Something Wicked This Way Comes: 8 Scary Books to Read on Halloween

Ghosts and vampires and murderers, oh my! The best reading list for this haunted holiday season.

By Erin McReynolds

Pet Semetary by Stephen King

Of all of Stephen King’s novels, this has got to be the stone-cold scariest. A nice doctor moves his wife and toddler son to an idyllic Maine house–on a highway frequented by murdery 18-wheelers. What could go wrong? Add an ancient burial ground where the dead don’t stay dead and you have a truly frightful witches’ brew. (There’s an updated film version coming next year, which proves this story has as much staying power as, say, a cat buried in unhallowed ground.)

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

This 1959 horror novel is widely regarded as the best ghost story in modern literature. An investigator invites a handful of people, all connected by previous experiences with the supernatural, to stay in a mansion with one hell of a past. Jackson’s deftness with getting into the bad places in her characters’ heads makes this National Book Award finalist an effective chiller. A new adaptation is now on Netflix.

The Witch Elm by Tana French

Stephen King once hailed Tana French as “incandescent.” Now, the culty suspense novelist is back with a new story: Toby is a happy-go-lucky charmer who’s beaten and left for dead when he interrupts a robbery. As he struggles to recover at his family’s ancestral home, a skull is found in the trunk of an elm tree in the garden, and Toby is suddenly faced with the blank spaces in his memory, what he might be capable of, and who he truly is.

The Changeling by Victor LaValle

Apollo Kagwa is a happily married, rare-book dealer delighted with his infant son. Then his wife commits an unimaginable horror and subsequently disappears. His breathtaking quest for answers takes him behind the curtain of reality and what he finds is as shocking as it is recognizable. This critically adored, bewitching modern fairy tale, resonating with themes of race, toxic masculinity, true love, and parenthood, has been hailed as a sort of woke Brothers Grimm.

Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk

For those of you looking for something short on subtly, Chuck Palahniuk never fails to go over the top. Composed of 23 stories from different points of view, Haunted follows a group of writers invited to an island retreat that turns into a nightmarish Survivor-like scenario. Described as “disgusting,” “doused in bodily fluids,” and “anarchic,” this book is the literary equivalent of an elaborate haunted-house maze you scream all the way through.  

Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

You may have seen the movie that swept film festivals, but the cold burn of this Swedish vampire novel is so worth the read. When a dead teenager is found, blood drained, the community assumes a ritual killing. But for 12-year-old Oskar, bullied day after day, it’s a relief. Then he meets his new next-door neighbor, a beguiling and gifted young girl–who only comes out at night. One part shivery creepfest and one part heartwarming story of love and friendship.

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Sethe was born a slave and has escaped to Ohio, but she is not free from the horrific memories of what happened to her and her children. Her new home is soon visited by a ghastly, outraged, and vulnerable young woman bearing the same name as the one emblazoned on the tombstone of Sethe’s baby girl. Morrison’s masterpiece is as haunting—its effects as enduring and palpable—as our country’s history of slavery.

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

We all know the story of famed ax murderess Lizzie Borden. Or do we? This debut novel hacked its way to the top of many must-read lists by breathing new life into this nineteenth-century true crime story. Schmidt uses different perspectives—from Lizzie, her sister, the housemaid, and a mysterious stranger—to unravel the events of that fateful day. But are they reliable? Then again, is the real-life record reliable?  

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