CBTB’s Halloween 2019 Reading List
Spooky season is here, and it’s the perfect time to pick up a spine-tingling read to get you in the Halloween spirit! I’ve dug through crime and suspense novels old and new to bring you a comprehensive list of some of my favorite crime and suspense fiction titles perfect for Halloween. Whether you’re looking for a psychological suspense read, a serial killer thriller, a creepy book with Gothic inspirations, or a good old ghost story, you’ll find tons of options right here!
A bit of background information on how this post works: I’ve divided my recommendations up into four categories:
Psychological Suspense | Serial Killer Thrillers & Police Procedurals | Gothic-Inspired Suspense | Ghosts & Evil Spirits
There will of course be a bit of overlap between the categories (e.g. a couple of the psychological thrillers highlighted here have little touches of the supernatural), but you can use these categories to guide your search for the perfect Halloween read: whatever category a book falls under, that’s its primary genre. A list like this could really go on and on forever, so if you want to do additional digging for creepy reads, you can explore my "Quick Reviews” for both psychological thrillers and detective novels. CBTB is filled with creepy reads perfect for this season, but the books listed here have that extra something special for Halloween - whether that’s a terrifying serial killer, a creepy ghost, or a chilling setting.
As always, I love hearing from you guys: if you end up choosing any of these titles as your Halloween read, please feel free to tag me on social media (@crimebythebook) and share your thoughts! Happy haunting! xx A
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Looking for a twisty, page-turning psychological suspense novel to get you in the Halloween spirit? These recommendations have creepy atmospheres, gripping plots, and compelling protagonists.
THE BROKEN GIRLS by Simone St. James
Boarding School Setting | Dual Timeline Mystery | Supernatural Elements
A journalist returns to the town where her sister mysteriously passed away decades prior to investigate the tragedy for herself. Her sister’s body was found on the grounds of a boarding school in the area - a school that has been closed for years. But during her investigation, she discovers that the school is set to be reopened, and it’s bringing with it the dark secrets of its past. This book has supernatural elements, but it’s not purely a ghost story - the ghosts are more an atmosphere-building element here.
THE SILENT PATIENT by Alex Michaelides
Psychological Complexity | Psychiatrist Protagonist | Sophisticated Suspense
A psychiatrist becomes fascinated by the case of a woman who, in a seemingly random act of brutal violence, murdered her husband in cold blood. After committing the crime, this woman never spoke another word again. Now she sits, silent, in a psychiatric institution, and one therapist is determined to help treat her. In this wickedly clever and elegant psychological thriller, readers delve into the minds of both our story’s murderer and mental health professional.
THE WEIGHT OF LIES by Emily Carpenter
Movie-Worthy Setting | Horror-Inspired | Family Secrets
This book isn’t in and of itself a horror novel, but it is in many ways an ode to the genre. Our protagonist here is the daughter of a bestselling horror author, and she’s just been offered the deal of a lifetime: publish a memoir telling America all the secrets of her famous mother. But as she digs into her own family - and into the events that inspired her mother’s bestselling, cult classic horror novel - she uncovers secrets that might just be too dangerous to share with the world. Pure fun to devour and perfect for Halloween.
FINAL GIRLS by Riley Sager
Horror-Inspired | Ode to Protagonists of Horror Films | Page-Turning Suspense
Another psychological thriller inspired by the horror genre, Riley Sager’s debut novel is indebted to the leading ladies of horror classics like Halloween and Scream - aka it is so very much up my alley. This book follows a young woman who, years prior, was the sole survivor of a brutal massacre - a real life “final girl.” She has rebuilt her life and attempted to sweep her past under the rug… but her past isn’t quite done with her yet. This is not a horror novel, but if you’re a fan of horror film or fiction, you’ll find it so much fun. An excellent crossover between psychological thrills and slasher movie chills.
THE STRANGER INSIDE by Lisa Unger
Dual Timelines | Childhood Secrets | Psychology
Lisa Unger’s newest release is a “popcorn read” thoroughly worthy of the Halloween season. In THE STRANGER INSIDE, an “everywoman” protagonist has buried her dark past beneath the veneer of a seemingly ordinary suburban life. But when a string of vigilante killings begin plaguing her community, she understands that her past has come back to call. Using skills from her career as a journalist, she sets out to create a true crime podcast through which to tell her own story. Depth of character development and binge-worthy pacing make this a book you’ll read in one or two sittings.
Serial Killer Thrillers & Police Procedurals
Cops vs. killers and some of the scariest villains in the crime fiction genre — if that sounds up your alley, these books are for you.
