Halloween is the perfect time to dive into a terrifying horror novel, a creepy paranormal thriller or a spooky vampire book (and no, I’m not talking about those vampire books).
Grab a cup of hot apple cider and dive into one of these stories of murder, mystery and things that go bump in the night – but you may want to turn extra lights on first.
“Let the Right One In” By John Ajvide Lindqvist
This is the first horror novel from the Swedish author and, in my opinion, still his best work.
The novel follows the blooming friendship of 12-year-old Oskar, a target of frequent bullying, and Eli, a girl Oskar’s age who hides a dark secret – namely, that she is a 200-year-old vampire.
The story is set against the backdrop of Stockholm in 1981 and an atmosphere of terror is set by a fictional killer who is capturing Swedes and draining their blood.
The murderer, however, is not the book’s true villain; the bad guy here is the ringleader of a group of boys who continually torment Oskar at school and on his walks home.
As Oskar offers his friendship and love to Eli, Eli teaches Oskar to stand up for himself.
Eli finally gets to be a kid again, but never turns her back on her true identity, which is put to use in the story’s grisly but satisfying ending. Since the book’s release in 2004, it also has been made into two movies.
The Swedish version follows the book more closely, but the American version (titled “Let Me In”) also is a great choice for a creepy movie marathon.
“The Shining” By Stephen King
If you’ve seen Stanley Kubrick’s film version, you still don’t know the half of it. Jack Torrance, a writer and recovering alcoholic, takes a job as caretaker of The Overlook Hotel, hoping to catch up on his writing and spend quality time with his wife, Wendy, and 5-year-old son, Danny.
The hotel is a massive and isolated structure situated in the Colorado Rockies.
King creates some foreshadowing for the horror that awaits by showing Jack’s tendency to lash out at his family while drinking and Danny’s telepathic abilities, recognized as “the shining” by Dick Hallorann, the Overlook’s head chef and a fellow telepath.
As the family discovers the tragedies that haunt the hotel, Jack has to face his personal demons.
The claustrophobic atmosphere of the empty hotel – particularly after a snowstorm hits – is the perfect setting for a slide into insanity. Two other great King reads for Halloween are “Salem’s Lot” (another vampire novel) and “Carrie.”
“And Then There Were None” By Agatha Christie
This classic murder mystery is one of the best-selling books of all time (it claims seventh place on a list from Publishers International).
Ten unacquainted guests are invited to a mansion on an island, where they quickly realize that not only is their host absent, but someone is methodically killing off the guests one by one.
With no way off the island, each of the guests frantically try the solve the mystery before becoming the next victim.
The murderer turns the killing into a game by taking away soldier figures for each murder and making sure the murders follow the pattern of a nursery rhyme displayed in the house.
Christie is the master of mystery and keeps readers guessing until the end.
“The Devil and Sherlock Holmes” By David Grann
This incredibly absorbing collection of articles written for The New Yorker follows the themes of “murder, madness and obsession.” While the stories aren’t necessarily scary, they are mysterious and creepy.
From cold case murder to a 79-year-old bank robber to a con artist who looks like a child, each story is engrossing and well-written. While investigating each story, Grann also ties in larger themes like the nature of identity and the ways the truth can hide under the surface.
“Edith’s Diary” By Patricia Highsmith
In the characteristically subtle yet terrifying style of the popular “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” Highsmith chronicles the descent into madness of a suburban wife and mother whose diary entries become increasingly cheerful as her life falls apart.
As she realizes that her husband no longer loves her and her son may very well be a psychopath, Edith creates an elaborate fantasy life to mask the bleakness of reality.
I believe this disturbing portrait to be Highsmith’s best work.
“Coraline” By Neil Gaiman
Gaiman has said that his editor found this book too scary for children, and only published it when her daughter gave her the go-ahead … but years later, the girl admitted that she only pretended not to be terrified so she could find out what happened next.
This story of a child who finds her way into an alternate reality with a clingy mother who has buttons for eyes is quirky, creepy and strangely enthralling … much like just about all of Gaiman’s work.
Next up on my list of spooky reads? I’m hoping to check out “Night Film” by Marisha Pessl, “Red Moon” by Benjamin Percy and “Visitation Street” by Ivy Pachoda.
Alexander is the entertainment editor for the Sun-Gazette.