Pull back the curtain and see how a suspense writer puts the thrills and chills together.

SIGN UP FOR SNEAK PEEKS OF MY NEXT BOOK + NEWSLETTER-ONLY UPDATES.

Ten books that will scare the sh*t out of you

The talk always turns to scary movies around this time of year. Freddie, Jason and Michael crawl out from under their respective rocks for the one month they are remembered and celebrated.

But what about books? Sure, they’re not the best for quick scares, but a book can get under your skin and unnerve you the way few movies can. After the last page is read, you’ll still think about them for a long time to come.

Here are my picks for the ten creepiest books I have ever read. Some will disturb you, while others will make you want to hide under the covers and not answer the door. No matter what, you’re guaranteed to be entertained.

Rebecca1. I first read Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca because Stephen King referenced it almost constantly in Bag of Bones, another book I loved. This is an eerie gothic tale of a new bride tormented by the spectre of the former woman of the house and the twisted housekeeper who remains devoted to her. Rebecca was published in 1938, but has yet to go out of print.

Different SeasonsSpeaking of Stephen King, an entire list could be devoted to his work, and I may do that in the future. But if I have to limit myself, Apt Pupil gets my vote for one of the most skin-crawling things the man has ever written. This novella is often overlooked because it’s in the same volume as Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption and The Body, which were both turned into spectacular movies. Apt Pupil, on the other hand, was adapted into a spectacularly shitty movie. Still, the novella’s charming, fool-everyone teenage sociopath is one of the most chilling, believable characters King has ever created.

3. Journey into DarknessI love everything John Douglas and Mark Olshaker have written, but Journey Into Darkness is probably the most frightening. Douglas is a retired criminal profiler who was one of the founding members of the FBI’s Behavioural Sciences Unit. Journey Into Darkness’s power comes from Douglas showing us the inner workings of some of the world’s cruelest killers–and how easy it is to become a victim. The story of Suzanne Collins–a marine who was out for a jog on her military base when she was sexually assaulted, beaten and killed–really got to me. No one ever expects to be the target of that kind of attack, but so many are.

God Chariots4. It’s been many years since I discovered Chariots of the Gods in a pile of my mom’s dusty books, so it may be quite dated. This “non-fiction” account sets out to prove that God was actually an alien. It seems like a ridiculous premise, but Erich von Däniken’s arguments are so compelling that I found it highly disturbing.  As a teenager, it bothered me enough that I had to stop reading, which made a huge impression on me.

18498558With Bird Box, Josh Malerman accomplishes something extraordinary–he scares you with what he doesn’t say. In this unusual take on a post-apocalyptic tale, most of the population has died after seeing something horrific. As a result, Malorie and her two children live their lives blindfolded in a world of self-imposed darkness, where even the tiniest sound can mean the worst. If you’re like me and think monsters are scariest when you can’t see them, you’ll love this book.

6. Read Rosemary’s Baby and you’ll instantly see why it’s a classic. I must have Rosemary's Babyread Ira Levin’s novel at least a dozen times, and I never tire of it. I love the way the mystery slowly unfolds as you wonder “Is Rosemary crazy, or is she on to something?” The ending is a tad cheesy by today’s standards, but the rest of the book makes it well worth the read.

woman in blackBefore Daniel Radcliffe was a glimmer in his mother’s eye, Susan Hill’s gothic horror tale The Woman in Black was scaring the crap out of readers all over the United Kingdom. Hill is a master at scene setting, and before you know it, you’re out on Eel Marsh with poor Arthur Kipps, watching the tide come in and hearing the children scream….

8. Yes, I admit it–I used to be a fan of Dean Koontz, and The Servants of Twilight is why. Part horror, part suspense, and part psychological thriller, this unsettling novel explores what happens when a crazed religious cult sets their sights on aServants of Twilight innocent child, convinced he is the anti-Christ. Spooky on many levels.

9. If you’ve graduated from high school, you were probably forced to read William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. I wonder how many teenagers that book has freaked out? Not so much scary as highly disturbing, Lord of the Flies shows what can happen when polite society no longer exists. It’s King’s Children of the Corn taken to another level.

 

ruins10. And finally, one of the only books I can honestly say truly SCARED me as an adult–Scott Smith’s The Ruins. The evil in Smith’s novel can’t be reasoned with, because it shouldn’t be sentient at all. What it is, however, is hungry. Very, very hungry. Don’t open this one on a dark and stormy night. You can read my reactions to Smith’s book here.

Your turn, dear readers! What’s the scariest book you’ve ever read?

If you like this post, you’ll love The Five Creepiest Children in Film. Happy Halloween!

1 part newsletter, 1 part unnerving updates,
2 parts sneak peeks of new projects.

38 Comments

  1. “Rebecca” is one of my favorite novels. I actually owned an autographed copy of “Rosemary’s Baby” purchased at a book store where I was working at the time. Can you believe that I gave it away?

    Reply
    • JH

      Oh, that hurts, Denise! That hurts!

      And I agree, Rebecca is awesome. It’s unforgettable.

      Reply
  2. Several of those I’ve seen the movie version of them, most recently The Ruins. I’m sure the books were far better.

    Reply
    • JH

      Hi Alex,

      Most likely. The Ruins was definitely better in book form, but still a decent movie. What did you think of it?

      Reply
  3. I was going to say Bird Box, but you already had it listed. Absolutely loved that book for precisely the reasons you mentioned.

    And Different Seasons is one of my favorite Stephen King books. I pretty much always enjoy his short stories/novellas. One of his more recent stories, Big Driver, freaked me out to no end. (A Lifetime TV movie was made of it – not bad but the book was way better.)

    And I’m with you on The Ruins, too. Shudder!

