Hester Young wrote The Gates of Evangeline, a thrilling supernatural tale that also happened to be one of our top mystery picks for fall. While Young admits that she isn’t much of a fantasy or paranormal reader herself, she heartily believes that there are some great spooky stories that defy easy genre categorization. Here, in honor of Halloween, Young shares with Bookish readers her top five scary picks that might stretch your own ideas about reading fantasy, paranormal, and supernatural fiction.
Though I write mysteries about child ghosts and a woman haunted by dark, premonitory dreams, I wouldn’t describe myself a fan of paranormal fiction. A frequent and favorite compliment I get from readers is, “I LOVED your book… and I don’t usually like supernatural stuff.”
I know exactly what they mean.
I’m not an avid reader of “supernatural stuff,” but good fiction transcends its familiar elements. Here are five very different books that take a unique approach to a Halloween staple. Read the descriptions and figure out which October read is right for you!
Essential Ingredient: Ghosts
This atmospheric and well-researched historical novel follows journalist Edward Clark as he tries to expose the fraudulent mediums that have descended upon the city of Philadelphia in the wake of the Civil War. Teaming up with charlatan psychic Lucy Collins, Edward sets out to prove that renowned medium Leonora Grimes Pastor is a fake. When Pastor is murdered at a séance and Edward and Lucy become suspects, they must catch a killer to clear their names—and face the disturbing possibility that sometimes the dead do speak.
Why it’s great: The book includes many fascinating historical details, including clever tricks employed by late-nineteenth century mediums.
Scare Factor: Nice little shivers
Essential Ingredient: The undead
Ruthie’s life in rural Vermont has always been a strange one as her mother, Alice, insists upon living off the grid. One wintry night, Alice disappears. Afraid of the secret past her mother has been concealing all these years, Ruthie doesn’t want to go to the police. A mysterious journal written by a previous occupant of the house may provide clues about what happened to Alice—and reveal what lies behind her long-forbidden closet door.
Why it’s great: You’ll want to rush through this unsettling page-turner to see how it all goes down.
Scare Factor: Will keep you staring at your closet door
Essential ingredient: A haunted house
Nowadays, fewer readers have heard of Michael McDowell, who passed away far too young in 1999. Re-released in 2014, The Elementals gives you the opportunity to discover anew this master of Southern Gothic horror whose list of admirers includes Stephen King. There are so many things to love in this book, including dysfunctional Alabama families, an abandoned house near Gulf Shores that can only be reached at low tide, and terrible forces of nature that are far from natural.
Why it’s great: The rich prose and deeply original setting put this tale on par with Shirley Jackson’s classic, The Haunting of Hill House.
Scare Factor: Better cancel your house-on-the-water vacation plans
Essential Ingredient: Werewolves
This is not a werewolf novel for the faint-hearted. Filled with graphic sex and violence, Glen Duncan’s literary thriller features Jacob Marlowe, a brooding British werewolf in the midst of an existential crisis. Unable to control his insatiable appetite for human flesh, and convinced he is the last of his kind, Jacob yearns for the release of death. He figures he’ll allow a secret band of werewolf hunters to put him out of his misery—until an encounter with a beautiful young American renews his thirst for life. Duncan has a flair for breath-taking prose and you have to love the way Jacob inherits the memories of each human he consumes. Recommended for those with a strong stomach.
Scare Factor: Plenty of queasy thrills
Essential Ingredient: Vampires
What could be more terrifying than Eli, a blood-craving vampire trapped in a twelve-year-old child’s body? How about Eli’s human servant, Hakan, who happens to be a pedophile? Or the sadistic bullies who torment Eli’s young friend and neighbor, Oskar? (Hint: Victimizing an outcast who has befriended a vampire may not turn out well for you.) A bleak and haunting tale most definitely not for the Twilight set, this disturbing Swedish novel inspired not one but two film adaptations. Neither one can match the pure horror of the book.
Why it’s great: Admit it—you’re sick of those perfect Swedes. Their universal health care, Nordic good looks, and bestselling Girl With the Dragon Tattoo spin-offs. This just might be the most twisted and gruesome depiction of Sweden you’ll ever find.
Scare Factor: Curl up and cry for humanity
Hester Young is the author of The Gates of Evangeline, a Southern Gothic-supernatural-suspense hybrid. She loves a good ghost story but has learned to approach Swedish child vampire stories with caution.