One of my favorite things to read is a solid literary thriller or mystery. Combining the beautiful prose of literary fiction with the dark and mysterious plots of a thriller is the ultimate reading experience. Giving you the best of both worlds with immersive storylines and interesting characters along with beautiful and vivid imagery, here are some of the best literary thrillers!
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
The perfect Fall literary mystery, Tartt combines a New England campus setting with a group of characters that pour their hearts out to you. Richard Pappin is determined to be admitted into the eccentric group of friends that Greek mythology professor Julian Morrow has created. Realizing what is at stake, Richard is willing to do whatever it takes to be part of this elusive group, including creating a secret past.
In the Woods by Tana French
As the start of a fantastic series, In the Woods was chilling and immersive by combining two crimes that are decades apart that may or may not be related. In Dublin during the summer of 1984, a group of friends go out to play in the woods and only one eventually comes home, with no memory of what happened. Twenty years later, that sole survivor is a detective whose latest case is the murder of a twelve-year-old girl found in the same woods that his friends disappeared in all those years ago.
A Crooked Tree by Una Mannion
Combining elements of a coming-of-age story with a harrowing mystery, A Crooked Tree is haunting and poignant. In the 1980s, fifteen-year-old Libby is riding home with her twelve-year-old sister Ellen and their mother. When the girls’ exhausted mother has had enough of the arguing in the backseat, she pulls over five miles from home and makes Ellen walk home in the dark as punishment. What the family and the reader are both unprepared for is what happens after the car drives away, leaving Ellen alone as the sun is beginning to set.
When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McClain
When the Stars Go Dark is such an amazing story that is equally eerie and exquisite. Anna Hart is a detective in San Francisco who flees from a tragedy to Mendocino, the town she grew up in. Upon her arrival, she learns of a teenage girl who has gone missing, which is oddly similar to a crime that occurred during Anna’s childhood.
These Violent Delights by Micah Nemerever
In a story that will stick with you long after the finale, These Violent Delights is the perfect LGBTQ+ literary thriller combining a twisted love story and a coming-of-age tale. Paul is still reeling from the death of his father when he meets Julian at a university in Pittsburgh during the 1970s. Julian is charming and mysterious and Paul is immediately drawn to him, and becomes obsessed with proving to Julian that he is worthy of his friendship. As the friendship turns to a relationship and Paul gets more in tune with who Julian really is deep down, obsession turns to violence and neither man is prepared for what’s to come.
Where the Truth Lies by Anna Bailey
Both heart wrenching and brutal, this story reminded me of the movie The Ice Storm, where a small town full of vivid characters whose storylines all intensely are woven together after tragedy. Emma has been harboring guilt for leaving her best friend Abigail at a party where Abigail went missing. Although the police believe Abigail ran away, Emma knows deep down her best friend wouldn’t leave her behind. When the police discover evidence in the woods and the secrets of the people in the community begin to paint a picture of something darker, Emma gets closer to unraveling the truth of what happened the night Abigail went missing.
The Turnout by Megan Abbott
Megan Abbott is sensational when it comes to mysteries involving female relationships and excels at that unsettling and ominous tone. Sisters Dara and Marie Durant have been dancers their whole lives. After their parents tragic and unexpected deaths, they are left with their mother’s dance school. Between Marie being the kind and gentle teacher, Dara being the teacher built to train on perfection, and Dara’s husband Charlie running the back office, the three keep the studio successful. When an unexpected person interrupts the three with their presence and tragedy strikes, the balance between sisterhood and loyalty is tested.
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Celeste Ng is one of my favorite storytellers, and Everything I Never Told You is emotionally claustrophobic and gently paced, making it impossible to look away. A Chinese American family in 1970s Ohio is devastated when their high school daughter Lydia is found dead in the local lake. As each family member deals with her death in different ways, the family dynamic is thrown into a chaos: Lydia’s father feels consumed with guilt, her mother is hellbent on revenge, her older brother is suspicious of a neighbor, and the younger child may be hiding the truth about what happened to Lydia the night she died.