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Ghosts List

22 Best Ghost Books

Ghosts may have been our first gods. The Vodun religion (which voodoo is based on) might be the world’s oldest, and some forms of Vodun focus on the spirits of human ancestors, which could be interpreted as a form of ghost.

According to my deep research (I watched Mulan), ancestor worship is common across the world, so it’s not surprising that we’re still thinking and writing about ghosts.

 

22
First Grave on the Right
by Darynda Jones – 2011
Book 1 of 13 in the Charley Davidson series

Charley Davidson is a part-time private investigator and full-time Grim Reaper. Charley sees dead people, and it’s her job to convince them to “go into the light.” But when these very dead people have died under less than ideal circumstances (i.e. murder), sometimes they want Charley to bring the bad guys to justice.

Complicating matters are the intensely hot dreams she’s been having about an Entity who has been following her all her life… and it turns out he might not be dead after all. In fact, he might be something else entirely.

“Sexy, sassy . . . Jones’s characters, both living and dead, are colorful and endearing. . . . Cheeky charm . . . sarcastic wit.”
―The Associated Press

21
The Graveyard Book
by Neil Gaiman – 2008

The Graveyard Book is a decidedly grim take on Kipling’s The Jungle Book.

Nobody Owens, known as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn’t live in a graveyard, being raised by ghosts, with a guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor the dead. There are adventures in the graveyard for a boy, such as an ancient Indigo Man, a gateway to the abandoned city of ghouls, the strange and terrible Sleer. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, he will be in danger from the man Jack, who has already killed Bod’s family.

“This is an utterly captivating tale that is cleverly told through an entertaining cast of ghostly characters. There is plenty of darkness, but the novel’s ultimate message is strong and life affirming… this is a rich story with broad appeal. ”
—Booklist (starred review)

20
Ghostwalk
by Rebecca Stott – 2007

In 2002, a Cambridge historian is found dead, floating down the river Cam, a glass prism in her hand, after researching a book about a series of suspicious circumstances surrounding Newton’s appointment as a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1667. That year, two Fellows died by falling down staircases, apparently drunk; another died in a field, apparently drunk; and a fourth was expelled, having gone mad. This left vacancies for new appointments and paved the way for Newton’s extraordinary scientific discoveries.

When Lydia Brooke, at the request of her ex-lover, the historian’s son, steps in to finish the book, strange shows of light begin to play on the walls, and papers disappear only to reappear elsewhere. When events escalate to murder, and Lydia’s rekindled romance appears increasingly implicated in the danger, the present becomes entangled with the seventeenth century, with Isaac Newton at the center of the mystery.

“A hypnotic brew of speculation, intrigue and murder… You can’t help but feel swept away.”
—The Washington Post Book World

19
The Ghost of Thomas Kempe
by Penelope Lively – 1973

In this iconic ghost story for children, James is fed up. His family has moved to a new cottage—with grounds that are great for excavations, and trees that are perfect for climbing—and stuff is happening. Stuff that is normally the kind of thing he does. But it’s not him who’s writing strange things on shopping lists and fences. It’s not him who smashes bottles and pours tea in the Vicar’s lap. It’s a ghost—honestly. Thomas Kempe the 17th century apothecary has returned, and he wants James to be his apprentice. No one else believes in ghosts. It’s up to James to get rid of him. Or he’ll have no pocket money or pudding ever again.

18
Hotel World
by Ali Smith – 2001

Five people: four are living; three are strangers; two are sisters; one, a teenage hotel chambermaid, has fallen to her death in a dumbwaiter. But her spirit lingers in the world, straining to recall things she never knew. And one night all five women find themselves in the smooth, plush environs of the Global Hotel, where the intersection of their very different fates make for this playful, defiant, and richly inventive novel.

“A heartfelt and introspective ghost story.”
—Library Journal

17
The Little Stranger
by Sarah Waters – 2018

One postwar summer in his home of rural Warwickshire, Dr. Faraday, who has built a life of quiet respectability as a country physician, is called to a patient at lonely Hundreds Hall. Home to the Ayres family for over two centuries, the Georgian house, once impressive and handsome, is now in decline, its masonry crumbling, its gardens choked with weeds, the clock in its stable yard permanently fixed at twenty to nine. Its owners—mother, son, and daughter—are struggling to keep pace with a changing society, as well as with conflicts of their own. But are the Ayreses haunted by something more sinister than a dying way of life? Little does Dr. Faraday know how closely, and how terrifyingly, their story is about to become intimately entwined with his.

