The best books to immerse yourself in vintage gothic suspense iconic authors from the 1960s and 1970s

Why am I passionate about this?

Sometimes I have to take a trip back to my reading "roots": gothic mystery and suspense. This list is a deep dive into some of my very favorite vintage gothic authors and ones that I consider to be icons of the genre. These writers formed the foundation not only for my reading tastes but also for who I have become as a writer. The memories of my younger self come flooding back when I revisit these authors and their works as I have done with this list. Some of these novels are hard to come by now but, in my opinion, the older and more beat-up paperback, the better. 


I wrote...

The Spinster's Fortune

By Mary Kendall,

Book cover of The Spinster's Fortune

What is my book about?

In 1929, penniless spinster, Blanche, lives out her days in a home for the indigent but rumors abound of the fortune hidden in her crumbling house in Georgetown, Washington DC. A distant niece, Margaret, is tapped as executor and becomes embroiled in the hunt for recovering monies.

As Margaret discovers caches in unlikely spots throughout the house, family mysteries begin to unravel. She questions whether Aunt Blanche is an insane fool or a daring genius while wrangling with her own hidden truths. Pressed towards a convergence of their pasts and presents, the two women must ultimately face down a fateful discovery in order to rectify their lives. The Spinster's Fortune, a historical mystery, takes the reader on a strange journey through tangled family webs.

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

The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Stone Carnation

Mary Kendall Why did I love this book?

This novel put a pin on what became a life-long fascination with gothic fiction for me.

I first read it over forty years ago and it is hands-down the most memorable novel ever from my early reading diet.

Why is it so memorable? It hits all the high notes necessary for gripping suspense/mystery/romance in this genre and is laden with all the gothicky feels.

It includes a bit of the supernatural, mystery of an old gravestone, mood setting in the Virginia hills, and a heroine in a dangerous pickle.

Originally published in 1971, it is out of print now but find a copy if you can. You won’t regret it.

By Naomi A. Hintze,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Stone Carnation as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Clean pages. Creases on corner of cover.


Book cover of The Turquoise Mask

Mary Kendall Why did I love this book?

It’s so tough to choose just one novel from Phyllis Whitney’s voluminous stack.

She is quite arguably the queen of the gothic suspense genre. With this pick published in 1974, I am highlighting my very first read by her.

Why do I love it? It rocked my world and, to this day, draws me right into its web.

With all her books, she depicts unique settings that allow for “armchair travel”. This one is set in what was a completely exotic location to my younger self, the American Southwest.

I also learned about the element of suspense from this novel mixed together with gothic details. The mask and how it fits into this mystery is so chilling that I have never forgotten it.

By Phyllis A Whitney,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Turquoise Mask as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A young woman returns to her grandfather's house in New Mexico in hopes of obtaining information about her mother whose death remains surrounded by mystery


Book cover of Witch

Mary Kendall Why did I love this book?

I spent so many summer afternoons as a teenager reading Barbara Michaels’ novels.

She is another writer who managed to set in stone my love and fascination for tales gothic and truly inspired and informed my own writing.

This one with a copyright of 1973 has it all. Isolated, rural setting with a historic stone cottage, creepy, almost folk horror-esque townspeople, a twisted villain, and a supernatural edge.

But it also has something that Michael’s specialized in: dialogue that captures relationships in a very approachable and identifiable way despite the vintage year.

Witch captures her mastery of the gothic and ticks all the boxes of a great read in the genre.

By Barbara Michaels,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Witch as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A wonderful Gothic suspense story filled with clever twists and turns, Witch by Barbara Michaels will have you on the edge of your seat.

It was more than her dream house. For divorcee Ellen March, buying the secluded old house nestled in the pine woods marked the start of a new life. Now she could put her failed marriage behind her, enjoy the quiet solitude of small town life in Virginia, and get to know her new neighbour, the handsome Norman McKay.

But strange visions began to cloud her mind - the shadowy figure of a woman, a ghostly white…


Book cover of Airs Above the Ground

Mary Kendall Why did I love this book?

Mary Stewart was such a huge talent. She wrote in more than one genre but I am most drawn to her gothic novels like this one.

