Let’s face it, most of us enjoy a good scare. Escape rooms, horror films, roller coasters; they’re all designed to provide the illusion of threat without any actual danger. It seems to satisfy some deep-seated psychological itch, and the more unsettling – even macabre – the better. The same applies with crime novels and thrillers. They take us out of our comfort zone, allow us to vicariously experience events we’d never want to encounter in real life. Like hearing a floorboard creak in the middle of the night, the reality might be terrifying. But in the pages of a book it’s guaranteed to evoke an enjoyable shudder.
That’s the response I aim for in my own crime thrillers, because it’s what I enjoy as a reader myself. So what makes a seriously creepy crime novel? Setting, atmosphere, the nature of the crime itself: all can play a part. But sometimes that shiver-down-the-spine quality can be harder to pin down. You’ll know when you come across it, though, because these are the books that stay with you long after you’ve read them.
Here are a few creepy crime books that stayed with me.
The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
This edges out Red Dragon because of sheer gothic imagination. Death’s-head moths, a terrifying killer, not to mention a certain brilliant psychopath with an antisocial diet…
Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane
Sent to find an escaped murderer, a US marshal finds himself trapped in a nightmare when he visits Shutter Island’s ‘Home for the Criminally Insane’. Atmospheric and full of twists, the less you know before reading it, the better.
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind
A sensual and terrifying tale set in 18th Century France, as a social outcast with a freakish sense of smell becomes obsessed with creating the perfect perfume.
The Church of Dead Girls by Stephen Dobyns
A small community is torn apart by the disappearance of young girls. Truly frightening, this is one of those books to read through your fingers.
Misery by Stephen King
A bestselling author wakes up after a car accident to find himself badly injured, cut off by a snowstorm, and at the mercy of his ‘number one fan’. What could possibly go wrong?
Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin
This might not be a crime novel as such, but it’s a superbly creepy psychological thriller. Is Rosemary losing her mind, the victim of gaslighting… or is something even more sinister going on?
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Foggy moorland, treacherous bogs, an escaped convict and murder by spectral hellhound. Conan Doyle ramps up the atmosphere in my favourite Sherlock Holmes story.
What are your favourite creepy crime books? Let us know in the comments below!