Scary Tales for a Spooky Season

As we celebrate the publication of his new novel, Demon Dagger, Russell James visits the site this week to share some of his favorite books, perfect for spooky season, or anytime you're looking for chills.

At Christmas, many re-watch Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. On the 4th of July, visiting national monuments is a common tradition. Halloween’s approach puts a lot of people in the mood to dive into some horror, and for my money, reading a scary novel is the best way to do that.

I’m going to help you scratch that particular itch with some recommendations. I won’t try to decide the best horror novel of all time, and I’ll give short shrift here to both genre-defining classics and best-sellers from authors with familiar names. These are books by mid-list authors, and many are from smaller presses. Instead of being Halloween-themed, they span multiple sub-genres of horror, because everyone has a personal favorite type. What they all have in common is they will entertain from page one to the end.

Werewolf Horror: Corporate Wolf by Stuart R. West

Our hero is Shaun, a worker bee at Lerner Solutions Corporation living a cubicle slave life, a bit adrift in his job. After a corporate retreat, he doesn’t feel like the man he used to be, and that’s where lycanthropy takes the stage. Lerner Solutions is full of werewolves. Boss Damon Brogan leads the pack (pun intended) of Lerner managers and is the rah-rah boss people hate to work for. 

What sets this apart from other werewolf tales is the clear parallels highlighted between the canine Alpha lead/pack mentality and common attributes of the corporate world. By the end you are wondering if there are any leaders in corporate America who aren’t werewolves.

There’s a lot of murderous action, but West also leavens in a bit of humor to break the tension, but not enough to push it into Abbott and Costello Meet the Wolfman territory.

If you are a fan of fur and fangs, this will be howling good horror for you.

Suspenseful Horror: Savage Island by Brian Moreland 

An unspoiled tropical island should be a paradise, but when it comes from the pen of Brian Moreland, it is anything but. Two couples pilot a yacht to an uncharted island where the flora, rather than the fauna, are at the top of the food chain.

This type of tale could easily devolve into a slasher-esque story of boaters picked off one by one in grisly detail. But Moreland gives us more, starting with two credible female leads and the time to explore their complex stories and deep characters. Then the group dynamic with the male antagonist sparks nearly as many chilling scenes as the supernatural side of the story does. Well-plotted and well-paced, this horror thriller will keep you engaged right to the climactic finish.

Demonic Possession Horror: The Wakening by JG Faherty

Ever since The Exorcist hit theaters, demonic possession stories have been popular. Sadly, many have not been as engaging as Blatty’s creation. But in this novel, Faherty delivers a demonic possession tale done right. Chilling supernatural events and depictions of pure evil populate a story that effortlessly spans decades. This tale of characters, both tragic and heroic, converging from across the country to keep a powerful demon at bay will keep you turning pages deep into the night, which is the worst possible time to read a book this unnerving.

Genre-bending Horror: Slaves to Gravity by Wesley Southard and Somer Canon 

Part sci-fi, part dark fantasy, part horror, and completely enthralling. An interesting tale of a woman’s transformation into something more than human and the bizarre world she discovers when that happens. Excellent descriptions, fine action scenes, multi-dimensional characters. I was constantly surprised at the turns this story took. Some well-executed gore gets more splattery as the story reaches its satisfying conclusion.

Sci-fi Horror: Nirvana Effect by Brian Pinkerton 

The future is filled with terrifying potential pitfalls, most driven by emerging technology that humans may be ill-equipped to manage. This has spawned a lot of near-future horror thrillers that are guaranteed to either amplify or assuage your fears. Brian Pinkerton has embraced this sub-genre and run with it.

This tale is set in a grim world that might become reality sooner than we think. Chips implanted in humans give them access to direct stimulation and entertainment, and the population transforms into slovenly recluses. But some refuse to go along with this idea, even after government mandates. The story follows several people fighting to stay what they call “natural.” The best (or worst) part of the book is that every fictional wrong turn society takes is completely plausible. Read this one before it becomes reality.

Young Adult Horror: Clown in a Cornfield by Adam Cesare 

In this splendidly written story, Quinn, a new girl in a small town, finds herself plopped in the middle of long simmering issues coming to a boil. Great characters, tight plot, heavy on the horror and gore. I didn’t think it was possible, but Adam Cesare has found a way to make clowns even creepier. Flawless pacing makes this book near impossible to stop reading and the magnifying glass the story puts on generational rifts will keep you thinking long after you turn the last page.

Ghostly Gothic Horror: The Haunting of Henderson Close by Catherine Cavendish

As far as I’m concerned, Catherine Cavendish is the reigning Queen of Gothic Horror. I’ve been reading all she writes for years and she nails this genre every time. Being British, she selects splendid local locations that always set a perfect mood.

In this novel, she takes us underground to follow our heroine Hannah as she gets a job as an in-character guide in a subterranean excavation of an old English city. Terrifying apparitions begin to haunt the location and she must find out how to get them to stop. Fans of mystery and horror will both enjoy this book. Great historical research is woven seamlessly into this story.

Splatterpunk Horror: The Lurking Season by Kristopher Rufty

Splatterpunk horror is gory, graphic, and violent. the kind of stuff that even the least squeamish read and say “Oh, that’s gross.” Few can balance on the line between literature and a gross-out contest like Kristopher Rufty.

This story has suspense, gut-wrenching gore, and steamy sex. This is a follow-up of his excellent The Lurkers, but it stands alone perfectly, with just the right amount of backstory. Memories of the deliciously evil Haunchies that hunt our heroes will keep you on your toes the next time you walk alone in the woods. In Stephen King tradition, no character is safe and you’ll hold your breath at the end of each chapter wondering who, if anyone will survive the unnatural events in Doverton.

I hope that something in that list will touch the nerve that sends shivers up your particular spine. Whichever novel you choose, don’t forget to leave a review.

About Demon Dagger by Russell James:

When a demon possesses a person, Drew can see the horrific-looking demon that dwells within. This ability has made him a demon hunter, armed with the one weapon that can send these fiends back to Hell; the demon dagger.

A demon named Nicobar sets its sights on punishing this hunter. It starts by taking the soul of Drew’s son, condemning the boy to life as a psychopath.

This fast-paced, chilling novel follows Drew’s attempt to save his son’s soul and then use the blade to end Nicobar’s time on Earth.

Learn More Or Order A Copy


  1. Catherine Cavendish

    Congratulations on The Demon Dagger, Russell. It’s a great book. Thank you for your kind words about The Haunting of Henderson Close – much appreciated!


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