35 Thriller Books That Will Keep You on the Edge of Your Seat
Looking to add the best thriller books to your to-be-read pile? Look no further than this mix of the newest mysteries and psychological thrillers along with all-time classic crime novels.
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Psychological thriller books: From the brainteasing to the terrifying
Our updated canon of the best thriller books and crime novels contains exciting new titles from writers of diverse backgrounds and perspectives to go along with many all-time classics of the genre. With 35 psychological thrillers on your TBR shelf, you’ll spend every quiet evening perched on the edge of your seat.
Some of these picks are thoroughly modern, while others are compelling historical fiction books, and still others rank among the scariest books ever written. If that doesn’t faze you, try these mystery books or spook yourself with these true crime books. The important thing is, every novel on this list is one of the books everyone should read in their lifetime. You just might not want to read them when you’re home alone! If you need something a little lighter after your journey into this genre, check out this list of the funniest books of all time.
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1. Wrong Place Wrong Time by Gillian McAllister (2022)
This twisty, genre-bending novel became an instant bestseller and one of the best thriller books of the year. It starts off with Jen, who is waiting up for her 18-year-old son to return home one evening (he’s missed his curfew), when she finally spies him out the window. The next thing she sees is him stab a man to death, a stranger. She doesn’t know who or why, and her son is in jail. But when Jen next wakes, it’s the previous day, and the murder hasn’t happened yet. Each morning Jen wakes on the day before, slowly traveling back in time. Only she can solve the mystery and stop her son from becoming a killer, but she might have to come to terms with a few things in her world first. This ingenious plot will keep readers on their toes. If you love time travel books, check out this list.
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2. The Island by Adrian McKinty (2022)
It was supposed to be a nice family vacation to Australia. Newlyweds Heather and Tom are hoping the trip will help Tom’s children bond with their new stepmother, but an adventure to a remote island turns into a nightmare when Tom and Heather are separated—and it’s up to Heather to save herself and her step-kids. While navigating two children who don’t trust her at all, the unforgiving and dangerous bush, and the creepy island locals who want them all dead, Heather must find the strength she didn’t know she had to save her family. This tense book would make a fantastic beach read (maybe not on an island beach though!).
3. Code 6 by James Grippando (2023)
Kate Gamble is an aspiring playwright who has been working on her would-be masterpiece for years. There’s just one problem: Most of the source material is based on her adoring father, the CEO of a private data integration company. Kate knows her play about the dark side of big data would break her father’s heart, but she needs to investigate the family business—as well as her mother’s mysterious suicide. Then her father’s right-hand man is kidnapped, and the ransom demand is the company’s new technology, Code 6. Kate doesn’t know whom to trust as she uncovers secrets and conspiracies within the tech industry and its dangerous manipulation of data. Bestselling author James Grippando wants us to consider the price of giving up our privacy, and this gripping novel (dropping in January 2023) will certainly make you reconsider using the same password for all your accounts (just us?). These classic books have relevant lessons for the modern age too.
4. A Mother Would Know by Amber Garza (2022)
How well do you really know your children? Amber Garza is back with another unsettling take on twisted relationships. This creepy novel follows Valerie, whose memory isn’t as good as it used to be. She lives alone in her large Victorian house until she invites her adult son to move back in with her for company. But it’s not as enjoyable as she might have hoped; he’s moody, he keeps strange hours and he doesn’t talk much. When a woman is murdered just a block away, the neighbors immediately suspect her son, and Valerie is having trouble defending him. This thriller will have you second- and triple-guessing yourself right to the very last page. For even more books to read, you need these Kindle Unlimited books.
5. The 6:20 Man by David Baldacci (2022)
Ex-soldier Travis Devine takes the 6:20 a.m. commuter train into Manhattan every day to his entry-level analyst job at the most prestigious investment firm in the city. That is, until the NYPD come to question him about the apparent suicide of his ex-girlfriend-slash-colleague Sara. Worse, he’s being blackmailed to secretly investigate his firm, or the secrets of his military past will be revealed. A dazzling thriller journeying into the highest echelons and darkest corners of power and the finance world, master storyteller David Baldacci’s latest will have you gasping at the final twist. For something completely different, check out these graphic novels for adults.
