Listen up, class: Some of the best mysteries and thrillers out there are set on a school campus. Categorized as “dark academia,” these books are moody and mysterious narratives that usually take place within the confines of an esteemed university or boarding school. Think: darkened libraries, cloak-and-dagger campus societies, looming Gothic towers, and college quads buzzing with intrigue. Ready to schedule your own campus visit? So are we. Here are the best dark academia books that will keep you reading until closing time at the research library.
11 Gripping Dark Academia Books
Dive into scholarship’s sinister side.
By Brandon Miller
By Jean Hanff Korelitz
Academic deception plays a central role in Jean Hanff Korelitz’s latest novel. The Plot centers on Jacob Finch Bonner, a middling professor who teaches at a subpar M.F.A. program. Once a promising young writer, Jacob now struggles to generate a page of decent prose. So when he learns that an arrogant student named Evan Parker has passed away without publishing his stellar novel-in-progress, Jacob decides to steal Evan’s plot and claim it as his own. Years later, the now-famous Jacob must reckon with his misdeeds after an anonymous individual makes it clear that they know what happened. Who else knows about his terrible secret — and what’s the true story behind the stolen plot?
By Alex Michaelides
The Maidens is the highly anticipated new novel from Alex Michaelides, author of the bestselling thriller The Silent Patient. Set at Cambridge University, it traces one woman’s obsession with a magnetic professor and the murder she believes he committed. Greek tragedy professor Edward Fosca is adored by all, including the Maidens, a secret society of female students. When one of the women in the Maidens is murdered, group therapist Mariana Andros is convinced Fosca is to blame. Andros’s suspicions soon consume her, leading her down a dangerous path that may cost the therapist her life.
The Secret History
By Donna Tartt
Donna Tartt’s The Secret History has been called the “foundational text” of dark academia books. First published in 1992, the novel centers on Richard Papen, a student at an elite college in New England who falls in with an enigmatic campus clique. The members of the clique follow in the shadow of a charming but morally corrupt Classics professor, and it isn’t long before Richard finds himself ensnared in the clique’s treacherous secrets.
By Leigh Bardugo
Written by New York Times bestselling author Leigh Bardugo, Ninth House combines magic and murder with the privileged air of an Ivy League school. The book takes place at Yale University, where protagonist Galaxy “Alex” Stern must figure out why she — the lone survivor of an unsolved murder spree — was given a full-ride scholarship by anonymous benefactors. What’s more, Alex’s scholarship comes with a catch: She must monitor the school’s secret societies and their warped, sinister practices.
By Kate Weinberg
The New York Times Book Review listed Kate Weinberg’s The Truants as one of the top crime books of 2020, and we have to agree. The suspenseful novel focuses on Jess Walker, who meets a group of misfits after she enrolls in a seminar taught by the magnetic Dr. Lorna Clay. Though things start off fine, friendships and romances soon turn sour, tragedy occurs, and dark secrets are exposed in this entrancing whodunnit.
They Never Learn
By Layne Fargo
Layne Fargo’s They Never Learn is a deliciously sinister story about Scarlett Clark, a popular Gorman University professor who also happens to be a serial killer. Each school year, Scarlett identifies the worst man on campus and methodically plans his demise. But when investigators appear in response to the growing body count, Professor Clark must do everything she can to keep her blood-soaked secret hidden. Meanwhile, student Carly Schiller is hellbent on revenge after her roommate is sexually assaulted at a party. It isn’t long before their paths converge. But will the ongoing investigation into the murders complicate the two women’s quest for revenge on campus rapists?
By Christopher Yates
Black Chalk received rave reviews when it came out in 2015, and author Christopher Yates has since gone on to publish the equally thrilling Grist Mill Road. In Black Chalk, Yates focuses on six friends who, as freshmen at Oxford University, engaged in an escalating game of forfeits and dares. Their sinister escapades took a tragic turn — but it wasn’t the end of the game. Fourteen years later, the remaining members must meet in New York City for one final round of truth-or-dare terror.
The Ancient Nine
By Ian Smith
This bestselling thriller by Ian Smith is set at Harvard University, circa 1988. Two students — humble Spenser Collins and privileged Dalton Winthrop — become friends after joining the Delphic Club, one of Harvard’s most famous all-male cliques. The club’s secrets are protected by the Ancient Nine, a group of all-powerful, anonymous alums. But when Spenser and Dalton uncover a 1927 disappearance connected to the clique, they soon find themselves in the crosshairs of the formidable inner circle.
By Dervla McTiernan
Dervla McTiernan’s The Scholar is an atmospheric crime novel set in the intensely competitive world of academia. Early one morning, Dr. Emma Sweeney finds the victim of a hit-and-run near Galway University in Ireland. Sweeney calls her boyfriend, Detective Cormac Reilly, to report the grisly discovery. The victim is none other than Caroline Darcy, heir to a pharmaceutical giant that holds tremendous sway over Ireland, Galway University, and even Dr. Sweeney’s own research. As the investigation intensifies, Cormac’s methods come under scrutiny. He soon begins doubting himself and those around him. Who was Caroline Darcy, and who really is Emma Sweeney?
The Black Hour
By Lori Rader-Day
This enthralling thriller makes its way onto our list because of both its college setting and its mysterious plot. In Lori Rader-Day’s The Black Hour, Chicago professor Amelia Emmet is shot in a seemingly random attack by a student she’s never met. The attacker then proceeds to shoot himself. Emmet survives the harrowing ordeal. When she returns to campus, however, she crosses paths with a graduate student who wants to study her attack as a research project. Together, Emmet, an expert on the sociology of violence, and her assistant search for answers about what really happened that fateful day.
If We Were Villains
By M.L. Rio
If We Were Villains is about friendship, rivalry, and obsession. The bulk of the story is set at Dellecher Classical Conservatory in Ohio. Ten years ago, Oliver Marks was one of seven Shakespearean actors attending the elite school, but a heinous crime in Oliver’s fourth year led to his being jailed. Upon Oliver’s release, Detective Colborne is ready to hear the whole story. What exactly happened in this cutthroat thespian realm that led to real-world tragedy?