For maximum chills, of the figurative sort, I recommend reading Michelle Paver's Dark Matter over a weekend (it's a slip of a book and easily consumable in just a few sittings) when you can turn the lights down low, snuggle down into your comfiest chair and then lose yourself in the story. For literal (as well as figurative) chills, you might even save this one for the dead of winter when it is storming outside and you can hear the ice pellets hitting your window. Trust me, this is a ghost story worth savoring in the right reading conditions.
I read it in a gym filled with people and sunshine streaming through the windows, so I didn't get the full effect of the story. I wanted to save the last fifty or so pages for the weekend, but I just couldn't put the book down and had to rush to the ending. Whatever it might have lacked (for me anyway) in real spine-tingling chills (and trust me there was lots there to spook a reader), it more than made up for in being a really good story.
Paver brings all the right elements together to create a real page turner. Although very prickly, Jack is a likable character and the chronicler of this dark tale of an Arctic expedition gone horribly awry. For Jack Miller an opportunity like this rarely comes along. As a matter of fact almost every door of opportunity has shut on Jack. Poor and alone in the world he works as a shipping clerk, but he had bigger dreams once. When he's asked to join a group traveling to the Arctic to study the natural environment he almost declines feeling too much the odd man out. Jack is college educated but isn't in the same league as the other four fellows who are wealthy and uppercrust and most likely insufferable snobs.
Perhaps if Jack hadn't been so unhappy in his life he never would have went to Gruhuken, but it seemed worth a chance and maybe the only chance he would get. A journey that begins in hopeful optimism is from the start riddled with bad luck and bad choices and will spiral into something horrifying. It's obvious that there is something not right about Gruhuken, but the ship's captain is tight lipped about the former mining community. It's now an empty and desolate stretch of coast, but the men have set their sights on setting up camp there. And while things start out well enough Jack senses a malevolent presence that he's hesitant about mentioning to the other men, particularly since no one else seems to feel it.
One by one the numbers dwindle until it's just Jack alone on this lonely stretch of coast. It's only meant to be temporary and surely he can handle taking down the meteorological readings and transmitting his findings daily until his companions return. If he doesn't stay and continue the work the whole expedition will have to be scuppered. But days turn into weeks, the sun sets to an endless night and Jack must admit to himself that there is something out there.
What better place to set a ghost story than an island in the Arctic? The year is 1937, so communication is limited to morse transmissions. Surely there can be no lonelier place in the world. When endless day turns into endless night, there is only a brief twilight and then darkness. A darkness so complete that it's hard to tell up from down out on the snow. The winds howl, storms come up out of nowhere and last for days on end, and as winter approaches the sea becomes an impassable sheet of ice. Jack tells his story through a series of journal entries that become increasingly spooked as he realizes he's not really alone. This is an unnerving story filled with Jack's fear and paranoia. Paver tells it all so well that the iciness from the fear and the cold is almost tangible.
I may have read this on bright sunny days, but I think the horror of the story is a little more subtle than it appears. A really good ghost story plays upon the imagination. So some night when I need to go down to my creaky, old-house basement and it's dark outside, I have a feeling I'll be racing up the stairs two at a time and quickly walk past windows for fear of what's looking in out of the darkness.
If you like a good ghost story, this one is well worth searching for.