For those of us who grew up obsessed with books, taking trips to the library every chance we got and memorizing the check-out limit, books have always been our safe spaces. They’re where we go when we have too much to do, or we’re going through something, or just need to escape for a while. I’ve spent many an hour with my head tilted sideways, reading every title on the shelves of the library or hunched on the floor, flipping through a book before buying it at my favorite bookstore. Libraries, bookstores, they’re my favorite places in the world!
With all of that time spent in the quiet of a library or lost in the shelves on a darkening afternoon, I realize just how quickly that setting can turn sinister. A scream in the silence, eyes peering from the other side of the spines. The quiet is only comforting until you want — no, need — someone around to help you.
And some authors have tapped into that fear, turning the places we love so dearly into an accomplice to a crime. Have used the darkness and the silence and the wandering as a way to heighten tension rather than relieve it. If you want to read about the ways a bookstore or library — and not the books inside — can scare you, here are eight novels to get you started.
The Bodies in the Library by Marty Wingate
The Lady Georgiana Fowling’s First Edition library in quaint Bath, England, is the perfect curating job for Hayley Burke. Despite the protests of Lady Fowling’s former secretary, Haley is set on modernizing the space, getting some people back in to enjoy the library as it was meant to be enjoyed. The first step? Inviting an Agatha Christie fan fiction writers’ group to meet there weekly. But when one member is found dead in the library, the group of Christie fans and Haley too must channel the author’s penchant for detectives to find the murderer before they strike again.
The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill
When a scream shocks the quiet reading room at the Boston Public Library, security guards rush to investigate. Those inside must stay where they are until the area is secured. Four researchers in the reading room are now trapped together, each with their own suspicions and fears. This story-in-a-story novel is all about the frights and friends we can make between a library’s walls.
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
The daughter of a historian finds an old book of letters in her father’s library. As she reads, she realizes the letters are full of secrets about both of her parents that upend her world. Secrets about Dracula, about evil, about the history of her parents. Told through letters, three different timelines converge to reveal a different take on the Dracula we’ve all heard of, and make you hesitate next time you explore your parents’ library too. Be careful: you can’t unread what you’ve already read.
The Cartographers by Peng Sheperd
Nell always wanted to follow in her dad’s footsteps and become a cartographer at the New York Public Library, just like him. After her father is found dead in his office with a cheap roadside map on his desk, Nell launches an investigation alongside old friends and new to get to the bottom of her father’s death. The map, it turns out, isn’t so cheap after all. In fact, it’s got a long history of crime attached to its every copy.
Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew J. Sullivan
Lydia moves back to her hometown and gets a job at the Bright Ideas Bookstore. She quickly gets to know the regulars as they come and go. When Joey dies by suicide in the bookstore, leaving his possessions to Lydia, she’s left wondering why. Especially when she finds a photograph of herself as a child amongst his things. Between the cryptic messages and unexpected links to her past, Lydia is desperate for answers.
The Plot is Murder by V.M. Burns
Who doesn’t dream of owning a mystery-filled bookstore? Samantha Washinton is preparing to open exactly that while also writing a mystery of her own. All of her thoughts are of mysteries and murder. But, when a realtor winds up dead in her backyard, suspicions turn her way. She does, admittedly, know a lot about crimes. Before she can open the store of her dreams and finish her book, Samantha teams up with a group of retirees, including her grandmother, to solve the case.
The Secret, Book & Scone Society by Ellery Adams
Nora Pennington owns Miracle Books, a place where tourists flock as they heal in the town’s hot springs. Nora is known for being able to recommend the perfect novel to anyone that will help them heal inside. When a businessman seeks out her services, Nora doesn’t think twice. Then he turns up dead on the train tracks. To solve the case, Nora gathers together the Secret, Book, and Scone Society.
The Library of Shadows by Mikkel Birkegaard
Jon unexpectedly inherits his estranged father’s second-hand bookshop after he is killed. Once he takes over, though, he discovers a secret society who get their psychic powers from books. Their history can be traced back all the way to the Library of Alexandria. As arson, murder, and other crimes plague Jon’s bookstore life, he and his new friends must find out who is after them and save themselves.