What with my soft spot for books about spiritualism, I enjoyed Dianne K. Salerni's We Hear the Dead wholeheartedly. It's a fictionalized account of the rise and fall of Kate and Maggie Fox, the sisters who are credited by many for bringing the Spiritualism Movement into the mainstream.
Her most recent book, though, I LOVED. The Caged Graves features a pitch-perfect depiction of the complex relationships found in a small town, complete with decades-old rivalries and alliances; a mystery that involves murder and lost treasure and rumors of witchcraft and vampires; it's atmospheric and spooky, with lots and lots of great Gothic-style chills; Verity is a heroine who is bright and plucky and flawed and, my favorite, A PRODUCT OF HER OWN TIME PERIOD, rather than just a modern-day girl swanning around in a corset; a slow-burning romance that grows out of trust and friendship, rather than springing fully-formed out of simple physical attraction and raging hormones; and an Author's Note that gives us details about the real-life inspiration for the story.
If that sounds at all enticing, you should read it. It's excellent across the board, and you will not be disappointed.
If you've already read The Caged Graves and are looking for more creepy fun, take a spin through Dianne K. Salerni's list of her own seven favorite Gothic novels. If you're still waffling about picking it up, I suspect that her good taste will win you over:
Moura, by Virginia Coffman
A young woman leaves her position at a girl’s school to become the governess of a former student at the haunted Chateau Moura. I don’t know how many times I read this book as a teenager. It’s rather like a retelling of Jane Eyre, except with creepy animal killings, secret passages, a suicide that might have been murder, and a ghost with bloody pulp for a face. (I’m fairly sure that’s how it was described in the book.)
We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson
Two sisters live in a mansion, ostracized by the townspeople and blamed for the mysterious poisoning that wiped out the rest of their family. The arrival of a cousin upsets their world and stirs up old talk of murder and witchcraft. This book was my first introduction to the unreliable narrator, and Mary Katherine Blackwood is as creepy as she appears on the cover of my edition.
The Album, by Mary Roberts Rinehart
I could have put almost any Mary Roberts Rinehart mystery on this list. I read as many as I could lay my hands on, compulsively. But The Album was one of my favorites. Five connected families live in the five houses on The Crescent, making thirteen residents altogether (not counting the servants!), all hiding their own secrets and family skeletons, until the day old Mrs. Lancaster is “brutally and savagely done to death with an axe.”
My Cousin Rachel, by Daphne du Maurier
Everyone is familiar with Rebecca, but I prefer the lesser known Rachel and the shocking end of this book. When Philip’s cousin Ambrose dies of a strange illness shortly after marrying the enigmatic Rachel, he immediately suspects her of murdering her new husband for his fortune. Philip isn’t expecting to fall in love with Rachel himself—or to subsequently fall ill with the same symptoms that killed Ambrose.
The Ivy Tree, by Mary Stewart
Mary Stewart is another mystery writer I read compulsively, but The Ivy Tree is probably the one I re-read the most, trying to catch all the clues strewn about by the unreliable narrator. After Mary Grey is nearly assaulted by a young man over a case of mistaken identity, it seems unlikely that this same young man could talk her into impersonating his cousin, Annabel Winslow. However, she does agree to impersonate the missing heiress – but not for the reason you think.
Anna’s Book, by Barbara Vine
This is one I read as an adult, re-read, and recommended to all mystery lovers. Barbara Vine (really Ruth Rendell) has several really good psychological mysteries, but Anna’s Book is particularly “gothic.” The diary of an Edwardian-era Danish immigrant to the UK is published by her daughter and unexpectedly becomes a best-seller. But, as her granddaughter discovers, it is the pages that were ripped out of the original diary which contain the key to two unsolved mysteries: a gruesome multiple murder and the disappearance of an infant.
The Witching Hour, by Anne Rice
This was another book I read as an adult, and it’s got to be the most gothic of all gothic books. I don’t think it’s missing a single element of the genre: a family secret that traces back through generations, ghosts, witchcraft, murder, suicide, insanity, and a creepy old house. It seems impossible that anyone could read a 900+ page novel in one sitting, but I did.
Previously:Lauren Roedy Vaughn's Five Favorite Literary Adult Mentors... Plus Two Characters Who Need One.