As the nights draw in and Halloween creeps up, settle back with one of the top horror books. Always a favourite genre, with huge sales to match, horror has a place on every bookshelf. New writers continue to emerge and fill readers with terror. This list, in no particular order, spans over 200 years of literature and includes original classics that still top today’s horror charts. Get ready for ten terrifying page-turners.
Carrie by Stephen King
Stephen King is the undisputed master of modern horror. It’s almost impossible to pick from his prolific output. But let’s start with his first book, Carrie, which is a fan favourite. It features bullied and abused Carrie. Friendless and tormented, she exerts her newly discovered telekinetic powers to wreak havoc and revenge on family, students and the town. Switching from straight narrative to newspaper cuttings and letters, Carrie was frequently banned in the US and continues to shock.
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Published in 1897, this novel still inspires. The tale is told through letters, newspaper articles and diary entries. It tells the story of the blood-sucking Transylvanian vampire, Count Dracula, and the hunt to kill him following his arrival in England. One of the best-known English novels, it comments on Victorian society, sexuality, gender, race, technology and superstition. There have been many new versions, films and retellings of Dracula over the years. However, the original remains dark and deeply chilling.
The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing
Published in 1988 and set in the 1960s, The Fifth Child focuses on a happy family with four children. Their lives change when the fifth child, Ben, arrives. He resembles a goblin and has a violent nature. He is unusually strong with an insatiable appetite. Over time he wears his family down and frightens his siblings who no longer feel safe living with him. The parents are compelled to place him in an institution but their love for him overrides their fears. This story in the Gothic horror style is a commentary on parenthood, social values, attitudes towards dysfunctional behaviour, and humanity. A haunting tale by a Nobel prize-winning author.
The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson
This is a real shocker, more so as it’s based on true events. Although horror fans are more likely to have seen the original 1979 film version, the book is definitely worth reading. In 1975, George and Kathy Lutz and their three children moved into a vacant house in Amityville. They were fully aware that the year before, previous owner Ronald DeFeo shot and killed his parents, brothers and sisters in the building. Only 28 days later, the family fled the house leaving everything behind. They claimed they were being terrified by psychic phenomena and evil spirits. Their story, told to Jay Anson through a long series of audiotapes, creates a nail-biting account that is unforgettably chilling.
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, as it was originally called, was written by Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson and published in 1886. Now more commonly known as Jekyll and Hyde, this novel has become synonymous with human psychology, often being used to describe someone with a nasty or unpredictable flip side. It tells the story of a London lawyer investigating violent attacks by the evil Edward Hyde, who has worrying links to his old friend, Dr Henry Jekyll. It is often interpreted as the battle of good and evil, human versus animal nature, and Victorian concepts of outward respectability hiding inner depravity. We probably all have a hidden side to us, so delve deeper with this original horror novel.
The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
This ghost story has a 19th-century ambience but was written in 1983. The Woman in Black is a literary novel that chills yet ticks the box for good quality writing. It concerns Arthur Kipps, a solicitor who, years earlier, travelled north to settle an estate. Rather than share made-up ghost stories with his family one evening, he decides to write the true tale of his time at the isolated Eel Marsh House. Here he heard terrifying noises and screams , and witnessed the mysterious appearance of a woman in black. He hopes the exercise will rid him of his memories. Unfortunately, Arthur realises he may not have left the malevolent woman behind.
The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
This recent addition to the horror library is a novel about Native American life and the struggles between modern living and ancient culture. It’s a blend of old school horror and social commentary. Four Native American men are shadowed by an event in their past. They are chased by the revengeful spirit of an elk that leads them into a desperate situation. The spirit makes them question the culture and traditional way of life they have left behind. The Only Good Indians is a prize-winning modern horror by an author hailed as one of the best of current times, in any genre.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Published in 1959, this horror sees four characters investigating a mansion that’s believed to be the site of supernatural experiences. During their time at Hill House, they encounter spooky events that make them wonder what, in fact, is real. It may be 60 years old but The Haunting of Hill House inspired authors Stephen King and other horror writers. And yet it still reads like a timeless novel. If you’ve seen the Netflix version, go back to the original and prepare to be frightened out of your wits.
Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist
A modern take on the classic vampire story, Let the Right One In tells the story of Oskar, a 12-year-old boy fascinated by crime, especially murder. He lives with his mother in Stockholm but is bullied at school and has little contact with his alcoholic, troubled father. He befriends a strange girl whose dislike of the sun and food should be a major red flag. This is a thrilling page-turner that examines themes including murder and the effects of divorce on young children. It was made into a celebrated horror film with the author writing the screenplay.
Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley
Let’s end with a classic. The father of horror stories was written by 18-year-old Mary Shelley. It was developed when a young Mary was travelling through Germany with Percy Shelley (her future husband) and Lord Byron, the poet. They had a competition to see who could write the best horror story. Seeing as Mary’s novel is still an inspiration, it’s clear she won. Her tale tells of Victor Frankenstein recreating a horrifying humanoid from dead body parts and bringing it to life. The novel relates themes of alienation, religion, human power and nature versus science.
If you’ve never read horror, then the Halloween season is the perfect time to start. Dive into and under the covers with these terrifying tales. Whether you choose classics or stick to modern-day horror, you’re sure to discover a whole world of spine-tingling stories to chill and thrill. Sleep well.