14 Best Horror Books – The Scariest Books Ever Written

If you want to be scared this fall, spooky hay rides and terrifying movies aren’t your only choices. Have you considered delving into the chilling world of literary horror? The genre has been terrorizing audiences since the ancients woven demons, monsters, and ghosts into their folklore; now it’s a vibrant literary industry haunted by figures who are both supernatural and terrifyingly real. We’ve picked over a dozen of our favorite stories to get you started, featuring all the terrifying mainstays you know and love, from witches to zombies to killer clowns – plus horrors you’ve never dared to imagine.

As full of the occult as these novels are, contemporary horror isn’t just about things bumping into at night. Through the prism of genre conventions, today’s horror novels reflect back on us the all-too-real horrors of our world. From racism to misogyny to sexual rapacity, these novels prove that the scariest evil is the one we live with every day, not the monsters that infuse our nightmares. Read on, if you dare, for a spooky seasonal syllabus that will have you thinking way past Halloween. (And if you don’t, fear not, our list of the best books of 2021 is chock-full of offerings for all kinds of moods.)

Delay, by James Han Mattson

It’s April 1997 and four hopeful contestants have reached the last room of the Quigley House, a “full contact” haunted escape room in Lincoln, Nebraska. If they can get through the house’s six cells of uncanny horror without yelling “procrastination,” they’ll win a sizable cash prize, but not everyone will make it out alive. When a man breaks into Quigley House and kills one of the participants, Delay searches his characters’ backstories and testimony to solve the crime. Mattson crafts a nail-biting horror saga while also involving us in our sick obsession with horror. The novel also evokes a blistering social horror, forcing us to take into account that racism, prejudice and complicity are more horrific – and more deadly – than anything that collapses at night. Relentless and unforgettable, Delay is an American classic in the making.

A cosmology of monsters, by Shaun Hamill

HP Lovecraft meets Stephen King in this creepy debut novel about a family of haunted house owners who have been terrorized for generations by monsters – not the hokey jump scare. Hamill has been crafting an ambitious, enchanting horror novel for centuries, one in which the menacing specters of ambition, obsession and loss are as terrifying as the flesh-and-blood monsters themselves.

The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson

If you’ve seen the Netflix series of the same name and haven’t yet read the source material, which many have described as the greatest haunted house story ever written, it’s time to dive in. The Haunting of Hill House. In this groundbreaking classic written by the Queen of the Terror, four seekers arrive at the dilapidated Hill House, where ghostly phenomena abound, to participate in a parapsychological investigation. Jackson’s genius lies in the connections she makes between haunted houses and ghostly ghosts, which ascend to an unforgettable ending. Whether you’re a novice reader or a seasoned Jackson fan, The Haunting of Hill House remains a masterclass in horror fiction.

Mexican Gothic, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Set in Mexico around the 1950s, Mexican Gothic begins with an alarming letter: the newlywed Catalina writes desperately to her cousin Noemí, claiming that her husband is poisoning her and that “meatless things won’t let me go.” Glamorous and tough Noemí travels to High Place, the country home of Catalina’s new husband, Virgil Doyle, to investigate. There she meets the ‘essentially macabre’ Doyle family: English aristocrats who colonized the mining town where High Place is located, and their terrifying patriarch, a dastardly eugenicist. Plagued by terrifying visions of ghosts and violence, Noemí tries to let her escape with Catalina, but High Place doesn’t let them go so easily. In this horrifying and enchanting novel, Moreno-Garcia delivers gothic horror at its finest, with a brilliant layer on the scourges of racism and colonialism.

Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley

What can be said about Frankenstein that hasn’t already been said a thousand times? Shelley’s seminal work of Gothic horror revolutionized our understanding of artificial life, captivated generations of readers and pioneered science fiction as we know it today. Whether you’ve read Frankenstein before you pick up the novel for the first time, there is always something wonderful to discover in this strikingly original tale of monstrosity, morality and destruction.

starting, by Octavia E. Butler

In this mind-blowing novel by the ever-extraordinary Butler, we meet Shori, a wounded young amnesiac who soon awakens to the reality of her identity: she is, in fact, a genetically modified vampire. Unlike her bloodsucking brethren, Shori has dark skin, which allows her to walk in the sunlight. As Shori investigates who she is and who tried to kill her, Butler transcends the vampire genre to ask uneasy questions about its mythology. Why do so many vampires have to be white? Why do we romanticize the consent violations that vampires commit against their victims? You will never read a vampire novel the same way after you digest it starting.

