A legend among horror writers, Brian Keene is the winner of two Bram Stoker awards and the 2014 World Horror Grandmaster award. Many also know Brian Keene for his tireless work for Scares That Care, a non-profit charity that raises money for cancer patients and burn victims.
Today we look at five Brian Keene books every horror fan should read. And that’s no easy task, because Keene has more published works than most writers have chapters. But I’ll do my best.
Here we go.
“The Rising” served as Brian Keene’s breakout novel, reigniting the nation’s interest in zombie fiction and arguably influencing the eventual tidal wave of zombie movies, video games, and television shows like The Walking Dead.
You can’t talk about modern zombie culture without tipping your hat to Brian Keene’s “The Rising.” This book was a game-changer, my friends. Published in 2003, it didn’t just give us the usual shambling corpses; it unleashed intelligent, problem-solving zombies that added a whole new level of terror. If you were tired of predictable zombies that you could easily outwalk, Keene’s creations kept you on the edge of your seat, clutching the book in pure dread. They could open doors, use tools, and even strategize, making them a far more formidable threat than their cinematic counterparts of yore. It’s no surprise that the novel caught fire and kicked off a fresh wave of interest in all things undead.
And let’s talk about how “The Rising” revitalized the genre in more ways than one. Before this book hit the shelves, zombie fiction was somewhat on the down-low, overshadowed by other branches of horror like psychological thrillers and supernatural tales. But Keene brought it back to life (pun totally intended!) in a big way, drawing readers into a post-apocalyptic world that was visceral, emotional, and downright horrifying. It wasn’t just about brains and gore; it was about the human struggle for survival, making it an instant classic for both hardcore zombie aficionados and newcomers to the genre. So, whether you’re a fan of the fast-paced Resident Evil games or you love the slow-burning tension in shows like The Walking Dead, you’ve got “The Rising” to thank for paving the way.
Oh man, if you haven’t gotten your hands on “Ghoul,” you’re missing out on a deliciously creepy tale that’s like a blend of “Stand by Me” and “The Goonies,” but with a wicked horror twist. Now, if you’re anything like me, you’re thinking, “Kids in a graveyard? This can’t end well.” And you’d be absolutely right. The second these youngsters decide to poke around that hole, you just know you’re in for a wild ride.
This isn’t just some shallow grave or a run-of-the-mill creepy cavern; it’s a Pandora’s box of dark secrets and malevolent forces. What I love about this story is that it doesn’t just give you jumpscares and cheap thrills. It dives deep (literally and figuratively!) into the characters, their fears, and the dynamics of friendship when you’re facing unspeakable evil.
And let’s not forget the heart-pounding tension that escalates as the story progresses. As these kids go deeper into the hole, the sense of dread amplifies exponentially. You’re not just worried about what might jump out from the dark; you’re concerned about the psychological toll it takes on each character.
The best horror stories, in my opinion, are the ones that blend real-world emotional stakes with supernatural terror, and “Ghoul” nails it. By the end of it, you’re left questioning not just what’s lurking in hidden corners of graveyards, but also what kinds of darkness lie within us all. So if you’re into horror that packs both an emotional and a terrifying punch, “Ghoul” is a must-read. Trust me, you won’t look at graveyards—or friendships—the same way again.
You’re absolutely onto something by picking “Take the Long Way Home” as a fave! It’s like Keene took the essence of a sprawling apocalypse epic and distilled it into this compact, high-octane novella that you can pretty much devour in one sitting. But don’t let that fool you; this story packs a wallop. You’ve got these survivors navigating through a world that has quite literally gone to hell, and yet the focus stays on their emotional journeys, their desperation to reunite with family, and the gut-wrenching choices they have to make along the way. It’s that sort of emotional core that makes “Take the Long Way Home” rise above just being another “end of the world” saga.
When you’re talking about apocalyptic stories, the ending can make or break the whole thing, right? We’ve all read tales that build up this immense tension only to let us down with some hastily wrapped-up conclusion. But not here. Keene absolutely sticks the landing. It’s the kind of ending that stays with you, making you ponder about love, sacrifice, and what it means to truly be human when humanity is falling apart. So if you’re looking for a quick but deeply affecting read, “Take the Long Way Home” should be at the top of your list. It might be a shorter journey compared to Keene’s other works, but man, does it leave a lasting impression.
Am I going off the deep end when I say how much I enjoyed Pressure? Okay, terrible pun.
But I did thoroughly enjoy Pressure, partly because the story represents a significant departure from Keene’s previous works. I also own a signed hardcover copy. So I’ve got that going for me. Which is nice.
In this novel, the protagonists battle a corrupt corporation while attempting to mitigate a disaster.
Sure, elements of horror are on full display in Pressure, but this one plays more like a thriller, something Dean Koontz or James Patterson might dream up. In that sense, I could see Pressure as a Hollywood movie. Highly recommended.
Okay, this one might be one of my five favorite Brian Keene books because it was the first I read. Nostalgia, ya dig? Or maybe I like it because it’s a great friggin’ ride from start to finish.
Blood on the Page is Keene’s first short story collection, and many of the stories are critically acclaimed. You’ll encounter serial killers, ghosts, zombies, and all forms of hell’s demons. The prose is raw and in your face, somewhat reminiscent of the late Jack Ketchum at times. Many of the individual stories call to mind the depravity of Richard Laymon’s finest novels.
My personal favorite story in the collection is “The Ghosts of Monsters”. I’m a sucker for serial killer stories. YMMV.
Those are my top-5 Brian Keene books. Got one you think should be on this list? Let me know in the comments.
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