If you’re like us, one of the great treasures of the Halloween season is the excuse to curl up with a big, terrifying tome of a novel and not be stared at on the subway like a freak of nature. We have a special place in our hearts for the classics — Frankenstein, of course, and The Turn of the Screw, and on certain dark nights even Wuthering Heights can send a chill that keeps us awake until morning. That said, how many times are we expected to read The Lottery? Sometimes you just want new frights, and that’s totally reasonable. As such, here: scare yourself silly (but hopefully not to death) with this bodyful…erm, bountiful crop of new, scary books.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Gillian Flynn’s prior novels, Sharp Objects and Dark Places , established her as a forceful new talent in the intersection of thriller and horror. Gone Girl cements her as a master. Nick and Amy Dunne are just about to celebrate their fifth anniversary as a married couple, when suddenly Amy goes missing in a violent manner. All signs logically point to Nick, and he’s doing himself no favors in terms of endearing himself, either to the police or to us as readers, thinking often about the malleability of his wife’s skull, for example. What Gone Girl does perfectly (and what makes it a contender for novel of the year) is subvert the standard “husband-kills-wife-or-did-he” plot for something that’s completely and painfully human. There’s a line in Ellis’ Rules of Attraction stating that one person can never truly know another — Gone Girl is the terrifying proof of that.
Breed by Chase Novak
Breed is the definition of a literary horror novel: when a couple that seemingly has everything can’t conceive a child, they’re left at their wits’ ends. When they find out about a mysterious procedure performed by a Slovenian doctor, however, they decide to go all Jurassic Park and literally spare no expense — monetarily, health, or sanity-wise. What they end up creating is something entirely unnatural, and the process takes more out the parents than their eventual offspring. Without spoiling this book, you know how some animals eat their young? We’ll leave you chewing on that.
Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling by Michael Boccacino
There’s nothing quite like a classic Victorian ghost story to unset the nerves, and Charlotte Markham is just that. When the titular Markham replaces a murdered nanny as caretaker to two young boys, she sets forth a chain of events that involve return visits to the House of Darkling, which may or may not (c’mon now) actually be the underworld itself. Michael Boccacino gets the plot and pace for the period right, as good manners, linen tablecloths, and well-spoken hell-beings abound.
So, as a friend of mine once said about a poorly-attended Zola Jesus concert in Atlanta, sometimes a ghost haunts an empty room. That’s the pervasive atmosphere of Giving Up the Ghost, which spends most of its time being more emo than scary as author Eric Nuzum attempts to reclaim himself from his fears. That’s all well and good, but when Nuzum gets into actual ghost-chasing, like when he takes to New Jersey’s famously haunted Clinton Road, the book gets legitimately scary. Consider this a choose-your-own-adventure: emo ghost story, scary ghost story, or all of the above.
The Dead Roam the Earth: True Stories of the Paranormal from Around the World by Alasdair Wickham
Have fun fact-checking this book at 3am: The Dead Roam the Earth is flat-out terrifying. Alasdair Wickham recounts hundreds of pages of evidence that the curtain separating the spirit world and the living world is thinner than ever and thinning every day. The most compelling part for us, though, were the pages spent detailing the fact that there are countless men and women in monogamous, polygamous, and at times non-consensual sexual relationships with demons, spirits, incubi, and succubi. Go ahead and google the group forums for that. We’ll wait.
The Hallowed Ones by Laura Bickle
The concept for The Hallowed Ones is amazing: Katie, an Amish girl nearing the time of her Rumspringa, lives in a village that suddenly gets attacked by some sort of vampire plague. RIGHT? RIGHT! It’s basically an interesting version of The Passage, ostensibly a YA novel but ridiculously compelling to anyone who has “Rumspringa” in their Netflix instant queue. Laura Bickle brings just enough information on Amish society and a sense of foreboding to make this a book you’ll finish in one train ride.
The Big Book of Ghost Stories , edited by Otto Penzler
This is the gift you get the horror fan in your life that has everything. This titularly accurate big book is a complete tome of horror stories spanning centuries, authors, and genres. More afraid of noir than of blood-n-guts? You got it. Scared of ghosts but not vampires? This has what you need.
The Devil in Silver by Victor LaValle
“Better the devil you know” goes the old anecdote. Well, what about the devil you live with? In a way weirdly akin to the aforementioned Gone Girl (what if you’re trapped with your tormentor in a domestic way), The Devil in Silver does a one-location, one-demon plot in a way that’ll have you cutting your fingers as you turn pages. Rambunctious, large dude Pepper may have committed a crime, but he’s not mentally ill, so when he gets admitted to a floundering mental hospital in Queens, he’s quickly able to tell something is up. When he realizes the devil himself roams the floors in the form of a bull, Pepper decides to take matters in his own hands and organizes an army of the asylum’s inmates. Right. Because you can kill the devil.
Hemlock Grove by Brian McGreevy
What forms of our collective fear could become real through science? That’s the question raised by Hemlock Grove, a thinking person’s spook show of a novel. Is science supernatural? Can it be? Or is the inexplicable simply the result of laboratory machinations? It’s a very X-Files, very terrifying concept distilled to a bitter, sleepless core.
Threats by Amelia Grey
Someone’s going to throw a great Halloween party with this novel as the theme. The main character, David, is fairly sure his wife is dead, yet he’s finding bits and pieces of her everywhere — literally. Also littering his life are small scraps of paper with ominous words on them, our favorite being “CURL UP ON MY LAP. LET ME BRUSH YOUR HAIR WITH MY FINGERS. I AM SINGING YOU A LULLABY. I AM TESTING FOR STRUCTURAL WEAKNESS IN YOUR SKULL.” David’s memory, however, proves to be a completely unreliable thread for the reader to blindly grab at with trembling hands. If Joyce had written horror, he’d have written this.