This is it, folks: the death throes of October. If you’re still working your way through our list of chunky horror novel recommendations, fear not—there’s still time left in spooky season to cram in some last-minute scares. Here are some of our favorite petite horror books that you can finish with time to spare before Halloween.
Hammers on Bone, by Cassandra Khaw
Why not start with a Lovecraftian noir that’s light on page count (and Lovecraft’s most problematic proclivities), but heavy on monsters? John Persons, the private investigator at the center of this story, is a monster himself. So when a 10-year-old hires him to kill an abusive stepdad, Persons is uniquely qualified to see that there’s something far more horrifying and tentacle-y happening.
The Last Horror Novel in the History of the World, by Brian Allen Carr
Welcome to Scrape, Texas—probably the last place on Earth you’d want to be right now. On a good day, this small border town is unpleasant, a morass of secrets and vices. But this is not a good day. The end of the world is coming to town, carried by figures pulled straight from Mexican folklore, including La Llorona and bogeyman El Abuelo, as well as some horrors conjured by the twisted imagination of Carr.
Mapping the Interior, by Stephen Graham Jones
A Bram Stoker Award-winning novella from a Blackfeet author, Mapping the Interior is a quiet nightmare and a ghostly coming-of-age story. A young boy wakes in the night to see his father walking through a doorway. The problem? His father is dead, gone before the family ever left the reservation. One mystery begets another, and soon the boy discovers his house has more secrets and hidden dimensions—and they’re dangerous.
Universal Harvester, by John Darnielle
It all starts with a video tape. In small, unassuming Nevada, Iowa, a local teacher returns a copy of an old Boris Karloff movie to local Video Hut, complaining that there’s something else, something strange on the tape. Soon, more videos arrive, all tainted with unnerving images of a dark shed. Video Hut employees Jeremy and Sarah Jane begin an eerie investigation amid the cornfields of rural Iowa.
The Ballad of Black Tom, by Victor LaValle
Another Lovecraft riff, this one on the short story “The Horror at Red Hook,” Black Tom rebukes the original story’s inherent racism and xenophobia while crafting something entirely new, modern, and devilish. Young con man and musician Tommy Tester stumbles into more than he bargained for when he delivers an occult book to a sorceress in Queens, becoming ensnared in a much larger conspiracy to wake the Sleeping King and bring forth Armageddon. Oops.
Revenge, by Yoko Ogawa
Compact and macabre to its core, Revenge is a series of eleven interwoven stories both surreal and spooky, part Haruki Murakami and part Edgar Allan Poe. The tales are captivating as standalones, overstuffed with eye-popping grotesqueries: the woman whose heart beats outside her chest, the Museum of Torture, a truly cursed garden. But the subtle connections between them soon merge them into a single and altogether more unnerving universe.
The Dead House, by Billy O’Callaghan
Nothing good happens when you break out the Ouija board. Hoping to heal from an abusive relationship, successful artist Maggie relocates from London to coastal Ireland. There, she spots an abandoned cottage atop a cliff and decides to renovate it. But the ghosts of Ireland haven’t left the place completely, a truth that becomes apparent when Maggie hosts a housewarming party. Drinks, revelry, and that Ouija board awaken a spirit that doesn’t intend to go quietly.
Fever Dream, by Samanta Schweblin
The title of this surreal little book, translated from its original Spanish, aptly describes the experience of reading the contents. The story is told through conversation between Amanda, a woman just recently moved to the Argentinian countryside, and David, the precocious and talkative young boy in the hospital bed next to her. The plot is hard to describe and often hallucinatory, with horror elements both psychological and environmental. As you attempt to figure out just what the heck is going on here, you’ll also notice the stifling sense of dread that clings to every page.
Horrorstör, by Grady Hendrix
Many a relationship has died within the walls of a certain real-life Scandinavian furniture superstore. But actual death stalks the retail aisles of Orsk. A mysterious rash of overnight destruction sprees leads a group of employees to volunteer for an all-nighter. What they discover is that their showroom is really a haunted house, plagued by a presence tied to the hellish prison that once occupied the property.
What short horror books do you find frightfully good?