6. These Women by Ivy Pochada (2020)
This gorgeously written crime novel is about a neighborhood serial killer, but more than anything, it’s a story of female empowerment and social change. Five women—a dancer, a mother, a police officer, an artist and a wife—who, like far too many women today and throughout history, are forced to live their lives following countless unspoken rules, none of which they were allowed to have a hand in making. They do this to stay alive, but a pair of murders are bringing their facade of safety to its knees. Proving that you actually can sometimes judge a book by its cover, These Women is an evocative read. Continue the theme with these fantastic feminist books.
7. The Diviners Series by Libba Bray (2012)
This four-book series paints a haunting picture of 1920s America, from the explosive growth of New York City to the horrors of the eugenics movement. It has so many parallels to today’s politics and societal struggles that you’ll cringe while falling in love with the diverse characters and sly humor. At its heart, though, is a thrilling tale of reckoning with a flawed nation’s bloody past as it hurtles toward a bright future still being dreamed up. These aren’t only some of the best thriller books, together they’ll join the best book series on your bookshelf.
8. My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (2019)
The New York Times says My Sister, the Serial Killer is less a murder mystery and more a study in the strange complexity of sibling bonds, adding that as far as the best thriller books go, it’s a bombshell of a read—sharp, explosive and also hilarious. Braithwaite employs short, rhythmic chapters to march you along, as if a drumbeat is propelling your page-turning, all while inching you closer to the edge of your seat as this stunning story reveals itself and you discover if blood is truly thicker than water. If your sister is also your bestie, she’ll love these books about friendship.
9. Lakewood by Megan Giddings (2021)
In this provocative debut and one of the best thriller books of 2021, you will be confronted with not only horrors but also moral dilemmas as you reckon with the true underbelly of America’s dark past. This is because, in crafting a thrilling fictional tale, Giddings pulls from real-life nightmares, namely the experimentation on and exploitation of black bodies in the name of science. You’ll likely read Lakewood quickly, be enthralled and come away with book club questions that need answering, and if so, this glorious work of psychological fiction has done its job.
10. Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke (2018)
Locke (a former writer and producer on Empire) has said of the first in her Highway 59 series that it’s “a love letter to Black Texans.” This noir novel is a thriller set in East Texas that marinates in America’s troubled past and still-precarious present, using the unique locale, as well as the modern struggles of race, to deliver a fictional take on a man who doesn’t belong and whose world is crumbling around his feet. If you love thriller books, you’ve probably already read some Attica Locke. Don’t miss these other books by Black authors you’ll want to know about.
11. Don’t Turn Around by Jessica Barry (2020)
This controversial thriller explores the Me Too movement, cancel culture, reproductive rights and White male extremism. Without a doubt, this book is very much of the moment and cuts close to the bone for anyone who has suffered through years of gaslighting, misogyny and “boys will be boys” excuse-making for horrendous behavior perpetrated against them. This suspenseful novel unfurls on a desolate road in New Mexico as two women are hunted by an unknown killer. In the process, secrets are revealed and a delicate trust must be forged by women who have had their confidence abused in the past. Just like all the best thriller books, this heart-pounding adventure will leave you breathless.
12. Portrait of an Unknown Woman by Daniel Silva (2022)
Don’t miss any of Daniel Silva’s 22 novels featuring Gabriel Allon, an art restorer and former Israeli spy—they’re among the best thriller books on the market today. The most recent follows Gabriel after finally breaking away from Israeli intelligence, having settled in Venice with his wife and children. The plot kicks into gear when a London art dealer asks Gabriel to investigate a newly rediscovered painting that might just be a fake. Gabriel is soon drawn into a tricky game of cat and mouse in a wild journey through the dark side of the art world.
