During the Covid lockdowns in 2020, there were reports that paranormal investigators were busier than ever. People used to being out of their homes for most of the day were now at home all day and able to witness strange happenings they hadn’t noticed before. Skeptics said that ghosts weren’t to blame. People were simply noticing typical house noises more because they were home more. Add all the heightened emotions of the pandemic to that, and it’s not surprising that people were hearing “ghosts” and freaking out.
Believers explained things a bit differently. Some said that the ghosts themselves were more restless because they now had to put up with the living 24/7. Luckily, none of them resorted to calling Beetlejuice to deal with the problem.
Whether or not you believe in real-life hauntings, a good haunted house novel can be gripping. Home is supposed to be a haven, and the idea of evil coming from the inside is profoundly disturbing.
This summer, many Americans have again found themselves working from home and staying in under the air conditioning. If you are noticing some sketchy things going on in your abode, it could be creaky pipes. Or something else.
Here (in no particular order) are some of the best classic and contemporary haunted house books to read in 2021.
1. The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson (1977)
If you consider yourself a fan of paranormal horror, you owe it to yourself to read this book. None of the adaptations quite live up to the written version. In real life, the home was the scene of a murder. In 1974 Ronald DeFeo Jr. shot and killed six members of his family in the home. He was sentenced to life in prison and died there in March 2021. After this horrific crime, the Lutz’s purchased the home but only lived there 28 days before fleeing and leaving their belongings behind. The Lutz’s worked with author Jay Anson to write the book about their experience. How much artistic license Anson (and the Lutz’s) took with their story has been a matter of debate ever since.
The book is a gripping and terrifying read, even if you don’t believe the history behind it. The fictional Lutz’s are your typical American family with three kids and a dog. The Amityville house seems like a bargain they can’t pass up, even knowing about the murders. The trouble starts when a friend convinces them to have the house blessed. The priest encounters a malevolent entity that tells him to “Get out.” Later the Lutz’s are bemused when their five-year-old daughter talks about her new playmate, “Jodie.” It soon becomes clear that Jodie is much more than an imaginary friend.
2. Burnt Offerings by Robert Marasco (1973)
Burnt Offerings is the best seller you’ve never heard of, but it paved the way for other classics like The Shining. Some critics have suggested that the economic anxieties of the 1970s ended up spawning a wave of haunted house novels. If this is true, then Burnt Offerings can be seen as the original pattern that other famous haunted house books from the decade borrowed.
The story revolves around Ben and Marian Rolfe, who begin the book living in a small apartment in Queens. They find it stifling in the summer and are constantly annoyed by their “low class” neighbors. When a deal comes along to rent a mansion in the country, they can’t pass it up.
A brother and sister own the mansion, and their elderly mother lives there. Their one requirement of their summer tenants is that they must bring said elderly mother her meals. Ben sees this as a red flag, but Marian convinces him it’s worth it. They are getting a fabulous deal, after all. Of course, not all is as it seems, and as the summer wears on, the house turns the couple, their son, and Ben’s aunt (who’s also living with them) into the worst versions of themselves.
Marasco’s chilling prose paints a vivid portrait of the vicious devolution of a seemingly normal family. Imagine The Shining, but if the whole family had gone as crazy as Jack, that’s what you get in Burnt Offerings.
3. The Shining by Stephen King (1977)
No list of haunted house books would be complete without a mention of The Shining. You’re probably familiar with this story from the film, but the book is a completely different animal. Like Burnt Offerings, the horror of The Shining has less to do with ghosts and more to do with inner demons that come out to play. It’s a terrifying read you won’t be able to put down.
4. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (1959)
This classic has also been adapted several times, but there’s no substitute for Jackson’s brilliant prose. The Haunting of Hill House has been called scary, disorienting, and disturbing.
The main character Eleanor comes to Hill House with three others to participate in an experiment. They want to see if rumors of a haunting at the house can be proven true. At first, it seems that the haunting is nothing to get excited about (if it even is a haunting.) Little do they know that the house is gathering its power and means to claim one of them for itself.
5. Within These Walls by Ania Ahlborn (2015)
Crime writer, Lucas Graham, sets out to meet a murderous cult leader at the scene of his crimes– a farmhouse on a grey-sand beach in Washington state. When his interviewee never shows up, Graham decides to investigate on his own. As he searches for information on the cult’s victims, he realizes that some of them never left. Ahlborn gives us a nice spin on the traditional haunted house story while maintaining some familiar tropes.
6. The Drake House by Kelly Moran (2015)
With 4.16 stars, The Drake House is one of the highest-rated modern ghost stories on Goodreads. Trisha has been plagued by nightmares ever since she was adopted as a young girl. When she meets Nick, the new deputy in town, she thinks she may have a shot at a normal life, but their connection disturbs a long-buried secret.
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