10 Gothic Novels That’ll Grip You with Suspense and Atmosphere

Sara Roncero-Menendez
October 13 2022
Share 10 Gothic Novels That’ll Grip You with Suspense and Atmosphere

The haunting season approaches! And nothing gives thrills and chills the way a gothic novel does. For those not in the know, a gothic novel often takes place in a dreary, expansive dwelling that is hiding secrets or is said to be haunted, with a protagonist who unwittingly falls into the twisted plot around the home’s past. Atmospheric, claustrophobic, and psychologically intense, the gothic novel is a well-established genre that still gives readers around the world shivers down their spine.

So, whether you’re dipping your toes into the dark waters of this spooky subgenre or looking for your next suspenseful fix, here are ten hauntingly good gothic reads.

Women of the Dunes
by Sarah Maine

Many times in gothic novels, a place calls to a character. For Libby Snow, the protagonist of WOMEN OF THE DUNES, that place is Ullaness. Named for the eighth-century Norsewoman at the center of a story of feuding siblings, the land belongs to the Sturrock family, and the tale of Ulla has been haunting them ever since. They hope it might be put to rest as Libby, an archaeologist, sets out to excavate a strange dune—only to have her mission derailed when a storm reveals the remains of a century-old man. What other dark tales plague the Sturrocks, and how is Libby’s family history intertwined? You’ll just have to read on to find out.

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Women of the Dunes
Sarah Maine

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O Caledonia
by Elspeth Barker

It’s not often you get a gothic novel from the perspective of the strange and isolated victim, but that’s where O CALEDONIA shines. Janet dies at the tender age of sixteen, murdered in her mother’s wedding dress, in her family’s home. But it’s the life that Janet led before her tragic demise that gives readers all of the gothic feels. An endearing misfit, Janet finds herself further pushed to the edges of her family in mid–twentieth century dour Scotland, turning to books, animals, and her own wild imagination to keep her company. Even as time ticks down to her final breath, you can’t help but be engaged with her inner world. Dark and just surprisingly lovely and heartfelt, this is definitely a must-read for anyone looking to feel unstuck in their own lives.

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O Caledonia
Elspeth Barker

In the tradition of Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, a darkly humorous modern classic of Scottish literature about a doomed adolescent growing up in the mid-19th century—featuring a new introduction by Maggie O’Farrell, award-winning author of Hamnet.

Janet lies murdered beneath the castle stairs, attired in her mother’s black lace wedding dress, lamented only by her pet jackdaw…

Author Elspeth Barker masterfully evokes the harsh climate of Scotland in this atmospheric gothic tale that has been compared to the works of the Brontës, Edgar Allan Poe, and Edward Gorey. Immersed in a world of isolation and loneliness, Barker’s ill-fated young heroine Janet turns to literature, nature, and her Aunt Lila, who offers brief flashes of respite in an otherwise foreboding life. People, birds, and beasts move through the background in a tale that is as rich and atmospheric as it is witty and mordant. The family’s motto—Moriens sed Invictus (Dying but Unconquered)—is a well-suited epitaph for wild and courageous Janet, whose fierce determination to remain steadfastly herself makes her one of the most unforgettable protagonists in contemporary literature.

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Haunted Ground
by Erin Hart

Gothic novels can get pretty grisly, and HAUNTED GROUND is no exception, given that it starts with the discovery of a perfectly preserved decapitated head of a young woman in an Irish peat bog. Enter Irish archaeologist Cormac Maguire and American pathologist Nora Gavin, both of whom come to unravel the mysteries of the bog, and the Bracklyn House next to it, which may have had more than one victim. Full of intrigue, dark history, and a seriously stunning opener, this book is sure to keep you turning pages well into the night.

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Haunted Ground
Erin Hart

The dazzling, award-winning debut in a series that delivers mystery, romance, suspense, and fascinating forensic detail.

When farmers cutting turf in an Irish peat bog make a grisly discovery—the perfectly preserved head of a young woman with long red hair—Irish archaeologist Cormac Maguire and American pathologist Nora Gavin must use cutting-edge techniques to preserve ancient evidence. Because the bog’s watery, acidic environment prevents decay, it’s difficult to tell how long the red-haired girl has been buried—two years, two centuries, or even much longer.

Who is she? The extraordinary find leads to even more disturbing puzzles. The red-haired girl is not the only enigma in this remote corner of Galway. Two years earlier, Mina Osborne, the wife of a local landowner, went for a walk with her young son and vanished without a trace. Could they, too, be hidden in the bog’s treacherous depths, only to be discovered centuries from now? Or did Hugh Osborne murder his family, as some villagers suspect? Bracklyn House, Osborne’s stately home, holds many secrets, and Nora and Cormac's inquiries threaten to expose them all.

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The Cloisters
by Katy Hays

The past often has much to teach us, and museums are a good place to learn it. But as every seasoned thriller reader knows, museums can also be home to dark secrets. When Ann Stilwell gets assigned to work at the Cloisters, the medieval art branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, she’s more than a little bummed. After all, she was hoping to work on the main collections as a curatorial associate. The researchers in the Cloisters are a bit strange, with wild theories about fortune telling and divination, theories she dismisses until she finds a fifteenth-century deck of tarot cards that seems to predict the future. Twists and turns abound as Ann must discover who she can trust and what other secrets this gothic building might be hiding in its depths.

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The Cloisters
Katy Hays

The Secret History meets Ninth House in this sinister, atmospheric novel following a circle of researchers as they uncover a mysterious deck of tarot cards and shocking secrets in New York’s famed Met Cloisters.

When Ann Stilwell arrives in New York City, she expects to spend her summer working as a curatorial associate at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Instead, she finds herself assigned to The Cloisters, a gothic museum and garden renowned for its medieval art collection and its group of enigmatic researchers studying the history of divination.

