The 10 Most Terrifying Serial Killers in Fiction to Read Right Now
by KEITH RICE,
From classic fairy tales like Bluebeard to more modern horrors like Hannibal Lecter, murderous monsters of the more human variety have long held a firm grip on readers’ imaginations. Perhaps it’s the escapist thrill of seeing a terrifying killer outsmarted—a macabre fascination with the deepest recesses of our collective imagination. Or, it could simply be the love of a good thriller. Whatever the case, serial killers and the novels about them very often make for terrifyingly enjoyable reads. With “The Snowman,” based on the novel of the same name by Jo Nesbo, due to hit theaters on Friday, we thought this the perfect time to take a look at a fiction’s most chilling and unnerving serial killers.
The Snowman by Jo Nesbo
Jo Nesbo might be just be the current king of Nordic Noir, and this bleak, tightly constructed thriller is one of his best. The seventh novel in the Nesbo’s Harry Hole Series sees the tortured detective land a missing persons case that soon sets him on the hunt for methodical serial killer whose fascination with a deeply disturbing snowman fascination.
The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
Thomas Harris created one of the most fascinating and unnerving serial killers in pop culture history in Hannibal Lecter. Hannibal became a pop culture icon following Anthony Hopkins Oscar-winning portrayal of the character in the 1991 adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs. Preternaturally intelligent, charismatic, and utterly immoral, Lecter was a serial killer for the ages. While Lecter grabs the popular attention – and with good reason – Harris also created two other deranged and terrifying human monsters in the Tooth Fairy from Red Dragon and Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs. Where the Tooth Fairy slaughtered families to spur what he believed would a transformation in the Great Red Dragon, Buffalo Bill took a page from Ed Gein and murdered his victims in order to fashion a suit from their skin. Thomas Harris novels are not for the feint of heart.
Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay
Jeff Lindsay took us deep into the mind of a serial killer when he introduced to the world to Dexter Morgan and Morgan’s Dark Passenger with his 2004 novel Darkly Dreaming Dexter. Lindsay put a fascinating spin on the serial killer trope by introducing a sociopath who channels his homicidal urges toward those who have escaped justice. It’s an intriguing twist, and it makes Dexter Morgan one of the more intriguing entries on this list.
Mr. Shivers by Robert Jackson Bennett
One part horror, one part dark fantasy, and one part American gothic, Mr. Shivers proved an impressive and genuinely creepy novel when it appeared on shelves in 2010. The novel centers on a man named Connely who’s drifting through Dust Bowl era America on a path of revenge. He’s on the hunt for a deranged and scarred serial killer known by some as Mr. Shivers. Mr. Shivers is a great, recent addition to the pantheon of disquieting and disturbing fictional serial killers. He may have many names, he may be supernatural – he’s a horrifying specter lurking in the shadows timeless and broken piece of Americana.
Psycho by Robert Bloch
While Alfred Hitchcock’s genre-defining 1960 adaptation of Psycho gets the lion’s share of the attention, Robert Bloch’s novel remains an incredibly influential and unsettling study in madness and obsession. Where Hitchcock’s Norman Bates was somewhat sympathetic – a conscious decision by Hitchcock and Hopkins – Bloch’s version of Norman Bates is a sallow, sweaty man, and a wholly unlikable misogynist who unnerves from page one. Both interpretations work well in the context of their respective mediums and Norman Bates remains one of the most enduring and genuinely chilling fictional serial killers.
Misery by Stephen King
Of all the human villains that populate Stephen King’s novels, unhinged and obsessive super-fan Annie Wilkes ranks near the top. Her moods range from calm to terrifying anger to utter despondency in a matter of moments, which is precisely why she is so unpredictable. Given that her murderous past may have included nearly forty victims – several of them infants during her time as a nurse – Annie Wilkes ranks among the most vicious of fictional serial killers. Wilkes was brought to the silver screen by Kathy Bates in a disquieting, Oscar-winning performance in Rob Reiner’s 1990 adaptation of the same name.
The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
Patricia Highsmith was among the most influential crime fiction writers of the latter twentieth century, and Tom Ripley is her greatest creation. Beginning as a small-time con man, Ripley works his way up the social ladder to a life of opulence. Completely without remorse and absolutely amoral, Ripley does literally whatever it takes to maintain the life he has built for himself. Ripley is a charming monster, which makes him all the more fearsome, and one of the greatest characters of contemporary literature.
