Who doesn’t love a good road trip? It’s an iconic literary theme from On the Road to Travels with Charlie to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. There’s a sense of adventure, of a unique expression of the American spirit. Occasionally, though, that literary adventure can leave us with a bit more than we bargained for. There are a number of great suspense/thriller novels featuring excursions that most definitely did not go as our intrepid heroes planned. Whether on the run from preternatural terrors or more human dangers, here are a few of our favorite edge-of-your-seat road trip nightmares.
Shattered generally gets lost in the shuffle of Dean Koontz’s incredibly prolific and bestselling bibliography. This slice of road-trip horror is a quick read that steadily ratchets up the suspense. It centers on Alex and his son, Colin, who are driving cross-country to a new home in California. Unfortunately, they find themselves square in the sights of a twisted fellow traveler.
This debut novel from bestselling author Joe Hill centers on aging rock star Judas Coyne whose fascination with macabre memorabilia leads him to purchase a ghost on the internet. When he receives a heart-shaped box with a suit said to contain the ghost, things quickly spiral out of control – Jude is forced to run from a malevolent spirit hell-bent on his death.
Robert Jackson Bennett
The debut novel from Robert Jackson Bennett falls somewhere on a spectrum that includes Stephen King and John Steinbeck. Set during the Great Depression, Mr. Shivers centers on a man named Marcus Connelly as he makes his way through the rail yards and byways of Dustbowl America, seeking the eponymous and potentially supernatural fiend who murdered his child.
Stephen King’s classic piece of post-apocalyptic fiction is a long-time fan favorite. It features a collection of some of King’s best protagonists making their way across a wasted and increasingly desolate America in the hopes of finding some form of safety and peace. Unfortunately, the roads they travel are beset by all kinds of terrifying obstacles – supernatural and otherwise.
The Road, a bleak post-apocalyptic sojourn, earned Cormac McCarthy the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction in 2007. The novel is an unrelenting, haunting, and emotionally shattering tale of an unnamed father attempting to find a safe haven for his son amid the desolation and dangers of a post-apocalyptic America. It is among McCarthy’s finest novel, and that’s no mean feat.
Neil Gaiman’s bestselling concoction of mythology, fantasy, and Americana is a surreal and tense road-trip along the backroads and forgotten highways of an America populated with supernatural con-man, old gods, and magic. It centers on a ex-con named Shadowmoon who takes a job as a driver and aid to a mysterious and eccentric man known simply as Mr. Wednesday.
This short story from the legendary Richard Matheson is a taut, razor-sharp exercise in sustained suspense. The story follows a middle aged salesman named Mann making his way across the desert during a business trip. He runs afoul with a hulking truck and its unseen driver. It’s a tense game of cat and mouse, and served as the basis for classic 1971 made-for-TV film of the same name from a then-unkown director you may have heard of: Steven Spielberg.
Josh Malerman’s 2014 debut is a near pitch perfect thriller. It centers on a woman named Malorie and her two children attempting to survive in post-apocalyptic near-future. Creatures lurk in the shadows – creatures so horrifying that the mere sight of them drives a person to deadly violence. Malorie has made the decision to flee to what may be one the last safe havens, but doing so requires a treacherous journey along a winding river with only a blindfold. Luckily, her children’s incredible hearing might keep them safe from the creatures.
A Novel (Book One of The Passage Trilogy)
It’s hard to pin The Passage to a genre. It’s a post-apocalyptic novel that’s one part speculative fiction, one part fantasy, and one part horror. It contains shadowy government conspiracies and vampires, as well as a remarkable girl with unexpected abilities. The novel largely centers on a girl named Amy who eventually joins a colony of survivors as they make their way across the treacherous landscape, filled with dangers – human and not.