Darker Reads for All Hallows' Eve

Crime, horror, thriller, suspense, mystery — whatever your darker reading 'pleasure', there are stories to make your skin crawl, your spine tingle and your heart beat a little faster. We've added new titles to our previous pick-lists of unnerving reads to create a selection of 20 daring delights — check them out!


The Star of the North Book Cover

Star of the North

DB John
Fiction, 2018

Buckle up for a white-knuckled ride where truth appears to be stranger than fiction. Inspired by real events, this suspenseful thriller moves between the USA and North Korea following twin sisters, one who mysteriously disappears from a South Korean island and the other recruited by the CIA to discover her whereabouts.

What our groups say

"Our men's group quickly finished this book. The narrative is exciting and easy to read, and has a number of twists and turns. As you read you are constantly amazed at the deceptions and the survival abilities necessary just to allow the characters to keep on living. After reading we were keen to find out more about the real stories out of North Korea." (CHCH 534)


Velvet Was the Night Book Cover

Velvet Was the Night

Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Fiction, 2021

1970s Mexico City: Maite, a mousy secretary, is deeply envious of her beautiful neighbour, Leonora, a beautiful art student whose life of excitement is in stark contrast with Maite's humdrum existence. When Leonora goes missing under suspicious circumstances, Maite (and goon-for-hire, Elvis) find themselves on a journey of political intrigue with plenty of twists, turns and violence along the way.

BDS reviewers described it as "a delightful noirish romp where everyone gets their just deserts." There is also a Spotify playlist of songs referenced in the book.


The Last Thing to Burn Book Cover

The Last Thing to Burn

Will Dean
Fiction, 2020

A claustrophobic thriller about a woman held captive by her 'husband' on an isolated farm in the UK. BDS reviewers warn that it's "not for the squeamish" or "those who have suffered abuse", but note this story "although dark and hard to read at times, is gripping — a real page-turner." Will the woman escape her menacing captor? You'll have to add it to your book list to find out!

What our groups say

"Awful, but had to read! Many read in one sitting." (AUCK 335)

"Not everyone could cope with this subject matter, but those that did loved this book. Great pacing, a palpable sense of tension and imminent danger." (DUNED 083)


The Push Book Cover

The Push

Ashley Audrain
Fiction, 2021

A twisty psychological thriller/character study, The Push is a story told from the point of view of first-time mother, Blythe, who is struggling to connect with her newborn daughter. Blythe herself didn't have the rosiest childhood, so maybe that's why she feels this way? Or is there something seriously wrong with her daughter? 

An immersive and compulsive novel, The Push will keep you turning pages even as your discomfort grows — and with themes of motherhood, neglect, relationships and intergenerational inheritance your book group will have plenty to discuss!

What our groups say

"Our group found this book particularly harrowing to read. It created a lot of discussion — even though harrowing, you couldn't put it down." (WHAKA 020)


In The Clearing Book Cover

In the Clearing

JP Pomare (NZ)
Fiction, 2019

A psychological thriller from NZ author JP Pomare, In the Clearing is a compulsive read about a cult in the Victorian bushland. Combining narratives and characters from past and present, readers will be kept guessing until the very end. BDS reviewers note that "while it is dark and at times disturbing, there is hope for the heroine". Echoing many aspects of real-life Australian cult, The Family,  this story lingers unsettlingly in the mind all the more for its similarity to actual events.

What our groups say

"One said they were so disturbed they couldn't finish it, while another said it was the best book she'd read for ages — so gripping she couldn't put it down." (DUNED 114)

"General consensus was that this was a clever, well-written book, but the subject matter was disturbing. The twists and turns of the plot keep the reader engaged." (NELS 062)


Picnic at Hanging Rock Book Cover

Picnic at Hanging Rock

Joan Lindsay
Fiction, 1967

An eerie, atmospheric read that starts with the disappearance of three boarding school girls and their teacher while on a picnic, but then turns its focus to the unravelling of the characters left behind. Set in 1900 against an expertly described Australian landscape, the environment itself joins a varied cast of characters. But who is really to blame for the women's disappearance?

