What's more inviting than a bright and happy home? During the day, the mood is positively festive. But when the sun goes down and the darkness gathers, an eerier mood sets in.
Creaky stairs, a rumble in the basement, the menacing tick-tick-ticking of the grandfather clock… A strange home in the dead of night is pure nightmare fuel—doubly so if that home is haunted. And while haunted houses may make for a dreadful place to get a good night's rest, they serve as killer settings for great horror books.
That's why we rounded up the best haunted house books for your spooky reading pleasure. Some of the titles below fictional ghost stories; others explore real-life encounters with resident spirits and everlasting houseguests who refuse to go quietly into the night. All of them will leave you sleeping with one eye open. Sweet dreams.
New York Times-bestselling author Silvia Moreno-Garcia brings readers an alluring Gothic mystery set in 1950s Mexico, centering around the beautiful, charismatic and clever debutante, Noemí Taboada, who receives an alarming letter from her recently married cousin asking for someone to save her from High Place—an alienated mansion in the Mexican countryside where she now resides with her Englishman husband and his family.
Noemí Taboada is a busy socialite with goals of her own, so she is certainly not thrilled with the prospect of having to visit an unfamiliar place, especially if her cousin’s apprehension is merely a response to the stressors of newly married life. However, when she arrives, she quickly realizes that not only does the Doyle family have dark secrets, but the very house may be hiding a deeply rooted evil within its walls. Silvia Moreno-Garcia weaves an impressively unsettling horror story while tackling themes of racism, colonialism and feminism and gives readers such intricate details about this menacing house that it becomes an undeniable character in its own right.
You’d think being a horror writer himself would protect protagonist Travis Glasgow from falling prey to a haunted house. But perhaps the dangers we know best are the ones that are impossible to see. When Travis and wife Jodie buy a house near his childhood home, Travis believes that this is the moment he can begin anew and heal some dark wounds. Instead, he starts finding watery footprints… left by the specter of a 10-year-old boy who drowned in the nearby lake. Can Travis discover the truth behind this boy and his past before the house sucks him in too?
Herman Raucher delivers "first-rate haunted-house creepiness" (Kirkus) in this cult horror novel set in the icy wilds of northern Maine. Austin Fletcher carries fond memories of his fellow soldier, Maynard Whittier. The two fought side-by-side in Vietnam, establishing a deep bond that was sealed in blood when Whittier died in combat. Still, when Fletcher returns home, he's surprised to discover that Whittier left him an isolated house in the Maine wilderness. Upon arriving, Austin is swept away by the beautiful landscape and pristine setting. Soon, however, a more sinister mood seeps into the old house. Austin starts to notice strange occurrences, yet he can’t tell if his mind is merely playing tricks on him. As the weather worsens and the eerie events intensify, Austin makes a move to leave. That's when the blizzard hits, and Austin learns that he's not alone...
The Loveliest Dead
Horror maestro Ray Garton is known for his splatterpunk narratives that probe the depths of human depravity. In The Loveliest Dead, however, the Bram Stoker Award finalist delivers a chilling haunted house narrative set in Northern California. David and Jenna Kellar are devastated by the death of their youngest son Josh. In search of a place to heal, they pack up with their son Miles and Jenna's elderly mother and move to the isolated family home in Eureka. Not long after arriving in the coastal town, however, it becomes clear that the Kellars are not alone. The ghosts of dead wander the grounds of the old home; spectral children dance through the backyard while the sinister figure of a man looms over Miles at night. Then Jenna sees Josh, and the line between reality and nightmare really begins to blur. The spirits have been waiting for the Kellars. Now that they've arrived, the fun can begin.
Related: An Encounter with the Loveliest Dead
If these horror books teach us anything, it is this: Stay away from Maine! A tragic car accident decimates the Kehoe family. Siblings Sammy and Maggie are two of the last remaining relatives still standing. They set out to the family home on Maine's Fox Island where they hope to recover and rebuild. Initially, the idyllic coastal setting is a breath of fresh seaside air; long-lost relationships are revived and Sammy and Maggie are beginning to move on. But the ghosts of the past are not always a welcome sight, especially if those spirits mean you harm. The Kehoe siblings, you see, possess a mysterious gift: they're able to see ghosts—and the ghosts before them are making Fox Island a very dangerous place to be. Sutton is a Peabody Award–winning television writer and bestselling author. Here he crafts a "proper novel and a proper ghost story" that's "scary and mad but real" (Steven Moffat).
