9 New Books to Read for a Historical Halloween

4 minute read

It’s not Halloween without a few ghost stories. Readers who are keen to get their spook on this December can choose from a wide range of new books about witches, ghosts and murderers from the past, from biographies of two great horror writers to historical fiction about the Salem Witch Trials and Jack the Ripper.

Something in the Blood: The Untold Story of Bram Stoker, the Man Who Wrote Dracula

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By David J. Skal

Since Dracula was first published in 1897, the Count has become one of the most iconic monsters of all time, inspiring innumerable adaptations and homages. Skal pulls back the curtain to reveal the author who dreamed up this vampire. Bram Stoker’s Protestant childhood in Victorian Dublin was filled with medical horrors, with doctors frequently turning to blood letting in pursuit of cures for his various maladies. It was also a period when society was anxious over “bad blood” in the population. These issues, combined with Stoker’s provocative sexual imagination, stewed in his mind as the foundation of his still-terrifying horror story.

The Big Book of Jack the Ripper

Vintage Crime

Edited by Otto Penzler

“Unsolved murders” and “serial killers” are two of the most popular categories among crime junkies, and Jack the Ripper ticks both boxes. This anthology gathers together true crime stories as well as fiction about the infamous serial killer who terrified London in the late 19th century. The selection includes classics like Marie Belloc Lowndes’s “The Lodger,” gems like Isak Dinesen’s “The Uncertain Heiress” and new stories by the likes of Lydsay Faye and Jeffery Deaver.

Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life


By Ruth Franklin

The author of “The Lottery” and The Haunting of Hill House combined the ennui of the “Feminine Mystique” generation with the intrigue of the horror genre. A new biography both champions her talent and interrogates the forces that shaped her writing, including a fraught marriage and an affinity for witchcraft.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Penguin Classics

By Shirley Jackson

Readers intrigued by Jackson can check out one of her gothic novels, which has just been rereleased as part of the Penguin Orange collection. The story follows the Blackwood family, a potentially murderous clan doing what they feel they must to maintain control over their home.

His Bloody Project

Skyhorse Publishing

By Graeme Macrae Burnet

In this novel, which came out in the U.K. last year and debuts in the U.S. this month, the author presents the story of a triple homicide in rural Scotland in 1869 through witness statements, a diary kept by the murderer, a psychological evaluation and courtroom reports of his trial. The result is both a horrific tale of violence and a rumination on the societal problems for poor sharecroppers of the era. His Bloody Project has been shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize.

Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places


By Colin Dickey

Dickey examines what America’s ghost stories say about our culture and finds that they often speak to the unspeakable, giving narrative form to the fears and anxieties that trouble our society. For instance, New York City’s Merchant’s House is said to be haunted by the ghost of a woman who lived there until she died a spinster at 93, staying single for decades after her father nixed her only suitor—a myth that addresses our anxiety over single women and matrimony. Abandoned insane asylums, allegedly packed with troubled spirits, represent our guilt over negligence and cruelty toward the mentally ill.

Crane Pond

Europa Editions

By Richard Francis

This novel looks at the Salem Witch Trials from the perspective of Samuel Sewall, the only judge involved in the proceedings who later admitted the whole affair had been a horrible mistake. As he struggles to balance his faith with what his Puritan peers expect of him, he seeks redemption for the suffering he allowed to happen.

The Penguin Book of the Undead: Fifteen Hundred Years of Supernatural Encounters

Penguin Classics

Edited by Scott G. Bruce

This anthology collects antique writings on ghosts, zombies, phantoms and other undead creatures. Entries include Homer’s “Odysseus in the House of Death,” Pliny the Younger contemplating the existence of ghosts, and Shakespeare’s scenes of Hamlet confronting his father’s specter.

A Season With the Witch: The Magic and Mayhem of Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts

Countryman Press

By J.W. Ocker

The author spent a fall season in Salem, Mass. to understand why so many tourists flock to the scene of a 300-year-old crime. Each October brings hundreds of thousands of visitors to the town, some just curious, some genuinely dedicated to Wiccan practices, and all intrigued by the trials that cast a pall over early American history.

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