It’s easy to see why there are so many mysteries and thrillers written about secret societies. We’re so conditioned by films such as Angels and Demons and Rosemary’s Baby that the very mention of even a benign college organization like Yale’s Skull and Bones conjures images of candlelit initiations, pagan rotations and blood sacrifices. While many of the most gripping books about secret societies are centered around the Templar Knights and the Masons, as you’ll soon see, there are far more juicy organizations in contemporary suspense literature.
Here are five of our absolute favorites.
Lexicon by Max Barry
At an exclusive school somewhere outside of Arlington, Virginia, students aren’t taught history, geography, or mathematics–at least not in the usual ways. Instead, they are taught to persuade. Here the art of coercion has been raised to a science. Students harness the hidden power of language to manipulate the mind and learn to break down individuals by psychographic markers in order to take control of their thoughts. The very best will graduate as “poets”, adept wielders of language who belong to a nameless organization that is as influential as it is secretive.
Whip-smart orphan Emily Ruff is making a living running a three-card Monte game on the streets of San Francisco when she attracts the attention of the organization’s recruiters. She is flown across the country for the school’s strange and rigorous entrance exams, where, once admitted, she will be taught the fundamentals of persuasion by Bronte, Eliot, and Lowell–who have adopted the names of famous poets to conceal their true identities. For in the organization, nothing is more dangerous than revealing who you are: Poets must never expose their feelings lest they be manipulated. Emily becomes the school’s most talented prodigy until she makes a catastrophic mistake: She falls in love.
Meanwhile, a seemingly innocent man named Wil Jamieson is brutally ambushed by two strange men in an airport bathroom. Although he has no recollection of anything they claim he’s done, it turns out Wil is the key to a secret war between rival factions of poets and is quickly caught in their increasingly deadly crossfire. Pursued relentlessly by people with powers he can barely comprehend and protected by the very man who first attacked him, Wil discovers that everything he thought he knew about his past was fiction. In order to survive, must journey to the toxically decimated town of Broken Hill, Australia, to discover who he is and why an entire town was blown off the map.
As the two narratives converge, the shocking work of the poets is fully revealed, the body count rises, and the world crashes toward a Tower of Babel event which would leave all language meaningless. Max Barry’s most spellbinding and ambitious novel yet, Lexicon is a brilliant thriller that explores language, power, identity, and our capacity to love–whatever the cost.
City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder― much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Then the body disappears into thin air. It’s hard to call the police when the murderers are invisible to everyone else and when there is nothing―not even a smear of blood―to show that a boy has died. Or was he a boy?
This is Clary’s first meeting with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. It’s also her first encounter with Jace, a Shadowhunter who looks a little like an angel and acts a lot like a jerk. Within twenty-four hours Clary is pulled into Jace’s world with a vengeance, when her mother disappears and Clary herself is attacked by a demon. But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know…
Exotic and gritty, exhilarating and utterly gripping, Cassandra Clare’s ferociously entertaining fantasy takes readers on a wild ride that they will never want to end.
The Book of Fate by Brad Meltzer
Brad Meltzer has got to be one of the most divisive writers working in the genre. Check out the Amazon reviews for this book, and you’ll find a stark divide between people who thing this book is brilliant and those who thing it’s garbage.
We are decidedly in the brilliant camp.
So says Wes Holloway, a young presidential aide, about the day he put Ron Boyle, the chief executive’s oldest friend, into the president’s limousine. By the trip’s end, a crazed assassin would permanently disfigure Wes and kill Boyle. Now, eight years later, Boyle has been spotted alive. Trying to figure out what really happened takes Wes back into disturbing secrets buried in Freemason history, a decade-old presidential crossword puzzle, and a two-hundred-year-old code invented by Thomas Jefferson that conceals secrets worth dying for.
The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
Call us crazy, but you can’t have a blog post about secret societies and not mention Dan Brown. It’s debatable whether this is Brown’s best, but we definitely think it’s work a look – especially if you haven’t read all his other Robert Langdon books.
Famed Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon answers an unexpected summons to appear at the U.S. Capitol Building. His planned lecture is interrupted when a disturbing object—artfully encoded with five symbols—is discovered in the building. Langdon recognizes in the find an ancient invitation into a lost world of esoteric, potentially dangerous wisdom. When his mentor Peter Solomon—a longstanding Mason and beloved philanthropist—is kidnapped, Langdon realizes that the only way to save Solomon is to accept the mystical invitation and plunge headlong into a clandestine world of Masonic secrets, hidden history, and one inconceivable truth . . . all under the watchful eye of Dan Brown’s most terrifying villain to date. Set within the hidden chambers, tunnels, and temples of Washington, D.C.
Hidden Order by Brad Thor
In one of Brad Thor’s best thrillers, the most secretive organization in America operates without any accountability to the American people. Hiding in the shadows, pretending to be part of the United States government, its power is beyond measure. Control of this organization has just been lost and the future of the nation thrust into peril.
When the five candidates being considered to head this mysterious agency suddenly go missing—and soon turn up as murder victims—covert counterterrorism operative Scot Harvath is summoned to Washington and set loose on the most dangerous chase ever to play out on American soil.
With the United States on the verge of collapse, Harvath must untangle a web of conspiracies going back to the 1700s and head off the greatest threat America has ever seen.