13 Scary Stories for Halloween
- October 31, 2023
Your hunt for a spine-tingling tale ends here!
True, the scariest thing about Halloween is that stores are already playing Christmas music. But if you’d like to make your All Hallow’s Eve even more horrifying than Mariah Carey in October, tuck into one of these creepy tales as you chow down on those mini Snickers pilfered from your kids’ trick-or-treating haul!
The Boatman’s Daughter: A Novel by Andy Davidson (MCD x FSG Originals). Reviewed by Daniel Weaver. “Slowly, the horror arrives. Davidson never gives too much away too quickly, and rarely over-explains the magic on the bayou that his characters are aware of but barely understand. Of the two sorts of evil at play, the ‘natural’ evil of corrupt, violent, and misogynistic men is far less ambiguous than the powers of the witch and leshii, a spirit which the author perhaps drew from a myth involving a Slavic forest deity.”
Bad Cree: A Novel by Jessica Johns (Doubleday). Reviewed by Mariko Hewer. “And Mackenzie’s cousin Kassidy can see the future while asleep. ‘It started out as small, weird déjà vu moments,’ she says. ‘Things in real life happening that I already saw in a dream.’ These premonitions culminate in Kassidy narrowly avoiding the deadly car crash she’d foreseen in her sleep. Together, the women realize an incident that happened shortly before Sabrina’s death may be the key to unraveling Mackenzie’s nightmares. As Mackenzie, Kassidy, and Tracey set out to right an ancient evil, they delve deeper into folklore and Indigenous magic. Readers who accompany them can look forward to a satisfying, haunting journey.”
Night Side of the River: Ghost Stories by Jeanette Winterson (Atlantic Monthly Press). Reviewed by Tara Laskowski. “Big questions get asked here, both in the stories and in Winterson’s reflections. What is waiting for us in the afterlife? What are ghosts? What does being ‘haunted’ really mean? Of course, Winterson doesn’t have all the answers, but her speculations create something complex and thought-provoking nonetheless. On top of all that, the stories themselves are highly entertaining and satisfying — and yes, pretty spooky.”
The Devil’s Playground: A Novel by Craig Russell (Doubleday). Reviewed by Therese Droste. “At times, Russell’s taut dialogue and visual storytelling feel like watching a movie. (In fact, several of the novels in his German detective series, Jan Fabel, have either been made into movies or are in production.) The same descriptive skill comes to the fore when he introduces Kansas-born Boy Lindqvist in an 1897 storyline. Lindqvist runs away to join the Dahlman and Darke Magic Lantern Phantasmagoria circus after witnessing its sleight-of-hand act ‘where a dark shape spread itself wide. Revealed its true form.’ That form was Satan. And Satan spoke to him.”
Night Theater: A Novel by Vikram Paralkar (Catapult). Reviewed by Alice Stephens. “In Night Theater, physician writer Vikram Paralkar takes the notion of physician as god to a fantastical extreme with an eerie tale of a surgeon who agrees to operate on a family of corpses — father, heavily pregnant mother, and young son — who were murdered by bandits on their way home from a fair.”
The Deep: A Novel by Alma Katsu (G.P. Putnam’s Sons). Reviewed by Bob Duffy. “This chilling tale of tragic death and spectral visitations bumps along behind the restless heartbeat of its plucky young heroine. Steeped in atmospherics and relentless foreboding, The Deep treads a bleak path between two maritime disasters from the second decade of the last century.”
A Lush and Seething Hell: Two Tales of Cosmic Horror by John Hornor Jacobs (Harper Voyager). Reviewed by Mariko Hewer. Adjectives are powerful. While verbs describe action, and nouns give a sense of what’s involved in that action, adjectives tell the readers how to feel — a delicate balancing act that, when done right, infuses the imagination with emotions. John Hornor Jacobs’ A Lush and Seething Hell does an excellent job of living up to the adjectives in its title, and its melancholic yet energetic style will leave readers reluctant to put it down — though it certainly won’t help them sleep at night.
Imaginary Friend: A Novel by Stephen Chbosky (Grand Central Publishing). Reviewed by Robert Allen Papinchak. “Chbosky hits the ground running in the first chapter, and the tension continues to soar as peculiar incidents begin to occur. Everything changes for everyone. Christopher develops a superpower that allows him to hear other people’s thoughts. Kate discovers a connection between the long-missing David and one of the residents of the nursing home. The sheriff is haunted by the cold case of another vanished child even as he tries to unravel the truth about what happened to Christopher. The whole town begins to suffer mysterious illnesses.”
Night-Gaunts and Other Tales of Suspense by Joyce Carol Oates (The Mysterious Press). Reviewed by Jennifer Bort Yacovissi. “Nonetheless, the stories here are appropriately disturbing. The nightmares that Oates conjures are generally grounded in the ugliness of daily life, of the situations beyond our volition that drive us to the edge of reason. In particular, ‘The Experimental Subject,’ which is the longest of the tales, is most effective precisely for its groundedness, its observance of the quotidian details that make its horror plausible.”
The Cabin at the End of the World: A Novel by Paul Tremblay (William Morrow). Reviewed by Michael Landweber. “Andrew thinks he recognizes one of the intruders from a violent incident in his past, suggesting this whole episode is driven by homophobia, but Eric has trouble seeing the resemblance. At another time, Eric sees a ghostly figure in the room, but it might just be a symptom of the concussion he suffered during an altercation with the intruders. The world around the cabin steadily darkens: Are these normal storm clouds or the first sign of the apocalypse?”
Ararat: A Novel by Christopher Golden (St. Martin’s Press). Reviewed by Holly Smith. “What happens when a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, and an atheist walk into what may be the wreckage of Noah’s Ark and discover a demon-like skeleton there? The answer: Nothing good. And that’s the beauty of Christopher Golden’s Ararat. It’s a horror novel, plain and simple. So if you’re looking for something else, well, to hell with you. Literally.”
Looking Glass Sound by Catriona Ward (Tor Nightfire). Reviewed by Mariko Hewer. “As Wilder’s mind unravels, it becomes clear his reality isn’t the only one being compromised. Other versions of past events begin to unspool around him, leading the reader to question which story is true. As the narrative culminates in a crescendo of confusion, the strands finally twist together into a single magnum opus. Despite its sometimes challenging, hard-to-follow plot points, Looking Glass Sound is metafiction at its best.”
NOS4A2: A Novel by Joe Hill (William Morrow). Reviewed by Ruth Tillman. “Hill delivers a story even more intense and complex than his first two novels, Heart-Shaped Box and Horns. Some elements of the horror are low-key and pervasive threads woven into the novel, such as the twisted ways in which Christmas haunts the characters. At other times, it is gut-twisting and in your face, with gore and sexual violence.”
[Editor’s note: It’s terrifying to think a version of this piece ran last year.]