From Stephen King to Susan Hill, the team at UK Tor pick eight of the spookiest books for Halloween to scare yourself senseless. Warning, do not read on if you are afraid of clowns.
8 SCARY BOOKS TO TERRIFY YOU THIS HALLOWEEN
Jeremy Trevathan, Publisher
Recommends: THE SECRETS OF CRICKLEY HALL by James Herbert
"THE SECRETS OF CRICKLEY HALL is a good, old-fashioned ghost story with a melancholy air and an intriguing historical context. It’s a deeply satisfying autumnal, creepy read and it is one of James Herbert’s bestest novels ever!"
Julie Crisp, Editorial Director
Recommends: IT by Stephen King
“My Halloween recommendation would have to be a firm favourite. Stephen King’s IT. In part it was because I first read it when it was so young (ten – thanks for that Dad) and I had nightmares for months’ afterwards about those vivid, maddened eyes peering out of a stormdrain. That opening scene: the paper boat, the young boy in a yellow mackintosh reaching down into the drain… “Want your boat, Georgie?'. Gulp. Still makes me shiver! And, seriously – clowns. Never trust anything that smiles that much! But it’s so good and has such longevity because it’s about childhood horrors that follow you (literally in this case) into adulthood. You always want to think that the fears you had as children is something you’ll outgrow. With books like IT, or even the recent Doctor Who episode of ‘Listen’ (tapping into the whole ‘there’s something under the bed’ TERRIFYING!) we realise that the primal fear of things that go bump in the night will continue. And my imagination now, is a lot more vivid than when I as ten…”
FR Tallis, author of THE VOICES
Recommends: THE LOST STRADIVARIUS by J Meade Falkner
“A young aristocrat, John Maltravers, discovers a Stradivarius violin concealed in his rooms at Magdalen College, Oxford. Its previous owner had been an occultist who had once sought to conjure the Visio Malefica – a vision of absolute evil. Maltravers becomes obsessed with the violin and its history – an obsession which eventually leads to his tragic demise. There are very few effective full length ghost stories, the ghost story being conventionally a short form. THE LOST STRADIVARIUS is a notable exception. If you like ghost stories – and particularly the celebrated tales of M.R.James – you will love THE LOST STRADIVARIUS.”
Lucy Hounsom, author of STARBORN
Recommends: DANCING JAX by Robin Jarvis
“‘Some books are harmful, even dangerous. They twist people’s minds and feed the darkest recesses of the human soul’.
So says poor Martin Baxter, 40-something maths teacher and the unexpected hero of Robin Jarvis’ Dancing Jax. Technically it’s YA, but don’t suppose that label makes this book anything less than terrifying. I read it a few years ago at age 25 and, hand on heart, I was too scared to turn out the light come 2am. I’ve chosen DANCING JAX as my Halloween recommendation because of its creepy, but strangely alluring air. And it’s that allure which makes the story so frightening. It’s meta in the sense that the book you’re physically holding is the evil book in Jarvis’ novel – it shares the same title, after all, and in the deepest shadows that only 2am can spawn, you get the feeling that you’re INVOLVED, that the sinister author is reaching out to snare you too. Jarvis’ satirical voice only serves to heighten the horror, as words become flesh and evil, ordered chaos spreads through old Felixstowe. Throw in a crumbling house ripe with black mould, an oozing vegetative root capable of brainwashing people, a fantasy world based rather sinisterly on playing cards and a lot of gruesome happenings, and you are set for one hell of a fright.”
Adrian Tchaikovsky, author of WAR MASTER’S GATE
Recommends: Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach trilogy
“There’s a very special scare to be had from Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach trilogy. It’s the story of… well, an inexplicable change that comes over a stretch of coastline, and the doomed attempts of various people and agencies to understand it. I don’t think I’ve ever found anyone who can do real creeping honest-to-goodness Lovecraftian cosmic horror as well as Vandermeer, and the slow build of the unnatural, the gradual but inexorable encroach of the weird, is delicately and beautifully told. Vandermeer ups the ante with his descriptions of the natural world – the wilds within the abandoned “Area X” which are beautiful, poetic even, so that the contrast when things go horribly wrong is even more affecting.”
Wayne Brookes, Publishing Director
Recommends: WOMAN IN BLACK by Susan Hill
“My Halloween recommendation is the incredibly scary WOMAN IN BLACK by Susan Hill. I’m a huge fan of classic ghost stories, and that’s exactly what this is. It’s extremely traditional in its setting and plot, but aren’t those traditional scary elements what has kept us shaking and screaming for years? The WOMAN IN BLACK is not a gory novel, but it does get inside your head – and it’s what’s left inside the mind once a book is finished that gets to us. It’s very often the simple things that frighten us most and The Woman in Black overflows with cleverly orchestrated plot devices that really do make the hairs on the back of the neck stand up. Years ago we would turn to M.R James for a fright fest, but the closest we have now is Susan Hill.”
Seth Patrick, author of The Returned
Recommends: SKELETON CREW by Stephen King and BOOKS OF BLOOD by Clive Barker
"So you really want to be terrified?
Short stories are hard to beat. They have the benefit of brevity, and the effect is cumulative: little stabs of creepiness that build into absolute gibbering fear. But remember: atmosphere is everything. Read alone by candlelight in a dark, creaking house. Deep in the woods, if you can. Even the cheesiest of camp-fire ghost tales has the power to scare, if you get the atmosphere right.
As for the best tales, well… may I suggest SKELETON CREW, Stephen King’s second short story collection; and Clive Barker’s BOOKS OF BLOOD. If you haven’t read these, you’re missing out.
And there’s no better time to start than Halloween."
Want more scary reads? Check out our master of horror, Adam Nevill