White is for Witching, by Helen Oyeyemic

In a haunted bed and breakfast on the cliffs of England lives a teenager named Miranda Silver, who suffers from a hereditary eating disorder that forces her to eat chalk. Together with her widowed father and her twin brother, Miranda operates the bed and breakfast, but this is no ordinary old house: within these walls live Miranda’s maternal ancestors, a long line of evil women who express their xenophobia towards guests in terrifying and fatal ways. express . When Miranda falls in love with a black woman, the house does everything it can to end the romance, with a delightfully dark fairytale about racism, hatred and grief.

Zone one, by Colson Whitehead

After a zombie pandemic decimates American life and separates humanity into the living and the living dead, who will clean up the wreckage? In Zone one, we meet the janitors of the undead: “sweepers” like Mark Spitz, who are tasked with taking out zombie stragglers to prepare Manhattan for resettlement. Whitehead’s foray into zombie thrillers yields gallows humor and nightmarish blood in spades; at the same time, this post-apocalyptic elegy for the modern world takes the genre to new heights.

interview with the vampire, by Anne Rice

Interview with the vampire, considered by some scholars to be the most important work in vampire literature since that of Bram Stoker Dracula, is a veritable fantasy for lovers of literary horror. This is the story of Louis du Pointe du Lac, an 18th-century plantation owner who becomes a vampire in the fangs of radiant yet mercurial Lestat. When eternal life gets lonely, Louis and Lestat turn an orphaned girl into their undead companion, but the consequences of condemning an adult woman to eternal life as a child spread across continents and decades. In the first of fourteen books in the series, Rice creates a sensual fictional dream of immortality, sex and power, all evoked in sumptuous prose.

Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier

“Last night I dreamed I was going to Manderley again.” With this iconic opening line, Du Maurier pushes us into the haunted world of Rebecca, a ghost story haunted by an invisible ghost. When an unnamed young woman marries wealthy widower Maxim de Winter, the newlyweds move to his ancestral Manderley estate, where they set out to build a new life together. The second Mrs. de Winter soon finds that her life is dominated by Rebecca, Maxim’s late wife, whose memory looms ominously around every corner of the estate. As the second Mrs. de Winter puts together her predecessor’s secret history, the obsession drives her to the brink of insanity, making for an otherworldly psychological thriller you’ll never be able to shake off.

The only good Indians, by Stephen Graham Jones

In this eerie slow-burning horror novel, four young members of the Blackfeet Nation break from a long-held tradition by entering the hunting grounds reserved for tribal elders, where they slaughter a herd of elk. A decade later, their hubris comes back to haunt them, with a vengeful ghost haunting them one by one to exact its gruesome revenge. Bloody, terrifying and ultimately hopeful, The only good Indians explores what it means to navigate the world as an indigenous man, where guilt, shame and grief are an essential part of life not only for those who leave the reserve, but also for those who remain.

Her body and other parties, by Carmen Maria Machado

In this enchanting collection of short stories set at the intersection of fantasy and fabulism, Machado’s enduring subject is the violence inflicted on women’s bodies. In “The Husband Stitch,” Machado offers a gruesome reinterpretation of the well-known fairy tale about a woman who refuses her husband’s pleas to remove a green ribbon from her neck. In ‘Real Women Have Bodies’, a prom dress shop becomes the site of a horrifying discovery about women who have disappeared into the seams of the dresses. Sensual, strange and disturbing, these bravado tales brew a provocative potion of horror, fantasy and science fiction.

It, by Stephen King

It is an impossible task to choose the most gruesome of King’s dozens of creepy novels, but here at Esquire, killer clowns won the race. Located in King’s beloved Derry, Maine, It follows the hair-raising adventures of the Losers Club, a self-proclaimed group of pre-teen misfits who team up to defeat a sadistic killer clown disguised as their worst nightmares. Facing this cosmic rogue state are myriad human evils, many of which are arguably more insidious than Pennywise: child abuse, sexual predation, and racism, to name a few. Come for the orphan movie that shaped a future generation of monstrous clowns, but stay for King’s magnum opus of memory, lasting trauma and the indelible bonds between children.

Broken Monsters, by Lauren Beukes

Broken Monsters opens with a corpse, but not just any corpse: the upper body of a boy, attached to the lower half of a deer. Detroit detective Gabriella Versado has seen whimsical murders before, but her obsessive quest to track down this deranged killer will demand everything from her. In this polyphonic tale with five narrators, we meet enchanting characters, such as the desperate crime reporter who will do anything to get an exclusive scoop, and the homeless man who wraps himself in the case as he fights to protect his family. Tense and deeply eerie, this tale of intertwined lives and urban decay proves that Beukes is an unstoppable force in the horror genre.

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