8 Ghostly Historical Fiction Reads Covering Centuries of Spooky

Jennifer Proffitt
October 10 2022
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The temperatures are dropping, the sun is getting a little lower, and it’s time to head inside for a few scary stories to share after dark. If you’re like me, you love a ghost story, and no one did hauntings quite like the Victorians, who loved a séance and mourning portraits. That’s where my love of historical ghost stories began. However, history is full of ghoulish tales from around the world, and this list will give you a great sampling of twists on classic tales and international folklore, and will dive into the-truth-is-stranger-than-fiction stories that keep us up at night.

Things Half in Shadow
by Alan Finn

In post–Civil War Philadelphia, crime journalist Edward Clark is tasked with uncovering the fake mediums and psychics who are taking advantage of grieving families. With Edward’s knowledge of stage magic and illusion, he’s able to distinguish between the people with real gifts and those who are using sleight of hand. However, Edward has to rely on Lucy Collins, one of the fake mediums, when the city’s most highly regarded medium dies mid-séance. Edward and Lucy are on the hunt for the killer, but both are still haunted by the ghosts of their pasts in Alan Finn’s THINGS HALF IN SHADOW.

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Things Half in Shadow
Alan Finn

Postbellum America makes for a haunting backdrop in this historical and supernatural tale of moonlit cemeteries, masked balls, cunning mediums, and terrifying secrets waiting to be unearthed by an intrepid crime reporter.

Edward Clark is a successful young crime reporter in comfortable circumstances with a lovely, well-connected fiancée. Then an assignment to write a series of exposés on the city’s mediums places all that in jeopardy.

In the Philadelphia of 1869, photographs of Civil War dead adorn dim sitting rooms, and grieving families attempt to contact their lost loved ones. Edward’s investigation of the beautiful young medium Lucy Collins has unintended consequences, however. He uncovers her tricks, but realizes to his dismay that Lucy is more talented at blackmail than she is at a medium’s sleights of hand. And since Edward has a hidden past, he reluctantly agrees that they should collaborate in exposing only her rivals.

The mysterious murder of noted medium Lenora Grimes Pastor as Lucy and Edward attend her séance results in a plum story for Edward—and a great deal more. The pair want to clear themselves from suspicion, but a search spanning the houses of the wealthy to the underside of nineteenth-century Philadelphia unearths a buzzing beehive of past murder, current danger, and supernatural occurrences that cannot be explained…

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The Ghost Bride
by Yangsze Choo

Yangsze Choo's THE GHOST BRIDE mixes Chinese folklore with supernatural twists. In Chinese culture, a traditional “ghost marriage” is used to placate a restless spirit. Though this is a tradition that is rarely practiced, Li Lan finds herself the ghost bride for the wealthy and powerful Lim family’s only son, who recently died under mysterious circumstances. The marriage secures Li Lan’s future and the financial security of her family, but every night she is haunted by her ghostly would-be suitor and drawn into the parallel world of the Chinese afterlife. Li Lan must uncover the Lim family's darkest secrets before she could be trapped in this ghost world forever.

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The Ghost Bride
Yangsze Choo

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To Ruin a Queen
by Fiona Buckley

Many English ghost stories seem to date back to the Tudor days. In TO RUIN A QUEEN by Fiona Buckley, Ursula Blanchard, a lady-in-waiting secret agent for Queen Elizabeth I, must uncover the secrets of a haunted keep and a castle’s owner who boasts that he knows something about the queen that will force her to restore his family’s fortunes.

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To Ruin a Queen
Fiona Buckley

Her devotion to her family trumps all.

Homesick for England, heartsick at being separated from her young daughter, Ursula Blanchard is struggling to build a new life in France with her husband, Matthew de la Roche. Ursula is devastated when she learns Meg has disappeared from the family that has fostered her since the French civil war forced Ursula to leave her behind. A wanted man in England, Matthew is unable to accompany her as she frantically journeys home.

Upon her arrival, Ursula is stunned to learn that Meg is not missing, but has been sent at the Queen's behest to Vetch Castle, the home of Philip Mortimer, descendant of Roger Mortimer, who was executed long ago for his part in the murder of Edward II. Ursula treads carefully as she seeks the truth about Philip Mortimer's schemes to force the Queen to restore his family's fortunes. But when a murderer strikes, she is quickly ensnared in a web of blackmail and treason that could topple the crown -- and cost Ursula her life.

