Reclaim Horror: Supernatural Thrillers

Is there such a thing as supernatural thrillers, or is it just a softer label for horror?

International Thriller Writers defines this sprawling category, saying, “This would include (but isn’t limited to) such subjects as murder mystery, detective, suspense, horror, supernatural, action, espionage, true crime, war, adventure, and myriad similar subject areas.” So here it suggests that horror could potentially be a sub-genre of thriller.

Speculative fiction, another sprawling genre, also claims horror as part of its own.

It seems everyone wants a hunk of horror for themselves, so let’s look at an example of a book that labels itself supernatural thriller: The Heavens Rise by Christopher Rice. I reviewed the book last month.

Here is the synopsis. I’ve put in bold the parts that read horror:

From New York Times bestselling author Christopher Rice: Three friends confront a deadly, ancient evil rising to the surface in a “masterful coming-of-age novel” (Publishers Weekly, starred review).

It’s been a decade since the Delongpre family vanished, and still no one can explain the events of that dark and sweltering night. No one except Niquette Delongpre, who left behind her best friends, Ben and Anthem, to save them from her newfound capacity for destructionShe alone knows the source of her very bizarre—and very deadly—abilities: an isolated strip of swampland called Elysium.

Niquette’s father dreamed of transforming the dense acreage surrounded by murky waters into a palatial compound befitting the name his beloved wife gave to it, Elysium: “the final resting place for the heroic and virtuous.” Then, construction workers dug into a long-hidden well, one that snaked down into the deep, black waters of the Louisiana swamp and stirred something that had been there for centuries—a microscopic parasite that perverts the mind and corrupts the body.

Niquette is living proof that things done can’t be undone. Nothing will put her family back together again. But as Niquette, Ben, and Anthem uncover the truth of a devastating parasite that has the potential to alter the future of humankind, Niquette grasps the most chilling truths of all: someone else has been infected too. And unlike her, this man is not content to live in the shadows. He is intent to use his newfound powers for one reason only: revenge.

Creepy, chilling, and almost impossible to put down” (Booklist), The Heavens Rise is an intense and atmospheric supernatural thriller about the shadowed terrors of the Louisiana bayou.

Certainly parts of this read like a thriller: the ticking clock of stopping the bad guy and the fact that the book is labelled supernatural thriller, even though it offers a scientific explanation (does that make it science fiction?).

But if the book is obvious in its self-labeling, then why do the majority of readers on Goodreads shelve it as horror?

In a Huffington Post interview, Rice acknowledges that he has eschewed the horror label clearly associated with his mother, Anne Rice:

“I didn’t sit down and start writing a book where someone had a superpower,” he told me on my syndicated radio show. “But when I was figuring out the characters I was drafting, all of a sudden it seemed like Niquette had to have a super-power, it just explained so much of why she did some of the things she did, and thus I began writing a supernatural thriller I suppose,” he laughed.

But even though he says that during the interview, it ends with, “Any fan of the horror genre should read The Heavens Rise.” The final nail in the coffin (pardon the Anne Rice-approved pun), is the fact that the book was a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award, which is presented by the Horror Writers Association (HWA) for “superior achievement” in dark fantasy and horror writing.

What do you think? Is there such a thing as supernatural thriller? Is it merely a recasting of horror? When would it be an appropriate label?



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