Tony's Top 10 Horror Novels of 2019

Written by Tony Jones

 tony jones top10 books 2019 large

I’ve reviewed many books across three horror sites this year and read so many I’ve lost count, so selecting a mere ten has been a tough ask. As always, it has been a pleasure writing for Horror DNA and I hope you have the chance to explore a few of my selections. You’ll find a fantastic mix of household horror names and those destined for greater things. There are also four authors who have featured in my ‘Top Tens’ of previous years and two of the those featured authors do so with their debut. Well done to all!

They are not ranked in any order, but if I was forced to choose, the top four listed are my absolute favourites. The return of the king of British horror, Adam Nevill, with The Reddening is an absolute treat, followed by Andrew Cull’s stunning debut Remains; Iain Reid’s genre-bending masterpiece Foe; and the best dystopian novel of 2019, Toby Luff’s magnificent exercise in bleakness Ration. But all ten are absolute beauties.

Make sure you get to the end for a small selection of my favourite collections and non-fiction.

small-coverBuy from Amazon US The Reddening by Adam Nevill

Longtime fans of Nevill will devour this brutal tale and if you have never previously read this author, prepare to discover one of the premier back-catalogues in the world of horror. Whilst out paragliding, Matt Hull stumbles upon the entrance to a cave which leads to the excavation of an archaeological site that was once a location of ritualistic mass slaughter. The discovery of the caves is only one sequence in a complex conspiracy in this terrifying novel set in the coastal region of the south of England. Before long, the gripped reader is led on a merry dance on what horrors lurk within the caverns which exude weird unnatural noises. Once you come across the truly freaky ‘Red Folk’, you are not going to forget them again in a hurry or go rambling on isolated south of England hill walks.

I’m amazed that after eight previous novels, Nevill can still come up with refreshing new fiction that does not tread over old ground, which is very easily done. Fans are bound to make their own comparisons and there is a tiny similarity to House of Small Shadows, but only in a broad folk-horror sense; but there is a slightly bigger connection to another personal favourite of mine, the masterpiece Last Days. The plot is a complex one, which effortlessly moves over time periods with several strands which pull together as the brutal body-count rises with the novel heading towards an outstanding climax revealing what ‘Reddening’ and its cryptic variations really means. Well done to Adam Nevill for making my ‘Top 10’ for the second time, charting in 2017 with Under a Watchful Eye.

Buy from Amazon US Remains by Andrew Cull

Remains is absolutely drenched in bleakness with an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness until its final tragic moments and is one of the most striking haunted house novels I have read in a long time. There can be nothing worse than losing a child, and the plight of Lucy Campbell, whose son Alex was murdered nine months before we pick up the story when she is about to be released from a psychiatric hospital after a breakdown. Lucy finds herself driving past the house where the murder took place and feels the house pulling her and hopes that perhaps that something of her son is still inside its walls. Shockingly, she buys the house. This is not a wise decision and leads to the type of horror which exists at the corners of your vision, creeping just out of sight, or lurking in the shadows.

Set over a relatively short space of time, this beautifully-paced book, which has a minimal but very effective story, is soaked in ambiguity and gripped on every level. Remains cleverly refuses to overplay the supernatural element and for the most part the horror and reality of grief is more than enough. It is not an action driven novel but still has some outstanding scenes; you’ll wince in a car-crash sequence where supernatural powers might be at work, and another corker where a wardrobe lurches and inexplicitly falls down the stairs. Haunted house novels are dime a dozen and it is very hard to come up with something new in a bulging genre, but Andrew Cull breathes new life into a familiar trope with an incredibly grim book which keeps its intensity going until its haunting final paragraphs. Remains is a stunning novel from one of the rising stars of the horror genre.

small-coverBuy from Amazon US Foe by Ian Reid

Foe is almost impossible to classify; arguably science-fiction, possibly dystopian, part thriller and ultimately a quiet meditation on marriage and what it means to be human. In its brief, exquisitely crafted 260 pages, it has an irresistible sense of dread which mounts as the story spirals towards its conclusion. Before reading this book, it is best to know as little about it as possible and there are truly ruinous spoilers on the internet.

