This list of horror books about small towns was originally published in our horror newsletter, The Fright Stuff. Sign up for it here to get horror news, reviews, deals, and more!
Everyone can close their eyes and conjure an image of a small town without much effort. Clusters of houses, some small, some big, old, and empty, set back from dusty, cracked streets that the local municipality can’t be bothered to resurface. The cracks always come back anyway. It’s faded, but still pretty. People passing through, stopping at the one gas station in the middle of town (probably right next to the diner), will remember it as “quaint.”
But any horror reader could tell you that no matter how pretty or idyllic the surface, no place hides secrets deeper or darker than a small town. So this week on The Fright Stuff we’re celebrating some recent and forthcoming works of small town horror that explore the claustrophobic nightmare of a town in crisis, when everything it’s tried to keep hidden comes slithering up through the cracks.
The Whispering Dead by Darcy Coates
On a dark and stormy night (yes, literally), a woman on the run takes shelter in an abandoned groundskeeper’s cottage at the edge of a cemetery in the town of Blighty. Frankly, I think it sounds positively peaceful, but then again I have noisy neighbors. And technically, so does Keira. Because while to others the cemetery would appear still and silent, Kiera can hear the dead whispering all around her. The cemetery is alive with the ghosts of those recently, and not so recently, departed, led by a woman who died before her time and who begins to haunt Keira when she realizes that the living woman can see her. With the clock of her life running down, Keira races to unearth the dark secrets of Blighty’s past that will not let the woman’s spirit rest.
My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones (August 31)
I honestly don’t have words for how excited I am for this book. All I know is that it had me at slasher homage, and August can’t come too soon. Most people think of small towns as intimate places where “everyone knows everyone” and everyone is at home. But when you are an outcast — the one person who doesn’t belong in a town that everyone else calls home — a small town can be the loneliest place in the world. Jade Daniels is the outcast in Proofrock, a small lake town slowly being overrun by gentrification. In her anger and her loneliness, Jade turns to horror for comfort, letting herself get lost in a world of masked killers and revenge. But when Proofrock’s wealthy newcomers begin dying in bizarre ways, Jade realizes that there is a familiar pattern to their deaths. A pattern that only she can see, and that may foretell a massacre in the making.
The Ghost Tree by Christina Henry
Lauren’s small town of Smith’s Hollow has a serious amnesia problem. Because they forgot that a year ago her father was found murdered with his heart ripped out, and even though the bodies of two girls have just been found torn apart, Lauren knows that it’s just a matter of time before they’re forgotten too. The police will never find the killer, and everyone will just move on. But somewhere out there in the woods a monster lurks, and Lauren is determined to track it down before it can kill anyone else. She’s not going to “just move on” like everyone else, even if hunting the monster means uncovering frightening truths about the small town she calls home.
White Smoke by Tiffany D. Jackson (September 14)
For Marigold, recently arrived from her California hometown by the sea, Cedarville is supposed to be a new beginning. But there’s something sinister lurking beneath the renovated façade of their new house, tucked between its rundown neighbors like a beacon of revitalization and change. Things move on their own, doors open, lights turn off. Marigold sees shadows, hears voices, and there’s a bad smell inside the house that no one else seems to notice. The more Marigold learns about the house, however, the more she realizes that the danger isn’t contained just within its walls. All of Cedarville is haunted by secrets from its past that will no longer be contained.
The Dead and the Dark by Courtney Gould (August 17)
In Courtney Gould’s forthcoming small town horror, two girls — Logan, whose dads are the stars of the popular TV ghost hunting show ParaSpectors, and Ashley, a Snakebite native whose boyfriend has gone missing — face off against a small town full of secrets, slipping slowly into chaos. Ashley’s boyfriend was only the first in a string of teenage disappearances, only the dead have returned, and even the weather has turned unnatural. What’s more, the dead are not sleeping easy. The ghost of Ashley’s boyfriend has begun haunting her and the only one she can trust is Logan, even as their investigation into the town’s secrets threatens everything they believe they know about Snakebite, their families, and themselves.