Marriage took Lynnette far, far away from the confines of her dull hometown. But when her husband dies, she returns to take care of her mother. She connects with Jay Van Fleet, who is also coping with a tragedy and has come back to claim his inheritance: his childhood home, haunted by the ghost of his mother Nella. Sadly, Nella is not at all happy that Jay and Lynnette are falling in love. As each day passes, the ghost feeds off the presence of her son, growing stronger and angrier by the day. And mommie dearest has her ghostly sights set on Lynnette …
The House of War and Witness
Most haunted houses are home to one or two spirits. The abandoned manor known as Pokoj is home to many. When a militia unit goes mysteriously missing on its way to the border of Prussia in 1740s Austria, a young lieutenant and a camp follower go to discover what happened to the soldiers. Instead, Drozde, the camp follower, finds that one of her talents is going to come to more use than she could have imagined. Her ability to see and speak to the dead raises many questions about the manor’s horrific past… and the future that awaits those who disturb its peace now.
Bram Stoker Award-winning author Robert McCammon weaves a chilling tale inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe in this haunted house horror set in the mountains of North Carolina. Rix Usher is a descendant of the cursed Usher clan—yes, those Ushers. Years ago, he fled his ancestral home, vowing never to return. But his father's failing health has brought him back to Usherland to claim his birthright and face down deep-rooted fears. The dreadful entity that haunted Rix's childhood still lingers in the dark corridors of his family home—and Rix suspects it has something to do with the disturbing reports of vanished children from the surrounding hills.
This atmospheric horror leans heavily on gothic tradition to spook even the toughest horror nuts—those with a taste for capital-L Literature may recognize its title as a reference to a Brontë classic. Multiple encounters with the infamous Wild Fell are intertwined into one chilling story in Rowe’s second horror novel.
House of Windows
A haunted house is pretty much always a metaphor for something more deeply wrong in a horror novel. In this equally literary and terrifying novel from John Langan, the marriage of Veronica and Roger Croyden is the real haunted house. Veronica, now widowed, shares her story with a young horror writer who hopes to plumb its depths for his next novel. But both are still within the haunted walls of Belvedere House….
The Amityville Horror
How could we summon our favorite haunted house books and not include the grand-demon of them all? Jay Anson's account of George and Kathy Lutz and the notorious Amityville hauntings was a bestseller upon its release in 1977, and stands today as a classic among paranormal literature. While controversy regarding its accuracy remains, there's no denying that The Amityville Horror makes for one frightening read. Gallery Books recently released a new edition of The Amityville Horror. Dim the lights and return to112 Ocean Avenue...
Speaking of haunted house classics... Published in 1977, The Shining was Stephen King's first hardcover bestseller and the book that sealed his reputation as a master of horror. Jack Torrance is looking for a change of pace, perhaps a quiet place to write his novel. So he accepts a job as the off-season caretaker of the fabled Overlook Hotel in the Colorado Rockies. Jack's wife Wendy and their quiet son Danny accompany Jack on his journey. But sinister forces stir within the darkened rooms of this old hotel, and they're beginning to play with Jack's mind. When a blizzard cuts off the family from the outside world, Jack snaps, and Wendy and Danny must fight for their lives.
The Grip of It
Jac Jemc invites you into the doomed halls of a not-so-quaint suburban home in this celebrated literary horror novel. New homeowners James and Julie are settling into their new place, and adjusting to life as a newly married couple. The house, nestled between a lake and a forest, seems to be a dream—but soon reveals itself to be a waking nightmare. The structure contorts and decays before their eyes—walls contract, mold poisons the tapwater, stains on the walls manifest as painful bruises on Julie's body. Now the couple must expose the malevolent energy that plagues their new home and free themselves from its grip.
