Literary fiction, like most other genres, comes in many guises. If you enjoy suspenseful plots, twisty surprises, dark themes, and rich character development, then these literary thrillers will be right up your alley. These books run the gamut from chilling tales of dark academia and haunting family dramas to thrillers that explore violence against women and beautifully written stories about the aftermath of deadly crimes. No matter what kind of book you’re in the mood for, these six literary novels will satisfy your desire for beautiful writing, big themes, and spine-tingling suspense, all at the same time.
The Holdout has a fascinating premise: ten years after the trial, the jurors from a case that received a lot of national media attention are reunited for a true crime docu-series. The story centers on Maya Seale, the young woman who convinced her fellow jurors that a Black teacher on trial for murdering his white student was innocent. Now one of those jurors is certain they got the verdict wrong. Maya, a successful defense attorney, reluctantly agrees to the reunion. And then one of the jurors is found dead, and Maya is the number one suspect. This is a fast-paced literary legal thriller that explores racism in the criminal justice system and offers plenty of sharp social commentary.
by James Ellroy
A classic of crime fiction, The Big Nowhere is the second book in Ellroy's famous LA Quartet. Set in Los Angeles in the 1950s, it follows three men whose lives become entangled amid a backdrop of violence, corruption, and greed. Danny Upshaw is a young detective working the case of a murdered jazz musician that nobody but him seems to care about. LAPD veteran Mal Considine is gathering evidence of communist activity at the height of the Red Scare. He's aided by ex-cop Buzz Meeks, who's as comfortable taking money from criminals as he is locking them up. As the cases collide, these three men are forced to wrestle with the consequences of their actions, both in the present and in the past.
If you enjoy suspense thriller books that focus on the why of a crime, rather than the who or the how then you'll want to pick up The Majesties. The story follows two sisters, Gwendolyn and Estella, part of a large and very wealthy Chinese-Indonesian family. They've always been incredibly close, until the day that Estella poisons the entire family. Gwendolyn wakes up in a coma, the only survivor, faced with a terrifying question: why did the sister she thought she knew so well commit such an atrocious act? This dark and richly layered novel delves into the dangerous secrets families hold, and the many ways the past continually haunts the present.
In The Opium-Eater, David Morrell revisits the protagonist of his bestselling Victorian mysteries, Thomas De Quincy. De Quincy was a real person, a strange and brilliant 18th-century writer, whose book Confessions of an English Opium-Eater was one of the earliest books to portray drug addiction. In this chilling and atmospheric short story, based on real events, Morrell reimagines De Quincy's story of a deadly snowstorm in the hills of the Lake District. A married couple died, and their six children were trapped in the mountains. What happened afterward was even more harrowing, and reveals how De Quincy became the titular opium-eater.
One of the most beloved and well-known literary fiction thriller books of the last thirty years, The Secret History is a must-read for fans of dark, suspenseful dramas. It follows a group of students at an elite New England college who fall under the spell of their charming classics professor, Julian Morrow. The students—smart, passionate, and all outsiders in one way or another—are drawn in by the allure of Morrow, and the secret, enthralling life he offers them. But as the students become more and more insulated from the rest of the world, their obsession soon becomes dangerous, eventually leading to a murder that will change their lives forever.
The Body Lies is a psychological thriller about the costs, seen and unseen, of living as a woman in a society that so often devalues, dehumanizes, and fetishes female bodies. The story begins with a young writer accepting a job at a remote university town, desperate to flee London and the memories of the violent assault she suffered there. But when the subject of violence against women comes up in her creative writing seminar, her past traumas resurface in every facet of her life. She soon realizes that one of her students is writing about her, and that the story he's writing is a grim one. In order to save herself from the fate of her fictional doppelgänger, she's forced to confront both her student and her past.
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