Looking for creepy reads
December 23, 2012 9:50 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for recommendations for creepy and/or scary novels and nonfiction.

I just finished Dan Simmons' "The Terror" and looooooved it. I'm also feeling a little sad that it may be weeks before I find something else that I enjoy half as much. I was hoping you could recommend novels or nonfiction that are well-written, intelligent and scary as hell.

Some things I've read and enjoyed on the fiction side include "A Good and Happy Child," "Night Work," all of Stephen King (of course), and "House of Leaves." All but the Stephen King were books I found out about by reading previous MeFi threads on the subject.

On the nonfiction side, I really enjoy intelligent and non-woo explorations of "mysterious phenomena," including UFOs, ESP and the like. I don't have any strongly held opinions on whether these things are real or not, but reading about them creeps me out in a very enjoyable fashion. Some books I've enjoyed in this category include "UFOs: Generals, Pilots and Government Officials Go on the Record," "Unbelievable: Investigations into Ghosts, Poltergeists, Telepathy, and Other Unseen Phenomena, from the Duke Parapsychology Laboratory," and "The ESP Enigma."

What I'm particularly looking for: things that seem not quite right, slowly building tension, books that are well-researched and well-written.

What I'm not looking for: gore for the sake of gore, cardboard-cutout characters, hastily slapped together books, New-Agey-type stuff (i.e. aliens are among us and they're here to bring world peace and heal us with crystals).

I've read and didn't particularly enjoy "The Amityville Horror," and made several attempts at reading Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman and Joe Hill, but just can't seem to get into any of 'em.

Oh, and I've pored for hours over this delightful thread: http://ask.metafilter.com/139743/WTF. The question really articulates well what I'm looking for in terms of tone, but am really looking for things in book format, specifically.
posted by indognito to Writing & Language (32 answers total) 76 users marked this as a favorite
Have you read The Ruins?
posted by blaneyphoto at 9:53 AM on December 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
posted by pseudonick at 9:56 AM on December 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Shirley Jackson? Her stuff buries the needle on my creep-o-meter.
posted by rtha at 9:57 AM on December 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

Seconding the Ruins. Suprisingly excellent.
posted by firei at 9:57 AM on December 23, 2012

The UFO Phenomenon: Fact, Fantasy and Disinformation was great - clear, readable, and free of woo.

If you don't hate unreliable narrators, you might like Caitlin R. Kiernan - The Red Tree was deeply creepy, and I've heard even better things about The Drowning Girl. (Bonus points for queer characters handled without special remark!) I've read at least one of her short story collections, too, and she does creepy spectacularly well.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:08 AM on December 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thirding The Ruins. The premise is absolutely ridiculous and yet you can't put it down.

"things that seem not quite right, slowly building tension, books that are well-researched and well-written"-- you just described The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing. Sounds right up your alley.

Oh, and Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris is one of the most engrossing thrillers I've ever read.
posted by scratch at 10:20 AM on December 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sarah Waters's The Little Stranger is one of the creepiest books I've ever read. "Not quite right" and "slowly creeping tension" describe it quite well.
posted by JuliaJellicoe at 10:28 AM on December 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ghost Story, by Peter Straub is one that I'd recommend, and I'll be watching this, because I'm not fond of most horror. I liked the "The Wasp Factory," mentioned above, and love Shirley Jackson. "House of Leaves" was almost great for me, but I was eventually overcome by the style and couldn't really hang with it. I think I finished it, but sort of resentfully, ultimately. But, So. Close.

You might also like "The Secret History." It's one of my favorites, but quite different from "The Terror" (which I also enjoyed a lot).

Here's something that isn't really in this genre, but which you might enjoy anyway: House of Sleep. I'm not even sure why I'm mentioning it, but it has a brooding and surprise quality that may do it for you. I liked it a lot.
posted by taz at 10:34 AM on December 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I read The Red Tree last year looking for a good creepy book and it did nothing for me. I just found the narrator annoying. Mileage obviously varies, since many other people love it.

Maybe Lovecraft is too obvious but I went through the Library of America anthology a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it.

Now I'm off to check out The Ruins!
posted by dfan at 10:35 AM on December 23, 2012

Seconding Shirley Jackson, e.g., We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Not "scary" per se, but creepy in a memorable way.

Tana French's first book, In the Woods, is a mystery that's about 25% police procedural, 15% flashbacks to a traumatic incident (described to let readers fill in the gaps with whatever horror they can imagine), and 60% foreboding and doom as the psychological stability of one of the investigators crumbles.
posted by salvia at 10:44 AM on December 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I enjoyed The Terror as well. You will enjoy his other book:

Carrion Comfort
posted by Kruger5 at 10:48 AM on December 23, 2012

Two slow but short and atmospheric reads that I've enjoyed recently:

Susan Hill, The Woman in Black. (I hear the movie wasn't good, but the book is a very nice, creepy, old-fashioned ghost story.)

Dathan Auerbach, Penpal. (Apparently, this started as a Reddit post; it's plenty creepy, but the plot, hm--expect to raise an eyebrow as you contemplate the story timeline in retrospect.)
posted by Monsieur Caution at 10:51 AM on December 23, 2012

The quick summary for Kem Nunn's Dogs Of Winter goes like this:

Jack Fletcher is hired to take pictures of a dangerous, premier mysto surf spot off the Pacific Northwest. But disaster soon strikes when an Indian boy drowns -- and the men from his reservation seek vengeance.

