Complex twists, intricately crafted narrative, and characters who definitely know more than they’re letting on define a narrow but fascinating subsection of fiction.
Content Warning: These works show characters in extreme circumstances and can involve violence and other adult themes. Please be aware before enjoying.
The Seven and ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
Our narrator wakes up in the body of a man they’ve never met at a formal engagement in the British countryside. They come to discover they are trapped within a “game” of sorts, where they must solve the murder of Evelyn Hardcastle. However, each time the narrator goes to sleep, they wake up inhabiting the body of a different guest. It’s up to our protagonist to determine not only the mystery of the murder, but also the mystery of themselves. Think Agatha Christie meets Groundhog Day, with a light sprinkling of Saw.
If you enjoy locked room mysteries on a grand scale, or enjoyed the Zero Escape video game series, you will find a great debut novel in Turton’s Seven and ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle.
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
Speaking of Agatha Christie, this classic mystery was the inspiration behind the whole genre. Ten people are asked to gather on a remote island off the coast of England. Slowly but surely, the guests begin to find the corpses of the other guests at the event. The aura of dread creeps over the rest of the guests, who are all terrified that they will be next. The language is a bit dated, but the quality of the writing is still top notch.
If you enjoy books with a haunting atmosphere or classic literature, And Then There Were None is an excellent choice.
Death Note written by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata
Academically gifted, but thoroughly bored high school student Light Yagami finds a notebook that seems to have fallen out of the sky. It turns out that the notebook belongs to a god of death and whosever name is written in the notebook will die. Light decides to use this newfound power to try and recreate the world’s society into a crimeless utopia by using the notebook on criminals and is given the moniker Kira by the online community. As more and more victims pile up, a reclusive detective named L takes the case to try and stop the mass murderer Kira.
If you like complicated schemes, graphic novels, or exciting cat-and-mouse mindgames, Death Note might just be for you.
The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
Laura “Lo” Blacklock is a travel journalist who thought she’d overcame her panic attacks. However, a terrifying break-in at her apartment sends all her progress back to zero. But not all is bleak for Lo: She receives the opportunity to cover the maiden voyage of a luxury cruise liner traveling from London to Norway. On her first, sleepless, night she witnesses the body of a woman being thrown overboard. However, no one else witnessed the event, and the ship’s manifest lines up with every passenger on board. Lo quickly abandons her original plans of reporting on the ship’s amenities and obsessively devotes her time to solving the mystery of what exactly happened to the woman she briefly met in cabin 10.
If you enjoy unreliable narrators and maritime stories, The Woman in Cabin 10 could be your new favorite.
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
House of Leaves is an extraordinarily tough to read book in all the best ways. Drawing inspiration from David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, House of Leaves was written as if it were an academic study of a film that is being produced about a haunted(ish) house that never seems to make logical sense and seems to go on forever. The catch is that as that academic study is being written, it gets more and more complex, self-referential and abstract as the book goes on. There are tens of pages of footnotes and footnotes within footnotes; fabricated letters, images, and manuscripts; and text that never seems to want to orient itself in the traditionally read way.
If you want to read what might be the toughest and psychologically most difficult book of your life, House of Leaves will be that.