The Top 10 Spookiest Haunted House Novels
Chilling stories that reveal the darkness that lurks within abandoned and corrupted houses
Fall, the season of sweaters, pumpkin space lattes, and—of course—haunted houses.
Though the Victorian clapboard house will forever remain iconic, the past few decades have broadened our scope of what can be haunted. 2022’s Barbarian, for instance, introduces a humble Airbnb, while Grady Hendrix’s Horrorstör is set in a very familiar Swedish furniture store.
What ultimately binds the haunted house genre together is the undiscovered trauma. The abandoned apartment at the end of the hall turns out to be the site of a gruesome, unsolved murder. Trinkets move back and forth in the home of an already troubled family. Grandma’s house is not so friendly—and, as it turns out, neither was Grandma.
Considering the endless aesthetic possibilities and trauma metaphors, it is no wonder the haunted house has become such a prolific genre. In honor of spooky season, here are the top ten creepiest haunted house novels to devour this October.
How to Sell a Haunted House by Grady Hendrix
You can always count on Grady Hendrix to seamlessly blend horror and comedy. In his newest release, How to Sell a Haunted House, a woman named Louise returns to her childhood home following the suspicious deaths of her parents. There, she must work with her deadbeat brother, Mark, to clean up and sell the house. While the siblings are caught up in their own dramas—Louise had to leave her daughter with her ex for the trip, and Mark is already plotting to cheat Louise out of her half of the inheritance—they gradually realize they face a common enemy: Pupkin, a beloved puppet from their mother’s doll collection, who does not understand his owner’s sudden absence and expresses his grief via rage and homicide. How to Sell a Haunted House is a perfect read if you’re craving a Stephen King-esque horror-drama feat. family dysfunction with a comedic kick.
The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware
An homage to Henry James’ 1898 The Turn of the Screw, Ruth Ware’s The Turn of the Key kicks off with a nanny’s letter from prison arguing her innocence in a child’s death. It all begins when said nanny signs up for a too-good-to-be-true job at refurbished Victorian smart home, where she gets paid an excessive salary for taking care of three seemingly angelic children and a baby. However, as the days wear on, the smart home begins acting up, playing music at odd hours of the night, and the children—particularly trouble child Maddie—prove to have disturbing agendas of their own. Though modern in setting, the novel’s gothic heritage evokes a familiar spook, complete with creaky floorboards, poisonous gardens, and creepy children that earn it a spot on our top ten list.
Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw
Here’s something a little bit different: five ghost-hunting friends celebrate a marriage in a Japanese Heian-era manor, where a bride was supposedly buried alive beneath the grounds, and more girls were buried as sacrifices within the walls. A joyous night between friends soon turns deadly when the bride makes herself known, roaming the grounds in search of eternal company. Though this novella will likely not hit the creepy-nostalgia factor for many, its unfamiliar setting brings a novel unease, and its stunning imagery will render scenes all too clear. A perfect read for someone yearning a fast-paced, atmospheric scare. Bonus: the cover is hella creepy.
You Should Have Left by Daniel Kehlmann, translated by Ross Benjamin
Have you ever been forced by a Youtube video to watch one of those dramatic Airbnb ads starring some excessively happy family living it up inside a glass box of a house? Have you ever wondered what would happen if one of those Airbnbs was haunted? Daniel Kehlmann presents this scenario in the form of journal entries, written by a screenwriter who takes his wife and four year old daughter to a modern vacation rental in the Alps. Forget creepy victorian clapboard houses or even unsettling suburban homes—Daniel Kelmann’s You Should Have Left presents a nightmare scenario where escapism cannot save you, and glass provides little clarity, only distorted reflections.
A House with Good Bones by T. Kingfisher
This list wouldn’t be complete without some southern gothic. In A House with Good Bones, Kingfisher introduces Samantha Montgomery, a thirty-two year old post doctoral student studying archaeoentomology, a cross between archaeology and entomology. When she goes on break after a dig, she visits her mother Edith in North Carolina, where she finds both her mother and the house different than before. Gone is the carefree woman Samantha once new, along with her warm, charming home. Now the walls are painted white, and Samantha’s mother jumps at every small noise in the house. Is her mother ill, aging, troubled—or is there something stranger going on? A perfect read for fans of slow-burns.
The Hacienda by Isabel Cañas
Ever wish Rebecca had more (literal) ghosts? Don’t worry, Isabel Cañas’ got you. In her supernatural debut The Hacienda, set after the Mexican War of Independence, newly fatherless and homeless Beatriz marries the widowed Don Rodolfo Solórzano with plans to rebuild her life at his estate, Hacienda San Isidro. But Beatriz does not receive the warm welcome she hoped for. Instead, Beatriz has disturbing dreams at night, and the residents brush off her concerns about the home’s strange activity. It becomes clear that a malevolent spirit walks the halls, and no one except the priest, Padre Andrés, is willing to help Beatriz. A historical, haunted house romance that Daphne du Maurier would love.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirely Jackson
I resisted including too many classics on this list—the list would have been too long! But it felt wrong not to include at least one, and what better representative than The Haunting of Hill House. The story follows Eleanor, a reclusive young woman who joins a rag tag group of paranormal investigators following her mother’s death. It speaks volumes that, before we meet Eleanor, Theodora, Luke, and John Montague, we meet the house itself, a place where “whatever walked there, walked alone.” Iconic, amirite? Though a modern audience may find some of the scenes trite, that is only because this novel set the precedence for so many haunted house novels to come, especially those authored by women.
The Good House by Tananarive Due
When her grandmother dies, Angela Toussaint inherits the Good House, the home her Creole herbalist grandmother practiced her healing in and where Angela’s own mother committed suicide many years before. At the Good House, Angela juggles a troubled relationship with her ex husband Tariq and looks out for her adventurous teenage son, Corey. Their last summer at the house ends in tragedy, and Angela soon finds herself in a mental hospital. Years later, semi-recovered and officially separated from her ex, Angela returns to the Good House, where she learns the townspeople have suffered similar tragedies. With her high school sweetheart Myles Fisher in tow, Angela hopes to uncover the deadly force that haunts the town and her grandmother’s home.
White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi
White is for Witching stars Miri, a teenager diagnosed with pica, a condition in which one feels compelled to eat the inedible. After her mother passes, Miri makes a brief stay at a mental hospital, before returning to live with her twin brother and father at The Silver House, a Bed-n-Breakfast that was once her mother’s family home. As Miri’s condition worsens, strange activity occurs at the house: guests are attacked, a girl is trapped in an elevator, and Miri herself begins acting oddly, resembling and behaving at times like the dead women in her matrilineal line. Even after Miri and her brother grow up and move on, the house continues its malevolent ways, not revealing its deep dark secrets until Miri returns years later. Narrated by four different voices—including at one point the house itself—White is for Witching is generational trauma horror at its finest.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
1950s Mexico: twenty-two year old Noemí Taboada receives a letter from her newly-wed cousin, Catalina, claiming her husband is trying to kill her. Convinced the in-laws are trying to steal Catalina’s money, Noemí’s father sends her to live with Catalina at the High Place, where she meets the less than welcoming Doyle family. Plagued with strange dreams and disturbed by the bits of family lore she receives from the family’s youngest son, a spooked Noemí is determined to leave. But, like any haunted house worth its salt, the High Place refuses to let her go. Mexican Gothic is a perfect blend of historical fiction, generational trauma, romance, and classic horror.