The best books that are red in tooth and claw

Thomas Emson Author Of Skarlet
By Thomas Emson

Who am I?

I like action. I like raw. I like violence. Not carrying it out, I hasten to add, but reading and watching it, fiction, of course. Real-world violence distresses me (unless it's consenting, like combat sports). I get deeply upset when I hear about the cruelties humans inflict on each other, and on animals; I'm oddly sensitive to that as a horror writer. But I think that writing about (fictional) violence and reading or watching it, helps me confront my fears. The books I mention do that. They make me uncomfortable, nervous, uneasy, but the twists and turns of the plot give me highs as well as lows. For me, they help me become a better writer.

I wrote...


By Thomas Emson,

Book cover of Skarlet

What is my book about?

Fear grips London as dozens of clubbers die after taking a sinister new drug. But that's only the beginning. 48 hours later, the dead clubbers wake up—and it's open season on the living, who are butchered for blood. Soon, London gives a name to its terror: Vampires.

Jake Lawton, bitter and betrayed after the Iraq War, now finds himself fighting another battle. He joins forces with the journalist who brought about his downfall and the dealer tricked into distributing the drug. But the vampire plague unleashed in London is nothing to what lurks beneath the streets. Waiting to be fed... Waiting to be resurrected... Waiting to reign again over a city of human slaves...

The books I picked & why

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'Salem's Lot

By Stephen King,

Book cover of 'Salem's Lot

Why this book?

This is the book that made me want to be a writer. It taught me tension and suspense. Stephen King’s best novel, probably. Vampire’s take over a small New England town. While there are nods to classic vampire tales—like Dracula, of course—this drags the vampire genre into the 20th century. Skarlet stands on the shoulder of this giant.

Books of Blood, Volume 1

By Clive Barker,

Book cover of Books of Blood, Volume 1

Why this book?

Bloody, brilliant, and ground-breaking, Clive Barker’s six-volume masterpiece mixes urban drama with fable, myth, legend, and gallons of blood. This gave us body horror, gore, agony. It gave us “Candyman” and “Rawhead Rex”, mythic monsters that stay with me to this day; it gave us the astonishing imagery of “In The Hills, The Cities”—tens of thousands of citizens stand together to form giants as tall as skyscrapers—and “The Skins Of The Fathers”—wretches sink into quicksand that then horrifically hardens around their partly sunken bodies (an image later used in Barker’s film, The Lord Of Illusions). A necessary collection that is nightmare-forming—and nightmares, for a horror author, can be very useful 

Red Dragon

By Thomas Harris,

Book cover of Red Dragon

Why this book?

Hannibal Lecter’s first appearance in fiction. And although he is a peripheral character in this serial killer thriller as Will Graham hunts the “Tooth Fairy”, he looms over the action, and the threat he brings is palpable—we get hints at the violence he has unleashed. He is a chilling presence. The horror of it all makes your guts churn, and it’s a real page-turner beautifully and brutally written by Harris. This is a masterclass in making monsters—and I love making monsters.

The Descent (Jove)

By Jeff Long,

Book cover of The Descent (Jove)

Why this book?

I love this book. It’s ambitious and brutal. It’s about the discovery of a civilization—savage, violent—that exists deep within the earth. Humanity, in this novel, comes face to face with what we really are. Religion is a theme, too, as many regard this new world as Hell. And when the world above attempts to quell this fierce race, using military force, it initially comes off second best… and then, the beasts of the Inferno start to ascend. It’s big and bold, brilliantly researched. It inspires me to be authentic, and work at getting facts right.

Holy Bible

By Unknown,

Book cover of Holy Bible

Why this book?

If you want red in tooth and claw, really, read The Bible—or certainly parts of it; the Hebrew Bible (or the Old Testament, really) takes the biscuit. Genocide, rape, decapitation, mauled by wild animals, crushed by falling buildings, plagues, eaten by dogs, tent pegs in the head, cannibalism, disemboweling, dismemberment, burning… if you’re into horror and shocks, it’s all here. Nothing compares to it. And I’m pretty certain that most Christians have never really read it. The language, if you choose the King James edition, is glorious, of course; other translations are valuable too: ESV, NRSV. What it does—as well as giving me ideas for stories—is to teach me to be succinct in my writing; get to the point; use direct language. Read one book from it each month; won’t take you long.

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