A Bone-Chilling List of the 16 Best Horror Books
Horror books can be just as chilling, if not more, than their movie counterparts, as you get added details and character insights that horror films don't often have time to cover. There's also a wider variety of scary books than scary films, whether you prefer body horror, supernatural horror, carnival creeps, or plain old-fashioned paranormal activity. Horror literature goes far beyond Stephen King (though he's an obvious standout, and a horror roundup wouldn't be complete without him), and there's a wide range of authors contributing to the horror genre.
Just before campfire season is over, here are some of the best horror books of all time that are guaranteed to send chills down your spine. Add them to your nightstand ASAP — but maybe enjoy them in the light of day.
"The Amityville Horror" by Jay Anson
"The Amityville Horror" ($18) by Jay Anson is all the more terrifying because it's alleged to be true. In December 1975, the Lutz family moved into a new home — one in which the previous owner had murdered his parents, brothers, and sisters. They only stayed for 28 days before fleeing in terror. While controversy surrounds this book's truthfulness, the family's paranormal experiences are terrifying whether they're real or not.
"Apartment 16" by Adam Nevill
Known for "The Ritual," Adam Nevill delivers a chilling stand-alone novel with "Apartment 16" ($15), which begins in a London apartment that's been empty for 50 years (spoiler alert: this is never good). Apryl, a young American, inherits the apartment from a mysterious great aunt who died under mysterious circumstances. She discovers her great aunt's diary and begins to unravel her aunt's story, learning more about the dark forces haunting her new apartment along the way.
"Bird Box" by Josh Malerman
Unseen foes are terrifying enough, but what about ones you can't look at? That's the concept of "Bird Box" ($9), the book by Josh Malerman, which was turned into a Netflix film. Malorie has to lead her children to safety in a world filled with monsters that, if seen, drive a human to commit suicide. Their escape route is 20 miles down a river, blindfolded the entire time. If you loved the film, you'll love going deeper into these characters' stories in the book.
"The Children on the Hill" by Jennifer McMahon
In Jennifer McMahon's "The Children on the Hill" ($12), a renowned psychiatrist brings home a child to stay with her two young grandchildren in 1978. While Iris is odd — at first hollow-eyed and silent — she soon comes out of her shell. Years later, in 2019, Lizzy, host of the popular podcast "Monsters Among Us," travels to that same town, where a young girl has been abducted and a monster sighting has the town in a panic. She's determined to hunt it down, because Lizzy knows better than anyone that monsters are real — and one of them is her sister.
"Harvest Home" by Thomas Tryon
A father has had enough of watching his asthmatic daughter suffer from the New York City air, so he moves his family to a beautiful, bucolic 19th-century country home. But nothing is as it seems in the small town, where all the villagers seem to share the same last name and an ancient harvest festival has dark intentions that bring about forces far more sinister than harvest gods. Thomas Tryon's "Harvest Home" ($23) is credited as the original inspiration for Stephen King's "Children of the Corn."
"The Haunting of Hill House" by Shirley Jackson
Many will recognize "The Haunting of Hill House" ($11) from the chilling Netflix adaptation of Shirley Jackson's novel. In it, four people assemble at Hill House determined to uncover its secrets. But as the book goes on, it becomes clear there won't be any point in uncovering its secrets if they can't make it out alive.
"Lord of the Flies" by William Golding
If you had this book on your high school reading list, it's worth a revisit. William Golding's tale of a crashed plane filled with young schoolboys quickly turns from joyful vacation to nightmare as chaos and terror reign. Fans of "Yellowjackets" will love "Lord of the Flies" ($6).
"Mexican Gothic" by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
After receiving a mysterious letter from her newlywed cousin begging to be saved from something unknown, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a house in the distant Mexican countryside. Noemí is a debutante, not a detective, but she wants to help her cousin, and she isn't scared by her cousin's menacing new husband, the house's ancient patriarch, or even the house, which starts giving her horrifying dreams. As Noemí digs deeper into the family's wealthy history, she uncovers chilling stories of violence and madness, and the more she learns, the harder it becomes for her to leave. You won't be able to put down "Mexican Gothic" ($10) by Silvia Moreno-Garcia.
