Best Noir Horror Books
Want your horror with noir themes? Horror Noir combines the classic noir trappings with an element of horror. Traditionally, noir includes some type of conflicted hero or anti-hero who must make decisions based on pure desperation and nihilistic philosophies. Noir is dark and the whole atmosphere is permeated with fear, disgust, hopelessness. The setting is often dark and gritty, with themes of hopelessness, poverty, and despair present.
This is our list of the Top 20 Best Noir Horror Novels in the horror genre.
For more information about Noir Horror, check out our subgenre noir horror page.
The Master of Modern Horror, so named by Stephen King himself, Lovecraft returns to steal the final spot on this list of Noir-Horror with a story that has had a greater effect on popular culture than the internet! The Call of Cthulhu spawned so much mindless idiot horror and suffering worldwide in the forms of music, movies, games, and plushies! That is right little stuffed animals which will fly through the gates of madness and into your heart. Joking aside the Call of Cthulhu is madness and noir from open to close, a tad longer than his other works and thus chocked full of that much more blasphemy and evil. Frought with danger our story follows an investigator who is on the trail of a mysterious cult which worships an ancient deity. This investigation follows an instance of shared dreams by people the world over. Clues abound leaving a bread crumb trail which is followed straight to mind-breaking terror! Sitting at the heart of this mystery is the mysterious entity named Cthulhu a word only barely utterable. The Call of Cthulhu is a shining star of noir horror fiction that has had more influence on the world of horror than any other to my knowledge. Let me leave you with this last bit of wisdom. Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn! (Chant it)
The Rats in the Walls is one of the grandmaster's own entry into the world of noir. Many of Lovecraft's works revolve around the uncovering of unknowable knowledge by those who can not handle the revelations which assail them. In this work Lovecraft almost makes a direct dialogue with his readers begging the question: "What is in your family history?" The answer that you might find is as frightening as the story through which he asks this question. In this case the reader is placed in the shoes of a "Normal" person who is landed right in the middle of an extraordinary situation.
An woman whose child returned from war injured has recently returned to London to fill out his dying wish. As she lives in and begins to restore her ancestral home she slowly begins to uncover the twisted history behind her new home and the people who lived there. Uncovering an ancient secret kicks the story into noir gear as she investigates away in an attempt to uncover the truth at the heart of her own history. The truth is more than she could have ever guessed, and as it may be expected no one will make it out unscathed.
Now you can fit into this glove (unless you are Bill Gates or something famous) this is a story that has the everyman written all over it. Do not misunderstand, this does not make The Disassembled Man an average story, it does not make it a story that is boring or not worth your time. No, you can fit into this story and that is what makes it a horrifying story. Drawing you in and holding you close like a comfortable pair of pants. But be cautioned do not fall into this story and do not become the protagonist in your own rendition of The Disassembled Man! The Disassembled Man brings fear and paranoia to the reader as the protagonist Frankie Avicious finds himself at the dead end of his life. He spends his days surrounded by death, and when he goes home he goes to a wife who does not love him, and whom he does not love, he finds his only comfort in the bottle. That is until he is persuaded to go on a streak of brutal murder in order to restore the balance and the rightness of his destiny. A cautionary tale rife with danger and fear and horror The Disassembled Man is a dark journey into a darkness that may just be right around the corner from you.
This is another entry that is a lot more along the lines of Straight Noir, (much less colorful than Gay Noir) but I will argue that all Noir comes with terrible implication and strong horror themes. Really there are people dying and we must, as horror consumers, be careful not to find ourselves anesthetized to the death and horror which is present in our real lives. Double Indemnity is a great way to maintain that suspense and to make those striking strands of true horror present in our everyday life ever more evident. Perhaps one of the most terrible things about this book is the fact that this has more than likely happened at some point in our real lives, in fact, this may have been something that happened to someone you know. Walter Huff is trapped in a loveless marriage and quickly falls for someone he should probably not. The catch, this femme fatal needs something out of the way before they can be happy, that something is her husband. Readers will probably approach Double Indemnity with trepidation but this is absolutely something that is misplaced. Double Indemnity is a suspenseful, thrilling, and horrible read which will give readers a shocking view of reality!
