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Evil lies within this Halloween house, the perfect setting to read a scary ghost story. Photo: CherriesJD/Getty Images

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Murder, Mayhem and the Macabre: 11 Books to Read This Halloween

Stephen King, Clay McLeod Chapman and Sadie Hartmann have perfected the art of scaring their readers stiff / BY Robert Wiersema / October 26th, 2023

As the days grow shorter and darkness falls earlier, we know we’re entering the spookiest time of the year. While scary decorations abound, nothing beats a ghoulish tale to make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Just in time for Halloween, we’ve compiled a list of recommended horror titles that will keep your spine tingling and your heart racing.

Obsessive Book Buyers: Zoomer editors have carefully curated our book coverage to ensure you find the perfect read. We may earn a commission on books you buy by clicking on the cover image. 

1Hollyby Stephen King

As sure as the seasons change, there is always a new Stephen King book in time for Halloween. The master of horror has been haunting our dreams and feeding our nightmares for almost half a century, and in Holly, King presents one of his most terrifying creations yet. Just what is behind the disappearance of a young woman in a small college town? It’s up to Holly Gidney to connect the dots. But this time, it’s not an evil clown or a vampire or even a rabid dog behind the crime, but a pair of married, retired academics with unusual appetites and a cage in the basement. (Don’t worry, that’s not a spoiler.) Watching Holly — who King fans will remember from the Mister Mercedes trilogy — slowly solve the case, while drawing the attention of the cannibals, will give any reader goosebumps.

2Our Share of Nightby Mariana Enriquez

Argentinian writer and journalist Mariana Enriquez has built a devoted cult following in the English-reading world with her deeply unsettling short-story collections, Things We Lost in the Fire, as well as The Dangers of Smoking in Bed, which was a finalist for the International Booker Prize. Our Share of Night, her first novel translated into English, is a tour de force of scary writing. The story of a father and son, who are reeling after the death of the wife and mother they loved, unfolds into a panorama of multiple time frames, incorporating secret occult societies, the brutal history of modern Argentina, bloodthirsty families and a quest for immortality. This is a sprawling novel (600-plus pages) that builds worlds within worlds, luring the reader in with the best kind of writerly magic.

3Black River Orchard by Chuck Wendig

In addition to being the haunted season, the fall is also, notably, apple season. This is a fact that has not escaped American writer (and apple enthusiast) Wendig, who brings them together in his latest novel, Black River Orchard. In the small town of Harrow, there is a small orchard of apple trees with magical, “bruise-dark and blood-bright” fruit that is so delicious you can’t stop eating them. But at what cost? And what lies buried beneath the orchard? The townsfolk of Harrow soon find out, as magic tears the town apart.

4Never Whistle at Night edited by Shane Hawk and Theodore C. Van Alst Jr.

Since the days of Edgar Allen Poe, the short-story format has seemed especially suited for chilling tales, allowing for the quick distillation of terror and a sharp shock to the imagination. Never Whistle at Night, a collection of 26 stories from Indigenous writers, is a crucial collection for the horror lover. The stories, from Canadian authors like Richard Van Camp, Waubgeshig Rice and Cherie Dimaline and American writers such as Tommy Orange and Rebecca Roanhorse (with an introduction by Stephen Graham Jones), draw from deep traditions to powerful and terrifying effect. This is an anthology for the ages.

5Wild Spaces by S.L. Coney

This novella occupies a shadowy space between a short story and a novel; it allows for the concentration of effect we find in short stories, while also benefiting from the greater depth provided by the novel, all of which make it ideal for a horror story. In Wild Spaces, an 11-year-old boy spends his childhood exploring the coastal wetlands of South Carolina with his dog, but that idyllic life changes with the arrival of his estranged — and strange — grandfather, who brings secrets of the past and an ability to predict the future. Part coming-of-age story, part cosmic horror and deeply creepy, Wild Spaces is a perfect single-sitting read for the spooky season.

