Top 10+ Psychological Horror Books To Race Your Heart (2023)
Nothing beats a good psychological thriller with scary accents. You have a bunch of characters that make you imagine the worst possible scenarios as you go through the book, but you also feel the tension associated with every scene. You know something bad is about to happen, yet you wish your character to be able to come out of it safely.
Throw in a bit of horror and the whole plot will go even darker. A few plot twists here and there will change everything you imagined about the action and everything starts all over again. Your heart keeps pounding throughout the entire book. If this is what you are after, here are some of the best psychological horror books released in the past years.
What Are The Top Psychological Horror Books to Read?
Ghost of the Gray, by J. Jones (2022)
Becca Olsen, a junior fish and wildlife project manager, is eager to prove herself to her dismissive boss through a successful wolf reintroduction campaign in the New Mexico desert. However, soon after the wolf release, mysterious problems arise: cattle are found dead and wolf tracking collars go missing.
Becca is unsure whether the culprits are angry ranchers or if the incidents are related to the local legend, Fantasma del Gris, the Ghost of the Gray. To resolve the situation, she teams up with the stern wildlife officer Daphne Bender and two local boys, embarking on a challenging search through the rattlesnake-infested desert terrain to locate the remaining wolves.
Unbeknownst to Becca and her team, a crisis is unfolding beneath the desert sands at a nearby nuclear waste disposal site. The site manager, Mel Martin, is desperate to conceal an accident that occurred in a room where special drums are stored, especially with the final shipment of these drums en route. Anxious to avoid scrutiny from government auditors or the owner of the special drums, Mel is searching for the sole witness to the accident. This search, guided by eerie sounds and shadows in the night, sets Mel on a collision course with Becca and her companions.
As tensions escalate, all parties involved come to a chilling realization: the wolves they are trying to protect may not be the most significant threat they face in the desert.
Hidden Pictures, by Jason Rekulak (2022)
Mallory Quinn, freshly out of rehab, secures a job as a babysitter for Ted and Caroline Maxwell, entrusted with the care of their five-year-old son, Teddy. She finds contentment in her new role, enjoying her own living space, nightly runs, and the newfound stability that she has longed for. Mallory quickly forms a sincere bond with Teddy, a sweet and shy boy who is constantly engaged with his sketchbook and pencil. Initially, his drawings are innocent, filled with images of trees, rabbits, and balloons.
However, a concerning shift occurs when Teddy begins to produce drawings that are increasingly sinister. One particular drawing depicts a man in a forest, dragging a woman’s lifeless body. His once simple stick figures begin to transform into detailed and lifelike sketches, alarmingly sophisticated for a five-year-old. Troubled by the implications of these drawings and pondering the possibility that they might be connected to a long-unsolved murder—and potentially conveyed by a supernatural force—Mallory, despite realizing how improbable her theory sounds, decides to investigate the eerie images further in a desperate effort to protect Teddy.
Peace, by Misan Akuya (2020)
This book can be described in a few different ways. It can be a supernatural story, as well as a thriller book or a horror release. No matter how you see it, it is definitely a graceful piece of work. It brings in a mix of different worlds, corruption, temptation, heaven and hell. The action takes place in 2020 and follows Richard Anders' story and challenges in life.
Richard is a new psychologist in Los Angeles. He is a fresh graduate and he gets straight into work. He has to face a challenge before he becomes experienced enough to handle it, as he ends up helping a young woman dealing with plenty of trauma. Then, his colleague seems to join in – a 32 year old lady with more experience.
The action moves to Sara Takimoto. Based in Tokyo, she is in her last year of high school. She has some issues with one of her best friends, but things go ugly when she witnesses a bus driver running over a demon. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Pacific Ocean Fiorella who is 22-year-old mother of twins gets a visit by a stranger to find out more about her real identity.
Things escalate pretty fast, and this is how the year of the demon begins, great plot creation by the author.
There’s Someone Inside Your House, by Stephanie Perkins (2018)
This is one of the best psychological horror books of the last year. The story begins in a mild and friendly way. The action takes place in the rural side of Nebraska. Makani Young ends up in a quiet and tranquil place, but her life was far from this type of atmosphere. She moves from Hawaii to Nebraska with her grandmother in order to leave her past behind.
Makani has a bunch of new friends now and things start to settle down. She even has a crush on a mysterious guy – Ollie Larsson. However, while she believes she can leave her past behind, it turns out that life has something else in store for her. In fact, her past will strike back in the most unexpected manner.
Students from a local high school end up dying one after another in some mysterious and gore murders. Makani feels like these murders have something to do with her. As her crush for Ollie intensifies, she realizes that she has to confront her past in order to move on.
