Hallowe’en is the time for dipping into ghost and horror stories, but there is plenty of spooky crime fiction out there too. The two genres have always been creepy cousins ever since Edgar Alan Poe took a break from ravens and ghouls to pen those foundational mystery stories. Long before the current rise of paranormal crime, William Hope Hodgson had great success with this supernatural sleuth Carnacki, the Ghost Finder. (Simon Green’s recent paranormal mystery Ghost of a Chance introduces the ghost-hunting Carnacki Institute, in homage to Hodgson). Around that time, Algernon Blackwood wrote The Confession, a fog-shrouded tale perfectly poised in the middle ground between murder mystery and ghost story; hear a reading of this story from our Thrilling Tales story time for grown ups.
More recently there have been some perfectly haunting novels that mystery fans may enjoy. John Harwood’s historical thriller The Séance takes place in a creaky old haunted house, purportedly the site of some unspeakable past crimes which psychic researchers attempt to fathom, amidst the plaintive appeals of those who have passed on. In Sheri Holman’s The Dress Lodger, intrepid urchin Gustine struggles to survive the grimmest of slums only to find herself caught up in that most ghoulish of Victorian crimes, grave-robbing. And She Walks These Hills, third in Sharyn McCrumb’s atmospheric Ballad series, the ghost of the legendary Katie Wyler who met her spectacular end in 1779 serves as a spectral guide to a collection of troubled characters seeking the solution to crimes past and present.
One interesting variation on the spooky mystery is when crimes are solved by spectral detectives: ghost sleuths who have special access to the truth, but often must work through more corporeal justicers to set things right. In Carolyn Hart’s excellent Ghost at Work, first of a series of ghostly cozies, Bailey Ruth Raeburn has been enjoying her ultimate retirement up in Heaven for some decades when she decides to do some volunteering with the Department of Good Intentions. Her first assignment sends her to figure out who placed a corpse on the porch of the pastor’s wife, just before Hallowe’en. In Nancy Atherton’s popular (and recipe-laden) Aunt Dimity series, amateur sleuth Lori Shepherd solves crimes with the assistance of her partner and long deceased “aunt” Dimity Westwood; the first is Aunt Dimity’s Death. Alice Kimberly and Helen Chappell also have cozy ghost sleuth series, while Katy Munger and Chaz McGee have employed angels as detectives. There are all kinds of ways for mystery readers to celebrate Hallowe’en: check one out today.