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- Thriller books are naturally enticing, fast-paced fiction reads with notorious plot twists.
- The best thrillers offer plenty of suspense and mystery throughout the novel.
- This list has a wide variety of popular books, including crime and psychological thrillers.
Known for their shocking twists and turns, thrillers have taken the book industry by storm over the last several years for, what I believe, is one clear reason: They make reading really fun. Thrillers stand out as gripping stories in a world where so many things compete for our attention. They build up fast and grip us tightly as we navigate shadowy hallways and unsolved murders, eliciting an adrenaline rush just from turning the page.
Almost half the books in my personal library are thrillers. I love the “can’t-put-it-down” feeling of a tense plotline and a twist that makes me want to throw a book at a wall (that’s a good thing – I swear!). I’ve read the vast majority of the books on this list and added the rest based on the rave reviews from other thriller book nerds. Whether it’s a deeply psychological thriller narrative, a fast-paced YA mystery novel, or a crime thriller too scary to read at night, there’s a book on this list for every thriller lover.
The 31 best thriller books:
A psychological thriller with an electrifying twist
Speaking of throwing books against a wall, this was the first book I ever chucked when the plot twist was revealed — one that I didn’t even know was a possibility until I reached the climax. Henrietta has finally found some stability between her bipolar medication and her new home with her husband. When they go to the neighbor’s house for dinner, Henrietta notices a unique trophy that definitely belonged to someone who was killed two years ago. Torn between the comfort of her new life and her weakness to find the answer to this unsolved case, Henrietta quickly unravels far more than she bargained for.
Thrill factor: A plot twist that will have you rethinking the entire book.
A thriller with multiple truths
There are four stories here: The one the jury decided, his, hers, and — completely separate — the truth. I love books with “solved” murders that push us to read on to uncover the real truth. One night, Alicia’s husband returns home late from his job. She shoots him five times in the face and never speaks again. Confined to a psychiatric ward, Theo — a criminal psychotherapist — is determined to get Alicia to talk and uncover why she murdered her husband. Digging into Alicia’s past reveals that there are many things that can drive us to do the unthinkable.
Thrill factor: Being sure of the truth just before new information is revealed.
A thriller around a kidnapping
This one was particularly enticing and dark, the secrets running far deeper and with more complexity than I expected. It’s been 10 years since Laurel’s then-15-year-old daughter, Ellie, disappeared — and Laurel has never given up hope of finding her. Laurel is swept up in a romance with her new boyfriend and finds herself meeting his nine-year-old daughter, who looks exactly like Ellie did at that age. This is a tightly wound ball of thriller chaos that is so much fun to unravel as you read.
Thrill factor: A plot that catches you completely off guard.
A deeply psychological thriller
On Monday morning, Louise discovers her (very married) boss is the same man with whom she shared an amazing kiss at a bar just days ago. Though assuring her it will never happen again, David can’t keep his eyes off Louise. What ensues is a complex yet comprehensible web of manipulation and a twist that had me nearly yelling “WHAT?!” by the end.
Thrill factor: A baffling realization hiding in the final pages.
A chilling thriller all about the little details
Blythe is fully committed to being the warm, nurturing mother she never had, but she’s convinced that something is wrong with her new baby — she doesn’t behave like other children do. As her husband dismisses her fears, she begins to question her sanity. When her second child is born, the familial connections are undeniable…until a devastating event has Blythe (and the reader) questioning everything. Best described as a tour de force, this is an extremely fast-paced thriller that’s easy to devour in a day.
Thrill factor: A whiplash-y plot that launches you straight into the story.
An unsettling marital thriller
Jack and Grace are the epitome of true love, radiating elegance, wealth, and charm, all while never being apart…ever. It’s hard to get to know the mysterious Grace because she can’t meet for coffee, she never answers her phone, and one of the bedroom windows seems to have bars on it. This is one that masterfully incites panic into a reader, worrying about the characters and desperately needing to know what happens.
Thrill factor: The graphic descriptions in the already chilling scenes.
A psychological book with family intrigue
This is a guilty pleasure of a thriller: fast, dramatic, and satisfying. Kate had a picture-perfect life with her husband and daughter — until her husband left for a woman half his age. Tish is gorgeous, luxurious, and only a little suspicious of her new husband’s previous infidelity. She plans a romantic getaway to fend Kate off, but love and revenge are powerful weapons that tear plans apart.
Thrill factor: The dark humor that ramps up the intensity.
