It’s official: spooky season is well and truly underway. Halloween is just around the corner — and we can’t think of a better way to celebrate the spookiest time of the year than to curl up on the couch and to read ourselves into a fright.
And while there’s no shortage of ghoulishly good classics, there are also plenty of novels conjuring up fresh hells that will have you hooked this Halloween.
So, if you’re looking for a spine-tingling, bone-chilling book to read, here are 13 modern horror novels to read this October. Just make sure to leave a light on, just in case.
1. Home Before Dark by Riley Sager
If ghosts and haunted homes are your kind of thing, then you will absolutely love this book. With echoes of The Amityville Horror and The Haunting of Hill House, it will have you hooked from the first page until the last.
Twenty-five years ago, Maggie Holt and her parents, Ewan and Jess, moved into a rambling Victorian estate called Baneberry Hall. They lived there for just three weeks before they fled in the dead of night — a situation Ewan later recalled in his memoir, House of Horrors. His tale of ghoulish goings-on and encounters with malevolent spirits became a worldwide phenomenon. After her father dies, Maggie discovers that she has inherited Baneberry Hall. She was too young to remember any of the events in her father’s book and doesn’t believe a single word of it. After all, ghosts don’t exist, right?
She decides to return to Baneberry Hall to prepare it to sell — but her homecoming is far from warm. People from the pages of her father’s book lurk in the shadows, and locals aren’t thrilled that their small town has been made infamous. Even more unnerving is Baneberry Hall itself, with the estate holding onto hints of dark deeds and unexplained happenings. As the days pass, Maggie begins to believe that what her father wrote was more fact than fiction. That, either way, someone – or something – doesn’t want her here. And that she might be in danger all over again…
2. The Bright Lands by John Fram
Friday Night Lights meets Stephen King in this gripping modern horror debut, which explores the darkness lurking in a small town in Texas.
There are two things that the town of Bentley holds close: football and secrets. But then star quarterback Dylan Whitley goes missing, leading an unremitting fear to surge through this remote corner of Texas. Joel Whitley was shamed out of conservative Bentley a decade ago, and while he’s finally made a life for himself as a gay man in New York, his younger brother’s disappearance soon brings him back to a place he thought he’d escaped for good.
Meanwhile, Sheriff’s Deputy Starsha Clark stayed in Bentley — and Joel’s return to town brings some painful memories to the surface, as well as more questions about her own missing brother. And in the hallways of the high school, Dylan’s friends begin to wonder if their classmates know more than they’re letting on. Together, these unlikely allies stir up secrets their town has long tried to ignore, drawing the attention of dangerous men who will stop at nothing to see that their crimes stay buried.
However, nobody is prepared to face the darkness that’s begun to haunt their nightmares, whispering about a place long thought to be nothing but an urban legend: an empty night, a flicker of light on the horizon – The Bright Lands.
3. Wonderland by Zoje Stage
A supernatural, modern horror thriller billed as a mix between Shirley Jackson and The Shining – what more could you be looking for around the time of year?
Orla and Shaw Bennett are ready for a big change, after spending years living in the city. Or that’s what they think, anyway. They move to the quiet of New York’s Adirondack mountains and settle into the perfect farmhouse with their two children. They’re both charmed and unsettled by how much land they have, as well as the privacy of their individual bedrooms, and the isolation of life — their nearest neighbour is a mile away.
None of the Bennetts could ever expect what’s lying in wait in the woods, where the secrets are running dark and deep. And then something starts to call to the family from underneath the earth, behind the trees and even within their own minds. Orla realises she may be the only one who can save her family — that is, if she can find out what this force wants before it’s too late.
4. The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James
A heart-stopping modern horror – full of ghosts who are almost as scary as the living – that is perfect for fans of Lucy Foley and Denise Mina.
In 1982, Viv Delaney was working at the Sun Down Motel to try and save up for her move to New York City. The motel, in Fell, is somewhere where the customers are just passing through on their way to someplace better. Some others are locals, trying to hide their secrets. But Viv knows there isn’t something quite right at the motel, and is determined to find out the truth.
In 2017, Carly Kirk is determined to try and find out what happened to her aunt Viv 35 years ago. Using a small inheritance she got when her mom passed away, she leaves college and moves to Fell — and it isn’t long until she’s mirroring her aunt’s life.
