4 Books That Are Freaking Our Editors Out This Halloween Season

The days are getting shorter and the air is getting chillier. In other words, the conditions for axe murderers are becoming more ideal. In case you thought axe murderers weren’t real — just a scary costume idea (why use an axe when we’ve had guns for centuries?) — think again. One of our picks to scary yourself silly is about a real-life axe murderer. If you don’t want to think about that very real existential threat, we’ve also got more standard fare about werewolves, vampires, and zombies. Here are the books that have been giving us nightmares this month:

The Man From the Train by Bill James

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Katie: What’s scarier than a horror novel about an axe murderer? A true story about an axe murderer. The Man from the Train isn’t just any horrible axe murderer, but one of the deadliest serial killers in American history. This nameless psychopath eluded capture for more than a decade in the early 1900s, riding the rails all across the country, from the south to the north, and the east to the west, sneaking into rural homes after dark to kill entire families. He vanished like a ghost from the gory crime scenes, leaving few clues behind, aside from his idiosyncratic signature of moving a lantern eerily out of place, with its flame burning long after he snuffed out the lives of its owners.

Who was this shadowy Man from the Train? This true crime account sets out to answer that question. The book isn’t just your run-of-the-mill chronicle of terrible crimes written for rubberneckers. Research and data drive this investigation. Author Bill James, a sabermetrics whiz, uses his baseball stats know-how to crack the case, a hundred years after the crimes. I don’t scare easily, but this one had me looking in my closet and under the bed every night before going to sleep.

Also available as an audiobook.

Hemlock Grove by Brian McGreevy

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Ashley: While I love Halloween, the things I appreciate about it are more cheap candy and an excuse to wear my Pikachu hoodie than reveling in the thrill of ghosts and ghouls. What I do love is a good werewolf story, and that’s what immediately attracted me to Hemlock Grove. You see, Peter Rumancek is a werewolf (and a reference, like many others in the novel, to monster people of yore, in this case Peter Stumpp) in a made-up, modern western Pennsylvania town that’s been experiencing strange killings, seemingly carried out by a wild animal. But Peter hasn’t killed anyone (though plenty of people think he has, whether they believe he’s a werewolf or not), so he starts investigating who’s actually maiming people with the help of Hemlock Grove’s wealthiest and most prestigious teen, Roman Godfrey. And as it turns out, Peter is far from the only monster disguised in manclothes in this town. Author Brian McGreevy takes our classic fears — the most overt reference is a character named Shelley, who’s clearly a 21st century Frankenstein’s monster — and adds modern twists with trepidations about the faults of capitalism, the isolation of increased connection, and the unnatural creations of modern science and medicine. The perfect Gothic horror companion for All Hallows’ Eve.

On Fire by Naomi Klein

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Alex: I don't care for horror as a genre, generally speaking. Though I managed to avoid ghosts and goblins this month, I still found myself reading something uniquely horrifying. Naomi Klein’s On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal is, as you might’ve guessed from the title, a polemic against the direly inadequate global response to the climate crisis. And crisis it is: from wildfires to hurricanes, from rising sea levels to catastrophic droughts, the changes we’ve long feared are already well underway.

A collection of essays from over a decade of Klein’s writing, On Fire examines the crisis from several angles, both past and present. But it still feels uniquely relevant at this moment. As talk of the Green New Deal becomes de rigueur in the Democratic debates and Greta Thunberg’s Climate Strike expands from schools to offices across the world, it seems as though a sea change is finally afoot. As Klein succinctly puts it: “As I write these words, it is not only our planet that is on fire. So are social movements rising up to declare, from below, a people’s emergency.” Hopefully these signs indicate that we’ve reached the part in the horror story where, having suffered and seen enough, the survivors muster their strength, stand up, and fight back.

Also available as an audiobook.

Blindsight by Peter Watts

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Andrew: Now that we’ve passed the fall equinox, I find myself reading more in the evenings. Blindsight is the perfect read as we approach Halloween. It contains a literal vampire and zombies! And don’t worry, Peter Watts goes to great lengths to explain their existences, going so far as to describe the blood mutations that led to the development of the vampire, and the neural experiments that led to the zombies.

It’s the story of a mission to an object at the very limits of our solar system. (Members of the crew include the vampire and the zombie.) What this mission finds out there is a weird, alien spaceship that tests our understanding of what constitutes life and consciousness. If the idea of pages-long conversations between a vampire and zombie about what constitutes consciousness sparks your interest, then this is the book for you.

This is the first book I read by Peter Watts, and wow! I’m hooked. He’s a science fiction author who excels at grounding his crazy, huge ideas in hard science. I’m excited that Scribd has all of his full-length novels — I’ve already started Echopraxia, the sequel to Blindsight.

Also available as an audiobook.


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