It’s October, which means that people (unlike me) who don’t read thrillers year-round are looking to pick up a book to scare the bejeezus out of them during spooky season.
To be honest, the book that scared me the most that I’ve read the last few years was Truman Captoe’s In Cold Blood. I never understood why it frightened me so much, given that I knew where the plot was headed, and it really was no worse than the average episode of Dateline. But, for some reason, I had nightmares about those killers coming for that family almost every night until I finished it.
If you’ve already read In Cold Blood or want some options, here’s a list of other creepy reads.
23 Books to Read during Spooky Season
I know you get tired of the same recommendations because I do, too. It’s like, where do you go once you’ve read that one book everyone is talking about? So, I went back some years to create this list and give you some great variety. Note that the headers are links if you’d like to buy something.
Sandy and Ben Tremont have just finished eating dinner in their secluded, state-of-the-art cabin when two escaped convicts walk into their kitchen. As Ben tries to fight the men, Sandy’s goal is keeping them unaware of the couple’s 15-year-old daughter, Ivy, who pouted in her room instead of joining them for dinner. But Ben is badly injured in the fight, and Sandy can’t keep Ivy a secret for long, despite the other secrets we learn she has kept from her family.
The book is told from the perspective of three victims of a serial killer. James Carson, or whatever name he used at the time, met them through an online dating app. Then he drugged them and murdered them.
The women are now caught in some kind of justice purgatory, and they refuse to let James kill again. But how can they save the women he’s going after, including his wife and two daughters, when no one can see or hear them? And how can they help police solve their murders and catch James before it’s too late.
3. FINAL GIRLS
Quincy Carpenter is a final girl. She went to a cabin in the woods with a group of five college friends 10 years ago. She was the only one who survived slaughter by a mental patient.
Quincy is trying to live her life without acknowledging that she’s a final girl. She’s doing OK. She has a baking blog, a fiance, and a friendship with the police officer who found her all those years ago. She also has terrible nightmares and anxiety.
Then Sam, another final girl, shows up to meet Quincy after the third in their group is found dead. Quincy has to figure out what’s motivating Sam and learn what she’s kept blocked from her memory all these years.
4. FIND HER
Flora Dane was kidnapped during a college Spring Break trip. Flora was held hostage for 472 days before police found her.
It’s been seven years since her kidnapping, but Flora still hasn’t adjusted to “normal” life. Instead, she’s become a vigilante of sorts. She seems obsessed with finding other missing girls.
When Flora goes missing for the second time, Detective D.D. Warren knows she must find her quickly. The detective is almost certain that her obsession with finding kidnapped girls is what got Flora kidnapped again and will result in her murder if she isn’t found quickly.
Mallory Quinn is starting her life over after rehab, and she needs a job. She feels like everything is starting off well when she gets a nannying position for Ted and Caroline Maxwell. The Maxwells pay her well, and their house is gorgeous. They’ve even thought of seemingly every detail in the guest cottage where Mallory will live. Oh, and their 5-year-old son, Teddy, is an adorable, kind little boy. Mallory feels like she’s hit the jackpot.
But something isn’t what it seems in the Maxwell house. Teddy starts drawing pictures of a woman’s murder and talking regularly about his imaginary friend. The more Mallory discovers about the house’s history and what happened there, the less convinced she is that Teddy’s friend is actually imaginary. Can she get to the bottom of the mystery before someone (maybe even herself) is seriously hurt?
The book is about Baneberry Hall, a Victorian estate in Vermont, and the families that have lived there. In my mind, it was the Amityville Horror house, and it had that kind of mystique with the locals. Bad things happened to every family that lived in the house, including the Holts, the home’s final residents.
When Maggie Holt’s father dies, she discovers that he still owned the house, and it’s now hers. Maggie and her family left the house one night 25 years ago and never looked back. She doesn’t remember much about her time there, only that her entire life was lived in the shadows of her father’s book about their time there, House of Horrors. Maggie has always been the weird girl who saw ghosts due to the book. And her parents made her swear she’d never go back there.
With her father dead and her mother, his ex-wife, off on vacation, Maggie decides it’s time to return to the house. She wants to fix it up and sell it. But first, she has to listen to the house and what it’s trying to tell her. Will Maggie make it out of Baneberry Hall alive the second time?
7. LACY EYE
Joe and Hanna have two daughters who could not be more different.
Iris is the stereotypical beautiful, popular teen. She’s the daughter Joe and Hanna don’t have to worry about.
Dawn is plain, awkward and frequently teased at school. She’s the daughter that gives the couple constant worry.
The couple is happy when Dawn seems to be settling in at college, and they hope she’s finally found a place where she fits in. They are less-than-impressed when Dawn brings her boyfriend, Rud, home for her sister’s wedding. There is just something off about the first man in their daughter’s life, although they try not to focus the possibility that they can’t figure out why someone so handsome would be with Dawn.
