Simon Beckett: 7 of the best creepy crime books

creepy crime books

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.

chilling crime novelsThe 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…

creepy thrillersShutter 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.

creepy crime booksPerfume: 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.

creepy crime booksThe 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.

creepy crime booksMisery 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?

creepy crime booksRosemary’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?

creepy crime booksThe 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!

Take a look at Simon Beckett’s Dr David Hunter books in order here.

Buy The Scent of Death by Simon Beckett
The Scent of Death by Simon Beckett

Simon Beckett is the number one international bestselling author of the David Hunter series: The Chemistry of Death, Written in Bone, Whispers of the Dead, The Calling of the Grave, The Restless Dead and The Scent of Death. His books have been translated into 29 languages, appeared in the Sunday Times top 10 bestseller lists and sold over 10 million copies worldwide. A former freelance journalist, he has written for The Times, Daily Telegraph, Independent on Sunday and Observer. Joint-winner of Europe’s largest crime fiction prize – the Ripper Award 2018/19 – he has also won the Raymond Chandler Society’s Marlowe Award and been short-listed for the CWA Gold Dagger, CWA Dagger in the Library and Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year awards. He is
also the author of several standalone novels including Stone Bruises and Where There’s Smoke.

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