Whether you’re a lightweight horror fan content with mildly chilling content, or you want the kind of psychological thrill that leaves you near-traumatized for days, peering around grocery store aisles just in case, October is the time when everyone feels the need to get spooky.
For that reason, here’s a short list of spooky books for spooky season, ranging from the warm-hearted to the cold-blooded, but in no particular order.
This book tells the true story of a beauty queen and a gravedigger, and the murder and subsequent crimes they allegedly committed while indoctrinated in a doomsday cult offshoot of the Mormon Church. The book tells a wide story rather than a long narrative, explaining the history of LDS and their splinter groups, the Book of Revelations, as well as the sociology and environment that laid the groundwork for this kind of criminal undertaking. What’s more? This is a somewhat urgent book TBR: Lori Vallow and Chad Daybell stand a Death Row trial in January of 2023. If you plan to follow the court case in real time, When the Moon Turns to Blood could help situate the story.
If you’re like me, you loved the show Mindhunter. And, if you’re like me, you also thought that Dr. Wendy Carr was among the most compelling characters, this book is for you. Sort of like how Robert Ressler’s Whoever Hunts Monsters illuminated the Mindhunter character of Bill Tench, A Killer by Design illustrates Dr. Wendy Carr.
Those characters of Mindhunter are fictionalized, of course. Ann Wolbert Burgess, the author of this book, though, is very real. Burgess tells the stories of how she (a forensic nurse) and the FBI’s behavioral science unit evolved the process of criminal profiling from where it started—which was basically just eugenics and racism—to classifying violent offenders. I’m so happy this book exists. Let’s do it together: add to cart.
If you’ve heard of the “Angel of Death,” then you’ve heard of the Nurse, Charlie Cullen. Over the course of his sixteen-year career, Cullen traveled through nine different hospitals in the northeast, and he’s been implicated in the deaths of over 300 patients. This is his story. Or, rather this is the whole story, meticulously culled from intense research by the author. Not only does it talk about Cullen, but it discusses the healthcare system that allowed this monster to travel hospital to hospital unencumbered.
Bonus: Eddie Redmayne stars in the Netflix original series adapted from this book, so when you finish reading, you have a bonus spooky treat on deck.
Double bonus (and by that I mean self-plug): If you’re interested in medical murder, you might like my book of true crime, too, America’s First Female Serial Killer.
I’ll be the first to admit that as an avid horror reader, the fact that Chbosky also wrote The Perks of Being a Wallflower was not a selling point for me in this book. In fact, I doubted that the same person who wrote a heartfelt coming of age story could also spook me to the point of reading a book of his in October… but after reading these reviews, I will probably give it a shot. The premise is this: Kate Reese uproots her seven-year-old son Christopher to escape an abusive home life. When they arrive in Mill Grove, Pennsylvania, Christopher suddenly vanishes. He’s gone for six days, and then he returns, unharmed. Except for a voice in his head that’s telling him he has to build a treehouse before Christmas, or else.
For those looking to dabble in magic, try this illustrated grimoire for at-home spell work. The 85+ spells include easy-to-find ingredients and easy-to-follow instructions of some of most time-honored fortune-telling techniques, from tarot cards to palm reading. It looks like this book is for any range of skill, so if you’re interested in ancient Romany tradition presented accessibly, try this one out!
We know her as the Mistress of the Night, the host of late-night vintage horror films, but in this memoir, Cassandra Peterson (more widely known as Elvira) tells the story of her whole life. From the childhood accident that left her with third degree burns to her big break with Elvis Presley, readers learn how she went from small-town Midwestern girl to campy, 4-decade strong Halloween icon.
No matter what your horror threshold, you’ll find at least one spooky book for spooky season in this list!
Mary Kay McBrayer is the author of America’s First Female Serial Killer: Jane Toppan and the Making of a Monster. You can find her short works at Oxford American, Narratively, Mental Floss, and FANGORIA, among other publications. She co-hosts Everything Trying to Kill You, the comedy podcast that analyzes your favorite horror movies from the perspectives of women of color. Follow Mary Kay McBrayer on Instagram and Twitter, or check out her author site here.