help me complicate my life
June 4, 2010 6:24 AM   Subscribe

Please recommend mystery/thriller novels with incredibly complex plots.

I've almost finished reading the final book in the Millennium Trilogy, and I'm already pining for more.

In addition to liking the characters, I really love the dozens of plot threads that start all confused and separate and then gradually come together to form a clear picture of a crime or conspiracy. It feels like a very satisfying game of solitaire -- all the cards falling neatly into place.

Can you recommend more books like this? Complex crimes are good, but even better are mysteries or thrillers with a lot of interconnected subplots and characters.

I have already read most of Dennis Lehane's, Lee Child's, Ridley Pearson's and Nelson DeMille's books.

I've also read most of P.D. James's books, and I love them, but they don't have the number of subplots I'm interested in here. I'm not just looking for good mysteries. I'm looking for mysteries with LOST/Dickensian plot tangles.
posted by grumblebee to Media & Arts (37 answers total) 85 users marked this as a favorite
I recommend Arc D'X by Steve Erickson. It's a sort of noir-influenced psychedelic mystery that takes place in parallel worlds.
posted by hermitosis at 6:36 AM on June 4, 2010

Consider the Ellery Queen novels, which are some of the most complex from the "golden age" of mysteries.
posted by jbickers at 6:38 AM on June 4, 2010

Harlan Coben does a lot of those (even though I think he's starting to repeat himself thematically).
posted by Etrigan at 6:54 AM on June 4, 2010

Response by poster: I recommend Arc D'X by Steve Erickson. It's a sort of noir-influenced psychedelic mystery that takes place in parallel worlds.

Thanks. I like sci-fi and fantasy, but I'm not looking for anything like that right now. Planet Earth (in our dimension) only, please.
posted by grumblebee at 7:01 AM on June 4, 2010

If you like science fiction, Iain M. Banks has done this supurbly in a few of his books. Probably the best fit for what you're asking is Excession, which also serves as a nice introduction to his Culture universe. Also worth looking at is his Walking On Glass. This reads like three completely unconnected stories (one sci-fi ish, two in contemporary Britain) until they're pulled together, right at the end, in a truly masterful stroke.

I also strongly suggest John Fowles' The Magus. It only has two or three plotlines, but the mystery is complex, supurbly woven and wraps up in a really satisfying way. It pushes all the same buttons that LOST does, except with a satisfying ending.

Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast is slightly harder work (well worth it though, and it'll seem like a breeze compared to Dickens), but probably worth looking at for these criteria. It centres on one character and his plans, which are made pretty explicit, but you get to watch those plans evolve and collide with the equally byzantine plans, conspiracies and madnesses of other characters.
posted by metaBugs at 7:07 AM on June 4, 2010

Aargh, should've previewed. If you don't want sci-fi or fantasy, the only one of my suggestions that still applies is The Magus which, despite some slightly trippy sequences and its name, is set firmly in the real world, albeit in 1950s-ish Greece.
posted by metaBugs at 7:09 AM on June 4, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the sci-fi/fantasy suggestions. Just to be clear, though: I'm looking for books in the Jason Bourne/Tom Clancy/thriller genre.
posted by grumblebee at 7:09 AM on June 4, 2010

Just to be clear, though: I'm looking for books in the Jason Bourne/Tom Clancy/thriller genre.

John LeCarre!
posted by jbickers at 7:17 AM on June 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Anything from George Pelecanos
posted by mdwiffle at 7:23 AM on June 4, 2010

If we're going with Neal Stephenson, Cryptonomicon would be more on point. Though not exactly Clancy-esque, it is non-sci-fi with mystery/thriller elements. It definitely fulfills on the complexity and interconnectedness requirements.
posted by sad_otter at 7:31 AM on June 4, 2010

Best answer: While waiting impatiently for the third book in the the Millennium Trilogy, I also went looking for similar books and stumbled across two great Icelandic series. The first books in each series are:

Jar City by Arnaldur, Indridason
Last Rituals: A Novel of Suspense by Yrsa, Sigurdardottir

If you want to stay in Sweden, I would also recommend Echoes of the Dead by Johan Theorin.
posted by earlygrrl at 7:33 AM on June 4, 2010 [4 favorites]

Planet Earth (in our dimension) only, please.

Sorry, OP. I think myself and some others got thrown by your reference to LOST.
posted by hermitosis at 7:39 AM on June 4, 2010

You might like Kate Atkinson's Case Histories. From what I remember, the mysteries aren't on as large a scale as the Millennium Trilogy (it's more like the Vanger family part of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo than the far-reaching conspiracies and cover-ups of the final books), and the threads that tie the stories together are a bit of a stretch, but it's a page-turner.

Also, James Ellroy's L.A. Confidential. The movie is only half as complicated as the book.
posted by amarynth at 7:42 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: No worries. LOST only intersects with what I'm looking for in terms of number-of-and-interconnectedness-of plots. I mentioned Dickens for the same reason. I'm not looking for anything Dickensian -- unless it also happens to be a murder mystery or crime thriller.
posted by grumblebee at 7:42 AM on June 4, 2010

Try Smilla's Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg for another Scandinavian unintentional detective story.