“A marvelous and truly spooky historical novel.”
—The Boston Globe

16
The Lovely Bones
by Alice Sebold – 2002

“My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.”

So begins the story of Susie Salmon, who is adjusting to her new home in heaven, a place that is not at all what she expected, even as she is watching life on earth continue without her—her friends trading rumors about her disappearance, her killer trying to cover his tracks, her grief-stricken family unraveling.

“[A] determined reiteration of innocence, a teeth-gritted celebration of something not dismembered or shattered at all, but continuous: the notion of the American family unit, dysfunctional, yes, but pure and good nonetheless.”
—The Guardian

15
Man Tiger
by Eka Kurniawan – 2004

A wry, affecting tale set in a small town on the Indonesian coast, Man Tiger tells the story of two interlinked and tormented families and of Margio, a young man ordinary in all particulars except that he conceals within himself a supernatural female white tiger. The inequities and betrayals of family life coalesce around and torment this magical being. An explosive act of violence follows, and its mysterious cause is unraveled as events progress toward a heartbreaking revelation.

“Tight, focused and thrilling. Like a good crime novel, Man Tiger works best when read in a single sitting, and its propulsive suspense is all the more remarkable because Kurniawan reveals both victim and murderer in the first sentence.”
—New York Times Book Review

14
The Haunting of Hill House
by Shirley Jackson – 1959

Four seekers arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a “haunting”; Theodora, his lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.

“[One of] the only two great novels of the supernatural in the last hundred years.”
—Stephen King

13
Heart-Shaped Box
by Joe Hill – 2007
Aging death-metal rock legend Judas Coyne is a collector of the macabre: a cookbook for cannibals, a used hangman’s noose, a snuff film, and so on. But nothing he possesses is as unique or as dreadful as his latest purchase off the Internet: a one-of-a-kind curiosity that arrives at his door in a black heart-shaped box: a musty dead man’s suit still inhabited by the spirit of its late owner. And now everywhere Judas Coyne goes, the old man is there—watching, waiting, dangling a razor blade on a chain from his bony hand.

“Wild, mesmerizing, perversely witty….A Valentine from hell.”
—New York Times

12
Books of Blood
by Clive Barker – 1984
Book 1 of 6 in The Books of Blood series

These collections of horror short stories launched Clive Barker’s career. Expect tales of the everyday world transformed into an unrecognizable place, where reason no longer exists and logic ceases to explain the workings of the universe while radiating a dark eroticism.

“The most provocative tales of terror ever published.”
—The Washington Post

11
Anna Dressed in Blood
by Kendare Blake – 2011
Book 1 of 2 in the Anna Dressed in Blood series

Cas Lowood has inherited an unusual vocation: he kills the dead.

So did his father before him, until he was gruesomely murdered by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father’s mysterious and deadly blade, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat. They follow legends and local lore, destroy the murderous dead, and keep pesky things like the future and friends at bay.

Searching for a ghost the locals call “Anna Dressed in Blood,” Cas expects the usual: track, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he’s never faced before. She still wears the dress she wore on the day of her brutal murder in 1958: once white, now stained red and dripping with blood. Since her death, Anna has killed any and every person who has dared to step into the deserted Victorian she used to call home.

Yet she spares Cas’s life.

“Abundantly original, marvelously inventive and enormous fun, this can stand alongside the best horror fiction out there.”
―Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

10
Lincoln in the Bardo
by George Saunders – 2017

Winner of the Man Booker Prize

February, 1862. The Civil War is less than one year old. The fighting has begun in earnest, and the nation has begun to realize it is in for a long, bloody struggle. Meanwhile, President Lincoln’s beloved eleven-year-old son, Willie, lies upstairs in the White House, gravely ill. In a matter of days, despite predictions of a recovery, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. “My poor boy, he was too good for this earth,” the president says at the time. “God has called him home.” Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returns, alone, to the crypt several times to hold his boy’s body.

From that seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins a tale of familial love and loss that breaks free of its realistic, historical framework into a supernatural realm both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself in a strange purgatory where ghosts mingle, gripe, commiserate, quarrel, and enact bizarre acts of penance. Within this transitional state—called, in the Tibetan tradition, the bardo—a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.

“[D]evastatingly moving.”
—People

9
House of Leaves
by Mark Z. Danielewski – 2000

House of Leaves focuses on a young family that moves into a small home on Ash Tree Lane where they discover something is terribly wrong: their house is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.

Of course, neither Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Will Navidson nor his companion Karen Green was prepared to face the consequences of that impossibility, until the day their two little children wandered off and their voices eerily began to tell another story—of creature darkness, of an ever-growing abyss behind a closet door, and of that unholy growl which soon enough would tear through their walls and consume all their dreams.