She works as the night clerk at the motel, which hasn’t changed since 1982: the guest book is still handwritten, the rooms still have actual keys, and a haunting presence still lingers. Carly finds out that Viv had been trying to solve some mysteries of her own — like the possibility of a serial killer working in Fell — and sets out to find the answers her aunt had been looking for.
5. The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling
Gravity meets Annihilation – with just a dash of The Descent – in this gripping debut, which is set on a remote and dangerous planet.
After Gyre Price lied her way into the expedition, she thought she would be mapping mineral deposits — and that maybe her biggest problems would be cave collapses or gear malfunctions. She also thought that the big, fat paycheck — enough to get her off-planet and on the trail of her mother — would mean she’d get a skilled surface team who would monitor her suit and environment and keep her safe. And sane. Instead, she got Em.
Em doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with controlling Gyre’s body with drugs, or even withholding critical information to “ensure the smooth operation” of her expedition. But Em also knows about all of Gyre’s falsified credentials, and isn’t afraid to use them as a leash (or a lash). And she’s got her own secrets, too.
As Gyre descends, little inconsistencies start to drive her out of her depths — and she finds her sense of control giving way to paranoia and anger. On her own in this mysterious, deadly place, surrounded by darkness and the unknown, she must overcome more than just the dangerous terrain and the Tunneler which calls underground its home if she wants to make it out alive—she must confront the ghosts in her own head. But she’s not quite able to shake the feeling that she’s being followed…
6. Twelve Nights at Rotter House by J.W. Ocker
If you’ve been looking for a particularly scary modern horror book to read, sometimes only a story of a haunted house will do. And J.W. Ocker’s Twelve Nights at Rotter House definitely delivers on the horror.
Travel writer Felix Allsey has carved out a niche for himself in non-fiction by writing travelogues of the most haunted places in the country — but only after haunting them himself. After convincing the owner for the infamous Rotterdam Mansion to let him stay there for 13 nights, he thinks he’s found the location that will lead him to a bestseller. Must like his other jobs, he’s set himself some rules: sleep during the day, no leaving the house for any reason, and refrain from outside contact.
Thomas Ruth, his oldest friend (and horror film obsessive), decides to join him on the project. Initially, the two of them dance around a recent and unspeakable rough patch in their friendship. However, it isn’t long until they fall into old rhythms — and that’s when things start to go wrong. There’s streams from upstairs and figures in the thresholds; not to mention there’s more than what should be in any basement.
As Felix begins to realise the book he’s writing is moving from nonfiction to full-blown horror, he begins to wonder: in Rotter House, who’s haunting who?
7. The Patient by Jasper DeWitt
This is a dark and disturbing tale that is perfect for fans of Stephen King, Paul Tremblay and Alex Michaelides.
Parker H., a young psychiatrist, uses a series of online posts to talk about his harrowing time working at a mental hospital in New England — and, in particular, he wants to talk about his efforts to cure one patient in particular. The patient in question has bewildered everyone at the hospital, and is a dangerous case. The 40-year-old man was admitted at the age of 6. While he’s got no known diagnosis, his symptoms seem to evolve over time — and every person who has treated him has been driven to madness.
The hospital’s directors keep the patient strictly confined, allowing him minimal contact with the staff for their own safety — and they’re convinced that releasing him would unleash a catastrophe on the outside world. Parker’s determined to find out what ails the patient, and to finally cure him. But things spiral out of control after their first encounter, leading Parker to question everything he once thought he knew.
8. Lakewood by Megan Giddings
Get Out meets Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale in this chilling exploration of the world of medical experimentation.
After her grandmother dies, the full extent of Lena Johnson’s family’s debt is revealed. To try and help, she leaves college and takes a job in the remote town of Lakewood, Michigan. At first glance, the job is too good to be true: it’s high paying, there’s no out-of-pocket medical expenses and she’s got a free place to live. All Lena needs to do is take part in a secret program — and not tell her family about the work being done there.
