You either love them or hate them, or maybe you just love them this time of year. Ghost stories can run the gamut from gory brain-eating zombies to the ethereal lady in white fading into the mist. I don’t think I am as fond of the actual ghost in the story as I am the story behind the ghost. Is the ghost what remains of a long, secret feud? Are they searching for a lost love or roaming the earth trying to settle a score? Are they attached to a place such as a castle, battleground, manor home, abandoned hotel or a dark and windswept landscape? I am drawn by the why and how, and not so much the what. But I do admit I am drawn to this subject matter, and especially enjoy reading a ghost story with some complexity, whether in character or writing. In celebrating the spooky Halloween season, I have selected five very different ghost stories just for the thrill of it. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostov has a familiar ghost, one that goes by the name Dracula, but a historical researcher and his daughter find out how close blood can actually be, and how far back in family history it flows. For you romantics, any of Simone St. James’ books will throw a ghost in with a good love story. My favorite of hers is An Inquiry into Love and Death, where a plucky Oxford student (along with a handsome Scotland Yard detective) must get the details straight regarding a two-hundred-year old ghost in order to solve her own uncle’s murder. For those of you who can’t resist a little gore, or a little magic realism that crosses the thresholds of time, check out The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon. McMahon has written several psychological thrillers about missing children, bad parents and childhood revenge, but most recently has been dabbling a little into the occult and the question of “what really lives in those woods?” The Winter People is like no ghost story you have ever read, both unpredictable and spooky.
One of my all-time favorite ghost mysteries is by John Harwood. The Séance is a haunting of both the “here and now” and the “back then” variety. An age old mystery is the legacy of an old Victorian house, and our protagonist has many questions surrounding the unexplained disappearances, apparitions, evil villains and murder tied to the crumbling mansion. This book is exquisitely written with a twist you won’t see coming!
Yet, you may be the type to seek out a real ghost. Is there such a thing? In her wonderful non-fiction book about a family ghost she is determined to track down, Hannah Nordhaus writes of her journey to understand Julia Staab, her great-great-grandmother whose husband made a fortune in frontier Santa Fe, NM in the 19th century. But Julia did more than simply help civilize the West; she also died a mysterious death and continues to haunt the luxury hotel that was once her own home. This book, titled American Ghost, has everything from spiritualism to mental instability, legend to truth, and European Jewish history to the settling of the American West. Again one of my favorites, and so well-written, here is a family story that will leave you wanting to see if you have any skeletons in your ancestor’s closets.
These are not the only books I would dare you to read (cue the evil laugh-MuHAHAHA), there are many other haunting tales within the library. I probably have not read them all, but I am pretty sure I could point you in whatever creepy or chilling direction you plan on going. And I will make this promise – absolutely no clowns.