I love a good thriller, and October is the perfect spooky setting to get your horror on. I’ve rounded up 13 (because, obviously) pulse-pounding, spine-chilling reads to dive into in the middle of the afternoon, surrounded by happy people who love you… or if you’re a true daredevil, alone in your house as dusk falls. Good luck.
Not to be confused with Into the Woods, the charming and raunchy musical, In the Woods is a bleak, riveting slow burn of a ride. If I had to describe this book in one word it would be HOLYF*CKINGTENSION. Your pulse will be pounding, your palms sweating, the back of your neck tingling… but you can’t really be sure why. That’s the beauty of this book. Be warned: the story doesn’t have a tie-it-all-in-a-bow sort of ending (far from it) and you’ll probably cry at least once.
Fall is the season to revisit the classics — and October is perfect for the gothic lit masterpiece, Rebecca. Curl up with a comforter and a steaming cup of tea (a rainy day is preferable) and dive into the story of Maximilian de Winter, who sweeps our lowly heroine off her feet and rushes her to his estate, Manderley… where she’ll discover the looming threat of her new beau’s deceased first wife, Rebecca. DUN DUN DUN.
This book freaked me out a bunch, because I have an irrational (or rational??) fear of losing my mind — or people making me think I’m losing my mind á la Changeling — and it played on that fear expertly. The gist: Cass has unwittingly seen the victim of a crime right before it happened and now she can’t think of anything else… she is so consumed she’s forgetting her own mind. This isn’t a shocking, twisty thriller — it’s much more standard, and the mystery is almost too easy to guess. I’d call it Thriller LiteTM. For those looking to dip their toes into the genre.
Whoosh, this book stayed with me for weeks after reading. It’s tragic, and thought-provoking, and just plain weird at moments. It will challenge you to think deeply, and very differently, from the very first page. From the start, you’ll wonder if you should trust Yasmin, the young narrator of the story, who obsessively watches her classmate, Alice, and unwittingly sees the man that is also watching Alice. Twisty and shocking and tense, it’s a perfect October read.
I would be remiss if I didn’t include a Romantic Suspense title on this list. Romantic Suspense is like, so totally the best because it has everything you want: a pulse-pounding, what-the-hell-is-happening plot, a badass female protagonist, and buckets and buckets of sexual tension (plus some *steamy* sex scenes). The romance will ease the clutch on your freakoutedness, which usually means these are titles you can read at home, alone, in the dark… at least most of the time. Laura Griffin is one of my favorites in the genre and Twisted is one of her best. Think a headstrong female detective, a sexy-as-hell FBI profiler, and a psychopath on the loose. Yes, please. (P.S. If you’re looking for more RomSusp, try Karen Rose and J.D. Robb).
For those of us looking for a sharp, military thriller, the latest in the Charlie Fox series has arrived to answer the call. This time, Charlie’s boss is missing in Iraq and she’s worried he’s on a violent vendetta in her name (draaaaaaama). Chaos, violence, and thrills ensue. A satisfying read to round out your thriller oeuvre.
A must for Serial fans, this riveting novel follows Josie Buhrman, who’s been outrunning her family’s reputation since a brutal murder. Cue Poppy Parnell, an investigative journalist, who reopens the murder case in what becomes a mega-hit podcast. A fascinating glimpse into how murder frays the lives surrounding it.
Chances are, you’ve read Gone Girl (or seen the movie, which is NOT THE SAME, but fine), but you might not have had the time to pick up Flynn’s other works, including the fascinating, disturbing, resplendent Dark Places. Fair warning: this is not the book to read before bed when your roommate is out of town. This is the book to read with EVERY light on in the middle of the day, surrounded by people who love and support you. But once you get sucked into it’s web, you’ll be finding any and every time to read it, because it won’t let you go till you find out what-the-hell-is-happening-here. Flynn’s prose is so gloriously disturbing, beautiful, and sinister, it’s worth a read just to get lost in her engrossing world. I know I haven’t told you anything about the plot of the book, but that’s probably a blessing. Just read it, you’re welcome, goodbye.
WARNING WARNING: If you are sensitive to rape, sexual assault, or animal cruelty, think hard before picking up this book. This was so, so troubling, and tough, and at times flat-out, disgustingly horrific. It is also hauntingly beautiful and just so damn important in exposing the far-reaching effects of rape culture — on everyone, not only the survivors. Read it if you’re looking for an intensely aware, unflinching, engrossing book — riddled with horror.
I had to read this in college and I was NOT EXCITED. But then I read the first page and was instantly entranced. This is a true story (creep factor high) that broke barriers when it was first published due to the way Capote melded true crime with novelistic storytelling. It’s a beautifully crafted narrative, shocking in it’s intensity and cruelty, made all the more horrific because it actually happened. A chilling read, perfect for a chilly October evening.
If you’re looking to get REALLY SUPER FREAKED then look no further. Combining lots of action with slow burn suspense (the best), Cleave turns this story about cellular memory into an intense, riveting, exceptional thrill. The basics: Joshua receives a new set of eyes through corneal transplant (my calves are tingling in uncomfortable titillation already), one from his father and one from a serial killer. I know what you’re thinking — this sounds like a Lifetime movie with very poor rating on Rotten Tomatoes. That is the mastery of Paul Cleave. In his adept hands, the story becomes rich, layered, and immensely complex.
Since I’ve included some disturbing, haunting, SCARY AF books on this list, I’m indulging myself by including this fluffy series by my favorite childhood author, Meg Cabot (you may know her as the author of The Princess Diaries). Her Mediator series follows our heroine Suze, who can see and speak to (and occasionally beat up) ghosts. She has the mediator “gift,” meaning it’s her job to shepherd these wayward ghosts to the afterlife, which she does with as much sass and black leather as possible. This series is so much fun (did I mention the hot ghost living in her bedroom) and will give you a touch of spooky, what’s-going-to-happen fix without the pee-your-pants horror.
Also published on Medium.