45 seriously spooky (but not quite scary) books

45 seriously spooky (but not quite scary) books

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.

If you hate horror but are still up for a spine-chilling read, these are the books for you.

Spine-chilling books I love

  1. In the Woods, Tana French. Definitely disturbing, but un-put-down-able. Tana French writes an amazing psychological thriller.
  2. 11/22/63, Stephen King. This would never be defined as horror, but it is spine-tinglingly creepy.
  3. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier. A modern Gothic page-turner.
  4. The Starbridge series, by Susan Howatch. Especially the later three books set in the 1960s. Seriously creepy supernatural elements.
  5. 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.
  6. The Distant Hours (or anything else by Kate Morton). She’s wonderful at psychological drama.
  7. The Sea of Tranquility, Katja Millay. This gave me serious goosebumps. One of my favorite books of the year.

Creepy classics

  1. Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
  2. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
  3. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
  4. 1984, George Orwell
  5. The Telltale Heart, Edgar Allan Poe
  6. The Giver, Lois Lowry
  7. The Turn of the Screw, Henry James
  8. 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.)
  9. The Nancy Drew collection (not the new Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew series), by Carolyn Keene

Reader favorites:

  1. The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman
  2. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, R. A. Dick
  3. The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
  4. Her Fearful Symmetry, Audrey Niffenegger
  5. Sharp Objects, Gillian Flynn
  6. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, Patrick Suskind
  7. Pines, Blake Crouch
  8. The Yellow Wallpaper, Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  9. Before I Go to Sleep, S. J. Watson. (The movie with Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman is hitting theaters on October 31.)
  10. Don’t Breath a Word, Jennifer McMahon
  11. The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova

Tales of the apocalypse

  1. The Road, Cormac McCarthy
  2. World Made by Hand, James Howard Kunstler
  3. The Andromeda Strain, Michael Crichton
  4. Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card
  5. The Stand, Stephen King

Creepy books I’m dying to read

  1. Among the Shadows, L. M. Montgomery. A collection of nineteen Montgomery stories, unlike anything else she ever wrote.
  2. The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield. Every Jane Eyre fan worth her salt has this on her reading list.
  3. Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro. I’ve heard such good things about Ishiguro’s work.
  4. Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel. The hook: Shakespeare + a global pandemic.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. The Book Thief, Markus Zusak. Because everyone says so.

Truth is scarier than fiction

  1. The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus, Richard Preston

“Creepy” might not quite cover it

  1. Flowers in the Attic, V. C. Andrews
  2. The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson
  3. Bag of Bones, Stephen King
  4. Shutter Island, Dennis Lehane
  5. Bird Box, Josh Malerman

What are your favorite spooky—but not quite scary—novels?

Spooky Books

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  1. Shvetal says:

    The two best Christie novels are, to my mind, Pale Horse and Crooked House. Though I love all of them. And equally rewarding are her psychological books, written as Mary Westmacott, are absolutely brilliant, especially Absent in the Spring and A Daughter’s A Daughter.

  2. Georgia says:

    I just finished Get in Trouble by Kelly Link. Definitely weird and a bit creepy. Not a book I’d usually pick up but I loved how peculiar and creative Link’s stories were.

  3. Shannon says:

    Yes, Station Eleven is a must! It’s such a good read, as is The Thirteenth Tale. Might I suggest Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. It’s a 19th century satire with some definitely creepy elements!

  4. Trina says:

    If you like The Turn of the Screw, the short story “The Old Nurse’s Story” by Elizabeth Gaskell is very similar (possibly the inspiration for?)
    I am also a fan of The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton.
    I feel I should also note that it is Friday the 13th and I am going to stay at a purportedly haunted hotel, the 1886 Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs. Maybe I should take one of these to read!

  5. Shannon says:

    I love LM Montgomery’s Among the Shadows. Some of the stories aren’t quite scary but they are dark. A few are kind of creepy.

  6. Jen says:

    The creepiest book I’ve ever read is We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. That one haunted me for a long time! Second place is probably Mad River Road by Joy Fielding.

  7. Molly says:

    I am going to add Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King. It is nothing like his horror books (Pet Cemetery, IT, Carrie) with all the gore, but it does leave you a bit unsettled.

  8. Amanda Kara says:

    And Then There Were None is one of my favorite books of all time. Christie is excellent with playing with your mind without you even knowing it. Also, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie made me throw the book across the room as I read the reveal I was so shocked. In The Woods was excellently written but I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed by the ending.

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