Book Corner: Get lost in thrilling tales of terrifying towns

Whether or not you believe in ghost stories, there is something deliciously thrilling about sinking your teeth into a scary novel. Thrills and chills in novels come in many forms, including psychological suspense, haunted house tales, otherworldly creatures, and so on. I thoroughly enjoyed assembling this list of picks for Spooktober centered around mysterious happenings in entire towns and cities, from small-town Idaho to 1970s Washington, D.C. 

To Break A Covenant, opens a new window by Alison Ames
No one ever leaves the haunted town of Moon Basin, home to a smoldering, abandoned coal mine known for its accidents and murders and where residents or visitors are lured in by the mine’s mysterious paranormal events. The summer of their senior year, best friends Clem, Nina, and Lisey meet Piper, whose father was hired to assess the mine for potential collapse. Against their better judgment, they join in on a trip into the mine, resulting in strange dreams and experiences afterward. Circumstances draw them back into the mine, where the friends discover something has entered their minds that they can either flee or fight. 

My Heart Is A Chainsaw, opens a new window by Stephen Graham Jones
Humor and horror blend perfectly in this nod to splatter films. Jade Daniels, a high schooler of Blackfoot descent, finds her escape from small-town life in Proofrock, Idaho, by indulging in non-stop slasher films. When a cluster of strange deaths targeting the wealthy Terra Nova community shakes up the town, Jade can spot elements of her favorite films at play and envisions a bloody massacre ahead. When Jade tries to warn the town of what is coming, no one wants to believe her. Even without having seen the films referenced by Jones throughout, horror fans will be kept on the edges of their seats.

Goblin: A Novel in Six Novellas, opens a new window by Josh Malerman
This masterful collection of novellas reveals the dark secrets hidden in the seemingly ordinary small town of Goblin. Tales of sacrifice, in the name of love, more daring than that of Vincent van Gogh. A big game hunter determined to capture his ultimate prize: the legendary Great Owl that lives in Goblin’s deep forests. A zookeeper whose kinship with animals is unleashing dark forces within him. A hedge maze so complicated it defies being solved, until a young girl resolves to be the one to uncover the mysteries at its center. These strange tales and more reveal the enigmatic lives of a mysterious small town.

The City Beautiful, opens a new window by Aden Polydoros
1893 Chicago: Alter Rosen dreams of being able to afford to bring his family to America, freeing them from oppression in his native Romania. Alter’s fantasy is shattered when his best friend, Yakov, becomes the latest victim in a series of murdered Jewish boys. While the rest of Chicago is celebrating the World’s Fair, Alter is thrown into a nightmare. Possessed by Yakov’s dybbuk, or dislocated soul, Alter becomes ensnared in a world of corruption and is thrust back into the orbit of a dangerous, though significant, boy from his past. With only days until the dybbuk takes over Alter’s body completely, the two boys must race to hunt down the killer before he gets to them next.

The Lost Village, opens a new window by Camilla Sten
Fans of Midsommar and The Blair Witch Project will appreciate Sten’s sinister thriller. Documentary filmmaker Alice Lindsted has been obsessed with the disappearance of residents of an old mining town known as “The Lost Village” since she was young. In 1959, her grandmother’s entire family vanished. The mystery surrounding the only two people left--a woman who was stoned to death in the town center and an abandoned newborn--have dogged Alice incessantly. When she brings a small group of friends to the village to make a film about what really happened, things fall apart quickly. Equipment is shattered and people go missing, turning doubt into fear. And it becomes clear to Alice that they are not alone.

The Burning Girls, opens a new window by C.J. Tudor
Five hundred years ago, in the English village of Chapel Croft, eight Protestant martyrs were burned at the stake. Thirty years ago, two teenage girls disappeared, never to be found. Two months ago, the vicar of the local parish killed himself. Today, Reverend Jack Brooks, with his 14-year-old daughter in tow, arrives in the village hoping for a fresh start. Instead, he finds a town mired in secrets and a strange welcome gift: an old exorcism kit and a scripture quote. The more Jack and his daughter Flo learn about the town, the deeper they are embroiled in its mysteries. When Flo is frightened by strange sightings in the chapel, it is clear that there are ghosts refusing to be laid to rest. But in a village where everyone has links to its bloody past, unearthing the truth can have deadly consequences.

Creatures of Passage, opens a new window by Morowa Yejidé
Nephthys Kinwell passes her days as a driver in Washington, D.C., carrying not just fares but also a ghost in the trunk. She relies on endless driving and alcohol to numb her grief over the death of her twin brother, Osiris, who was murdered and dumped in the Anacostia River. What she doesn’t know is that her ten-year-old great-nephew Dash is finding himself drawn to the banks of that same river, having conversations with a mysterious figure he calls the “River Man.” When Dash arrives unexpectedly at Nephthys’ door with a strange note about his conversations with the River Man, Nephthys is faced with her deepest fears.

Are you a writer? Join us in person or virtually on Saturday, November 6, 2021, for our annual Rappahannock Writers’ Conference. Register at, opens a new window.

Tracy McPeck is the adult services coordinator at Central Rappahannock Regional Library. This column first appeared in the Free Lance-Star newspaper.