13. People Like Her by Ellery Lloyd (2021)
In this suspenseful thriller that could only have been written in the 21st century, a social media star and digital influencer mom who makes a mint monetizing family life and is the focus of millions of fans faces a threat to her actual life by one madman. This thoroughly modern novel explores the darker side of influencer culture, the IRL dangers of exposing too much of yourself and your kids online, and our desperate need to be seen, validated and appreciated. If you ever wanted to be a celebrity, this debut psychological thriller from the husband-and-wife writing team of Collette Lyons and Paul Vlitos, aka Ellery Lloyd, will probably end that fantasy.
14. The Lost Man by Jane Harper (2019)
While Harper’s newest, Exiles, is coming out in 2023, it’s this earlier novel that will stay with you the longest. One of the best thriller books in recent times, The Lost Man uses place as a living, breathing character more than any book published over the past few years. The arid, atmospheric Australian Outback plays as big a role, though the two brothers ultimately get top billing. When one turns up dead, a series of family secrets become the heart of this masterfully written literary thriller. Here are more of the best fiction books to read this year—in every genre.
15. The Whisper Man by Alex North (2019)
In this suspenseful novel, a father moves himself and his son to a new town after the death of his wife. Unbeknownst to the pair, a serial killer ravaged this same town 20 years earlier. He was called the Whisper Man because kids would tell their parents of a person creepily whispering to them outside their window, and soon after, they’d go missing. Although the killer is still locked up, another child has gone missing, the son is being whispered to and the old case is reopened with fears that there was an accomplice to the original killings. This haunting thriller, with a father and son navigating their grief at its core, uses a variety of perspectives to paint a terrifying picture that will have you on the edge of your seat until the very end.
16. The Burning Girls by C.J. Tudor (2021)
A female vicar and her daughter are sent, without their desire or request, to a small English town full of horrific secrets in C.J. Tudor’s newest thriller. Hundreds of years earlier, this town burned eight of its own people at the stake. Then, 30 years ago, two locals girls went missing, and just before their arrival, the church’s vicar hung himself. In this roller coaster of unexpected twists, you will be shocked over and over again as the mysterious town and its suspicious people reveal themselves in ways you’ll never see coming.
17. The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor (2018)
Tudor is a master of the psychological thriller, so much so that even Stephen King told his loyal readers, “If you like my stuff, you’ll like this,” so she has earned a second mention on our list of the best thriller books. Set in the mid-1980s, this book starts with a group of kids trying to get through a boring summer by writing one another secret messages for fun—stick figures drawn in chalk. When the friends all get the same chalk-man message sending them into the woods, they find the body of a teenage girl, and then the story hurtles us into the present day. Though they’re no longer in touch as adults, they all receive a new chalk message one day. Now, the group is reunited and a whole new terrifying situation is set in motion. Trust us when we say that The Chalk Man is one of the most haunting stories you’ll ever read. If you love delving into the stuff of nightmares, take a look at this list of the best scary podcasts.
18. The Darkness by Ragnar Jonasson (2018)
Another one in the Scandinavian tradition of the best thriller books, The Darkness is an atmospheric novel that brings you into the Icelandic cold to tell the tale of a Detective Inspector forced into early retirement. Hulda Hermannsdóttir is allowed just two final weeks on the force and her choice of any cold case to investigate. She selects the murder of a Russian immigrant only to find a deeper and even more mysterious layer to the original case. As she attempts to solve why another woman went missing around the same time, the detective finds herself battling her own peers and racing against the clock, which inches closer to her deadline. If you like the first in the Hulda series, look out for the two sequels.
19. Long Bright River by Liz Moore (2020)
Set in the City of Brotherly Love, the fourth and latest novel by Philadelphia resident Liz Moore aims its literary lens on a pair of sisters and the bond, connectivity and eternal love within those delicate relationships. Mickey is a single mom and a cop who patrols a neighborhood decimated by the opioid crisis. When Mickey’s sister, who struggled with addiction and life on the streets, goes missing, Moore deftly shuttles between scenes from the sisters’ childhood and the present-day mystery at hand. Having been named one of Barack Obama’s favorite books and a best book by NPR, and translated into 18 languages to date, Long Bright River is as compassionate as it is thrilling—a true work of beautiful, heartbreaking art.