6Becoming the Boogeyman by Richard Chizmar

Two years ago, Chasing the Boogeyman electrified horror readers with its account of a small-town serial killer who murders four teenage girls, told in a style that was part true crime, part coming-of-age memoir, and an outright thriller.  Set in Chizmar’s real hometown, it was rooted enough in his childhood to give it a satisfying ring of truth. Becoming the Boogeyman continues the story, further blurring the line between what is real and what is not. Make sure to read Chasing the Boogeyman first, if you haven’t already; it’s time well spent.

7A Guest in the House by Emily Carroll

Born in London, Ont., Emily Carroll — who trained as an animator — began making webcomics in 2010. The fierce online following for her work resulted in 2014’s Through the Woods. Carroll’s latest book is a gothic, graphic novel that follows Abby, who has recently married a widower after being single for a long time. As she adjusts to newlywed life, troubling questions rise to the surface. Foremost among them: Did her husband’s previous wife really die of natural causes? A compelling, chilling story told in beautifully illustrated panels and pages, A Guest in the House is a marvel on every level.

8McSweeney’s #71: The Monstrous and the TerribleEdited by Brian Evenson

Since its was founded in 1998, Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern (known simply as McSweeney’s) has become one of the most highly regarded literary magazines on the market. Each issue features the best in fiction, journalism and illustration, but has a unique form: McSweeney’s has appeared as a newspaper, a poster, a deck of cards and a pile of mail, as well as the more standard-bound volumes. Issue 71 continues this tradition with the magazine’s first volume devoted to horror. Edited by Brian Evenson (one of the best horror writers at work today), 71 contains new stories from the likes of Stephen Graham Jones, Mariana Enríquez and Jeffrey Ford, alongside Diné writer Natanya Ann Pulley and Hungarian writer Attila Veres. This is a globe-spanning collection of contemporary horror, nested in a series of slipcases that you have to handle to believe. Not only a reading delight, McSweeney’s No. 71 will take pride of place on your bookshelf.

9What Kind of Mother by Clay McLeod Chapman

Madi Price has had something of a rough life. After leaving her hometown as a teenage mother, circumstances force her to return when her daughter turns 17. Save each other, the pair have next to nothing, and Madi turns to palm reading to make ends meet. Then she meets her high school flame, whose infant son, Skyler, went missing five years earlier. Everyone is sure the child is dead, but after reading his father’s palm, Madi begins to feel differently, and is soon drawn into the darkness of her visions.  Chapman is one of the most highly regarded horror writers at work today, and What Kind of Mother is a great example of why.

10Nestlings by Nat Cassidy

Released on Halloween — and already garnering talk of the best horror book of the year — Nat Cassidy’s Nestlings is the bloody, chilling marriage of Rosemary’s Baby and Salem’s Lot, set in a tony New York apartment building. Young couple Ana and Reid are struggling in the wake of the difficult birth of their first child, but find some respite after winning an affordable housing lottery in a building called the Deptford. Despite its glorious architecture and views of the park, all is not what it seems at their new home. As disturbing events escalate, they discover tiny bite marks on the baby. Truly chilling, Nestlings is the perfect read on All Hallows’ Eve. 

11101 Horror Books to Read Before You’re Murderedby Sadie “Mother Horror” Hartmann

Hartmann, the Bram Stoker Award-nominated editor of Dark Hart Books  — known in online horror circles as Mother Horror — has compiled this selection of 101 recommended horror books written between 2000 and 2023. But this is more than just a list. She has created multiple categories, including Haunted Houses, Cults and Eco-Horror, in an attempt to impose order on the often chaotic world of horror fiction. Each recommendation includes a detailed synopsis, as well as notes on style and tone. 101 Horror Books to Read Before You’re Murdered is a beautifully laid out, essential reference work for both the novice and experienced horror reader, but be warned, your To Be Read list is about to get really big and really scary.


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