My Favorite Horror Novels and Novellas of 2021

Created by Bob Helmbrecht, collection development librarian

2021 was another great year for horror fiction. We had some excellent debut novels, as well as great books from long-time favorite authors. You can find everything from entertaining, gory adventure stories to beautiful, horrific literary novels. Here are some of my favorite horror novels and novellas of the year. 

I tend to prefer horror which takes place in a recognizable, real world setting, but I had heard very good things about this one, so I gave it a read. I was glad I did! It’s tough to come up with a short description for it, but it deals with a dark cult, its survivors, and its victims. Also check out Breukelaar’s story collection “Collision.” 

I’ve long been a fan of Chizmar’s short fiction, so I was excited to read this novel. A unique work of metafiction, it takes Chizmar’s real life in 1988 and combines it with a fictional tale of the “Boogeyman,” a serial killer preying on teenage girls. Told from his perspective, it reads like a horrific true crime story. One so real that you’ll want to go online to double-check and see if it’s really a work of fiction.

Jane, a quiet and deeply practical accountant, decides that in order to guarantee her security she should be married. She determines that Doctor Lawrence is an ideal candidate, and he agrees. Sadly for Jane, the doctor has dark secrets, in the best Gothic tradition. Also take a look at Starling’s books “The Luminous Dead” and “Yellow Jessamine.”

An uneasy, atmospheric novel of psychological horror, with unreliable narrators and mysteries that won’t be solved until the very end. If you like this one, put yourself on the waiting list now for Ward’s novel, “Sundial,” coming out in March.

Jones’s follow-up to the 2020 Stoker Award-winning “The Only Good Indians” is a scary homage to slasher films, where a young woman’s extensive knowledge of horror movies may be her only hope of survival. As you can expect from Jones, there is a lot of depth below the horror film surface.

Blessed with one of the creepiest book covers in recent memory, this is a beautiful haunted house novel, heavily influenced by Japanese folklore. Also check out Khaw’s 2021 dark science-fiction novel “The All-Consuming World.”

I knew I wanted a book by V. Castro on this list, but I was torn between this one and “Goddess of Filth.” Just go ahead and read both of them. In “The Queen of the Cicadas,” Belinda Alvarez comes back to Texas for the wedding of her best friend, being held on the site of a horrific 1950’s murder. In “Goddess of Filth,” five teens hold a seance for fun, but awaken powerful forces of evil.

A great novel of social horror. Four contestants are participating in an escape room competition, when a man breaks in and kills one of them. Are the members of the group to blame? If you enjoy this one, check out Mattson’s debut “The Lost Prayers of Ricky Graves.”

One of the best debuts of the year. Andrew and Eddie are inseparable friends, until Eddie leaves for graduate school. Just before Andrew arrives to rejoin him, Eddie dies, apparently of suicide, but Andrew can’t believe this. As Andrew tries to find the truth, he descends into a dark world of fast cars, drugs, lies, secrets, and spirits.

Another of 2021’s best debut novels. The horror premise of spirits returning for revenge on the descendants of those who had wronged them can easily become cliched in the wrong hands. McQueen digs deep into the history, however, as must the characters, if they are to have any hope to survive. Also check out McQueen’s collection of essays titled “And It Begins Like This,” which deals with McQueen’s attempt to come to terms with feelings of shame over her identity as a Black woman, and trying to discover where those feelings had come from.