What sends shivers down your spine when reading? Spooky houses, possessed clowns, ghosts, vampires… October is the month when all the things that go bump in the night come to the forefront. Slasher films are the rage nowadays, but I prefer gothic tales that focus on atmosphere and imagination more. I think my love of gothic stories started with THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The eerie setting and the questions surrounding the mystery Sherlock Holmes was there to solve kept me up late reading and it’s still a frequent re-read of mine. Over the years, I’ve discovered two main themes to the gothic tales I love- usually there’s either a spooky house or a paranormal element. One exception is THE RED CARNELIAN by Phyllis Whitney, which always makes my list of best all time stories. The image of the mannequins and the smell of pine- when you can still envision scenes over 35 years after reading a book, you know it's a fabulous one! Another favorite of mine is REBECCA - the classic tale by Daphne du Maurier. Although there are no actual ghosts – the spirit of Maxim de Winter’s late wife Rebecca permeates Manderley. People either seem afraid to mention her name or utter it in hushed tones. Manderley would seem like a beautiful paradise to bring a new bride to, but it has more baggage than most people.
In similar fashion, Dorothy Daniels’ THE HOUSE OF BROKEN DOLLS is another book where even the cover sends shivers down my spine. While not about a traditional spooky house, THE HOUSE OF BROKEN DOLLS centers around a magnificent dollhouse stored in the tower room of a family chalet. The dollhouse perfectly resembles the real chalet, right down to the people currently visiting. As dolls are broken in various manners, so are the live people - I get chills even thinking about it! Going right along with the doll in an eerie house theme, Dorothy Eden wrote THE VOICE OF THE DOLLS where a young woman hears a small girl playing with her dolls. The dolls are speaking very dangerous words, but Sarah isn’t the only one hearing the little girl playing and there’s a killer on the loose. There’s just something downright spooky about dolls and scary houses that has lasted throughout the generations as there is even a Geico advertisement that plays on the theme of a dusty room filled with dolls.
Continuing with the theme of spooky houses, Rae Foley is another favorite gothic author as I love MALICE DOMESTIC and GIRL ON A HIGH WIRE. Both feature mansions with sordid pasts that are still haunting people to this day. THE SECRETS OF CYPRIERE BAYOU by Jana Deleon is the perfect example of a modern-day gothic, with a spooky mansion with hidden passages and a history of murder. The setting in the swampy bayou enhances the creepy factor, making this a must read for gothic fans. DARKENING AROUND ME by Barbara Hancock takes on a similar theme but also throws in the paranormal and some creepy statues (and boy, are the statues in the garden the kind of place you don’t want to be caught out in the dark!). I’ve only read one book by her (unlike the other authors previously mentioned), but she’s on my list to read more from. For fans of the older gothics, Phyllis Whitney’s HUNTER’S GREEN and Dorothy Daniels’ THE APOLLO FOUNTAIN also feature spooky homes where the topiary is almost scarier, and maybe even more so than the house itself!
Another eerie house that still stands out to me months after finishing it is MEXICAN GOTHIC by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Some of the scenes are a bit gorier than traditional gothic stories as it verges on horror at times but oh man is the story worth reading! Silvia Moreno-Garcia is another author I’ve added to my list to read more of her works because yes, she’s that good! I haven’t yet read HOUSE OF HUNGER by Alexis Henderson, but it appears to be in a similar vein (literally, since blood is a heavily involved) merging the gothic and horror genres.
We can’t discuss modern day gothic tales without mentioning Eve Silver! I’d forgotten how much I enjoy her tales until I reread DARK DESIRES recently. I love the suspense around the hero as well as the dark mysteries behind his estate and his work in the separate lab. Classic gothic tale and I plan to reread more of Eve Silver’s books soon!
Taking a turn towards the paranormal, HAUNTED HEARTS by Elizabeth Rose checks off all sorts of boxes - a mysterious death, rumors of witchcraft, and the attraction to the dark lord who haunts the heroine despite all her misgivings. THE DEAD TRAVEL FAST by Deanna Raybourn also captures that eerie gothic atmosphere couple with the paranormal. I loved every moment of it! And then there’s Brooklyn Ann’s HIS RUTHLESS BITE which features my favorite paranormal creatures, the vampires. Not only does Brooklyn Ann write one heck of a good gothic historical romance, but I love the mental health issues she infuses into each story as it makes the vampires seem even more realistic. I have a backlist of Brooklyn Ann’s to get through, but I’m slowly working my way through as each story is simply fabulous!
Lastly, but definitely not the least, I want to bring readers attention to my favorite book of the year (and that’s saying a lot as I’ve had so many good reads this year!) - THE LOST MELODY by Joanna Davidson Politano. The setting is an asylum and I love how Joanna Davidson Politano weaves into the storyline both the harsh conditions and the faith of the main character. Vivienne’s faith helps guide her while her musical abilities help bring solace to others in a stunningly good tale! I can’t wait to read some of her other books after finishing THE LOST MELODY!
I’m not sure that Ruth Ware’s THE TURN OF THE KEY is truly a gothic tale, but it’s a phenomenal spin on the classic gothic tale by Henry James, THE TURN OF THE SCREW. Several classic gothic novels have been rereleased in recent years and I urge you to read some of the classics being made available in new editions, such as THE TURN OF THE SCREW AND OTHER SHORT STORIES by Henry James and THE CASTLE OF OTRANTO AND THE OLD ENGLISH BARON by Horace Walpole and Clara Reeves.
What are some of your favorite gothic tales?
Debbie Wiley is a senior reviewer at Fresh Fiction. You can find more of her articles and reviews here.
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