What our groups say

"A good read — it was important to read this book carefully. Full of great prose and substance." (CHCH 503)

"Overall the group enjoyed this book. It promoted a lot of debate about truth and imagination. Stories were recounted of our own experiences of powerful places." (NGON 002)


The Night Swim Book Cover

The Night Swim

Megan Goldin
Fiction, 2020

Heavy with emotions and disturbing content, but also with an important message for society, this contemporary mystery-plus-legal-thriller follows a true-crime podcaster as she unearths secrets in a small town at the centre of a rape trial. BDS reviewers called it "intriguing and informative" and "hard to put down" but due to its subject matter of rape and murder it's "not for the faint of heart."


Before You Knew My Name Book Cover

Before You Knew My Name

Jacqueline Bublitz (NZ)
Fiction, 2021

A powerful debut novel from a Kiwi author that takes the whodunnit genre and flips it on its head, focusing not on the perpetrator, but the victim of a heinous crime. Set in New York, Before You Knew My Name links the stories of two young women: Alice, the city's latest Jane Doe, and Ruby, the jogger who discovers her body. 

Moving, illuminating, haunting and uplifting, this is an 'easy' crime read with hidden depths. Winner of the Best First Novel and Best Novel categories at the 2022 Ngaio Marsh Awards.

What our groups say

"We enjoyed the book, a very easy read. The characters were believable and it was beautifully written. Difficult to read for a couple of women with teenage daughters." (CHCH 537)

"Although an easy read, we felt it had depth and gave insights into human nature and, in particular, relationships between male and female and the imbalance of power. Other themes of hope, bravery and sisterhood made for an interesting and thoughtful read. The intrigue of who the perpetrator was, kept us involved, and wondering. Hints dropped in were never too obvious. Cleverly written by a Kiwi writer which adds to its appeal." (TAUR 016)


The Good Mother Book Cover

The Good Mother

Rae Cairns
Fiction, 2020

When her past catches up with her, Sarah Calhoun, a typical Sydney soccer mum, is forced to testify at a murder trial in Belfast. But telling the truth will put innocent people, including her own children, at risk — how can Sarah both right the wrongs of the past and protect the ones she loves?

Described by BDS reviewers as "gripping" and "full of tension and suspension", readers will find this novel hard to put down.


Mouth to Mouth Book Cover

Mouth to Mouth

Antoine Wilson
Fiction, 2022

Psychological, mysterious and thought-provoking, BDS reviewers warn that this story will "make you question the characters in the book, and yourself" — would you have behaved differently?

A struggling author runs into a former classmate, Jeff, while stuck at the airport. Jeff begins to tell him a fascinating and disturbing story that begins when he rescues a drowning man on a beach. Jeff seeks to form a deeper connection with the man he rescued, believing fate was at play in their meeting, but the nature of their relationship grows increasingly dark...


Once There Were Wolves Book Cover

Once There Were Wolves

Charlotte McConaghy
Fiction, 2021

When biologist Inti Flynn arrives in the Scottish Highlands to lead a rewilding programme for grey wolves, she is accompanied by her twin sister Aggie, who needs her care and support.

The establishment of the Cairngorm Wolf Project incurs a hostile reception, even more so when a local farmer is found dead, and it is inevitable the wolves will be blamed. However, Inti is determined to champion both the wolves and her traumatised twin, whatever the cost.

Fascinating, fast-moving and morally complex, this literary eco-thriller also contains a mystery and a love story within its eloquent pages and rugged landscapes. Described by BDS reviewers as fast-moving and fascinating, it is a story that provides both compulsive reading and rich topics for discussion.


To The Sea Book Cover

To the Sea

Nikki Crutchley (NZ)
Fiction, 2021

'Iluka', coastal paradise and home to Hurley's utopian vision of a family living as nature intended...but just how idyllic is this isolated patch of Aotearoa?

Alternating between past and present and narrated by both Hurley's granddaughter Ana and her mother Anahita, this is the story of a family in thrall to their abusive patriarch and what must happen to keep their haven of Iluka safe. However, when an outsider visits their artist's retreat, the mystery of Iluka begins to unravel.

Gripping, darkly atmospheric and a disturbing testimony to family loyalty, BDS reviewers described it as "dark" and "sinister", with "unexpected twists and turns along the way."


