Horror is dominated by two big Ks: Stephen King and Dean Koontz. When someone asks for horror, they’re probably going to get handed one of those two authors. But beyond that, this is often where people’s knowledge drops off. If they’ve read those, then what? There’s loads of one hit wonders that churned out one spooky chiller of the week based on whatever was currently hot: serial killers, Satan, killers animals, etc, and then dropped out of the genre… and sometimes out of writing all together.
Even some big names made a brief foray into horror of the week and then went back to their main genre. For example, James Patterson “Cradle and All” was originally a much shorter book, “The Virgin”, which was very standard bride of Satan affair in its first incarnation. Martin Cruz Smith who’s now well known for serious Russian police procedurals wrote “Nightwing”, which features killer vampires bats.
Even King and Koontz themselves went off for a brief foray into other genres. King’s Dark Tower and Eyes of the Dragon easily qualify as dark fantasy rather than horror per se. Koontz went even further and wrote gothic romances under the name Leigh Nichols for awhile. They were later reissued under his own name as horror novels, but the original cover art featured attractive young ladies with heaving bosoms running away from the nameless perils in the cursed mansion.
As such, when someone asks for a recommentation, its often best to determine WHICH books they liked by King or Koontz before making a recommendation as they may not really want something from the horror genre at all.
If they liked King’s…
Things set in Maine: Try Robert McCammon. If they like “creepy things happen in Maine”, they’ll love “creepy things happen in Appalachia”. He also has a number of short story collections that are similar to King. Bentley Little also has quite a few “bad things happen in a small town” books.
Dark Tower series: Try H.P. Lovecraft, particularly items from the Dream Cycle. Same sort of expansive world and creeping horrors just beyond the edge of sight. King’s work occasionally reference Lovecraft, so people may enjoy rereading King later and picking up the references. Also try Clive Barker’s “Imajica” and Tad Williams “Otherland” series.
Christine, From a Buick 8, other “killer object” stories: These are probably the closest King comes to “scare of the week” books and if they like killer items, they’ll probably like the one hit wonders featuring killer dolls, cars, houses, and other mundane things turned evil. Just look at the cover art and hand them the thing with a doll with a knife or a scary looking doorway. For more specific recommendations, try Clare McNally’s “Ghost House” and sequals. The Amittyville Horror and its various spinoffs by other authors are also a good choice.
Cujo & Pet Semetary: The classic “killer animals”. There’s lots of one hit wonders in this area as well, but some of the better ones are Benchly’s “Jaws” and other killer sealife, Steve Alten’s “MEG” and sequels (with a giant GLOWING shark), Arthur Herzog’s “Orca” and “The Swarm”, and James Herbert’s “Domain”. “Orca” was made into a comically ridiculous killer animal of the week movie starring Bo Derek. For some variation, try Scott Smith’s “The Ruins” which features killer plants.
The Talisman & Black House: These were cowritten with Peter Straub, who also wrote on his own. John Saul and James Herbert are somewhat similar in tone.
If they liked Koontz’s…
Eyes of Midnight, House of Darkness, Shadow Fires, Servant of Twilight: These were all written as Leigh Nichols and really are gothic romances. Try V.C. Andrews, Ross (there’s several Rosses with differing first names that are all pen names of the same person), Victoria Holt, Barbara Michaels, Phyllis Whitney, or really any book from the 70s to early 80s with a picture of a girl in overly frilly dress running down a cliff/beach/haunted path staring back over her shoulder at the crashing lighting/crashing waves/creepy castle. See the image with this post. They all look something like this.
The Husband, The Good Guy, other standalones featuring a man saving a woman in peril: These are really romantic suspense, but with a male lead. Most books marketted as romantic suspense will work, but some good take off points are Catherine Coulter’s FBI series, Anne Frasier’s “Pale Immortal” and “Garden of Darkness”, Kay Hooper’s psychic series (they all have “shadow” in the title), and Heather Graham’s various paranormal romantic suspense. David’s Morrell’s “The Shimmer” is also a good option, though its usually considered a thriller.
Frankenstein series: Frankenstein. Well, duh. For a similar take off on classic monsters, try Fred Saberhagen’s Dracula/Holmes series.
Odd Thomas series and various standalones that are very action oriented : Try Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child’s Prendergast series, David Morrell’s Brotherhood of the Rose, The Fraternity of Stone and The League of Night and Fog, Eric Von Lustbader’s various series set in Asia, most of John Saul, or F. Paul Wilson’s Repairman Jack series. These all share some elements of supernatural or occult conspiracies, but depending on how you shelve things you may have placed them with either thrillers or action/adventure.
Books where there’s a faithful dog: These are by and large mysteries with horrific elements. Try out Stuart Woods “Orchid” series, Spencer Quinn’s “Chet & Bernie” series, or if they really love golden retrievers David Rosenfelt’s Andy Carpenter series. These dog mysteries tend to be a little lighter than Koontz’ dog tales, but aren’t as light as the fluffy cozy dog mysteries by authors like Rita Mae Brown or Berenson.
Gore heavy standalone books: Try Clive Barker’s “Books of Blood”, Brian Lumley’s “Necroscope” series, or Rick Hautula’s books which may be too intense for some readers. Generally the Abyss sub- imprint on books indicates they have fairly intense gore. Many scare of the week books with serial killers are also very gorey. Robert McCammon’s “Baal” is also heavy on the gore.
What if they don’t like either King or Koontz but want horror?
Again, find out WHICH ones they tried and what elements they didn’t like. I personally dislike horror done in first person, which wipes out a lot of Koontz’ books right there. The general plot elements mentioned above can still lead you in right direction.
Some other horror writers I didn’t specifically include here because I’m not as familiar with their work and how it matches up with the Ks, but may work if they said they like neither: Ramsay Campbell, Douglass Clegg, Matthew Costello, John Coyne, John Farris, Charles Grant, K.W. Jefer, Graham Masterton, Anne Rice, Dan Simmons, Whitley Strieber, Jack or J. Williamson, Chet Williamson, Bari Wood, and many many more.
There’s lots of authors that either only did a few books in the genre or I just plain forgot. This is really just intended as a springboard for when you (or an employee) are for asked “what is LIKE K’s books?” and you’re just not that into horror. There’s always some genres you’re just not that into and horror is one that can be tough to get into past the big Ks.