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The lines between the horror and thriller genre have constantly been crossed. What’s scary to you may not be to me, and equally what we consider thrilling or suspenseful can also differ. Often horror and thriller novels feel like they cross genres, or even that is up for debate. Do you think books can simultaneously be different genres or is it a one-and-done deal?
Book Riot also ran a great article a few years back that set some distinctions between these two genres and I highly recommend you take a look at it as well! Anna distinguished the two within the rising action of the story — is everything building up to a singular point of no return? Not that that can’t happen in a horror novel, but often the moment is leading up to a moment where we feel disgusted and repulsed.
In my opinion, yes, a book can be both a horror and a thriller. It’s completely possible for a book to build to a WTF moment that both gives me a mindfuck and makes me want to take a shower. (Side note: Aren’t those books the absolute best?!)
Check out this list of horror thrillers that blur the lines between the genres by containing a series of events leading up to a final climax with tons of smaller frightening and/or gory moments in between.
The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
Starting us out with a book that is atmospheric and definitely has a creepy vibe from the first page. Four American Indian friends go elk hunting one night on lands that are typically reserved for tribe elders. They are excited when they come across a herd of elk and draw their bows. Fast-forward nearly a decade and the friends are still traumatized and haunted by what happened that night. The Only Good Indians tells a deeper story of the importance of tradition while keeping you on your toes and frantically turning the pages.
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Night Film by Marisha Pessl
When the daughter of famed (but mysterious) cult-horror-film director, Stanislas Cordova, is found dead, ex-journalist Scott McGrath knows there’s more than meets the eye. McGrath has been looking into Cordova for a while and the inspiration behind his creepy and disturbing films, but he has been thwarted each time. Now McGrath is determined to expose the director, but this time he might lose more than his marriage and his career.
White Is For Witching by Helen Oyeyemi
This novel is a little gem. It’s weird — like, really weird — but combines the best of a haunted house story and body horror. The Silver family lives in a remote house near Dover. It’s lovely on the outside, but inside is holding a lot of pain. After matriarch Lily leaves the family, she leaves her husband, Luc, twins and twins, Miranda and Eliot, lost and searching for answers. The house itself seems to be reacting as well, making strange noises, creating mazes, and showing signs of distress.
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
When Johnny discovers his landlord dead in his apartment, scattered all around him are notes and documents regarding a documentary called the Navidson Record, a case surrounding a mysterious house. Johnny becomes obsessed with the mystery and he begins pouring through the reports. As he immerses himself in Navidson’s life, the line between reality and imagination begin to fade.
Battle Royale by Koushun Takami
A class of junior high students are taken to a deserted island and awake with collars rigged with explosive devices. As the students freak out, a cheerful video explains that they are taking part in a game, an authoritarian program if you will. All the students are equipped with weapons and forced to participate in a game of survival of the fittest — killing one another until just one survivor is left. Yes, it’s bloody, but the real meat of the story definitely comes from the mind games the students play with each other.
Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Chances are you’ve heard stories about this novella (or the movie) scaring the crap out of people, and there’s definitely a reason for it. When Coraline’s family moves into a new home, she goes exploring, and to her surprise she opens a door to a passage that leads to another house identical to her own. Life appears to be better in this house and the family that lives there even wants Coraline to stay and be part of their family. But then she discovers other children who have been trapped there, and she is the only one who can save them (and herself).
The Vegetarian by Han Kang
One night after an unsettling nightmare, Yeong-hye suddenly decides to cut all meat from her diet and begins a plant-based lifestyle. But in a culture where conformity is the norm, her choice is seen as an act of rebellion and even of mental illness, enough that her family becomes seriously concerned. This one decision starts to affect other aspects of her life and takes her mind and body on a complete downward spiral.
The Return by Rachel Harrison
Julie, Elise, Mae, and Molly have been best friends for forever, and their group was rocked when Julie suddenly disappeared when she went for a hike one day. Over time, Mae and Molly lose hope and accept the death of their friend. Elise on the other hand, firmly believes Julie is alive. And then after two years, Julie returns. But she’s not the same Julie.
Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
This vampire story is mixed with Aztec culture and history, where our main character, Atl, is a descendant of Aztec blood drinkers and must kill to survive. So when she sees Domingo, a street kid with a heart of gold, he might just break down Atl’s barriers. But don’t be fooled, this isn’t a romance novel. Because on the periphery is a cop, AKA vampire hunter, who is tracking them, turning the story into a cat-and-mouse game.
Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage
The scariest element of this book is that there’s no reason why this situation couldn’t happen to someone. To the rest of the world, Hanna is the ideal child but her mother, Suzette, knows something different. What makes Baby Teeth different than stories like Rosemary’s Baby is that she isn’t possessed by the devil. She’s just a sadistic kid who is out to get her mother. And Suzette is just a mother who desperately wants to connect with her daughter, which is as heartbreaking as Hanna is evil.
Don’t stop here! Check out more horror and thriller lists from Book Riot: