Must Read Macabre Mysteries from author Cheyenne Comer…
Exemplified in Tales of Terror and Detection, Edgar Allan Poe’s stories of C. Auguste Dupin, the first fictional detective, have a supernatural inflection. Yet Poe’s emphasis on determining a crime’s solution through scientific reasoning and empirical evidence ultimately dispels any occult notions. Early crime writers who followed Poe likewise dabbled in the paranormal, ranging from the monstrous, in Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, to the mystical, in Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone, to the metaphysical, in G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday. Despite these forays, however, deduction became the reigning philosophy of the detective story, epitomized most famously in the mental prowess of Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot.
Thus, the mystery and horror genres became a class divided in their respective deployment of rationalism and superstition, as cerebral crime fiction shunned the scare tactics of dime novels, shilling shockers, and penny dreadfuls. Although these two genres traditionally have been separate, some authors have combined Poe’s virtuosic themes to create a category of macabre mysteries. While the most recognizable practitioners of such writing are Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and the duo of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, here is a countdown of ten lesser-known but no less thrilling novels that integrate the intellectual problem of the detective story with the indulgence of preternatural pulp fiction.
- The Hotel of the Three Roses, Augusto De Angelis. The discovery of a man’s hanged body in the titular hotel coincides with Inspector De Vincenzi’s receipt of an anonymous letter exposing the degeneracy of the place and purporting that the devil inhabits the lodging. In this tale of revenge, De Angelis imbues the locked-room mystery with Gothic elements such as an ostensibly haunted space, a fortune teller decrying the presence of evil, and the grotesqueries of a hunchback and eerie porcelain dolls to amplify the repression of the guests’ shared past.
- A Matter of Blood, Sarah Pinborough. With London in economic ruin, DI Cass Jones discovers that a gangland shooting that killed two schoolboys, the serial murder of women by the “Man of Flies,” and his own brother’s murder-suicide of his family are linked to a conglomerate commanding the world’s economy. The first novel in Pinborough’s Forgotten Gods trilogy offers a dark, dystopic vision that merges police procedural with urban fantasy.
- Devil-Devil, Graeme Kent. Dispatched to the Solomon Islands, Sergeant Ben Kella’s routine search for a missing American anthropologist reveals a conspiracy involving a looming tribal uprising and a spate of murders. Kent’s description of the islanders’ sacred religious rituals, including tabu bone curses and ghost-callers who invoke spiritual guidance, is a departure from a Western skepticism that dismisses such beliefs as primitive superstitions.
- The Faces of God, Mallock. With no leads in the serial killings perpetrated by the “Makeup Artist,” Amédée Mallock must access his acute powers of intuition, heightened by alcohol and opiates, and tap into the collective unconscious of the world’s madness to observe criminal monsters and embody their victims. Mallock’s investigation of the Makeup Artist’s theologically motivated murders becomes an examination of sadism performed as religious purgation.
- The Shining Girls, Lauren Beukes. Bidden by a Depression-era House, Harper Curtis is tasked with eliminating “the shining girls,” educated, passionate young women full of potential. After an aborted attack by Curtis, Kirby Mazrachi partners with a former homicide reporter to find her would-be killer. Fusing time travel and evil house tropes, Beukes constructs a novel of resilience and action against inexplicable violence toward women.
- The Ghosts of Belfast, Stuart Neville. Plagued by twelve ghosts demanding vengeance for their deaths, contract killer Gerry Fegan exacts a vendetta against the politicians and gangsters who murdered innocents during the Troubles of Northern Ireland. As Fegan seeks expiation through settling old scores, Neville illustrates how self-serving party politics can corrupt the illusion of peace.
- The Supernatural Enhancements, Edgar Cantero. After his uncle Ambrose’s death, A. and his ward Niamh inherit the Axton House, a mansion rumored to have “supernatural enhancements” of ghosts and secret rites. Employing various storytelling devices, including letters, audio recordings, and ciphers, Cantero revitalizes the haunted house story as A. and Niamh uncover the connection between Ambrose’s suicide, the house’s reputation, and the mysterious secret society established there.
- Pig Island, Mo Hayder. When a video surfaces of something half man, half beast on the shores of Pig Island, mythbuster Joe Oakes attempts to expose the Psychogenic Healing Ministry as a cult involved in satanic activities. With the organization trying to survive the ill repute of its exiled leader and Joe questioning whether the devil actually exists, Hayder addresses the fragility of misplaced faith, the danger of self-delusion, and conceptions of evil.
- Niceville, Carsten Stroud. From the kidnapping of a young boy who appears to have vanished to a bank heist resulting in four slain cops, something insidious is targeting the Founding Four families of this rural town. Part hard-boiled noir, part Southern Gothic, Stroud’s novel exposes the suffocating confinement of small towns and the ancient secrets of the accursed Niceville.
- Every Dead Thing, John Connolly’s Retired NYPD detective Charlie Parker investigates a missing persons case linked to 30-year-old unsolved child murders and the New York Mafia, which leads to Parker’s hunt for the Traveling Man, the seemingly demonic serial killer who murdered his wife and daughter. Interweaving biblical apocrypha, Greek mythology, Renaissance theology, and metaphysical poetry, Connolly’s novel transcends crime fiction conventions in a poignant exploration of mortality and redemption.