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HORROR ON THE CRIME SHELF
By Nate Southard
Hi there. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Nate Southard. I write scary stuff. Whew! Glad we got that out of the way.
Paul was kind enough to let me hijack his blog for the day. He did this because he’s a great guy, and because he wants me to destroy the negatives I have locked in a floor safe. My father taught me many things, but what I most remember was when he told me, “Nothing greases the wheels like incriminating photos.”
Thank you. Enjoy the veal.
In all seriousness, I’m running a blog tour this week, bouncing around from friend to friend like a drunk sorority girl. Yesterday, I wrote a guest essay for Lee Thomas’ blog (http://leethomas.livejournal.com/185855.html). I wanted to use my time at Paul’s place to talk a little bit about one of my favorite topics: the blending of the crime and horror genres.
For years, I read horror almost exclusively. I know, I know. I never said I was cultured, smart, or handsome (feel free to correct me on any of those). After years of seeing what the latest crop of horror writers had to offer, I started looking for something else. I was kind of mired in a certain corner of the genre, and it really felt like I was reading the same thing over and over again. I branched out by diving into crime fiction, and I found a lot of it to be just as terrifying as the books on the horror shelf, if not more so.
See, a lot of the horror I was reading at the time (and much of the horror that can be found in today’s small press and some of the majors) was concerned with big things. They were, for the most part, stories about the apocalypse and demons and monsters. It didn’t matter if they were vampires, zombies, werewolves, or something completely new. Everything was big and epic. I couldn’t find a lot of intimacy there. The crime fiction I started reading provided that intimacy. These were stories of broken people, isolated from the world by tragedy or choice, and the events that unfold around them become horrifying as a result.
But sometimes, the horror is more up front and in your face. The first crime novel I read that had a blatant horror edge was Sacrifice by Andrew Vachss. In the sixth entry in his Burke Series, Vachss weaves a horrific tale of a gifted boy with multiple personalities, one of which is a monster called Satan’s Child. Vachss ties voodoo, assassins, child pornography, and the “Satanic Panic” of the eighties into something that will leave you shuddering. The sad part is that Sacrifice, like most of Vachss’ work, is based on his own experience as an attorney and investigator. There’s very little make-believe to his fiction.
Though I didn’t read it until years later, the amazing Joe R. Lansdale blended horror and crime together beautiful back in 1989 with Cold in July. In this stirring novel, a father kills a burglar in his living room. Shortly after, the burglar’s father is released from prison and vows revenge. Things only get worse from there, as terrible truths that neither man suspects come to light, and soon everyone is racing to stop a porn-ring and a ruthless killer. The scene where the characters sit down to watch one of the ring’s tapes is more frightening than most of the horror novels being published today.
A few years back, Tom Piccirilli shifted his focus from horror to crime, and the novels he wrote during that shift are an amazing blend of the two. The masterpiece of this period is The Dead Letters. The novel tells the story of Eddie, a man who lost his daughter five years prior, a victim of the serial killer known as Killjoy. Though Killjoy claimed 21 victims, he abruptly stopped killing, disappearing completely. Only now Killjoy is communicating with Eddie through letters, and it looks like the killer might be trying to repent. Piccirilli twists scenes of nail-biting suspense, gut-wrenching horror, and mind-altering surrealism in what is probably his best novel to date.
And then there’s Gillian Flynn.
For my money, there is no better writer of both suspense and horror than Flynn. Her debut novel, Sharp Objects, is the harrowing tale of a reporter returning to her home town to investigate the disappearance of a child. The reporter is a former cutter, and her entire body is a patchwork of scars. We meet her mother and sister, and the events that transpire between the three females are enough to send anybody into a gibbering tangle of fear. The novel’s final chapter is a punch right to the gut, and it will leave you both breathless and sleepless.
Every now and again, you’ll see some people (let’s just go ahead and say small-minded people) cry over how horror is dead, how it isn’t in bookstores, and how no one is buying it. Well, that’s true, provided you ignore all the truly horrific books that are selling. There’s horror out there, folks. It’s just not on the horror shelves. If you want horror-real horror-you need to get in close, where things happen by hand and there’s no one you can trust. You can have your zombies and demons. Give me a broken father who misses his children. Give me a reporter who’s in over her head. Give me a gun for hire trying to help a damaged child. That’s where the horror happens, in the quiet moments before things get really loud.
Next Monday, November 1st, my debut novel Red Sky will be available for pre-order. It’s a gritty, grisly tale of a bank heist gone wrong and the terrible things the perpetrators find while trying to flee through the deserts of New Mexico. If that sounds like your cup of tea, I hope you’ll head over to Thunderstorm Books (http://www.thunderstormbooks.com) and reserve a copy. It’s a limited edition, so there may not be copies available when the book is released early next year.
Thanks for putting up with my yacking. If you’d like to follow my blog tour, you can find me tomorrow at Brian Keene’s place (http://www.briankeene.com). I’ll be talking about rat rods, drag races, and how it all ties into writing.