The best horror books

Prepare to lie awake all night with our pick of the scariest books and horror stories to read right now.

Gothic, psychological, supernatural, slasher: there's more than one way to be scared. From the suspense of Stephen King to the body horror of Clive Barker, if you're looking for a new horror novel, you're in the right place with our pick of the best horror books.


by Hiron Ennes

Book cover for Leech

In an isolated, icebound community, a doctor kills himself. The replacement, sent by the Interprovincial Medical Institute, discovers a parasite living in the corpse. But how did it survive, when the doctor was already possessed? And who exactly are the Interprovincial Medical Institute?

If Poe wrote about parasites, he'd be on his way to Leech. This is an atmospheric Gothic horror from a terrifying new voice. 

American Psycho

by Bret Easton Ellis

Book cover for American Psycho

On the surface, Patrick Bateman is living the dream: a job as a stockbroker, dinner dates every night at the latest restaurant in town, a string of admirers. But behind the pristine façade lurks a psychopath.

It's hard to know which element of Patrick's increasingly sadistic murderous rampage around New York is the most horrifying. The explicit violence. The unsettling feeling of not being entirely sure what's real and what's imagined. The void at the heart of our nightmarish protagonist. Or the implication that the same void sits at the heart of us, too. 


by Peter Benchley

Book cover for Jaws

The book that got millions of people out of the water. Although perhaps best known now as the Steven Spielberg film, the just-as-terrifying original novel has sold over twenty million copies. Set amongst the holiday makers of a small Atlantic resort, the terror begins with a body, or what's left of it, washing up on the beach. And whilst the famous shark provides the gore, it's the behaviour of those in authority which offers the shocks. 

The Magic Cottage

by James Herbert

Book cover for The Magic Cottage

A cottage in the heart of the forest. Charming, if a little run down. A haven. But it has dark side.

Sinister sects, hideous creatures, 'healings' – be entertained and horrified in equal measure by this unpredictable classic chiller from the best-selling James Herbert. 

The Scarlet Gospels

by Clive Barker

Book cover for The Scarlet Gospels

Clive Barker may be most famous for his strange, visceral body horror films (Hellraiser, Candyman) but as true Barker aficionados know, these were actually adaptations of his books. The Scarlet Gospels is a return to the world and characters of Hellraiser. The Cenobite Hell Priest known as Pinhead is making his way around Earth killing the last remaining magicians and gorging on their knowledge with the intention of taking over Hell. Then Private Investigator Harry D' Amour inadvertently opens a portal between Hell and Earth. . .

The Ritual

by Adam Nevill

Book cover for The Ritual

It was the dead thing they found hanging from a tree that changed the trip beyond recognition.

Four friends attempting to re-find common ground on a hiking trip take a shortcut they may live to regret. If they're lucky. Lost in the Scandinavian wilderness, they take shelter in an isolated house full of macabre remains and pagan rituals. There's something of the Blair Witch to this menacing, suspenseful novel, which uses the power of suggestion and a creeping sense of claustrophobia to terrifying effect.

The Wicker Man

by Robin Hardy

Book cover for The Wicker Man

Unusually, this book was published after its filmic counterpart and is infact a novelization of Anthony Shaffer's haunting original script (itself inspired by David Pinner's novel Ritual). A Highlands policeman on the trail of a missing girl is lured to the remote Scottish island of Summerisle, just in time for their May Day celebrations. . .


by Bram Stoker

Book cover for Dracula

Bram Stoker's creation may not be the first literary vampire, but he's certainly the most famous. Whilst Dracula and his nemesis, Van Helsing, are regularly reinterpreted, updated and adapted, the original novel is very much of its time. Told via letters, diary entries and newspaper articles, it explores and reflects the fears that dominated Victorian society – the corruption of morality, unrestrained sexuality, irrationality and the foreign. But don't let this fool you into thinking it won't frighten the twenty-first century reader just as much. 


by Robin Cook

Book cover for Pandemic

For those ready to revisit the horror of a deadly virus, this is an eerie, explosive read from the writer who invented the medical thriller. 

When a seemingly healthy woman dies after a respiratory attack on the New York subway, forensic pathologist Jack Stapleton uncovers some surprising findings about the cause of death. When further cases start to occur around the city, and then the world, Jack realises a new virus may be circulating, and enters a race against time to discover the link that connects all the victims.

Lovecraft Country

by Matt Ruff

Book cover for Lovecraft Country

Now an HBO Series from J.J. Abrams, Misha Green and Jordan Peele (director of Get Out), Lovecraft Country combines the mundane terrors of white America with malevolent spirits and a secret ritualistic cabal to entertaining and thought-provoking effect. 

In 1950s Chicago, Army veteran Atticus Turner sets out to find his missing father, alongside his Uncle George and childhood friend Letitia. They're aiming for New England, and the home of Samuel Braithwaite, heir to the estate that owned one of Atticus's ancestors, and what they find there is even more sinister than they imagined.


by Stephen King

Book cover for IT

If you find clowns unsettling, then IT may well be why. Its terrifying central force – horror harlequin, Pennywise – has become so embedded in our collective psyches you don't need to have actually read the book to be frightened of him. This novel, in two parts, tells of the fear and devastation he brings to the young residents of a Maine town. The real horror, though, lies in the adult population's strange almost-acquiescence to the harm being done to their children.

In this episode of Book Break, Emma recommends the best horror books for Stephen King fans.