The best mysteries and thrillers set in a dark moody atmosphere

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m not sure where my love of thrillers in dark settings originated. I’ve always loved mysteries – starting out with Nancy Drew as a kid and then graduating to more mature material as I got older – and a setting that feels like a character in itself is fascinating to me. My love of the dark, moody element has developed as I’ve gotten older I spent my twenties reading a lot of chick lit and upbeat fiction, but something has shifted in the last decade or so that caused me to embrace the darkness a bit more. 


I wrote...

The Water Tower

By Amy Young,

Book cover of The Water Tower

What is my book about?

Josie Ashbury was a successful Hollywood actress with a booming career – until an on-set breakdown sends her back to her small Ohio hometown to recover. Taking a job teaching at her old high school, Josie is beginning to put the pieces of her life back together when one of her students dies under suspicious circumstances. The police close the case quickly, without any real answers. Josie is determined to find the truth behind the girl's death.

At the same time, Josie is battling demons of her own. As she faces debilitating insomnia that leaves her with gaps in her memory, she dives into the tangled secrets surrounding the investigation. When she finally unravels the web, she discovers that the truth lies much closer to home than she could have ever imagined.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Turn of the Key

Amy Young Why did I love this book?

Just to start off, Ruth Ware is an absolutely phenomenal writer and I love all of her work.

The Turn of the Key is one of my favorite books because it is a (loose) retelling of Henry James’ novella, The Turn of the Screw. Ware updated the tale in a particularly chilling way - a young woman arrives in the Scottish Highlands for a nannying job in a giant “smart” home. What she doesn’t realize is that in exchange for convenience, she’ll end up paying dearly.

The writing style is classic Ruth Ware, where the atmosphere feels like a character in itself - and a menacing one at that.  

By Ruth Ware,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Turn of the Key as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THEIR DREAM HOUSE WILL BECOME HER WORST NIGHTMARE

'Ruth Ware just gets better and better' Lisa Jewell, bestselling author of The Family Upstairs

'The queen of creepy crime' Metro

When Rowan comes across the advert, it seems too good to be true: a live-in nanny position, with an extremely generous salary.

What she doesn't know is that she's stepping into a nightmare - one that will end with her in a cell awaiting trial for murder.

She knows she's made mistakes.
But she's not guilty - at least not of murder.
Which means someone else is...

THE TURN OF THE…


Book cover of Ninth House

Amy Young Why did I love this book?

Ninth House is a bit of a departure from my normal choice of genre. This is a fantasy novel, but it takes place at Yale.

Focusing on the well-known “secret” societies that have been an institution at Yale for generations, Bardugo asks the question, what if there was more to these groups than just influence? What if they actually trafficked in black magic? Narrated by Galaxy (Alex) Stern, we see the school through the eyes of an outsider - Alex, a high school dropout, who was recruited by Yale because she has a very special gift.

The way Bardugo writes, you can feel the cold, gray winter of New Haven as though you are living it. No spoilers, but if you haven’t read this novel because it falls into the fantasy genre, read it immediately.

By Leigh Bardugo,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Ninth House as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

*The adult debut from the author of SHADOW AND BONE - now a Netflix Original series!*

The instant SUNDAY TIMES and NEW YORK TIMES bestseller that Stephen King calls 'Impossible to put down'.

Galaxy 'Alex' Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale's freshman class. A dropout and the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved crime, Alex was hoping for a fresh start. But a free ride to one of the world's most prestigious universities was bound to come with a catch.

Alex has been tasked with monitoring the mysterious activities of Yale's secret societies - well-known haunts of the…


Book cover of The Girls Are All So Nice Here

Amy Young Why did I love this book?

The Girls Are All So Nice Here uses one of my favorite literary devices: dual timelines.

We bounce back and forth between Ambrosia (Amb) Wellington’s freshman year of college and her ten-year college reunion, where she is confronted by the secrets she has been keeping for the last decade. I’m a sucker for dark academia, and this book’s setting felt so real, it could have been my own alma mater.

