What are the scariest books of all time? Dive into these scary books if you like spooky reads, thrilling mysteries, and chilling horror novels.
Are you looking for something spooky to read this Halloween?
Fall always seems like the perfect time to curl up with scary books. Sometimes it’s just fun to let your imagination run wild and reading horror novels and psychological thrillers is the perfect way to help.
From spooky ghost stories to the scariest Stephen King books, I’ve gathered together the best scary books to dive into this Fall. Knowing that some of us don’t like being scared as much as others, my scary books list runs the gamut from terrifying horror novels to mildly spooky reads.
Just make sure you lock the doors and leave the lights on for these scary books.
Highly Recommended Scary Books
Shortly after her 25th birthday, Libby Jones learns that she has inherited an abandoned London mansion from her biological parents. Adopted as a baby, Libby is excited to learn about her birth family. But her family history is much more than she anticipates when she finds out her parents committed suicide as part of a cult, and her siblings vanished. As scary as that is, the truth is even darker. A dark and disturbing tale, you can’t look away as the truth of what happened so long ago gets more and more twisted.
Hired as an off-season caretaker at the Overlook Hotel, Jack Torrance sees his new job as the perfect opportunity to reconnect with his family and work on his writing. Yet, as winter comes, the remote hotel begins to take on a dark mood, but only Jack’s five-year-old son seems to see the sinister forces at work. Although you’ve probably seen the well-known film adaptation, if you are looking for the scariest Stephen King books, you can’t miss this novel.
Maggie Holt has always lived in the shadow of her father’s bestselling horror book – a “true” story of their twenty days living in a haunted house when she was five. Having inherited the infamous house from her father, she is determined to fix it up. Ghosts aren’t real, so there’s nothing to worry about, right? Jumping between her father’s novel and Maggie’s return to the house, Sager keeps you on edge the whole time.
Growing up, Lex and Jax were inseparable, spending summers at their grandmother’s estate in Vermont, known for its underground springs rumored to grant wishes … but also take things in return. When Lex dies in the pool, Jax returns home and begins to learn more about the house’s supernatural history, including the story of a woman in 1929 desperate to have a baby. The Drowning Kind is a perfectly spooky read making you wonder: Is something in the water or is it just Lex’s manic imaginings?
Simone St. James
In 1982, Viv Delaney takes a job as a clerk at the Sun Down Motel in Fell, New York, only to mysteriously disappear. Thirty-five years later, Viv’s niece Carly Kirk returns to the Sun Down Motel to investigate her aunt’s disappearance. You’ll love flipping between Carly and Viv as they try to figure out what is going on at the Sun Down Motel. The perfect combination of spooky, without being too scary, The Sun Down Motel is one of the top spooky reads to read this fall.
Recent Scary Books
While vacationing at a home rental in a remote part of Long Island, a white couple is surprised when a Black couple shows up claiming to be the homeowners. They say they are fleeing from a mass blackout and disaster in New York City. But without tv and the internet, neither couple knows what to believe or who to trust.
After her father is executed in the Mexican War of Independence, Beatriz reluctantly accepts a marriage proposal from Don Rodolfo Solórzano. Settling into his house, Hacienda San Isidro, Beatriz begins to hear voices and see visions. When her husband returns to the capital, Beatriz seeks help from the local priest to fight the lurking evil and discover what happened to the Don’s previous wife.
After escaping her abusive husband, Kate Reese settles in out-of-the-way Mill Grove, Pennsylvania, with her 7-year-old son Christopher. Just as they are starting to get settled, Christopher vanishes without a trace, only to appear six days later in the woods. Now Christopher has an imaginary friend and a mission – to build a treehouse in the woods before something horrible happens.
Stephen Graham Jones
A disturbing event during an elk hunt in their youth now comes back to haunt four Native American men. Pursued by a dark entity intent on revenge, they must come back to the traditions and culture of their childhood. Just be aware that Stephen Graham Jones’s horror book is described as a literary slow-burn.
