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12 Books That Go Bump in the Night

If you're looking for spooky books to kick off Halloween season, we've got some thrillers and chillers guaranteed to haunt you / BY Nathalie Atkinson / October 5th, 2021

As the golden days of early autumn grow darker and the nights get chillier, something wickedly good this way comes thanks to our pick of thrillers and sinister chillers. Whether it’s ghost stories or stories of being ghosted that give you pause, find your next spooky read on our list.

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1These Toxic Things by Rachel Howzell Hall

The New York Times bestselling author of And Now She’s Gone is back with this frightening story about Mickie, a scrapbook creator who makes artful keepsakes from mementos. After her latest client, an elderly curio shop owner, dies by apparent suicide and leaves her a dozen nondescript trinkets (a barrette, a key chain), it stirs up unexpected trouble. Mickie’s investigation into the original owner of the objects may have awoken a dormant serial killer who is also being tracked by the LAPD.


2Reality and Other Stories by John Lanchester

This collection of eight contemporary ghost stories takes us inside a Big Brother-like reality television show and introduces a snooty scholar whose audiobook of Great Expectations has a malevolent, otherworldly interloper. The hauntings and psychodramas are reminiscent of Bram Stoker, Joseph Conrad and Henry James, but they explore the horror of technology and modernity (think: Black Mirror). The award-winning journalist and author (who was previously long-listed for the Booker Prize for The Wall) captures the creeping dread of 21st century life.

3My Sweet Girl by Amanda Jayatissa

This much-anticipated debut about belonging and the meaning of identity splits the timeline of a woman, now 30, who grew up at a Sri Lankan orphanage before being adopted by a wealthy American couple. There are flashbacks to her childhood with her best friend, but in the present-day timeline things take a turn when her roommate dies. The novel is populated by boothayas and yakas (evil spirits and demons), as Jayatissa describes in this list of folkloric figures, and invokes Mohini, one of the most popular and feared Sri Lankan ghosts, who is usually depicted as a mysterious woman in white, carrying a child. The journey is equal parts suspense, myth and superstition.


4The Dark Remains by William McIlvanney and Ian Rankin

McIlvanney’s groundbreaking trilogy about Laidlaw, arguably the original damaged philosopher-detective, was first published in 1977 and founded the Scottish school of crime fiction known as Tartan Noir. It also inspired acclaimed mystery writer Ian Rankin’s John Rebus novels. Here Rankin completes the fourth and unfinished manuscript that McIlvanney, who died in 2015, left behind. This prequel, which illuminates the origin story and evolution of a beloved detective character, is a gritty and lyrical novel set in the 1972 gangland of Glasgow.

5Mr Cadmus by Peter Ackroyd

Cousins Miss Finch and Miss Swallow live on the same street of their idyllic English village; the serpent in the garden is their new neighbour, a flamboyant newcomer who claims to be from an island off Sicily. Ackroyd nails the gossipy goings-on and petty jealousies of village fêtes and cream teas, and lest you think he’s turned away from his usual intricate sprawling fiction with this playful village murder mystery, rest assured black humour and supernatural happenings soon invade the bucolic setting.

6The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward

This unsettling thriller opens more than a decade after a little girl vanished on a family trip to the lake. Childlike Ted lives in a derelict house near the lake and is confused between present and past, when he was questioned about the disappearance. Clues are sprinkled in a complex puzzle of tangled narrative threads (alternating points of view with Ted, daughter Lauren, and his cat Olivia) and the vivid descriptions of nature have a clear Gothic influence. When Stephen King calls it the most exciting novel since Gone Girl and “a true nerve-shredder,” you know you’d better buckle up.

7The Trees by Percival Everett

With this literary thriller perhaps best described as True Detective by way of Quentin Tarantino, the cerebral Everett revisits the 1955 torture and murder of Black teenager Emmett Till, the United States’ most infamous lynching. It’s set in 2018 in the same small town of Money, Miss., where detectives are investigating a series of gory killings and find a corpse at each crime scene that resembles Till. There’s the suggestion of both ghosts and zombies (and a lot of unexpected dark humour) in what becomes both a brutal revenge fantasy and a pacy detective story that addresses the painful legacy of lynching and police violence.

8Reprieve by James Han Mattson

This is the story of a killing that takes place during a haunted escape-room type of competition at Quigley House (a literal house of horrors) in Lincoln, Neb. One of the contestants is murdered in this smart, scary and occasionally gruesome tale, which includes trial transcripts and individual stories of the characters’ lives prior to competition night. Pitched as Get Out meets Parasite for fans of Rumaan Alam’s Leave the World Behind, it weaves in social commentary on race and capitalism, a critique of contemporary horror culture and true crime as entertainment. 

9The Lighthouse Witches by C.J. Cooke

Nearly 25 years have passed since the late 1990s when Luna moved to a remote Scottish isle with her mother, an artist, and her two sisters. The family arrived after Luna’s mother was commissioned to paint a mural in a 100-year-old lighthouse called The Longing, built on the site of a former prison for witches. In the present day, we learn two of the sisters mysteriously disappeared on the island and now one of them has been located, but hasn’t aged past seven. It’s spooky-smart supernatural suspense that reaches across the years to tell a mystical tale.

10Last Girl Ghosted by Lisa Unger

What if you told a date your deepest secret and then he ghosted you? That’s what happens when a writer connects with a guy she meets on a dating app and they become seriously involved. He’s gone missing, and his online presence has been erased. By following digital crumbs to his other hookups — or are they victims, because they’ve gone missing, too? — she has to confront some of her past trauma to piece the answers together.

11This Thing Between Us by Gus Moreno

The ghost in the machine may be literal in this chiller about grief. A recent widower has been contending with strange phenomena as well as random packages delivered, seemingly by mistake, but possibly ordered by a strangely willful smart speaker named Itza. After his wife dies in a freak accident, he swaps their Chicago condo for an isolated cabin in Colorado, but the weird incidents follow him there. There is creeping dread and paranoia (with deliberate allusions to 2001: A Space Odyssey) as he struggles to hang on to his sanity. (Oct. 12)

12Murder at Mallowan Hall by Colleen Cambridge

This is the first in a new mystery series set at the Devon home of crime queen Agatha Christie, whose second husband was archeologist Max Mallowan. When one of the guests at a country-weekend party circa 1930 turns up dead in the library, it’s the head of household, Phyllida, not Christie – a minor character – who turns into an amateur gumshoe. Between the guests and the household staff, a large cast of suspects above and below stairs populates this amusing cozy whodunit. As Christie wrote in The Body in the Library: “If one has got to have a murder actually happening in one’s house, one might as well enjoy it, if you know what I mean.” (Oct. 26)


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