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10 Terrifying Contemporary Horror Novels to Read Before Halloween

10 Terrifying Contemporary Horror Novels to Read Before Halloween

Spooky Season is finally here!

Whether you are a casual horror fan, a hardcore lover of spooky all-year-round, or just feeling the holiday spirit, you may be having a tricky time finding a novel that will truly plunge you into the dark and disturbed, thrilling and chilling, or mysterious and macabre. Don't worry: I cranked my horror nerd brain into overdrive to find out the best of contemporary spooky stories from the last few years. Here are my top picks: 
1. The Troop - Nick Cutter (2014)
“It is a fact that cannot be denied: the wickedness of others becomes our own wickedness because it kindles something evil in our own hearts.”
The Troop is heavy on the body horror/gore and does have some animal deaths, so not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach. You will be terrified and you will dry heave at least once. P.S. James Wan’s production company bought the rights to adapt 3 years ago, but we haven’t heard much about an on-screen version just yet.
from U.S. National Archives
2. The Hunger - Alma Katsu (2018)
“Then the Lord must be mightily displeased with you, because he has led you into the valley of death. Make peace with your Lord before it is too late, because the hungry ones are coming for you.”
Both historical retelling and historical fiction, The Hunger asks the question, “What if it was more than starvation and exposure that wiped out the Donner party?” Though you go into the novel knowing how it will end, Katsu gives us series drama and tension that make it a real page turner!
gif by Hunter Preston
3. The Outsider - Stephen King (2018)
“Doesn’t look like a monster, does he?” “They rarely do.”
In recent years, Stephen King has developed an interest in detective novels - with his own monstrous twists, of course. The investigators from the Mr. Mercedes trilogy return when a shapeshifter frames a little league baseball coach for a gruesome murder. Gross, graphic, and gripping, The Outsider proves that even after 50 years of writing, The King can still bring us to the edge of our seats. P.S. The Outsider has been adapted into an HBO series by the same name. 
4. Lock Every Door - Riley Sager (2019)
"It certainly doesn't feel cursed. Or haunted. Or any other menacing label you could put on an apartment building.”
Recommended by Stephen King, Lock Every Door appears to be another tropey haunted hotel (well, apartment building) story, but it's so much more than that. Considered a slow burn by some readers, you have to work to solve the mystery, but I promise it will not end the way you expect. P.S. A T.V. adaptation is currently in pre-production.
5. The Invited - Jennifer McMahon (2019)
“Fear does that to a person: shrinks them down, makes them small and weak.”
The classic city couple moves to the countryside for a simpler life, and their new land has a dark history. Creepy, suspenseful, but not outright terrifying, this book is the top choice for those looking for a more mild sample of spooky this season.
Scream Forest - Crypt TV on Youtube
6. The Twisted Ones - T. Kingfisher (2019)
“And I twisted myself around like the twisted ones…”
Portal to another world, secret beings in the woods, monsters, mountain monsters, creepy house, southern charm
Spring-boarded from Thomas Machen’s short story, “The White People,” our protagonist finds more than just dead bugs and creepy dolls when tasked with clearing out her grandmother’s hoarder house. Lovecraftian horror with a truly Appalachian flair, The Twisted Ones is a deeply unsettling thriller. 
Casper - Sean McNamara (1995)
7. Violet - Scott Thomas (2019)
Is your childhood ‘imaginary friend’ more than a figment?
New to horror novels but a veteran in writing, Violet is only Thomas’ second book, though he shows mastery of classic horror themes and has been nominated for a Stoker. It's a haunted house tale, through and through, and Thomas proves you can use well-established gothic tropes and reinvent them into something new and exciting. 
art by Rob Sacchetto
8. The Only Good Indians - Stephen Graham Jones (2020)
“The land claims what you leave behind.”
The best-seller of contemporary horror, this novel has some of the same darkness and gore you’ll find in The Troop alongside masterful fear-building that earned Graham Jones a rightful place among The Greats of horror. Dark and gritty, this is a new kind of haunting, told from an Indigenous American cultural perspective. The suspense and psychological terror will make you sweat bullets as you wonder how much of what you see should be believed… 
The Addams Family - Barry Sonnenfeld (1991)
9. Mexican Gothic - Silvia Moreno-Garcia (2020)
“You’re very silly or very brave, living in a haunted house.”
As the title suggests, this is in fact a gothic novel. It has all the favorite tropes of secluded mansions with creepy lords and damsels in distress. But Moreno-Garcia does something unique: she both participates in the gothic genre and criticizes it for its foundational colonialism and problematic trends. PS: a Hulu adaptation is in early production.
Halloween - John Carpenter (1978)
10. My Heart is a Chainsaw - Stephen Graham Jones (2021)
“She’s a gorehound, a horror fiend, the more brutal the better, bring it on, faster, pussycat, kill kill kill, but that’s all on-screen. And at some level she never forgets that all the blood’s corn syrup.”
My personal favorite on this list is extra-enjoyable for well-versed horror fans, as Graham Jones includes short essays by his horror-obsessed protagonist between action chapters. I actually learned a lot about my favorite genre from this! The novel content itself is spectacular, genre-bending and expectation-subverting with heavy handed (and very relevant) social commentary and an all around delight. The gore is a bit thick and viscous, so not recommended for anyone trying to avoid body horror, but it is tastefully done and not over the top for the genre. P.S. This is the first of a planned trilogy, with the second book to be released early 2023. Yes, I preordered it.
For more terrifying page turners, check out our Gothic Horror Book Set and Spooky Poetry collection
Happy Haunting!
Casper - Sean McNamara (1995)
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