The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis. A stunning, vivid horror adventure about a young girl being stalked through an apocalyptic wilderness by a madman who was her guardian. Equal parts thrilling, terrifying, and unexpected with elements of The Road, The Revenant, and Little Red Riding Hood. A masterpiece.
The North Water by Ian McGuire. McGuire’s Man Booker nominated thriller is so chilly that you can feel the frostbite and so brutal that your racing heartbeat matches the characters who are at the mercy of a psychopath on a ship while on an Arctic voyage. It’s the writing here, though, that raises this from genre to masterwork.
The Fisherman by John Langan. Langan’s character study quickly turns into a surreal nightmare that straddles two worlds; one about overcoming grief as two men find solace together after their wives die by fishing together, and another world where nothing is as it seems as the grief is replaced by hope and ultimately fear and terror. Ambitious and mind-bending.
The Lightkeepers by Abbi Geni. Abbi Geni’s Lightkeepers is a quiet character study about a group of scientists isolated on the Farallon Islands off the San Francisco coast. What starts as a richly detailed, you-are-there story about a woman finding herself in a remote, hostile environment turns into something a bit darker. So well done that I could feel the cold and the dampness of the fog.
Loner by Teddy Wayne. Loner is a surprising story about obsession, outcasts, sociopathy, and duplicity where everyone is being played, or playing each other. The novel takes place on a college campus and the streets of Manhattan, but is ultimately a claustrophobic, very uncomfortable puzzle that feels like Salinger and Easton-Ellis have collided.
Neon Green by Margaret Wappler. Reminiscent of both the classic Twilight Zone episode The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street and Close Encounters, Wappler’s novel about a family that “wins” an alien craft that lands and remains in their backyard is more about a suburban family that unravels as the mysterious visitors quietly and mysteriously remain in their backyard. Wholly original and a family drama that manages to be creepy and suspenseful.
The House of Writers by MJ Nicholls. Nicholls’ The House of Writers is a surreal mix of Ballard and Charlie Kaufman about a skyscraper that houses some of the last remaining writers in a future where authors are exiled on the fringe, only working with the benefit of donors who want custom books. Each floor holds a different genre, and a different set of perils and very weird challenges. The most original read of the year.
Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. Crouch’s dystopian sci-fi thriller is on the surface a standard fare time travel puzzle, but it’s incredibly smart and a page-turner from beginning to end, and it sticks the landing almost better than any book I’ve read this year outside of Drew Magary’s The Hike. Entertaining and cinematic.
I Am Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid. Was this the best written book of the year? Debatable. Was this the most original thriller/horror book of the year? Not particularly, but Reid’s unsettling, swift, dark tale where nothing is as it seems haunted me the whole year and it’s why it’s on this list. A new couple on the rocks visits one of their parents home and things start getting creepy.
Stranded by Bracken Macleod. Like McGuire’s North Water, Stranded is a nautical tale of Arctic horror that has elements of The Thing, but becomes a mind-warping tale of dual realities. Full of tough-as-nails characters in a harrowing predicament(s), Stranded was riveting, tense and imaginative. A satisfying thriller.