Thursday, October 29, 2015

Top 20 Horror Novels - #3) Jaws by Peter Benchley (from 1974)

Not only am I ranking my Top 20 Horror Movies for you this October, but I'm doing likewise with the scary books that I hold near and dear.  As with the movies that I'm discussing in that Top 20, I'm not attempting to rank these novels based on their place in pop culture, but rather their place in my heart.  Isn't that sweet?  Seriously, there are some fine books that didn't make the cut here because there just wasn't room, and there are definitely some well-regarded books that didn't make the cut because I don't really like them.  That also means there are some personal favorites of mine on this list that you may not have heard of.  If that's the case, I promise that I'll reward your trust with a gnarly tale if you give one of them a spin.  Finally, I may have shortchanged some of the titans in the genre (hey there, Stephen King) as I didn't want to overload this list with titles by the same author, though Uncle Stevie did manage to score three direct hits on my list.

The list thus far:

#20) Amok by George Fox (from 1980) 
#19) Manstopper by Douglas Borton (from 1988)
#18) Intensity by Dean Koontz (from 1995)

#17) The Terror by Dan Simmons (from 2007) 
#16) The Snake by John Godey (from 1978)
#15) Son of the Endless Night by John Farris (from 1985)
#14) Rockinghorse by William W. Johnstone (from 1986) 
#13) Vampire$ by John Steakley (from 1990)
#12) Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg (from 1978)
#11) Christine by Stephen King (from 1983)
#10) The Manitou by Graham Masterton (from 1975)
#9) At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft (from 1936)
#8) All Heads Turn When the Hunt Goes By by John Farris (from 1977)
#7) Hell House by Richard Matheson (from 1971)
#6) The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty (from 1971)
#5) I Am Legend by Richard Matheson (from 1954)
#4) The Stand by Stephen King (from 1978)

Top 20 Horror Novels - #3) Jaws by Peter Benchley (from 1974)

Jaws is a different kind of horror novel, but that's precisely what makes it so powerful.  There are no supernatural entities or terrifying madman on the loose, merely a big fish that Peter Benchley presents as a deadly force of nature.  Any allusions to this actual sea monster's intelligence or nature are slight enough that we're never asked to believe that it is on a diabolical rampage.  It's just a really big shark with a really big appetite that decides to camp out in the same area for a little while.  Benchley's considerable knowledge and experience gave him the authority to present a believable account of what might happen if such a predator were to linger in the waters off a quaint little seaside community.  It's that realism that makes his novel so terrifying.  I love Dracula, but I'm not afraid of vampires because they don't really exist.  Yet, like many, though I enjoy the ocean greatly, I do fear that one day a shark might decide to see what I taste like.  It's an awful prospect, and Benchley had the talent to match his expertise--his brisk writing paints a vivid picture of the awful carnage that a massive great white shark could inflict on a human being.  Benchley also gave us a wonderful setting for his tale, the lovable town of Amity, and his characters spring to life as we sink deeper and deeper into his robust tale.  Those who know the movie well but have never experienced the book will discover a pair of exciting subplots that didn't make it to the screen, namely the stubborn mayor's ties to the mob and Ellen Brody's fling with Hooper.  Chief Brody is never certain of his wife's infidelity, but he knows something is amiss, and this particular subplot creates a wealth of tension when he and Hooper take to the sea alongside the salty sailor Quint in a rousing third act.  Primary characters who survived the movie perish in the novel, and the conclusion of the book is far different (and vastly superior) to the exciting climax that Spielberg chose for his film.  There's also a lot of warmth and character development that serves to keep readers thoroughly invested.  Honestly, my favorite scene in the book is a dinner party where Brody has a bit too much to drink.  In closing, Jaws is one of the best books ever written, and it still has enough bite to scare people away from the ocean. 

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