It’s Friday The 13th, and I can think of no-one better to feature on Kendall Reviews than The King of Pain himself, John F.D. Taff. John is a Bram Stoker Award®-Nominated author with more than 30 years experience, 90+ short stories and five novels in print. His first fiction collection, Little Deaths, was named the best horror collection of 2012 by HorrorTalk. Jack Ketchum called his novella collection, The End in All Beginnings, “one of the best novella collections I’ve read.” His new fiction collection, Little Black Spots, will be available from Grey Matter Press end of Summer 2018.
Look for more of his work in anthologies such as Cutting Block Book’s Single Slices, Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories, The Beauty of Death, Shadows Over Main Street 2 and Behold: Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders. Taff lives in the wilds of Illinois with three pugs, two cats and one long-suffering wife.
When Gavin asked me to write up something for his blog, I thought, okay. I got the time for that. Happy to help. He left the door wide open, and even suggested a Top 10 list of horror books.
That threw me. It seemed a little too prosaic, and even punched that button in my brain. You know the button. It’s the one labelled “Who Cares What You Think?” It gets punched a lot these days.
But when I thought about the request as more of a way for me to clarify my own thoughts about horror and what it is I like about the genre, well, then the doors flew off their hinges. So, here is my personal list of Top 10 Horror books. Know two thing before we dive in. First, I might stretch the term horror beyond what you’re comfortable with. S’ok. Don’t worry. What I think of as horror and what you think of as horror might be two very different things. And that’s okay. That’s life. And that’s part of what makes horror such a great, expansive genre not only to read but to write in, as well.
Second, if you don’t care what I think about horror, that’s okay, too. Keep walkin’.
My Top 10 Horror Books
By John F.D. Taff
Night Shift by Stephen King
Other than The Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe—a ten-volume set of which has been in my family for ages, bought and passed down from my great-grandfather and read voraciously—this is the first piece of horror fiction that I’d read that stayed with me. I was probably around 14 or 15 when I read it, and to say it was formative in terms of both my reading and writing is, perhaps, an understatement. King is the master of many things in his long career, but chief among them is short fiction. He is simply unsurpassed. And short fiction is where horror as a genre really shines. So much easier to keep that delicious frisson of terror going in a short piece rather than a long novel, as King has also demonstrated. (Insomnia…ugh.) The stories in Night Shift—particularly “Graveyard Shift,” “The Mangler” and “I am the Doorway”—are terrific little bites of pure horror. Just the right mixture of Eerie Comics and The Twilight Zone. All with King’s deft real-world touches—expert characterization and dialog. This book weaned me off fantasy and led me to deeper reading of horror, which I continue today. It also got me seriously thinking of writing horror.
Books of Blood by Clive Barker
The stuff I write doesn’t tend to be too gory. I am the self-professed Horror Write with the Weakest Stomach Ever™. But, as you’ll see with this and a little later, I do appreciate a good, well-written bloodfest. As I progressed in my horror reading, I ran smack into Clive Barker, who was just getting started. Barker’s novels were exciting, but his short fiction, first collected here, was a revelation. Here in a sea of King imitators (yeah, already a deep sea even back then) was something so different yet soooo good. And so very British…and I mean that in the best way. His stories are evocative stuff, from “The Midnight Meat Train” and “Rawhead Rex” to “In the Hills, the Cities” and the sublime “Dread,” one of my favorite shorts ever. Every bit as good as King or Poe, but substantially different on almost all levels. It’s been a while since I re-read this, and just writing about it here has caused me to pull it from the shelf and place it on my nightstand. Yes, it’s that good.
The Most Haunted House in England: Borley Rectory by Harry Price
Okay, a little “real world” stuff here. Maybe. Possibly. Harry Price was probably just a world-class flim-flam artist from the early 20th century. He was…ahem…a “psychical” researcher of some renown, having written a few books and been widely known for testing the authenticity of mediums in that fairly naïve and gullible age. He was, to both his credit and discredit, also a born showman. In the late ’30s, he came into the possession of a mostly abandoned rectory outside London, and the rest is spectacularly spooky history. Whenever I need a realistic jolt of creepy ghostiness, this is the book I turn to and have since I was a kid. There are still some passages that raise the hair on the back of my neck.
The Blue Rose Trilogy by Peter Straub
Okay, cheating here, but these three books are interlinked so much I can’t recommend one without recommending them all. (Oh, who’s kidding here? I can’t stop myself from recommending ALL of Straub’s oeuvre. He’s remarkable. And, yes, I have a man crush on Peter Straub. There.) The three books that form this set are Koko, Mystery and The Throat. They all kind of embellish and weave around the same story or are extensions or permutations of the same story. They’re all three fantastic, but the third—The Throat—is my favorite novel of all time. Twisty, self-reflective, resonantly deep, horribly horrific, dense as a flourless chocolate cake, this is my go-to novel every couple of years. And every time I read it, I get something else from it. Straub continues to be one of my oh-my-god-favorite authors, and completely at a distance has been formative in who I am as both a reader and a writer. Don’t just run to go get these books, trip over your own two feet if you have to. They’re dense but rewarding. I cannot gush about them too much.