Although haunted by their traumatic childhoods, Nathan and Maddie still move back to their hometown. Their young son Oliver quickly befriends a local boy, a boy with plenty of secrets and a penchant for dark magic. When strange things begin happening to Oliver, Nathan and Maddie must fight inner demons and outer foes.
After tackling zombies in World War Z, Max Brooks now has a slow-burn examination of the legendary Bigfoot. In the aftermath of Mount Rainer’s eruption, Kate Holland’s diary is discovered detailing a firsthand account of a Sasquatch massacre of a high-tech eco-community. How will we survive the winter? evolves into How will we survive a band of murderous Sasquatch?
Scariest Stephen King Books
You can’t deny that when you think of the scariest books of all time, Stephen King immediately comes to mind. After a car accident, bestselling author Paul Sheldon finds himself lovingly nursed back to health by Annie Wilkins. She is Paul’s biggest fan and has no intention of ever letting him leave. Instead, she insists that he write a new book bringing her favorite character in his Victorian romance series back from the dead.
The Creed family feels like they hit the jackpot when they move to a beautiful old house in rural Maine. That is until they discover a hidden burial ground in the nearby woods. Let the terror begin in this classic Stephen King horror novel.
Among Stephen King’s best horror books is this intense tale of a murderous clown. In a wholesome Maine town, an evil is lurking in the shadows just waiting to kill. Although they thought they had defeated it as kids, seven adults return to their hometown to finally free themselves from the nightmare.
In his second published work, King depicts the tale of Ben Mears, a writer returning to a town of his childhood to write his next book. As a boy, he had a supernatural experience in a haunted house in Jerusalem’s Lot and thinks it would be a great inspiration. Though as he starts his book about the power of evil, vampires start to take over the small Maine town.
In a small town in Maine, Brett Camber’s lovable St. Bernard Cujo is the friendliest dog anyone has ever met. Until Cujo wanders into a cave and is bitten by a rabid bat. Suddenly Cujo changes, becoming a vortex that sucks in everyone around him. New to the town, Vic and Donna don’t realize that their struggling marriage and their son’s nightmares are the least of their problems.
If a gothic thriller that blends historical fantasy and horror and is set in 1950s Mexico sounds intriguing, you need to read Mexican Gothic. Noemí Taboada receives a frantic letter from her cousin accusing her new husband of trying to poison her. To help, Noemí travels to their estate in the Mexican countryside. She doesn’t fear her cousin’s husband or father-in-law, or the creepy house that is giving her nightmares.
In 1959, a Swedish mining town mysteriously vanished. Police only found the body of a woman stoned to death in the town square and a crying baby. Now, filmmaker Alice Lindstedt sets out to make a documentary and hopefully solve the mystery of what happened to the village, and her grandmother’s family. An atmospheric read, The Lost Village envelopes you in a sense of dread as the small group explores the abandoned village and feels like they are being watched.
Alma Katsu tells a fictional account of the real-life Donner Party but with a supernatural twist. As the pioneer company makes its way across the Great Plains to California, they are plagued by hardships as a sinister force seems to be brewing. With supplies running low and members disappearing, the group begins to wonder if evil has been residing among them all along.
If you are looking for scary books for children, look no further than Neil Gaiman’s middle-grade bestseller. When Coraline’s family moves into a new flat, Coraline discovers a locked one. Behind it, she discovers another apartment in a different house that’s just like her house. Except there is another mother and another father who want Coraline to stay and be their little girl. As Coraline discovers the house holds the souls of other children, she must find a way to free them and return to her normal life.
Best Scary Books to Movies
William Peter Blatty
Some of the best scary books are the basis for terrifying horror movies. In Washington, D.C., Chris MacNeil becomes increasingly concerned for her daughter Regan. The sweet-natured eleven-year-old is suddenly seized by convulsions, amnesia, foul-mouthed language, and physical contortions. When doctors can’t explain it, Chris seeks help from a priest who calls in Father Merrin, a specialist in exorcism.
