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. (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
  2. 11/22/63, Stephen King. This would never be defined as horror, but it is spine-tinglingly creepy. (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
  3. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier. A modern Gothic page-turner. (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
  4. The Starbridge series, by Susan Howatch. Especially the later three books set in the 1960s. Seriously creepy supernatural elements. (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
  5. Still Life, by Louise Penny. The first in a favorite series, set in a tiny village in Quebec. (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Indiebound)
  6. The Distant Hours (or anything else by Kate Morton). She’s wonderful at psychological drama. (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
  7. The Sea of Tranquility, Katja Millay. This gave me serious goosebumps, and I didn’t want to ever put it down. (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)

Creepy classics

  1. Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë. (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
  2. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
  3. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
  4. 1984, George Orwell (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
  5. The Telltale Heart, Edgar Allan Poe (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
  6. The Giver, Lois Lowry (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
  7. The Turn of the Screw, Henry James (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
  8. The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
  9. Something Wicked This Way Comes, Ray Bradbury. (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)

Reader favorites:

  1. The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
  2. Get in Trouble: Stories, Kelly Link. (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
  3. The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
  4. Her Fearful Symmetry, Audrey Niffenegger (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
  5. Sharp Objects, Gillian Flynn (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
  6. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, Patrick Suskind (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
  7. Pines, Blake Crouch (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
  8. The Yellow Wallpaper, Charlotte Perkins Gilman (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
  9. Before I Go to Sleep, S. J. Watson. (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
  10. Don’t Breathe a Word, Jennifer McMahon (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
  11. The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)

Tales of the apocalypse

  1. The Road, Cormac McCarthy. A haunting tale of an unnamed man and boy on the road alone at the end of the world. (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
  2. World Made by Hand, James Howard Kunstler. Oil runs out—then what? Kunstler imagines it here, and it’s not pretty. (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
  3. The Andromeda Strain, Michael Crichton. Scientists race to defeat an extraterrestrial bacteria that threatens to destroy the world. (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
  4. Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card. The world pins its hopes on the one boy who can save them … but there’s an awful lot they’re not telling him about his mission. (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
  5. The Stand, Stephen King. 99% of the population dies in a global pandemic, and King imagines what happens next. (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)

My personal creepy favorites of the last few years

  1. Among the Shadows, L. M. Montgomery. A collection of nineteen Montgomery stories, unlike anything else she ever wrote. (Amazon | Barnes and Noble)
  2. The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield. Every Jane Eyre fan worth her salt has this on her reading list. (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
  3. Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro. Haunting and atmospheric, with a sad truth that dawns on you gradually. (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
  4. Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel. The hook: Shakespeare + a global pandemic. (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
  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. (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
  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. (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
  7. The Book Thief, Markus Zusak. If you know who the narrator is, no further explanation is necessary. (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)

Truth is scarier than fiction

  1. The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus, Richard Preston. Although if “terrifying” is in the subtitle, perhaps this one goes beyond merely “spooky”? (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)

“Creepy” might not quite cover it

  1. Flowers in the Attic, V. C. Andrews. If you’ve read this, you know what I’m talking about. If not, brace yourself.  (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
  2. The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson. Jackson totally deserves to be in this list twice. (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
  3. Bag of Bones, Stephen King. King belongs with Jackson, obviously. (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
  4. Shutter Island, Dennis Lehane. In this psychological thriller, nothing is quite what it seems … (Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound)
  5. Bird Box, Josh Malerman. Something is out there, and if you see it, you’ll never be the same. Yeah, creepy definitely doesn’t cover it. (Amazon | IndieBound)

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

Spooky Books

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63 comments

  1. Jennifer N. says:

    The Stand is one of my very favorite books of all time. Yes, it’s like, a million pages long. But it doesn’t FEEL like a million pages. To add to the list of Stephen King books I love: Carrie and Misery are fantastic reads (and friendlier in length.)

    I’d like to add Dracula to the list of creepy classics. It definitely does go a bit more into the horror side of things, but I think anyone who’s ever seen a vampire movie should read this one.

    I’m trying to do more Halloween-themed reading this October. (I read Practical Magic yesterday). I’ve got several on hold from the library – but I also have several on my shelves that need reading. Not to mention that my hold for Little Fires Everywhere just came up. And I’ll be getting my BOTM pick soon. So. many. books!

    • Ashley says:

      I would probably put The Maze Runner in this category… but I think the second and third books in the series veer sharply towards scary (at a minimum, they are much more disturbing than the first installation!).

  2. Janet Miles says:

    I’ve read a lot of those but thanks for giving me some more to add to the TBR list. I agree with Jennifer about Dracula and how about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by R. L. Stevenson. Never read Christie???? You have to.

    • Raquel says:

      Yes!! And I would also add The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman, to this list. Eerie, but not scary, in my book.

  3. KQ says:

    I read “Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel” I have to say I disagree about the reviews of this book. This is the worst book I’ve read in 2017 hands down. It was not creepy or scary. The character development was non existent. There were characters who once I turned the page I forgot existed. The author apparently couldn’t be bothered to simple google searches for how certain illness function untreated. It was horrid and no one should have to suffer through reading it.

