6 Horror Novels That Are 100% True

From "Dracula" to "The Shining," there's no shortage of bone-chilling horror novels out there. We love 'em, obviously. But if you really want to put down a book and feel terrified to your very core, you'll want to seek out something a little more ... grounded. These are six horrifying books drawn from real-life events. Don't say we didn't warn you.

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6. "The Stranger Beside Me" by Ann Rule

When it comes to true-crime writing, there's one name that towers above all others: Ann Rule. A lot of it has to do with her writing style, which is equal parts warm and familiar and darkly obsessed. But the real secret is probably her first book, "The Stranger Beside Me." It tells the story of how Rule herself met and befriended Ted Bundy years before he began his notorious killing spree, how they worked closely together at a crisis center for people suffering from suicidal thoughts, and how she slowly realized that her friend and the killer were one and the same.

5. "In Cold Blood" by Truman Capote

Another iconic work in true crime, another career-defining novel. Truman Capote's 1965 work "In Cold Blood" painted a chilling portrait of a distinctly American kind of violence. Unlike Rule, he doesn't have the privilege of a first-person perspective. But through interviews and detective work, he immaculately recreates the night that Dick Hickok and Perry Smith viciously murdered a family of four in a tiny farming community, as well as the weeks leading up to it and the months that followed. The "how" of the crime is chilling; the "why" perhaps even more so.

4. "Hell's Princess" by Harold Schechter

Harold Schechter has made his living writing profiles of some of history's infamous figures, including Albert Fish ("Deranged") and H.H. Holmes ("Depraved"), but "Hell's Princess" is something different. Belle Gunness never entered the public consciousness like the other two monsters, despite being the rare example of a violent female serial killer. Her victims were her suitors, who she lured to her Indiana farmstead with all of their worldly possessions. She likely eclipsed Fish's and Holmes' murder counts, with 28 deaths confirmed to her name. Also, unlike those more famous murderers, Gunness was never captured — but you'll have to read about her escape plan to believe it.

3. "The Hot Zone" by Richard Preston

Whew, let's take a break from murderers for a moment. There are plenty of other horror genres out there that have played out in the real world. Take Richard Preston's "The Hot Zone," for example. If you've ever wondered exactly how easy it is for a relatively unknown virus — as Ebola was in 1989 — to suddenly, explosively spread to communities around the world, well, it's way easier than you would have thought.

2. "The Road to Jonestown" by Jeff Guinn

In November 1978, Jonestown became the site of the largest known murder-suicide in history when more than 900 people drank cyanide-laced Flavoraid (not Kool-aid, as is usually reported), whether voluntarily or by force. But before Jim Jones became the quintessential megalomaniacal cult leader, he was a Christian pastor with Marxist leanings and a philosophy of racial equality. One thing that never changed? He was never far from the limelight. Jeff Guinn's "The Road to Jonestown" takes you from Jones' Indianapolis origins to the People's Temple in California to, inevitably, the tragedy of Jonestown in Guyana.

1. "The Spider and the Fly" by Claudia Rowe

Like Ann Rule's best-known work, Claudia Rowe's "The Spider and the Fly: A Reporter, a Serial Killer, and the Meaning of Murder" tells the story of the author's personal relationship with a murderer. But unlike Rule, Rowe didn't reach out to her subject, Kendall Francoise, until after police found the bodies of his victims hidden in the walls of the house he shared. It's much more than a glimpse at Francoise's cruel drive to kill — it's a confession of the author's, and perhaps the audience's, own dark obsessions.

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Written by Reuben Westmaas October 24, 2018

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