There’s an eye drop that makes brown eyes blue, a medication that could be a cure for dementia, golden pills promised to make all bad thoughts go away. Lena’s told that the discoveries made in the mysterious town could change the world — however, the consequences for the test subjects could be devastating. The truth about the program slowly starts to come to light, leaving Lena to wonder how much she’s willing to sacrifice for her family.
9. The Need by Helen Phillips
Fans of Iain Reid will love this National Book Award longlisted eerie, supernatural take on motherhood – which is the perfect modern horror to curl up with on a cold, spooky night.
Molly is tired. She’s anxious. She’s starting to lose her grip on reality. Her husband is away, and she’s been running between her children and work — where things are starting to unravel. She works as a paleobotanist at a fossil quarry, and has recently unearthed artefacts that defy understanding. There’s the coke bottle with the lettering that leans the wrong way, as well as an alternate version of the Bible. Where do these things come from?
She starts to get jumpy as dusk starts to fall. She’s sure she’s heard footsteps in the hall and, wait, what was that noise? Molly keeps her two small children close to her as she starts to hear footsteps in the hall, but her two worlds start to collide. There’s a stranger in her sitting room and they know everything about her life. As their identity starts to become clear, they demand something of Molly — something which forces her to reckon with her deepest, darkest fears.
10. Take Me Apart by Sara Sligar
If you loved Mindy Mejia’s Everything You Want Me to Be or Ottessa Moshfegh’s Death In Her Hands, then this could be the perfect Halloween read for you.
Shockwaves were sent through Callinas, California when the photographer Miranda Brand, who was at the height of her career, died mysteriously. And old wounds are reopened when, decades later, her son Theo hires a former journalist, Kate, to achieve his mother’s work and her personal items.
As Kate starts to work her way through the material, as well as the rumours surrounding Miranda’s private life, she’s able to piece together an image of an incredible artist — but someone who was buckling under the pressures of ambition, motherhood and marriage. And as her attraction to Theo grows, Kate — who has secrets of her own — discovers Miranda’s diary, leading her curiosity to spiral into a dangerous and horrifying obsession.
11. The Hunted by Gabriel Bergmoser
The Hills Have Eyes meets Battle Royale meets Deliverance in this horror-thriller you won’t be able to put down. Just make sure to keep a light on while you’re reading it.
Set in the Australian outback, the book focuses on a group of people brought together after a chance encounter unleashes an unimaginable terror on them all.
Frank owns a service station on a highway that nobody really uses. And his granddaughter, Allie, is sent to stay with him for the rest of the summer — although they don’t really talk too much. Simon, a dreamer and idealist, is caught up in the romance of the open road — and is in search of…something, he just doesn’t quite know what.
Maggie is the woman who brings them all together, although her own horrifying past isn’t too far behind.
12. The Invited by Jennifer McMahon
We’ve all read the horror stories about city-dwellers moving into a haunted house. But this book twists the story and brings it to a whole new level by exploring — what if you didn’t move into a haunted house…what if you actually built it?
Helen and Nate, seeking a simpler life, leave their teaching jobs and the comforts of suburbia to move to forty-four acres of rural land. There, they’re hoping to kickstart their ultimate do-it-yourself project: they want to build the house of their dreams. However, they soon find out that the property has a dark, terrifying and violent past — which Helen becomes consumed by, as she learns about the legend of Hattie Breckenridge, who died there a century ago.
And as Helen works towards sourcing the materials to build their homes, she begins to uncover, unearth and even conjure the lives of Hattie’s tragic descendants. There were three generations of ‘Breckenridge. Women’ who died amid suspicion. And in the present day, each of them are seeking something precious and elusive.
13. The Auctioneer by Joan Samson
If you’re looking for a book with a quiet, bone-chilling kind of modern horror that will stay with you long after the final page, then you’re bound to love this book.
The book is set in the isolated farming community of Harlowe, New Hampshire — somewhere where life hasn’t changed much over the last few decades. And it all seems to be going well enough for John Moore and his wife, Mim, who work the land that’s been in his family for generations.
But then Perly Dunsmore comes to town. And as the charismatic new arrival starts to solicit donations for his auctions, things start to insidiously change in Harlowe. As Dunsmore starts to carry out his horrifying plans, John, Mim and the rest of their neighbours soon find themselves gradually being stripped of their possessions, their freedom, and perhaps even their lives.
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