Junior and Hen live in the middle of nowhere and late one night a car arrives and the driver, Terrance, reveals that Junior has won a lottery and that he is now on a short-list to colonise space. It could take several years for the selection process to run its course; meanwhile, the couple have no choice but to wait, which puts a major strain upon their marriage.

The setting and narrative of Foe is outstanding. So little is explained about this near-future world, you find yourself reading between the lines for the smallest clues. This short novel is a genuine three-hander, featuring only Junior, Hen and Terrance dealing with the emotional fallout of having this potentially life-changing news. Prepare yourself for a genuinely terrific twist towards the conclusion of the novel. Even beyond the twist there is further lingering and unsettling ambiguity right to the final page, which merit further discussion with others who have read the book. After finishing Foe, the reader realises there are lots of clues and clever half-truths throughout the novel which become more obvious and you’ll quickly return to page one. A mesmerising and magnificent novel.

Click here to read my full review at Horror DNA.

small-coverBuy from Amazon US Ration by Cody Luff

Everything that happens in the utterly horrific Ration is connected to food; from the motives of the characters to the bone-crunching consequences of eating a prized ‘A’ ration. Set in an unnamed, starving future, most of the action revolves around a group of girls who live in a building called the Apartments. To varying degrees, they are all very hungry and most probably eat a meal every few days. There is no food as we would know it and only three types of rations exist: ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’, which provide different levels of nutrition, with ‘A’ being the highest. There is also ‘paste’, but the less you know about that the better. Early in the novel there is a particularly shocking scene where a girl eats something she should not and suffers a barbaric punishment where the others use the heel of their feet to stamp on her fingers, hands and arms, breaking multiple bones.

I’ve never wondered too much about what goes into a calorie and in Ration it is a currency to be bought and sold in a world where there is no food. Sustenance is worth more than money (which may no longer exist) and society revolves around it; the world Cody Luff draws is a horrifying place which is bleaker than hell. It never truly paints the whole picture and you’ll have to join some dots yourself and will not like the results when characters head to the dreaded ‘Wet Room’. If you have nothing left to trade, what do you sell? One could argue that this is a genuine example of contemporary speculative fiction and a warning shot for what lies ahead for mankind should there be a genuine worldwide food shortage. It is both astonishingly bleak and brutal, but also carries a powerful message of love. A complete and utter knockout.

Click here to read my full review at Horror DNA.

small-coverBuy from Amazon US Lucifer Sam by Leo Darke

Lucifer Sam is both one of the dumbest and funniest odes to heavy metal and the dark arts I have ever read. There are more musical references than you can poke a stick at, and believe it or not, even the long dead cult heroes Sid Vicious (Sex Pistols), Stiv Bators (Dead Boys), Philthy Animal (Motorhead) and Brian Jones (Rolling Stones) make guest appearances! This is a metalheads dream boat of a book and it is unlikely anyone else will enjoy it so much as fans of the air guitar. The story is a particularly stupid one; mid-flight, highly successful (but very boring) heavy metal band ‘Cat ‘o’ Nine’ disappear into thin air whilst above the Indian Ocean. Amazingly, they reappear some months later, but they are not quite the same band, but hardly anyone smells a rat except for the novel’s hero, a singer in a struggling metal pub band.

If you go into this book in the right frame of mind you will have a lot of fun, it really does not take itself too seriously and features the most beautiful musical comebacks with the struggling pub band fighting to save the world with rock and roll (even if they’re crap). Lucifer Sam has an ending which is so cool you’ll be pumping those devil-horned fingers in the air as we head to Wembley Arena for the biggest gig in years. Rock and roll baby, it’s so good it would get even Angus Young strutting his famous duck-walk.

small-coverBuy from Amazon US Off the Grid by John Hunt

John Hunt’s third novel Off the Grid is as much thriller as it is horror and cleverly shrouds the main direction of the intricate story, which plays out in several stages. It opens with a shocking scene; Graham Richards is out shopping with his family in the local mall when a man enters and starts shooting indiscriminately. Graham is shot in his face and his family is killed. Picking up the story several years later, he now lives in the forest having dropped out of society, just wanting to be left alone. He is horribly disfigured and self-sufficiently grows his own food and visits town as infrequently as possible. Around the time of his latest excursion into town, a little girl disappears, and Graham ends up being the principal suspect in this cleverly plotted tale.

