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Okay, people, it’s coming up to the feast of All Hallows, and we need some good spine-tingling, bone-chilling books.  These are not creepy, gory books – they are either a) books that just plain creep you out, or b) books that play with the themes and imagery of All Hallows/All Souls in really interesting ways.

These are fairly modern novels, but Kate Mosse’s list of Top Ten Ghost Stories for Grown-Ups, in The Guardian, includes many of the classics, from The Turn of the Screw to The Tell-Tale Heart.  Peter Washington has his own list as well.

Add your own in the comments!

Image1. The Perilous Gard, by Elizabeth Marie Pope.

Inspired by the Scottish ballad of Tam Lin, this Young Adult novel plays with the intersection between Christian and Pagan ideas of sacrifice and death in really interesting ways.  Set in the last days of the reign of Mary Tudor. The Perilous Gard is the story of Katherine Sutton, a lady in waiting to the imprisoned Elizabeth.  Her sister Alicia writes to Queen Mary asking for clemency for Elizabeth, but the Queen blames Kate, and she is packed off to a remote castle in Scotland where she can’t cause any more trouble.

And that’s when the fun starts.  The castle is bound up in grief over a terrible death from ten years ago, and there are rumours in the village that the Queen of the Faeries still lurks in the hills around the castle, kidnapping children.  Kate initially dismisses these as the tales of superstitious villagers (NOTE TO HEROINES OF GOTHIC NOVELS: never dismiss something as “the tales of superstitious villagers.”), but soon has reason to believe there might be some truth to them after all …

With evil stewards, court politics, tormented heroes, dark secrets, and strange rituals in the woods, this novel has it all.

Image2. The Lonely Places, by JM Morris.

Holy. Crap.  This book scared the daylights out of me.  Ruth Gemmill has escaped her abusive boyfriend, and desperately needs the comfort of her brother, Alex.  But Alex has suddenly and mysteriously gone missing and Ruth is determined to find him.

Halfway through the book, you start to wonder what on earth is going on.

Three-quarters of the way, you realise that the solution to the confusion and chaos of the narrative is either going to be brilliant or it’s going to be shit, and that if it’s shit you will personally hunt down the author and kill them, because you’re so invested in the outcome that it HAS to be brilliant.

At the end, you realise you are going to let the author live.

The spookiness of the landscape – decayed, post-industrial English towns – really brings this novel to life.  But it’s the narrator’s voice, and the ending, that have stayed with me in the five years since I read this book and make me a little bit freaked out just to have it in the house.

I may need to pull a Joey and put it in the freezer.

Image3. The End of Mr. Y, by Scarlett Thomas.

This is a very odd book.  People tend to either love it or hate it.  I loved it, but I hated everything else Scarlett Thomas ever wrote, so I seem to fall in the middle of that spectrum.

Ariel is a Ph.D. student, writing about the 19th-century author Thomas Lumas, whose manuscript The End of Mr. Y is an exceedingly rare find.  It is rumoured that everyone who’s ever read it has died soon after.   So when she comes across a copy in a secondhand bookshop, she can hardly believe it.  But soon*** she is in the midst of a bizarre supernatural adventure, and who knows if she’ll ever return …

***SEE, LADIES?  This is what happens when you DISMISS SOMETHING AS THE TALES OF SUPERSTITIOUS VILLAGERS.

Image4. The Pleasures of Men, by Kate Williams.

I’m including this even though I didn’t particularly enjoy it.  As I was reading it, I was thinking, “this is an excellent example of its kind, even though I don’t particularly enjoy that kind.”  It is, in places, abstract, non-linear, and an experiment in a style of writing as much as it is a story.  If you like experimental novels with vivid settings and unique imagery, this is a terrific read.

The publisher’s summary: “Kate Williams’ first novel, “The Pleasures of Men”, is a gothic thriller with a splash of brutal murder. Spitalfields, 1840. A murderer nicknamed The Man of Crows. A heroine with a mysterious past and a vivid imagination. Catherine Sorgeiul lives with her Uncle in a rambling house in London’s East End. When a murderer strikes, ripping open the chests of young girls and stuffing hair into their mouths to resemble a crow’s beak, Catherine is fascinated, and devours news of his exploits. As the murders cause panic throughout the city, she comes to believe she can channel the voices of his victims and that they will lead her to The Man himself. But she’s already far closer than she realises – and lurking behind the lies she’s been told about her past are secrets more deadly and devastating than anything her imagination can conjure.”

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