11 Horror Books Inspired By True Stories That Prove Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction
With shows like Making a Murderer and Mindhunter taking Netflix by storm, is it any wonder we still love to read true-crime books? Below, I have 11 horror books based on true stories that will have you sleeping with the lights on for the next week, so ramp up your Halloween fun with a bit of spooky reading, won't you?
Horror holds a special place in a lot of readers' hearts, but millennials grew up with scary stories from a very young age. From classic horror collections — Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, In a Dark, Dark Room — by Alvin Schwartz to the pulpy scares of R.L. Stine's Goosebumps and Fear Street series, we've been reading horror books pretty much ever since we could hold a book.
Of course, our affinity for scary stories isn't new. In the 20th century, shows like The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and The Outer Limits brought creepy tales into living rooms across the country every week. Today, American Horror Story continues to freak out its audience, seven seasons in, the first feature-film adaptation of Stephen King's IT rose to the top of the box office, becoming the No. 1 movie in the U.S. on its opening weekend, and streaming-service exclusives like Stranger Things and Black Mirror offer up our favorite thrills and chills.
Still, there's just something about that "Based on a True Story" label to really get your blood pumping. Even if what you're reading or watching is a highly fictionalized account of real-life events, the fact that something even remotely similar to your horror entertainment has actually happened to someone? That's downright terrifying.
True-crime fans should note that most of the books on my list below do not bill themselves as true stories. Rather, the authors of these books have drawn inspiration from real-life killers, locations, and circumstances to pen their bestsellers. With that criterion, I could easily include about a dozen Stephen King books alone, but what's the fun in that?
It's also worth mentioning that what I find scary and what you find scary may be two completely different things. That's OK. If you aren't scared by any of the books on this list, by all means, drop me a line on Twitter to let me know what your favorite horror books based on true stories are. I'll be excited to read them — but only with the lights on.
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'Pet Sematary' by Stephen King
Stephen King's novel about a cursed cemetery that brings the dead back to life was inspired by his discovery of a house-pet burial ground near the house where he lived during his tenure as a creative-writing instructor at the University of Maine.
'The Stranger Beside Me' by Ann Rule
Ann Rule exploded onto the true-crime scene in 1980 with The Stranger Beside Me: the true story of her time working with then-undiscovered serial killer Ted Bundy.
'My Best Friend's Exorcism' by Grady Hendrix
Inspired by the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, Horrorst ör author Grady Hendrix crafts the story of a young girl whose bestie believes she has been possessed by the Devil in this 2016 novel.
'The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher' by Kate Summerscale
In 1860, England was rocked by the disappearance of a small, upper-class boy from his home in Kent, and the subsequent discovery of his corpse, dead from multiple stab wounds, in an outhouse on the property. In The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, Kate Summerscale revisits the murder of Saville Kent and its impact on the reputation of the titular detective.
'The Girls' by Emma Cline
Inspired by the life and crimes of the Manson Family in the late 1960s, Emma Cline's debut novel, The Girls, focuses on its 14-year-old narrator's preoccupation with a 19-year-old woman named Suzanne, who is herself in thrall to charismatic cult leader Russell, based on none other than Charlie Manson himself.
'There Is No Lovely End' by Patty Templeton
From the late 1800s until the time of her death in 1922, heiress Sarah Winchester spent her great fortune on constant modifications to her palatial home, building fake rooms, hallways to nowhere, and all manner of other architectural oddities. In There Is No Lovely End, Patty Templeton imagines Winchester as a woman haunted by the ghosts of people killed by Winchester rifles.
'Lovecraft Country' by Matt Ruff
Grounded in the real-life existence of sundown towns — racist locations that became immensely dangerous for black people after dark — Matt Ruff's Lovecraft Country places its protagonist on a cross-country road trip to find his missing father.
'The Witchfinder's Sister' by Beth Underdown
In the mid-17th century, Matthew Hopkins appointed himself Witchfinder General and hunted down witches across England. Beth Underdown's The Witchfinder's Sister centers on Hopkins' sister, Alice, who wedges herself between the man and his work in order to save the innocent women he pursues.
'The Girl Next Door' by Jack Ketchum
In the 1960s, a brutal murder shocked the U.S. Sixteen-year-old Sylvia Likens was found murdered in her caretaker's basement, and both evidence and her sister's testimony proved she had been beaten, abused, starved, and sexually assaulted. Jack Ketchum set his fictionalized account of Likens' final days in the 1950s.
'Worlds of Ink and Shadow' by Lena Coakley
In real life, Branwell Brontë was the brother of Anne, Charlotte, and Emily, troubled by his vices, his poor health, and his lack of fame or fortune. Lena Coakley imagines a supernatural cause for Branwell's afflictions in Worlds of Ink and Shadow.
'Psycho' by Robert Bloch
Based on the real-life serial killer Ed Gein, Robert Bloch's Norman Bates has become famous in his own right since Psycho first appeared on store shelves in 1959. If you loved the Albert Hitchcock film of the same name, you owe it to yourself to read the novel that started it all.