It is time to turn down the lights and tell scary stories! Even readers who don’t ordinarily enjoy audiobooks can appreciate the pleasure of listening to a tale or novel of horror at this time of year. Here are some eerie and unsettling audiobooks to haunt your October.
Joe Hill’s new story collection “Full Throttle” has something for everyone, from the white-knuckle road-rage terror of the Richard Matheson-inspired title story (co-written with Hill’s illustrious dad, Stephen King, and grippingly read by veteran actor Stephen Lang), to the poignant “Late Returns,” winningly voiced by Wil Wheaton, in which a bookmobile serves the reading needs of the deceased with stories as yet unwritten. Matching the volume’s diverse array of dark fantasy, eldritch horror and suspense is a truly stellar lineup of narrators that includes Kate Mulgrew, Zachary Quinto, Neil Gaiman and George Guidall. Most memorable of all may be “You Are Released,” a tale of ultimate horror read with effective simplicity by Hill himself, in which the passengers of a transcontinental flight gradually realize that nuclear Armageddon is erupting 30,000 feet beneath them. It leaves a lasting chill.
Celebrities aren’t always an effective casting choice for audiobooks; their familiar voices sometimes distract from the prose. But one can hardly imagine a better choice than Michael C. Hall, perhaps best known as TV’s serial-killer antihero Dexter, to narrate a new unabridged recording of one of Stephen King’s most effective horror novels, “Pet Sematary.” Hall’s sympathetic reading captures all the uneasiness and grim humor of Dr. Louis Creed’s dark descent, and he produces a convincingly folksy Maine accent for old Jud Crandall, who paves Creed’s path to hell with good intentions. Never mind the terrible movie remake: King’s genius never lay in jump-scares, but in the moment-by-moment realization of horror. Hall’s narration doesn’t miss a beat, but your heart just might.
Tananarive Due’s novel “The Good House” is an absorbing epic of malignant supernatural influence centering on a house in the fictional town of Sacajawea, Washington. Due artfully interweaves present and past with two story lines. In the first, Angela Toussaint struggles to lay to rest her family’s troubled spirits with the recent past, as her son Corey approaches a horrific fate common to too many young black men. Meanwhile, in the 1920s, Angela’s grandmother Marie sets things in motion with a voodoo ritual that opens doors best left closed. This elaborate plotting might make for a confusing listen, but master narrator Robin Miles keeps it all perfectly clear. With her melodic alto and brilliant phrasing, Miles is a joy to listen to as she deftly handles a range of voices including Marie’s French Creole patois, her Chinook husband Red John, the posturing of young Corey, his cosmopolitan mother and the folks of Sacajawea.
All but forgotten today, Joan Samson’s 1975 novel “The Auctioneer” is a work of quiet horror reminiscent of the subtle dread found in much of Shirley Jackson’s work. Fortunately for audiobook readers, Valancourt Books (a publisher founded in Seattle in 2004 that specializes in reviving curious lost treasures) has lately branched out into audio. In Samson’s only novel, a charismatic auctioneer named Perly Dunsmore descends on the rural hamlet of Harlowe, New Hampshire, and starts auctioning off the townspeople’s belongings, ostensibly to benefit the local police force. Samson artfully focuses less on this brazen manipulator than on the inexplicable hold he has over the town, making this a parable for any age, and certainly for our own. Narrator Matt Godfrey avoids overplaying things, fostering an air of disturbing plausibility as Perly’s presumption gradually deepens to take in townspeople’s furniture, livestock, homes and even children. Samson died young and fell into obscurity; kudos to Valancourt for reviving this strange tale, and many other obscure works of horror, for audiobook fans.
In Ruth Ware’s delightfully creepy “The Turn of the Key,” a nanny comes to an isolated old house to oversee two odd children, watched over by menacing household staff amid increasingly ominous and perhaps otherworldly happenings. Ware makes no secret of her debt to Henry James’ “The Turn of the Screw,” but cunningly updates this seminal work of psychological horror for the age of cellphones and smart-house technology. She mixes gothic atmosphere and vintage chills with a breezy contemporary feel that is perfectly picked up by narrator Imogen Church, who skillfully depicts a Scottish housekeeper, disconcerting children and a young narrator convincingly carried step by step into madness. Readers also should also seek out James’ original masterpiece, available in many versions: I like Penelope Rawlins’ clear, straightforward reading for Naxos Audiobooks. It is less than half the length of Ware’s more chatty novel, and twice as unnerving.