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From haunted hotels to ghost-infested mansions to houses with evil minds of their own, there’s enough haunted house fiction to make you never want to set foot indoors again. So if you’re looking to dig into some supremely scary books this Halloween, here’s your ultimate reading list for things that go bump in the night.
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The Little Stranger, Sarah Waters
Sarah Waters’ 2009 gothic novel takes place in post-WWII England, where a country doctor strikes up a friendship with the family at nearby Hundreds Hall. As he becomes more intimately acquainted with them, however, the historic estate experiences more and more strange happenings, and the family begins to unravel faster than the doctor can save them.
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The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson
Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel is one of the most celebrated haunted house fiction books of all time, and provided the basis for Robert Wise’s 1963 film The Haunting. When a paranormal investigator invites a small group of people, including a psychic and a troubled young woman, to the potentially haunted Hill House, they end up wishing they had never sought out the supernatural in the first place. You may find yourself going to sleep with the lights on after reading this one.
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Hell House, Richard Matheson
Another classic paranormal investigation story, Richard Matheson’s 1971 novel Hell House sees a physicist, his wife, and two mediums temporarily move into the famous Belasco House, an impossibly terrifying haunted mansion, with the goal to determine whether there is life after death. Matheson adapted the book for the screen as The Legend of Hell House in 1973; John Hough directed and Roddy McDowall starred in the film.
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Heart-Shaped Box, Joe Hill
The first novel from Stephen King’s son Joe Hill, Heart-Shaped Box follows former rock star Judas Coyne after he buys the funeral suit of a dead man to add to his collection of relics of dark magic. The suit, which arrives in a heart-shaped box, is still inhabited by its former wearer’s spirit, and it haunts Judas in this creepy tale of ghosts, black magic, and rock n roll.
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The Secret of Crickley Hall, James Herbert
In James Herbert’s disturbing 2006 novel, after the tragic disappearance of one of their three children, a couple decides to leave London for Crickley Hall, on the English coast. Once there, however, the family finds that the house holds many secrets and has a dark history dating back to World War II, when it was a home for children evacuees. In 2012, The Secret of Crickley Hall was adapted into a BBC miniseries starring Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams.
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Coldheart Canyon, Clive Barker
Clive Barker’s 2001 novel brings ghostly scares, Hollywood satire, and unabashed sexuality in equal measure. When an aging action star’s plastic surgery is botched, he hides out in Coldheart Canyon to escape public scrutiny while he recovers. But his biggest fan seeks him out and is determined to get to the truth of his disappearance. As it turns out, the old Hollywood mansion he’s chosen was once the home of a beautiful and mysterious silent film actress — and she never truly left.
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The Shining, Stephen King
In one episode of Friends, Joey hides his copy of The Shining in the freezer whenever he gets too scared reading it. It’s an appropriate depository for King’s 1977 novel, which takes place at the claustrophobic and inhospitable — not to mention haunted — Overlook Hotel, where main character Jack Torrance is the winter caretaker. While Stanley Kubrick’s iconic 1980 adaptation is classic Halloween viewing, the book (from which the film deviates significantly) is certainly worth reading if you’re looking for a good scare. You can always stick it in the freezer if it gets too disturbing.
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The Turn of the Screw, Henry James
James was a master of psychological complexity, and his famous 1898 novella engages the skewed perspective of a young woman, a governess to two small children at an estate in the English countryside. When she moves into the house, she begins seeing two phantom figures, a man and a woman, everywhere she goes, haunting her, going unaddressed by anyone else. Are the ghosts real or is the governess mad? Critics have debated the question since the book’s publication; decide for yourself after reading the story to its chilling, ambiguous conclusion.
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The House Next Door, Anne Rivers Siddons
It’s not ghosts that terrorize the inhabitants of The House Next Door, but the house itself. Anne Rivers Siddons’ 1978 novel, which counts Stephen King among its devoted fans, is written from the perspective of a wealthy Atlanta suburbanite, who observes that every new resident that moves in to the big house next to her own suffers terrible tragedy. She and her husband vow to destroy the house just as its evil influence starts to spread to the rest of the neighborhood — but the house next door fights back.