One of the most popular sub-genres of mystery and suspense books over the last several years is dark academia. In dark academia novels, mysteries and crimes take place on campus, usually either a high school or a college. They often involve faculty and students who are wealthy or elitist in some way, and many have a revenge plot. While there has been a recent surge in popularity, dark academia books have been around for many years. For example, there was Cat Among the Pigeons by Agatha Christie in 1959, Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan in 1978, and The Secret History by Donna Tartt, the legendary 1992 novel by which all other campus novels are measured.
Why are dark academia books so popular? Is it the idea that a supposedly safe place, such as a school campus, is dangerous? Is it the allure of the wealthy and revered behaving badly? Is it the thrill of young characters away from home for the first time getting into so much trouble? Whatever the reason, the sub-genre continues to grow, with more incredible suspense novels set at schools being added each month. So put down your pencils and silence your cellphones, because here are six great campus thrillers to add to your TBR.
College student Charlie Jordan is looking to get off campus. Her best friend has become the third victim of a serial killer known as the Campus Killer, and now she wants nothing more than to get back home to Ohio to the comfort of her family. But she can't get there alone, so she's sharing the drive with Josh Baxter, a man she met on the campus message board who needs to get home to help care for his ailing father. But as the trip progresses, Charlie starts to notice holes in Josh's story and she finds his behavior suspicious and frightening. Could it be that her trip home to safety has turned into a nightmare on wheels?
Another great dark academia trope is a reunion! Duquette University is hosting a ten-year reunion on campus, and Jessica Miller is looking forward to attending. Back when she graduated, she was a shadow of the woman everyone will meet now. It was partly because of the murder of Heather Shelby, a young woman who was a part of a tight-knit group of friends that included Jessica. But Jessica's dreams of a fun and breezy reunion aren't going to happen. Because Heather's murder was never solved, and someone at the reunion is ready to bring the killer (or killers) to light—and make them pay.
Alex Michaelides is the author of The Silent Patient, one of the most popular suspense books of 2019, and he has done it again with this propulsive tale of psychological suspense. Brilliant group therapist Mariana Andros is certain that Edward Fosca has committed murder and gotten away with it. Fosca is a handsome and charismatic Greek tragedy professor at Cambridge University who is beloved by faculty and students alike, especially the elite group called The Maidens. When a friend of Mariana's niece, one of the Maidens, is murdered, Mariana becomes obsessed with proving Fosca's guilt, even if it costs her career, her sanity, and her life.
And for people who are always looking for a Secret History readalike, this is a great choice! Detective Colborne has been waiting ten years for Oliver Marks to get out of prison. A decade ago, Oliver was one of seven promising young Shakespearean actors at Dellecher Classical Conservatory when he was arrested for a murder. Colborne had no choice but to charge Oscar for the crime, because all the evidence pointed to him, but he's always had his doubts. And now that Colborne is retired and Oscar is a free man, he's determined to learn the real truth about that night ten years ago.
Related: Mystery Suspense Meets Dark Academia
Megan Abbott is the contemporary queen of lethal teen drama, and Dare Me is one of her best. Addy and Beth have always been best friends and constant companions in high school, both in the classroom and on the cheer squad. But the arrival of a young new coach shakes up the squad dynamics, and the girls find themselves fighting for positions and the coach's attention—until the news of a death close to them threatens to expose the dark heart of the squad and ruin their futures. Who will be left with something to cheer about?
And last, but not least, one of the most popular dark academia mystery books in translation, a delicious tale of revenge! Middle school teacher Yuko Moriguchi's whole life was her pupils and her four-year-old daughter. But when an apparent accident at school claims her daughter's life, Yuko's world is shattered. She decides to leave the school, but not before she delivers one last lecture to her students. It will be a riveting, revealing story about two of their classmates, and the ending is going to shock them all.
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