Paint a picture full of people, joy, and hope. Paint it bright, make it happy. Now we introduce alcohol and remove the hope. Next give a pen to Stephen King and you strip away the joy and happy. Finally we get to Desperation and we remove the people. Desperation is by the prolific horror writer Stephen King and keeps with his pattern of terrifying places in Maine while introducing a splash of noir suspense and mystery. Now while Noir may not be king's specific area of literary expertise it is without a doubt something that he has taken to quite well, developing an air of mysterious crime and fear to a superb level.
Off the desolate Interstate 50 lies a horribly bleak and desperate little town in which the evil force from beyond this dimension named Tak escaped. This is creature is without human form, that is until he snatches one. A misfit band of unsuspecting champions are lead by a boy who is lead by God in a battle against this unnameable evil! (Named Tak) Our protagonists are drawn into this town by mysterious forces and are in for the ride of their life. Desperation is a work of art by a horror master which should not be overlooked.
Now the question has gone around and I am sure that you have all heard it. "Would you like to know when you will die?" Well this book will not answer that, but it will give you some insight into the underlying themes of the question. The fact is that the future is a terrifying thing, and in Life Expectancy literary master Dean Koontz you are going to be plunged right into the thick of it, with fear from the future, suspense, thrills, and paranoia. Let it just be said that knowing what is coming is worse in many cases than the thing itself.
On his birthday (the very first one) Jimmy Tock (Get it? It is a play on time, just be glad his parents did not name him Tick!) is ushered into the world along with his grandfather's exit from it. Before he passed away his grand father had the supreme good sense to to visit unnameable fear upon Jimmy, which would hang over his head for the next thirty years. His grandfather's death came right after he delivered a prophecy that his grandson would experience five horrible incidents of terror by the age thirty. IF you want to get to the bottom of why this is so frightening you have to get into the book! Waste no time!
Now Tom has appeared on our list three times, and this is for good reason. Put simply he is a prolific horror-noir writer. His masterful use of thematic elements and powerful emotion are what land him here again. In the Dead Letters Tom takes us on a trip frought with enough horror to turn Wes Craven's stomach. Add in the mystery that lies at the heart of this novel and the powerful theme of salvation and you have on your hands a Noir story for the ages. Do me a favor and try not to wet yourself all over the list!
Several years before the beginning of the narrative the protagonist Eddie Whitt's daughter was killed by a vial serial killer named Killjoy. Vowing to hunt Killjoy down Whitt searches for years, but now the cops have given up, and Killjoy has stopped killing. The mystery deepens when Killjoy begins to kill the parents of abused kids and delivering the newly orphaned kids to his victims families. Do not let this one pass you by, it will be a decision you regret for years to come. Well maybe you won't seeing as how you will not know what you are missing. But . . . yeah go read it.
The Midnight Road is quite the journey. Building a pule pounding story, layers of fear, paranoia, and mystery create a airtight story with gripping suspense and thrills the Midnight Road is going to take readers for a ride that will take them to the afterlife and back. In this little bit of Noir our hero is a cop, a classical convention of hard boiled literature, but this time it is offset with paranoid fear and supernatural happenings. Now there is a lot to say about the Midnight Road, with a strong story and delectable writing style, readers are going have a great time with this one.
The main issue here is that there is not a lot to say that will not give away some of the books greatest plot twists. Rest assured that there will be some very good twists that will keep you up at night. Main character Flynn is investigating a horror in the million dollar Sheppard Mansion, what he finds there will end life as he knew it, and nothing will ever be the same. Now I know this entry has been kind of ... vague, but rest assured that The Midnight Road is a read that is worth every bit of the time it will take you to read!
