As Vanessa Savage celebrates the release of her debut psychological thriller, The Woman in the Dark, she narrows down her list of spine-chilling homes in some of her favorite novels in this collection of 10 frightening fictional homes.
Home. The word conjures up a place of love and security, relaxing in front of the fire after a long commute, the relief of a lazy weekend after an endless working week, a place for family, a place where you can close the front door and forget the stresses of the world.
But sometimes, home can be a place of dread, where bad things can happen behind that closed front door. Home can be a place where a creaking floorboard or a cold draft can send shivers down your spine.
In fiction, that cold draft can mean more than a dodgy window frame. In fiction, it can be the cold breath of a ghost on your neck. In fiction, more than the living can be resident in the home. In fiction, a member of the family can be the monster and the walls can hold memories of terrible things.
But the home doesn’t have to be haunted: it can be the crime scene or the catalyst for a crime. Yes, home can be where the heart is. But home is sometimes where the dismembered heart beats under the floorboards….
So here are ten homes (I’m reluctant to call it a Top Ten because my original list was well over double that number) in crime and horror fiction that stand out as more than just somewhere to live…
The Shining — Stephen King
This classic from Stephen King has to be on the list—although the Overlook is a hotel rather than a house; for the Torrance family, it was home for a very long winter and as much the baddie as Jack Torrance…
The Haunting of Hill House — Shirley Jackson
Again, another classic that must make the list. When Dr. Montague, Luke, Theodora, and Eleanor arrive at Hill House to investigate supernatural occurrences, they have no idea of the terror that lies ahead… The perfect haunted house, Hill House, “not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more.”
Rebecca — Daphne du Maurier
From the famous opening line, “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again,” the reader is drawn into a haunting tale of obsession and secrets in which the house becomes as real as the living—and dead—characters.
Slade House — David Mitchell
Slade House only appears every nine years when a guest is invited in—at first, they never want to leave. Then, they find they can’t… Chilling and very creepy, the reader follows five of the unfortunate guests inside the ever-changing Slade House.
Shadowland — Peter Straub
Shadowland is creepy and macabre, with a Grimm’s fairy-tale quality where you have no idea what is real and what is illusion as Tom and Del, escaping from the torture of private school and a sadistic headmaster, head to Del’s uncle’s house for a summer of learning magic.
The Secret of Crickley Hall — James Herbert
This book frankly terrified me when I read it. The Caleigh family move to an idyllic Devon village, seeking a chance to recover from a terrible year. But, of course, this is not to be. As they uncover the history of Crickley Hall, it becomes clear they’re not its only inhabitants… The Secret of Crickley Hall is a classic haunted house novel—tension building with every strange noise in the night—and that cellar door that just won’t stay closed.
I’ve also chosen a couple of books where the house itself is not evil or haunted, but instead becomes either the stage or catalyst for some devilish crimes…
In Broken Harbor by Tana French, there’s no gothic haunted mansion, rather an unfinished new housing development in Ireland. Lured by the promise of a bright new life in suburbia before the recession hit hard, a few families find themselves instead stranded in a ghost estate; a half-built, half-abandoned building site. Two children and their father are found dead; the mother is in intensive care. For the victims, the idyllic future they thought they were buying into becomes a very real nightmare.
The House — Simon Lelic
Jack and Syd have moved into their dream house: lots of space in the perfect London location and a friendly owner who wanted a young couple to have it. Too good to be true? Of course it is. The dream house soon turns into a nightmare when someone is murdered right outside their back door…
The Shining Girls — Lauren Beukes
In The Shining Girls, the ‘House’ sits waiting on an abandoned street, acting as a portal, waiting for someone as evil as Harper to come along and find his way to the Shining Girls… “And Harper steps in to sometime else.”
Our House — Louise Candlish
With a great premise, Our House is full of twists as Fi arrives home after a few days away to find strangers moving into her house, all her things gone and her kids nowhere to be seen…
Vanessa Savage is a graphic designer and illustrator. She has twice been awarded a Writers’ Bursary by Literature Wales, most recently for The Woman in the Dark. She won the Myriad Editions First Crimes competition in 2016 and her work has been highly commended in the Yeovil International Fiction Prize, short listed for the Harry Bowling Prize, and the Caledonia Fiction Prize. She is on the current longlist for the Bath Novel Award. Her debut, The Woman in the Dark, is on sale March 12, 2019.