The Turn of the Key Book Cover

The Turn of the Key

Ruth Ware
Fiction, 2019

Set in a creepy 'smart house' isolated in the Scottish highlands, The Turn of the Key centres on Rowan Cain, the Elincourt family's new live-in nanny. Unexplained noises in the night, hostile children, and the chilling history of the property threaten to rob Rowan of her sanity — but she swears she isn't guilty of the murder...

With a nod to the Henry James classic, The Turn of the Screw, this is a hard-to-put-down haunted house thriller, delightfully atmospheric and bristling with menace.

What our groups say

"A new genre for the group. Created a long discussion. Two members eager to read more novels by this author. Lots of twists and turns, and a surprise finish." (WAIUK 003)

"The book is a compelling read, a light escape into a spooky unknown. The storyline feels contrived especially towards the rapid finish, but easily forgivable for the fun of the journey." (WHITBY 003)


The Tally Stick Book Cover

The Tally Stick

Carl Nixon (NZ)
Fiction, 2020

An "urgent and evocative" read, The Tally Stick is described by BDS reviewers as "extremely chilling with very harrowing undercurrents". No wonder, with a premise that involves the discovery of a child's remains which show evidence that he lived for four years after he and his family first disappeared. And what of the tally stick discovered alongside the boy, indicating that he owed a debt? Difficult to put down and with lots to discuss, this is a great pick for clubs who would enjoy a gripping NZ mystery. A BDS Staff Pick from Lesley Heal.

What our groups say

"The Tally Stick generated conversation in our group. Most found the premise of a disappearance in bush most believable. The writing was convincing and the ending a great twist. The degree of abuse and neglect was hard to read but was starkly described. We are keen to read more of this author's books." (OWAKA 001)

"Perhaps it is simply a thriller, to be read and enjoyed as a story; but the darkness, blood and general creepiness make it hard to do only that." (HAMIL 007)


See What I Have Done Book Cover

See What I Have Done

Sarah Schmidt
Fiction, 2017

"Lizzie Borden took an axe,
And gave her mother forty whacks,
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one."

We've all heard of the notorious Lizzie, but what really happened in the Borden household on 4 August 1892? There are plenty of others who were part of the story: Lizzie's sister Emma, Bridget the maid, Uncle John...and someone who knows more than they are letting on.

A vivid reimagining of the events around the famous unsolved Massachusetts crime, this book is gritty and compelling as it exposes this dysfunctional family to the light of day.

Now a motion picture, Lizzie, starring Chloë Sevigny and Kristen Stewart. According to The Guardian, "the house where the killings took place is now a B&B-cum-museum, with the most requested room the one where Abby was murdered. Tours run every hour; free for children six and under."

What our groups say

"This book proved to be too gory for some of us." (INVER 026)

"This was a challenge but we were glad to push through and read something out of our comfort zone. A haunting read! Was well written — very descriptive." (MARTO 003)


The Axeman's Jazz Book Cover

The Axeman's Jazz

Ray Celestin
Fiction, 2014

In the sultry Big Easy, with the music soaring, and the body count rising, Detective Lieutenant Michael Talbot is struggling to identify a killer, the jazz-loving 'axeman'. But he is not alone in his pursuit of the suspect — disgraced former detective Luca d'Andrea and an ambitious secretary from the Pinkerton Detective Agency, Ida Davis, are also hot on the trail.

Based on true events from 1919, this is a riveting story of pre-prohibition New Orleans, complete with the mafia, a trumpet toting Louis Armstrong and more.

What our groups say

"A wonderfully rich, dense and intelligent story with colourful characters (including New Orleans, the city) and plenty of plot forks that kept our group busy discussing it for hours. One of our favourites, and converted a few people to crime fiction too!" (LOWER 006)

"Everyone liked this book but to varying degrees. Cleverly constructed and well-written, it was engaging and intriguing, if gruesome. We liked what we learned was the 'Rashomon effect' of investigation, and we felt all three detectives offered a credible line of thought and approach to solving the shocking murders. The characters were well-drawn, and we felt the author's linking of fact with fiction was very deft. One of the stars of the show was New Orleans itself, and another quirky plus was the inclusion of Louis Armstrong in the story." (TAUR 016)


Into the Darkest Corner Book Cover

Into the Darkest Corner

Elizabeth Haynes
Fiction, 2012

When something seems too good to be true, then it usually is. In this case, the 'something' is Lee who, on first acquaintance, is a charismatic and appealing man. Catherine certainly thinks so, but finds out to her detriment the stark difference between his public and private faces.

A challenging thriller that considers the horrors of abusive relationships. This is compelling reading at its best, but does include violence and abusive sexual content.

What our groups say

"Words used to describe this book were: gripping, page-turner, compelling, couldn't put it down — even though the story is grim, brutal and stressful to read." (NELS 020)

"A bit scary for some — a book to be read in daylight! Fascinating portrayal of someone recovering from a traumatic episode in their life." (CHCH 229)

"A great read, gripping and interesting. Kept you guessing. A little full on at the very beginning which put some of us off, but with encouragement, those who read on enjoyed it." (MOTU 004)


I Am Pilgrim Book Cover

I Am Pilgrim

Terry Hayes
Fiction, 2013

Faced with the possibility of a homeland terrorist threat, a US spy (codename: Pilgrim) is hauled back from retirement to track down the suspected terrorist and prevent full scale calamity. From a public beheading in Mecca to a trail of murder encompassing New York, the Hindu Kush and Turkey, this is a riveting story with exotic settings and populated with well-developed characters.

Referencing real-world events and maintaining nail-biting tension as the day of reckoning approaches, this is a complex and shockingly credible thriller.

What our groups say

"Members who read this book were totally engrossed by it. Some members could not accommodate the violence which was an essential aspect of this tale of international terrorism, and failed to persevere long enough to be caught up in it! This was a pity, as it is a finely crafted and compelling insight into the minds of terrorist activists and the beliefs and emotions that drive them. The ability of the author, in this first novel, to allow us as readers, to see two "heroes" and to be able to understand and even sympathise with them, is impressive. The writing is excellent."(WHITBY 005)

"A well-written thriller and an unexpected hit with the group, who usually have divided opinions. Also a surprisingly good book for discussion, particularly on the structure of thrillers and the techniques used to keep the reader hooked — which this book certainly did." (CHCH 299)


The Cleaner Book Cover

The Cleaner

Paul Cleave (NZ)
Fiction, 2006

Joe is in control of everything in his simple life, including both his day job at the police department and his 'night work'. He is not bothered by news reports of the Christchurch Carver, who, they say, has murdered seven women; for Joe knows the Carver only killed six. Joe knows that for a fact, and he is going to find the copy-cat killer. He is going to punish him for the one murder, then frame him for the other six.

What our groups say

"This story was enjoyed by all, especially those that like a good crime/thriller. It was a bonus that it was a New Zealand book, with references to Christchurch drawing discussion." (NELS 064)

"For most this book was a different experience. Very well written with great control of the material, and an interesting study of a serial killer's mind." (HAMIL 003)

"A genre new to some of us and we surprised ourselves how much we enjoyed it. More spooky for those familiar with Christchurch." (NELS 027)


Batavia Book Cover


Peter FitzSimons
Fiction, 2011

On the 1629 maiden voyage by the Dutch East India Company's flagship Batavia, from Amsterdam to Jakarta (Batavia), disaster strikes. Not only is the ship wrecked on the Abrolhos Islands off the west coast of Australia, but worse is to follow: murder, mayhem and depravity.

A brutal but fascinating account, this story recreates this dramatic and horrific episode in Australia's past in a gripping blend of fact and fiction. Not for the faint hearted.

What our groups say

"Very much a 'Lord of the Flies' for older males! Some found the graphic descriptions of the violence too much. An amazing tale of survival but also disturbing in what it suggests about how people can behave when social controls are lacking." (WELL 178)

"People found it very interesting but a bit violent. Most were glad they had read it." (DUNED 033)

"An amazing story of savagery, heroism and bravery. Historically accurate account of how evil can flourish and how heroism and goodness wins the day. A challenging read." (DOUBT 002)