The Outsider, by Stephen King (2018)
The Outsider is the kind of book that will make you feel the tension. It will hook you up and not let you go until you are done with it. It all starts with a murder. An 11 year old boy is found dead in a local park. His body shows sexual abuse as well. From DNA tests to fingerprints and witnesses, all the clues lead to Terry Maitland – one of the most popular people in town.
Terry seems to have the perfect life – he is married, has two children, teaches English and trains a small team. Detective Ralph Anderson steps in and orders an immediate arrest. The two have a past though, as Terry used to coach Ralph's son. However, the teacher has an alibi, yet further investigations regarding the fingerprints keep pointing at him.
One thing leads to another. New details show up and each of them is terribly gruesome. The suspense skyrockets during the second part of the book. All in all, no matter how good you are with psychological horrors or thrillers, the ending will shock you.
The Lamb Will Slaughter The Lion, by Margaret Killjoy (2017)
This book has so many plot twists that you will barely know what to believe. Go through half of it and no matter how obvious the story seems, you will be surprised. All in all, the story follows Danielle Cain. She is a traveler and she loves the queer punk rock style. She is moving from one place to another for over a decade now.
While she seems goalless, she actually has a purpose. One of her best friends was found dead. The verdict? Suicide. However, the death occurred out of nowhere and Danielle does not believe the result of the investigation is correct. Therefore, she goes to Freedom – a small town from Iowa – to begin her own investigation.
She ends up in Freedom at the wrong time. A local demon has been summoned by the locals to become their executioner and judge. But then, it seems this demon would rather have blood and no judgment at all. Danielle will have to choose between getting out alive and solving the mystery.
The Hunger, by Alma Katsu (2018)
The story introduces readers to the so called Donner Party train. However, it looks like things are going in the wrong direction and a series of unhappy incidents plague it and ruin its reputation. The only explanation? Tamsen Donner is probably a witch. The food is bad, drinks are limited and a little boy ends up dead, raising even more question marks.
There are no doubts about it – someone is causing all these issues. Some say it is a curse. Others claim on a conspiracy. All in all, there are 90 passengers on this train and the adventure aims to turn into a disastrous experience. Everyone is trying to survive – will they manage to do it before other people end up dead?
People disappear one after another. At some point, people ask themselves – is there something in the mountains? Is there something out there coming after them? Can they actually survive this unhappy experience?
Mongrels, by Stephen Graham Jones (2016)
There is a bit of everything in this book. You have a little humor, plenty of drama and some psychological horror accents that will keep your heart pounding. The story follows a little boy who was born in the wrong family. He is an outsider – everyone in his family shares the same fate. They are poor and they live in the shadows.
Living with his uncle and aunt, the two grownups are still pushing hard to establish some connections in a world that simply does not want them. They are mongrels. As the boy grows and learns about the other world, he has to make a decision. Will he settle on the road or will he build a future for himself in the real world?
The story keeps alternating between the past and future. The author hits you with one intense adventure after another, but he also drifts to the past every now and then to help you understand what caused the adventure.
My Best Friend’s Exorcism, by Grady Hendrix (2017)
Gretchen and Abby are best friends. They have been together for ages and always shared the same hobbies and passions. Their future seems bright and they can always rely on each other in their most difficult moments. But then, they start growing up. They end up in high school and this is when things go a bit ugly.
There are all kinds of strange coincidences occurring. Gretchen starts acting funny and she seems to suddenly adopt a bizarre entity. Abby finds it impossible to explain the change, but then, it hits her – Gretchen must be possessed. There is a demon inside her and her best friend has to do anything to take it out.
Abby manages to get a few people on her side and everyone embarks on a dark adventure to save her best friend. This is the first time in their lives when their long lasting friendship is actually challenged – is it powerful enough to survive?
Fellside, by M.R. Carey (2016)
This is one of the best psychological horror books out there and it features a bit of everything for a good dose of suspense. You have lots of addiction involved everywhere, loyalty and redemption. But then, there is a good dose of revenge as well and while horror does not always mean monsters and demons, there is plenty of it in the story.
Fellside is a prison with maximum security standards. People who get there must have done some of the most terrible things one can think of. Located in Yorkshire, it is a wild and cold place where no one wants to be. But this is where Jess Moulson ends up and based on the evidence, it seems she will spend the rest of her life in prison.
However, a devastating fire hits the prison and Jess is given the chance of redemption. She only has one chance. A little boy's voice aims to guide Jess, but it seems all the advice she gets is against her common sense. Will she follow through?
Her Body And Other Parties, by Carmen Maria Machado (2017)
There is a very fine line between science fiction and psychological realism and Carmen Maria Machado explores this line like no other author. She literally destroys every border between these two words in a book told with a unique voice. The story follows a husband and a wife. He wants to remove a green ribbon from around her neck, but she refuses. It sounds simple, but there is a meaning.