"Something Wicked This Way Comes" by Ray Bradbury
One of Ray Bradbury's scariest works, "Something Wicked This Way Comes" ($12), is beautifully and hauntingly written. When Cooger & Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show rolls into town after midnight, two young boys who are starting to feel the loss of innocence and youth are captivated by it and, eventually, consumed.
"Tender Is the Flesh" by Agustina Bazterrica
There are no fantastical elements required to make this thriller scary. In Agustina Bazterrica's dystopian novel, animal meat has become toxic to humans, resulting in government-sanctioned human slaughterhouses instead. Marcos, whose wife has left him and whose father is developing dementia, works at one of these slaughterhouses and tries not to think about his job too much . . . until he gets a live specimen who's doomed for slaughter and starts to befriend her. Like a darker version of Kazuo Ishiguro's "Never Let Me Go," "Tender Is the Flesh" ($13) is absolutely twisted and made all the more scary because of how possible it seems.
"The Exorcist" by William Peter Blatty
William Peter Blatty's classic horror novel "The Exorcist" ($14) sparked what some still call the best horror movie of all time. The tension is just as high in the book. While a girl named Regan is possessed by a demon and her behavior grows more and more erratic, her mother desperately seeks help from a priest to save her daughter. Experience more details and just as much fear when you read the story on the page.
"The House Next Door" by Anne Rivers Siddons
Thirty-something Colquitt and Walter Kennedy have charming, peaceful, normal lives in an Atlanta suburb, until construction starts on an undeveloped lot next door. The Kennedys watch as a sequence of different families move into the new house and, one by one, have their lives unraveled. There's no history of murder and no graves in the area, and yet, something is just wrong. That wrongness lingers until it threatens the entire neighborhood. This threat of the American Dream may be why Stephen King called Anne Rivers Siddons's "The House Next Door" ($15) one of the best horror novels of the 20th century.
"The Hunger" by Alma Katsu
If you're captivated by real-life horrors like the fate that befell the Donner party — a group of pioneers who migrated from the Midwest to California in a wagon — you'll love "The Hunger" ($18) by Alma Katsu, which explores a fictional and even more disastrous view of what really happened to the party in the mountains. The book begins with a young boy's mysterious death and only becomes more chilling as other members of the party start to disappear, making the remaining survivors wonder what's really waiting for them out in the mountains.
"The Shining" by Stephen King
Stephen King's master class in horror manages to be just as scary on the page as in the movie theater. Jack Torrance takes care of an old hotel in the mountains for the winter offseason and brings his wife and 5-year-old son Danny along with him. Something about the hotel seems off, and as sinister forces gather around Danny, they descend on Jack as well. "The Shining" ($11) is a true horror classic.
"Those Across the River" by Christopher Buehlman
A professor and his wife move to an ancestral family home near the ruins of a plantation to flee a scandal. The professor plans to write about the history of the plantation across the river and the horrors that occurred there, but the present reality of the town is just as chilling. Every month, the townspeople send two pigs adorned with flower garlands across the river, never to return. The answer to who "Those Across the River" ($14) are is tied to the professor's family history and is ultimately revealed in author Christopher Buehlman's chilling ending.
"Wonderland" by Jennifer Hillier
Vanessa Castro moved to Washington to escape her own scandalous past but quickly finds herself wrapped up in a new nightmare. A twisted killer has started haunting the town's main attraction, an amusement park, and on her first day as deputy police chief, a dead body is found inside the park. The more Vanessa learns, the more dangerous the town becomes, and the more connected a past string of murders seems. If you love carnival horror, you'll love Jennifer Hillier's "Wonderland" ($10).