Property of a Lady
Sarah Rayne (The Sin Eater ) constructs an "inventively plotted, goose-bumps inducing ghost story” in this chilling haunted house yarn set in an old English estate. Michael Flint's American friends have unexpectedly inherited a sprawling old abode in Shropshire known as the Charect House. So they ask Flint to leave Oxford and look after the estate. Needless to say, Flint is wary; after all, the house possesses a sinister reputation and no one has actually lived there for decades. Yet he soon changes his mind once he visits. Echoes of the past reverberate through the halls of Charect House, beckoning him in. But when Flint meets the young window Nell West, the mood of the house takes on a monstrous new shape.
This House Is Haunted
The thought of sharing your domestic space with a restless spirit is terrifying; it's at the core of our don't-go-in-the-basement fears, and what keeps us up at night when we hear a strange sound down the hall. Yet according to famed paranormal investigator Hans Holzer, bunking up with the dead is also upsetting to the ghost. Hans Holzer investigates more than eighty haunted houses from around the world in this paranormal tome, dissecting the history of each site and speculating on the reasons why the eternal residents refuse to leave.
Mad Madame LaLaurie
She's one of New Orleans’ most notorious fiends, and her real-life house of horrors in the French Quarter spawned a legend that continues to haunt the Big Easy to this day. But what truly happened in Madame Delphine LaLaurie's home? Victoria Cosner Love and Lorelei Shannon separate fact from fiction as they investigate the ghastly legend of New Orleans' mad madame and her stately residence known today as one of America's most haunted homes.
House of Bones
Pro Tip: If gang lords and crack dealers steer clear of the abandoned Dreamland high-rise, it’s probably for a good reason. Unfortunately, the strangers in this tale didn’t get the memo.
Built as affordable housing for those needing a second chance, Dreamland became the stuff of local legends when the walls started to bleed and inexplicable fatal accidents became the norm. Now, decades later and abandoned, five strangers put the terrifying legend of the Dreamland high-rise to the test by spending two full weeks living inside it. Nothing can prepare them for what awaits inside. Because in Dreamland, every nightmare comes true.
A British band sets off to record their latest album in an ancient country house. Wylding Hall boasts fantastic acoustics, a gorgeous countryside, and the kind of deep dark secrets that keep property values low. Though they manage to create the album that cements their reputation, it comes at a cost: Julian Blake, the group’s lead singer, disappears within the mansion and is never heard from again. Years later, the surviving members and a documentary filmmaker return to tell what happened that summer. Will the truth be uncovered? Or will the house require a payment once again?
The Other Child
Joanne Fluke may be best known for her cozy mysteries, but she’s more than capable of tapping into a dark side. Karen and Mike are expecting a baby who will make Karen’s first daughter a big sister. Ten-year-old Leslie, uprooted from her city home and transferred to the Houstons’ new country fixer-upper, struggles to make friends until she meets the house’s resident ghost, Christopher. Soon, Christopher is exerting his will on all living creatures that dare trespass on his home.
This award-winning haunted house tale by master of horror Graham Masterton delivers substantial chills on every page. Seymour Wallis is convinced his San Francisco house is breathing. John Hyatt at the San Francisco Department of Sanitation is willing to entertain his claim. Perhaps it's just a rat in the walls, he thinks. But when Hyatt steps inside, he realizes this is no ordinary infestation. An ancient evil lurks within—and it has no plans of moving on.
The Haunting of Hill House
If you’ve never read a Shirley Jackson tale, you’ve never been truly unnerved. Start with this classic thriller about four people seeking answers within one terrifying house. Though they may be prepared for a supernatural encounter or two, the four characters in this tale simply aren’t ready when the haunted house decides to make them a permanent fixture within its walls.
The titular abode in Matheson’s novel is not someplace a house hunter wants to be at night, or afternoon, or any time of day, really. Rolf Deutsch hasn’t much time left, which leads him to start contemplating life after death. It consumes him so much that he hires several people (including a physicist and a medium) to investigate Hell House, an old home that just might be the key to the other side. Now the question is “which side?” And will they survive the night after they open some of the many doors within?
Featured photo: Carlos de Miguel / Unsplash
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