By Laurie Elizabeth Flynn,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Girls Are All So Nice Here as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Gone Girl meets Mean Girls and The Secret History' Guardian

A darkly intoxicating novel of female friendship and obsession that will keep you turning the pages, perfect for fans of My Dark Vanessa and The Virgin Suicides

-----------------

Nice girls can do bad things...

When Ambrosia first arrives at prestigious college Wesleyan, she's desperate to fit in. But Amb struggles to navigate the rules of this strange, elite world, filled with privileged 'nice' young women - until she meets the charismatic but troubled Sully, with whom she forms an obsessive friendship.

Intoxicated by Sully's charm and determined to impress her,…


Book cover of If We Were Villains

Amy Young Why did I love this book?

If We Were Villains centers around seven students enrolled in the elite Shakespeare program at Dellecher Classical Conservatory.

The fictional college is housed on the grounds of an old country estate in rural Illinois, and the novel unfolds in the autumn and winter. The way Rio weaves Shakespearean passages into the book to reflect what the students are experiencing at the time is flawless. But this book isn’t just for Shakespeare fans (though it helps a little if you don’t hate it); it provides enough twists and turns to make even the most sophisticated thriller reader’s head spin.

By M. L. Rio,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked If We Were Villains as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Oliver Marks has just served ten years for the murder of one of his closest friends - a murder he may or may not have committed. On the day he's released, he's greeted by the detective who put him in prison. Detective Colborne is retiring, but before he does, he wants to know what really happened ten years ago. As a young actor studying Shakespeare at an elite arts conservatory, Oliver noticed that his talented classmates seem to play the same roles onstage and off - villain, hero, tyrant, temptress - though Oliver felt doomed to always be a secondary…


Book cover of The Thirteenth Tale

Amy Young Why did I love this book?

In what I would call a modern gothic setting, the story revolves around a reclusive author and the missing thirteenth tale from her collection of stories.

The author commissions a biographer to write the story of her life, which she has fictionalized throughout her entire career. There’s a governess, ghosts, an amazing garden, and an insane fire – all of which stack up for one heck of a great novel.

By Diane Setterfield,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked The Thirteenth Tale as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Simply brilliant' Kate Mosse, international bestselling author of Labyrinth

***

Everybody has a story...

Angelfield House stands abandoned and forgotten.

It was once home to the March family: fascinating, manipulative Isabelle; brutal, dangerous Charlie; and the wild, untamed twins, Emmeline and Adeline. But the house hides a chilling secret which strikes at the very heart of each of them, tearing their lives apart...

Now Margaret Lea is investigating Angelfield's past, and its mysterious connection to the enigmatic writer Vida Winter. Vida's history is mesmering - a tale of ghosts, governesses, and gothic strangeness. But as Margaret succumbs to the power…


You might also like...

Price of Vengeance

By Kurt D. Springs,

Book cover of Price of Vengeance

Kurt D. Springs

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Teacher Cook Barista Guardian

Kurt's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Liam was orphaned at the age of two by a group of giant carnivorous insects called the chitin. Taken in by High Councilor Marcus and his wife, Lidia, Liam was raised with their older son, Randolf in New Olympia, the last remaining city on the planet Etrusci.

As an adult, Liam becomes a soldier. After being cut off from the city, Liam finds that there is an alien intelligence behind the chitin. To defeat it, he must discover who he is and how to use his powers. Then, Liam discovers that a traitor, responsible for his birth parents' deaths, had…

Price of Vengeance

By Kurt D. Springs,

What is this book about?

"From the cover to the opening pages, Price of Vengeance grabs the reader and takes them on a wild ride. Fasten your seat belts for this book." -S. J. Francis, author of Shattered Lies

What is the Price of Vengeance? One could understand why Liam was angry. He was orphaned at the age of two by a group of giant carnivorous insects called the chitin. Taken in by High Councilor Marcus and his wife, Lidia, Liam was raised with their older son, Randolf in New Olympia, the last remaining city on the planet Etrusci.

As an adult, Liam becomes a…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in murder, murder mystery, and the Scottish Highlands?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about murder, murder mystery, and the Scottish Highlands.

Murder Explore 959 books about murder
Murder Mystery Explore 503 books about murder mystery
The Scottish Highlands Explore 41 books about the Scottish Highlands