Not the Murakami you may be familiar with (that is, Haruki), Ryū Murakami’s Piercing is a totally different beast. Kawashima Masayuki, the novel’s protagonist, is a businessman in Tokyo, a father to an infant, and has a desire he can’t shake to kill said infant. To get rid of the impulse, he decides to murder someone else, someone expendable, instead, and he chooses a prostitute as his victim. Sanada Chiaki—said prostitute—is not a victim who will go willingly. Instead of killing her, Masayuki ends up in a twisted romance of sorts with Chiaki, who’s as disturbing to read and as disturbed a character as Masayuki is. They both thrive on the give and take of desire in various forms, and their rollercoaster ride of a hunt—or is it a courtship?—is definitely going to go off the rails.
A collection of linked stories all based on a single premise, Palahniuk’s Haunted tells the story of a group of writers who’ve signed up to go to a writing retreat of sorts only to find out that they’ve signed up to a weird reality show the rules of which become clear slowly over the course of the stories. The stories themselves are the products of the writers’—the contestants’—minds, as they strive to make themselves survive the show they’ve unwittingly found themselves on. A bizarre premise that becomes increasingly terrifying, Haunted is one of Palahniuk’s greatest feats.
The Crow Girl
Erik Axl Sund
The product of two punk-rockers, The Crow Girl, which recently came out in English translation, is the story of two women, a psychologist and a policewoman, who come together by accident as the police searches for a sinister serial killer in Stockholm who starts by murdering young immigrant boys but eventually begins killing a circle of people connected in mysterious ways. Sofia, the psychologist, begins to obsess over one of her patients who’s stopped coming to sessions, while another of her patients ends up dead; Jeanette’s personal life falls apart and her son falls into possible danger. All the while, us readers get glimpses into the mind of someone who may or may not be the killer everyone is searching for. Not for the faint of heart, The Crow Girl is Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy but with sharper claws and more fangs.
What if your imaginary friend from childhood comes back to haunt you? That’s what happens to Amanda, whose life has been hunky-dory up until this point. But the seductive woman with sharp teeth keeps appearing in her dreams—a woman who was once a comforting presence to Amanda but now seems to be causing strange things to happen. Is Amanda doing them or are they being done to her? Is she the one who wrote an obscene note to her boss instead of a memo or was it replaced? Did she order the book on demonic possession or is someone playing a joke on her? Amanda’s normality, her apparent perfection, is as disturbing as the abnormal things that are happening to her, and as turning to professionals for help doesn’t seem to yield results, you may start wondering yourself whether you’re going mad.
The stories of three lonely characters intertwine in this novel, the first in a series, by Lisa Gardner. State Trooper Bobby Dodge kills a man brandishing a gun at his wife and child in what seems to be a hostage situation. The dead man was the son of a powerful Massachusetts judge who begins to make life hell not only for Bobby but for his daughter in law, Catherine. The judge believes that she’s somehow hurting her son, the judge’s grandson, as he keeps ending up in the hospital, mysteriously ill. Meanwhile, a man who tortured and abused Catherine over two decades ago—including burying her alive—is out of prison. The characters find their ways to each other in one way or another, keeping the reader on her toes and on tenterhooks.
The Drowning Girl
Caitlin R. Kiernan
The story of Imp, a young woman with schizophrenia, The Drowning Girl goes beyond mental illness and into the realm of the fantastical… Unless the fantastical is part of a coping mechanism for her mental illness. Imp, the narrator, is not only unreliable, but is also experiencing two universes and seems to move around in time as she attempts to tell her story in a way that makes sense to her. Eerie and disturbing, this exploration of mental illness as well as how one lives with it is a masterpiece of magical realism, psychological horror, and a kind of study in empathy as well. Imp’s life, on the surface, involves her work at an antique store, her roommate, and her painting and writing. The book itself is her fictionalized memoir sparked from a hitchhiker Imp picks up one night and who disappears from her life as quickly as she entered it, causing Imp to obsess, fantasize, and eventually lose grasp on reality.
Summer is proving brutal already, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be. Living in a fifth floor walk-up with no A/C? No problem. Office fan broken again? Don’t worry. Up late sweating in bed? We’ve got just the thing for you. Instead of breaking out in some unpleasant skin conditions due to the heat (which definitely hasn’t happened to your poor author’s hands), find that shiver and chill in some of the best, weirdest, eeriest horror novels and thrillers out there. Let the world fall away from around you and enter the realities of these books where you will definitely be breaking out in sweat—cold sweat—due to the discomfort, oddity, and plain old horrific happenings. Enjoy the goosebumps, and don’t forget to pass your favorites on to fellow readers in need of a heat wave break.
Any of these keep you up at night? Which books would you add to the list?