Master of Horror author Stephen King is the end all and be all for many genre lovers when they feel it’s time to sit back, relax and grab something terrifying to read. However, not all of King’s books are created equal. Believe it or not, some are better than others. So we at PopHorror decided to rank the entire freaking list of over 60 books. To break it down and make it much easier to trudge through, we split the list up into decades. If you’re interested in another decade entirely, they’re all linked at both the top and bottom of every article. And just so you know, books written under King’s pen name, Richard Bachman, and any non-fiction books that King has written, are not included in this list.
During the 2001-2010 decade, King finally finished up The Dark Tower series, a feat that took over 20 years and caused an uproar from his fans, many of whom did not appreciate the series’ cyclical ending. But it did finish. Honestly, there’s no way he could have ended it and made everyone happy. But I digress.
#13 Duma Key (2008)
A terrible construction site accident takes Edgar Freemantle’s right arm and scrambles his memory and his mind, leaving him with little but rage as he begins the ordeal of rehabilitation. A marriage that produced two lovely daughters suddenly ends, and Edgar begins to wish he hadn’t survived the injuries that could have killed him. He wants out. His psychologist, Dr. Kamen, suggests a “geographic cure,” a new life distant from the Twin Cities and the building business Edgar grew from scratch. And Kamen suggests something else.
“Edgar, does anything make you happy?”
“I used to sketch.”
“Take it up again. You need hedges…hedges against the night.”
Edgar leaves Minnesota for a rented house on Duma Key, a stunningly beautiful, eerily undeveloped splinter of the Florida coast. The sun setting into the Gulf of Mexico and the tidal rattling of shells on the beach call out to him, and Edgar draws. A visit from Ilse, the daughter he dotes on, starts his movement out of solitude. He meets a kindred spirit in Wireman, a man reluctant to reveal his own wounds, and then Elizabeth Eastlake, a sick old woman whose roots are tangled deep in Duma Key. Now Edgar paints, sometimes feverishly, his exploding talent both a wonder and a weapon. Many of his paintings have a power that cannot be controlled. When Elizabeth’s past unfolds and the ghosts of her childhood begin to appear, the damage of which they are capable is truly devastating.
I don’t remember when I actually read Duma Key, but I do know that every time I see the title, I have to remind myself of what it’s about. That’s definitely not the mark of an endearing book, in my opinion. I didn’t like it, and I didn’t hate it. It’s just meh for me.
#12 The Colorado Kid (2005)
A rookie newspaperwoman learns the true meaning of mystery when she investigates a twenty-five-year-old unsolved and very strange case involving a dead man found on an island off the coast of Maine.
The Colorado Kid is another detective story with no closure, and one that’s told second hand by an older reporter to his young protoge. It’s definitely not one of my favorite King tales, although I did think it was pretty cool that they based the premise of the SyFy show, Haven, on the story. And in the show, we even got the answer to what happened to the Colorado Kid, something that the book never let on.
#11 Black House (2001)
Twenty years ago, a boy named Jack Sawyer traveled to a parallel universe called the Territories to save his mother and her Territories “Twinner” from an agonizing death that would have brought cataclysm to the other world. Now Jack is a retired Los Angeles homicide detective living in the nearly nonexistent hamlet of Tamarack, Wisconsin. He has no recollection of his adventures in the Territories, and was compelled to leave the police force when an odd, happenstance event threatened to awaken those memories.
When a series of gruesome murders occur in western Wisconsin that are reminiscent of those committed several decades ago by a madman named Albert Fish, the killer is dubbed “the Fishman,” and Jack’s buddy, the local chief of police, begs Jack to help the inexperienced force find him. But are these new killings merely the work of a disturbed individual, or has a mysterious and malignant force been unleashed in this quiet town? What causes Jack’s inexplicable waking dreams—if that is what they are—of robins’ eggs and red feathers? It’s almost as if someone is trying to tell him something. As this cryptic message becomes increasingly impossible to ignore, Jack is drawn back to the Territories and to his own hidden past, where he may find the soul-strength to enter a terrifying house at the end of a deserted tract of forest, there to encounter the obscene and ferocious evils sheltered within it.
King’s book, The Talisman, is one of my very favorites. I loved the tale of Jack Sawyer and his hilarious, dangerous journey to save his sick mother. I had always wanted to know what happened to him after his 12-year-old adventures. Unfortunately, Black House did not measure up to the magic, passion and respect that was so prevalent in the first book, which is such a shame.