Now here is a Noir novel that seems to be a little more Noir than horror, but dont let that fool you The Blonde has its moments. In particular it features a little bit of what seems to be the supernatural, a little bit of suspense, and a lot of thrills, scares, and mystery. Duane Swierczynski is a skilled author who has the horror and noir chops to play with the big boys. Readers are going to find that this read is deceptivly funny, frightening, and confusing all at the same time.
Jack Eisley is pretty well your average American, or at least the one that Hollywood crams down our throats. Jack is on his way to "the big meeting" when one little phrase changes his life forever. Now let it be known that this little phrase is something that could change anyone's life. "I poisoned your drink" now in this scenario most guys would be fine because it comes from an attractive blonde. This blonde woman has an issue, this issue si that when se gets more than a few feet away from another person, she dies. Government assassins and scary voices on the phone are gonna keep readers burning through pages at an insane rate.
The Electric Church is brilliant, vibrant, and colorful. This is something that many people will refuse to associate with Noir, but those people do not matter. Though the setting will scream sci-fi to readers, and the implications will no doubt whisper horror to them. But it is the style with which the content will perpetrated is all Noir. The Electric Church is a story that will no doubt, scream certain names to American readers *cough Westboro cough* and will scare readers out of their minds.
The Electric Church brings readers to the near future in which crime is on the rise. In this future not only is crime on the rise but so is the Electric Church. In the Electric Church they hold a crazy belief, the belief that life is too short to ponder eternity properly. They preach that in order to properly ponder eternity, converts must undergo a transformation into a Cyborg. All of this sci-fi horror finds it's noir legs in the criminal character Avery Cates, who is touted to be the greatest killer for hire alive. Cates is hired to slay the originator of the Electric Church. Rife with horror and noir the Electric Church is a fun, and fearful journey which will leave readers wanting more!
The search for the paranormal has taken Joe Schmoes, Sports Hero's, and Scientists to some crazy places. Sometimes it takes some crazy people to some pretty normal places. The Haunting of Hill house brings together a misfit crew who are determined to prove whether or not Hill House is haunted. The fear that Jackson builds in this masterpiece of horror literature are largely unseen, or vague, this gives the reader the opportunity to picture for themselves what godless evil stalks our heroes, all without feeling too lazy. Just to be clear how amazing The Haunting of Hill House is, one must understand that it has been adapted into film twice, was named the greatest novel of 1959, and was touted by Stephen King to be one of the finest works of horror literature ever written.
The story of The Haunting of Hill House begins when one of the four protagonists Hugh Crain assembles Theodora, Elanor, and Luke to live in the mansion for the summer. As the summer continues the house-guests experience a number of paranormal activities. (not the terrible movie, though that would be equally horrific) As the book draws closer to the end, Jackson begins to play with the readers perceptions. The Haunting of Hill House is in my opinion, the greatest Haunted House book ever written. And is rife with Noir style investigation and mystery!
Everyone know's what it is like, that one person who came to work despite the fact that they are horrifically sick. What you experience in this moment is what I like to call Plague Fear. In this moment you cross yourself and pray to whatever diety you believe in or do not believe in. Prayer for the Dying is full of this, and much more. Dripping with noir mystery, and a building story that will suck readers in for hours at a time, mesmerizing them for entire chunks of this wonderful book. Do note, in this book, shit gets fucked up.
Prayer for the Dying brings us the story of a small Wisconsin town, shortly after the end of the Civil War, in which a horrible sickness has broken out. Protagonist Jacob Hansen is determined to save the town from the mysterious horror. The journey to the solution will drag him through a kind of hell that will bring him to the brink of sanity, and force him to question his faith. Readers will find themselves tearing through this tomb to find the answers and the truths behind and to the secrets they crave! Noir Mystery and Paranoid Plague Fear thrive and if you are not careful, will infect you!
