17+ Suspense Stories to Read at Halloween

Get in the Halloween mood by reading these suspense stories recommended by WD Senior Editor, Amy Jones.
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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.

suspense storie

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.

Suspenseful Settings

With these books, it’s the setting that sets the tone. Large manors set in remote locations—think Downton Abbey with ghosts.

suspense stories

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

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suspense stories

The Missing Years by Lexie Elliott

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Suspenseful Happenings

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?

suspense stories

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

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suspense stories

Arthur and George by Julian Barnes

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suspense stories

The Italian by Ann Radcliffe

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suspense stories

Black Dogs by Ian McEwan

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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!

suspense stories

Dracula by Bram Stoker

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suspense stories

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

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suspense stories

The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova

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suspense stories

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

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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!).

suspense stories

Wanderers by Chuck Wendig

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suspense stories

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

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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.

suspense stories

Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami

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suspense stories

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

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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!

suspense stories

Short Stories by Elizabeth Bowen, specifically

“The Cat Jumps”

“The Demon Lover”

“Look at All Those Roses”

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suspense stories

“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson

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suspense stories

The stories of Edgar Allan Poe

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Up the spooky in your writing game with this online tutorial from Phil Athans.