Feature

Marisha Pessl's 6 favorite stories of suspense

The author recommends works by Bram Stoker, Agatha Christie, and more

Neverworld Wake, Marisha Pessl's new novel and first for young adults, focuses on five recent prep-school graduates haunted by a friend's death. Below, the author of Night Film and Special Topics in Calamity Physics names her favorite suspense tales.

Dracula by Bram Stoker (Dover, $7).

A marvel of construction and a master class in suspense, this magnum opus of dread is, to me, the perfect novel. The story unfolds through diary entries, newspaper articles, letters, and shipping logs, and grabs you from the first page. It is also the ultimate proof that literature's most pernicious villains come to life in the testimonies of others, preying on our fear of what remains just out of sight.

Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie (William Morrow, $15).

My grandmother introduced me at an early age to the grand dame of mystery, and Christie remains one of my favorite writers. I still love this Hercule Poirot tale for its exotic setting, the unchecked passions and heartaches of its characters, and the shock twist ending.

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Dover, $4).

My favorite detective novel. Sherlock Holmes and Watson are in fine form as they muddle around completely out of their element in Conan Doyle's most gothic setting: windswept Dartmoor in Devon. The dark finale is pure Holmes.

The Scapegoat by Daphne du Maurier (Penn Press, $20).

While Rebecca made Du Maurier famous, I love this lesser-known novel about a quiet, unassuming man who encounters his doppelgänger and switches lives with him. Du Maurier is second to none in creating narrative tension, and she keeps you guessing.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (Little, Brown, $11).

I love how Tartt runs the mystery of a stolen 16th-century goldfinch painting through her sprawling narrative like a gleaming thread of gold as she explores life, death, art, the isolation of modern existence, and everything in between. The novel is a grand, roaring orchestra with a little haunting theme running throughout. Just beautiful.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke (Tor, $10).

An alternative history created by British magicians — what's not to love? Clarke provides a historian's level of detail along with arch British humor. I love the footnotes, the characters, the landscape, the density, and the fact that Clarke completely ignores the fact that people no longer have 19th-century attention spans. After racing through her 1,000-plus pages, I could have read another 1,000.

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