The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
A lot of the stuff I write about tends toward the supernatural, the unearthly. And some of that kind of stuff can really get me scared. More often, though, what really makes me worry late at night is reading real world stuff, either fiction or non. Stuff involving real people doing real things or at least things that can really happen. The Silence of the Lambs is a condensation of all of my angst on this subject. Horrible killers killing people in fairly horrible ways. And, let’s face it, both on the screen and on the page Hannibal Lecter is an awesome, terrifying creation. That Harris jumped the shark with both the movie and the book Hannibal doesn’t lessen the impact of this book. Or its predecessor Red Dragon.
‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
Two King books on a Top 10 list? Really? Well, yeah. The difficult thing was not overloading the list with King material. I am not a King apologist, he’s written some distinctly off stuff. But neither am I a King hater. He writes well, he writes amazingly well considering his prodigious output. I read ‘Salem’s Lot right on the heels of Night Shift, and King was still fresh and writing so frikkin’ great his words practically vibrated on the page. This novel legit scared me. I remember reading it one afternoon in my bedroom (broad daylight, remember this) with The Beatle’s White Album playing in the background. I don’t remember the exact passage I was reading, but the music had gotten to “Revolution 9.” Then something—a bird most likely—hit my bedroom window. The book flew from my hands, and I nearly shit my pants for the first time since I was a small child. Yep. And who can forget the passage with Danny Glick floating outside Mark Petrie’s window…admirably reinforced by the pseudo-great 1979 mini-series with David Soul and Lance Kerwin. Yeah, I know, but it still worked.
Goblin by Josh Malerman
What, you didn’t think I’d have something this new on my list? Pshaw. Have you read Malerman? If not, stop reading this and pick up something…anything from him. Bird Box, sure, but Black Mad Wheel or The House at the Bottom of a Lake or this. Shit, pick up this. Yes, Bird Box is the obvious choice, but Goblin…oh, Goblin. I have a soft spot in my heart for this book. Six novellas all taking place in the mythical town of Goblin, Michigan. The stories are all tied together by this unusual, eccentric town where it rains a lot. The tales are lovely, exquisite, especially “Kamp” and “Presto.” Josh’s writing is both precise and exuberantly weird. He celebrates the offbeat and eerie both, and his command of these characters and the odd things they do is fantastic. Josh has a new novel, Unbury Carol, coming out soon. I cannot wait.
The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum
Ugh. That Dallas Mayr has passed away recently is awful, truly. Most readers won’t even know that this was the real name of the nom de plume Jack Ketchum. I can’t say I knew him well, but he seemed a sweet and gentle man in my interactions with him. The fact that he could write this book is, while not surprising perhaps, at least presents somewhat of a dichotomy to anyone who’d met the author. This book is dark with a capital, underscored, bold-faced “D.” Hard to read doesn’t begin to cover it. Many people I know have literally stopped reading it. Some have thrown the book across the room. Loosely based on a true story, the book looks at what people are capable of doing to each other at their worst…and what some people will do when the guards come down and they think it’s okay to become their worst selves because everyone else is. Fairly important themes, particularly these days.
Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice
I read this one, too, a long time ago, before she had anything else published. And it was so different from everything else out there at the time. And, remarkably, it stretched the idea of vampirism in new and exciting ways—much in the same way King’s ‘Salem’s Lot did. And, you know, it’s still a fun read today, with its history and Grand Guignol atmosphere. It managed to make vampires seem powerful and world-weary all at the same time. Rice succeeded in extending this in The Vampire Lestat, but Queen of the Damned (for me, at least) was the beginning of a long, slow let down. The rest of her vampire books seemed pale, then ridiculous, then almost parody. Oh, well. This one, at least, stands up.
Live Girls by Ray Garton
I don’t know what this says about me, but this is the third book on my Top 10 list that deals with vampires, a subject I don’t seek out in books anymore. To me, vampires have been substantially ruined over the last few decades, what with Rice’s seemingly never-ending vampire paeans and then Stephanie Meyer’s tweenie Twilight series, complete with ridiculous sparkling vampires. Ugh, right. But Garton is a Grand Master of Horror for a very good reason, and Live Girls shows you just why he was awarded that title. His visceral, violent take on vampires is, again, so different from what was out there. King took vampires from the Old World to Smalltown, U.S.A. Rice took them high, with aristocratic roots and expensive tastes. And Garton takes them low, with strip clubs and a raw seediness that neither King nor Rice can touch. It’s slick and violent, and the sex scenes might make even Rice blush. Remember when I said I don’t like gore too much. Well, these last three books, even Barker’s Books of Blood, might argue against that.
So, that’s my list. What books and authors are on yours?