    • Sylvia says:

      Agreed! Do not understand all the hype about this book. I thought the premise of the story was good, but I didn’t care about any of the characters and it was sloooooow reading.

  4. ARA says:

    Agree with “Dracula”, it’s my go-to Halloween read each year. I’d also add anything by Wendy Webb as well as “The Widow’s House” by Carol Goodman—upstate New York in the fall, an old estate with supernatural elements and a mystery—wonderfully atmospheric!

  5. Jenny Combs says:

    Thanks for the great list! I’m always looking for curated list ideas for my library’s Overdrive homepage. I’m going to make one today with the books in this list.
    Her Fearful Symmetry creeped me out so much that I put it in my car so it wasn’t in my house overnight.

  6. Marianne Pitchford says:

    The House of Stairs by William Sleator….came upon it by accident in the library in high school and returned to it again some 20 years later because I kept remembering it with creepy fascination! One of the first sort of dystopian creepy books I read as a young person. It definitely held up when I reread it as an adult!!

  7. Stephanie says:

    The creepiest book I can remember reading is The Mothman Prophecies. My boyfriend at the time was sleeping next to me and I was still legitimately freaked out.

  8. Debi Morton says:

    Anne, I’ve never read a Kate Morton novel, but as I’ve just started listening to audiobooks and received 2 free credits to start, i thought I’d download one of hers. Which one do you, or any of her other fans, recommend starting with? Especially one that you know is good in audio format?
    Thanks!

  9. Sherry says:

    I’m so glad to find someone else who cannot EVER do horror, in books, movies, TV, wherever. I was creeped out for weeks by “The Exorcist,” and especially “Halloween.” I blame my horror of horror (see what I did there?) on being humiliated by my cousins into watching “Dark Shadows” w/ them after school as a child. I loved “11/22/63” (the only King I’ve ever read), but hated “The Historian.” I’m going to have to add a few of the above to my enormous TBR. Thank you.

  10. Laura says:

    The Woman in White is a fantastic classic for this category – really engrossing, a bit creepy, suspenseful, and the villain is so bad he’s almost good. I loved it and couldn’t believe it was written in 1860- it’s long, but the pages fly by.

    • Susan says:

      Laura, I agree. I just read The Woman in White last month after discovering it sitting on my shelf for way too many years. It was fabulous and I zipped through it.

    • Mary Councill says:

      The Woman in White is one of my all-time favorite books…just loved it! For those who like truly scary books, you can’t beat Pet Sematary by Stephen King, and Ghost Story by Peter Straub.

    • BethAnn says:

      I 100% agree with this! The Woman in White was so so good. just eerie enough for someone who can’t do true horror, but also has a good story.

  11. Marianne Pitchford says:

    I noticed that on Audible.com The Graveyard Book audio presentation with a full cast is on sale for $3.95 unabridged. I am going to try it out!!

  12. Marianne P says:

    One that totally creeped me out when I was younger was Rosemary’s Baby (we’re going WAY back). Also, The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper was a page-turner, very suspenseful. I like Tara French and agree Into the Woods was scary (one of her best). A few titles here I’ve never heard of and I’ve added some of them to my TBR list (which is growing daily).

  13. Caitlin Mallery says:

    I just finished The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold and I would say it belongs in the almost-creepy category. Since is from the perspective of a “ghost”. And it features a serial killer. However I loved the thoughtfulness and beauty the author used to when dealing with the subject of grief.

  14. Rachel says:

    Ugh! Hated The Road! It still makes me ill to think of several scenes. It was very much horror to me. I don’t know if I’m technically a HSP, but I have a good memory and I’m very imaginative so I tend to remember disturbing scenes I read and imagined in great detail which is horrible.

    I enjoy Neil Gaiman’s sense of creepy and got hooked into him with Coraline. I wasn’t a fan of The Graveyard Book, but loved The Ocean at the End of the Lane (read it in one sitting). The BBC Radio 4 play for his “Neverwhere” is wonderful with humor and peril and creepiness.

    • Rhonda says:

      I LOVE The Ocean at the End of the Lane! I’ve read it at least 3 times now. One of those books you can return to again and again. This is the book that got me hooked on Gaiman.

  15. Amy says:

    I too, cannot watch/read/listen to horror stories. Too much! We went tent camping recently and I did not sleep, which means I cannot watch Dateline on Friday nights either. LOL. We Have Always Lived in the Castle was a great book (MMD reco another time) and short and was read in the daytime. I think I’m going to try Frankenstein and . . . well, ok, that’s enough. I’ve been reading the 100 Cupboard books (middle grade novels) and those are creepy. Always fun to go through the list of recommended books.

  16. Holly says:

    I love this list! Spooky, atmospheric reads are so crucial this time of year. (I just posted a list of my faves and upcoming reads on my blog yesterday). One that I’d add to this list is Something Red by Douglas Nicholas. Atmospheric, spooky, but not gory or scary.

  17. Anything else by Neil Gaiman could go on this list! I’m not a fan of full on horror either, but he definitely knows how to creep the reader out! Coraline is meant for kids but always leaves me feeling chilled.

