, nor are they hiding. They have won. We are hiding. This is a vampire novel about the human survivors. It is a timeless end of the world tale [no worries about technology issues for an older book because there is no electricity in this world] and a terrifying vampire story. But mostly, it is about the characters. I think many of today's readers will be surprised by this book, especially after you tell them it is from the early 90s.
- Ceremony by T.E.D. Klein: Want to understand the current "Lovecraftian" trend, try this 1984 title that came before our current spate of Lovecraft inspired fiction. This is a tale of a couple, at first. It is a slow burn and the characters are painstakingly developed, but then....bam. The pay off is worth it. Final bonus points for Ceremony, it is also a book about books. It is filled with lists of Gothic literature, authors and titles fill your tbr, and in fact, the novel reads like one of those Gothic books too. Library patrons and library workers will love that connection to literature and books.
- The Taken by Sarah Pinborough: Before Pinborough became a best selling author of terrifying and supernatural domestic suspense, she wrote awesome pulp horror novels. I love all of them, but I had to pick one for this list, so I picked The Taken because it was a finalist for the British Fantasy Award for Best Novel. Really though, any of her "Leisure" titles are worth adding if you can find them. And, you know people will read them because she is so popular right now.
I know I missed something here, a title I will feel dumb forgetting, but I look at this as more of start [plus, I am not perfect]. For example, I wanted to include an older title by Robert McCammon but didn't feel like he was "under the radar" enough, as a quick search revealed many of his classic titles were already in many library collections. Share titles you think I should have included and why in the comments and let's get an even better crowd sourced list.