Biblio-Files: Gothic Mysteries

One of my absolute favorite genres is the Gothic mystery. These books tend to be about crumbling mansions in the country, family secrets, ghosts and murder most foul. There’s usually a heroine of impeccable virtue who has had horrible luck and finds herself in an unpleasant situation. There’s a mother/aunt/caretaker who’s abused the poor heroine in some way, a dashing gentleman with a dark side, a mysterious benefactor, a trusted confidante, a doomed lover. There are journals and dying confessions and lies the heroine must sift through to discover the truth using her rational mind and courage cultivated from years of abuse or neglect. The novels are generally set in Victorian England, and if they aren’t, feel like they should be. These are the books you curl up with on a chilly, rainy day, a cup of tea (or coffee if you’re like me and can’t stand tea) next to you that goes cold because you’re too wrapped up in the mystery to remember to drink it. They are, simply, the best.

The Gothic mystery isn’t for everyone. It is a very specific sort of fantasy. They are melodramatic in the best way and romantic-but-not-romance. But if this sounds like your jam, then here is a brief list of my favorites:

The Thirteenth Tale and Bellman and Black by Diane Setterfield

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The Séance by John Harwood

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (Duhhhhhh)

These books were entertaining and riveting for me. I got lost in the moors or back alleys or cemeteries, working to solve the mystery before everything was finally revealed. These are the books that kept me up reading way, way, way past my bedtime. These six books have different settings and time periods, and all but the last were written in the last decade. It isn’t the most popular genre, and it’s really easy to get wrong, but when it’s done right? Oh my, am I in book heaven.

If I overlooked your favorite Gothic novel, please let me know all about it in the comments!


  1. Loth

    The original: The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. Or indeed, The Moonstone.

    Or, developing an unintentional theme, The Woman in Black by Susan Hill (the novella, not the overdone film of course).

    Oh, and The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. Literary vampires (that don’t sparkle. Ever.)

    • Elizabeth

      The Historian! That was a fantastic book. I’m ashamed to say that I’ve tried to read The Moonstone more than once and haven’t been able to finish it. I’ll give it another go one of these days.

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