After a Thanksgiving dispute among the four, Hanna and Joe are attacked in their home. Joe is killed and Hanna is beaten severely, causing a head injury and memory loss. Rud is convicted of the crime and, while Dawn initially is thought to be involved, she is not indicted by a grand jury.
When Rud is given an appeal, Dawn returns home to live with her mother, who desperately tries to remember what happened that night so she can keep Rud in jail and exonerate her daughter for good.
Jar of Hearts is the story of three best friends and one extremely dangerous boyfriend.
Angela Wong disappeared when she was 16 years old. Some people thought she ran away, but her best friend, Georgina Shaw, knew the truth. Geo knew because she was there when Angela died, and she helped bury her. Geo’s boyfriend, Calvin James, killed Angela. Then Calvin went on to become a serial killer.
When a man discovers Angela’s remains 14 years later, it blows Geo’s life apart. And she’s forced to tell the secrets she’s hidden all of this time.
But when police start finding the bodies of other women and children, it is up to Geo and Angela’s former best friend, Kaiser, to find the killer before he gets Geo.
No visitors, nights spent away from the apartment or bothering the guests. These are the only rules for Jules Larsen’s new job as an apartment sitter at the Bartholomew, one of Manhattan’s most high-profile and mysterious buildings. Aside from her best friend, Jules doesn’t have anyone who would want to visit or anywhere to go, so the job seems like a great fit.
Jules, who is broke and sleeping on her best friend’s couch, sees the apartment sitting job as a way to press reset on her life. The pay is excellent, the location is one of her dreams and the offer seems too good to be true. Maybe because it is?
As Jules learns more about the Bartholomew, she begins to discover that apartment sitters there disappear. Will she be one of them?
10. NO EXIT
Darby Thorne is driving to Utah from Colorado to visit her dying mother when she gets caught in a snow storm. The roads are closed, so she is forced to wait out the storm in a highway rest stop building with four other strangers.
Darby wanders outside after meeting her strange companions because she’s trying to find a cell phone signal to at least call home and tell her sister where she is. While she’s walking around with her phone in the air, she sees something shocking in the van parked next to her car. There is a little girl in there, locked in an animal crate.
Darby has to figure out which of her companions the van belongs to and how she can save the little girl when they’re all trapped by the weather.
11. RUN ON RED
Laura and Olivia are headed up in the hills to a party in a field when they think they notice headlights following them. They’re right.
Two masked men are following them and end up running them off the road. The women manage to escape, but one of them gets caught. The other probably could get away, but she can’t bring herself to leave her friend, so she decides to stay and fight.
Who are these men? They seem to know the women. What do they want from the women? More importantly, how can they get away?
12. STILLHOUSE LAKE
Imagine this. A man drives his car into your house, and you discover that the garage you thought was your husband’s wood workshop is actually a torture chamber where he’s been murdering women.
That’s what happened to Gina Royal, a housewife with two children, who goes on the run, disguising her identity and that of her children to protect them from people who think she knew about her husband’s crimes and protected him.
When the trio ends up at Stillhouse Lake, Gina (now Gwen) begins to finally feel at home and like they might be able to stay for awhile. But then a dead woman is pulled from the lake and threatening letters begin arriving from her ex-husband, who is in jail for his crimes.
One of the reasons I loved this book is that the lead character, Shea Collins, is a true crime blogger. Her website is called the “Book of Cold Cases.”
Shea decides she wants to interview Beth Greer, the rich prime suspect of two murders in 1977. Beth agrees.
But the more Shea learns about Beth, the less she understands. Is Beth manipulating her too? Is she guilty? Or is she hiding the identity of the true Lady Killer murderer?
14. THE BUTCHER
Police Chief Edward Shank became a local legend of sorts after he killed Seattle’s serial killer, “the Beacon Hill Butcher,” back in 1985.
Thirty years later, Chief Shank is retired and thinks it’s time to move into a retirement community. He doesn’t want the responsibility of a big house in his older age.
Chief Shank decides to give the house to his grandson, Matt, who he and his late wife raised.
Matt, a famous local chef, is settling in and doing some renovations when he makes a gruesome discovery. Now he has to decide whether to protect the man who has always protected him, even now.
In the meantime, Matt’s girlfriend, Sam, is researching the Beacon Hill Butcher for a book she’s writing. She thinks her mother was one of the killer’s victims. And as she gets closer to the truth than is comfortable for either man, she puts her life in danger.
A man who known to his captives as “the Gardener” kidnaps women and tattoos their backs with the wings of the butterflies he names them after. When the “garden” is discovered by police, two FBI agents interview “Maya” to determine how the women got to the garden, what happened to them there and how they managed to get free.