#10 Everything’s Eventual (2002)
Two of the stories, “The Little Sisters of Eluria” and “Everything’s Eventual” are closely related to the Dark Tower series. “Riding the Bullet,” is the story of Alan Parker, who’s hitchhiking to see his dying mother but takes the wrong ride, farther than he ever intended. In “Lunch at the Gotham Café,” a sparring couple’s contentious lunch turns very, very bloody when the maître d’ gets out of sorts. “1408,” the audio story in print for the first time, is about a successful writer whose specialty is “Ten Nights in Ten Haunted Graveyards” or “Ten Nights in Ten Haunted Houses,” and though Room 1408 at the Dolphin Hotel doesn’t kill him, he won’t be writing about ghosts anymore.
Another book of short stories, Everything Eventual groups together some cool Dark Tower stories with the terrifying tale known only as “1408” (add those numbers up and see what you get). Yes, the John Cusack movie was based on that short. The other stories are not nearly as exciting, but the ones that are totally make up for them.
#9 The Dark Tower VI: The Song of Susannah (2004)
Susannah Dean is possessed, her body a living vessel for the demon-mother Mia. Something is growing inside Susannah’s belly, something terrible, and soon she will give birth to Mia’s “chap.” But three unlikely allies are following them from New York City to the border of End World, hoping to prevent the unthinkable. Meanwhile, Eddie and Roland have tumbled into the state of Maine — where the author of a novel called ‘Salem’s Lot is about to meet his destiny….
Song of Susannah is probably my least favorite Dark Tower book. The entire thing was one big, long chase scene. I had always felt that the book could have been shortened or even split up between Wolves of the Calla and The Dark Tower. Although the novel gets props for going meta when King himself makes an appearance.
#8 Lisey’s Story (2006)
Lisey lost her husband Scott two years ago, after a twenty-five year marriage of profound and sometimes frightening intimacy. Scott was an award-winning, bestselling novelist and a very complicated man. Early in their relationship, before they married, Lisey knew there was a place Scott went—a place that both terrified and healed him, could eat him alive or give him the ideas he needed in order to live. Now it’s Lisey’s turn to face Scott’s demons, to go to that terrifying place known as Boo’ya Moon. What begins as a widow’s effort to sort through the papers of her celebrated husband becomes a nearly fatal journey into the darkness he inhabited.
Lisey’s Story is another book that I had always thought probably didn’t need the full novel treatment. I did like that King took a turn at explaining where his story ideas come from, and how dangerous those ideas really could be. Lisey’s Story feels like a peek over the author’s shoulder, letting us in on his process as a novelist.
#7 The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower (2004)
Roland Deschain and his ka-tet have journeyed together and apart, scattered far and wide across multilayered worlds of wheres and whens. The destinies of Roland, Susannah, Jake, Father Callahan, Oy, and Eddie are bound in the Dark Tower itself, which now pulls them ever closer to their own endings and beginnings…and into a maelstrom of emotion, violence, and discovery.
After waiting 22 years, we finally got the last book of the Dark Tower series. Fans had been harrassing King for years to wrap the story up, so he put the pedal to the metal and busted out the last three novels – Wolves of the Calla, Song of Susannah and The Dark Tower – all in a row. To me, these three books all feel a bit rushed, like he was just throwing things against the wall to see what stuck, just to please his fans. I will admit to being disappointed by the end of King’s magnum opus, but over time, I’ve grown to love and appreciate the cyclical story (ka is a wheel), although I still feel pretty bad for poor Roland.
#6 Just After Sunset (2008)
Who but Stephen King would turn a Port-O-San into a slimy birth canal, or a roadside honky-tonk into a place for endless love? A book salesman with a grievance might pick up a mute hitchhiker, not knowing the silent man in the passenger seat listens altogether too well. Or an exercise routine on a stationary bicycle, begun to reduce bad cholesterol, might take its rider on a captivating—and then terrifying—journey. Set on a remote key in Florida, “The Gingerbread Girl” is a riveting tale featuring a young woman born vulnerable and resourceful. In “Ayana,” a blind girl works a miracle with a kiss and the touch of her hand.
The story about the guy having to escape being trapped in a port-a-potty has stuck with me for years. Every time I use one, even now, I’m still afraid of getting locked inside… and what I would have to do to get out.
#5 The Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla (2003)
Roland Deschain and his ka-tet are bearing southeast through the forests of Mid-World on their quest for the Dark Tower. Their path takes them to the outskirts of Calla Bryn Sturgis. But beyond the tranquil farm town, the ground rises to the hulking darkness of Thunderclap, the source of a terrible affliction that is stealing the town’s soul. The wolves of Thunderclap and their unspeakable depredation are coming. To resist them is to risk all, but these are odds the gunslingers are used to. Their guns, however, will not be enough….
This Dark Tower book had a lot going on. There was the mystery of the twins in Calla Bryn Sturgis, as well as the defense of the town against the wolves of Thunderclap, and the secret of the few robots who remain from the past. There’s also the weapons that look like little flying golden balls stamped ‘Harry Potter Model.’ Heh.