And it's accurate, except it doesn't go nearly far enough toward telling how deeply it will creep you out, how brilliantly it is written. By which, I don't mean it's "writerly". Anything but. It's just a complex noir, very effectively told.

Best fiction I've read in at least a couple of years.
posted by philip-random at 11:20 AM on December 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ray Bradbury - "Something Wicked this way comes"
Robert Holdstock - "Mythago Wood" (a bit more on the fantasy side, but I always think it has quite a mysterious, creepy atmosphere overall)
Ramsey Campbell maybe?
posted by crocomancer at 11:36 AM on December 23, 2012

The Hot Zone is as scary a work of nonfiction as I've read.
posted by languagehat at 12:10 PM on December 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

"It's a Good Life," by Jerome Bixby. I posted it as an FPP and it freaked people out but good.
posted by escabeche at 12:43 PM on December 23, 2012

Shirley Jackson : The Haunting of Hill House, We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Peter Straub : The Floating Dragon, Talisman (with Stephen King)
Joe Hill : 20th Century Ghosts
Charlotte Perkins Gilman : The Yellow Wallpaper
posted by Afroblanco at 1:03 PM on December 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

"A Choir of Ill Children" by Thomas Piccirilli is more on the creepy side, but I felt it was very well-written and compelling.
posted by batmonkey at 1:08 PM on December 23, 2012

Mr. Shivers by Robert Jackson Bennett was scary as fuck. Both scary and gross was Laird Barron's The Croning. Seconding Tom Piccirilli love and adding Brian Keene and Wrath James White to that batch of younger (i.e., middle-aged) US horror writers doing interesting work.

Graham Joyce's work is grim and smart. Ramsey Campbell is an OG in this field. Helen Oyeyemi's White is for Witching is spooky as hell.

On the inquiry into the paranormal front, I like anything Joe Nickell does. Susan Clancy's book Abducted: How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens does a great job of debunking people's stories of abduction while preserving respect for the people holding those beliefs, and the impacts those beliefs have had on their lives.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:06 PM on December 23, 2012

Have you seen this thread?
posted by get off of my cloud at 2:16 PM on December 23, 2012

If you don't mind science fiction,Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky is a weird slow burn. The Zone, a sort of post nuclear-disaster landscape filled with deadly but inexplicable perils (witches jelly, burning fluff) will stick with you a long time. Tarkovsky's film Stalker captures the derelict near-future and the dread beautifully,and while I love both versions the book features a lot more things happening.
full text here!
posted by velebita at 2:41 PM on December 23, 2012

Sharp Objects or Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, though I definitely found the former creepier.
posted by peripathetic at 4:26 PM on December 23, 2012

Let's Go Play at the Adams
posted by magstheaxe at 5:24 PM on December 23, 2012

Thanks all, for your suggestions!

Glad to hear Sharp Objects is even creepier than Gone Girl, bc Gone Girl was hella creepy. I will be reading it.

@get off my cloud, yes, that's a great thread--I read "The Terror" as well as several others because of it!

I downloaded "The Ruins" on my Kindle this evening and have been reading it. I saw the movie and thought it was dumb, but so far the book is very good. I'll be adding the many other suggestions to my reading list as well.

Thanks again!
posted by indognito at 5:26 PM on December 23, 2012

I'm not super into scary books, but every Halloween I like to read a few. Shirley Jackson is amazing, particularly We Have Always Lived in the Castle. This past Halloween I read this one and while not all of them were amazing, a few were fantastic. I particularly liked a very unsettling and odd story by Joyce Carol Oates which makes me want to read all of her spooky stuff. The Talisman isn't necessarily terrifying, but it's surprisingly one of my favorite books.
posted by theuninvitedguest at 6:40 PM on December 23, 2012

I quite liked Simmons's Drood--creepy and atmospheric, with the added bonus of some excellent shade-throwing at Charles Dickens.
posted by orrnyereg at 9:03 PM on December 23, 2012

I can't believe no one's mentioned Poe. The Murders in the Rue Morgue hits all your pro's while straying far away from all your con's. It thoroughly frightened me: I slept with my room door locked and the light on that night. Plus: it's a short story.
posted by slowlikemolasses at 9:35 PM on December 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

OH! What am I thinking?! I should recommend Michael Montoure!
posted by batmonkey at 10:27 PM on December 23, 2012

This story creeped me the hell out.
posted by Artw at 11:57 PM on December 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

(No, I didn't get it in the fancy letter version.)
posted by Artw at 11:57 PM on December 23, 2012

Don't Look Now by Daphne DuMaurier (the movie is also very creepy)
Patricia Highsmith short stories
posted by jenh526 at 1:52 PM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I adored The Red Tree, FWIW. I asked a similar question a while back that might have some answers you'll like.

I loved, loved, loved The Historian, but it bores some to tears (I was the opposite on The Terror, although parts of it still stick with me, so maybe I need to reread it). Dracula is fantastic, too.
posted by Addlepated at 10:17 PM on December 24, 2012

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