The best horror books that build a deep and unshakeable sense of dread

Why am I passionate about this?

As well as being an author of horror and thriller fiction, I’ve been a teacher for over a decade. Over the years, I’ve played to my strengths, selecting and teaching some of the very best in both classic and contemporary horror. The power of narratives to hold and horrify is one of the most undying features of storytelling, from Ancient Greek theatre to modern thrillers, and I’m always on the lookout for authors who achieve this in new and innovative ways. The books on this list all instill dread in very different ways, but they all have one thing in common: they’ll stick with you long after you put them down.


I wrote...

Book cover of Ascension

What is my book about?

When a mountain mysteriously appears in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, a group of scientists are sent to investigate - and discover what is at the summit. Eminent scientist, explorer, and chronic loner Harry Tunmore is among those asked to join the secret mission, but the higher the team ascend, the stranger things become. Time and space behave differently on the mountain, turning minutes into hours, and hours into days. Amid the whipping cold and steep dangers of higher elevation, limbs numb and memories begin to fade.

Framed by the discovery of Harry Tunmore's unsent letters to his family and the chilling and provocative story they tell, Ascension considers the limitations of science and examines both the beautiful and the unsettling sides of human nature.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Fever Dream

Nicholas Binge Why did I love this book?

In this taut novella set in the Argentinian countryside, Schweblin leans into South American magical realism to spin an eco-horror tale about motherhood and loss.

Her ingenious use of narrative style – the entire novella is framed as an increasingly frantic interview between the main character and a very strange boy who may or may not be dead – means that the tension is high from the start and stays that way throughout.

But what really makes this book is the palpable dread that seeps out of every page: you know something is going very wrong and there’s nothing you anyone can do to stop it. You’ll read this in a single sitting and then it’ll keep you up all night.

By Samanta Schweblin, Megan McDowell (translator),

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Fever Dream as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

SHORTLISTED FOR THE MAN BOOKER INTERNATIONAL PRIZE 2017

'The book I wish I had written' Lisa Taddeo, author of Three Women and Animal

A young woman named Amanda lies dying in a remote Argentinian hospital. A boy named David sits beside her.

She's not his mother. He's not her child.

At David's ever more insistent prompting, Amanda recounts a series of events from the apparently recent past, a conversation that opens a chest of horrors. Together, they tell a haunting story of broken souls, toxins, and the power and desperation of family.

A chilling tale of maternal anxiety and ecological…


Book cover of House of Leaves

Nicholas Binge Why did I love this book?

House of Leaves is a cult classic for many reasons: its mad use of graphology, its inventive narrative style, the sheer complexity of its ideas.

At its heart, though, it is a perfectly told work of horror. The main narrative follows a family moving into a house that is not quite right, and the slow and masterful sense of disquiet that Danielewski injects into the characters will have you questioning not just what’s going on in the story, but all the things you took for granted in real life.

You won’t look at your own house the same way after this one. Who knows what lurks in those hallways that sometimes seem slightly longer than they’re supposed to be?

By Mark Z. Danielewski,

Why should I read it?

19 authors picked House of Leaves as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“A novelistic mosaic that simultaneously reads like a thriller and like a strange, dreamlike excursion into the subconscious.” —The New York Times

Years ago, when House of Leaves was first being passed around, it was nothing more than a badly bundled heap of paper, parts of which would occasionally surface on the Internet. No one could have anticipated the small but devoted following this terrifying story would soon command. Starting with an odd assortment of marginalized youth -- musicians, tattoo artists, programmers, strippers, environmentalists, and adrenaline junkies -- the book eventually made its way into the hands of older generations,…


Book cover of At the Mountains of Madness

Nicholas Binge Why did I love this book?

This book is the best and most accessible touchstone for Lovecraft’s particular brand of cosmic horror and, certainly, the sheer madness he exposes us to by the end of the book is something to behold.

But where it really shines is in the opening chapters, where it at first seems like this is to be a simple Arctic expedition. The isolation and bleakness of the setting combine perfectly with the unknown to make some of the most ambitious ideas in all horror become fiercely believable and all the more terrifying for it. 

By H. P. Lovecraft,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked At the Mountains of Madness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

At the Mountains of Madness is a science fiction-horror novella by American author H. P. Lovecraft.

An expedition to Antarctica goes horribly wrong as a group of explorers stumbles upon some mysterious ancient ruins, with devastating consequences. At the Mountains of Madness ranks among Lovecraft's most terrifying novellas, and is a firm favourite among fans of classic horror.


Book cover of NOS4A2

Nicholas Binge Why did I love this book?