A psychological thriller that will leave you speechless
With an unreliable narrator and more lies than you can count, this thriller is perfectly constructed and the plot is a baffling rollercoaster. When Amber wakes up from a coma, she can’t remember what happened, but she suspects her husband has something to do with it. This book alternates between the present, the week before her accident, and Amber’s childhood diaries to help us piece together a brilliant psychological twist.
Thrill factor: The subtle inflections the narrator assigns to each character.
A dark yet elegant crime thriller
Megan Collins became well-known for her debut thriller “The Winter Sister,” but I’m here to proclaim that “Behind the Red Door” is the one that should really be in the spotlight. I have never read a thriller that featured characters with such complexity or one where I said “oh NO” out loud so many times. When Fern hears the news that a woman named Astrid has gone missing, she’s sure she knows her. Fern’s husband is sure that it must be from Astrid ‘s infamous kidnapping 20 years prior, which happened just outside Fern’s childhood town but of which she has no memory. When Astrid starts appearing in Fern’s nightmares, Fern grapples to understand if it’s a dream or a memory with the help of her psychologist father.
Thrill factor: The main character’s unreliable memory.
A chilling stalker thriller
If you have yet to be pulled into the Netflix adaptation, resist and pick up the book first! This is the creepiest yet most believable stalker thriller, packed with so many insane developments that you think it can’t get any wilder…until it does. Told from Joe’s perspective, the book depicts his rapidly growing obsession over a woman he meets in a bookstore, one that morphs and twists as Joe stops at nothing to make himself the center of her world. Joe is the most messed up fictional character I’ve ever encountered, making this book a fabulously creepy thriller to grab.
Thrill factor: The chilling main character.
A terrifying serial killer story
This thriller gripped me so much that I read the second-half all in one shot and finished at 3:30 a.m. It’s about a serial killer and abductor who whispers to children to lure them away from safety. The Whisper Man has been locked away for 20 years, but the patterns of his crimes are emerging once again. The book also threw in a couple mini-twists at the end that made reading until the very last page exciting.
Thrill factor: Wanting so badly to protect the characters.
An alluring marital thriller
In this creepy thriller where we never learn the narrator’s name, a married couple does everything married couples are “supposed” to do: Settle down, buy a house, have a kid, and grow horribly bored with their lives. With the thrills building up in nearly every scene, the secret ingredient that keeps their marriage alive is getting away with murder.
Thrill factor: The layers upon layers of secrets behind every character.
A thriller for the true-crime lovers
Rachel’s true-crime podcast gained notoriety after it helped set an innocent man free. When a note begging for help is left on Rachel’s windshield, it launches an investigation into the past and present, exploring a town disrupted by a rape trial and a drowning accident from 25 years ago. This is an especially perfect thriller for true crime lovers — it swirls you quickly into the center of this plot and keeps you strapped in for the ride.
Thrill factor: The two separate (yet intertwined) mysteries
A multi-POV thriller
This heartbreaking story about familial tragedy is as deep as it is twisty. Matt returns home after a night of partying to be informed that nearly his entire family was killed by a gas leak in their hotel in Mexico. Though it seems like an accident, one FBI agent believes otherwise, but won’t disclose why. The deaths make national headlines because this isn’t the first time Matt’s family has been thrust into the spotlight: his brother is currently in prison for the muder of his high school girlfriend — a murder the public believes he didn’t commit. When Matt returns home to bury his family, the connections between his brother’s case and his family’s accident begin to emerge.
Thrill factor: That “look over your shoulder” feeling.
A domestic legal thriller
This domestic thriller is just as emotional and insightful as it is surprising and exhilarating. Lizzie spends long hours working at her law firm after her marriage slowly crumbled apart. When she gets a call from Zach, her old friend who’s currently being held on suspicion of killing his wife, Lizzie knows she has to drop everything and help him. As she begins to piece together what happened to Zach’s wife, she finds that maybe their idyllic marriage wasn’t so great after all.
Thrill Factor: The marital drama and endless secrets.
Mystery and suspense thrillers
A staple in the genre
An indisputable thriller staple, this is a great one to pick up if you’re just getting into the genre because it will introduce you to some of the nuances of thrillers on which many others are based. In this book, Amy goes missing on her and Nick’s fifth wedding anniversary. Dealing with the town breathing down his neck and haunting diary entries from his wife, Nick begins to spin a web of lies around his wife’s disappearance.
Thrill factor: Carefully sculpted plot twists.