Although Eva desperately wanted to be a mother, she was not prepared for her son Kevin. Two years after Kevin murdered seven other children in a school rampage, Eva is finally coming to grips with the disaster. In a series of letters to her ex-husband, Eva examines how her marriage, career, family, and even motherhood had on Kevin.
Film adaptations of horror novels are all the rage, and Netflix was the talk of 2018 with this post-apocalyptic horror story. Something has terrorized the world for years. A single glance will turn you into a violent madman. Thus, Malorie sets off blindfolded in a rowboat with her two young children, desperate to find other survivors.
Rosemary thinks it’s a dream come true when she and her husband Gus move into their dream New York apartment. Confined at home because of her terrible pregnancy, Rosemary slowly becomes suspicious of the unsolicited advice of her husband and neighbors. Is it the hormones, or is an evil force waiting to claim her baby?
Psychological Horror Books
Five-year-old Jack has lived his whole life in Room. It’s his whole world where he lives with his Ma all day long. At night, Ma shuts him up in the wardrobe for protection when Old Nick visits. What Jack doesn’t realize is that his mother doesn’t view Room as home, but as a prison where she is being held captive. Narrated from Jack’s perspective, Room haunts you with unimaginable horrors witnessed through the innocence of a child.
To her father, little seven-year-old Hanna seems to be a perfect little angel. She loves her daddy above all else … and doesn’t want to share his affection, not even with her mother. Suzette begins to suspect that there might be something very wrong with her little girl. As Hanna’s aggression toward Suzette escalates, the suspense of this psychological thriller quickly ramps up to make it one of the perfect scary books to read this fall.
In an idyllic college town, a beloved high school teacher goes missing. It’s the third unexplained disappearance in three years and police are scrambling to figure out where he went. The whole town is in an uproar about his disappearance … everyone except his wife. She knows he’s dead because she killed him. She just doesn’t know where the body went. This twisted domestic thriller is a quick and extra-creepy read featuring a tough-as-nails heroine who you can’t help root for and a premise that hooks you from the start.
B. A. Paris
If you love psychological thriller books about seemingly perfect couples, B. A. Paris has a great book for you. You’d think Jack and Grace are the perfect couple, so in love that they are never apart. Until you realize that Grace never answers the phone and can never meet for coffee even though she doesn’t work. And why are there bars on the windows?
One night, famous painter Alicia Berenson shoots her husband in the face 5 times, and then never utters another word again. Now criminal psychotherapist Theo Faber is determined to get the truth from this silent patient while his own life is falling apart. With a well-done twist, you’ll either love this bestseller or find it overrated.
Ten years ago as a college student, Quincy Carpenter and her friends went on a vacation and only Quincy survived. Although dubbed by the media as one of the “Final Girls,” the sole survivors of mass killings, Quincy, Lisa, and Sam have never met. When Lisa is killed and Sam seeks her out, Quincy realizes that she must remember the past to keep it from repeating in this tale perfect for readers who want scary books that aren’t too scary.
More Scary Books
A clever retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Chloe Gong’s debut novel is one of the best scary books for young adults who don’t mind a little bit of horror mixed in with historical fantasy. In 1920s Shanghai, a blood feud between two rival gangs causes chaos in the city. Eighteen-year-old Juliette Cai has returned home to embrace her place as heir to the Scarlet Gang. When a contagion starts sweeping the streets, Juliette must work with her first love, Roma Montagov from the rival gang, to solve the mystery.
Vic McQueen has a gift for finding things. All she has to do is jump on her bike and ride across a bridge that will transport her where she needs to go. When Vic encounters Charles Manx, her lures her into his 1938 Rolls Royce, a car that Manx transports children to a terrifying amusement park called “Christmasland.” The only child to ever escape Manx, Vic is now all grown up with a child of her own, a son who is Manx’s latest passenger.
In this hit international thriller, a serial killer plagues Copenhagen. At each of his gruesome crimes, he leaves a handmade doll made out of matchsticks and two chestnuts. When the police discover a bloody fingerprint on one doll, it leads them to the murder of a politician’s daughter a year ago. Now two detectives must put aside their differences to solve the clues and catch the killer.
