Stephen King, Thomas Harris, Shirley Jackson, Steven Price among authors with scary offerings.

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Lit Life

For those who like seasonally appropriate reading, it’s time to get scared. Fall brings early twilight, that eerie scriitch of bare branches in the wind, and, in honor of Halloween, some books that dwell in the darkness.

Stephen King, of course, is the author who immediately comes to mind for many of us (though I’ll confess to never actually finishing “The Shining” because it freaked me the hell out, years ago); others swear by serial-killer horror (Thomas Harris’ “The Silence of the Lambs,” anyone?). Among newer names, I’ve heard that the shiver factor is high for books by John Ajvide Lindqvist (“Let the Right One In”), Paul Tremblay (“A Head Full of Ghosts,” “Disappearance at Devil’s Rock”), Lauren Beukes (“The Shining Girls,” “Broken Monsters”), Sarah Mangan (“The Missing,” “Audrey’s Door”) — and if you’re looking for more recommendations, try browsing recent Bram Stoker Award nominees, voted annually by the Horror Writers Association (to be found online, appropriately, at

My own tastes lean toward less blood, more Goth, and more things-that-go-bump-in-the-night. I don’t think any writer will ever surpass Henry James’ magnificent psychological thriller “The Turn of the Screw,” a longish short story whose eerie final sentence (the one beginning “We were alone, with the quiet day”) never fails to make me shudder. I’d also recommend its elegant, terrifying cousin: Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel “The Haunting of Hill House” (just out in a new Penguin Books edition, with an introduction by book critic Laura Miller; $18).

Jackson’s been having a bit of a resurgence lately, thanks in part to a new biography by Ruth Franklin, and “The Haunting of Hill House” well deserves rediscovery. In it, four people move into a strange old house to try to discover if it is indeed haunted. It’s a house that seems awake, “with a watchfulness from the blank windows and a touch of glee in the eyebrow of a cornice,” and for our (initially) fearless quartet, things go — well, not very well. I’ll just say that “Turn of the Screw” was definitely an influence here, and that you should read this book with as many lights on as possible. (It was transformed into a good movie, “The Haunting,” in 1963, and a terrible movie, also called “The Haunting,” in 1999.)

In the spirit of the holiday, Penguin Books has also released “Haunted Castles: The Complete Gothic Stories” ($16) by Ray Russell, with a forward by Guillermo del Toro (who knows from horror). Russell (1924-1999), a former editor of Playboy magazine, went full Goth in his stories — crumbling castles, depraved villains with grotesque faces, curlicued prose. I read “Sardonicus,” one of his most acclaimed stories, under the least scary conditions imaginable (at my desk here at work in midmorning, with loud construction going on outside), and it still worked like a chilly charm. Also new from Penguin: “The Penguin Book of the Undead: Fifteen Hundred Years of Supernatural Encounters” ($17) gives a history of ghosts throughout the ages.

We’ve reviewed a couple of seasonally appropriate books this month, such as Mary Ann Gwinn’s review of “Something in the Blood: The Untold Story of Bram Stoker, The Man Who Wrote ‘Dracula,’ ” and Melissa Davis’ dive this week into “The Big Book of Jack the Ripper” (brrr). Last weekend, I disappeared inside the pages of Graeme Macrae Burnet’s “His Bloody Project” (Skyhorse Publishing, $24.99), a Man Booker Prize finalist that takes the form of a fictional memoir of a teenage murderer in 1860s rural Scotland. It’s a fascinating look into the lives of crofters and ghillies (don’t worry, there’s a glossary) — and into the lurid details of a 19th-century murder trial.

And I’ve been waiting for just the right rainy weekend — maybe this one? — to tackle Steven Price’s vast second novel “By Gaslight” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28), newly on shelves this month. It’s a suspense tale set in 1880s London and featuring Allan Pinkerton, son of the founder of the famous Pinkerton detective agency, who’s come overseas in search of an elusive criminal. The book — described as “a mighty steam engine of a thriller that pulls out all the stops” by The Globe and Mail — seems like just the thing for a fall evening. Besides, I tend to be a pushover for Victorian fog.

So, what are you reading for Halloween?