Looking for a literary thriller (or sci-fi)
July 8, 2018 10:31 PM   Subscribe

What are some good books I should read that fall in the thriller / suspense genre, but may be highly regarded as literature (for whatever your definition of that is).

Thrillers that I couldn't get through because they weren't well written IMO:

- John le Carré's Our Kind of Traitor
- Shantaram

Thriller that I liked because it was well-written:

- The Calcutta Chromosome by Amitave Ghosh.

Also looking for the same in the sci-fi genre.
posted by raheel to Writing & Language (23 answers total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
The City and the City by China Mieville is a literary sci-fi detective novel which was partly written in homage to Raymond Chandler. Plus it's $1.99 on Kindle right now and it's awesome.
posted by hungrytiger at 10:43 PM on July 8, 2018 [5 favorites]

Ian Pears’ An Instance of the Fingerpost If you are a history buff and like multiple points of view it is a very good read.
posted by jadepearl at 11:13 PM on July 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

I suggest you give some of the earlier John Le Carré, before he became preachy, a try. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold is a genuine literary classic.
posted by tavegyl at 1:38 AM on July 9, 2018 [8 favorites]

A couple classics I can recommend:

The Journeying Boy - Michael Innes
Very well written. All sort of mystery and intrigue but in the end, a thriller.

The Circular Staircase by Mary Roberts Rinehart
This was pioneering in many ways with that sense of 'how can you prevent what you know is going to happen' Also, its out of copyright.
posted by vacapinta at 1:54 AM on July 9, 2018

The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh (since you liked The Calcutta Chromosome). The Feluda Series by Satyajit Ray?

As for sci fi/alternate reality, I’ve heard excellent things about Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. Full disclosure: I didn’t enjoy it but I don’t particularly like sci fi/alt reality.
posted by dostoevskygirl at 1:59 AM on July 9, 2018

Two classics I can think of - Solaris - Stanislaw Lem (sci-fi) or The name of the rose - Umberto Eco ? (Medieval murder mystery)
posted by Nilehorse at 2:11 AM on July 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

'A Man Lies Dreaming' by Lavie Tidhar is a stunning alternate history noir. I'd also second 'The Spy Who Came in From the Cold'. If you're going to read Solaris make sure you get a good translation - I think there are a few terrible translations floating about.
posted by oh pollo! at 3:47 AM on July 9, 2018

Saramago, as you'd know, won the Nobel for Literature. Blindness was a page-turner for me. Such a good book!
posted by surenoproblem at 4:16 AM on July 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine. Any of her novels of suspense/thrillers.
There are too many to pick a fav, but so many of them will blow your socks off.
posted by james33 at 4:32 AM on July 9, 2018

came in here to recommend Stanislaw Lem, but it is true, the translations differ widely in quality, I only ever read him in German, so I don't know about the English versions.
The wikipedia article cites is literary agent as saying that Michael Kandel's translations are the best ones into English.

Other than that Margaret Atwood comes to mind, her writing is superb imo, she has a large number of books that can be called dystopian, Oryx and Crake (part of the Maddam trilogy) is a good start I think.
For suspense/thriller by her, try Alias Grace or the Blind Assassin .

It is kind of hard to fit her into those categories but they scratch my itch for it while being very well written.
posted by 15L06 at 4:48 AM on July 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Scott Turow got a master's degree in creative writing from Stanford, and he pays a lot more attention to prose and characterization than many thriller writers. If you've never read it, I highly recommend Presumed Innocent.

David Mitchell is generally considered a literary writer -- he's been shortlisted for the Man Booker -- but many of his works could be equally classified as sci-fi. I'd particularly recommend Cloud Atlas and The Bone Clocks.
posted by yankeefog at 5:33 AM on July 9, 2018 [4 favorites]

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
posted by soren_lorensen at 5:34 AM on July 9, 2018 [3 favorites]

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi is a near-future thriller set in a Nevada ravaged by climate change. I'm a gigantic fan of Bacigalupi and 'The Water Knife' is probably his most thriller-y thriller.
posted by nerdfish at 5:54 AM on July 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Graham Green?
posted by latkes at 6:23 AM on July 9, 2018 [3 favorites]

Seconding Graham Greene and adding Eric Ambler.

A comment on Mary Roberts Rinehart. I read a couple of her novels, including The Glass Staircase, not long ago. I found her depiction of life in the early 20th century very interesting. It was a time when automobiles were in wide use, but early enough that only the a few well-off people could afford them.
posted by SemiSalt at 6:44 AM on July 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

For literary suspense & thrillers, Graham Greene's "entertainments" (not his heavier Catholic novels) are terrific. The Confidential Agent, The Third Man, The Quiet American, etc.

For SF, you might like JG Ballard. The Drowned World is a lovely melancholy novel that's also postapocalyptic. Also Gene Wolfe's Fifth Head of Cerberus, which is explicitly Proustian and a great read.
posted by miles per flower at 6:46 AM on July 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm a fan of Martin Cruz Smith and his Arkady Renko novels; try Polar Star.

Not sure how 'literary' they are, but both John D. MacDonald (the Travis McGee books) and Ross Macdonald (the Lew Archer books) are way better than average thriller writers.
posted by Bron at 7:15 AM on July 9, 2018

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi is a near-future thriller set in a Nevada ravaged by climate change.

That book is amazing.

You might also like Gnomon by Harkaway. Very well written, though some of it is thrilling/suspenseful and some of it gets a little boggy and expository but delightfully written. Sort of along the same lines as The City and the City which is likewise great.
posted by jessamyn at 7:19 AM on July 9, 2018

You might consider The Last Policeman trilogy. Here's a review of the first one.
posted by gudrun at 9:17 AM on July 9, 2018 [8 favorites]

I want to nth early John Le Carré. It comes off as understated and very grounded, compared to more conventional thrillers.

On the sci-fi side, can I take a turn into left field and recommend A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller? It definitely qualifies as literary, not to say dense, and some passages resonate with me to this day.
posted by Alensin at 9:58 AM on July 9, 2018

Nick Harkaway's Tigerman is sort of a SFial Graham Greene novel. It's more compact (and less overtly SF) than Gnomon.
posted by mumkin at 12:05 PM on July 9, 2018

The Dublin Murder Squad series by Tana French. Trust me on this. Each book is written with a different character as the protagonist, and the narrative voice changes accordingly. They're pretty astonishing books IMO, clever, well-written, affecting and entertaining. I'm currently on my fourth re-read of the whole series (just finishing The Secret Place), and they get better every time, even when I know who did what to whom and when, they're still awesome reads.
posted by biscotti at 5:15 PM on July 9, 2018 [5 favorites]

I found Pattern Recognition by William Gibson to be extremely well-written, suspenseful, and all-round brilliant.
posted by Jellybean_Slybun at 8:50 PM on July 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

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