I don’t like being scared. The older I get, the more susceptible I am to “ghoulies and ghosties/And long-leggedy beasties/And things that go bump in the night.”
That said, there are some books out there that I find deliciously frightening — older books that I read when I was young and brave.
Ginny Greene, on the other hand, loves being scared. Ginny, a Star Tribune copy editor, is an avid reader — and an avid reader of modern mysteries.
So together we have come up with 10 books for you to read this Halloween while you’re waiting for trick-or-treaters. We dare you: Turn out the lights. Read by the glow of a flickering candle.
“The Birds Nest,” by Shirley Jackson (1954) Jackson’s novel about a young woman with multiple personality disorder seriously made me think I was losing my mind.
“The Turn of the Screw,” by Henry James (1898) Ghostly governesses, dead children and unspoken horror. Sometimes subtler is scarier.
“The Haunting of Hill House,” by Shirley Jackson (1959) Yes, another by Jackson, but who better? In this novel, a scientist rents a haunted mansion in hopes of finding proof of the supernatural.
“Rebecca,” by Daphne du Maurier (1938) The dead first wife, and the obsessed housekeeper, haunt the second wife in this classic tale that has never been out of print.
“We Need to Talk About Kevin” by Lionel Shriver (2003) This is not a ghost story; it is a novel narrated by a woman who cannot bring herself to love her awful child. But it is the scariest book I have ever read. I read it Up North when I was staying in an old cabin, and I believe I did not sleep for the rest of the trip.
“Security,” by Gina Wohlsdorf (2016, Algonquin Books) A masked assassin stalks a hotel’s staff, but with an inventive twist delivered with a stylish storytelling technique that allows you to follow the action (and trail of blood) throughout the hotel.
“Children of the Dark,” by Jonathan Janz (2016, Sinister Grin Press) An abandoned teen raising his little sister dodges creatures from a sinister forest with an escaped serial killer on the loose. It’s all packed into a surprisingly well-written, spine-tingling page-turner by an overlooked author.
“A Monster Calls,” by Patrick Ness (2013, Candlewick Press) Young Conor is visited every night by a giant monster — really visited, evidenced by twigs and needles on his floor each morning. But Conor is living another trauma so wretched that even his worst nightmare can’t scare him. More heartbreaking than scary, this book is due out as a Sigourney Weaver/Liam Neeson film this fall.
“The Troop,” by Nick Cutter (2014, Gallery Books) Read this one with the lights on. An Eagle Scout troop descends into an unimaginable hell on a remote Canadian island. Monsters? Oh, yeah. Squishy, disgusting monsters. This tale borrows from the best horror classics but stands gruesomely on a shelf all its own. If you need a little push, try this nod from Stephen King: “ ‘The Troop’ scared the hell out of me.”
“The Terror,” by Dan Simmons (2007, Little Brown) This is a macabre spin on a true-to-life 1848 Arctic expedition that got stranded while searching for the Northwest Passage. Its crew finds something else, evil and otherworldly — or did it find them? Rich with psychological horror as we watch the men become the monsters.
Laurie Hertzel is the Star Tribune’s senior editor for books. On Twitter: @StribBooks. On Facebook: facebook.com/startribunebooks. Ginny Greene is at firstname.lastname@example.org.