As things evolve, the readers end up in a shopping mall. A salesman finds an incredible discovery in some prom dresses. Then, you get into a different woman's life, who experiences severe reactions to a surgery meant to help her lose weight. It looks like there are no connections, but you will end up connecting all the dots eventually.
The book features horror accents, psychological issues, a bit of comedy and lots of death. There are moments of tranquility followed by exquisite violence and vice versa. It is the type of book that will make your heart tremble as you approach the ending.
The Changeling, by Victor LaValle (2018)
Apollo Kagwa suffers from sleep related problems. He has always had nightmares and strange dreams, without being able to explain what they mean. He deals with antique books and tries to raise his small business. He is now involved with his family and hopes to get rid of those dreams, but things take an unusual turn. At some point, his wife Emma starts acting strange – almost like she is a completely different person.
All clues lead to a post partum depression, especially as the bizarre behavior occurs after giving birth to their new baby boy. But then, it becomes pretty clear for Apollo that her problems go further than that. Unfortunately, he figures out something is wrong when it is already too late. Emma allegedly commits a horrific act and simply disappears. There are no clues regarding her disappearance – it looks like she has simply vanished.
This is when the action begins. Apollo's adventure takes him through a thriller experience in order to find his beloved wife. Things go even stranger when he runs into a stranger who seems to have some information about Emma. He ends up on a forgotten island, through a cemetery and over a forest, yet this is only the beginning. Will he manage to find his wife?
What Are The Most Frequently Used Themes of Psychological Horror Books?
Psychological horror is a sub-genre of horror that focuses on the instability or delusions of characters and their whirling paranoia and fear, rather than relying on external elements like monsters or supernatural events to evoke fear. This genre often plays with the minds of the readers, leaving them disturbed or questioning reality. Here are some of the most frequently used themes in psychological horror books:
- Insanity and Mental Illness – One of the most prominent themes, this focuses on the mental disintegration of a character. It explores the fragility of sanity and what happens when it is lost.
- Identity and Self-Discovery – These stories often follow characters who are trying to understand who they are. This can involve literal doppelgangers, or more metaphorical explorations of identity.
- Isolation and Loneliness – Characters are often isolated from society, either by their own choice or by external forces. This isolation can be physical, psychological, or both.
- Paranoia and Fear – Constant, intense, and irrational fear of something that may not even be real, driving the protagonist to extreme actions.
- Reality Distortion and Unreliable Narrators – In these stories, the line between what is real and what is imagined becomes blurred. The narrator's account of events is suspect, and readers are left to puzzle out what is actually happening.
- Obsession and Compulsion – Characters are consumed by a particular obsession or compulsion, which drives the narrative and their descent into madness.
- Survivor’s Guilt and PTSD – Exploring the psychological aftermath of traumatic events, and how carrying that trauma affects a person’s perception of reality.
- Existential Dread and Cosmic Horror – This theme taps into the fear of the unknown and the terror of the meaningless of existence, often in a vast, indifferent universe.
- The Subconscious and Dreams – These stories often delve into a character's dreams or subconscious, using surreal, dream-like elements to create an atmosphere of horror.
- Mind Control and Manipulation – This theme involves characters who are under the influence of a sinister force that is controlling or manipulating their actions and thoughts.
- Body Horror and Transformation – While not exclusive to psychological horror, this theme can be used to explore characters' fear and disgust of their own bodies, especially as they change in horrifying ways.
- Family and Inherited Trauma – These stories might explore the horror of familial relationships and the ways in which trauma can be passed down through generations.
- Moral and Ethical Dilemmas – Characters are placed in situations where they must make a horrifying choice, often with no clear ‘right' answer, forcing them to grapple with their own morality.
- Claustrophobia and Entrapment – Characters are trapped, either physically in a confined space, or metaphorically within their own mind or a stifling situation, increasing tension and fear.
These themes are effective in psychological horror because they tap into fundamental human fears and anxieties, making the horror deeply personal and relatable.
Final Thoughts on Psychological Horror Stories
Bottom line, these are some of the best psychological horror books released over the past years. If you are after thriller stories with horror hints and plenty of psychological action to keep your heart pounding, search no more. Any of the above mentioned titles will keep you hooked in all the way to the end.
Check out also our favorite supernatural horror books.
My profession is online marketing and development (10+ years experience), check my latest mobile app called Upcoming or my Chrome extensions for ChatGPT. But my real passion is reading books both fiction and non-fiction. I have several favorite authors like James Redfield or Daniel Keyes. If I read a book I always want to find the best part of it, every book has its unique value.