Fear is a primal thing and among the things that frighten people some things are particularly touchy. One of these things is rape. Not something to make fun of. Cape Fear/The Executioners is a story that sickeningly realizes this fear. Though there aren't any XXX descriptions of rape, the antagonist of Cape Fear is a particularly brutal and virulent rapist. A story filled with paranoia, a word I feel appears altogether too often in this list, which gives the reader an unquestionable feeling that they are being watched, but by who?
Protagonist Sam Bowden witnesses antagonist Max Cady in his vile act, putting the monster away for fourteen years. Surprisingly Cady does nothing over those years but develop a burning, unwavering hatred of Bowden. Unsurprisingly Cady get out of jail for good behavior (or you know general plot deviseness) because, you know, that's a thing in the US, and immediately begins menacing the Bowdens. Nothing ruins family time like the ever looming threat of a brutal rapist. As our really bad bad guy steps up his game Sam is forced to take measures into his own hands to protect his wife, and children. Rife with violence, evil, and Batman worthy justice, Cape Fear/The Executioners is worth the read!
Now I am not going to sit here and tell you that Falling Angel is the greatest American Horror Story ever written, or even written in the 20th century. And though you will not hear that from this author, you will hear that Falling Angel is a damn good contender for the title. This is Noir through and through, combining fear, mystery, paranoia (there it is again), and cold case murder and crime this novel is very well written, and is a strong piece of supernatural horror noir. The hard-boiled and gumshoe writing style is one that is unshakably true to the genre.
Harry Angel is our typical, investigative, noir protagonist, and as we all know noir protagonists are not complete without a bit of a past. Angel starts, as they always to, to uncover the small clues in what seems to be a typical missing person's case, And as always happens it begins to seem that this message is a lot bigger than it seems. Where Falling Angel sets itself apart from other stories in the noir genre is where it slowly descends into a supernatural world of the unimaginable. Do not, I repeat, do not miss this one.
This here is a powerful entry on this list. Now let me start off by saying that this story is quick witted, humorous, and terrifying. Rife with some mystery, some suspense, and a lot of back and forth witty dialogue the Screwtape Letters is written by C. S. Lewis. It is a merciful departure from the, for the most part, and by many stripes comparatively to the horror we are so fluent in, happy-go-lucky Chronicles of Narnia. The Screwtape Letters blends fantastic horror, humor, and noir mystery is a unique and fascinating style.
Screwtape is a level 99 Demon! That's right bitches, level 99. Not really but the point is that he is pretty high up there, and because of his status as a Tempter his job is, as you might expect, to tempt unsuspecting people into complete irrevocable damnation. Wormwood is a noobly demon, but he is setting out on the path of temptation just like Screwtape, his uncle. Thus the story onsets with nice old level 99 Demon Tempter Uncle Screwtape is writing letters to Wormwood to assist his tempting of a young and newly turned Christian man. Brilliant through and through, with some excellent morals the Screwtape letters are Horror Noir classics on a masterful level. (level 99)
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is a frightening story, frought with mystery and suspense in keeping with the Noir Theme. I am going to go ahead and say that The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is, and this is my totally unqualified opinion, a story entirely about sexual repression and sexual conquest. And here is my totally unqualified reason why: (feel free to quote me as an expert imparting absolute truth)
Sleepy Hollow is the story of an effeminate young man who comes to Sleepy Hollow in hopes of marrying a wealthy young lady. While in the old town Crane, our protagonist, learns the story of the Headless Horseman, a warrior the pentacle of manliness, who roams the country side in search of head. ... his head I mean. As the story progresses our effeminate hero becomes more interested in the manly horseman in need of head ... a head than the young lady he traveled to see, until they finally have their "climatic" meeting.
Homoerotic undertones aside (undertones I hope have ruined the book for our homophobic readers) Sleepy Hollow is a tale of a small down deeply rooted in the superstitious horrors of the past. Irving brings greats amounts of detail to his story fleshing out a culture that is rooted in fear.
