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2021 National Book Festival Highlights: Mysteries, Thrillers and Gothic Horror

Welcome to our ongoing celebration of the 2021 Library of Congress National Book Festival! Here, we offer highlights from this year’s treasure trove of programs celebrating the theme, “Open a Book, Open the World.” Whether you’re tuning in for the first time, or revisiting favorites, we hope you enjoy these programs — and that they continue to open the world for you. 

Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s gothic horror novel “Mexican Gothic” was featured at the 2021 National Book Festival.

Two women go missing at a sanatorium-turned-hotel in the Swiss Alps. A young socialite finds herself trapped in an isolated mansion in the Mexican countryside. A Chicago detective comes out of retirement to investigate a murder in rural Ireland. An eleven-year-old boy begins receiving texts from someone claiming to be Harry Houdini, who died in 1926.

Intrigued? ‘Tis the season for thrills and chills, so this week we’re highlighting some of the most suspenseful books featured in author programs at the 2021 National Book Festival.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia (“Mexican Gothic”) and Sarah Pearse (“The Sanatorium”) discuss their new books and the genre of the gothic novel — in particular, the importance of building ambience. “One of the keys of ‘gothic’ is atmosphere and the creation of a sense of malaise that overlays the story,” Moreno-Garcia says. “Within gothic novels, you often have that very strong sense of place,” Pearse continues. “And I think, for me, it’s the sanatorium — the building, [the hotel] Le Sommet as it becomes within the novel — and very much uses that sense of place to create the sense of unease.”

Tana French discusses her new mystery novel, “The Searcher,” which takes place in the Irish countryside. The author also talks about her approach to the mystery genre: “I think I came along at a lucky point in terms of genre, because the boundaries were starting to be seen not as end points but as fun things to play with. … And so I stepped into a space where that was very much a possibility, where you can go, ‘Okay, I think I’ll have a spin on noir this time,’ or, ‘Ooh, what if I want to borrow a bit of gothic here,’ or, ‘Westerns — I like the idea of sticking some Western conventions in the west of Ireland for a change. Let’s try that.’”

Dan Gutman discusses his new children’s book, “Houdini and Me,” which he started writing after he discovered that Harry Houdini lived eight blocks from where the author lives today. “I learned that there’s one thing that Houdini could not escape from — and that was his own death,” Gutman says. “He died in 1926 and so I thought, wow, pow, I could write a story about a kid who lives in Harry Houdini’s house . . . and the kid somehow finds a way to communicate with the spirit of Harry Houdini by text message.” Read more about Dan Gutman’s appearance at the Festival in this post on our Families blog.

You can watch all of the programs from the Festival on our National Book Festival website. For up-to-the-minute Festival news, highlights and other important information, subscribe to this blog. The Festival is made possible by the generosity of sponsors. You can support the Festival, too, by making a gift now.