    Reply
    • JH

      What can I say, Madeline? I guess great minds think alike!

      Reply
  4. I will have to add several of these to my to-be read list. For lingering creep factor, I like the classics – Dracula and Frankensteing, but my absolute favourite is “The Picture of Dorian Gray”. It’s the most evil book I ever read.

    Reply
    • JH

      Still have to read that! And can you believe I haven’t read the unabridged Dracula or Frankenstein yet? Thankfully, I was able to pick both up at the Children’s Hospital Book Market, so I’ll correct that soon.

      Reply
  5. I’ve been wanting to read Rebecca for years, so I am pleased to see that you listed it as #1. That gives me even more of a reason to read it. I actually haven’t read any of the books I on your list.

    Reply
    • JH

      Wow, Chrys–I’m surprised, since you like horror. But there are too many great books out there. I’m so glad I was able to add some to your to-read list, because that’s the whole point of posts like this.

      Highly recommend Rebecca.

      Reply
  6. I have Journey into Darkness on my book shelf. I love those kinds of books. They are scary, but fascinating.

    Reply
    • JH

      I agree, Patricia. John Douglas is one of my favourite authors, by far. He has credibility that elevates the true-crime genre.

      Reply
  7. I’m a wuss so I won’t be reading most of these since I scare so easily. I have read Rebecca and it is very eerie and I know the movie well which I will discuss later this week…now on to see the scariest kids

    Reply
    • JH

      Did you like Rebecca, Birgit? I really loved that book.

      Reply
  8. The scariest book I ever read was Helter Skelter. It put me off true-crime forever. The Ruins scared me, too. At the time I read it, I had a vine that was inching up the outside of my house and over my office window. I had the vine trimmed multiple times, but within days, it would be peering at me through the glass again. I hated that thing!

    VR Barkowski

    Reply
    • JH

      Good pick. I love Helter Skelter. It’s one of my favourite true crime books, but it’s definitely not an easy read. Highly disturbing.

      Reply
  9. Harvest Home by Thomas Tryon has stuck with me through the years as being rather disturbing. I remember when I was reading it, my dad saw it and proceeded to tell me how The Other (by the same author) scared the crap out of him. I haven’t read that book yet, but I’d guess he’d add that one to the list. 😉

    And I’m adding Bird Box to my TBR list. Monsters *are* scariest when you can’t see them. That book sounds amazing in a terrible sort of way.

    Reply
    • JH

      Wow, I haven’t even heard of the author, Sara. Thanks so much for the recommendation! I’ll definitely look him up.

      I think you’ll really like Bird Box. In many ways, it’s a work of art.

      Reply
    • Bird Box was an AMAZING read! Precisely because it didn’t focus on the “monsters”. The first half of the book I wasn’t even sure the monsters were real. I know people will probably disagree, but I thought The Store by Bently Little was VERY disturbing. Maybe it affected me more because I have a daughter, but it literally made me scream!

      Reply
      • JH

        Thanks for the recommendation, Megan, and I totally agree with you about Bird Box. Loved that book!

        Reply
  10. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. The scares things that happen to the man, how it ultimately ends for him, and the ENTIRE nightmarish sequence when they want a baby…ill never see the movie and I hope I never read anything like that again. Great writing. The concept is what freaked me out

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks for commenting, Megan, and welcome to my blog!

      I’ve only seen the movie, and it was kind of a sappy love story. I’m surprised the book was so scary. I just might have to give it another chance.

      I know lots of people loved it.

      Reply
  11. The scariest book I’ve ever read is Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I keep meaning to read Stephen King’s Carrie, The Shining and his other works (love Delores Claiborne and The Walk). But I’m going to add some of these to my TBR list.

    Reply
    • JH

      Personally, I wasn’t a fan of Carrie, but I can recommend The Shining. Of King’s more recent work, I loved Bag of Bones.

      I always thought I’d read Dracula, but found out in recent years that I must have had an abridged version. I’m looking forward to diving in.

      Reply
    • JH

      Oh, thanks Anna! I’m happy to introduce you to some awesome books.

      Reply
  12. I think books are SO much worse than movies. –And I’ve read several Koontz stories. He’s a pro.

    Reply
    • JH

      He is, but I got tired of his one-dimensional “strong female” characters.

      I stopped reading Koontz when all the books he couldn’t get published early in his career were repackaged as new novels. They were terrible, but it was impossible to tell when he’d written each book, so I gave up trying.

      Reply
  13. I read Apt Pupil as a teen but I’ll be darned if I can remember what it was about. I was a huge Dean Koontz fan back then, too. I remember reading the one called Stranger? Strangers? A group of people have a shared experience that they can’t remember. I remember finding it really scary as a teen!

    Reply
    • JH

      Yeah, some of Koontz’s stuff was definitely scary. I recommend re-reading Apt Pupil if you have the stomach for it.

      Thanks for commenting, Steph! 🙂

      Reply
  14. I love that I have only read one of these (Apt Pupil). Looks like I’ve got some library books to request. 😀

    Reply
    • JH

      That’s awesome, Vanessa! I hope you like them. I’d love it if you let me know.

      Reply
  15. I’m glad you included Bird Box. That’s the most original and best horror I’ve read in some years. I gotta read that SK one. Thanks for the tips! 🙂

    Reply
    • JH

      You’re very welcome, Lexa. I agree–Josh did a fantastic job with Bird Box.

      Reply
  16. Lord of the Flies is definitely one of the most disturbing books I’ve ever read.

    Reply
    • JH

      Me too. Hard to believe they set it loose on young, impressionable minds.

      Reply
  17. Come Closer by Sara Gran is one of the scariest books I’ve ever read.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks for the recommendation, Mary!

      Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.