It’s been decades since gothic novels mesmerized mainstream readers, but now gothics are creeping back into popular fiction. For the past several years, domestic thrillers and psychological suspense have been the blockbuster subgenres among thrillers, but recently horror has stepped up to dance alongside them. The delightful result is their atmospheric love child: the gothic.
Happily, the gothic novels of today are not like those of yesteryear: Female protagonists are smart and proactive, and vaguely disquieting events become truly terrifying.
Gothics are one of my favorite types of stories. Whipping together suspense, horror, the supernatural, an eerie setting, and a dash of romance, the gothic novel is a compulsively readable cocktail of a book.
Whether you’re new to the genre or a longtime reader, here are gothics you shouldn’t miss.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Not-so-secret secret: This is possibly my favorite book of 2020. Silvia Moreno-Garcia cleverly doubles down on the gothic’s overwrought reputation by setting Mexican Gothic in the 1950s and putting a young socialite in the starring role. Unsettled by a strange letter, Noemí leaves cosmopolitan Mexico City to check on her newly married but naïve cousin, who now lives at a remote estate called High Place. Noemí—who smokes cigarettes, drives a convertible, and knows her mind—discovers that High Place lives in the past: mold runs across the wallpaper, the electricity barely works, and the servants don’t speak. Plus the ancient English-born master of the house has a thing for eugenics, and Noemí’s cousin is clearly losing her mind. And then Noemí herself begins to hear voices.… Put plenty of me-time on your calendar, because you won’t want to stop for breaks while you race through Moreno-Garcia’s creepy, glorious read that is pitch-perfect for today’s audience.
The Haunting of Brynn Wilder by Wendy Webb
Wendy Webb has been writing gothic novels for years now, but her new release, The Haunting of Brynn Wilder, is resonating deeply with readers. When Brynn decides to spend the summer in a boarding house on the shore of Lake Superior, she wants only time alone to process her mother’s recent death. But the strange noises and eerie voices she hears in the old house soon makes her realize that this summer is not going to be a peaceful one, even as the darkly handsome man down the hall sets her pulse jumping for different reasons. The Haunting of Brynn Wilder was an Amazon First Reads selection in October. With Amazon First Reads, Prime members get one book per month for free from the First Reads selection, while non-Prime customers can download one of the selected Kindle books for only $1.99.
The Family Plot by Cherie Priest
Dahlia salvages items from houses slated to be scrapped, and the old Withrow mansion is clearly something special, with its beautiful wood structures and ornate fireplaces. But within moments of walking through the door, Dahlia recognizes that the house is also…angry. Long abandoned and riddled with secrets, the Withrow house has one final chance to make an impression on Dahlia and her crew before its demolition. Priest’s novels veer more deeply into horror territory than some of these other picks, but that just means you should read it with all the lights in your (hopefully kind) house on.
The Good House by Tananarive Due
Two generations ago, Black housekeeper Marie Toussaint inherited from her white employer a big, rambling house in the Washington State woods. Now Angela Toussaint has inherited the house, and her ex-husband has surprisingly decided to join her and their teenage son there for the summer. But a book of voodoo, revealed secrets, released demons, broken relationships, a shocking death, and a strong dollop of sex propel this novel to a riveting finish. An excellent read for those who prefer their supernatural suspense on the darker side.
The Witch of Willow Hall by Hester Fox
Hester Fox is another strong writer who has been at the forefront of gothics for several years. Set in the early 1800s, when a good marriage was the best a young woman could aspire to and any whispers of scandal would taint the whole family, Fox’s novel weaves together historical details and unsettling events into a page-turning read. After Lydia Montrose’s family moves to an old estate in the countryside to avoid damaging rumors, Lydia is beset both by an unwanted suitor and an eerie wailing that rings through the house at night. As the pressures pile on, Lydia must look past her fears, follow her heart, and uncover the truth of Willow Hall.
Home Before Dark by Riley Sager
Those who love stories with a creepy house at center stage should snatch up Home Before Dark. Baneberry Hall is famously haunted—famously, because Maggie’s father wrote a best-selling memoir about the family’s terrifying experiences there decades ago, including young Maggie’s conversations with a ghost she called Mister Shadows. But Maggie, now an adult, doesn’t believe the book is real. At least until she moves into the house after her father’s death…. Sager is known for creating deep tension and surprise finishes, and this book will have you guessing until the very end about what is real and what is not.
If ghosts, eerie settings, and a twist of romance are your cup of tea, don’t miss these reads.