It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Ahem, I mean Halloween. And while there are plenty of excellent, well-known horror novels out there for you to cuddle up with this season, here are eight creepy books that might not be on your radar.
“The Book of Lost Things” by John Connolly
This super dark fairy tale is about a young boy who hates his stepmother and baby half-brother and escapes his misery through a crack in the garden wall to a fantasy world. What he finds there is not exactly Wonderland and certainly no muppet-filled Labyrinth . . . Wait till you get to the Huntress who chops off children’s heads and glues them to animal bodies. The story has many layers, playing off some very adult allegories and themes in traditional fairy tales. I love the way Connolly meshes Robert Browning’s “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came” with Sleeping Beauty.
“The String Diaries” by Stephen Lloyd Jones
I read this quite a while ago now, but I remember that the first half freaked me out. A psychotic, immortal shapeshifter stalks the members of a certain family throughout centuries, no matter how desperately they guard against him. The disturbing thing is that he takes the place of their closest friends or lovers so that they can never trust anyone. Unless I’m mixing it up with something, there is an odd shift in the second half where it becomes less scary and focuses more on the mythology of the villain. But there is still a final showdown with the heroine and the monster.
“The Winter People” by Jennifer McMahon
This book deals with the repercussions of bringing someone back from the dead, which is old territory, but it weaves together different timelines in a way that builds a solid mystery and centers around that Thing-In-The-Woods kind of horror that is so effective. It gets my vote over “Pet Cemetery,” although to be fair, I’ve only seen that movie and not read the book. A pair of sisters discover an old diary and must piece things together in order to prevent terrible things from happening again.
“The Historian” by Elizabeth Kostova
This one is especially good if you like the book “Dracula” and other old-fashioned vampire tales. Suppose that Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s, actually was a vampire? In this meticulously detailed fusion of history and fantasy, a young woman discovers that her missing historian father has been hunting the real Dracula across Europe and, after reading his story, goes to find him. There are some truly lush descriptions of the locations; I suggest reading this one more than once to catch everything.
“A Madness So Discreet” by Mindy McGinnis
You can probably tell that I’m a fan of supernatural thrillers, but this book is frightening for its focus on the perfectly sane women forced into asylums in the late 1800s—with just a quick signature from a husband or father. The main character has also experienced horrific sexual abuse that is chilling to read about (although it is handled well—not sensationalized and also very relevant to the plot). Young Grace is an amazing survivor who uses the assumption that she’s insane to help a detective/doctor solve murders. Don’t let the grim first chapters put you off too much.
“The Little Stranger” by Sarah Waters
Recently adapted into a movie that I’ve yet to see, “The Little Stranger” is an atmospheric, slow-burning haunted house story that draws on both “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “The Haunting of Hill House.” It also directly addresses the post-WWII crumbling of England’s sharp social divisions. The ghostly occurrences are definitely creepy: the antique speaking tube that starts whistling by itself! (It’s like an 1800’s version of a house intercom.) The strange ending will make you doubt half of what you just read and flip back to rethink things.
“Her Fearful Symmetry” by Audrey Niffenegger
Twin sisters inherit an apartment in London near the gothic Highgate Cemetery from their mother’s estranged, deceased twin and become involved with her old neighbors and former boyfriend, all of whom are haunted by the late Elspeth . . . literally. This is a mysterious story involving sibling rivalry, powerful wills, and possessive love. Another one with an unexpected, chilling ending that altered my view of more than one character.
Image via Stephanie Massaro on Flickr
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