The best ‘something is out to get you’ books

Stephen Henning Author Of A Class Apart
By Stephen Henning

The Books I Picked & Why

And Then There Were None

By Agatha Christie

Book cover of And Then There Were None

Why this book?

You did something bad... didn’t you? You’ve never talked about it. The past is another country. You thought you’d got away with it. And then, one day, you get invited to a big party on an exclusive island, only to be told on arrival by your unseen host that you, and all the other guests, are going to pay for your respective crimes with your lives. For me, this is Christie’s best book. Written with an economy of words and an overwhelming amount of tension.  From another writer, ten characters getting bumped off one by one could get tedious. From Christie, each death adds to the mystery. It keeps you guessing until the last page.

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The Day of the Triffids

By John Wyndham

Book cover of The Day of the Triffids

Why this book?

The creeping dread. The sense of loneliness. This book immerses you in a fight for survival. After something so devastating as 99% of the population going blind and the release of a deadly disease, how cruel then that the survivors must also cope with being hunted by the ‘fruits’ of humanity’s own creation, namely the Triffids (GM crops on steroids).

The triffids are a brilliant ‘monster.’ The ubiquitous plants were largely ignored and taken for granted, like weeds on the roadside. But once humanity is defenceless, their true menace becomes apparent. The global catastrophe provides the perfect conditions for these strange things to flourish. 

This is an amazing, still relevant book about the fragility of society and how ‘progress’ can come back to bite you on the bottom.

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Don’t Look Now and Other Stories

By Daphne du Maurier

Book cover of Don’t Look Now and Other Stories

Why this book?

Don’t read on your own, late at night, in a darkened room, and definitely not while listening to opera. Your own demons, your past fears, your anguish, your needs... you see what you think you see, what you want to see, but be careful what you wish for. 

This is a supremely chilling short story. For me, a lot of supernatural tales don’t have dramatically satisfying endings, but this one delivers a proper punch. Everything about the setup, the unfolding of the plot (a couple is in Venice, trying to get over the death of their daughter) and the resolution is a masterpiece of storytelling. Could John, our protagonist, have changed the outcome? Or was it all predestined? I’m shivering at the thought...

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By Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

Book cover of Frankenstein

Why this book?

It’s out to get you... but it is kind of your fault because after all, you created it, and you turned your back on your most precious responsibility.

Once again, it's the theme of being the architect of your own downfall that makes this book so interesting. Victor Frankenstein creates a monster, first in a literal sense and then figuratively by abandoning his ‘child.’

What unfolds is a series of the cleverest, most plausible plot twists in literary history, with the monster and Victor in turn being both hunter and hunted — by each other and society. Rather than being a book about heroes, this is a story where everyone — and by implication, us — are the villains.

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The Hunger Games

By Suzanne Collins

Book cover of The Hunger Games

Why this book?

Yes, the duel to the death has been done many times before in science fiction (I’m thinking of Kirk facing the Gorn in the Star Trek episode Arena, and Blake fighting Travis in the woods in Blake’s 7 episode Duel) but there is something immersive in reading Katniss’s first-hand account of how she takes on all comers in a battle ground where everyone is out to get you! I love these ‘how would you fare in the same situation’ books. Would I have survived? Probably not if I was up against Katniss — although I definitely wouldn’t have gone near a super-hornets’ nest. That’s, like, a cartoon way to die.

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