11 Small-Town Horror Novels That Will Make You Think Twice About Coming Home Again
Loved IT and Stranger Things 2, but now find you're in need of new entertainment? I've got 11 small-town horror novels that will make you think twice about coming home again. These books are scarier than any holiday dinner with your family, so grab your security blanket and a flashlight, and get ready to read past your bedtime.
Have you ever noticed that almost no scary stories are set in the big city? Think about it: Dracula, The Island of Doctor Moreau, Rebecca, The Haunting of Hill House — all of these stories isolate their narrators in creepy houses and remote locales before pitting them against dark forces. Logistically it makes sense, because where's the terror when you can just run out into the street to get away from the evil entity that's hunting you down?
There's a certain type of horror that manages to bridge the gap between narratives like The Shining, which is set in a snowed-in hotel, and Rosemary's Baby, which takes place in the heart of New York City. It's called "small-town horror," and it's quite possibly the scariest category of them all. These stories focus on bad things happening in "safe" places: podunk towns where nothing exciting, much less murderous, ever happens.
Until it does, that is, and you're stuck with murderous clowns, alien invasions, shadow monsters, or a serial killer stalking your hometown. But because nothing like that has ever happened before, no one in town knows what they should do, and that inexperience adds to the fear and dread everyone feels as the narrative unwinds.
Both Stephen King and the Duffer Brothers have pulled off small-town horror with aplomb. Although only one is represented in the list of books below, the majority of King's novels take place in tiny hamlets where everyone knows everyone else's business and no one ever leaves. Likewise, the Duffers have created a thriving network of families and friends in Stranger Things, creating the illusion that these people you're watching on screen have known one another all their lives.
'IT' by Stephen King
Stephen King's IT is the quintessential small-town horror novel. Set in the fictional Derry, Maine, this 1986 book centers on a group of seven pre-teens who must band together in order to stop a malevolent creature from hunting innocent children.
'We Have Always Lived in the Castle' by Shirley Jackson
For six years, Merricat Blackwood has lived with her sister, Constance, and their Uncle Julian. They are the last of the Blackwoods, or so Merricat believes, until their cousin Charles shows up to ruin everything.
'Welcome to Night Vale' by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor
Night Vale is a strange place. This city in the desert plays home to a number of misfits, including a 19-year-old pawnbroker who never gets any older, and a teenage boy who can change shape at will. Their stories collide in the first book based on the hit podcast, Welcome to Night Vale.
'The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas' by Ursula K. Le Guin
'Pines' by Blake Crouch
Fans of Twin Peaks are sure to enjoy Blake Crouch's Pines. The first in a trilogy of books about a Secret Service agent and a town that no one can leave, Pines follows Ethan Burke into Wayward Pines, Idaho — a place from which two of his fellow agents have disappeared.
'Dark Places' by Gillian Flynn
Twenty-five years after the murders of her mother and sisters, Libby conducts her own investigation into the events of that night, at the behest of a secret club obsessed with sensational murder cases. Returning home to Kinnakee, Kansas, Libby reunites with Ben: the older brother she helped put away for their family's deaths.
'Let the Right One In' by John Ajvide Lindqvist
When a teenager turns up dead in the suburbs of Stockholm, talk quickly turns to the possibility of Satanic ritual. But for 12-year-old Oskar, a bullied boy who has recently become fascinated by forensics, the case holds little to draw his attention, at least compared to his new next-door neighbor: a girl who only leaves the house at night...
'The Winter People' by Jennifer McMahon
Alice moves her two daughters into the old Vermont farmhouse because it's off the grid. But when she vanishes without a trace, her daughters discover the diary of one of the farm's previous tenants, and discover the true, grisly history of their home.
'Penpal' by Dathan Auerbach
Begun as a series of creepypasta postings to r/NoSleep, Dathan Auerbach's Penpal centers on a man struggling to make sense of his disjointed childhood. Along the way, he begins to realize that many of his memory fragments are connected, and that there might be a reason why he doesn't remember his past all that well.
'Amatka' by Karin Tidbeck
The eponymous city of Karin Tidbeck's novel is one of four colonies, a wintry, agricultural commune that grows fungus for sustenance. No one talks about the fifth colony, the one that was lost so long ago, and no one will tell Amatka's newest resident, city-girl Vanja, just why every rule is so much stricter here than back in the home city of Essre.
'The Virgin Suicides' by Jeffrey Eugenides
Jeffrey Eugenides' debut novel centers on the Lisbons, a family with five teen daughters who captivate the boys in Grosse Pointe. When 13-year-old Cecilia, the youngest of the Lisbon girls, attempts suicide, the family is thrown into a tailspin, and the boys are there to document their fall from suburban grace.
'Under the Harrow' by Flynn Berry
When Londoner Nora goes to visit her sister in the countryside, she doesn't expect to find the other woman and her dog murdered in their home. As the investigation into Rachel's death unfolds, Nora remains in the village, unsure of the local police's ability to solve the case.
'The Stepford Wives' by Ira Levin
Joanna and Walter Eberhart are an ordinary couple who think they've hit the jackpot when they buy a house in Stepford, Connecticut. It's the perfect place to live, after all, full of successful men and their happy families. But behind Stepford's idyllic facade lurks a dark secret, and it's one the Eberharts may learn the hard way.
'Quiet Neighbors' by Catriona MacPherson
When Jude needs a place to hide, she runs to her last happy place: Lowell's dusty old bookshop in a one-horse town. Turns out, the proprietor needs Jude's help as much as she needs a respite from the world, and the two make it work, for a time. But both Jude and Lowell have their secrets, and those little mysteries are about to meet.
'Universal Harvester' by John Darnielle
While working at the Video Hut in his tiny Iowa town, Jeremy connects reports of damaged VHS cassettes. Video Hut owner Sarah Jane and customer Stephanie push him to investigate the strange "second movie" that's popping up on the tapes: a disturbing film that appears to have been shot somewhere close by.