Off the Grid is littered with incredibly unpleasant characters, who on the surface are very ordinary, even boring, but when scratched slightly deeper real darkness lurks. The police detective Jodie Reyes is another highlight; an outstanding character which links the first and second parts of the plot. After meeting Graham, she sees beyond the horrible disfigurement into the man who lost his family. She too has her own battles as a black policewoman, who continually struggles to prove herself in a white man’s world. Interesting, Richards drops out of the novel for long spells and you may begin to question whether he is a major character at all. The story does have a strange supernatural element, that does not dominate, but make sure you read the plot closely to pick up on the subtle nuances the author drops along the way, as they could easily be missed. Congratulations to John Hunt for making my ‘Top 10’ for the second successive year, scoring big with The Tracker last time out, which is one of my absolute favourites of 2018.

Click here to read my full review at Horror DNA.

Buy from Amazon US Echoes of the Fall by Hank Early

Over the last couple of years Earl Marcus has fast become one of my favourite fictional detectives, and Echoes of the Fall is the third in the series set in the small town of Riley in the mountainous regions of north Georgia. Even after only two books I look forward to his reappearance as much as my all-time favourite detectives John Rebus and Harry Bosch. I would strongly recommend you read the novels in the correct sequence; beginning with Heaven’s Crooked Finger and then In the Valley of the Devil, before embarking upon this new entry. Book three could still be read as a standalone novel, but greater enjoyment will be had by picking up the character development and many references which knit the three books together and the wider story arc which threads through this wonderful sequence. These books are so atmospheric and vividly described I found myself being whisked to the sweaty north Georgian backwaters of Riley!

Earl Marcus is a private detective who, after many years away, has returned to his childhood hometown of Riley, and at the opening of the story is suffering from both personal and alcohol problems, ultimately an accumulation of events from the previous stories. Many of the established characters return in book three; his best friends Rufus Gribble, who is blind and squats in the ruins of his father’s old church, and Ronnie Thrash, who helps Earl with both his personal problems and his detective work. The mystery begins when Earl discovers a dead body in his front yard and due to long running issues with the local sheriff, does not report this to the police. Instead he begins to investigate, and realising the dead man was coming to him for help, the mystery soon deepens. Echoes of the Fall is an exceptionally well-developed detective thriller and fans of the previous two novels are going to gobble this book up. Congratulations to Hank Early for making my ‘Top 10’ for the second successive year, charting with In the Valley of the Devil last year.

Buy from Amazon US The Living and the Lost by Richard Farren Barber

This debut novel from a writer whom had already released several impressive novellas ranks amongst my favourite ghost stories of 2019. The action opens with Karl starting a new job for the Borough of Long Draeston Department of Environment and Waste. The job advert cryptically mentions “waste disposal and people skills” as a requirement and soon he realises it involves cleaning houses of restless dead spirits. I love the way the ‘cleaning’ department is portrayed as a genuine UK council, with its own problems with financial cuts and staffing issues. The author gives very little away about how the supernatural aspects work, but this is not a drawback and only makes the reader pay attention to the many clever ideas sneaked into the action.