EENY MEENY by M.J. Arlidge
Procedural | Tough Female Lead | Page-Turning Pacing
Consider EENY MEENY the bookish equivalent of your favorite binge-worthy TV crime drama — or like a lighter-hearted version of a Saw film. In the first book in Arlidge’s DI Helen Grace series, our protagonist faces off against a villain with a horrific M.O.: he kidnaps pairs of people and forces them into a brutal life-or-death game. Only one can make it out alive. Once you start reading this series, I’m betting you won’t want to stop.
THE WHISPER MAN by Alex North
Procedural | Local Folklore | Father-Son Relationship
This stylish procedural-meets-serial killer chiller has a creepy local legend at its core: “The Whisper Man,” a serial killer so named because he lures his victims out of their home at night by whispering at their windows. This book is spine-tingling and chilling, weaving local legend with all-too-real crimes. As an added bonus, it has a tender and thoughtful portrayal of the father-son relationship underneath its scares.
THE SANDMAN by Lars Kepler
Serial Killer Thriller | Swedish Setting | Terrifying Villain
This hefty thriller begs to be read in one or two sittings. It’s got short, binge-worthy chapters, and features one of the scariest bookish villains since… I can’t even remember. Think of this villain as a Swedish Hannibal Lecter. Travel to wintry Sweden and follow a team of detectives as they work to find the connection between brutal killings and an incarcerated serial killer. This is Book 4 in Kepler’s series, but can easily be read on its own.
THE CRAFTSMAN by Sharon Bolton
Procedural | Local Folklore | Witchy Vibes
Everything about this book screams Halloween. This was my first Sharon Bolton novel, but it won’t be my last! A female police officer returns to the small town where she got her big break, a case in which she caught a brutal killer known for kidnapping and burying alive local children. Witchy vibes and chilling local folklore add to this book’s brilliant Halloween appeal. Creepy, claustrophobic, atmospheric suspense perfect for your October TBR.
THE BUTTERFLY GARDEN by Dot Hutchison
Fresh Twist on a Serial Killer Thriller | Slow-Burning but Gripping | Very Dark
This book is seriously dark. Told primarily in flashbacks as FBI agents interview a survivor of a horrific crime, THE BUTTERFLY GARDEN traces the shocking and grotesque crimes of a man known as “The Gardener” - a man who kidnapped girls (his “butterflies”) and forced them to live in his “garden” until they grew too old, and he disposed of them. It’s a brutal story, but impossible to look away from. (Bonus: if you love this book, it’s the first installment in an excellent series!)
THE CROW GIRL by Erik Axl Sund
Nordic Noir | Dark Procedural | Swedish Setting
I’ll basically find any opportunity to recommend THE CROW GIRL. This is one of my favorite books of all time: a massive, 700+ page Swedish crime novel (originally a trilogy in Sweden, but published in the US as one volume) delving into the dark corners of corruption and abuse of power in the Swedish government, police force, and society. This is one of the most disturbing books I’ve ever read (be warned, includes abuse of children) but its thoughtful and thought-provoking portrayal of mental illness and brilliant plotting and characterization made it an instant-favorite for me.
Old apartment buildings, vast estates with dark histories, and repurposed psychiatric institutions provide the backdrop for these bone-chilling stories that are heavily inspired by Gothic suspense.
THE STRANGER DIARIES by Elly Griffiths
“Story Within a Story” Structure | Academic Protagonist | School with a Dark History
A story of life imitating art, in the creepiest way possible. An English teacher who specializes in Gothic literature finds her worlds colliding to tragic end when one of her colleagues is murdered, the crime resembling one from a story she teaches in her class. Atmospheric, creepy-but-not-terrifying suspense with a great bookish twist. Alternating narrators add compelling perspectives to an intricate and engaging plot.
THE LINGERING by SJI Holliday
Gothic Vibes | Old Psychiatric Hospital | Supernatural Elements
A couple seeking to leave behind the stressors of ordinary life decide to move to a self-sufficient community in the English Fens. The community lives in Rosalind House: an impressive and austere building that once housed a psychiatric building. But soon, tensions between the residents and local villagers - and between residents at the house itself - add an air of menace to the seemingly idyllic living situation. A fantastic blend of psychological thrills and Gothic-inspired suspense.
THE TURN OF THE KEY by Ruth Ware
Psychological Suspense | Scottish Highland Setting | Modern Tech Meets Old Home
Ruth Ware is an auto-buy author for me, and her newest novel is my favorite of hers yet. This story is inspired by The Turn of the Screw, but you don’t need to be familiar with the original to love it. A young woman takes a job as a live-in nanny in a gorgeous “smart house” in the Scottish highlands - but she quickly realizes not everything in her new job is as it seems. Her new job will ultimately end in disaster: with her imprisoned, and one of the children under her care deceased.