Seconding LeCarre.
posted by carolr at 8:02 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Anything by Len Deighton, although they don't really have subplots, just lots of plot points that don't necessarily make sense until the end.
posted by me & my monkey at 8:26 AM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm just rereading William Gibson's Spook Country (spoilers in that wiki link, don't scroll down.) This is his non SF book - set quite firmly in 2006, actually - and I think it's great, with a ton of disparate people all slowly coming together into one overarching plot.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:36 AM on June 4, 2010

Response by poster: "Spook County" is a good recommendation, I suspect, as I like Gibson in general. Just a note to others who use this thread. "Spook County" is a sequel to "Pattern Recognition." You may want to read that first.

(I haven't read either. I'm just reporting what I learned from mygothlaudry's link.)
posted by grumblebee at 8:45 AM on June 4, 2010

Iain Pears' An Instance of the Fingerpost
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 8:55 AM on June 4, 2010

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco is not exactly Clancyesqe but rather a historical murder mystery. Include lots of subplots though.

Seconding Smilla's sense of snow.
posted by furisto at 8:56 AM on June 4, 2010

Anything by Mo Hayder is fantastically complicated. Birdman had three plot twists, if I recall correctly, but Hayder managed to tie them all together superbly.
posted by vickyverky at 9:06 AM on June 4, 2010

Best answer: The Quincunx (spoilers in that link) by Charles Palliser is set in 19th Century Britain and concerns a young man who is trying to figure out his inheritance: how much, where it is, who has it, how can he get his hands on it. (He's broke and really needs the money, and the novel vividly describes how much it sucked to be broke in Victorian England.) He is continually perplexed by contradictory stories from different people and the novel tracks his progress in figuring it all out. At over 1200 pages there is a lot of complexity - there's actually a separate, updated diagram of the family tree in each section as the protagonist slowly figures it all out.
posted by Quietgal at 9:06 AM on June 4, 2010 [9 favorites]

Seconding: The Name of the Rose, the Quincunx (damn, I love that book) and An Instance of the Fingerpost.

Wanted to suggest The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, and Stone's Fall by Iain Pears.
posted by Ziggy500 at 9:48 AM on June 4, 2010

Agatha Christie's novels, starting with And Then There Were None
posted by chalbe at 11:06 AM on June 4, 2010

Response by poster: It's been 20 years since I've read Christie, but I don't remember her books being a tangle of subplots. I remember them being traditional detective novels in which a single investigator comes to one place and solves a murder. Am I misremembering?
posted by grumblebee at 12:14 PM on June 4, 2010

I would heartily 2nd Cryptonomicon. It's no more sci-fi than Pattern Recognition/Spook Country, and really has a similar plots coming together thing.
posted by grapesaresour at 12:48 PM on June 4, 2010

No, you're not misremembering... a lot of the books/authors recommended here, while great reads, do not really meet your criteria at all.

I don't have any new to add, but I will second (edit: third) Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson - maybe not "dozens" of plot threads, but it does have several excellent characters (some fictionalized versions of real people) and two separate timelines (WWII and present day) that all tie together nicely. Definitely some techno-thriller aspects, and you will learn a lot about cryptography in a very entertaining way. One of my favorites.

Anathem, on the other hand, while also excellent, is science fiction, and definitely not multi-plotted.
posted by Roommate at 12:56 PM on June 4, 2010

I really enjoyed The City and the City by China Mieville.
posted by lexicakes at 8:55 PM on June 4, 2010

Response by poster: "The City and the City" is fantasy.
posted by grumblebee at 6:31 AM on June 5, 2010

"The City and the City" is fantasy.

Actually, it's not. It often gets lumped into fantasy since that's what Mieville is known for... and it is decidedly odd, but nothing that happens in the book couldn't conceivably happen in "the real world". There are no ghosts, fantastical creatures, alternate dimensions, etc. The two cities and everyone in them are both firmly grounded in reality. The citizens just go through a lot of mental backflips to coexist the way they need to. The fact that it could happen if people were really devoted to making it happen is what makes it so fascinating to me. And that's all I'll say about it to avoid spoilers.
posted by Roommate at 7:23 AM on June 5, 2010

That said, while it is a very complicated book, and a murder mystery, it doesn't meet the "multiple plotlines coming together" criteria of the original question. One narrator, one plotline.
posted by Roommate at 7:49 AM on June 5, 2010

The Eight is just plain fun to read.
posted by selfmedicating at 4:49 PM on June 5, 2010

I have been re-reading book 3 today which I have certainly enjoyed and also am looking for new reads.

I am absolutely enthralled by everything I've read by Laurie R. King.

Also make sure you have read the early Dennis Lehane series in addition to his later stand alone books.
posted by mickbw at 7:17 PM on June 5, 2010

Foucault's Pendulum also offers a tangle of craziness, and is contemporary, but I'm not sure Eco is to your taste, as his stuff is incredibly meta. I'll second L. A. Confidential, though; Ellroy's stuff is just great.
posted by mwhybark at 8:27 PM on June 6, 2010

Reading the first Larsson book, I was reminded of Smilla.
I'm reading John Burdett's Bangok books, and they remind me of Larsson.
posted by MtDewd at 1:44 PM on June 7, 2010

Try The Suspect by Michael Robotham.
posted by cherrybounce at 8:55 PM on June 7, 2010

So I went and reread Pattern Recognition after reading that Wiki link myself and I think it is pretty much wrong. Yes, they're kind of interrelated - there are a couple of characters who are in both books - but Spook Country definitely is not a sequel in any regular sense of the word. They can each be read independently with no continuity issues. I also liked Spook Country better than Pattern Recognition, fwiw.
posted by mygothlaundry at 12:02 PM on June 8, 2010

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