Campus settings in thrillers is such a hot trend right now and one I have personally enjoyed. There’s something about that school setting… and a campus full of suspects make things feel a bit more sinister. I believe fall fanatics can agree that autumnal vibes within a thriller make it just a little bit better. Between boarding schools to prep schools to colleges, this genre creates some of the most devilish and atmospheric stories. Fun fact: Donna Tartt made me fall in love with in her novel The Secret History, which turned me into a reader who now searches for the dark academia setting and is rarely disappointed when I find it. From serial killers targeting psychopaths to a reunion centered around a cold case murder, here are some of the best stories that feature the academic settings.
In My Dreams I Hold a Knife by Ashley Winstead
Jessica Miller is planning her return to the elite Duquette University for her ten-year reunion, determined to show everyone she’s nothing like she was when she graduated. The last time Jessica’s core group of friends were together, their friendships were ripped apart when one of their friends, Heather, was brutally murdered and another was implicated in her death but not convicted. Now, ten years later as the group reunites, someone is determined to make the guilty party pay—and will stop at nothing to get revenge as the group’s secrets come to light in devastating and shocking reveals.
Never Saw Me Coming by Vera Kurian
Chloe Sevre is far from your average college freshman. She is not only a psychopath who is plotting to murder another student named Will Bachman, but also part of a clinical study involving other student psychopaths. When one of the other students in the study is murdered, Chloe begins to think someone is actually hunting the students partaking in the study. As Chloe walks the thin line between hunter and prey, she must work together with a couple of other students in the study to find out who is stalking them. Whoever it is, they better not get in her way when the day comes for her to kill Will.
Tell Me Everything by Cambria Brockman
In her first few weeks at Hawthorne College, Malin finds a core group of friends that will stick with each other for four years, no matter what. But, with Malin, things aren’t always what they seem: she not only is hiding a secret past from her group of friends, but keeping track of what really makes them tick. By Senior Day, secrets begin to rise to the surface with the group of friends and a chain of events leads to murder as Malin desperately tries to keep her secrets buried.
Good Girls Lie by J.T. Ellison
The Goode School is a prestigious prep school for daughters of the wealthy and elite, but this isn’t your average boarding school. Here, appearances are everything and some rules were meant to be—and allowed to be—broken, just as long as it’s hidden from sight. From the cruelties of young women to a long-standing secret society, The Goode School is about to be the center of a major scandal when a popular student is found dead and rumors of a deadly secret threaten to tarnish the school’s glossy reputation.
She Was the Quiet One by Michele Campbell
Twin sisters Rose and Bel Enright have recently enrolled in the Odell Academy, a New England boarding school that is the opportunity of a lifetime. When Bel falls in with a wild and dangerous crowd, their pranks turn sinister when Bel is pressured to haze Rose, causing a major rift in their relationship. When Rose turns to her dorm mother Sarah for advice, Bel forms a relationship with Sarah’s husband Heath. As everyone’s motives become murky, relationships become twisted, and seduction bubbles to the surface—but only one Enright sister is going to be left standing.
They Never Learn by Layne Fargo
Scarlett Clark is a brilliant English professor … and a murderer. Every year, Scarlett kills whoever she believes to be the worst man on campus, and so far, this has all been practice for her biggest takedown yet. When the campus officials begin to investigate the school’s questionably high body count, Scarlett gets as close as she can to the woman in charge. Carloy Schiller is a freshman at the same college Scarlett works at, and finds herself entangled in an intense friendship with her new roommate, Allison. When Allison is sexually assaulted at a party, it appears that Scarlett may not be the only one who has an obsession with ridding the campus of horrible men, which comes clear as Carly begins to plot her own style of revenge.
For Your Own Good by Samantha Downing
Teddy Crutcher is the Teacher of the Year at Belmont Academy, a prestigious private school. When a few mysterious deaths on campus look more like murder than coincidence, a couple of students begin to look a little too closely into Teddy’s personal life. But, things aren’t always what they seem for the man who appears to have it all, when it becomes crystal clear that Teddy plans on sticking true to his title and vows to not let anyone get in his way. Can the students who suspect Teddy has deadly secrets of his own get to the truth, before they are the next ones that have to learn a hard lesson?
The Maidens by Alex Michaelides
Mariana is a therapist who has to travel to Cambridge when her niece Zoe’s friend is murdered. Upon her arrival, she becomes fixated on a Greek tragedy professor named Edward Fosca, who she is certain is a murderer. But Edward is also the main fixation of a secret society of female students known as The Maidens. When another body is found and Mariana’s suspicions that Edward is guilty become unbearable, her obsession gets out of control and no one will come between her and finding proof that Edward is a cold-blooded killer.