The first season of True Detective was more than just a pop culture phenomenon. It was a literary phenomenon, as well. Sales of Robert W. Chambers’s unbelievably creepy, all-but-forgotten collection of weird fiction, The King in Yellow, skyrocketed as fans of the HBO series dissected every reference to Carcosa and the Yellow King.
With Season 2 details just around the corner, here are 10 more books for fans of True Detective’s weird, gritty, place-based mystery and mythology.
1. The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock: If Cohle and Hart ever made a trip to Pollock’s version of backwoods Ohio, they’d sure have their hands full. A married couple who takes vacations to murder hitchhikers. A preacher who eats spiders. Animal sacrifices and lawns soaked in blood. The Devil All the Time is a chilling American masterpiece in the Southern grotesque style.
2. North American Lake Monsters by Nathan Ballingrud: Ballingrud’s brilliant debut collection, which just won the Shirley Jackson Award for short fiction, features a True Detective-esque combination of blue-collar, Gulf Coast bleakness and otherworldly strangeness.
All of your favorite supernatural creatures from horror fiction--vampires, werewolves, shapeshifters, Lovecraftian monsters, ghosts, you name it--inhabit Ballingrud’s heartbreaking, psychologically realistic takes on the rural South.
3. The Conspiracy Against the Human Race by Thomas Ligotti: Ever wondered where Rust Cohle got his nihilistic view of the universe? Show creator Nic Pizzolatto lifted it straight out of this nonficton book of philosophy from horror-master Ligotti.
He said as much in his interview with the Wall Street Journal: “For me as a reader, it was less impactful as philosophy than as one writer’s ultimate confessional: an absolute horror story, where the self is the monster.” So...don’t expect any light reading with this one.
4. The Imago Sequence and Other Stories by Laird Barron: When the Wall Street Journal asked Pizzolatto about True Detective’s literary influences, the show’s creator said “Laird Barron’s first collection alerted me to this whole world of new weird fiction that I hadn’t known existed.”
That collection, The Imago Sequence, will fuel your nightmares for weeks. Rituals, serial killers, and Lovecraftian horrors abound.
5. 2666 by Roberto Bolano: The mysterious, real-life murders of hundreds of women in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico provide the narrative mulch for Bolano’s masterpiece, at heart a detective story with poetic flourishes that Rust Cohle would no doubt admire.
Plus, 2666 is in the running for best book of the century, and it’s unlikely to be unseated anytime soon.
6. Natchez Burning by Greg Iles: If you think Pizzolatto’s Louisiana is rough, try visiting Iles’s version of Mississippi. When his father is accused of a grisly murder, Southern lawyer Penn Cage uncovers a wide-reaching conspiracy of wealthy KKK believers, not unlike the powerful ring of creeps at the center of True Detective’s rituals.
7. The Last Policeman series by Ben H. Winters: Like True Detective, this groundbreaking trilogy is a small-town police procedural with existential leanings and an intriguing genre twist. New Hampshire Detective Hank Palace doesn’t have much time to solve the mystery of a suspicious death, because the world’s going to end in six months. Astronomers have determined a giant asteroid is headed straight for earth.
As civilization crumbles around him, Detective Palace keeps his head down and solves a series of riveting mysteries.
8. Galveston by Nic Pizzolatto: Pizzolatto has also tried his hand at fiction, most recently with a debut novel that revisits the dark underbelly of the Gulf Coast rendered so iconically by his TV series. Galveston lacks True Detective’s overt supernatural flirtations, but the characters and evocation of place make the book a nice companion piece.
9. Fugue State by Brian Evenson: A master of genre-bending short stories, Evenson is perhaps best-known for this brutal collection of psychological horror. He’s often compared to Kafka, Poe, and Ligotti. Fugue State is a staple among forward-thinking university creative writing programs around the country thanks to Evenson’s ability to evoke an atmosphere of visceral dread.
10. One Foot in Eden by Ron Rash: In the Blue Ridge Mountains of the Carolinas, a small town’s most infamous bully is murdered in the 1950s, but the local sheriff, a war veteran named Will Alexander, can’t find his body. And in a few days, the whole valley will be underwater, thanks to the opening of a new dam.
Sheriff Alexander’s race to uncover evidence before it disappears forever is a haunting, gothic tale, a one-man, period version of True Detective set in Southern Appalachia.