When a new cloning method brings dinosaurs back from extinction, a billionaire establishes a park for wealthy visitors to come see them. As opening day approaches, a select group is invited to tour the park, until something goes wrong. With exciting action from start to finish, Jurassic Park is a great page turner book with lots of similarities but plenty of differences from the film adaptation.
Unlike the young adult versions, adult dystopian books are not afraid to show a dark ending to humanity. In The Road, a father and son set off on a journey through the devastated remains of civilization with only a pistol to protect themselves. Praised for its gorgeous prose, McCarthy paints a bleak picture of life in a world with no hope.
Classic Scary Books
Everyone knows the story of the vampire Count Dracula, but you might not have realized that the book is an incredible read. Written in 1897 by Irish author Bram Stoker, Dracula tells of the title character’s planned move from Transylvania to England in search of new feeding grounds and the battle to stop him, led by Professor Van Helsing. It’s a fascinating Gothic horror novel that speaks on deeper themes through a compelling narrative.
One of the best classic horror books is Jackson’s terrifying novel, The Haunting of Hill House. Determined to gather evidence of the supernatural, Dr. Montague invites a slew of people with supernatural abilities or experiences with the occult to stay the summer at Hill House. Quickly the two young women and the young man who is heir to the house who accept Dr. Montague’s invitation learn that they are in deeper than they ever imagined.
V. C. Andrews
The perfect lives of the four Dollganger children are shattered when their father dies in a car accident. Unable to support the family, their mother seeks help from her wealthy parents. Since their dying grandfather will disinherit her if he knows about her children, their mother hides them away in the attic until he passes away. But months turn into years, and the Dollganger children are locked in the attic and terrorized by their superstitious grandmother.
A week before Halloween, Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show arrives in Green Town, Illinois. The sinister promise of youthful wishes calls to the town’s residents, and two curious young boys will discover how quickly dreams can become nightmares. Known for its hauntingly lyrical prose, Something Wicked This Way Comes is one of the best scary books for those who love classics.
Scary True Crime
Michelle McNamara’s hunt for a serial killer epitomized the fascination with true crime narrative nonfiction. For over a decade, a violent serial rapist plagued Northern California and then went on to commit 10 sadistic murders, never to be caught. Thirty years later, journalist Michelle McNamara took on the cold case, obsessively determined to find the Golden State Killer. Posthumously published two years after her death, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is McNamara’s masterpiece of her search for the truth. Even more fascinating, only two months after this book was published, a suspect was formally charged with the murders.
A master of narrative nonfiction, Erik Larson turns his attention to the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. Larson expertly interweaves two parallel storylines. The first is that of Daniel H. Burnham, the architect and mastermind of the fair. At the same time in Chicago, there lurked the serial killer Henry H. Holmes, a pharmacist intent on building his own type of fairgrounds – a torture chamber full of every imaginable horror. By contrasting the lives of these two figures, Larson presents a startling juxtaposition of American history.
Truman Capote was the founder of narrative nonfiction with his page-turning look at an unspeakable crime. On November 15, 1959, in the small farming town of Holcomb, Kansas, two men brutally murder the Clutter family in their home for no apparent reason. Through extensive interviews from the first days on the scene and following the events all the way to the execution of the murderers, Capote suspensefully unfolds the whole story of exactly what happened and more intriguing of all, why it happened.
As a prosecutor in the Manson trial, Vincent Bugliosi has a unique insight into one of the most horrifying crimes of the century. Bugliosi reveals the terrifying details of the Tate-LaBianca murders carried out by Charles Manson and four of his followers. Even more intriguing, Bugliosi delves into how Manson selected his seemingly random victims and how he held so much control of young women.
Do You Enjoy Scary Books?
Do you like books that scare you? Do you prefer psychological thrillers or horror books? What scary books would you recommend? As always, let me know in the comments!
More Scary Books to Read: