Earlier this year I wrote a post about what makes Maine spooky enough that dozens of authors have chosen to set their horror books here. When people think of Maine and horror they tend to go straight to Stephen King—not without good reason—but I wanted to illustrate that it was Maine that (in part) inspired Stephen King to write horror. King made Maine known to millions of readers as a monster homeland, but the spooky was already here. From creeping coastal fogs to thousands of miles of crenelated, craggy, inhospitable coastlines to millions of acres of vast, largely uninhabited, and dense woods and mountains, Maine is a remote wonderland of horrible potential. So it seems only right to introduce you to several authors (aside from King) who have also recognized the state’s grim potential and written horror books set in Maine.
In the Shadow of Spindrift House by Mira Grant
This book was so delicious. Just a delightful, sea-soaked, Lovecraftian horror about a grown up and disillusioned Scooby gang of paranormal investigators. Harlowe Upton-Jones hasn’t known, or wanted to know, anything but the strange and unusual since her parents were murdered by a mysterious cult. In her search for answers, she ended up as part of a tight-knit team of teen investigators, but they’re all grown now, ready to leave the “teen” part of their lives behind. So Harlowe proposes one final case, the case to end all cases: Spindrift House. Two families have been fighting over ownership of the house for years, and they’ll pay a fortune to whoever can enter the house, find the missing papers, and survive long enough to get out again.
Every horror book set in Maine that I’ve read has had a deep sense of place. They evoke something that feels distinctly Maine. Grant’s depiction of the strange town of Port Mercy and the titular Spindrift House, is as quintessentially Maine as it is an homage to the eerie seaside towns of Lovecraft’s opus.
Creature by Hunter Shea
Hunter Shea understands that not all of Maine’s horrors inhabit its coastline. We also have miles and miles of largely uninhabited woodlands that people have been known to walk into without ever walking out again. Not to mention the various things that have existed in the northern woods—houses, work sites, cars, old railways, even whole summer resorts—only to be swallowed up by time and nature. No surprise then that the titular creature of Shea’s book lurks in the depths of the Maine woods, stalking Kate Woodson and her husband Andrew when they move into the lakeside cottage of their dreams. For Kate, who suffers from chronic pain and multiple autoimmune diseases, the cottage is supposed to be a peaceful place where she can rest and heal. Instead she finds her sanctuary assaulted from without by an unseen creature who turns her dream vacation home into a prison.
Ever since I started reading horror in earnest, I have heard nothing but good things about Hunter Shea’s books. I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t read any of them yet, including Creature. Clearly I’m going to have to change that! There aren’t nearly enough horror books set in Maine that turn away from the coast and contend with the dark spaces between all those pine trees.
Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke
I was already an April Genevieve Tucholke fan after reading The Boneless Mercies last year, so I admit I went into Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea expecting to love it. And honestly what’s not to love about books that are tonally dark and gorgeous, set in atmospheric settings that stick to your memories like glue? Maybe I’m biased because I’ve lived through so many Maine summers at this point, more than a few of them on the coast, but Tucholke nailed that dreamy, humid, flowers and saltwater-scented feeling of a summer on the Maine coast in a town that is both alive and yet slowly decaying and slipping into the past. The fact that main character Violet West and her brother are living in a mostly abandoned, rotting mansion on the coast that once an artists commune is the chef’s kiss of embodying the Maine coast, which has had a tradition of accumulating artists, and people who build giant houses and then have a tendency to go bankrupt, for the better part of 150 years.
Though a lot of the book focuses on the romance between Violet and the mysterious, possibly murderous River, which may not appeal to some readers, I still would not classify this book as a YA paranormal romance. Or at least not exclusively. When Tucholke decides to turn up the terror, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea goes from 0 to 60 in seconds flat, and there are moments in the latter half of this book that are seriously flinch-worthy. Which is the best measure of a horror novel!
Becoming by Glenn Rolfe
Glenn Rolfe is a local voice writing local stories about the horrors of Maine. A combination that just cannot be beat. Like Shea’s Creature, Becoming is a monster lover’s dream set in the fictional town of Avalon, Maine, where something ancient has woken up beneath Jade Lake. Michele’s friend disappears, carried away by some unknown creature. No one believes her version of the disappearance, leaving Michele to uncover the truth on her own. But in a tiny town, people can’t just vanish without being missed, and as more people start to vanish from Avalon, Sheriff Shane Davis finds himself investigating the same mystery as Michele in hopes of saving Avalon before it can be completely consumed by the evil presence below.
In case you haven’t picked up on this yet, a lot of horror books set in Maine are also set in small towns. I think Avalon has less than 500 people in its total population, and that’s not rare in Maine. There are towns with less than 100 inhabitants, and there are towns—particularly in the northernmost parts of the state—that aren’t even technically towns. They’re tiny unorganized townships, usually identified as Township [insert designated number here]. In a town that small? Everyone is in everyone’s business, and yet somehow everyone still manages to have secrets. The smaller the town, the deeper you bury them. Which makes small towns like Avalon the perfect setting for a horror story.
Clickers by J.F. Gonzalez & Mark Williams
Clickers is the third creature feature novel on this list, so obviously I’m always here for killer monsters whether they’re crawling out of the woods, the lakes, or the sea. But I would like it noted that I am an extra 110% here for giant killer crab books. If you’ve read Grady Hendrix’s Paperbacks from Hell, you might remember a Guy N. Smith series of killer crab horror books with amazing covers, and I remember thinking that was the best thing ever. So I was excited to discover that there was a killer crab book set right here in Maine!
Slap the word “port” onto any desired surname or noun and you’ve named a small town on the coast of Maine, fictional or otherwise. In Clickers, it’s Phillipsport, Maine that has its peaceful existence upended by an army of venomous, vampiric killer crabs marching their way up the intertidal zone. But as bad as the clickers are, there’s something even worse driving them out of the sea. Something lurking beneath the waves. Clickers was written as a tribute to giant monster B-movies everywhere, and I cannot wait to get my hands on a copy.
The Shape of Night by Tess Gerritsen
I was so excited about this book from the minute it was announced. In large part because The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is one of my favorite movies of all time, but also because it takes a similar narrative and locates it on the rocky, mist enveloped coast of my heart. Maine has a long maritime history, so we have plenty of old captains’ houses, and probably plenty of old captain ghosts too. Though chances are they won’t be quite like the one in The Shape of Night, because unlike the romantic old salt of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, this ghost is creepy, menacing, and…kinky. Don’t ask, just read. I’m not even sure I like that odd element of the plot, but at the same time I am immensely entertained that the kinky ghost in the tower is a thing that exists.
Like many characters in fiction, Ava Collette has come to the coast of Maine to escape her past, so she rents an old house outside of a small remote town where no one knows her. But she doesn’t get the alone time she counted on, because Brodie’s Watch is already inhabited. Tess Gerritsen actually lives here in Maine, so she really captures the feel of the little coastal town, complete with its dark secrets and local ghost legend. Again, still not sure what to make of the kinky ghost, but I do know that I love the tension as Ava tries to unravel the mystery of a series of “accidental” deaths and disappearances that have plagued the Brodie House.
Wilder Girls by Rory Power
Cue the spooky girls boarding school book: Rory Power’s flinch-worthy Wilder Girls, set at the fictional Raxter School for Girls on Raxter Island off the coast of Maine. Line up, quaran-buddies, because this book has become supremely relatable in recent months. The Tox, an unknown infection that is mutating the students, has put Raxter Island under quarantine for 18 months with little to no contact with the outside world. Supplies are running low, only a select group of girls dare to leave the grounds to pick up dwindling shipments from the mainland, and the fence which protects them from the mutated wildlife can’t save them from the recurrent attacks of a virus that twists and mutilates their own bodies.
What made this novel for me, in an eco-horror where nature is so vital to the plot, were Power’s descriptions of the island with its “woods stretching out to the island’s edge, the ocean beyond. Pines bristling thick like always, rising high above the house” (4) and its “frills of rock pile and stack, catching sprain in pools that won’t freeze through until the deep of winter. Folds of gray, the algae a sharp green, and the ocean rolling in the distance, black and heaving.” (39) That’s just quintessential Maine; and I ate it up with a spoon. The wild remoteness of Raxter, and its natural beauty, are a perfect juxtaposition for the twisted violence of the Tox infected creatures that inhabit the island.
The Keeper by Sarah Langan
Not every town in Maine used to be a mill town, and only a few still are. But you can always tell an ex-mill town when you’re passing through. Sarah Langan captured the feel of these towns perfectly: the dying downtown with its empty storefronts and signs for long gone businesses, the “for sale” signs in front of so many of the houses, sometimes whole neighborhoods. The slow demise of someone’s hometown. No wonder its inhabitants think Bedford, Maine, is cursed. The mill is gone, the rain won’t stop, and its past is full of bloody memories.
In the midst of it all is Susan Marley. She is the only one who seems to have some eerie precognitive knowledge of what the rising darkness means, but Susan never speaks. Something terrible happened to her, and as her silent presence haunts the people of Bedford, the unspoken darkness that surrounds them all grows deeper.
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