According to Jenna Bush Hager, her November Read with Jenna pick “The Cloisters” is the perfect mystery novel. “It’s about as Gothic and mysterious as you can get,” Jenna told TODAY.
“The Cloisters” is a New York-set debut novel from author Katy Hays. In the novel, Ann, a recent college grad, takes a position at the branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art devoted entirely to the art and architecture of the Middle Ages. While it's supposed to be an academic experience, Ann gets pulled into a web of complicated relationships and fortune-telling. Ann works alongside Rachel Mondray, a wealthy assistant, and head curator Patrick Roland, at The Met Cloisters, where the trio attempts to assemble a medieval deck of tarot cards.
And you can’t forget about Leo, the gardener at the Cloisters. “He reminds me of Heathcliff in ‘Wuthering Heights.’ Everyone needs a Leo phase, and I don’t think I had one,” Jenna said jokingly.
Author Katy Hays shared the ultimate list of reads to follow up “The Cloisters.” If you're in search of mystery-thrillers that will keep you guessing and vivid worlds of dark academia, keep reading.
“The Club Dumas” by Arturo Perez-Reverte takes place in the world of antiquarian booksellers. Lucas Corso, a book dealer who will do whatever it takes to please his discerning clientele, is hired to authenticate a rare manuscript by Alexandre Dumas. Corso, in his investigation, eventually crosses paths with a legendary occultist book with the rumored ability to summon Satan. “Part heist novel, part academic thriller, part meditation on good and evil, 'The Club Dumas' is a gorgeously written and darkly sinister novel about the destructive nature of obsession,” Hays told TODAY.
“Horror novels seem to be getting a makeover these days, and my favorite entry in the genre reboot thus far is Erika T. Wurth’s White Horse,” Hays told TODAY. Kari, an Urban Native of Apache/Chickasaw/Cherokee descent, spends most of her time flipping through Stephen King novels and going to the White Horse, a local bar, for the occasional drink. That is, until her cousin Debby finds an old bracelet that belonged to Kari’s late mother. Kari is forced to confront her past as the heirloom conjures up her mother’s ghost and a terrifying creature desperate to hunt Kari down. “White Horse” by Erika T. Wurth is another debut novel on this list, and one that Katy Hays calls “an absolute stunner.”
A supernatural, suspenseful, modern Mexican Gothic debut. That’s a mouthful, but it accurately describes “The Hacienda.” The book is set in the aftermath of the Mexican War of Independence. After the execution of her father and the destruction of her home, Beatriz decides to accept a marriage proposal from the charming Don Rodalfo Soloranzo, despite the mysterious demise of his first wife. Beatriz is soon bombarded by visions and voices in her sleep. “Atmospheric and occasionally gasp-inducing, 'The Hacienda' is a modern gothic classic,” Hays told TODAY.
Think “Freaky Friday,” but darker and with a twist. Englishman John is leading a fairly drab life, until he meets his doppelgänger, a Frenchman named Jean. After a drunken night, John awakens to find that Jean has stolen his identity and left John with his own privileged life in place. John takes the opportunity to step into Jean’s shoes and quickly realizes that his life is a complicated one. He must take over not only Jean’s failing business, but his family full of secrets. “Twisted and haunting, this du Maurier novel is one of her darkest and most complex,” Hays told TODAY.
“A Beautiful Crime” by Christopher Bollen is a literary heist. The book follows American couple Nick Brink and Clay Guillory as they attempt to carry out a high-stakes con in Venice. Nick and Clay set their sights on an unsuspecting American living out the rest of his years in Italy, and decide to sell him a collection of counterfeit antiques. “(Following) Nick and Clay through the crumbling palazzos of Venice is a joy. If you’re looking for a thriller with smart, literary writing, look no further — Bollen is a master,” Hays told TODAY.
“Dark and compulsive, Howzell Hall’s novel harkens back to Raymond Chandler’s 'The Lady in the Lake', but with a decidedly contemporary California twist,” Hays told TODAY. “We Lie Here” is a contemporary noir set in the deserts of Southern California, where TV writer Yara Gibson returns home to find a message from an estranged friend of the family. The friend promises Yara that she knows a secret that will change her life — but then the friend is found murdered. Yara retreats to a remote lake cabin where she files through documents containing the truth behind a 20-year-old tragedy, and she's forced to confront the fact that this secret might actually change everything she knows about her life.
In “Take Me Apart” by Sara Sligar, we move from the Californian deserts to foggy, coastal Callinas, Calif. Theo hires archivist Kate Aitken to catalogue the papers of his mother, Miranda Brand, a famous photographer who died tragically at the peak of her career. Kate begins to discover the shocking secrets of Miranda’s life. Kate has secrets, too, and she quickly falls into a spiraling obsession with Miranda, diving dangerously deep into the past. This psychological thriller “is a haunting, evocative story of artistic ambition and the darkness that shadows even the brightest stars,” says Hays.
“Give Me Your Hand” by Read With Jenna author Megan Abbott is a mystery thriller that touches on female friendships, personal ambition and the danger of intense rivalry. Kit Owens still remembers what sparked the academic fire inside her: a close friendship with Diane Fleming, a girl in her high school chemistry class. Kit and Diane’s friendship was burned to ashes when Diane shared a painful secret that changed the course of their relationship. Years later, Kit thinks she’s put the past behind her, until she realizes that Diane has entered the same scientific competition as her, both women vying for the same coveted spot. “Gripping and dark, Abbott captures female relationships in all their complexity and devastation,” Hays told TODAY.
Published in 1965, “The Magus” by John Fowles is considered a mystery-thriller classic, one of those impossible-to-put-down books. The reader is thrown into the anxious mind of Nicholas Urfe, a young Englishman jets-etting to a remote Greek island where he is set to teach. He falls into a friendship of sorts with Maurice Conchis, a complex and twisted millionaire who lives on the island. The lines between fiction and reality quickly dissolve as Nicholas encounters Maurice's perplexing psychological experiments playing with greed, love, sexuality and spirituality. “The Magus will draw you into its delightful and devilish world, leaving you wondering what is real and what is fiction,” Hays told TODAY.