Occult Suspense: The 20 Best Books Like the Pendergast Series

The Pendergast Series by Preston and Child is popular for a reason, giving that classic mix of suspense, mystery, and the unknown beyond a modern twist. It’s a time-tested genre that has a widely built audience. After all, we all have that little fear of what we don’t know.

Best Books Like the Pendergast Series

These twenty books will give that same rush. Holding your breath, flipping pages afraid to see what might happen next, only to find some terror not of this earth waiting for you. Some might even keep you awake at night. I know they did for me…

The Case Against Satan by Ray Russell

The Case Against Satan (Penguin Classics)

This novella was The Exorcist before The Exorcist. A teenager who’s the image of innocence is possessed by what is quite possibly the devil himself, the two priests who fight each other more than the demon, and Russell’s humor all manage to combine for a book that was scarier than any of the possession stories that came after.

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The Dark Net by Benjamin Percy

The Dark Net

An occult-techno-thriller about a group of underdogs trying to prevent Hell from leaking over into our world through the internet. One of the few stories that capture what the internet felt like in the “frontier days” of the earlier 2000s and gives that same sense of shock and dread that could so easily be one click away.

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Sentinel by Drew Starling

SENTINEL: A Thrilling Supernatural Horror Novel (The Bensalem Files)

I had the pleasure of beta-reading this about six months before Drew published it, and feel privileged I was able to read this story before others. A family moving to a new town with a legend living in the surrounding forest. From there it’s a conspiracy of town secrets and a desperate race by a father to save his son. 

Drew has a way of making the environment feel oppressive, even in the happier times of the book. You’ll be closing your blinds and peeking outside at night just to make sure nothing is there after finishing Sentinel.

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Baal by Robert McCammon


McCammon’s alternative to The Omen, but much more comprehensive and sinister. This was McCammon’s first novel, and while it can show that he wasn’t quite set in his voice yet it still shines for the inventiveness of the story.

Baal takes things beyond the demon child’s younger years and chronicles his eventual rise to power and hell on earth, making for a terrifying chronicle and a damn fine debut from a legend.

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The Complex by Brian Keene

The Complex

Keene has been a horror staple for me since picking up The Rising at twelve years old. The Complex is one of his shorter efforts, just a novella in length, and has some of the most breakneck pacing I’ve ever read. 

One day people just break. Everyone strips their clothes off and starts going after their fellow humans in droves, killing in horrific ways wherever possible. The main story centers around the residents of a low-income housing complex, with a motley crew of survivors including a trans woman exiled from her family, two stoners, and a serial killer with a higher purpose.

The best part is that this plays into Keene’s larger multiverse, The Labyrinth. Is this what it felt like for people to see King flesh out The Dark Tower as it was released?

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I Am Providence by Nick Mamatas

I Am Providence: A Novel

A ritual murder via face removal at a Lovecraft convention attended by some of the world’s most oblivious people. Mamatas takes the Lovecraftian secret societies and tentacled atrocities to new heights in a murder mystery that’s pulpy, horrifying, and hilarious as one writer tries to solve the murder, despite everyone being as helpful as a teacup during a forest fire.

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Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman

Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders

Fragile Things is one of Gaiman’s best short collections and has the distinction of containing one of his best novellas, A Study in Emerald. Gaiman’s take on the Sherlock Holmes story A Study in Scarlet

The main difference in Gaiman’s version? Lovecraftian Great Old Ones rule the earth in Gaiman’s story, giving everything an occult twist as Holmes tries to solve the ritual murders of their descendants by a radical group. It’s fun and gives a breath of fresh air to the Sherlock Holmes mythos with a cosmic horror twist.

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Death Note by Tsugumi Ohba

Death Note, Vol. 1

While it’s a manga and not a book, it would be a crime not to bring up Death Note when it comes to occult thrillers. Teenage Light Yagami finds a death god’s notebook, allowing him to kill anyone in any way he wants by writing it in. That’s just the start as Light becomes a vigilante, shaping the world in his image by killing those he deems unworthy, usually criminals.

Death Note becomes an intense cat-and-mouse game as Light has to outwit the world’s greatest detective in a battle of wits and strategy. It can be a little corny at times (I quote the potato chip scene weekly) but it’s all part of the charm. The art is beautiful as well as vividly terrifying when showing the gods of death.

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The Willows by Algernon Blackwood

The Willows: The Original 1907 Disturbing Horror Tale

The Willows and Blackwood are both essential reading for any horror enthusiast. One of the earlier authors of weird fiction, The Willows can be read as a straightforward ghost story or a man vs. nature thriller with Pagan roots. Either way, it made me afraid of trees.

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Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero

Meddling Kids

Take Scooby-Doo, set it a little over a decade after the teenagers have their golden era of mystery solving, and bring in some Lovecraftian curses that ruined their lives and have to be confronted. Meddling Kids is a love letter to everything from the Saturday morning mystery cartoons to Stephen King’s writing. There’s heart, wit, and enough nostalgia to go around.

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Fellside by MR Carey


A haunted prison and possible arsonist with amnesia? MR Carey takes his knack for characters in a different direction than his breakout The Girl With All The Gifts, offering a quieter, more personal story of a haunting and guilt with the cold atmosphere of a prison cell.

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The Imago Sequence by Laird Barron

The Imago Sequence and Other Stories

While Laird Barron has great novels that deal with the occult, his short-form work is superb. This collection includes two specific novellas essential to this list- the title story The Imago Sequence and Procession of the Black Sloth. The first is a story of unraveling reality as a man discovers something beyond comprehension. Procession, meanwhile, is a noir-leaning cosmic horror about a private investigator stumbling on a vast conspiracy of elder beings.

