Horror may not always be the most respected fiction genre, but it's the only one that can claim its own holiday: Halloween. A time to gorge on candy. A time to become someone - or something - else. A time to read horror novels? I'd hope you don't only do that on Oct. 31, but it's a good excuse to buy a few extras, pull up the sheets and scare yourself silly. Here's a few that do the trick for me.
The Shining (1977), by Stephen King When a family becomes caretakers in an empty resort hotel, its ghosts turn the patriarch into a killer. This is first-rate horror with all the classic ingredients: a spooky setting, supernatural events and chilling psychological drama. Even the excellent Stanley Kubrick movie version doesn't do the book justice.
The Silence of the Lambs (1988), by Thomas Harris An FBI trainee must team up with an imprisoned serial killer to catch another predator. This one might be shelved under mystery rather than horror, but Hannibal Lecter is more terrifying than any Transylvanian count.
The Turn of the Screw (1898), by Henry James A governess takes over the care of two children who seem to be haunted by the ghosts of their former governess and her lover. Or is it all in her mind? Eerie. Thought-provoking. Brilliant.
The Exorcist (1971), by William Peter Blatty In the midst of a crisis of faith, a priest must free a young girl from demonic possession. I read this when I was far too young to see the movie, and it was the first book that gave me nightmares … so I read it again.
The Haunting of Hill House (1959), by Shirley Jackson A lonely woman joins a team investigating a haunted house, and finally finds a place where she feels at home. It's often said that the horror left to the reader's imagination is more powerful than anything described on the page. This classic proves it.
The Hellbound Heart (1986), by Clive Barker A jaded hedonist tracks down a puzzle box said to be a portal into a world of unimaginable pleasure. It isn't. I reread this slim novella recently and it was still as stomach-churning as I remembered.
Let the Right One In (published in Swedish in 2004 as Låt den rätte komma, and in English translation in 2007), by John Ajvide Lindqvist A friendship develops between two outcast children, one of them a vampire - and not the kind who dines at blood banks. Both achingly sweet and startlingly gruesome, this is a vampire tale unlike any other.
Relic (1995), by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child Partygoers attending the opening of a new museum exhibit are stalked by a reptilian humanoid. It's categorized as a thriller, but any book with a monster and a growing body count is horror to me. Well-developed characters raise this above typical escape-the-beast fare.
The Amityville Horror (1977), by Jay Anson A family buys a house in which a young man massacred his family. Never a wise investment. Hoax allegations taint the delicious true-ghost-story spine-tingler, but it's still a great haunted-house story.
Misery (1987), by Stephen King An author who recently ended his popular series is taken captive by his No. 1 fan, who'll do anything to make him write another book. I reread this a few years ago, and it was twice as scary as I remembered. That may have something to do with the fact that I'm now an author myself, with a long-running series, and readers who sporadically e-mail me with the subject line: I'm Your Number One Fan.
Kelley Armstrong is author of the Otherworld series, which can be found under Horror despite a disappointing lack of spine-tingling terror.