Are you new to the modern Gothic horror scene? Here I have listed 5 of my personal favorites that are great gateway novels to the genre. This isn’t an exhaustive list of the absolute best books out there, but just my personal opinions on books I’ve read and loved.
1. Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware
A twist on the classic Gothic horror story Turn of the Screw, Ruth Ware’s adaptation is updated for the 21st century. In this version, a young woman accepts a seemingly dream job as a live-in nanny at Heatherbrae House in the picturesque, but remote and isolated, Scottish highlands. Heatherbrae has been outfitted as a “smart” home with an omniscient program called Happy which controls everything from door locks to window coverings, and from surveillance cameras to the temperature of the shower. Why then can Rowan not find any evidence of a room above hers, where dragging footsteps keep her awake? How do the children manage to slip through her fingers when they are constantly supervised? Superstitious locals, an enigmatic handyman, and mysteriously vanished former nannies round out the cast of characters.
Our narrator tells her story via prison letter written to her lawyer while she awaits trial for murder. What really happened at Heatherbrae House? Who died and how? Was it a glitch or a ghost? Read this highly entertaining modern Gothic retelling to find out!
2. The Sundown Motel by Simone St. James
When a young woman away from home for the first time takes a job as the night clerk at the Sundown Motel in 1982, she has no idea what the residents, alive and otherwise, have in store for her. Years later, her niece Carly is drawn to the same remote motel in the same small town chasing the family legend of her missing aunt. Carly’s mother recently died without answers to the mystery of her sister’s disappearance and Carly is just unmoored enough that she drops out of college and travels to Fell, New York, eager to get the answers her mother never did.
Classic Gothic tropes of an isolated location, young woman out of place, a cast of creepy locals, and a haunted motel all make up for a fun read. This book would be a good bridge for those who typically read crime thrillers looking to branch out into the Gothic.
3. The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell
When Elsie, pregnant and recently widowed, arrives at her late husband’s family estate she fears she will be alone with no one but the servants for company. Elsie soon discovers she is less alone than she thought when painted wooden figures she dubs The Companions begin popping up around the house. Elsie dismisses initial concerns as those of superstitious locals, but soon experiences the unexplainable herself. What can Elsie do to protect herself and her unborn baby from an invisible threat?
This slim book is a quick read, especially since you will want to know how it ends! It’s not the scariest modern Gothic out there, but is sufficiently creepy with a rather clever device in the Companions. Alternating points of view between 1635 and 1865, there is well-researched historical fiction that lends credibility to the story.
4. The Guest List by Lucy Foley
A fancy party. A limited guest list. An isolated and supposedly haunted location. Lots of booze. What could go wrong? When a social media influencer and online magazine publisher decides to host her posh wedding at a newly-renovated Irish estate, it brings a plethora of characters together, all with ulterior motives and reasons for wanting to harm one of the bridal party. When someone ends up dead, the remaining guests need to survive the stormy night.
This Agatha Christie-esque story maybe leans more to the mystery side than to Gothic horror, but many of the elements are there. The alternating POV chapters revels just enough about each character to make the reader reasonably suspect all of them of murder. The historic island estate is crumbling behind the glossy makeover and local ghost stories give everyone reasons to look over their shoulders. This is a good middle ground read for those who like contemporary fiction but want to feel some creepy vibes.
5. The Fate of Mercy Alban by Wendy Webb
When Grace Alban returns to her childhood home after twenty years away, she finds more than just her personal demons haunting Alban House. A prominent local family, the Albans were involved in a major scandal that left a famous writer dead and Grace’s aunt Mercy vanished without a trace. The pair left behind secret lover letters, a lost manuscript, and unending questions. Grace’s mother had scheduled an interview with a local reporter to comment on the long-buried secrets of that night, but she died the very same day before the meeting could take place. Are the secrets of Alban House that desperate to remain buried? Can Grace help solve the disappearance of Mercy and potentially win back her family home from the spirits that have taken up residence?
This is one of my personal favorites! I think (actually, I know) it’s because this book is set in Duluth, Minnesota, on the shores of Lake Superior and based on an actual historic home, the Glensheen Mansion. While the story is fictionalized, the real places in it are some of my favorite in the world. Called the Queen of Norther Gothic, Wendy Webb has several modern Gothic stories set in the Great Lakes area and any of them would be a great entrance to the genre.
See any books that catch your eye? Let me know in the comments if you’ve read any of them or if you have other suggestions to add! I’m always on the lookout for new book recommendations.