Desperate to escape her painful past, Ann is happy to indulge the researchers’ more outlandish theories about the history of fortune telling. But what begins as academic curiosity quickly turns into obsession when Ann discovers a hidden 15th-century deck of tarot cards that might hold the key to predicting the future. When the dangerous game of power, seduction, and ambition at The Cloisters turns deadly, Ann becomes locked in a race for answers as the line between the arcane and the modern blurs.

A haunting and magical blend of genres, The Cloisters is a gripping debut that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

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Reluctant Immortals
by Gwendolyn Kiste

Classic literature is not known to be kind to women, especially if they violated the boundaries and limits set for them. This is the case for Lucy Westenra, the count’s female victim in DRACULA, as well as Bertha Mason, Mr. Rochester’s mentally ill, attic-bound wife in JANE EYRE. But the great thing about stories is that there’s always room for some reimagining. Gwendolyn Kiste takes these two victims and makes them heroes . . . kind of. They’re immortal beings now living in 1967 Los Angeles, being their best selves until the monstrous men from their pasts come to call. Stepping out of the gothic and into the light of the Summer of Love, RELUCTANT IMMORTALS has all the themes of a classic gothic novel and turns them on their heads to create something deeper and more moving.

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Reluctant Immortals
Gwendolyn Kiste

For fans of Mexican Gothic, from three-time Bram Stoker Award–winning author Gwendolyn Kiste comes a novel inspired by the untold stories of forgotten women in classic literature—from Lucy Westnera, a victim of Stoker’s Dracula, and Bertha Mason, Mr. Rochester’s attic-bound wife in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre—as they band together to combat the toxic men bent on destroying their lives, set against the backdrop of the Summer of Love, Haight-Ashbury, 1967.

Reluctant Immortals is a historical horror novel that looks at two men of classic literature, Dracula and Mr. Rochester, and the two women who survived them, Bertha and Lucy, who are now undead immortals residing in Los Angeles in 1967 when Dracula and Rochester make a shocking return in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco.

Combining elements of historical and gothic fiction with a modern perspective, in a tale of love and betrayal and coercion, Reluctant Immortals is the lyrical and harrowing journey of two women from classic literature as they bravely claim their own destiny in a man’s world.

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Strega
by Johanne Lykke Holm & Saskia Vogel

While we often think of gothic novels as taking place in the past, there’s plenty to be said for creepy halls and dark secrets in a modern setting. Rafa sets off to work at the Olympic Hotel as a seasonal worker along with eight other girls. The rules are strict, their bosses stricter, and when the promised onslaught of guests fails to arrive, the girls start to confide their hopes and fears in each other. But all of that changes when the hotel throws a lavish party and one of their own goes missing. Headed to shelves in November 2022 for English readers, STREGA has plenty of the tried-and-true tropes of the genre while examining the myths society tells girls and exploring whether there’s a way out of them (other than in a body bag).

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Strega
Johanne Lykke Holm & Saskia Vogel

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The Witch of Painted Sorrows
by M. J. Rose

Husbands in gothic literature can sometimes be the biggest monsters, often being abusers, secret keepers, or straight-up murderers. New York socialite Sandrine Salome is not around to find out, having left her husband behind to flee to the safety of her grandmother’s Parisian mansion. There she meets Julien Duplessi, an architect who shows her the darker side of the City of Lights, which comes in handy when Sandrine’s husband finds out where she’s hiding. A tale of love gone wrong mixed with the occult, THE WITCH OF PAINTED SORROWS is a perfect tale for those looking for some darker escapism.

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The Witch of Painted Sorrows
M. J. Rose

We are living for the drama of possession, power, and passion as they play out against the lavish spectacle of 1890s Belle Époque Paris in this novel. When Sandrine Salome flees New York for Paris to escape her dangerous husband, a family curse illuminates the fine line between explosive desire and complete ruination.

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Bone Deep
by Sandra Ireland

Sometimes you invite people into your life without knowing exactly what baggage they’ll bring. Mac is a retired academic and writer working on a collection of local legends and folktales who hires an assistant after much nagging from her son. Mac may have some secrets she’d rather keep locked up, but new assistant Lucie has her own darkness to contend with. As both women come to know, and seek to hide from, each other, they begin to mirror a local tale of two sisters, which did not end well. And of course, what gothic tale is complete without a creepy old building (in this case a water mill) to symbolize how the deeds of the past rot away and destroy what’s good? An eerie cat-and-mouse game, BONE DEEP will satisfy any reader looking for an intellectual, psychological thrill.

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Bone Deep
Sandra Ireland

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The Elementals
by Michael McDowell

Much of what makes gothic novels so highly appealing revolves around the themes of family. Whether it be tragic pasts or lacking kin to call one's own, protagonists are often plagued by questions of the ties that bind. And for little India, this question couldn’t be more important as she heads to her family’s summer homes in Beldame, deep in Alabama. There wait two houses, as well as a third filled with sand and dark secrets that still haunt her family’s rituals and histories. Eerie and full of Southern charm, THE ELEMENTALS is a gothic classic that cannot be missed.

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The Elementals
Michael McDowell

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Once Upon a River
by Diane Setterfield

Death in gothic novels isn’t as final as it is in other genres, though usually the dead appear as apparitions. But ONCE UPON A RIVER has a different spin on the trope: the person apparently coming back to life. A little girl is found dead on the banks of the Thames but is, miraculously, alive again a few hours later. Now mute, she can’t answer any of the important questions the authorities have for her, including who her family is. This becomes especially critical when three different families come to claim her, all for their own dark reasons. Full of intrigue and strange coincidences, this book is on the lighter side of gothic, perfect for someone just getting into the genre.

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Once Upon a River
Diane Setterfield

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