“[E]ccentric and sometimes brilliant.”
—Publishers Weekly

8
The Raven Boys
by Maggie Stiefvater – 2012
Book 1 of 4 in The Raven Cycle

It is freezing in the churchyard, even before the dead arrive. Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them, not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her. His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

“Masterful…like nothing else out there now.”
–Kirkus Reviews, starred review

7
The Turn of the Screw
by Henry James – 1898

By the comforts of a blazing fireplace on a cold Christmas Eve night, guests at a holiday party share stories of phantoms and ghosts of Christmases past. Yet one guest delivers a tale of sheer fright for which no one listening was prepared.

After losing both parents, a young boy and girl move into a large wooded estate to be held under the care of their uncle. Wanting nothing to do with raising the children, the uncle hires a young governess to attend to their care. Yet the governess never could have anticipated the horrors that await her discovery. When it becomes evident that the children have some supernatural connection with a deceased former governess and her lover, the young governess finds herself scrambling to regain control of two children slipping away from her grasp.

6
Beloved
by Toni Morrison – 1987

There are two books whseo first lines I immediately memorized and have never forgotten. The first is from Stephen King’s The Gunslinger: “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”

The other opening line is from Beloved: “124 was spiteful. Full of a baby’s venom.”

Sethe, its protagonist, was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. And Sethe’s new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved.

“A masterwork. . . . Wonderful. . . . I can’t imagine American literature without it.”
—Los Angeles Times

5
Hell House
by Richard Matheson – 1971

Rolf Rudolph Deutsch is going die. But when Deutsch, a wealthy magazine and newspaper publisher, starts thinking seriously about his impending death, he offers to pay a physicist and two mediums, one physical and one mental, $100,000 each to establish the facts of life after death.

Dr. Lionel Barrett, the physicist, accompanied by the mediums, travel to the Belasco House in Maine, which has been abandoned and sealed since 1949 after a decade of drug addiction, alcoholism, and debauchery. For one night, Barrett and his colleagues investigate the Belasco House and learn exactly why the townfolks refer to it as the Hell House.

Hell House is the scariest haunted house novel ever written. It looms over the rest the way the mountains loom over the foothills.”
—Stephen King

4
The Woman in Black
by Susan Hill – 1983

Arthur Kipps is an up-and-coming London solicitor who is sent to Crythin Gifford—a faraway town in the windswept salt marshes beyond Nine Lives Causeway—to attend the funeral and settle the affairs of a client, Mrs. Alice Drablow of Eel Marsh House. Mrs. Drablow’s house stands at the end of the causeway, wreathed in fog and mystery, but Kipps is unaware of the tragic secrets that lie hidden behind its sheltered windows. The routine business trip he anticipated quickly takes a horrifying turn when he finds himself haunted by a series of mysterious sounds and images: a rocking chair in a deserted nursery, the eerie sound of a pony and trap, a child’s scream in the fog, and, most terrifying of all, a ghostly woman dressed all in black.

“A rattling good yarn, the sort that chills the mind as well as the spine.”
—The Guardian

3
A Christmas Carol
by Charles Dickens – 1843

Oh, you know this one.

2
The Shining
by Stephen King – 1977
Book 1 of 2 in The Shining series

Jack Torrance’s new job at the Overlook Hotel is the perfect chance for a fresh start. As the off-season caretaker at the atmospheric old hotel, he’ll have plenty of time to spend reconnecting with his family and working on his writing. But as the harsh winter weather sets in, the idyllic location feels ever more remote . . . and more sinister. And the only one to notice the strange and terrible forces gathering around the Overlook is Danny Torrance, a uniquely gifted five-year-old.

“Scary! . . . Serves up horrors at a brisk, unflagging pace.”
—The New York Times

1
Ghost Story
by Peter Straub – 1979

In the sleepy town of Milburn, New York, four old men gather to tell each other stories—some true, some made-up, all of them frightening. A simple pastime to divert themselves from their quiet lives.

But one story is coming back to haunt them and their small town. A tale of something they did long ago. A wicked mistake. A horrifying accident. And they are about to learn that no one can bury the past forever…

“The scariest book I’ve ever read…It crawls under your skin and into your dreams.”
—Chicago Sun-Times

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2 replies on “22 Best Ghost Books”

I keep returning to this list hoping that you will add the two missing entries that will reconcile the contents of the list with its title. Of course, you could also change the title to 22 Best Ghost Books – but I think you’ll agree that two more recommendations would be the better option.

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