    I’d love to see Clive Barker on this list! His novel “Weaveworld” is one of my favorites, and it’s much more tame than the horror he’s known for…it’s more fantasy and fairy tales and strange-ness. His YA Abarat series are also incredible!! His version of the “girl falls down the rabbit hole” tale. And illustrated!!!

    • I meant to also include “See What I have Done” by Sarah Schmidt. A new release based on the murders of Lizzie Borden’s family. Definitely creepy, but not horror. More surreal, psychological, historical fiction.

    • Marianne P says:

      I totally agree about Clive Barker. Weaveworld was an amazing read. Also, Imajica! Wow, what a novel, even after all these years I still remember it. Incredible imagery. What a writer.

  18. Carol Smith says:

    I just read The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson. It’s a true story about the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. Fascinating and creepy. Even an HSP like me loved it!

  19. Susan says:

    I recently re-read On the Beach by Nevil Shute, written in 1957 about the near future–early 1960’s post-nuclear war. Very creepy to read, especially while considering the global situations now. Even though I’d read it years ago, it really stayed with me this time and haunted me for days.

  20. Cayla says:

    #6 on your personal favorites–I haven’t read this one but I’m listening to “Murder on the Orient Express” right now! I checked it out from my library on Hoopla and Dan Stevens in the narrator. It’s EXCELLENT!

  21. Karen H says:

    The House Next Door by Anne Rivers siddons. This book was so scary I had to get rid of it after I read it, I’d get scared again every time I’d see it on the shelf.

  22. Lindsey says:

    The best slightly creepy reads I’ve read this year are The Giver, Far, Far Away by Tom McNeal and Greenglass House by Kate Milford. I also highly recommend The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. On my list for creepy fall reads this year are Christie’s And Then There Were None and Murder on the Orient Express, Milford’s Ghosts of Greenglass House and 1984. I’m debating about Rebecca, I’m not sure, it almost sounds too creepy for me!

  23. Susan Averill says:

    Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman is seriously spooky. He’s starting a sequel and it’s only taken him 25 years to decide it needs one. The Jekyll Revelation by Robert Masello goes back and forth between two stories linking a current-day environmentalist and Robert Louis Stevenson. Loved it!

  24. Amy says:

    Michael Koryta is good for some scary/creepy reads. Several of his books have a supernatural spin – like “So Cold the River” and “Last Words” – that are deliciously spooky.

  25. Leslie says:

    Anne, I just read my first Christie novel a few weeks ago…Murder on the Orient Express. I felt that as a true reader I needed to be able to read at least one Christie book! It was worth it! I read it in a couple days. It was short, fun, exciting, and funny! Besides her awesome sleuthing skills with Mon. Poirot, she gives the reader a good laugh. Anyhow, don’t feel bad that you haven’t read a Christie novel. I’m 37 (YIKES!) and just read my first.

  26. Michelle says:

    Neil Gaiman’s “The Ocean at the End of the Lane,” which is classified as a young adult book but is certainly a great spooky read for adults, and Audrey Neffenegger’s “Her Fearful Symmetry,” great for this time of year 🙂

    • Liz Barton says:

      I had recently read “American Gods”, and read “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” because at the time, it was his latest. Really enjoyed it. Scary, but not too scary.

  27. Oh man – Flowers in the Attic! A modern day spin on that is The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel. Loved it if you can handle the creep factor!

    And 11/22/63 is one of my all-time faves! I can’t read King’s horror generally either, but did make it through Misery (seriously creepy!) and now I think I should try The Stand. I can do global pandemic.

  28. Julie Pizzino says:

    Not spooky exactly, but definitely a provocative murder mystery is Though the Darkness Hide Thee by Susan Wise Bauer.

  29. Claire says:

    I love The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken, a children’s novel which has the classic gothic mansion perfect for Autumn reading. The Hound of the Baskervilles is another favourite. A Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin was a thriller I really loved reading last year.

  30. Teague Peterson says:

    My mother thought it was hilarious to have a book case dedicated to Stephen King located in our basement. The basement with no windows. So hilarious…

  31. Bethany says:

    The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones thoroughly creeped me out. I randomly checked it out at the library not knowing anything about it. I thought it just sounded like a fun read…an old mansion in the English countryside, a family full of eccentrics, and a dinner party! But there was a twist halfway through which I read in bed at night while my husband was traveling for work. I ended up sleeping with the lights on that night!

  32. Robbert says:

    I don’t quite get it. The majority of books mentioned here can easily be classified as horror. Maybe your definition of the genre is just a little narrow.

  33. Liz Barton says:

    I’d add Slade House by David Mitchell. It’s really spooky! BTW, I guess I am one of the few that really enjoyed Station Eleven. My reader friends spent hours chatting about that one, and what we would do if it happened, whether we could survive and how….it would make a great book club read.

  34. Rhonda says:

    Alexandra Sirowy writes great YA spooky-but-not-horror books. The Vanishing Season by Jodi Lynn Anderson was another good YA spooky atmospheric read. I’m also a big fan of J. S. Le Fanu.

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