#4 From A Buick 8 (2002)
Since 1979, the state police of Troop D in rural Pennsylvania have kept a secret in the shed out behind the barracks. Ennis Rafferty and Curtis Wilcox had answered a strange call just down the road and came back with an abandoned 1953 Buick Roadmaster. Curt Wilcox knew old cars, and this one was…just wrong. As it turned out, the Buick 8 was worse than dangerous—and the members of Troop D decided that it would be better if the public never found out about it. Now, more than twenty years later, Curt’s son Ned starts hanging around the barracks and is allowed into the Troop D family. And one day he discovers the family secret—a mystery that begins to stir once more, not only in the minds and hearts of these veteran troopers, but out in the shed as well, for there’s more power under the hood than anyone can handle….
Like The Colorado Kid, From A Buick 8 is told in retrospect to the rookie on the force, although this time, it’s a police force rather than the newspaper office. This tale was much more supernatural and creepy than the former, and the fact that the young rookie’s father plays heavily into everything struck a chord with me. It was after reading From A Buick 8 that I realized I could never handle being a cop (and not because I was afraid of haunted, otherworldly cars showing up).
#3 Dreamcatcher (2001)
Twenty-five years ago, in their haunted hometown of Derry, Maine, four boys bravely stood together and saved a mentally challenged child from vicious local bullies. It was something that fundamentally changed them, in ways they could never begin to understand. These lifelong friends—now with separate lives and separate problems—make it a point to reunite every year for a hunting trip deep in the snowy Maine woods. This time, though, chaos erupts when a stranger suddenly stumbles into their camp, freezing, deliriously mumbling about lights in the sky. And all too quickly, the four companions are plunged into a horrifying struggle for survival with an otherworldly threat and the forces that oppose it…where their only chance of survival is locked into their shared past—and the extraordinary element that bonds them all…
Written while struggling with the aftereffects of a getting hit by a car, Dreamcatcher is full of the surreal nature and fever dreams of a life riddled with pain and opiates. One of the characters deals with the healing of a broke leg right along with King, and you can feel the twisted torment of continuous frustration and pain throughout the novel. Plus, there are butt weasels.
#2 Under the Dome (2009)
On an entirely normal, beautiful fall day in Chester’s Mill, Maine, the town is inexplicably and suddenly sealed off from the rest of the world by an invisible force field. Planes crash into it and fall from the sky in flaming wreckage, a gardener’s hand is severed as “the dome” comes down on it, people running errands in the neighboring town are divided from their families, and cars explode on impact. No one can fathom what this barrier is, where it came from, and when—or if—it will go away.
Dale Barbara, Iraq vet and now a short-order cook, finds himself teamed with a few intrepid citizens—town newspaper owner Julia Shumway, a physician’s assistant at the hospital, a select-woman, and three brave kids. Against them stands Big Jim Rennie, a politician who will stop at nothing—even murder—to hold the reins of power, and his son, who is keeping a horrible secret in a dark pantry. But their main adversary is the Dome itself. Because time isn’t just short. It’s running out.
Imagine a prison with no key, clear walls and a limited air supply. And imagine all of the anxieties and psychosis of your fellow prisoners being rolled and kneaded into a slowly rising, ever building fermentation of pressure and insanity. And imagine that no weapon known to man can break you out. Now what do you do?
#1 Cell (2006)
On October 1, God is in His heaven, the stock market stands at 10,140, most of the planes are on time, and graphic artist Clayton Riddell is visiting Boston, having just landed a deal that might finally enable him to make art instead of teaching it. But all those good feelings about the future change in a hurry thanks to a devastating phenomenon that will come to be known as The Pulse. The delivery method is a cell phone—everyone’s cell phone. Now Clay and the few desperate survivors who join him suddenly find themselves in the pitch-black night of civilization’s darkest age, surrounded by chaos, carnage, and a relentless human horde that has been reduced to its basest nature…and then begins to evolve. There’s really no escaping this nightmare. But for Clay, an arrow points the way home to his family in Maine, and as he and his fellow refugees make their harrowing journey north, they begin to see the crude signs confirming their direction. A promise of a safe haven, perhaps, or quite possibly the deadliest trap of all….
What is the very first thing you do when you hear of a natural disaster or see something scary or become worried about members of your family… you pick up your cell phone and call someone. Imagine what would happen to the world if the first thing they did in an emergency was the very thing that was causing the raging chaos around them? I loved Cell, and I thought it was not only a great story but also socially relevant. Plus, the end is as bleak, dark and depressing as the finale of that one King story that was directed by Frank Darabont.