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Briefly, A Delicious Life
by Nell Stevens

Blanca died 400 years ago, but she still haunts the hilltop monastery in Mallorca where she died in BRIEFLY, A DELICIOUS LIFE by Nell Stephens. When George Sand, her two children, and her lover Frederic Chopin arrive in the village, Blanca is swept away by her infatuation with the unconventional George. But George can’t see Blanca, so Blanca must observe from afar and reflect on her own brief life in this charming and emotional novel.

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Briefly, A Delicious Life
Nell Stevens

An unforgettable debut novel from an award-winning writer: a lively, daring ghost story about a teenage ghost who falls in love with a writer who doesn’t know she exists.

In 1473, fourteen-year-old Blanca dies in a hilltop monastery in Mallorca. Nearly four hundred years later, when George Sand, her two children, and her lover Frederic Chopin arrive in the village, Blanca is still there: a spirited, funny, righteous ghost, she’s been hanging around the monastery since her accidental death, spying on the monks and the townspeople and keeping track of her descendants.

Blanca is enchanted the moment she sees George, and the magical novel unfolds as a story of deeply felt, unrequited longing—the impossible love of a teenage ghost for a woman who can’t see her and doesn’t know she exists. As George and Chopin, who wear their unconventionality, in George’s case, literally on their sleeves, find themselves in deepening trouble with the provincial, 19th-century villagers, Blanca watches helplessly and reflects on the circumstances of her own death (which involves an ill-advised love affair with a monk-in-training).

Charming, original, and emotionally moving, this is a surprisingly touching story about romantic fixation and a powerful meditation on creativity.

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Marley
by Jon Clinch

We all know Marley, but none of us know Marley from when he was living. . . . MARLEY by Jon Clinch follows the life of Jacob Marley, the ill-fated business partner of Ebenezer Scrooge. While most readers know all too well what happened to Jacob Marley in the afterlife, this novel explores the decisions in his living years that led to his chained and ghastly appearance and sets the stage for Marley’s ghostly return.

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Marley
Jon Clinch

The acclaimed author of Finn digs down to the bones of a classic and creates must-read modern literature” (Charles Frazier, New York Times bestselling author) with this “clever riff” (The Washington Post) on Dickens’s classic A Christmas Carol that explores of the relationship between Ebenezer Scrooge and Jacob Marley.

“Marley was dead, to begin with,” Charles Dickens tells us at the beginning of A Christmas Carol. But in Jon Clinch’s “masterly” (The New York Times Book Review) novel, Jacob Marley, business partner to Ebenezer Scrooge, is very much alive: a rapacious and cunning boy who grows up to be a forger, a scoundrel, and the man who will be both the making and the undoing of Scrooge.

They meet as youths in the gloomy confines of Professor Drabb’s Academy for Boys, where Marley begins their twisted friendship by initiating the innocent Scrooge into the art of extortion. Years later, in the dank heart of London, their shared ambition manifests itself in a fledgling shipping empire. Between Marley’s genius for deception and Scrooge’s brilliance with numbers, they amass a considerable fortune of dubious legality, all rooted in a pitiless commitment to the soon-to-be-outlawed slave trade.

As Marley toys with the affections of Scrooge’s sister, Fan, Scrooge falls under the spell of Fan’s best friend, Belle Fairchild. Now, for the first time, Scrooge and Marley find themselves at odds. With their business interests inextricably bound together and instincts for secrecy and greed bred in their very bones, the two men engage in a shadowy war of deception, forged documents, theft, and cold-blooded murder. Marley and Scrooge are destined to clash in an unforgettable reckoning that will echo into the future and set the stage for Marley’s ghostly return.

“Read through to the last page of this brilliant book, and I promise you that you will have a permanently changed view, not just of Dickens’s world, but of the world we live in today” (Elizabeth Letts, New York Times bestselling author).

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The Unquiet Grave
by Sharyn McCrumb

In THE UNQUIET GRAVE by Sharyn McCrumb, based on the very real story of the Greenbrier Ghost, one of the strangest murder cases in American history, two parallel stories unfold in West Virginia–one set in 1930, the other in 1897. In 1930, James P. D. Gardner, the first Black attorney to practice law in nineteenth-century West Virginia, is consigned to an insane asylum, and the doctor treating him tries to get Gardner to reminisce about his most memorable case, which relied on the testimony of a ghost. Meanwhile, in 1897, young and beautiful Zona Heaster begins an idyllic life with her new husband. However, just weeks later, she’s killed, and her mother begins to investigate her death—but the only evidence she has are the claims made by Zona’s ghost.

