One of the really fun storylines that can show up in mystery & thriller books is secret societies. These groups are not just products of writers’ imaginations—there are many real known and (unknown) secret organizations that have had prominent members, some who have even gone on to become president of the United States.
The thing about secret societies in mystery books (and probably in real life) is that they are almost always nefarious. Sure, they have cool handshakes and secret passwords and some great perks, like power and prestige. But they also commit crimes, even murder, to accomplish their goals, and it’s up to the protagonists to find them and stop them. Sometimes that requires going undercover to infiltrate them, or finding someone in the organization willing to turn spill the beans. It’s always high-stakes, dangerous, and full of suspense. So get ready: These eight great mystery and thriller books will bring you underground (sometimes literally) to explore villainous organizations at many different levels and spill some dark secrets.
Ann A. McDonald
Cassandra Blackwell arrives in Oxford with one mission: to uncover the truth about her mother’s dark past. Raised in America, with no idea that her mother had ever studied at the famed college, a mysterious package now sends her across the ocean, determined to unravel the secrets that her mother took to her grave. Plunged into the glamorous, secretive life of Raleigh College, Cassie finds a world like no other: a world of ancient tradition, privilege—and murder.
Beneath the hallowed halls of this storied university there is a mysterious force at work . . . A dark society that is shaping our world, and will stop at nothing to keep its grip on power. Cassie might be the only one who can stop them—but at what cost?
Related: Mystery Suspense Meets Dark Academia
In one of the Queen of Crime's few mystery suspense novels that don't feature her famous detectives Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple, a group of young friends staying at the estate manner The Chimneys decide to prank their friend Gerry, who is notorious for oversleeping. But instead, Gerry never wakes up at all, and now it's up to Inspector Battles and Lady Brent to unravel a murder that leads involves a crime ring and a secret society.
In this book, the secret group is populated by good guys. After being witnesses to a murder in Washington D.C., four conspiracy theorists called "The Camel Club" must team up with the very people they don't trust: the United States government. With the help of a Secret Service agent, the Camel Club must find the answers before it's too late for everyone. This is the first of five suspense books in the series, so there's more to read when you're done.
by Brad Meltzer
This is one of the best of suspense novels about shadowy organizations in service to the United States president. Beecher White is a young National Archives staffer who belongs to the Culper Ring, a 200-year-old secret society founded by George Washington to protect the presidency. Beecher will have to make good on his oath to protect the current president when a severed arm is found buried in the White House lawn.
by Jake Tapper
This one is also set in Washington D.C. but in the 1950s. Congressman Charlie Marder and his zoologist wife, Margaret, are plunged into a world of backroom deals, espionage, and secret clubs after a mysterious fatal car accident occurs. Charlie uncovers a conspiracy that could have repercussions around the globe—but who can he trust besides Margaret?
Ian K. Smith
Here's another thrilling story about a secret society, set at one of the most prestigious universities in the world—Harvard. Spenser Collins and Dalton Winthrop become unlikely friends when Spenser is tapped to join the Delphic Club, one of Harvard's oldest and most elite secret societies. Dalton's family has been members going back generations, past even the time when a member disappeared in 1927. But their questions about the club's closely guarded secrets and a group known as the Ancient Nine might cost them not only their memberships but their lives.
Charlie was only seven when her mother disappeared from their lake house, leaving her behind with her father. A decade later, Charlie is sent to a prestigious New England school, where she is invited to be a member of the A's, the school’s elite secret society. But to become a member of the A’s, Charlie will have to participate in dark and dangerous activities, and soon the truth of her past is somehow getting mixed up in the present.
The author of The Silent Patient returns with another great thriller about a therapist who suspects a professor of murder. Mariana Andros's niece attends Cambridge University, where Mariana was once a student herself and is a member of the secret society The Maidens. When one of the other members goes missing, Mariana becomes fixated on proving the Greek Tragedy professor is to blame.