A good ghost story is timeless, universal, and boundless. Much like the walls of the places they haunt, fictional ghosts seep through genres and placeholders on our bookshelves seamlessly, without any regard for the rules.
While Victorian gothics like The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (1898) remain staples for fans of ghost stories, there are several recent gems worth checking out in other genres—especially by writers who happen to be women. After all, ghosts are empowering symbols of a cultural grievance; they are the restless energy, the stain of violence and victimization that refuses to wash away, no matter how much soap and bleach we throw at them. Combine that with the daily, lived experience of women—from fears of safety in public if not private spaces, to worldwide threats of violence to “female” bodies and sexualities—and who better to capture that haunting than women writers?
Keep in mind, I’m using the term “women” loosely here. I’m cognizant that labelling authors as such is always tricky and can be problematic; for example, we’d be pressed to find a post about “stories by men writers.” Rather, the list below is simultaneously comprised of authors—full stop—each with unique, layered backgrounds. In other words, in a vein similar to their very act of crossing genres, these authors and their stories explore multi-dimensional themes not limited to gender and patriarchal oppression.
So, without further ado, here are ten such gems: genre hopping ghost stories I highly recommend, in alphabetical order by author; check them out!
Noir / Literary Thriller:
All Things Cease to Appear by Elizabeth Brundage
“A dark, riveting, beautifully written book—by ‘a brilliant novelist’ according to Richard Bausch—that combines noir and the gothic in a story about two families entwined in their own unhappiness, with, at its heart, a gruesome and unsolved murder.” —Knopf
*Bonus: It has a film adaptation on Netflix, retitled Things Heard & Seen (2021)—but definitely read the novel first!
Murder in G Major by Alexia Gordon
“The captivating southwestern Irish countryside adds a delightful element to this paranormal series launch. Gethsemane is an appealing protagonist who is doing the best she can against overwhelming odds.” – Library Journal (starred review)
Dark Comedy / Literary Fiction:
Himself by Jess Kidd
“Mysterious and lyrical… Moving between Mahony’s present and the village’s past, Himself is spun like a fairy tale and paced like a mystery told around a slowly fading campfire. Kidd is brilliant at setting the scene and painting it vividly with a twisted, comic voice… In Himself, the author revels in the magical and supernatural, deftly and often humorously melding superstition and folklore with real personal tragedy.” ― BookPage
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
“An isolated mansion. A chillingly charismatic aristocrat. And a brave socialite drawn to expose their treacherous secrets. . . . From the author of Gods of Jade and Shadow comes ‘a terrifying twist on classic gothic horror’ (Kirkus Reviews) set in glamorous 1950s Mexico.” —Del Rey
Thriller / Psychological Suspense:
Girls of Brackenhill by Kate Moretti
“Seventeen years after her sister vanished from a family estate in the Catskills, Hannah Malone is pulled back to the place by another calamity and then finds herself buried neck-deep in crimes past and present…Link by link, Moretti hypnotically reveals ‘a tragic, violent daisy chain.’” —Kirkus Reviews
Historical Gothic / Literary Fiction:
Beloved by Toni Morrison
“Staring unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, this spellbinding New York Times bestseller transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby.” —Vintage
A Deadly Fortune by Stacie Murphy
“The 1893 world of the infamous lunatic asylum on Blackwell's Island comes alive in frightening and horrific detail as a string of murders for profit is discovered when a young woman with a gift for contacting the dead becomes an accidental patient. She must fight for her life as well as her freedom in this engrossing mystery that reveals that all was not golden in Gilded Age New York.” —Rosemary Simpson
Neo-Gothic / Literary Fiction:
White is For Witching by Helen Oyeyemi
“This is a spine-tingling tale that has Gothic roots but an utterly modern sensibility. Told by a quartet of crystalline voices, it is electrifying in its expression of myth and memory, loss and magic, fear and love.” —Picador
The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James
“Simone St. James knows that true terror, as she effectively illustrates in The Sun Down Motel, goes beyond things that go bump in the night... St. James deftly melds an engrossing mystery with a tense supernatural thriller... keeps the tension high with myriad surprising twists.” —Associated Press
Contemporary Gothic Fiction:
The Vanishing by Wendy Webb
“A brisk thriller tinged with gothic elements. . . . Careening through seances and ghostly encounters leaves the reader breathless.” —Kirkus
Do you have another recently published ghost story to recommend? I'd love to hear about it! Join me on Twitter and let me know the gems on your bookshelf!