Top 5 Halloween Reads 2021

The nights a longer, wind is blowing, All Hallows Eve is approaching.

Read on for my recommendations, old and new, for reading material for the spookiest weekend of the year!

Ranked in order of both awesomeness and spookiness.

Read on…IF YOU DARE.

5. The Wicked and The Damned – Warhammer Horror – David Annandale, Josh Reynolds and Phil Kelly – Apr 2019

Starting the list with something a bit out of left-field. You may think you can only enjoy Warhammer fiction if you are a fan of the universe. But as I continue to explore the Black Library, as it’s known, I’m finding more and more gems in its vast collection, especially amongst the ‘Domestic 40K’ titles – character- rather than war-driven narratives that are easily as good as many commercial SciFi books of recent years.

My first foray into the subgenre of Warhammer Horror did not disappointment, either. These three novellas are creepy, visceral and packed with very human drama, action and terror. I feel The Woman In The Walls by Phil Kelly was the standout novella of the collection, but read it for yourself and make up your own mind.

A chilling mosaic novel by masters of their craft.

On a misty cemetery world, three strangers are drawn together through mysterious circumstances. Each of them has a tale to tell of a narrow escape from death. Amid the toll of funerary bells and the creep and click of mortuary-servitors, the truth is confessed. But whose story can be trusted? Whose recollection is warped, even unto themselves? For these are strange stories of the uncanny, the irrational and the spine-chillingly frightening, where horrors abound and the dark depths of the human psyche is unearthed.

4. The Coffin Path – Katherine Clements – Feb 2018

This was a recent discovery, but an instant hit. The Coffin Path has great characters, an atmospheric setting and gut-surging creepiness. Plenty of things going bump in the night, but the true horror, as so often happens in real life, comes from within. Cannot recommend enough. A must of the season.

The Coffin Path is an eerie and compelling seventeenth-century ghost story set on the dark wilds of the Yorkshire moors. For fans of Michelle Paver and Sarah Waters, this gothic tale will weave its way into your imagination and chill you to the bone.

Maybe you’ve heard tales about Scarcross Hall, the house on the old coffin path that winds from village to moor top. They say there’s something up here, something evil.

Mercy Booth isn’t afraid. The moors and Scarcross are her home and lifeblood. But, beneath her certainty, small things are beginning to trouble her. Three ancient coins missing from her father’s study, the shadowy figure out by the gatepost, an unshakeable sense that someone is watching.

When a stranger appears seeking work, Mercy reluctantly takes him in. As their stories entwine, this man will change everything. She just can’t see it yet

3. Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come To You, My Lad – M. R. James – 1904

A classic and perhaps obvious choice, but this story from the Master of Horror himself, M. R. James, will always be included on my reading list at this time of year. It’s old-school, plagued with mystery, uncertainty and blood-chilling creepy happenings. It’s only short too and there are many excellent dramatizations and audio versions, a lot available for free. A staple spookfest for a cold evening in.

While exploring a Knights Templar graveyard on the East Anglian coast, a Cambridge academic finds a strange bone whistle that unleashes terrifying forces upon the user when blown

2. The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires – Grady Hendrix – Apr 2020

This was a pleasant discovery and welcome distraction in the summer of 2020. I won’t try to describe it because no matter what I say, it won’t be what you expect. A brilliant melding of the real and supernatural, with a good amount of emotion, horror and examination of the human condition stirred in for good measure.

Fried Green Tomatoes and Steel Magnolias meet Dracula in this Southern-flavored supernatural thriller set in the ’90s about a women’s book club that must protect its suburban community from a mysterious and handsome stranger who turns out to be a blood-sucking fiend.

Patricia Campbell had always planned for a big life, but after giving up her career as a nurse to marry an ambitious doctor and become a mother, Patricia’s life has never felt smaller. The days are long, her kids are ungrateful, her husband is distant, and her to-do list is never really done. The one thing she has to look forward to is her book club, a group of Charleston mothers united only by their love for true-crime and suspenseful fiction. In these meetings, they’re more likely to discuss the FBI’s recent siege of Waco as much as the ups and downs of marriage and motherhood.

But when an artistic and sensitive stranger moves into the neighborhood, the book club’s meetings turn into speculation about the newcomer. Patricia is initially attracted to him, but when some local children go missing, she starts to suspect the newcomer is involved. She begins her own investigation, assuming that he’s a Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Bundy. What she uncovers is far more terrifying, and soon she–and her book club–are the only people standing between the monster they’ve invited into their homes and their unsuspecting community.

1. The Woman In Black – Susan Hill – Oct 1983

A well-deserved placing at number 1, the story which may very well be my favourite ghost story of all time. I really enjoyed the film, but the book has been one of my all-time favourites for years and, in my opinion, far outstrips the film for chill-factor. Low-key, eerie, knuckle-whiteningly atmospheric. A story I will never get bored of revisiting.

What real reader does not yearn, somewhere in the recesses of his or her heart, for a really literate, first-class thriller–one that chills the body, but warms the soul with plot, perception, and language at once astute and vivid? In other words, a ghost story written by Jane Austen?

Alas, we cannot give you Austen, but Susan Hill’s remarkable Woman In Black comes as close as our era can provide. Set on the obligatory English moor, on an isolated causeway, the story has as its hero Arthur Kipps, an up-and-coming young solicitor who has come north from London to attend the funeral and settle the affairs of Mrs. Alice Drablow of Eel Marsh House. The routine formalities he anticipates give way to a tumble of events and secrets more sinister and terrifying than any nightmare: the rocking chair in the deserted nursery, the eerie sound of a pony and trap, a child’s scream in the fog, and most dreadfully–and for Kipps most tragically–The Woman In Black.

The Woman In Black is both a brilliant exercise in atmosphere and controlled horror and a delicious spine-tingler–proof positive that this neglected genre, the ghost story, isn’t dead after all

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