The King of Pain at Grey Matter Press
SOMETHING SINISTER TARNISHES MANKIND
SHINING A LIGHT INTO THESE FORBIDDEN PLACES
Bram Stoker Award-nominated author John F.D. Taff—modern horror’s King of Pain—unveils Little Black Spots. Sixteen stories of dark horror fiction gathered together for the first time, exposing the delicate blemishes and sinister blots that tarnish the human condition.
From a man who stumbles on a cult that glorifies spontaneous human combustion, to a disgraced nature photographer who applies his skills for a vile outcome.
Where a darkened city parking structure seems malevolently alive, and a Halloween costume has a husband seeing his wife in a disturbing new light.
When a ruined man sees far too much of himself in his broken family, and a mysterious bottle of liquid arrives with a deadly secret inside.
Little Black Spots is a beacon shining its light into some of life’s most shadowy corners, revealing the dark stains that spatter all mankind.
Due Autumn 2018. A stunning new collection featuring 16 tales of dark horror fiction. (Pre-order soon)
THE DEFINITIVE COLLECTION OF HORROR FROM THE KING OF PAIN
STEP INTO NEW ROOMS OF ABSOLUTE TERROR
Five years ago, Bram Stoker Award-nominated author John F.D. Taff welcomed you into the darkest recesses of his mind. Today, he returns to where it all began…opening doors to new rooms of abject horror. Disturbing rooms. Darker rooms.
Rooms where a farmer awakens to find a gigantic tentacle writhing in his fields. Where the desiccated mummy of a young girl wants nothing more than something warm to drink. Where a memorabilia collector resurrects his dead girlfriend with the prop neck bolts from the 1931 movie Frankenstein. And where the sweetest candy of all is a dead man’s flesh.
Little Deaths: The Definitive Collection features 24 stories, five of them new to this edition, plus expanded notes for each tale, a new afterword by the author and a new foreword by Josh Malerman, author of Bird Box and Black Mad Wheel.
You can order Little Deaths: The Definitive Collection from the following…
A LEGENDARY AMERICAN HAUNTING
SOMETIMES THE SCARIEST TALES ARE TRUE
It’s 1817, and Tennessee is on the western frontier as America expands into the unknown. In idyllic Adams County, home of the Bell family, there exists a collection of tight-knit rural communities with deeply held beliefs. And even more deeply buried secrets.
Jack and Lucy Bell operate a prosperous family farm northwest of Nashville where life with their many children is peaceful. Simple country life. That is until those secrets take on a life of their own and refuse to remain unspoken.
Much has been written about the legend of the Bell Witch of Tennessee, but the details of the Bell family’s terrifying experience with the supernatural have never been told in quite the way that Bram Stoker Award-nominated horror author John F.D. Taff has conceived. In his novel, for the first time, the Witch has her own say. And what she reveals about the incident and the dark motivations behind her appearance reaches way beyond a traditional haunting.
Forget what you’ve read about this wholly American legend. What you believe you know about the mysterious occurrences on the Bell farm are wrong. Uncover the long-hidden reality that’s far more horrifying than any ghost story you’ve ever heard.
You can order The Bell Witch from the following…
DEATH NEVER FORGETS
Nominated for the Bram Stoker Award and praised as the best collection of gut-wrenching horror in recent years by horror icon Jack Ketchum, The End in All Beginnings explores the horrors of life, love and loss in five profound and frightening novellas.
Having emerged as one of the best storytellers of the modern era, in The End in All Beginnings author John F.D. Taff crafts poignant and disturbing scenarios that delve into the heartbreaking afflictions that have tormented humanity since the beginning of time, starting at birth and extending far beyond death. At times darkly comedic, often deeply poetic and always disturbingly real, The End in All Beginnings is quintessential Taff. It remains the singlemost effective volume of the author’s work that fully captures his brilliant, shocking and provocative approach to fiction.
With undeniable nods to past horror masters , the critically acclaimed The End in All Beginnings now accepts its rightful place in horror history alongside modern terror scribes Stephen King, Ramsey Campbell, Ray Bradbury and Clive Barker.
You can order The End In All Beginnings from the following…
ENTER THE WORLD OF THE CONTRACT KILLER
SOMETIMES DEATH BECOMES A WAY OF LIFE
David Benning’s life is unraveling. Unemployed, running low on cash and with the responsibility of caring for a father struggling with Alzheimer’s, he finds himself blackmailed by a shadowy cabal with mysterious and deadly goals.Known only as “The Group,” David quickly learns they breed killers. Turning everyday people into accomplished assassins with unusual targets. As he’s dragged farther down into this dangerous world of secrets, guns and payoffs, their true motives are slowly, chillingly revealed.
With nowhere to run, David can trust no one, not even the woman he’s been sent to kill…and has grown to love. Can they work together to free each other from the deadly grip of this lethal game?
Kill-Off is a tough, no-nonsense and inescapable thriller in the vein of
Richard Stark’s The Hunter or James Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice.
You can order Kill-Off from the following…
John’s author page is found at Amazon
You can follow John on Twitter @johnfdtaff
Please visit John at his official website http://www.johnfdtaff.com