We’ve all heard of the things that go bump in the night, but what about the bogeymen that prey upon you during the day? Daylight horror is a fascinating genre that destroys any illusions of safety in the sunshine. I’ve got 12 daylight horror novels for your summer reading pleasure here.
Horror tends to be associated with the dead of the night. That’s when vampires walk among us, werewolves transform, and zombies rise from their graves. It’s also when those oh-so-unlucky camp counselors face off against machete-wielding murderers. And who could forget the ghosts of Hill House, who become so much more active after the lights go out?
The truth is that we’re never truly safe from harm. We sprint upstairs to beat the devil in our race out of the basement, even though we know, intellectually, that he’s just as likely to be waiting for us in the light of the living room. Serious crimes may be more likely to happen at night, but that doesn’t mean the sun grants us some magic ward against victimhood.
So let’s take a look at a few great scary stories where the frights don’t end with break of day. Here are 12 daylight horror novels for your summer TBR.
Daylight Horror Novels
The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
Iain Banks’ 1984 debut centers on 16-year-old Frank, who lives with his father on a tiny Scottish island. Left to his own devices, the teen conducts a series of bizarre rituals to protect his home from outside threats. Frank’s clearly dealing with some unexamined trauma, but is that what pushed him to murder three other children?
Demons by Daylight by Ramsey Campbell
This 1973 collection might as well be daylight horror’s trope-namer. These 14 stories all take place in the bright of day, but they’re no less terrifying than the author’s other works. In truth, it’s downright impressive to see such a lauded author impose such restrictions on themself and their craft — and the results are nothing short of stunning.
The Taking of Jake Livingston by Ryan Douglass
Being the only Black junior at St. Clair Prep isn’t easy for Jake, who must also contend with growing up in the shadow of his popular older brother. To make matters worse, Jake sees ghosts. Most of them are harmless, but the spirit of Sawyer Doon — a white teenager who took his own life after committing a mass shooting — is decidedly violent…and he wants to use Jake’s body to continue his rampage.
Note: The Taking of Jake Livingston comes with content warnings for racist microaggressions, murder, self-harm, and attempted sexual assault.
The Weight of Blood by Tiffany D. Jackson
Tiffany D. Jackson’s Carrie-inspired found-footage horror novel centers on Maddie, a mixed-race girl whose racist father has forced her to masquerade as white her whole life. When she’s suddenly outed at school, the already unpopular teen becomes the target of racist bullying. After videos of the attacks go viral, Maddie finds herself at the center of an attempt to restore the school’s reputation — by attending its first integrated prom.
Note: The Weight of Blood comes with content warnings for racism, police violence, parental abuse, and religious trauma.
Burnt Offerings by Robert Marasco
One family’s peaceful Long Island getaway turns into a nightmare in this 1973 novel. The summer heat is too much for the Rolfes to bear, so they pack up their son and a dear old aunt and rent a large house near Montauk. The spacious rental comes cheap. All the Rolfes have to do is feed the elderly owners’ reclusive mother, who lives in an upstairs suite and never shows her face to the tenants. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is, as this family is about to discover…
When the Reckoning Comes by LaTanya McQueen
Mira never expected to return to her hometown, where racists made fun of her white BFF, Celine, for having Black friends. Then Celine invited her to her wedding — to be held at a local plantation — and Mira found she couldn’t turn down an opportunity to see Jesse again. The last time Mira and Jesse went to the Woodsman Plantation, he was almost arrested for murder. Now, she may be forced to reckon with an encounter that has haunted her whole life: the possibility that the ghosts of tortured Black slaves still haunt the Woodsman house.
I’ll Come Back for You by Charish Reid
Inheriting their grandmother’s B&B was the best thing that could have happened to Whitney and Helen Beck…or so they thought. A few months down the line, Helen’s sure the place is haunted, and she’s called in her favorite TV ghost hunters to prove it. Inviting the Ghost Punters crew into their establishment could help them save the foundering business, but it will also bring them face-to-face with Deon — cameraman extraordinaire and Whitney’s high school crush.
Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice
It’s the beginning of a brutal winter when an Anishinaabe reservation loses contact with the outside world. Their community harmony is soon threatened by the arrival of an outsider, who quickly begins to make demands of their hosts. With mainstream society collapsing beyond Anishinaabe territory, and bonds between friends and families fraying, an unlikely hero arises to save the small town.
Flowers for the Sea by Zin E. Rocklyn
Iraxi’s kingdom has been adrift on an unending sea for nearly five years. Their numbers dwindle with each passing month; no one has been able to carry a pregnancy to term since boarding the ark. No one except Iraxi, who’s now pregnant with a child she did not ask for — a child that may not be fully human. If her daughter lives, she could be a beacon of hope for the unwashed masses on the ark…or she might bring destruction upon them all.
The Auctioneer by Joan Samson
A precursor to Stephen King’s Needful Things, Joan Samson’s The Auctioneer is a slow-building masterpiece of small-town horror. Set in a New Hampshire farming village, the novel centers on the Moore family, whose belongings slip away, piece by piece, after the arrival of smooth-talking Perly Dunsmore, whose nightly auctions will surely save the town from ruin.
The Ruins by Scott Smith
When it comes to daylight horror novels, it’s hard to beat The Ruins. Scott Smith’s 2006 book follows four American tourists whose Mexican vacation goes sideways when they decide to help a fellow vacationer locate his missing brother. Their search takes them deep into rural Mexico, to the outskirts of a Mayan village. After trespassing on a seemingly innocuous hill, the friends find themselves unable to leave for reasons they do not immediately understand…
Amatka by Karin Tidbeck
Karin Tidbeck’s Amatka is unlike any book you’ve ever read. It’s set in a Soviet-esque society where everything is made from the same unstable, caustic substance, and objects must be told what they are, over and over again, to avoid melting. Against this backdrop, a big-city native named Vanja sets out for the remote colony of Amatka, cold and desolate, to research the citizens’ cosmetic preferences. But Amatka’s hiding a dangerous secret, and the safety and stability Vanja’s used to is about to go right out the window — for good.
Want more great horror reads? Check out this list of horror novels with unreliable narrators, and make sure to add the 25 most influential horror books to your TBR.