If there’s one thing Joe Hill does well, it’s suspense.

There are moments of this book that had me bouncing on my seat as I was reading, unable to contain the sheer tension of the moment inside my body. I remember walking around with the book in front of my face at work, not able to put it down, needing to know what would happen next.

NOS4A2 is a great example of characters you really care about being put in the most terrifying situations and the way he uses bizarre and compelling settings, as well as really memorable set pieces, to build dread is on another level.

By Joe Hill,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked NOS4A2 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Summer. Massachusetts.

An old Silver Wraith with a frightening history. A story about one serial killer and his lingering, unfinished business.

Anyone could be next.

We're going to Christmasland ...

NOS4R2 is an old-fashioned horror novel in the best sense. Claustrophobic, gripping and terrifying, this is a story that will have you on the edge of the seat while you read, and leaving the lights on while you sleep. With the horrific tale of Charles Manx and his Silver Wraith, Joe Hill has established himself as the premiere horror and supernatural thriller writer of his generation.


Book cover of Pet Sematary

Nicholas Binge Why did I love this book?

No horror list would be quite complete without the King himself, but while I could pick many books that are thrilling, horrific, and terrifying, nothing quite does slow creeping dread as well as Pet Sematary.

From almost the very start of the novel, you know not only that things are going to go wrong, but you can pretty quickly work out exactly how they’re going to go wrong. The beauty of this book is not the surprise, but watching well-painted characters make precisely the terrible decisions you feared they would make.

It’s like a Greek tragedy, or watching a car crash in slow motion: the end is signposted a mile away, but it’s impossible to look away as it happens. 

By Stephen King,

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked Pet Sematary as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Now a major motion picture! Stephen King’s #1 New York Times bestseller is a “wild, powerful, disturbing” (The Washington Post Book World) classic about evil that exists far beyond the grave—among King’s most iconic and frightening novels.

When Dr. Louis Creed takes a new job and moves his family to the idyllic rural town of Ludlow, Maine, this new beginning seems too good to be true. Despite Ludlow’s tranquility, an undercurrent of danger exists here. Those trucks on the road outside the Creed’s beautiful old home travel by just a little too quickly, for one thing…as is evidenced by the…


You might also like...

Returning to Eden

By Rebecca Hartt,

Book cover of Returning to Eden

Rebecca Hartt Author Of Rising From Ashes

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Idealistic Storyteller Teacher Mother Seeker

Rebecca's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Looking for clean romantic suspense with spiritual undertones?

Look no further than the Acts of Valor series by Rebecca Hartt. With thousands of reviews and 4.7-5.0 stars per book, this 6-book series is a must-read for readers searching for memorable, well-told stories by an award-winning author.

A dead man stands on her doorstep.

When the Navy wrote off her MIA husband as dead, Eden came to terms with being a widow. But now, her Navy SEAL husband is staring her in the face. Eden knows she should be over-the-moon, but she isn’t.

Diagnosed with PTSD and amnesia, Navy SEAL Jonah Mills has no recollection of their fractured marriage, no memory of Eden nor her fourteen-year-old daughter. Still, he feels a connection to both.

Unfit for active duty and assigned to therapy, Jonah knows he has work to do and relies on God, who sustained him during captivity, to heal his mind, body, and hopefully his family.

But as the memories lurking in his wife's haunted eyes and behind his daughter's uncertain smile begin to return to him, Jonah makes another discovery. There is treachery in the highest ranks of his Team, treachery that not only threatens him but places his new-found family in its crosshairs.

Returning to Eden

By Rebecca Hartt,

What is this book about?

Presumed Dead, Navy SEAL Returns Without Memory of His Ordeal in the Christian Romantic Suspense, Returning to Eden, by Rebecca Hartt

-- Present Day, Virginia Beach, Virginia --

A dead man stands at Eden Mills' door.

Declared MIA a year prior, the Navy wrote him off as dead. Now, Eden's husband, Navy SEAL Jonah Mills has returned after three years to disrupt her tranquility. Diagnosed with PTSD and amnesia, he has no recollection of their marriage or their fourteen-year-old step-daughter. Still, Eden accepts her obligation to nurse Jonah back to health while secretly longing to regain her freedom, despite the…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in extraterrestrial intelligence, magic-supernatural, and presidential biography?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about extraterrestrial intelligence, magic-supernatural, and presidential biography.

Extraterrestrial Intelligence Explore 48 books about extraterrestrial intelligence
Magic-Supernatural Explore 612 books about magic-supernatural
Presidential Biography Explore 19 books about presidential biography