The best novels that are relentlessly twisted

Jon Bassoff Author Of Beneath Cruel Waters
By Jon Bassoff

Who am I?

When I completed one of my early novels, a really demented one called Factory Town, a fellow author emailed me with great concern for my mental health. He was convinced I was heading down a dark cave that I couldn’t be rescued from. But it wasn’t true. Writing and reading these dark novels doesn’t make me depressed. It makes me feel creatively revitalized. Dark literature reminds us that being alive is painful—but it’s also wonderful. I hope to never spend any real time with people as terrifying as the ones I’ve found on these pages. But I’m incredibly thankful they were a part of my imagined world for a time. 


I wrote...

Beneath Cruel Waters

By Jon Bassoff,

Book cover of Beneath Cruel Waters

What is my book about?

When Holt Davidson learns that his estranged mother has taken her own life, he returns to his hometown for the funeral, hoping to make peace with the past. He spends the night at his childhood home, but instead of nostalgic souvenirs, he discovers a gun, a love letter, and a Polaroid photograph of a man lying in his own blood.

Who is the dead man? Was his mother the one who killed him, and, if so, why? Who sent the love letter? And what role did his sister, institutionalized since she was a teenager, play in this act of violence? As his own traumatic memories begin to resurface, Holt begins an investigation into his mother’s and sister’s pasts—as well as his own.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

The Killer Inside Me

By Jim Thompson,

Book cover of The Killer Inside Me

Why this book?

I wasn’t much of a reader when I was young, but when I was early-20s, I read a book called The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson. Not horror exactly, not crime fiction exactly, but definitely dark. I’d never read anything like it. The novel was written in the repressive 1950s and was told from the point of view of a complete sociopath. It was terrifyingly funny. As soon as finished, I knew I wanted to be a novelist. And I knew I wanted to write about secrets and darkness and violence.  


The Butcher Boy

By Patrick McCabe,

Book cover of The Butcher Boy

Why this book?

Never has a terribly sad book been so much fun to read. Patrick McCabe is the master at creating chillingly unreliable characters, and schoolboy Francis "Francie" Brady is his greatest creation. The narrative is a blend of dirty realism and violent fantasy, and the farther along you get in the novel, the more difficult it is to tell them apart. There are still a handful of scenes that have stuck with me more than a decade after I read it. They made a good movie based on the novel, but the book is what you need. 


Wise Blood

By Flannery O'Connor,

Book cover of Wise Blood

Why this book?

William Faulkner might have been the father of Southern Gothic, but Flannery O’Connor was the master. This is one of those books that makes you thankful for genius. Because everything about this book is genius. The story is about a young man named Hazel Motes who struggles to avoid his relentless fate. O’Connor’s writing is filled with religious extremism, grotesqueness, and mental illness—all the things that make America great. If I could have written a single book—this would be it.  


The Unconsoled

By Kazuo Ishiguro,

Book cover of The Unconsoled

Why this book?

I’ve always been fascinated by surrealism and expressionism—and The Unconsoled takes those dreamlike images and expresses them in a fascinating and disorienting story. Reading this novel makes you feel like you’re trapped in a terrifying and anxious nightmare—and I mean that in the best possible way. The novel uses dream logic: characters appear out of thin air and morph into other characters. The setting is a strange labyrinth in some nameless European city. If you like David Lynch movies, you’ll dig this. If you’re looking for a linear narrative, stay away!


The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat And Other Clinical Tales

By Oliver Sacks,

Book cover of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat And Other Clinical Tales

Why this book?

Emo Phillips once said, “I used to think that the brain was the most wonderful organ in my body. Then I realized who was telling me this.” But the brain is fascinating, especially when things start going wrong. Oliver Sacks was a brilliant neurologist who wrote about the cases he’d investigated, including a man who was convinced he had an alien leg, a woman who was unable to perceive anything to her left, and a man who was unable to form new memories. The tales are heartbreaking and fascinating and show us the power of the brain and the danger of assuming in absolute truth.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in mental disorders, Texas, and religion?

5,887 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about mental disorders, Texas, and religion.

Mental Disorders Explore 99 books about mental disorders
Texas Explore 95 books about Texas
Religion Explore 161 books about religion

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Thinking, Fast and Slow, Sing, Unburied, Sing, and The House of God if you like this list.