20. The Circle by Dave Eggers (2014)
This is a 21st-century, seat-of-your-chair thriller that’ll make you think about where we are as a society and where we could be headed in the future. Set inside the biggest social media company on earth, this novel pits the idealism of a single person against the ambitions of a corrupt system. You’ll likely start asking more questions about privacy, democracy and corporate and political transparency—and maybe even delete your Facebook account when you’ve finished it. There’s a sequel, The Every, and a 2017 movie adaptation starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks too. Once you’ve finished discussing The Circle and the pitfalls of social media with your teen, send them this list of the best books for teens.
21. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer (1999)
This is journalist and mountaineer Jon Krakauer’s classic thriller about the riveting true story of 24 hours on Everest that claimed the lives of eight people, nearly including his own. It’s harrowing, insightful, brilliant and a must-read for fans of the best thriller books. We recommend reading on a beach in full sun, although the descriptions are so vivid you’ll probably still feel the Himalayan frost on your toes.
22. The Stand by Stephen King (2012)
Stephen King’s post-apocalyptic novel is an undisputed classic. And because it focuses on a strand of a virus that can wipe out 99% of the world’s population, it’s one of the best thriller books that’s more eerily familiar now than when it was originally published, when the master of horror released a longer, “uncut” version in 1990, or when the paperback incarnation arrived in the summer of 2012. Terrifying at any length and more terrifying today during a lingering global pandemic, The Stand was made into a poorly received TV series at the end of 2020, but the book will keep you on the edge of your seat no matter when you read it. King fans will have their own opinions about the best Stephen King books.
23. Down the River Unto the Sea by Walter Mosley (2019)
This stand-alone mystery thriller follows Joe King Oliver, a brand-new character from a legendary author who has brought to life a number of favorites over the years, including Easy Rawlins and Leonid McGill. Oliver is a Black man who served on the NYPD until his co-workers framed him for a crime. When we meet him, he’s out of Rikers Island and running a private detective agency with the help of his teenage daughter, Aja-Denise. Now tasked with solving a case about a Black journalist accused of killing a pair of corrupt cops, Oliver must also reckon with his own case and the dirty cops responsible for breaking him so many years ago—as well as keep his daughter and himself safe.
24. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carré (1963)
John le Carré is the quintessential espionage writer and author of some of the absolute best thriller books of the 20th (and 21st) centuries. Set in East Germany, behind the just-built Berlin Wall during the Cold War, this rich tale still captivates with its spellbinding portrayal of the world of secret agents and spies. It features a desperate man using himself as bait to catch and kill for revenge. For a lighter thrill, try one of these cozy mysteries.
25. From Russia with Love by Ian Fleming (1957)
Ian Fleming started it all with James Bond and his arsenal of clever gadgets, some of which are not so far-fetched anymore. As you seek out the best new thriller books, it’s essential that you also read classics like these early James Bond titles (this is the fifth of the original 14 Bond books) to see how a master of the genre crafted a story that would go on to become a famous film franchise. This one involves a sexy Russian spy, the Orient Express, deadly assassins and, of course, the dapper 007, so it’s no wonder it’s an all-time favorite.
26. The Good House by Tananarive Due (2004)
In The Good House, a fascinatingly modern and thoroughly topical take on the classic haunted house story, Angela Touissant is a Haitian-American who does battle with a mysterious evil that’s driving people to violence and suicide. At the same time, she must face, answer and overcome her own questions and struggles with identity and belonging, making this not only a must-read psychological thriller but also a universally relatable tale for our time.
27. The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells (1898)
Long before the radio drama would shake audiences to their core, H.G. Wells pioneered the best thriller books, introducing this genre, unknown at the time, to worldwide acclaim. Involving a martian invasion of earth, this first-person sci-fi classic is moving, important and beautifully told from the English countryside. If you love science fiction thriller books but haven’t read the one that spawned the entire genre, now is the time to do so.
28. The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris (1991)
If you get your adrenaline rush from mind games rather than chase scenes, psychological suspense is for you. For sheer creepiness and terror, nothing beats Thomas Harris’s book that is every bit as thrilling as the Anthony Hopkins–led movie that once kept you up all night in fear. If you’re reading it for the first time, pro tip: Don’t read it alone or at night! Actually, that goes for all the best thriller books on this list.
