Peter Straub is one of the old bloods in the writing industry. Launching his writing career with poetry book collections, his first “My Life In Pictures” was published all the way back in 1971. Besides poetry, he has also written countless short stories and novels mostly in the supernatural fiction and horror genres. In this writing, I will be introducing you to some of the best books by Peter Straub.
The writer was born on 1943 in the most crowded city of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. He spent most of his time reading as a child. Even though his father wanted him to be a professional athlete and his mother who wanted to see his son as a man of religion did not approve of it. He first attended the Milwaukee Country Day School which was where he started writing and he then went on to earn his Ph.D. in English on 1969.
Rise to Success
Although Straub could not achieve success with his first few novels, his popularity and critical acclaim heavily improved when he got into the supernatural realm of horrors. He has been complimented by both his personal friend and the horror legend Stephen King on having brought a poet’s attitude into horror fiction.
Best Peter Straub Books
|Ghost Story||9.54/10||528 Pages||Check Price On Amazon|
|Shadowland||9.42/10||480 Pages||Check Price On Amazon|
|Floating Dragon||9.32/10||606 Pages||Check Price On Amazon|
|Blue Rose Trilogy||9.26/10||3 Books||Check Price On Amazon|
|The Hellfire Club||9.18/10||544 Pages||Check Price On Amazon|
Straub Paying His Respects
I choose Ghost Story to start off this article as it is both the best selling and the top-rated book among Peter Straub’s books. It is in many ways a tribute to the classics of American horror fiction. It is not only written in a style very familiar to them but also includes homages paid to some great works of the past which is a big reason behind it being the first among the most popular books of Peter Straub.
Troubled by the Past
The story is about a handful of men who all bear the same weight on their consciences, a rather big mistake they have committed in their younger days. The group who live in the small town of Millburn suffer from the mistake they made in the form of agonizing nightmares that don’t seem to go away. As they ponder on the question of whether the time for them to pay for what they’ve done has come, they get their answer without much wait.
The book tells a haunting, creepily realistic story with utter excellence. The experiences of the characters in the book are often altered by the meddling supernatural forces and the author aces in using this as a narrative tool. In one of his best novels, Peter Straub really knows how to dish out an interesting plot as well as get you inside the story, feeling like you are a part of it. I believe the authors he was paying respects to in this book would be proud of his work.
Nightmares From a Poet
In the second book of our Peter Straub book reviews list, we are shown a prime example of what Stephen King meant when he said Straub brought poetry into horror. Although the book is one of horror, it does not fail to make you feel platonically in love with the themes of friendship and brotherhood it cultivates. It manages to be both beautiful and horrifying.
The story is narrated by an unnamed friend/classmate of Del Nightingale and Tom Flanagan, the main characters of the book. The two friends are fifteen years old during the majority of events that take place in the book. It is kind of a coming-of-age story as you can already guess and it takes place, mostly, in the boarding schools the boys are attending.
As with most boarding schools, the students in this one are suffering from bullying, a toxic environment, and a few other things I won’t go into much detail about since the book is already a short read.
Something isn’t Right
There is a strong air of “wrongness” throughout the whole book. Things just don’t seem to be what they are and this filled me with a sense of wariness all the time I spent reading it. Finally, the author plays around masterfully with the horror of an unseen terror that constantly kept me on my toes. I was not just reading horror but I was also feeling it.
Out of His System
The next book I will look over in search of the best Peter Straub novel is admittedly one he wrote to get it out of his system. I will leave what that means up to you but I will say the book is a lot less merciful compared to what I am used to. I saw someone describing the cruelness of it with “Hansel and Gretel never make it home, they got lost and the witch ate them.” and it describes my thoughts exactly.
Curse or Something Else?
The story takes place in yet another small town that is almost cursed with horrible events happening once every twenty years or so. Killing sprees, horrible fates befalling innocent children, people getting lost without a trace, you name it! The general population is unaware of this situation and they are under dire threat due to the newly introduced, highly dangerous industrial environment which is a perfect breeding ground for any disasters waiting to happen.
The first thing I will say about the book is that it starts off slowly. I think this is done to give us a chance at learning about and connecting with the characters. Other than that? Well, once the book picks up its pace my heart was left at the mercy of the writer and he made sure to slowly but surely pick it away.
Blue Rose Trilogy Series
An Unusual Series
Blue Rose is the current best series by Peter Straub as well as his most popular one and I can understand why. As underrated as it is compared to other series by more popular authors, Blue Rose earned a place among my favorite series. The first book “Koko” would probably play for my top ten mystery books as well.
The books “Mystery” and “The Throat” follow the first one to make up the trilogy. Now, when I say trilogy you are probably imagining a three-book story with the same characters, or people very close to them, and with a singular timeline. However, Blue Rose is nothing like that. It is more like three separate books sharing a singular universe and there are just one or two things tying each of them together. This results in the books being independently enjoyable and the trilogy being the sum of something greater than other trilogies.
The author works with the idea of evil born from painful, unfortunate events; villains birthed by none else from fate itself. They are definitely not innocent but they have a pretty good case against being seen as guilty. This aspect provides all the horror that the series need and it did the job especially well for me since this is one of my favorite horror tropes.
There is so much more that I can’t possibly fit in this space so I will finish off by advising you to read the series for yourself. Being as flawless as it is, I think it’s safe to say Blue Rose is the best Peter Straub series to date.
The Hellfire Club
Disclaimer: I know what some of you are thinking and unfortunately no, this book has nothing to do with Stranger Things besides Stranger Things writers using the book’s name to pay homage to Peter Straub.
