For Halloween: Our Votes for Scariest Book

In honor of Halloween, the Maine Crime Writers offer two group posts to talk about our favorite scary movies and our favorite scary  books. We hope you’ll leave a comment to share some of the titles that have sent you running for cover, or hiding under them.

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson: I don’t often read horror fiction, although I do have a secret affection for vampire romance novels, but there have been a few exceptions, most of them written by Maine’s own Stephen King. My vote for scariest goes to Pet Sematary, a book that King has said scares even him. Any pet owner will understand why, as will any parent who has ever contemplated the possibility of losing a child. As an aside, there’s an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (another of my guilty pleasures), that deals with a similar theme but with a much less creepy ending.

And a P.S.: In the non-horror genre, the scariest novel I’ve ever read is Clive Cussler’s Dragon. Anyone who is dependent upon a computer to make a living will understand why.

Susan Vaughan: My vote for scariest book is William Peter Blatty’s Exorcist. I’m not sure the author meant it as a horror book, but it raised goosebumps all over me. The film version comes in a close second, but had less shock value because I’d read the book. I haven’t read horror books in a long time, but Kaitlyn/Kathy’s choice of Pet Sematary was pretty frightening, as were all the others of his horror books I’ve read. One particular short story, “The Mist,” about creatures within a mist snatching and killing people, still makes me shudder when I think about it.

Maureen Milliken: Assuming our “votes” are for what scared us the most, and not an election for what we think everyone should be scared by, the book that first scared the living daylights out of me was The Mystery of the Crimson Ghost by Phyllis A. Whitney. I believe I was 9 or 10 when I read it, and it involved the ghost of a dog that glowed red and made ungodly wailing noises. I think if it’d been a person, I wouldn’t have been nearly as scared. I have a memory of a few years later my brother, a year younger reading it out loud to some younger siblings and me saying, “Don’t read them that! It’s too scary!” They looked at me like I was nuts and kept right on.
A few years later, as a teenager, I was reading In Cold Blood by Truman Capote on a Saturday at home when the rest of my large family wasn’t around. I was alone in a large house that didn’t really lock and our dog (hmm, theme) kept barking for no reason. Even though it was during the day, I was terrified. Probably one of the few times growing up I was happy when someone came home and I was no longer alone in the house. It comes in second. I don’t scare easily as far as books and movies go — in fact when someone tells me they don’t read mysteries “because they’re too scary,” I have a tough time getting what they mean. But when an author hits the right notes, yikes!

Charlene D’Avanzo’s vote for scariest book goes to The Hot Zone by Richard Preston . . . and it isn’t fiction.

Darcy Scott picks Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House.

Kate Flora: Though his other novels are scary–after all, Hannibal Lecter is a terrifying Screen Shot 2019-10-25 at 12.33.46 PMcharacter, as is the killer, in The Silence of the Lambs, it is Thomas Harris’s earlier book, Red Dragon, that is my scariest book of all time. The plot wouldn’t work as well today, in the era of digital photos, but the idea of someone randomly picking families to kill from photos they sent to be developed was terrifying. I think we’re all most frightened by murders that don’t have any connection or explanation. They’re just someone fundamentally evil stalking and killing. I don’t have to tell you that Harris is a mesmerizing writer, do I?



Vaughn Hardacker: Stephen King’s Cujo primarily because of all his books it’s the one that could happen.

Sandra Neily; The most fear I ever felt was worrying about Wilber the Pig in Charlotte’s Web. Worrying about the axe finding the baby pig. These first few lines were the scariest I’ve ever read. “Where’s Paper going with the axe?” asked Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.”

(Seriously, avoided traditional horror books and most of Stephen King my whole life.)

Thank goodness for the amazing spider!





John Clark: In college one of my fellow students supposedly read a book that landed her in the Arizona State Hospital. That left such a strong impression that I have avoided reading it to this day.

Jen Blood: The only truly scary book I ever read was Stephen King’s Christine – which scared the holy bejeezus out of me. I was in my late teens at the time, and our family car was a 1972 Plymouth Satellite. If you’ve ever seen one, it is a monster of a vehicle. For weeks after reading the book, I couldn’t look at the Satellite without being certain it would come to life and run me down. After that, I made a point of avoiding any books that had a clear horror theme, though for a while I did make a living editing zombie-themed erotica… That tended to be more disturbing than overtly scary, though. But that’s a story for another time.

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4 Responses to For Halloween: Our Votes for Scariest Book

  1. Monica says:

    The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is still the scariest book I’ve ever read. And that’s with over 50 years of reading all kinds of books.

  2. Stephen King’s IT really does it for me!

  3. Jane says:

    I don’t read horror, though in college I stayed up all night reading The Exorcist for some unknown reason. But, like Maureen, I really remember a children’s book that scared me — The Mystery of the Moss-Covered Mansion (original text) in the Nancy Drew series. I must have been about twelve or thirteen, and was reading in bed late at night at my great-aunt’s on vacation.

  4. bangorgirl says:

    Helter Skelter…I kept going to check that the doors were locked.

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