The original vintage cover from 1965 presents what it is: 60s style, castle parapets (pivotal scene in novel), and that Fawcett Crest price tag!

(And can we just take a moment here to recognize that the original covers were always the best ones in this genre of reads?)

Stewart was a genius at spinning out a mystery that keeps the reader guessing. This novel is no exception to that and adds in that gothic flavor with just the right touch.

By Mary Stewart, Mary Stewart,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Airs Above the Ground as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A thrilling tale of adventure and deception set in 1950s Austria, from the queen of romantic suspense and author of Madam, Will You Talk?

'This zestful romantic adventure grips, amuses, frightens and delights' Sunday Telegraph

Vanessa March's husband Lewis is meant to be on a business trip in Stockholm. So why does he briefly appear in newsreel footage of a fire at a circus in Vienna, with his arm around another woman? Vanessa flies to Austria to find her husband - and inadvertently becomes involved in a mystery surrounding the famous dancing stallions of Austria's Spanish Riding School . .…


Book cover of The Witch of Blackbird Pond

Mary Kendall Why did I love this book?

I adored this book as a kid and decided to pick it up and re-read as an adult. I was not disappointed.

I loved it all over again and also gave myself a little pat on the back for having good book taste at a young age.

The witchcraft trial era of early colonial history in the US is so well crafted here with the accuracy of the historical details blended into the evocative setting.

Published in 1958 and a Newberry Medal winner in 1959, it is young adult but I think non-YA readers could easily enjoy it as a compelling variation of the genre.

Sad to admit that I had forgotten a lot of the plot and details. But happy to say, I have benefited from the reread now.

By Elizabeth George Speare,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked The Witch of Blackbird Pond as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

In this Newbery Medal-winning novel, a girl faces prejudice and accusations of witchcraft in seventeenth-century Connecticut. A classic of historical fiction that continues to resonate across the generations.

Sixteen-year-old Kit Tyler is marked by suspicion and disapproval from the moment she arrives on the unfamiliar shores of colonial Connecticut in 1687. Alone and desperate, she has been forced to leave her beloved home on the island of Barbados and join a family she has never met.

Torn between her quest for belonging and her desire to be true to herself, Kit struggles to survive in a hostile place. Just when…


You might also like...

Wrightsville Beach

By Suzanne Goodwyn,

Book cover of Wrightsville Beach

Suzanne Goodwyn Author Of Wrightsville Beach

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been writing all my life, but was never able to find my voice until I had my daughters. It was for them I wrote “Wrightsville Beach”. I wanted to show them what a good relationship should look like and how their decisions make a difference in where they will go. I want my readers to relive that feeling of falling in love and to be sent in unexpected directions, as life so often does to us. I want you to enjoy it so much, you don’t want to put the book down until it’s finished and once you do, to sit and reflect on it, savoring the feeling it has left behind.

Suzanne's book list on smart women trying to figure it all out

What is my book about?

Two years ago, devastated by the sudden death of his older brother, Hank Atwater went on a drinking rampage that ended in his being arrested. Since then, he has been working to rebuild his reputation in his hometown of Wilmington, North Carolina, with little luck. But everything changes after a chance meeting with Jess Wade, a UNCW student studying to be a marine biologist. Hank and Jess feel connected to each other in a way neither has ever felt before.

But when Hank’s past leads to a frightful incident, it ends their relationship. Jess leaves to work on the beach…

Wrightsville Beach

By Suzanne Goodwyn,

What is this book about?

Two years ago, Hank Atwater made a terrible mistake. Devastated by the sudden death of his older brother, Rob, he went on a drinking rampage that ended in his being arrested for aggravated assault. Sober since then, he has been working to rebuild his reputation in his hometown of Wilmington, North Carolina, with little luck.

Working a dead-end delivery job, Hank uses surfing and running to deal with being ostracized as he waits for his probation to end. But everything changes after a chance meeting with Jess Wade, a UNCW student studying to be a marine biologist. Hank and Jess…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in suspense, Colonial America, and New Mexico?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about suspense, Colonial America, and New Mexico.

Suspense Explore 2,112 books about suspense
Colonial America Explore 52 books about Colonial America
New Mexico Explore 61 books about New Mexico