The story is told through Maya’s interviews with the agents, going back and forth between the interview room and her time in the garden.
I’m not sure how someone makes this stuff up, but it is creepy and terrifying. I also kept thinking as I was reading that the story would make a really good movie. I see now that it actually may be adapted into one. It would be worth seeing, for sure.
16. THE CHAIN
When Rachel answers the phone, the caller’s message isn’t anything she expected. Her daughter has been kidnapped from the bus stop on her way to school.
Rachel is now part of The Chain.
If Rachel doesn’t kidnap another child, her daughter will be murdered. If she follows through with the demand, and so does the person after her, her daughter will be released.
Rachel has to decide if she can do the unthinkable to continue the chain and save her daughter’s life. Or is there another way? A way to break the chain?
17. THE COLLECTIVE
A group of women has one terrible thing in common — they all have dead children. But that’s not where their similarities end. The person responsible for killing their children got away with it in every case. So, they’ve united on the dark web to bring their own mother-style justice to the people responsible for killing each others’ children.
No one in The Collective knows who any of the other women are. They go by numbers as their screen names. And while there is a clear leader, no one knows who she is either. But one thing is clear. If you cross The Collective, you’ll pay for it. Maybe even if you’re a member.
It’s a normal evening at the Quinn house until two armed men appear in the family’s kitchen on a mission against the father, a controversial local defense attorney. They murdered the mother and forced the two girls into the woods. Charlie ran. Samantha was shot and buried alive. Both were changed forever.
The next time Samantha got the chance, she ran. She’s nursing her disabilities and wounds while living a wealthy, successful life, despite her past.
The next time Charlie got a chance to run, she stayed. She still lives in Pikeville and is a lawyer sharing an office with her father.
Now, 28 years later, tragedy strikes the town again, bringing the sisters back together to deal with the present while coping with the past.
19. THE NIGHT SHIFT
The book starts with the attack of four teenagers as they close up the New Jersey Blockbuster video where they work. Only one girl survives the attack on New Year’s Eve, 1999. Police nab a boyfriend for the murders but later have to let him go. He disappears.
The survivor goes on to become a therapist, but she’s still haunted by what happened that night. Then, 15 years later, a group of teenagers is attacked at an ice cream store in the same Jersey town. One girl lives. If it seems like too much of a coincidence, it’s because it is.
Patricia Campbell is a bored housewife. She loves her family, of course, but taking care of two teenagers, a husband who is always at work and an ailing mother-in-law gets old. Trying to seem perfectly put together and happy while doing it gets even older. That’s why Patricia loves her book club.
In the beginning, the book club is just as fake as Patricia’s life. They pretend they’re going to read deep, meaningful, important books and have equally deep, meaningful discussions about them. Then they discover true crime books and the club starts getting real. They are obsessed with the cases and the killers.
Then strange things start happening in the neighborhood. Patricia is randomly attacked by an elderly rabid neighbor while walking home from book club one night. When the neighbor’s handsome nephew, James Harris, comes into town, the women start wondering if they’re living in their own true crime novel.
Carly Kirk has never been able to get over the story of her aunt, Viv Delaney, disappearing from her job as the night clerk at the Sun Down Motel. When Carly’s mother, Viv’s sister, dies in 2017, Carly decides to return to Fell, N.Y., and try to solve the mystery of her aunt’s disappearance.
Wouldn’t you know it, when Carly arrives in Fell, the night clerk job at the Sun Down is available and the woman living in her aunt’s old apartment is looking for a roommate. Pretty soon Carly finds herself living a modern version of her aunt’s life, but not everyone in Fell, living or dead, is happy to revisit the past.
22. THE WHISPER MAN
Tom Kennedy is trying to start over after his wife’s sudden death, so he moves to Featherbank with his son, Jake. But Featherbank may not be the best place to start anew.
Twenty years ago, a serial killer abducted and murdered five residents. The killer, Frank Carter, was dubbed “The Whisper Man” because he whispered through his victims’ windows at night.
A boy vanishes just as Tom and Jake settle into their new home. Then Jake starts hearing whispers, suggesting that The Whisper Man may not have been caught after all.
23. TRUST NO ONE
Jerry Grey is a crime writer with early onset Alzheimer’s who begins to confuse reality with the crimes of the characters in his books.
Jerry becomes even more confused when he discovers evidence that some of his stories are real. Is he a murderer? He confesses to being one, but those around him are uncertain about what he’s done versus what he’s just imagining.
Happy Spooky Reading!
I know it doesn’t seem like it, but I actually cut books from this like. I still think there’s something creepy, scary, spooky, or just wild on this list for everyone to enjoy. So, grab that bag of mini Twix you bought for the trick-or-treaters, cuddle up with a blanket, and get to reading!
As always, happy reading!