It’s time for my favourite books of the year. In 2019, I got through a record 54 books, but with disruptions to my routine, I fell a little short of that mark in 2020 and only got 49 in. Still, I had more than enough wonderful reads that keeping this list to ten is a challenge. To make my job easier and for the sake of relevance, I will give preference to books published in 2020 (although a few older ones were too good not to include).
As always, the list by sequence read, and the order does not indicate a preference.
Hurley has a way of evoking bleak rural landscapes that might best be described as haunting. These landscapes are the perfect background for his characters, who tend to be battling both inner demons as well as outer ones. And even if the reader doesn’t see the supernatural head-on, they can’t escape being touched by it. Devil’s Day, much like his previous novel, The Loney, is a beautiful, disturbing tale that blends quiet-horror with folk-horror.
2. The Other People by C.J. Tudor (2020)
Tudor past catalogue has proven she can expertly maintain relentless tension, but with The Other People, she imbues nearly every word with paranoia. Because after all, “The problem with other people is they’re everywhere.” The story is a Gordian knot of revenge, where victims become victimizers, and you can’t trust anyone. This book really got under my skin and made me a nervous wreck, in the way only the best thrillers can.
3. The Reddening by Adam Nevill (2020)
There’s a lot of great horror out there, but it’s rare for a book to be genuinely scary (as opposed to creepy, eerie, or full of dread). Adam Nevill, however, knows how to poke our lizard-brains and write stories that terrify. There were moments in The Reddening where I felt as panicked as the characters themselves. With its backwater cult and prehistoric gods, this is solidly in folk-horror territory, and sure to make you rethink that trip to the English countryside.
This is a southern Gothic fairy-tale with enough terrors to call it horror, but with its intricate world of swamp spirits and old magics, it more than flirts with dark fantasy. An absolute joy to read, with endearing, fully-formed characters and a wondrous location. I would want to live in this world Davidson creates if it weren’t for all the awful things that happen there.
There is perhaps no better novel for 2020. The pandemic it describes might be reminiscent of a zombie apocalypse, but there are more than enough eerie similarities to the outbreak of 2020 to unsettle you. It’s astounding that Tremblay wrote this long before anyone ever heard of Covid. But what makes this story stand out is the deeply personal story of a mother fighting to give her unborn child a future. Also, with the story taking place in near-real-time (the story takes place over roughly eight hours, around how long it should take you to read it) there’s a fierce sense of urgency from beginning to end.
Who knew literary-slasher was a thing? I didn’t, but this is what Stephen Graham Jones delivers. The novel is deep and nuanced, but also absolutely brutal. There are moments that had me shaking my head and muttering, “This can’t be happening” because it shouldn’t happen to anyone, not even characters I a book. This a masterclass in horror which is both poignant and truly horrific.
I could have easily listed Katsu’s earlier novel, The Hunger, which I also read this year. Both are retellings of historical tragedies with added supernatural elements, and both are terrific. In The Deep, we board the Titanic and her sister ship, the Britannic, but also along for the voyage are ghosts, curses, and sirens. This novel is as rich in historical details as it is in chills.
Moreno-Garcia delivers a pitch-perfect gothic tale worthy of Daphne De Maurnier while fully embraces a 21st-century horror sensibility. It’s a lush tale laden with dark dread that deftly offers a commentary on colonialism and misogyny that is never anything but natural to the story. This book shows up on many people’s best of 2020 list and not just those in the horror community. I’m eagerly awaiting to see news of a Guillermo Del Toro adaptation. Or better yet, an adaptation by Issa López.
Lindsey Clarke is an amazing author who consistently writes books that deserve towering displays in the front windows of bookshops, but, incredibly, she offers her work for free on Wattpad. In her latest, we’re dropped into a ruined London to face the aftermath of an alien invasion. This is another novel with eerie similarities to 2020, although it just might make you feel better about living through toilet paper shortages and anti-maskers. Thrilling, sexy, and deeply emotional, it’s a hard one to put down, and the twists will leave you stunned.
This is the first time I’ve included an anthology in one of these lists. As much as I enjoy the format, my experience with anthologies is usually too uneven for one to ever feel like a favourite. Not in this case. Story after story just wowed me. There are a few that deserve to win awards, and all of them will entertain you. Collected from a diverse group of authors they run the gamut of horror sub-genres.
For more suggestions take a look at my recommendation lists on Goodreads.