Abandoned buildings, locked doors and underground passageways: they just beg for an amateur sleuth to investigate. Ever since I first read Harriet the Spy in elementary school, I’ve been captivated by the idea of uncovering what’s hidden. You never know what you’ll find: cobwebs, dead bodies, spare relatives…and it must be noted here that all the best houses, suffused as they are with evil, burn to the ground in the end. It is a universal truth.
This list could be pages long, but below are some of my favorites, the perfect books to read on a dark and stormy night, as you’re huddled under your blankets (with a flashlight, of course), clutching your book in a white-knuckled grip.
by Charlotte Bronte
Thornfield is the head of the literary triumvirate of creepy houses. Mysterious laughter, sinister servants and a brooding, passionate Mr. Rochester make it impossible for Jane to stay in her room at night. When she awakes in the dark to find a deranged woman slowly ripping her wedding veil in half. As you read, just remember to breathe.
by Daphne Du Maurier
Manderley is second-in-command in the creepy house triumvirate. It is a place suffocated by the memory of its first mistress, Rebecca de Winter, whom everyone assumed was nothing short of perfect. The newly-married, inexperienced second Mrs. de Winter gradually unravels the mystery surrounding Rebecca’s death even as she tries in vain to emulate her in life. The malevolent housekeeper Mrs. Danvers constantly interrupts her snooping, and Mrs. de Winter’s moody husband does little to help as the life they’ve built at Manderley spirals out of control.
by Agatha Christie
Completing the triumverate is the unnamed house in Christie’s best-known work. Ten people are lured to the house, located on a small island, and then trapped there with no way of escape. It becomes a matter of life and death as the characters search the house and surrounding island for the killer who’s murdering them one by one.
by Edgar Allan Poe
It’s not a novel, but definitely worth including on this list. Poe masterfully creates a decaying house that’s as much a character as any of its disturbed inhabitants. The shadowy rooms, the suffocating tomb and the near-sentient vegetation surrounding the house contribute to an all-pervading malevolence. It is the house itself that makes the story so frightening and one of Poe’s best.
by P.D. James
It’s a lavish, darkly comic nod to classic British mysteries like And Then There Were None. Private investigator Cordelia Gray is trapped on an island, alone in a castle full of necrophilic objects and an odd assortment of people who each have their own sinister secrets. After the first murder, it’s up to Cordelia to find the truth—no matter how many underground passageways and skull-filled crypts it takes.
by Diane Setterfield
Famous author and recluse Vida Winter has finally chosen to tell her life story to biographer Margaret Lea. Winter lives at the crumbling, haunted estate at Angelfield, where Margaret must do some investigating of her own in order to unspool the truth from a woman guarding dark family secrets that span generations. As Winter spins her tale of other-worldly twins, an abandoned baby and an unsettled ghost, Margaret comes to realize the living inhabitants at Angelfield are just as frightening as the dead.
by Deanna Raybourn
In the third installment of the Lady Julia series, the heroine travels to Grimsgrave, a moldering old mansion in Yorkshire, in order to settle things between herself and Nicholas Brisbane. She soon finds the house is also occupied by the last members of an ancient family fiercely guarding the skeletons in their closets. Hidden panels, a collection of Egyptian relics and the lonely, windswept moors give Julia plenty to investigate as she uncovers the hidden history of a house of horrors. With more than a passing nod to Wuthering Heights, this lush, atmospheric tale slowly builds to a frightening climax. A note: Because all three Lady Julia novels would fit nicely in this list, and in order to really appreciate the details, check out the first book in the series, Silent in the Grave, and the second, Silent in the Sanctuary.
by Laura Miller, Shirley Jackson
If you’re looking for something scarier than the books above, look no further. The Haunting of Hill House is frightening in its simplicity, subtlety and lack of actual ghosts or monsters. When a ghost hunt is organized at the malevolent Hill House, the hunters little expect the terror to come from exploring the house and grounds. Eleanor’s disturbing emotional deterioration intensifies an already harrowing tale.
Recommending books so good, they'll keep you up past your bedtime. more...
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