My love for this spooky season is no secret. There’s something about the October wind and rain and darkness creeping in ever earlier that makes curling up with a thriller even more of a pleasure than usual. Whether you fancy a classic creeper or a contemporary page-turner, check out the list below for some chilling Hallowe’en reading.
In a Dark, Dark Wood – Ruth Ware
Leonora (sometimes Lee, sometimes Nora) is invited to attend the hen weekend of a friend she hasn’t seen in 10 years. The narrative switches between events at the do, which takes place in a fancy glass house in the middle of the woods, and a hospital room where Nora is recovering from… well, she can’t remember, but it was clearly something violent. This is a gripping read, with the toxic atmosphere among the guests and the isolated glass house infusing the party with a sense of menace from the off, especially when darkness falls. You may be tired of hearing modern whodunnits compared to Agatha Christie, but this is one of the few titles I think deserves it.
The Shining – Stephen King
A classic for a reason. Even if you’ve seen the film a dozen times and think you know the story inside out, the book is absolutely capable of surprising and terrifying you. The characters are more complex, and Danny’s psychic power (the titular ‘shining’) far more interesting and developed in the novel. It is true horror. I recall climbing out of bed and hiding my copy of The Shining in my wardrobe every night when I was finished reading. Irrational, I know, but I didn’t want it anywhere near me once the lights were out!
The Signal-Man – Charles Dickens (follow the link to read for free!)
This is the only short story on the list, and may actually be best known as The Doctor’s favourite work of Dickens’! Published in 1866, it tells the tale of a railway signal-man haunted by a ghost whose appearances seem to portend tragedy around his stretch of railroad. Over 150 years on, it still managed to creep me right out. If you love it, follow up with some Sheridan Le Fanu and M.R. James, two masters of the classic ghost story.
Into the Darkest Corner – Elizabeth Haynes
Carefree Catherine Bailey meets gorgeous, charismatic Lee on a night out and is swept off her feet. But behind Lee’s good looks and charm is a possessive and abusive reality, and Catherine soon finds herself trapped, without even her friends to turn to for help. The change in Lee’s behaviour and his manipulation of Catherine and her social circle is almost unbearable to read, but sadly realistic. If you’re particularly sensitive to scenes of domestic and sexual violence, beware. Into the Darkest Corner is extremely dark and does not shy away from the terrifying actuality of controlling and abusive relationships. If you’re comfortable with those themes, however, it is one of the best psychological thrillers I have ever read. Heart-pounding, stay-up-all-night-to-finish-it kind of reading.
And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie
I am a big Agatha Christie fan and could well have written this post with six (or a dozen!) works of hers alone. For tension and creep factor, however, I don’t think And Then There Were None can be beaten. A group of people are invited to an island by a mysterious host. It isn’t clear what ties them together until a gramophone recording is played that accuses each one of murder, whether through negligence or malice. One by one the characters are picked off in inventive ways, and the build-up of dread is palpable. I loved the big reveal at the end; I’m always pleased when I don’t manage to guess the murderer.
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
This book has been on my mind lately thanks to this awesome Rosa campaign. I had the privilege of walking with Rosa alongside some of their handmaids at the March for Choice on September 30th, and they were striking among the crowd. While not necessarily a thriller, The Handmaid’s Tale is disturbing, frightening, and so relevant to today’s society, from the talk of building a Wall to women’s lack of bodily autonomy here in Ireland. It’s powerful, affecting, and unforgettable. It may not be an obvious choice for Hallowe’en, but if your idea of a scare is to be profoundly disconcerted, it’s a great pick.
Readers, how are you planning to scare yourself silly this spooky season?