The best supernatural thrillers to scare and thrill

Sarah E. England Author Of Father of Lies
By Sarah E. England

Who am I?

I’m an English author and an ex-nurse (psychiatry). Many years ago, when I was writing for magazines and floundering for direction, I met a woman who’d been hurt by ritual satanic abuse. She disturbed me badly, and I began to research the subject, becoming passionate about showing how evil affects people, and how fear and mind games are woven into the fabric of life, carrying on through families. I’ve also loved discovering beautiful prose and how to express the complexities of the human condition. I was reading my mum’s cast-off Victoria Holt novels at age seven, so perhaps I should add my other passion—simply books.      


I wrote...

Father of Lies

By S.E. England,

Book cover of Father of Lies

What is my book about?

Ruby is the most violently disturbed patient ever admitted to Drummersgate Asylum, high on the bleak moors of northern England. With no improvement after two years, Dr. Jack McGowan finally decides to take a risk and hypnotises her. With terrifying consequences. A horrific dark force is now unleashed on the entire medical team, as each in turn attempts to unlock Ruby's shocking and sinister past. Who is this girl? And how did she manage to survive such unimaginable evil? Set in a desolate ex-mining village, where secrets are tightly kept and intruders hounded out, their questions soon lead to a haunted mill, the heart of darkness...and The Father of Lies...

The books I picked & why

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The Woman in Black

By Susan Hill,

Book cover of The Woman in Black

Why this book?

The British Isles seem to lend themselves to a peculiar brand of horror, not least because of the often dark weather and a blood-soaked history. The Woman in Black is short, beautifully narrated, and utterly chilling. This rates as my all-time favourite, possibly due to its subtlety and creeping suspense, but ultimately the absolutely horrific impact of the ending. Set in the wild fens of eastern England, a young solicitor must wrap up the affairs of a deceased woman who lived in a solitary house, accessible only when the tide has ebbed sufficiently to leave a mud flat. Not of an especially nervous disposition, he is somewhat surprised when overnight it sounds as if there’s been a terrible accident outside. He stumbles out into the fog, ankle-deep in water… Oh, the chilling atmosphere is a masterpiece on par with M. R. James.

I admire the skill of the pace and prose, the calm matter-of-fact way the story is told, but most of all, the young man’s awakening to the existence of the dark. The film totally missed the shock of that… the fact he would never recover from what happened later, after he returned, which confirmed his worst nightmare. Superb…      


Affinity

By Sarah Waters,

Book cover of Affinity

Why this book?

Set in the dark prison walls of Victorian London, and the prim and proper front parlours of the upper classes, this is another subtle, creepy suspense. The Victorians of England had a fascination with the paranormal—from photographing the dead to séancesand this is what draws the protagonist into the drama. A privileged young woman, during her weekly round of duty at a local prison, becomes entranced by a beautiful and gifted spiritual medium, who’d been accused of trickery at one such event. The story is so deftly told you honestly cannot work out what’s real and what isn’t, and I truly did not see what was coming. Honestly, this is a masterclass in storytelling. Utterly horrific, it left me reeling. And on top of that, you get a terrific snapshot of well-researched history. First class!      


Rebecca

By Daphne du Maurier,

Book cover of Rebecca

Why this book?

Although this was made into a fabulous black and white film starring Lawrence Olivier, it still didn’t do justice to the sub-tropical magic of Cornwall or the tortured new Mrs. De Winter of Mandalay. It’s another psychologically adept narrative, with the gradual awakening of the main characters to horrific truths as fragile veneers begin to crumble under unspoken pressure. In a study of jealousy, misunderstandings, and naivety, a very real horror is gradually exposed. I love the way the human flaws are exposed, almost without their knowledge, as events escalate beyond their control, and the way Du Maurier breathes life into such a wild and exotic part of England—so remote from the rest of the country. Once again, we also have a snapshot of history and the dependence of minions on any benevolence, or otherwise, the upper classes may bestow. But most of all, it is Mrs. Danvers, the mad, obsessive lady in waiting to the late Rebecca, who takes such delight in tormenting the new Mrs. De Winter, who steals the show. Class actabsolutely superb both in atmosphere and the horrific, creeping suspense.     


Shrine

By James Herbert,

Book cover of Shrine

Why this book?

The late, great James Herbert is still, in my opinion, incomparable in the genre of British horror. I devoured most of his books as a teen, but stumbled on Shrine only a few years ago. This, and so relevant today, is a study on mass hysteriaa frightening enough conceptbut it isn’t that which lingered. For me it was one particular scene. The story centres around a church, and the protagonist, an investigative journalist, decides to look into how the entire village became a shrine to what was basically a vision. This leads him to a small privately owned ancestral estate, and it is here, in this small dark church with high wooden pews, where the bone-chilling encounter takes place. I have to say I’ve never read a more visual description of encroaching dread than this. Brilliantly executed. Second to none.       


Jane Eyre

By Charlotte Brontë,

Book cover of Jane Eyre

Why this book?

You may say this isn’t classic horror, it’s a love story. But is it? Set in a castle on the wild moors of northern England, this is a dark tale of casual cruelty, jealousy, and revenge that depicts an age of harsh regimes where the ruling classes held sway over the fate of everyone else. 

Jane is totally at the mercy of her vindictive aunt who locks her in the red room with the ghost of her uncle, then abandons her to a school for orphans. Her best friend dies in her bed and it’s astounding the rest don’t die of cold. However, the real horror begins after she takes a post as governess to the glowering Mr. Rochester. Perhaps it’s the dark stone walls flickering in the candlelight, the quick rapid footsteps in the corridor outside her room, or most likely the mad cackling laughter in the dead of night when the house is supposed to be empty? But it’s a menacing atmosphere for a very young woman whose only company is a small child and a cook. The master of the house, however, seems to be home more and more, and the two are drawn to each other, an unlikely match. But what of the mad cackling and the fires that start in the dead of night? 

I never felt this was primarily a love story, but of the triumph of love over evil, and the unravelling of ancestral ill deeds and the consequences of those. Ultimately Rochester must face his demons, although not before he pays a high price. 

An eternal classic and, again, an absolute masterclass in storytelling.       


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