A chill in the air keeps people indoors and the streets eerily empty at off-peak times.
Jack-o’-lanterns and Halloween decor line front windows and yards, reminding us that tales of witches, ghosts, and vampires abound.
If there is a time of year to get spooked by words, that time is now. And if you don’t want to gamble with an independent horror story that few have read and reviewed, cozy up in your apartment living room with one of these well-received, hair-raising novels.
The man who’s got it all, but still feels the need to torture and terrorize the innocent victims he charms. This is the premise of Brett Easton Ellis’ American Psycho, and it’s at least as disturbing and psychologically thrilling as any tale featuring non-human monsters that I’ve encountered. Why? Because Patrick Bates, the novel’s sociopathic protagonist-cum-antagonist, fits almost every woman’s idea of the perfect catch…until he lures them back to his apartment, that is.
Sorry, Nora Jones. We’re not talking about your bestseller with the same name. John Fowle’s “The Collector” is a tale of abduction, obsession, and unchained, not-yet-diagnosed mental illness. Will Miranda, the beautiful art student who is captured by an obsessed stranger, Frederick, “cooperate” enough to earn her freedom? Will her captor even offer her this freedom? Is she wily enough to escape of her own accord? Read this page-turner to find out.
The late Octavia Butler was one fine writer, and the first installment in the Xenogenesis trilogy may be the most compelling work she ever published. A doomsday tale full of originality, “Dawn” tells the story of a woman who awakes from a sleep that lasted hundreds of years to find herself on a spaceship filled with tentacle-clad creatures called Oankali. Highly advanced but not immune to sadism, the creepiness of the Oankali extends beyond their appearance and into the realm of psychological power ploys.
To some, “Dracula” may seem outdated. But this classic, which introduced the fearsome vampire to the literary world, has plenty of spook in it. When I finally picked it up after it spent about ten years on my to-read list, I was impressed. And by impressed, I mean wide awake and terrified. Bravo, Bram Stoker.
The newest edge-of-your-seat thriller on this list, Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl” swept the nation, spreading rather like a ravenous wildfire after its release. The story follows developments in the disappearance of a young New York writer a few years after she moves to her husband’s rural Missouri hometown. The disappearance occurs on the morning of Nick and Amy Dunn’s fifth wedding anniversary, but something about the evidence left behind makes it feel especially strange from the get-go. This fairly easy read is not particularly long, but you should only start it when you have a few free hours ahead of you. The twists and turns that this gripping tale takes makes it especially hard to put down. If you’re craving more after you finish it, head to the recently released film adaptation starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike.
“House of Leaves”
“House of Leaves” is unique because it was not written with the intention of reaching a large audience. This story about a house that’s larger on the inside than on the outside was eaten up by fans of fiction in the circles through which it passed for years. Eventually, it was published and made accessible to the masses. If there is one novel I’ve read that could keep me up all night long when I’m dead tired to begin with, Mark Z. Danielewski’s “House of Leaves” is it.
Why is everyone so afraid of clowns? Stephen King’s frightening novel “It” is often credited with invoking the widespread phobia. A lengthy tale about a psychopath who terrorizes small-town children who are left alone for a few minutes, “It” may make parents feel sick. If you like a good horror read, however, “It” may still keep your interest. You just might find yourself demanding that your children not leave your sight until you finish the book, if at all.
Another of Stephen King’s best-known novels, “The Shining” is a suspenseful tale of paranormal activity in a middle-of-nowhere hotel in Colorado that is further cut off from the world by a relentless blizzard. One of the first examples in living memory of a five-year-old with preternatural capabilities, “The Shining” puts up a good fight in the debate for the scariest reads of all time. Read it to find out how Room 217 at the Overlook Hotel has earned a spot as one of the scariest literary places of all time.
“Silence of the Lambs”
Rounding off our list is another well-known story, a novel that was made into a hit movie starring Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster. Modern-day cannibalism and mind games played between extraordinarily intelligent beings give “Silence of the Lambs“ its fear factor. Thomas Harris’ superb storytelling abilities take care of the rest. If you’re particular about reading series in chronological order, read “Hannibal” first. But “Silence of the Lambs” is equally enticing as a standalone thriller for those without the time and energy to invest into the entire Hannibal Lecter series.
The world of literature is inhabited by thousands upon thousands of scary novels. If you find yourself drawn to a specific sub-genre or theme (vampires, zombies, giant spiders, serial killers), peruse the web for lists of terrifying books featuring your preferred type of villain. If you don’t already have a favorite type of scary novel and want something that will move you to the edge of your seat and keep you there until the last page has been turned (or hunger pangs or antsy family members tell you it’s time to make dinner), any of these should do. If you get too scared, just remind yourself that what you are reading is fiction. Unless, of course, it’s not.
Have a spook-inducing page turner of your own to recommend? Share them in the comments.
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