I dreaded Halloween story hour as a kid. (Classic HSP.) The librarian inevitably read us too many ghost stories, and I’d spend the half hour with my fingers in my ears, humming softly to myself and trying not to hear. It never worked, and I’d have nightmares for weeks. My poor sensitive soul just couldn’t handle it.
Now that I’m an adult, I still hate scary stories. I don’t read horror novels, not ever. But I do enjoy a good creepy book. I love chilling mysteries and psychological thrillers: books that make my hair stand on end, but still allow me to sleep at night.
(It turns out you do, too: I asked you on facebook for your suggestions, and you provided an impressive list of books that are spooky, but not scary.)
If you hate horror but are still up for a spine-chilling read, these are the books for you.
Spine-chilling books I love
- In the Woods, Tana French. Definitely disturbing, but un-put-down-able. Tana French writes an amazing psychological thriller.
- 11/22/63, Stephen King. This would never be defined as horror, but it is spine-tinglingly creepy.
- Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier. A modern Gothic page-turner.
- The Starbridge series, by Susan Howatch. Especially the later three books set in the 1960s. Seriously creepy supernatural elements.
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J. K. Rowling. All the Harry Potters have their suspenseful elements, but this one was specifically mentioned the most.
- The Distant Hours (or anything else by Kate Morton). She’s wonderful at psychological drama.
- The Sea of Tranquility, Katja Millay. This gave me serious goosebumps. One of my favorite books of the year.
- Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
- Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
- Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
- 1984, George Orwell
- The Telltale Heart, Edgar Allan Poe
- The Giver, Lois Lowry
- The Turn of the Screw, Henry James
- The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. (This link goes to the collection illustrated by Canadian artist Jacqui Oakley, who did the gorgeous covers for Anne of Green Gables and the additional L. M. Montgomery titles that appeared here.)
- The Nancy Drew collection (not the new Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew series), by Carolyn Keene
- The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman
- The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, R. A. Dick
- The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
- Her Fearful Symmetry, Audrey Niffenegger
- Sharp Objects, Gillian Flynn
- Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, Patrick Suskind
- Pines, Blake Crouch
- The Yellow Wallpaper, Charlotte Perkins Gilman
- Before I Go to Sleep, S. J. Watson. (The movie with Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman is hitting theaters on October 31.)
- Don’t Breath a Word, Jennifer McMahon
- The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova
Tales of the apocalypse
- The Road, Cormac McCarthy.
- World Made by Hand, James Howard Kunstler
- The Andromeda Strain, Michael Crichton
- Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card.
- The Stand, Stephen King.
Creepy books I’m dying to read
- Among the Shadows, L. M. Montgomery. A collection of nineteen Montgomery stories, unlike anything else she ever wrote.
- The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield. Every Jane Eyre fan worth her salt has this on her reading list.
- Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro. I’ve heard such good things about Ishiguro’s work.
- Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel. The hook: Shakespeare + a global pandemic.
- We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson. I’ve wanted to read this ever since I heard about it on the Books on the Nightstand podcast.
- And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie. Because I’ve never read a Christie novel (I know!) and I’ve heard good things about this one.
- The Book Thief, Markus Zusak. Because everyone says so.
Truth is scarier than fiction
“Creepy” might not quite cover it
- Flowers in the Attic, V. C. Andrews
- The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson
- Bag of Bones, Stephen King
- Shutter Island, Dennis Lehane
- Bird Box, Josh Malerman
What are your favorite spooky—but not quite scary—novels?
P.S. The next MMD newsletter is going out in a day or two. I’m talking about what’s saving my life right now, and sharing my favorite Halloween essay, ever. If you’re not on the list, sign up here.