B. P. Walter Shares His Favourite Halloween Reads
I love autumn, and for me Halloween is the grand finale of the season before the pumpkins are swapped for Christmas trees. It’s like a comforting treat, where strange and scary stories can be enjoyed by the safe warmth of an armchair by the fire and I always make sure my reading for the month of October reflects this in some way. For me, the perfect sort of Halloween fiction are stories that are rich in mood and sense of place and opt to unsettle the reader rather than traumatise them. Instead of a season for full-on nastiness (although people are free to turn to gory tales of horrific crimes if they wish), I see this as a time to enjoy the more subtle, atmospheric side of sinister fiction as we edge closer to winter. Although a number of very bad things happen around Halloween in my psychological thriller Hold Your Breath, I chose to have the young protagonist in that book a keen reader of gothic novels and scary stories, where she could seek come solace in fictional frights in order to keep her mind away from the real terrors going on in the house and the surrounding woodland where she lives. I think it’s that dual sense of safety and fear that make unsettling tales so appealing. With all this in mind, I’ve put together six of my favourite Halloween reads, some new and some old, all of them guaranteed to keep you gripped this 31st October.
Cuckoo by Sophie Draper
I read this novel when it came out near Christmas in 2018 and it’s stayed in my mind ever since. It’s both a psychological suspense thriller and something weirder and less easy to pin-down, offering the reader a swirling mixture of fairy-tale folklore and steadily mounting dread. I don’t think I’ve read anything quite like it before or since and it makes for a deeply immersive experience.
Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie
This was the first Agatha Christie novel I read, back when I was 11 years old, and it had a great impact on me. It’s set in 1969, which in itself is interesting, as so many readers usually expect Christie’s novels to be entirely based around the 1930s (something probably caused by the many adaptations that have dragged her stories either forward or backward to that particular time for ease of continuity). It presents an unsettling and at times disturbing view of a changing England, told within the microcosm of a small rural village where a child has been murdered. Deliciously autumnal and with a meticulously crafted plot, it’s a thoroughly absorbing mystery novel.
The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor
Many thriller readers will be familiar with this: C.J. Tudor’s acclaimed debut that focuses on a small community haunted by some very creepy goings-on. It’s one of those books where the least you know the better, but if you like your crime novels to be drenched in the uncanny and macabre, this is for you.
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
A story that’s been adapted and reworked so many times (with two adaptations arriving on screens big and small this year alone), it can sometimes be easy to lose sight of Henry James’s masterful original novella. The book remains one of the most effective pieces of ghost story writing ever produced, filled with twists which continue to ricochet around one’s mind long after reading.
The Minotaur by Barbara Vine
All Ruth Rendell’s works are worth reading, so I find it difficult to pick out just one, but there are many things about The Minotaur that make it perfect for dark October nights. This particular novel, written under her occasional pseudonym of Barbara Vine, is much longer than many of her books and for good reason: it tells a gorgeously detailed gothic-infused story of a large crumbling old house in the Essex countryside, labyrinthine in design and filled with unnerving secrets. Echoes of Jane Eyre, The Woman in White and The Turn of the Screw reverberate throughout the strange and deeply textured story, along with a dash of Donna Tartt. Irresistible and compelling.
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