We all have our favorite horror tropes. Some like creature features, others like works with surreal unease. To me, the creepiest stories are the ones the characters don’t realize they’ve entered, the stories that have gone on for years or generations. Whether by their own misdeeds or pure misfortune, these characters find themselves haunted by past actions, wrongs, or wounds. Sometimes that haunting is by simple ghosts, and other times, the presence that plagues them is less easily categorizable.
Regardless of the circumstances, I like a book in which everything that’s supposedly long gone and buried is decidedly not. In the following novels, what’s past is prologue — and the stories that follow aren’t pretty. Just as it should be.
The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home, Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor
In the prolific podcast and two previous novels, the Night Vale universe has proven itself strange, surreal, and twisted twenty times over. The latest novel set in this desert town explores the origin story of one of Night Vale’s most mysterious residents, and woof, it is a dark, heavy tale. The titular Faceless Old Woman wasn’t always as such. She was, at the start, a girl. Like many, a daughter. Eventually, a pirate. Once, a lover. Squatting in the modern-day home of a man named Craig, she unfolds her own complicated, centuries-spanning, ghastly life story.
Heart-Shaped Box, Joe Hill
When you procure a ghost willingly, you forfeit sympathy in regards to whatever happens afterward. So there’s no need to spare any tears for Jude Coyne, an aging rocker whose collection of macabre items grows by one when he buys a haunted suit online. When the heart-shaped box bearing the suit arrives, Jude soon learns the perils of impulse purchases. The suit isn’t haunted by just any dead man; it’s possessed by the spirit of the stepfather of Jude’s deceased former girlfriend. And he’s bad and mad and mean.
The Graveyard Apartment, Mariko Koike, trans. Deborah Boliver Boehm
Teppei and Misao Kano have stars in their eyes when they move their picture-perfect family into their brand-new, affordably priced yet luxe apartment. The wonder swiftly fades. Strange and unsettling events pile up, just as neighbors move out. The apartment’s location next to a graveyard (a warning sign left unheeded) seems to have something to do with the spooky disturbances. But the Kanos have their own skeleton in the closet — and it’s now attempting to claw its way out.
The Twisted Ones, T. Kingfisher
The task of cleaning out her hoarding grandmother’s home is its own brand of horror for Mouse. But when she arrives at the house perched near the woods in middle-of-nowhere North Carolina, she stumbles into something more secret and far scarier than junk piles. Her step-grandfather’s journals are filled with terrifying ramblings about creatures in the woods and a certain green book. She might have chalked them up as the writings of a man in the throes of dementia, but strange, frightening things start to happen. Now Mouse and her dog Bongo are wrapped up in a gruesome story that started long before they ever arrived.
Four and Twenty Blackbirds, Cherie Priest
The heartbeat of this moody Southern gothic series starter is Eden Moore, a young woman accustomed to seeing ghosts. In fact, she regularly sees three of them: seemingly friendly sisters with a shared tragic past, one that intersects with the largely untold history of Eden’s own family. Orphaned at birth, Eden knows little of her roots. Now those ghosts are leaving her clues, warning her against a looming evil. To fend off the threat, Eden plays detective for her own buried antebellum family history, looking for the root of a supernatural curse.
The Only Good Indians, Stephen Graham Jones
For your pre-order list, Jones’s latest creeper tells the story of youthful mischief come home to roost, nested within matter-of-fact social commentary. Much of the story is told in flashback, but it begins with Lewis, who’s moved away from the Blackfeet reservation where he grew up. Lewis’s life has sorted itself out to a degree — until the elk appears. The shadowy elk haunts his footsteps, sowing tragedy in its wake. In fits and starts, we learn more about why the elk has come and why one night of mistakes long ago has returned for revenge on Lewis and his three friends.