We live in a world full of instability and uncertainty. In such a world, facts can be hard to separate from fiction. Behind every story is the possibility of a lie, making it hard to accurately judge what is real.
Conspiracy fiction takes full advantage of these doubts to present a story that’s all about the duplicity of history and human nature. It’s easy to fall into a rabbit hole of pseudo truths and well-concocted lies.
Best Conspiracy Thrillers
Journalists stumble on the scoop of their life. Well-meaning politicians begin looking closer at legal anomalies. Soldiers are betrayed and left wondering who sold them out. Whoever they are, they begin pulling on a thread that starts the collapse of an impossible conspiracy.
Here are some of the best conspiracy thrillers that weave together real and fictional events to create scenarios that will disturb your sense of reality.
1. Deep State by Chris Hauty
Washington, D.C. is in the midst of a widening political divide. As power struggles break out, the White House Chief of Staff is found dead and a tenacious intern is convinced it’s murder.
As she digs further into the case, she finds evidence of a conspiracy working to undermine American democracy itself. The Deep State is real, and people will die to keep its secrets.
2. The Ludwig Conspiracy By Oliver Potzsch
Ludwig II of Bavaria, the Fairy-tale King, was deposed after being declared insane. He soon died a mysterious death, with only his three eccentric castles as his legacy.
When a coded diary from one of Ludwig’s confidants fall into the hands of a rare-book dealer, the castles’ secrets are now up for the taking. But Ludwig’s own fanatical supporters are beginning to make their move, and they’ll do anything to get their hands on the diary.
3. Night Fall By Nelson DeMille
In 1996, TW Flight 800 became a fireball in the sky, crashing just off Long Island, New York. Five years later, counter-terror agents John Corey and Kate Mayfield are still investigating the explosion.
What they find is evidence of the plane being blown up by a missile rather than mechanical failure. It might just come down to a video of a couple having sex on the beach before the explosion to prove it.
4. American Tabloid by James Ellroy
The ’50s are a cocktail of mobs, politicos, cops, and bystanders gearing up for their own personal angles. In the thick of it are three rogue agents entangled in a web of conspiracies between organizations, legal or otherwise.
As they work their way up the ladder, they find themselves befriending one of the most powerful families in America, and they’re soon caught up in a plot that will shake the core of the country.
5. The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth
The Jackal is the perfect assassin: faceless, remorseless, and unstoppable. When he’s hired by French dissidents to assassinate Charles De Gaulle, the only question is how much he’s going to get paid.
As the day of the assassination approaches, everyone scrambles to capture the killer. Will they be able to catch him in time, or will France require a new president?
6. The White Lioness by Henning Mankell
The execution of a Swedish housewife leads Inspector Kurt Wallander to apartheid South Africa. There, he uncovers a sinister plot to plunge the country into civil war.
Soon, he finds himself playing a deadly game against the country’s secret police and a ruthless ex-KGB killer. Wallander must get down to the bottom of the mystery while evading certain death.
7. 11/22/63 by Stephen King
Jake Epping is a local high school teacher who discovers that his favorite diner’s storeroom is a time-traveling vessel, specifically one that turns back time to 1958, five years before JFK’s assassination.
So begins his new life attempting to change history for the better. But history is a fickle thing, and any attempt to tamper with it seems to result in worse events becoming real.
8. Passenger to Frankfurt by Agatha Christie
Sir Stafford Nye’s flight home is interrupted when a woman confides that her life is in danger. Agreeing to help, he lends her his passport, not knowing that doing so means endangering his own life.
The middle-aged diplomat unwittingly steps into the shadowy world of spies and secret organizations—one currently in turmoil with a plot to establish a Fourth Reich.
9. The Witches by Roald Dahl
Witches are real, and they hate children the most in the world. So when the Grand High Witch is unsatisfied by how many kids have been killed, the witches hatch a plot to get rid of all of England’s children.
But a boy overhears their dastardly plan. To save himself and every child in the world, he and his grandmother begin planning out how to exterminate the witches in one fell swoop.
10. Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates
Marilyn Monroe is a superstar—one who died from an apparent drug overdose. But what if her connections to Hollywood, the Mob, and the White House played a part?
Narrated by a fictitious Marilyn Monroe herself, the novel covers the ups and downs of one of history’s most successful pop culture icons, including the many speculations into her death.
11. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
A trip to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books sees Daniel falling in love with The Shadow of the Wind, written by the elusive Julián Carax. But in searching for the author’s other works, he makes a startling discovery.
Someone’s been burning everything Carax has written and Daniel’s copy may be the last in existence. As he delves deeper into the mystery, he finds himself entangled in Barcelona’s most tragic love story.
12. Mumbo Jumbo by Ishmael Reed
The “Jes Grew” virus is quickly spreading from the streets of New Orleans to the skyscrapers of New York, making people dance, sing, and be merry. The Wallflower Order wants nothing to do with it and is working to end this highly contagious epidemic.
Racing against them is the voodoo priest PaPa LaBas and his companion Black Herman. But they must hurry because the order has created the perfect weapon: a black man ready to shed his African-American culture.
Reading Conspiracy Fiction
Conspiracy thrillers strongly overlap with political thrillers. They feature high-stakes plots, the difficulty to separate truth from fiction, and power plays.
What separates them, though, is that political thrillers are defined by the political conflicts that happen inside their stories. Conspiracy thrillers don’t need to be attached to such struggles. They can easily focus on historical, scientific, and financial conspiracies.
Because conspiracy fiction regularly deals with secrets and lies, secret histories and the subjective view of reality are strong themes within its narratives. Powerful figures hide in the shadows to pull the strings of the world, and history is manipulated to present a false reality.
Because we’re inherently curious, a part of us wonders whether what we’re reading can be real. If they are, what are the possible consequences? And because we want to know, we keep reading until the last chapter.
Cole is a blog writer and aspiring novelist. He has a degree in Communications and is an advocate of media and information literacy and responsible media practices. Aside from his interest in technology, crafts, and food, he’s also your typical science fiction and fantasy junkie, spending most of his free time reading through an ever-growing to-be-read list. It’s either that or procrastinating over actually writing his book. Wish him luck!