October is my favorite month of the year. Fall is just beginning, the days are getting cooler, the leaves are turning, and Halloween is coming! What could be better than a hot cup of coffee, a couple of cookies, and a good book? This is the time of the year when I look to old favorites and seek out new books that embody horror, fantasy, or a good suspenseful mystery.
I was fortunate as a child because my parents were liberal in allowing me to read just about anything I wanted. My father gave me his collected works of Edgar Allan Poe and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes mysteries when I was about seven years old. I dove into them like a starving baby, sucking up every word.
Almost sixty years later, a published author myself, I still turn to these brilliant writers for a cozy read. I have added more authors to my list of favorites; Stephen King, Bram Stoker, Ramsey Campbell, Joe Hill, Shirley Anne Jackson, Lincoln Child & Douglas Preston, Robert McCammon, Ira Levin, Dean Koontz, Thomas Harris, Laurell K. Hamilton, Anne Rice, William Peter Blatty, and many, many more.
However, there are several “indie” writers of horror and mystery that have also made it onto my must-read list. Anita Kovacevic’s “The Threshold”, Suzi Albracht’s “Devil’s Due” series, several of Robyn Cain’s books, Carole Parkes “Your Last Breath”, Geoff Nelder’s “Xaghra’s Revenge”, and a few others.
I’ve compiled a list of books and stories that have given me chills over the years. So, without further ado, here are a few of my favorite things for October reading.
The first book I remember scaring me; I mean seriously giving me nightmares when I was finally able to fall asleep, was Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I was thirteen when I first read the book, and it far surpassed any film I’d seen based on this nightmare tale. I’ve re-read it many times, including as a class assignment in a college class. As I grew older I came to appreciate how truly brilliant this book is. Written at a time when science was beginning to spread its wings, when typewriters, blood transfusions, and a recording phonograph were new and exciting inventions, Stoker blends the superstitions of old with the thrill of modernity. Certainly, the sexual connotations are not lost on the reader. This was a time when a woman’s sexuality was denied publicly. But Victorian times hid a sexual underbelly where women could be seduced and aroused. Thus, Lucy’s and Mina’s temptation by Dracula, their submission to his power, is indicative of the secret passions of women. Of course, Dracula is evil, therefore by relinquishing their life’s blood, their virginity, to him, they are sullying themselves. It’s an amazing treatise on Victorian times and moirés. Along with this are the delightfully horrifying descriptions of the Count. Stoker’s Dracula is by far the most frightening of vampire tales.
Staying on the subject of vampires, Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot is equally terrifying. The idea of an entire town being converted into a haven for the undead is gruesome. Similar to Stoker’s “victims”, King’s first sacrifice to the vampire Barlow is a child, an innocent. Chastity is not the ideal it was in Victorian times, but childhood innocence is always to be treasured. So, it is with the corruption or soiling of a child that King begins the long deterioration of Salem’s Lot. The town is a microcosm of society, paranoia grows as people die or disappear. In tune with the times, the mid-seventies when Watergate was news and the disease of corruption was rampant in government, Salem’s Lot captures the mistrust of a generation betrayed by its leaders. In many ways, Salem’s Lot is a lot like The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney which was later made into the film “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”.
Of course, there are other vampire books, possibly the most popular after Dracula is Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, but none keep me up and reading the way Stoker and King do.