Lullaby, what a delightful story. What a delightful concept. This is a story which has the power to instill fear of one's own self. How bad ass is that? Anyways. Lullaby is a brilliant trip into a pseudo fantasy/modern/thriller/horror world where magic is real. Ohh I love these kinds of stories! Chuck Palahniuk does a masterful job of creating a frighteningly realistic story with very real questions about ethics and power. As we all know, absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Our hero Carl (allow me again to appeal to the sensabilities of authors passing by, never name a main character Paul, Fred, Frank, Bill, Carl, Earl, or Ed thanks) is an investigative journalist who is assigned a job in which he must investigate SIDS, also known as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, from which his own child suffered. He soon learns that their deaths are all linked to a book which all of the families had, one which contains a song called "The Culling Song" which, read with proper emphasis, can kill those it is read to. Realizing that he had read this song to his wife and infant Carl (ugh) decides to set out around the nation in an effort to remove any copies of the book from existence. Lullaby deals with many strong and volatile themes and brings it all about with the use of a few Noir staples.
While Dracula is not one of my all time favorite books, few stories have had a heavier impact on the genre of horror, and thus Stoker's Dracula earns my respect. Rife with mystery and fear Dracula stands tall as a Noir-Horror! And so Stoker's masterpiece earns it's place on this list.
Stoker devotes a great deal of time and effort to environment, atmosphere, and cultivating a sense of paranoia in his reader. I must say that it is a success. Readers journey through Dracula's, unreasonably dark and dingy, manse. Throughout this trip Stoker builds the almost physical sensation that Dracula is breathing down your neck, perhaps sniffing it and preparing the pepper. Speaking of Dracula, everyone is speaking of Dracula. Despite baring his name Dracula actually appears very little in his namesake novel. For the duration of this ride Dracula primarily appears in the words of other characters, Stoker preferring to let the bloodsucker's reputation speak for him. This does serve to make Dracula's appearances a creepy and exciting treat to the reader.
Though Dracula may not be first in my mind when horror is mentioned Stoker has forever left his mark (two tiny marks that look suspiciously like fangs) on the genre through this strongly atmospheric piece about a man whose reputation precedes him.
Red is a novel that will, no doubt, pluck at your heart strings. I have always had a love of animals, so much so that hurting a person would bother me much less than hurting an animal. That said, readers will have to get around some of the themes in this book to enjoy it. It is an in depth character study about murder, mystery, and sad pasts. Upsetting and filled with murder and revenge Red is loosely a Noir novel. Unsettling is the word you should keep in your head as you set into this one, but don't give up, the end result is worth the hardship.
Out in the country there is an old man, one who loves to fish, loves the river, loves peace, but more than anything else, he loves his dog. His dog, Red, is the last good thing that he has in his life. So naturally, when snotty rich kids come around and shoot his dog, shit hits the fan. Readers will be gripped when reading about the revenge, and the mystery behind the shaking conclusion. There is little doubt here that Red is a thrilling horror, as for its applicability to the Noir genre, it works for me, so here it is.
Noir is a very particular style of writing, and no doubt some of the entries here on this list may miss the mark for some of my readers. But what should be kept in mind is that Noir, like all styles of writing, is somewhat subjective. The Fever Kill is thus a perfect way to start this list. It is a brilliant introduction into the world of Horror-Noir and will without doubt have readers sitting on the edge of their seat, guessing at the end, biting their nails, and wetting their pants.
The Fever Kill starts out with a character who fits the Noir setting perfectly. He is undercover, and is very quickly, loosing that identity. Becoming more criminal than law enforcer Crease is disillusioned, with a crumbling personal life and a quickly heating up professional life Crease is about to run face first into an old enemy. Running from a criminal organization hunting him for the wrongs he has perpetrated against them, and slowly falling prey to a past he has long since wished away Cease must solve a decade old mystery before it undoes him. Pulse pounding and filled with mystery and fright The Fever Kill is a fast paced and sharp novel that will quickly become a favorite!