THRILLERS IN DISGUISE: 10 Essential Literary Novels That Master Suspense

Debra Jo Immergut lists The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen in her list of ten suspense novels in this feature for CrimeReads.

My recipe for a peak reading experience: equal parts plot and poetry. My shelf of most-revered novels ranges along this border, a personal Pyrenees of suspense-packed stories told in ravishing language and with deeply complex characters.

Sometimes it makes me feel a bit stateless, as my taste leads me to meander through the boundary lands between literary and genre fiction. But there’s a certain freedom in flying no flag. And I sense many fellow stateless citizens wandering alongside me, searching for propulsive narratives steeped in literary sensibility, and impatient with those who’d rather build a wall between reading nations.

I set out to stake a place for my debut novel, The Captives, somewhere along that border. As I crafted my twisty tale of a prison psychologist who reunites with his long-ago high-school crush when she lands behind bars, thrillerists like le Carré and Lehane taught me well. But I also found endless inspiration from authors who are never tagged as genre writers—and yet produce taut and nimble work that employs the best tricks of the thriller trade. Here are ten key novels that taught me key lessons — literary works written by stealthy masters of suspense.

The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The best thrillers start at full tilt. I want to be drawn in on the first page and addicted by the end of the first chapter. Nguyen’s bestseller roars to life as the Vietnam War comes to a calamitous end with the fall of Saigon, the city seeming to crumble under the feet of the wry and unforgettable narrator as he races for the exit. For writers wondering how to lure readers quickly into the narrative stream, Nguyen offers a stupendous model.

 

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