Any book by Phil Rickman will always and invariably be at the top of my list. This happens to be one selected at random from his Merrily Watkins series, featuring an Anglican priest who takes a sensitive approach to exorcism; the series is excellent And in some of his standalones (December, for example) he is even more superb. There’s some supernatural stuff going on… well, maybe.
Or maybe not. You can always decide.
This is one of the smartest books I’ve ever read, it’s a mystery, literary fiction, historical fiction, and fiction about science, all in one. There’s a ghostly superimposition of the Cambridge that once was—with vivid descriptions—over the Cambridge that is now, and Stott unravels, almost, the very secret of alchemy.
A writer from the Golden Age, Tey is masterful at drawing the reader into her world: there's nothing about this setting or these characters that doesn't feel vivid and real. She enables you to care deeply about these people and her plot twists are both startling and natural. I couldn’t decide whether to recommend this or her equally terrific (though very different) The Daughter of Time. If you haven’t read Tey, you’re in for a treat.
Thomas H. Cook is, hands-down, the best writer I’ve ever read when it comes to the unexpected and shocking twist at the end of the book. This was the first novel of his I’d ever read, and I walked around for days afterward thinking, “I never saw that coming! How did he do that?"
Be aware that he’s very dark—if you’re looking for the milk of human kindness, you won’t find it here.
I once wrote an article I titled, “Everything I know about writing I learned from Mary Stewart.” Only a very slight exaggeration. She helped invent the genre of romantic suspense taking place in exotic locales. Her descriptions of place are so vivid you'll be smelling the flowers, feeling the warmth of the sun... and feeling, too, the terror.
This is a fabulous book, but read also The Gabriel Hounds and Nine Coaches Waiting.
Heck—read them all.
I know: this cover is pretty awful. Don't judge this thriller by it. If you can overlook the '60s art, then you’re going to love reading Adam Hall’s series of stories about the British secret agent Quiller, of which this is the first.
Very dated in some ways, this one is oddly prescient in others.