LOCK EVERY DOOR by Riley Sager
Psychological Suspense | Relatable Protagonist | Building with a Dark History
Another auto-buy author for me! Riley Sager’s newest release is his ode to New York City. A millennial “everywoman” accepts a job as an apartment-sitter in a renowned luxury apartment building in Manhattan, but soon finds that the building has a dark past - and a potentially darker present. A superb blend of modern suspense and Gothic chills, told in Sager’s incomparably engaging style.
GRETCHEN by Shannon Kirk
Mother-Daughter Relationship | Twisted Characters | Puzzles
Oh, Shannon Kirk - queen of the Gothic-meets-modern, knock-your-socks-off psychological thriller. (If you haven’t yet read Shannon’s previous novel IN THE VINES, consider that book added to your list, too.) In GRETCHEN, a mother and daughter on the run settle down in a remote town, but soon find themselves caught up in the bizarre and terrifying world of their landlord and his eccentric daughter. This book is razor sharp, unapologetically wild Gothic-inspired psychological suspense.
Ghosts & Evil Spirits
Supernatural scares and things that go bump in the night — all of these stories have prominent otherworldly plot threads, and they all promise to deliver ultra-creepy Halloween reads.
HOUSE OF SPINES by Michael J. Malone
Psychological Suspense | Gothic Vibes | Supernatural Elements
A down-on-his-luck writer inherits a gorgeous mansion from a relative he didn’t even know he had. But as he settles into his new life, he quickly discovers that this new home has desires and intentions all its own. A creepy psychological suspense novel with a ghostly element and superb chilling atmosphere, HOUSE OF SPINES will keep you glued to the pages throughout.
THEME MUSIC by T. Marie Vandelly
Psychological Suspense | Haunted House | Family Ghosts
Psychological suspense meets family drama meets haunted house story. When her childhood home goes on the market, our protagonist snaps it up - it’s time for her to face down her demons once and for all. The last time she was in the house, she was an infant - and the sole survivor of a bloody massacre at her father’s hands. THEME MUSIC is totally entertaining, and just the right amount of creepy.
THE GRIP OF IT by Jac Jemc
Literary Horror | Haunted House | Mind-Bending Storytelling
A literary twist on the classic haunted house story. A young couple leaves behind the city for a more affordable and low-stress life in a rural town, but there’s something rotten in their new home. Jac Jemc crafts a mind-bending, literary take on a classic haunted house story in this creepy, dread-inducing novel. Bonus points for its excellent cover!
THE HIDING PLACE by C.J. Tudor
Psychological Suspense | Small-Town Setting | Supernatural Elements
One of my personal favorite authors always knows how to serve up a creepy read, and THE HIDING PLACE is her strongest book yet. A man returns to his former hometown to accept a job at a local school, but the house he has purchased was the site of a gruesome crime, and something evil in the town seems determined to come for him, too. C.J. Tudor is a master of the horror-story-meets-psychological-thriller, and THE HIDING PLACE is my favorite book of hers yet.
I REMEMBER YOU by Yrsa Sigurdardottir
Haunted House | Icelandic Setting | Ghost Story
No Halloween reading list would be complete without the delightfully twisted Yrsa Sigurdardottir - an author who blends Nordic Noir with horror-inspired touches to perfect end. Here, a group of friends travel to a remote Icelandic town to renovate a home and turn it into a guest house for tourist season. But something in the house doesn’t want the friends to be there. This book is seriously scary and fantastically atmospheric. Bonus: there’s an excellent Icelandic movie adaptation of this book as well!
Bonus: Short Stories & Novellas
Looking for a quick spooky read? Check out these creepy short stories and novellas!
THE LAST SEANCE: Tales of the Supernatural by Agatha Christie
There’s nothing like reading an Agatha Christie story. This year, just in time for Halloween, William & Morrow has compiled this collection of twenty of the Queen of Crime’s most chilling stories, including one that’s never been published in the US before! I haven’t dug into this story collection yet, but I’ve got my copy sitting here just begging to be read. Agatha Christie is brilliant, and this story collection is sure to delight and chill.
APART IN THE DARK: Novellas by Ania Ahlborn
Two spine-tingling novellas from a queen of the horror genre. APART IN THE DARK features two Ania Ahlborn novellas: The Pretty Ones and I Call Upon Thee. I read these two novellas around Halloween last year and loved them! My personal favorite was The Pretty Ones - a story set during the summer of 1977 in New York, aka the summer of the Son of Sam.
Are any of these books on your Halloween TBR? If you end up reading any of them, I’d love to hear from you! You can find CBTB on your favorite social media platform @crimebythebook. Happy reading, and happy haunting! xx A