Best horror books

What is it about horror that we can't resist? From children's books that introduced us to scary stories (the Goosebump series, anyone?) to films like Get Out and Midsommar, we love to be scared by fiction.

The best horror isn't about overt scares, it's about the subtle things that instil fear in us. And books are perfect for creating that atmosphere, giving us enough information to make us nervous, and leaving enough gaps that our imaginations go wild. The end result is that we're left quaking in our boots.

Here, for your reading pleasure, are some of the best horror books ever written, from classics to modern-day tales. Read with the lights on.

Things We Say in the Dark by Kirsty Logan (2019)

As children, the dark is something that struck fear into many of us, regardless of how brave we were. If you grew out of a fear of the dark as an adult, Kirsty Logan is here to remind you why the night is so scary with her short story collection Things We Say in the Dark. Logan takes her characters' wishes for happy homes, families and memories and shoots them through with menace. Characters we meet include a woman alone in a remote house in Iceland who is unnerved by her isolation; another who has to submerge herself into an overgrown pool to find respite from a clinging ghost; and a schoolgirl who becomes obsessed with the female anatomical models in a museum. Chilling and powerful, these disturbing stories will have you reaching for your night light.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (1959)

Shirley Jackson is the queen of gothic fiction, but you might be more familiar with her work through the Netflix show inspired by this book. The novel follows Eleanor, who takes up an invitation from Dr Montague to spend a summer at the mysterious Hill House, where she meets the heir to the house, Luke, and the artistic and sensitive Theodora. Hopes for an idyllic summer quickly turn into the stuff of the group's darkest nightmares. If you're after a slow-burn psychological horror, The Haunting of Hill House is for you.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818)

Mary Shelley's book, which she began writing when she was just 19, is one of the world's most famous horror stories. Obsessed with creating life, Victor Frankenstein takes body parts from graveyards, and makes a new being. His monster, rejected by Frankenstein, sets out to destroy his maker and everything he holds dear. Exploring the limits of human creativity and how rejection affects people, this book is a classic for a reason.

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (1860)

On a moonlit London road, Walter Hartright has an eerie encounter. From there, The Woman in White unwinds as Walter, who is engaged as a drawing master to the beautiful Laura Fairlie, is drawn into the sinister intrigues of Sir Percival Glyde and his friend Count Fosco. Wilkie Collins explores identity and insanity in this novel, which is one of the most influential of a genre that combines gothic horror and psychological realism.

The Murders in the Rue Morgue and Other Tales by Edgar Allan Poe (2012)

Edgar Allan Poe was a master at creating horror and dread in just a few pages. This collection contains some of his most famous short stories of madness and violence, including 'The Tell-Tale Heart', 'The Masque of the Red Death' and 'The Fall of the House of Usher'. Deliciously dark, the horror in these stories comes from their building doom.

Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)

From books to films to television, there are now dozens – if not hundreds – of versions of Dracula. But it's difficult to beat Bram Stoker’s original Count Dracula, in a novel which still stands up today. We're first introduced to Dracula through Jonathan Harker, who visits Transylvania to help the Count purchase a house in London. While there, he makes a series of horrific discoveries about Count Dracula, and soon afterwards, various bizarre incidents being to unfold in England. Dracula is one of the best characters in the horror genre, and Stoker's book will remind you why that is. 

Zone One by Colson Whitehead (2012)

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Colson Whitehead's Zone One is set in a world where a pandemic has devastated the planet. Although the worst of the plague is past, humanity is now divided into two: the uninfected and the infected. In Manhattan, armed forces have successfully reclaimed Zone One, an area south of Canal Street. There, we meet Mark Spitz, a civilian volunteer who is helping remove malfunctioning zombies. Whitehead's novel is imbued with a sense of unease, as the author explores Spitz's attempts to come to terms with a fallen world, and what happens when things start to go even more wrong.

The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris (1988)

Thomas Harris' novel is, of course, the inspiration behind the hit film of the same name starring Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins. The book follows FBI rookie Clarice Starling, who is assigned to speak to imprisoned psychopath Dr Hannibal 'the Cannibal' Lecter. The FBI hopes his insight into the depraved minds of serial killers will help them track down a man nicknamed Buffalo Bill, who has been murdering women. But in exchange for insight, Hannibal wants to probe into Clarice's mind. The Silence of the Lambs is an illustration of the intimate horror that one person can instil in another. 

The Turn of the Screw and Other Ghost Stories by Henry James (2017)

Sometimes the most horrifying things are those that you can't see, that live in your mind, and that's certainly true of Henry James' The Turn of the Screw. In the novella, a young governess is sent to a great country house to care for two orphaned children, Flora and Miles. While they're initially model pupils, the governess soon begins to think something is very wrong with the pair. As she sets out to uncover what's happening, she descends deeper and deeper into paranoia, a paranoia that has devastating consequences.

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