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Bookshop Thrillers: 5 Suspenseful Reads Set Among the Shelves

by  | May 1
Bookshelves in the shadow

There’s something about a hefty stack of new-to-you books; something so beautiful that it’s almost terrifying. The pages promise the unknown, the ability to change your life forever. And if you set one down too soon, it haunts you as relentlessly as a ghost to its mansion. If we sound a bit too wistful, it’s because WE NEED BOOKSTORES BACK NOW. We miss wandering the aisles so much that we’ve resorted to fixating on stories that take us there.

Here are a few thrilling books set in bookstores that perfectly capture all the mystery and awe of meandering from shelf to shelf.

You can further support your favorite independent bookstores by shopping at bookshop.org or libro.fm.

You (Media Tie-In Edition)

You (Media Tie-In Edition)

by Caroline Kepnes

When a beautiful, aspiring writer strides into the East Village bookstore where Joe Goldberg works, he does what anyone would do: he Googles the name on her credit card.

There is only one Guinevere Beck in New York City. She has a public Facebook account and Tweets incessantly, telling Joe everything he needs to know about her. As Joe invisibly and obsessively takes control of Beck’s life, he orchestrates a series of events to ensure Beck finds herself in his waiting arms. Moving from stalker to boyfriend, Joe transforms himself into Beck’s perfect man, all while quietly removing the obstacles that stand in their way—even if it means murder.

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Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore

by Matthew Sullivan

Lydia Smith lives her life hiding in plain sight. A clerk at the Bright Ideas bookstore, she keeps a meticulously crafted existence among her beloved books, eccentric colleagues, and the BookFrogs—the lost and lonely regulars who spend every day marauding the store’s overwhelmed shelves. But when Joey Molina, a young, beguiling BookFrog, kills himself in the bookstore’s upper room, Lydia’s life comes unglued.

As Lydia untangles the mystery of Joey’s suicide, she unearths a long buried memory from her own violent childhood. Details from that one bloody night begin to circle back. Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore is a “multi-generational tale of abandonment, desperation, and betrayal…inventive and intricately plotted” (Publishers Weekly, starred review).

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The Vanishing Velázquez

The Vanishing Velázquez

by Laura Cumming

When John Snare, a nineteenth century provincial bookseller, traveled to a liquidation auction, he found a vivid portrait of King Charles I that defied any explanation. The Charles of the painting was young—too young to be king—and yet also too young to be painted by the Flemish painter to whom the piece was attributed. Snare had found something incredible—but what?

A thrilling investigation into the complex meaning of authenticity and the unshakable determination that drives both artists and collectors of their work, The Vanishing Velázquez is a “brilliant” (The Atlantic) tale of mystery and detection, of tragic mishaps and mistaken identities, of class, politics, snobbery, crime, and almost farcical accident that reveals how one historic masterpiece was crafted and lost, and how far one man would go to redeem it.

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The Thirteenth Tale

The Thirteenth Tale

by Diane Setterfield

Reclusive author Vida Winter, famous for her collection of twelve enchanting stories, has spent the past six decades penning a series of alternate lives for herself. Now old and ailing, she is ready to reveal the truth about her extraordinary existence and the violent and tragic past she has kept secret for so long.

Calling on Margaret Lea, a young biographer who works in an antiquarian bookshop and is troubled by her own painful history, Vida reveals the life she meant to bury for good. Margaret is mesmerized by the author's tale of gothic strangeness—featuring the beautiful and willful Isabelle, the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline, a ghost, a governess, a topiary garden and a devastating fire. Together, Margaret and Vida confront the ghosts that have haunted them while becoming, finally, transformed by the truth themselves.

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Eight Perfect Murders

Eight Perfect Murders

by Peter Swanson

Boston bookstore owner Malcolm Kershaw is quite the mystery novel expert, which he has put to good use by curating for his customers a list of the eight most confounding murder stories in fiction. (What do Agatha Christie’s A.B.C. Murders and Donna Tartt’s A Secret History have in common? They both feature perfect crimes.) Mal’s list is entertaining, and harmless—or so it seems, until an eerily similar set of real-life unsolved murders leads the FBI to Mal’s door with some questions that need answering.

But if federal agents are keeping a close watch on his every move, the killer is too—whoever it is, they’re a big fan of Mal’s list and personal life. As Mal grows suspicious of everyone he passes by, mystery fans will want to whip out their notepads to solve the case of whodunnit.

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