A Hard to Describe Piece
Trying to explain this book without spoiling anything is very challenging. Not because it is easily spoilt but because it just would not make any sense. It would be like attempting to explain a bad-looking situation to your parents only to get misunderstood over and over again. It is a book within a book, it is a horror story but also a crime story and a mystery at the same time… Oh, and it’s gothic.
Without getting into the complicated parts I mentioned above, The Hellfire Club is about a serial killer who chooses well-off, middle-aged women as victims. We are witnessing the story through the eyes of Nora who believes herself to be the next potential victim of the murderer. In the attempt to save her life, Nora has to indulge in the creepy elements surrounding the murders.
A Heavy Story
To give my final notes, the multi-dimensional elements of the story combined with the extensively and more often than not disturbingly thought out characters make up for a great read. The one thing I will say is that this piece is not for the faint of the heart. There are varying levels of abuse included in the story as well as heartbreakingly treated characters.
Lost Boy Lost Girl
Lost Boy Lost Girl is our next contender for the best Peter Straub novel title and it is a strong one, especially with Stephen King’s comment on it: “May be the best book of his career.”. The book really sells itself with the author’s use of language in it. While it is still a horror story, Straub takes the literary elements he uses to the next level.
The events of the book start off with the seemingly causeless suicide of Nancy Underhill. Nancy’s son Mark and his uncle Timothy Underhill are left alone to grieve the loss they have suffered. However, everything takes a turn for the worse when Mark deserts home just one week after his mother’s passing.
The uncle, now shaken by the loss of not only his sister-in-law but also his nephew, helplessly starts looking for any clues that might bring some light to the events. He finds two horrible things, a pedophilic serial killer and the ghost of a little girl.
Lacking in a Crucial Area
Unfortunately, this book couldn’t take place in the best novels by Peter Straub in my heart. The author’s words are simply enchanting and the story he has created is as interesting as ever but, and this is a big one, it seems he missed out on developing the characters this time. The book is definitely not mediocre but it’s a long way from being good.
This fan favorite that’s claimed to be the best Peter Straub book by many is a supernatural horror piece. The story is about Ned Dunstan, an unfortunate man who goes into a short period of what I could describe best as “waking night terrors” on his birthdays. In these periods, he is completely incapacitated and dreams visions of an ambiguous man mercilessly inflicting pain and death to unknown people. He knows nothing about this man besides the things he has done in his visions and he calls him Mr. X.
At a time around the year very close to his birthday, Ned is drawn to his hometown in Illinois with the persistent feeling that his mother does not have much longer to live. His fears are confirmed as he is welcomed by his sickly mother. His mother shares with him two things that she has kept hidden all these years: Ned’s father’s name and that Ned is in serious peril.
The author takes a great risk with this book as he dwells in almost Lovecraftian waters. He chooses “something” that is borderline incomprehensible as a villain rather than a simple supernatural being. Still, Straub’s ability to create multi-layered stories and unique use of language does not fail the reader. Although I wouldn’t say it’s close to being the best Peter Straub book, it shows a different side of the author than the one we are used to.
Houses Without Doors
We are continuing our Peter Straub books ranked list with Houses Without Doors which is a collection of thirteen short stories and novellas with some of the author’s unfinished or left-out work sprinkled in between. They are mostly what I would call “character studies” in which the author dishes out different personalities and it might just be me but most of the pieces seemed to like prototypes of the characters he used in his books.
The collection includes some additions to old stories of the author too, with the most noticeable being “Blue Rose” which is connected to the first book of the Blue Rose trilogy. Another striking piece for me was the “Juniper Tree”. It included a character who has been through a great deal of suffering and he struck me as just a less twisted and more innocent version of the villains from the trilogy.
Signed by Peter Straub
Putting aside all the differences between the stories, they all include the signature catastrophic atmosphere of the author. The settings are disturbing as they are but Straub always escalates the stress of the situation as he always does. Characters get more and more involved with things that disturb them the most until they get to a point where they have to face it.
If You Could See Me Now
Predecessor of Success
If You Could See Me Now is one of the earliest works of our author. Published all the way back in 1977, it is Peter Straub’s fourth published novel as well as his second ever horror story. It was the book that paved the way for his hallmark novel “Ghost Story” which would be published two years after this one.
It is the tale of an English Literature professor from New York, Miles Teagarden. The story starts off with Miles taking a trip down to his hometown in Wisconsin. While he tells people the reason behind his departure is to study the work of DH Lawrence and perhaps write a book on the subject, his actual motivator is to meet with his one true love. Yet, Miles who had hoped to find peace in his old city is greeted with nothing of the sort.
I was expecting this one to be a little less daring than the author’s other works since it’s an early one written by an undiscovered writer. By God was I wrong! It is as good as his later work and it is filled with so much raw horror and dread. Seems like Straub has always been a genius just waiting to be noticed.
A Proper Collection
The last book in order for this Peter Straub book list is a collection of seven short stories that I can’t quite talk about collectively because of their uniqueness. Unlike Houses Without Doors, this collection brings fully dished-out stories to the table. It was almost like a tasting platter of the different settings, characters, and horrors Straub can create.
My favorite stories among the batch were; “Bunny Is Good Bread” which was quite similar to the character studies I mentioned in the previous collection but much less afraid to be bizarre and disturbing, and “Mr. Clubb and Mr. Cuff” which gives us a close look into the “work” environment of an insane and psychotic couple.
To close off, I think the last book on the list was unfortunately the worst one. It’s not that the stories are poorly made but they are a little bit “too much”. Each story takes it to the far extremes when it comes to intensity but what does it mean where there is no build-up for it? The disturbing and maniacal themes are just too much to be effective in short stories.
Robert is a science fiction and fantasy geek. (He is also the best looking Ereads writer!) Besides reading and writing, he enjoys sports, cosplay, and good food (don't we all?). Currently works as an accountant (would you believe that?)