29. The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo (2014)
In The Ghost Bride—now a Netflix original series—Li Lan, a young woman living in colonial Malaya, is offered the chance to be a “ghost bride” for a wealthy family whose only son died unexpectedly. Soon, she finds herself entwined in terrifying and intriguing forces of the afterlife while also confronting feelings for the family’s living heir. Check out more of the bestselling books behind TV shows.
30. Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow (1987)
Featuring terrific characters, a deftly executed plot and fascinating legal insight, this is the definitive legal thriller. Turow’s first novel still shines bright today because of the accuracy of its depiction of the inner workings of the legal system, which we learn about when a prosecuting attorney (played by Harrison Ford in the film adaptation) is assigned to the case of his murdered former colleague before becoming the lead suspect. Despite what’s considered a somewhat weak final twist, Presumed Innocent is beloved and helped launch the author’s career.
31. A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas (2016)
Yes, there are arguably too many Sherlock Holmes adaptations. This one, though, the first of Thomas’s The Lady Sherlock Series, features a genius “Sherlock” who’s a woman named Charlotte, and it’s written by a woman of color. In this historical mystery, Charlotte takes up the mantle of Detective Sherlock Holmes when her sister and father are blamed for a trio of murders. Instead of Watson, Charlotte has help from a kind-hearted widow, a police inspector and a man who loves her. As she defies societal expectations to solve the case, you’ll find yourself hungry for more. Thankfully, the series has reached book 7, A Tempest at Sea, to be published in 2023. An acclaimed author, Sherry Thomas also made our list of the best romance novels of all time.
32. The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton (1969)
Sure, he’s done dinosaurs and television emergency rooms, but Michael Crichton’s first novel under his own name, The Andromeda Strain, still ranks as one of the top science fiction thrillers of all time. Because, as we now know all too well, what could be scarier than microscopic killer germs running amok across the globe? While this novel involves a satellite that captured microorganisms from space capable of killing through nearly instantaneous blood clotting and not a virus transmitted by sneezing or breathing on someone, it still may be too close to home to read it right now.
33. Lay Your Sleeping Head by Michael Nava (2019)
Henry Rios is an openly gay protagonist who’s a criminal defense lawyer in Michael Nava’s acclaimed series. Lay Your Sleeping Head, the 2019 revision of 1986’s The Little Death, is the first in the Henry Rios Mysteries series. The final volume of the series, Lies with Man, was published in 2022.
A perplexing new case draws Henry Rios back into the fold when Hugh Paris comes to him insisting that his wealthy grandfather is plotting his murder—and then, shortly after, he winds up dead. Though his death is ruled an overdose, Rios suspects foul play and dives into San Francisco’s network of wealthy elite families and their secrets. Written in the 1980s by a gay Latino man, this book was far ahead of its time, and the series continues to tell stories and feature characters too often ignored by the mainstream publishing industry. Here are more of the best LGBTQ+ books to read right now.
34. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (1966)
Yes, real life can be stranger than fiction, and true crime thrillers prove this. The most famous book in this nonfiction genre is Truman Capote’s pioneering In Cold Blood. The famed author spent months in the Midwest painstakingly retracing the steps of two young rural killers, and the result is one of the most legendary crime novels of all time. Follow up your reading of this classic by watching Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Oscar-winning performance as Capote in the eponymous film. This was one of the first nonfiction novels ever written; you’ll want to check out more of the best nonfiction books of all time.
35. Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors by Piers Paul Read (1974)
This book set the gold standard for heroic survival stories with this true tale of a rugby team from Uruguay whose plane crashes, resulting in an incredible 10-week physical and emotional ordeal. The true story of the 1972 crash was written by interviewing many of the survivors as well as the family members of the passengers and was told as is, without embellishment or exaggeration. When you read this thrilling account of perseverance and sacrifice, you’ll understand why nothing needed to be fictionalized. Next, tune in to these true crime podcasts you’ll want to binge on.
Additional reporting by Dawn Raffel and Chloë Nannestad.