Halloween is right around the corner, and you know what that means — it’s time to start working on your Halloween TBR! To help you get started, I’ve picked out 12 short horror novels under 300 pages each, so you can pack as many scary stories as possible into your October.
There’s just something about horror that makes it better in small doses. You can only ratchet up the tension so many times before people start getting wise to the game you’re playing. The scares get stale, and then your book is about as frightening as an elementary school haunted house.
I don’t say that to rag on authors who write long-form horror pieces. Stephen King’s IT is one of my favorite books of all time — as well as one of the scariest books I’ve ever read — and it’s over 1,000 pages. Tananarive Due’s The Good House clocks in right at the 500-page mark, and Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves is 700 pages long and still feels bigger on the inside — which, I guess, is probably the point.
Whether you haven’t given shorter horror novels a try, or you’re just too pressed for time to commit to reading a doorstopper of a novel, check out these 12 short horror novels under 300 pages — and sleep with the light on tonight.
12 Short Horror Novels Under 300 Pages
Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle
Wolf in White Van centers on Sean, a shut-in who runs a post-apocalyptic role-playing game, Trace Italian, by post. The game takes players across a fictionalized version of the U.S., through form letters Sean has printed and filed away. When two teenage players decide to map their Trace Italian route onto the real world, tragedy strikes, and Sean is called to the carpet for his part in the incident. The court case dredges up fractured memories of Sean’s life before he became a recluse, as the novel winds deeper and deeper around a psychological rabbit hole.
Come Closer by Sara Gran
Something’s come over Amanda. She’s taken up smoking again, but that’s the least of her problems. Every relationship she has — from her workplace, to her neighborhood bodega, to her formerly happy marriage — is strained to its breaking point. She can’t muster up the courage to care. Sure, she listened to the faith healer who told her she was possessed, but how was a special shampoo supposed to fix her life? Besides, Amanda likes who she is. Even if she’s blacking out more and more often these days. Even if she’s not herself. Not really. Not anymore.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Shirley Jackson’s horror classic follows two young women, Eleanor and Theo, as they journey to the “not sane” Hill House: a large, remote manor rumored to be haunted. Joined by Hill House’s heir and a skeptical occultist — the latter of whom personally selected Eleanor and Theo from a field of applicants — they attempt to navigate the ancient home’s oppressive architecture. But when the inexplicable begins to happen with increasing frequency and ferocity, who among them will be prepared to weather the coming storm?
The Grip of It by Jac Jemc
Julie and James have just bought a house in the country. They’re city folks, through and through, but they need the break from the hustle and bustle. And, perhaps more importantly, their marriage needs it. They’re working hard to turn over a new leaf, but things keep going off the rails. They find rooms that weren’t there before. Stains appear overnight, lining the walls like graffiti art. Is James playing tricks on Julie…or is something more sinister at play within those ever-shifting walls?
The Last Final Girl by Stephen Graham Jones
From the author of My Heart Is a Chainsaw and The Only Good Indians comes this novel about a trope-savvy high-schooler who must prepare to go toe-to-toe with a masked serial killer — again. Lindsay’s her hometown’s Final Girl. She survived her first run-in with Billie Jean, a slasher who wears a Michael Jackson mask. Everyone knows the story, but few know how it ends. Lindsay’s odds of surviving round two go up exponentially if there are other Final Girls around to — literally — take the hit for her. But can she survive long enough to become the last Final Girl?
Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw
According to local lore, a young bride whose husband-to-be died moments before their wedding sealed herself in the walls of a Heian-era castle in Japan. Now, her ghost is said to haunt the grounds, demanding a yearly sacrifice. What better place could there possibly be for two ghost-chasers to get married? As Faiz, Talia, and their friends prepare for their overnight celebration, however, old feuds come back to the fore, and one guest begins to suspect the Ohaguro-Bettari legend is anything but a myth.
What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher
In this Edgar Allan Poe retelling, war veteran Alex drops everything when they learn that their childhood friends, the Ushers, have become mysteriously ill. When Alex arrives, they find Roderick Usher exhibiting signs of mental illness. His sister, Madeline, is now a frail sleepwalker. And something foul seems to have infected the land around the siblings’ ancestral home. Alex gathers their allies and prepares to fight for their friends, but first, they must identify what, exactly, ails the Usher siblings.
Confessions by Kanae Minato
Four-year-old Manami was the light of Yuko’s life. Now she’s dead, murdered by two of her mother’s 13-year-old students. Yuko has made up her mind to exact vengeance on Shuya and Naoki in her own time, her own way. But when her methods fail, one by one, she finds herself ready to resign from her position. But Yuko has one last trick up her sleeve. The grieving mother delivers one final lecture to her class in this pulse-pounding thriller from the author of Penance.
This Thing Between Us by Gus Moreno
Strange phenomena plague a couple after they purchase a smart speaker in this tightly wound debut. Thiago and Vera’s house was never the same after Vera brought the Itza home. Random noises go unexplained. Rooms turn chilly at a moment’s notice. And Itza keeps ordering things neither of the two wants. After Vera unexpectedly dies, Thiago destroys the Itza and quits their home in Chicago for a Colorado retreat. The smart speaker is dead…so why do strange things keep happening at Thiago’s new abode?
White Is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi
Following a mental breakdown brought on by her mother’s untimely death, Miranda Silver returns to her childhood home, where she begins to exhibit strange symptoms. Miranda had an eating disorder long before her mother’s death. Now, however, she’s acting just like her mother, her mother’s mother, and her mother’s mother’s mother, as well. Bad fortune always befalls the women in the Silver House…and it looks like Miranda might be next.
A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay
Something terrible happened to Merry’s family. Fifteen years ago, the Barretts were the focus of a multi-night television event documenting the real-life exorcism of Merry’s older sister, Marjorie. But questions remain for many viewers, and even for Merry herself. Was Marjorie really possessed by a malevolent entity, or was she simply exhibiting signs of mental illness? Sitting down with an interviewer for the first time since her family was torn apart, Merry tells her story in A Head Full of Ghosts.
Hide by Kiersten White
Would you spend a week playing hide-and-seek in an abandoned amusement park, if it meant you’d win enough money to change your life forever? That’s exactly what Mack and her fellow competitors are about to do. Once the game begins, however, Mack realizes that she hadn’t really known what kind of game she signed up for, not until people started disappearing, and something began stalking those who remain. Now, she and the others will have to employ all the skills in their arsenals in order to survive the week.