Ghost Story (1981) by Peter Straub is, I believe, one of the best horror novels written during the twentieth century. I have a vague list of my top twentieth-century genre novels in the back of my mind; these include Robert Bloch, Psycho (1959), Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962), Jack Finney, The Body Snatchers (1955), Thomas Harris, The Silence of the Lambs (1988), Robert Heinlein, The Puppet Masters (1951), Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House (1959), Stephen King, It (1986), John D MacDonald, The Executioners aka Cape Fear (1962), Richard Matheson, I Am Legend (1954) ... and of course, Ghost Story.
The novel begins with two characters: Donald Wanderley and a teenage girl, who he may or may not have kidnapped. It then switches to the Chowder Society, and one year previous. Milburn, Upstate New York, winter: four elderly men meet up to tell ghost stories (they have been doing this for fifty years). There used to be five of them, but one passed away the year before with a look of horror on his face. The remaining four have since suffered nightmares relating to an inadvertent act carried out during their past. They now decide they can bury a dark past relating to their youth and possibly an act of murder.
Stephen King said of Ghost Story that it is ''the best of the supernatural novels to be published in [...] the 1970s.'' This ode to Henry James's Turn of the Screw offers strong characters, a solid plot, plenty of twists and turns, and a chill around each turn of the page. It surely marks the watershed era of Straub, his other defining offerings being Julia (1975) and If You Could See Me Now (1977). This is a weighty novel in terms of word count; and yet, reading it does not seem a chore. Rather, the text is fluid and before you know it the last page is finished and you hunger for more. That, above all else, is the mark of a good writer.