The haunting sequences are convincing and quite downbeat; from powerful presences, the speaking of different languages and use of very simple dialogue such as “he’s still here” is very expressive. Do not expect any Exorcist-style head twisting here, it is much more lowkey. The story has so many nice understated touches; Karl starts to smell (it is never explained why), but his parents understandably think it is because he is working collecting garbage! The Living and the Lost is peppered with a host of engaging characters, an authentic slice of British life mixed with an excellent, very English, supernatural themed story. Well done to Richard Farren Barber for making my ‘Top 10’ for the second time, previously charting in 2017 with the superb novella Perfect Darkness, Perfect Silence.

small-coverBuy from Amazon US A Cosmology of Monsters by Shaun Hamill

These days, many types of horror is marketed as ‘Lovecraftian’, but A Cosmology of Monsters is genuinely one of the finest odes to H.P. Lovecraft you’re ever likely to read. Part of its odd charm lies in the wonderful first-person narrator, a kid called Noah, but wait for it, his story begins many years before his birth. Spread across several decades from before his birth to into his twenties, the story details his struggles to deal with life within his traumatised and highly dysfunctional family, including mental illness and strange supernatural presences. There are monsters in this book, but it is how Noah deals with them which makes this a particularly clever novel. Both Noah’s sisters are exceptionally troubled, and the family dynamics are so well pitched, the balance between drama and horror is totally convincing as it meanders into the territories of dark fairy-tale and mystery, taking a pitstop around both tragedy and depression.

I love this style of narrative, portrayed akin to a coming-of-age memoir, except for the fact that monsters are real and for some inexplicable reason are only attracted to certain people. Some may find the pace a tad slow, however, this story of a cursed family is truly bittersweet and soaked in such pain, the pace fits this perfectly pitched tale like a glove. The disappearance and death of loved ones dominates the action, giving it a very melancholic vibe that is as believable as it is fantastical. It has been said on many occasions that the true horror in the story isn’t the monster but rather the heartbreak and tragedy found in the everyday world. This is certainly the case with Shaun Hamill’s startling and eye-catching debut.

Buy from Amazon US Doll Crimes by Karen Runge

Karen Runge’s Doll Crimes is one of the most striking novels of the year; reading all 252 brutal pages in a very short space of time, with the teenage narrator remaining in my thoughts long after the final page. I’m a fan of bleak novels and this exercise in hopelessness is extreme, but at the same time the damaged voice of the narrator is so authentic, one hopes there might be light at the end of the tunnel. This is a story of abuse, which is implied and drip-fed to the reader through a girl who is wise beyond her years, creating a powerful piece of fiction.

The plot is simplistic and perfectly formed; a homeless teenage girl and her mother lead a nomadic existence, moving from town to town. She has never had a permanent home and the mother is forever making empty promises that they will soon settle down. The girl has never gone to school and the mother lives with a succession of men she has picked up. The youngster is exceptionally good at reading people and she can tell quickly whether any of these men are also interested in her for the wrong reasons. Although there is virtually no sex in the entire novel, Doll Crimes gives many triggers to what might have been occurring since she was small. There is little more harrowing in horror that cruelty inflicted upon children; it is much worse than zombies, vampires and stories that wallow in gore. This book is meant to be unsettling, the voice is damaged, but its portrayal is 100% genuine, dealing with a very troubling subject with real style and substance which deserves to be widely read beyond genre boundaries.

Favourite Collections of 2019 (All Alphabetical Order)

  • My Dead and Blackened Heart by Andrew Freudenberg
  • At Home in the Shadows by Gary McMahon
  • Blacker Against the Deep Dark by Alexander Zelenyj

Favourite Non-Fiction of 2019

This page includes affiliate links where Horror DNA may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Tony Jones
Staff Reviewer
Such is Tony’s love of books, he has spent well over twenty years working as a school librarian where he is paid to talk to kids about horror. He is a Scotsman in exile who has lived in London for over two decades and credits discovering SE Hinton and Robert Cormier as a 13-year-old for his huge appetite for books. Tony previously spent five years writing The Greatest Scrum That Ever Was, a history book very few people bought. In the past he has written for Horror Novel Reviews and is a regular contributor to The Ginger Nuts of Horror website, often specialising in YA horror.
Other articles by this writer


Join Us!

Hit the buttons below to follow us, you won't regret it...