1. The Haunting of Hill House- Shirley Jackson No one knows, even, why some houses are called haunted."
What else could you call Hill House?" Luke demanded. Well - disturbed, perhaps. Leprous. Sick. Any of the popular euphemisms for insanity; a deranged house is a pretty conceit."
The occult scholar, Dr Montague is looking for proof of the existence of ghosts. He stays in Hill House with his assistant, Theodora; Luke, who stands to inherit the property; and the meek, fragile Eleanor, who has had previous encounters with poltergeists. Events unfold that suggest they may indeed not be alone in the house.
This classic ghost story, first published in 1959, is subtly ambiguous, similar to Henry James' The Turn of the Screw. Shirley Jackson is the mistress of creating an unnerving, spooky atmosphere through the description of places and everyday objects. The Haunting of Hill House is timeless and chilling.
2. Haunted - Chuck Palahniuk
"When we die, these are the stories still on our lips. The stories we'll only tell strangers, someplace private in the padded cell of midnight. These important stories, we rehearse them for years in our head but never tell. These stories are ghosts, bringing people back from the dead. Just for a moment. For a visit. Every story is a ghost."
Haunted is a novel composed of a collection of short stories. A group of strangers answer an advertisement inviting them to spend three months in an artist's retreat, away from outside distractions to get on with producing their masterpieces. They find themselves trapped inside an old theatre without heat and running out of food. To pass the time, they tell each other stories.
There is very little in the way of supernatural elements in this book. The horror mainly comes from man's inhumanity to man. The writing is uneven. A couple of the stories are real gems, though others are less enjoyable. The first story, Guts is deliberately provocative. If you can make it through that one, you should handle the rest of the book just fine. Some are scary, or clever, or scarily clever. For my money, Civil Twilight stands out as the best.
3. John Dies at the End- David Wong
"Frank found out the hard way that the dark things lurking in the night don't haunt old houses or abandoned ships. They haunt minds."
David Wong and his friend, John, meet a charismatic stranger at a party who claims to be able to tell fortunes. He gives John and four other party-goers a mysterious drug, nicknamed "soy sauce", which gives the user the ability to make connections they otherwise wouldn't. Less than 24 hours later, four of those five people are dead. David must figure out what's going on in time to save John and the world.
John Dies at the End started its life as a short story David Wong (aka. Jason Pargin, now an editor at Cracked.com), wrote one Halloween to share with his friends. It was passed around from person to person and eventually gained enough popularity to be expanded into, and published as, a novel. It has even since been adapted into a feature film, directed by Don Coscarelli, of Phantasm and Bubba Ho-Tep. It's a very strange book, a little like something Douglas Adams might have written if he were American and about twelve years old. The humour is very juvenile, but also clever in parts. The plot is convoluted, and there are a few too many explosions (and that's not something I say lightly), and I could have done without the repeated use of the word "retarded", but it's also actually scary and in places surprisingly touching. It will really creep you out if you are at all afraid of bugs, worms or penises.
4. And Then There Were None- Agatha Christie
"One of us in this very room is in fact the murderer."
Ten strangers each receive an invitation to stay on a private island off the cost of Devon, owned by an eccentric millionaire. Strangely, their host is nowhere to be found, and when one of the guests is found murdered, the survivors learn that they have something common- each is hiding a secret from their past that may be the reason they are on the island.
First published in 1939, this suspenseful book is Christie's best-selling novel, and the best-selling mystery novel ever. It has been turned into multiple film and television adaptations, including the excellent BBC miniseries from 2015. It's popular for a reason, and will keep you guessing right up until the end.
5. Wylding Hall- Elizabeth Hand
"We are the boys who come today
To bury the wren on St. Stephen's Day.
Where shall we bury her feathers?
In a grave mound.
What shall we do with her bones?
Bury them in the ground.
They'll break men's plows!
Cast them into the sea.
They'll grow into great rocks
That will wreck ships and boats!
We'll burn them in the fire
And throw her ashes to the sky."
The young British acid folk band, Windhollow Faire were reeling from a scandal, so their manager cooked up a plan to save the band. They would spend the summer secluded in a country mansion, Wylding Hall, away from distractions, and record their new album. A strange girl shows up at the house, and soon afterwards the lead singer, Julian, goes missing, and is later presumed to be dead. Years later the band recount their experiences for a documentary about the band, and try to make sense of what happened that fateful summer.
The format of this novel takes some getting used to, as it is told in snippets from the different members of the band and the manager, and jumps back and forth between different points of view. It's a very creepy story that unfolds slowly, full of details that bring the time and the place to life. It will haunt you long after you finish reading it.