Added Bonus: The story “Old Virginia” is included here, and it’s a favorite of mine. Taking inspiration from the MKULTRA experiments and legends of witchcraft, it’s a hell of a ride packed into a quick read.

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The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher

[Storm Front][Butcher, Jim][Paperboundmassmarket]

I can’t recommend just the first novel in the series for one reason- the entire series demands to be read. Seriously, there are seventeen of these novels and they’re all some of the best blends of noir-detective stories mixed with occult magic to ever be put to page. So far, at least.

The series revolves around private investigator and wizard Harry Dresden, with each book telling a different story about one of his various cases over the years. The books have hilarious wit and deep lore to them, with Dresden going up against every supernatural being possible.

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Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

Something Wicked This Way Comes: A Novel

Bradbury did everything- sci-fi, horror, drama, dystopian fiction, and even more genres were under his mastery. Something Wicked is a masterpiece that usually gets overshadowed. by Fahrenheit 451, but deserves a look for blending dark, occult forces with the simple joys of an old-timey carnival.

The book becomes a rush as the two protagonists have to eventually stay on the run from the carnival, being chased down no matter where they hide. It’s dark, haunting, and somehow magical at the same time.

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Little Heaven by Nick Cutter

Little Heaven: A Novel

Reading The Troop by Nick Cutter prepared me for anything he could write next. I thought. Little Heaven trades the parasitic horror of The Troop for a literal hell on earth as a woman hires three mercenaries to accompany her to a religious compound in New Mexico.

What follows is a nightmare as everything goes straight to hell and everyone has to team up to survive. Few books make me say “Nope” out loud while reading, but Cutter’s three for three so far.

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The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

The Only Good Indians: A Novel

Graham Jones has been a driving force of horror in recent years and frequently uses his Blackfoot Native ancestry as an influence for his stories. The Only Good Indians is all at once an Indigenous ghost story and a psychological thriller of unreliable characters.

A group of friends begin seeing the spirits of elks they killed as children on forbidden land, leading to a tale of revenge, betrayal, and murder where nobody can be trusted at any time.

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The Books of Blood by Clive Barker

Books of Blood, Vols. 1-3

Barker’s Books of Blood series is extensive, but for this purpose we’re looking right into volume one and the short The Midnight Meat Train. What starts as a regular guy falling asleep on a late-night train runs off the figurative rails into a vast conspiracy of murder and terror.

The next story in Volume 1, “The Yattering and Jack” is also a delight, taking a more comedic look at a game of wits between a man and a demon where the winner gets the other’s soul.

Bonus: While every volume is great, Volume One is just all killer no filler, with one of Barker’s best included. In The Hills, The Cities is one of the most grotesque, beautiful, and strange love stories I’ve ever read and deserves a place in the horror-lit hall of fame.

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The Cabin at The End of The World by Paul Tremblay

The Cabin at the End of the World [Movie Tie-in]: A Novel

A family is held hostage by strangers at what is supposed to be a private cabin getaway. Typical home invasion story except the strangers make an ultimatum- sacrifice one of the family to prevent the apocalypse, or allow the world to end. 

What follows is more of an ambiguous psychological thriller, as the family is isolated from the rest of humanity and unknowing of whether or not the strangers are telling the truth. It’s a tense thriller that will leave you asking “What the hell just happened?” by the end.

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The Hollow Ones by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan

The Hollow Ones (Blackwood Tapes, 1)

The Strain writers team up again, but this time take immortal spirits and a worldwide conspiracy instead of a vampire virus. The story has Del Toro’s world and lore building, while Hogan handles the prose duty and makes everything flow seamlessly. 

The characters shine through (typical Del Toro) as the rookie FBI agent has to solve the mystery of why her partner suddenly turned violent, trying to kill her for seemingly no reason. After killing him in self-defense, she stumbles into a vast conspiracy about immortals, devouring evil, and her future.

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John Dies At The End by David Wong

John Dies @ the End

This book has it all. Is the title a spoiler? Maybe. It’s all about the journey to get there that counts in John Dies At The End, though. That journey is downright wild, a twisting roller coaster created by MC Escher on the most hallucinatory drugs possible.

Speaking of hallucinatory drugs, that’s what the story centers on! A buddy comedy about a drug that spans time, space, and dimensions while also opening doorways for the forces of hell. Seriously, this book has it all, and telling any more would spoil the ride. Have a nice trip.

Buy it on Amazon

These twenty should keep you occupied, especially considering a few of these entries are just the starting point for long-running series. Remember to slide back from the edge of your seat every so often, and drink plenty of water while enjoying your reading. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is occult suspense?

The occult can relate to anything with supernatural leanings, whether big or small. Just adding that edge-of-your-seat suspense qualifies any horror story as occult suspense.

Doesn’t occult just mean demons and stuff like that?

Nope! The occult is anything beyond human perception of reality. It’s a pretty versatile word, especially as a genre, but what it boils down to is that anything can be occult if you look at it the right way.

So it has to be supernatural horror to be occult?

Not necessarily. The supernatural elements don’t even have to be real, it’s all about the belief and steps people take in that belief of the supernatural like sacrifices or rituals. It doesn’t even have to be a horror!

Does occult suspense have any particular subgenres?

Detective stories make up a large number of occult suspense stories, usually with some supernatural presence or cult at the center of the mystery.

Are there any particular authors I could start with?

It depends on your tastes, but I would recommend starting with Jim Butcher’s Dresden series. They’re all fun and accessible. From there ramp it up and read into authors like Laird Barron, Ray Russell, and Richard Matheson.

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Ross Tyson