As the evenings grow darker and a distinctly autumnal chill lingers in the air, it’s only natural to start looking for the ideal fireside book to keep you company this season. Thankfully, with some wonderful new releases and timeless classics alike, we’ve got you covered. From ghost stories to gripping thrillers to historical mysteries, read on to discover Birlinn’s top picks for the best autumnal books to pick up this year!
Ghosts in the Gloaming: A Tale from Kinloch by Denzil Meyrick
From the bestselling author of the DCI Daley series comes another gripping story from Kinloch. In this thrilling tall tale, Dreich MacCallum makes an unexpected return to Kinloch after cheating Sandy Hoynes out of a rowing race when they were young. It’s 1968, in the cold month of December, when Hoynes leaves his boat The Girl Maggie up on the slip, in urgent need of repairs. When first mate Hamish persuades his skipper to get up and put the fishing boat back into the water, there are unexpected consequences that put Hoynes’ liberty and reputation at risk. Will Dreich win the day again? Or will the ghosts from their past finally catch up?
This lively crime novella has a strong sense of nostalgia: as you dive into its pages, you will feel transported through the past to a charming Scottish fishing village, finding yourself immersed in the close-knit community that thrives there. Perfect for long autumn and winter nights, Ghosts in the Gloaming will keep you company as the cold wind blows.
Witch Wood by John Buchan
As a prolific writer of many classic novels, John Buchan has a whole repertoire to choose from. However, Witch Wood was his personal favourite, and its terrifying yet historically-significant subject matter makes it ideal for this list.
Witch Wood is set in seventeenth-century Scotland, when religious extremism and supernaturalism hold society in a tight grip. During this time, the Church of Scotland unleashed a wave of cruelty and intolerance, culminating in some of Scotland’s most heinous witch trials. When black magic is discovered in the ancient Witch Wood, protagonist David Semphill feels called to fight it, even as his love grows for the beautiful pagan Katrine. A book that went on to inspire C.S. Lewis, Witch Wood, with its haunting setting and timeless lesson, is a must-read this season.
Hex by Jenni Fagan
If witchcraft and Scottish history interest you, then look no further than Hex by Jenni Fagan. This short, powerful novel packs a tremendous punch. Set in one of the country’s most turbulent times, The North Berwick Witch Trials, 15-year-old Geillis Duncan has been sentenced to death. On this, the last night of her life, in a prison cell several floors below Edinburgh’s High Street, the convicted witch receives a mysterious visitor – Iris, who says she comes from a future where women are still persecuted for who they are and what they believe. As the hours pass and dawn approaches, Geillis recounts the circumstances of her arrest, torture, confession, and trial, while Iris offers solidarity, bonding the two women inextricably through time and space.
As we draw nearer to Halloween, this is a meaningful and seasonally-fitting novel to pick up! But beware, Hex will absolutely enthral you, and once you pick it up, you might find yourself devouring it all in just one dark autumnal night.
Dark Encounters: A Collection of Ghost Stories by William Croft Dickinson
What could be more appropriate for spooky season than a classic collection of ghost stories? As home to the world’s best whisky to some of the most bone-chilling ghostly tales, Scottish culture includes some of the best ways to pass long, cold nights. Dark Encounters, a selection of elegant yet unsettling tales, was first published in 1963 and is set in the beautiful yet brooding Scottish landscape.
Often referring to real events, objects and people, these stories have a sense of historical authenticity. From a demonic text that leaves its readers strangled to the murderous spectre of a feudal baron, this collection is perfect to share with family and friends around a blazing fire.
Where Demons Hide by Douglas Skelton
From acclaimed crime writer Douglas Skelton comes another atmospheric, mysterious novel to get your hands on this autumn. When the body of Nuala Flaherty is discovered in the centre of a pentagram on a lonely moor, Rebecca Conolly is determined to find out who or what is behind the gruesome murder. Was she killed by supernatural means, or is there a more down-to-earth explanation?
Rebecca’s investigation leads her not only to a mysterious cult and local drug dealings, but into crime matriarch Mo Burke’s lethal revenge plot. Longlisted for Bloody Scotland’s MacIlvanney Prize, Where Demons Hide is a thriller you won’t be able to put down.
Of Blood Descended by Steven Veerapen
For a murder mystery of a different kind, check out Steven Veerapen’s unique historical fiction novel, Of Blood Descended. Murder rocks the court of Henry the VIII in the summer of 1522, when Cardinal Wolsey’s historian, charged with proving the king’s descent from King Arthur, is found dead, his body posed in a gruesome tableau. Anthony Blanke, the son of the king’s late ‘black trumpet’, John Blanke, is charged with investigating the affair. His mission takes him on the path trod by the historian, through ancient monastic libraries and the back streets of London.
On a journey that takes him from Hampton Court to Windsor and Winchester, and which sees him lock horns with secretive monks, historian Polydore Vergil, and a new face at court, Anne Boleyn, he must discover the murderer and avoid King Henry’s wrath. An intellectual yet encapsulating story, this Tudor mystery isn’t one to miss.
Tales for Twilight: Two Hundred Years of Scottish Ghost Stories
The Halloween season calls for more than just one book of Ghost Stories! Tales for Twilight is a selection of the best of the best of two-hundred years of Scottish Ghost stories. From the eighteenth to the twenty-first century, Scottish authors have proved to be exceptionally good at writing these spooky tales. The tradition of oral storytelling that has stretched over centuries, including poems and ballads with supernatural themes, makes Scotland’s ghost stories top tier.
This collection includes works by some of Scotland’s finest authors, including Sir Walter Scott, George Mackay Brown, Muriel Spark, Margaret Oliphant, Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Guy Boothby, Algernon Blackwood, Eileen Bigland, Ronald Duncan, James Robertson and Ian Rankin.
With the leaves turning crimson and gold and rain pattering against our windows, there couldn’t be a better time to cosy up with a good book. We hope this list of autumnal favourites will help see you through these darker, colder nights and celebrate the ghostly joys of spooky season!
Browse our autumn favourites here: