Can a House be Character in a Novel? We have ten sinister homes for you…
Some of my favorite thrillers and mysteries are set in houses that could be characters in their own right. From the gothic decaying estates to the Art Deco clifftop mansions, these are my top ten thrillers that feature the houses that loom larger than life.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
Manderley is probably the most famous of creepy houses. Who can forget the haunting first line of this classic thriller when the main character dreamt she was back there? Du Maurier writes about Manderley in such a vivid, descriptive way, it’s as much a main character as the protagonists. It’s an old gothic mansion that belongs to Maxim de Winter and his first wife, Rebecca. After the death of Rebecca, Maxim marries again and brings his new wife to Manderley. Everything is preserved as Rebecca had left it and before long, his new wife is haunted by the past and the secrets that are down every corridor and in every nook and cranny of Manderley.
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
Another gothic mansion, an 18th-century decaying house, this time called Hundreds Hall. The main character, Dr. Faraday, is obsessed with the house right from the beginning of the book, and one of his first memories is of going there as a child and taking a piece of the plaster from the walls. Years later he’s called there to see a patient who tells him she thinks the house is haunted. Dr. Faraday is skeptical and he inveigles himself into the family as he tries to uncover what’s really going on.
The Cliff House by Amanda Jennings
The Cliff House is a 1930s art deco property that sits on a hill overlooking the sea in Cornwall in this haunting, atmospheric thriller. It has a swimming pool and is owned by the glamorous Davenports. The main character, Tamsyn, is a child when she first sees the house with her father. He loves the house as much as she does. When he later dies, she continues to go there as a way to still feel close to him. She begins to watch the new owners, the Davenports, through binoculars. But soon obsession takes over as Tamsyn realizes she’d do anything to live there herself. ‘
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Thornfield, Mr. Rochester’s mansion, is a cold, rambling place where the main character, Jane, feels instantly ill at ease. She can hear ghostly laughter and unexplained noises. The owner himself is troubled and rarely there. Empty rooms and long corridors all lend themselves to a spooky atmosphere. Is the house haunted? And what’s the secret in the attic? One of my all-time favorite books.
I Let You In by Lucy Clarke
In Lucy Clarke’s most recent thriller, the main character, Elle, is a writer who had the house built for her, overlooking the sea in Cornwall. While she’s away on a retreat, she decides to Airbnb her house for two weeks. But when she returns, the house doesn’t feel the same. It has a strange atmosphere; the last inhabitants’ presence still pervades. When creepy things start happening, Elle can’t work out what’s going on. The house is too new to be haunted, isn’t it? But then why does Elle feel so unnerved?
The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
This is a sad and chilling story about revenge and loss. The main character, Arthur Kipps, is sent to the remote Eel Marsh House as a junior solicitor to sort out the affairs of the woman who used to own it. But while there he continues to see a woman dressed in black, always in and around the house. Finally Arthur learns from the locals that she only appears before the death of a child.
In A Dark Dark Wood by Ruth Ware
The main character, Nora, is invited to a hen party in a contemporary glass house in the middle of the woods with five frenemies. Straight away, strange things start to happen; unexplained footprints in the snow, no reception on their phones, Ouija board playing. And then somebody is killed. But who is it? And which one of the friends is the killer? An Agatha Christie locked-room-style thriller, this is claustrophobic and scary, with secrets and lies waiting to bubble to the surface.
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
One of my favorite ever thrillers set in a remote mansion. Ten strangers are lured to a rambling old house on a remote island off the coast of Devon for different reasons. They have nothing in common—or so they all think—and have been invited there by the enigmatic U.N. Owen. When they arrive, there is no sign of their host, just a housekeeper and a cook. Each guest is hiding a guilty secret and before long, someone is poisoned. The killer is among them and won’t stop until they are all dead. Atmospheric, sinister, and with one of the best twists ever.
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
This is a short story by Henry James but the spooky house that jumps off the pages of this thriller/ghost story is no less impactful. When a young woman takes her first job as a governess for two beautiful, mysterious children at a large country estate, she starts to see things. Her job is to protect the children, so she speaks nothing of the evils she believes lurk in the corridors of this stately home. But the phantoms won’t leave her alone, coming closer, taunting her, scaring her. Then she realizes that it’s the children they want, not her. Is she losing her grip on reality or is the house she’s living and working in really haunted?
Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris
The house that features in B.A. Paris’s gripping thriller is a beautiful London townhouse and home to Jack and Grace Angel. They appear to have everything. Money, career, that beautiful house in one of the most illustrious parts of London. Yet Jack is really a monster, and behind that stunning townhouse façade, Grace’s life is hell. She’s a prisoner in her own home and there is no escape, for Jack has thought of everything. He has even converted the basement so that it opens from the outside in. Will Grace ever be able to escape his clutches when everyone thinks he’s perfect? This is a story of psychological abuse at its most chilling.