American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
What would this list be without Bret Easton Ellis and Patrick Bateman? With American Psycho, Ellis took a deep dive into the darkest reaches of what the American dream could mean. The portrait of this unhinged serial killer and the searing satirical indictment of consumer greed fueled culture of 1980’s Wall Street. American Psycho is an American classic – just a grisly and unforgettably disturbing one.
The Perfect Husband by Lisa Gardner
This page-turning thriller from Lisa Gardner is the sort of novel that demands to be read in a single sitting. When she discovers her perfect husband is a brutal serial killer, Tess Beckett’s life is torn to pieces. And when her husband escapes from prison five years later, Tess knows the monster she once loved will be on the hunt for not only her, but their young daughter. The Perfect Husband is a taut, white knuckle thriller.
The Alienist by Caleb Carr
With TNT’s eight episode adaptation of Caleb Carr’s bestseller set to premiere on January 22nd, now is the perfect time to pick up a copy of The Alienist. Set against the backdrop of corruption and scandal in 1896 New York City, the novel follows renowned and controversial “alienist” (an archaic term for a psychiatrist or psychologist) Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, who at the behest of then-Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt puts together a team to track down a particularly violent and dangerous serial killer stalking the Lower East Side. Inspired by real-life serial killer Albert Fish, the very human monster of The Alienist is one of the most unsettling in recent memory.
Top 50 Favorite Horror Novels on Goodreads
by Hayley, October 16, 2017, on Goodreads Blog
“Horror fiction has traditionally dealt in taboo… It makes monsters of household pets and begs our affection for psychos. It shows us that the control we believe we have is purely illusory, and that every moment we teeter on chaos and oblivion.”
Hear the scratching on the wall? Feel a chill run down your spine? The frightening thrills of our favorite horror novels have a way of reaching out from beyond the page—casting shadows, whispering in our ear, haunting us long after the story is done.
For Horror Week, Goodreads set out to reveal readers’ favorite scary books. The titles were chosen based on overall shelvings (i.e., the number of times each book has been marked as “read” or “want to read”), plus reader reviews and ratings.
From literal monsters to purely psychological terrors, these are tales of madness and pandemonium, retribution and absolution. Long heralded as the “Master of Horror,” Stephen King reigns supreme with five books on our list, but his son Joe Hill is not far behind, nabbing four spots. And along with classics from Mary Shelley and Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Kirkman’s end-of-the-world comic, The Walking Dead, made the cut as well as an award-winning children’s ghost story, The Graveyard Book, from Neil Gaiman.
And now, for those who dare, we present the top 50 horror books on Goodreads in alphabetical order. Proceed at your own risk—and then tell us how many you’ve read in the comments.
With people’s minds turning towards things that go bump in the night as we get closer and closer to Halloween, it is important to stop and remember the important things in life. Specifically, a goofy movie from the 80s about catching ghosts.
On the night of October 7, 1984, Ray Stantz, Peter Venkman and Egon Spengler, while enjoying a magnificent feast of take-out chinese food that represented the last of their petty cash, the Ghostbusters received their first call. Shortly thereafter they arrived at the Sedgewick Hotel and, after some sliming and a great deal of collateral property damage, captured their first ghost, the disgustingly gluttonous, but somehow lovable, Slimer.
After that? More ghost-busting shenanigans than you can take shake a stick at – sequels, video games, books, comic books, graphic novels, movie reboots, dogs and cats living together… I bet you could find a lot of it at the library, if you’re interested.
Oh man. This is tailor-made for libraries. Well… it’s tailor-made for books anyway, which we are all about. And all we have to do to show our support is exactly what we always do!
Which is to say, provide people with access to tens of thousands of books and encourage and enable those same people to read those same books. It’s perfect!
What can you do to show your appreciation for the dominant means of storing, transporting and spreading knowledge and understanding on Earth for the last 1,700 years or so (before books it was all scrolls and wax and rocks)?
Take time out from planning your costume parties and hanging fake cobwebs and stop by the library. Check out that old favorite, or that new book you’ve been meaning to read, or, if all else fails, ask a librarian to suggest something for you (if you plan it ahead of time you can fill out a Library Concierge form and have a list of five personally tailored recommendations waiting for you). Welcome to October and happy reading.