Get in the Halloween mood by reading these suspense stories recommended by WD Senior Editor, Amy Jones.
I can’t watch horror movies and I can’t read horror books. The jump-out-to-try-to-scare-the-audience/reader tactic works a little too well on me. But, give me a great suspense story or film in the vein of Alfred Hitchcock and I’m sold. I’m talking books that give you an underlying sense of dread, perhaps due to something supernatural (or at least supernatural feeling until it’s explained away in the conclusion), or those books where you know things could go very wrong, very quickly.
In these types of suspenseful stories the author creates an atmosphere where the protagonist perhaps loses their ability to think rationally because of unsettling circumstances or ghost stories they're told, but Freddy Kruger and his ilk don’t ever make an appearance. The characters’ own imaginations get the better of them for a period of time and readers come away both entertained and amazed at the tricks the mind can play on otherwise rational people.
This Halloween, curl up with one of these unsettling, perhaps discomforting, suspense stories. No one will jump out and yell “Gotcha!” But you may think twice about the scratching at the window or the sound behind the door.
Note, these are categorized based on what made these books suspenseful or unsettling to me. Many could fit into multiple categories but I like the idea of reading books from the same categories back to back to compare how similar elements worked differently either by different authors, or by the same author writing a new story.
Learn the difference between surprise and suspense and how to incorporate them in your own writing in this post by Jane K. Cleland.
With these books, it’s the setting that sets the tone. Large manors set in remote locations—think Downton Abbey with ghosts.
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
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The Missing Years by Lexie Elliott
With these books, people (or animals) start acting oddly or strange things happen in an otherwise normal setting. What’s making them act this way?
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
Arthur and George by Julian Barnes
The Italian by Ann Radcliffe
Black Dogs by Ian McEwan
Suspense Based on Myths and Legends
What is a Halloween reading list without a reference to Dracula? Give it a read or re-read and then read The Historian—you’re in for a treat!
Dracula by Bram Stoker
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova
The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
Suspenseful Science and Nature
In these books it seems science and nature have collided and the effects on the people and locales are highly unsettling (and I mean that as a compliment!).
Wanderers by Chuck Wendig
Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer
Suspenseful Magical Realism
Haruki Murakami is a master of magical realism. In both of these, characters are going about their normal lives when suddenly the subway station isn’t a normal subway station (in 1Q84) and noises are heard from a well that’s been sealed for decades (Killing Commendatore). Don’t be turned off by the length of these books—they’re page-turners that will certainly keep you up past your bedtime.
Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami
1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
Bonus- Suspenseful Short Stories
If you just need a quick scary story to get you in the mood before trick-or-treaters visit your door, these short stories are the way to go. Shirley Jackson and Edgar Allan Poe are the obvious choices so I’d encourage you to try Elizabeth Bowen first. “The Cat Jumps” in particular gives me the creeps. And I love it!
Short Stories by Elizabeth Bowen, specifically
“The Cat Jumps”
“The Demon Lover”
“Look at All Those Roses”
“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson
The stories of Edgar Allan Poe
Up the spooky in your writing game with this online tutorial from Phil Athans.