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The Unquiet Grave
Sharyn McCrumb

From New York Times bestselling author Sharyn McCrumb comes this finely wrought novel set in nineteenth-century West Virginia, based on the true story of one of the strangest murder trials in American history—the case of the Greenbrier Ghost.

Lakin, West Virginia, 1930—Following a suicide attempt and consigned to a segregated insane asylum, attorney James P.D. Gardner finds himself under the care of Dr. James Boozer. Eager to try the new talking cure for insanity, Boozer encourages his elderly patient to reminisce about his experiences as the first black attorney to practice law in nineteenth-century West Virginia. In his forty-year career, Gardner’s most memorable case was the one in which he helped to defend a white man on trial for the murder of his young bride—a case that the prosecution based on the testimony of a ghost.

Greenbrier, West Virginia, 1897—Beautiful, willful Zona Heaster has always lived in the mountains of West Virginia. Despite her mother’s misgivings, Zona marries Erasmus Trout Shue, the handsome blacksmith who has recently come to Greenbrier County. After weeks of silence, riders come to the Heasters’ place to tell them that Zona has died. A month after the funeral, determined to get justice for her daughter, Mary Jane informs the county prosecutor that Zona’s ghost appeared to her, saying that she had been murdered.

With its unique blend of masterful research and mesmerizing folklore illuminating the story’s fascinating and complex characters, The Unquiet Grave confirms Sharyn McCrumb’s place among the finest Southern writers at work today.

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Joplin's Ghost
by Tananarive Due

In JOPLIN’S GHOST by Tananarive Due, when Phoenix Smalls, an aspiring R&B singer, visits a historic St. Louis location, she doesn’t expect it to kickstart a series of bizarre encounters with a spirit who may be the King of Ragtime, Scott Joplin. Soon, Phoenix’s life spins out of control as the long-dead music legend chooses her to continue his legacy. How will Phoenix move on to live out her own future? She’ll have to find her voice to fight against Scott Joplin's doomed tragic past.

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Joplin's Ghost
Tananarive Due

The life of Phoenix Smalls spins horrifically out of control as a long-dead music legend chooses her to continue his legacy, in this historical novel—part love story, part ghost story—from acclaimed horror novelist Tananarive Due.

When Phoenix Smalls was ten, she nearly died at her parents' jazz club when she was crushed by a turn-of-the-century piano. Now twenty-four, Phoenix is launching a career as an R&B singer. She's living out her dreams and seems destined for fame and fortune. But a chance visit to a historical site in St. Louis ignites a series of bizarre, erotic encounters with a spirit who may be the King of Ragtime, Scott Joplin.

The sound of Scott Joplin is strange enough to the ears of the hip-hop generation. But the idea that these antique sounds are being channeled through Phoenix? Her life is suddenly hanging in the balance. How will she find her true voice and calling? Can the power of her own inner song give Phoenix the strength to fight to live out her own future? Or will she be forever trapped in Scott Joplin's doomed, tragic past? Stunningly original, Joplin's Ghost is a novel filled with art and intrigue—and is sure to bring music to readers' ears.

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The Widow of Rose House
by Diana Biller

Alva Webster has fled her abusive husband, and while it caused quite the scandal in 1875, she’s mastered a stony expression to put the worst gossips to shame. When her husband dies and Alva resumes her place in society in order to restore Liefdehuis, a dilapidated Hyde Park mansion, she never intends for the unconventional Professor Samuel Moore to be allowed inside to investigate the mystery surrounding the home. However, no worker within five miles will come inside Liefdehuis to finish the updates needed unless she does something about the supernatural beings that call this house a home. With Samuel’s help, Alva attempts to banish the ghostly spirits and put to rest the tragic secrets of Liefdehuis in THE WIDOW OF ROSE HOUSE by Diana Biller.

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The Widow of Rose House
Diana Biller

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8 Ghostly Historical Fiction Reads Covering Centuries of Spooky

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Photo credit: iStock / cyano66

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