A full-throttle, high suspenseful mystery thriller
I ignored my family during the holidays because of this book, and I’m not sorry about it! While driving home through Colorado, Darby is caught in a blizzard and forced to wait the storm out at a highway rest stop, stranded with four strangers. When she goes to her car to try and get a signal, she notices a child locked in a cage in the back of a van. Far from police help, Darby must figure out which person is the kidnapper and get the child and herself to safety. This was the most tense I have ever felt reading a book.
Thrill factor: The high-speed action scenes.
A thriller of multiple marriages (and multiple truths)
With three points of view (and none of them entirely reliable), “Too Good To Be True” is a thriller about two marriages and the secrets that can uproot well-laid plans. Skye is overjoyed to be engaged to Burke, her seemingly perfect boyfriend who, in a series of letters to his therapist, reveals that he’s married and deviously manipulating Skye. The third perspective is of Heather, Burke’s ex from 30 years ago. It’s a twist-filled read that will leave you wondering how well you know those closest to you.
Thrill factor: The feeling of an emotional car crash waiting to happen.
A book with a jaw-dropping reveal
This is a thriller that thrives on your assumptions. It lets you assume that you’re reading the story of a jealous woman, obsessed with her ex-husband’s new wife, just to turn everything on its head halfway through this impeccably constructed book. Even when you know something is coming, the twists in this tangled love triangle are utterly shocking.
Thrill factor: Questioning our own assumptions.
A thriller almost too wild to believe
Sydney is tired of the gentrification of her Brooklyn neighborhood, the homes changing and her neighbors moving faster than she can keep up. She decides to start a deep-dive into the neighborhood’s history with her neighbor Theo, but what they uncover instills paranoia and fear as what they once thought were conspiracies are slowly revealed to hold hidden truths. This one is a wild ride with a pile of twists that happen all at once.
Thrill factor: The conspiracy theories that might actually be true.
A binge-worthy book
When you open this book, make sure you have no plans for the rest of the day — the first 20 pages or so ease you into the story and the rest of the book is a dead sprint to the end. Little-known writer Lowen has been hired to finish Verity’s well-loved book series after a car accident left her in a waking coma. While looking for outlines or notes in Verity’s office, Lowen discovers a horrifying autobiographical manuscript that depicts Verity’s darkest secrets, kept from her husband and children. This thriller is one gripping scene of action after another, barrelling towards an ending that will have you shoving this book into your friends’ hands so they can experience the wild ride for themselves.
Thrill factor: The inability to choose which lie to believe.
The story of a murderous fashionista
This book is unassumingly murderous, exciting, and fun. Anya is a fashion editor with an envious wardrobe, a flawless social media presence, a soaring career, and a stack of bodies of those who almost got in her way. When Anya’s desire to be friends with Sarah, her coworker, turns into an obsession, the intrigue may turn fatal. There is an unreasonably large amount of murder in this story, which is exactly what kept me interested.
Thrill factor: Anya’s conniving ability to get away with murder.
A suspenseful mystery of a missing woman
Ella nearly intervenes when she sees two recently released convicts flirting with two young women, Anna and Sarah. After Ella decides to mind her business, Anna goes missing — and Ella is still riddled with guilt one year later. But now someone is sending Ella threatening letters, and the gaps in Sarah’s account of that night grow wider as Ella realizes someone knows where Anna might be. This is one where the intense plot twist threw so many readers for a loop and settled with a satisfying resolution.
Thrill factor: The psychological distress of the protagonist.
A heartbreaking YA thriller novel
I was not in the least surprised to learn that Kit Frick is also a poet. This book is teenage heartbreak mixed in a swirl of emotional prose and confounding thrills. Told between then and now, Ellory returns to her senior year of high school riddled with guilt, anxiety, and loss. As you read, you’ll sort through the lies to find the truth to Ellory’s pain. The whole book leads up to discovering the event that tore apart the main character’s world, so you always have the feeling that something is coming… but you never know what might be around the corner.
Thrill factor: A potentially unreliable narrator.
A compulsively readable YA thriller
This is another book that I finished in one sitting, the two seemingly unrelated storylines leading to a climax so shocking, I’m not sure I even blinked until I finished the book. It follows Gabe and Elyse, complete strangers with similar secrets. They each fall for the wrong person and make one bad choice that spins their lives out of control. When you have no clue what you’re looking for, a thriller’s twist can hit you like a brick wall (in a good way!) and that’s exactly what this book did to me.
Thrill factor: Two different tales with unsettling similarities.
A twisted teenage tale
Fans of “Riverdale” and high school thriller will undoubtedly devour this YA novel. The cheer squad at Sunnybrook High was disbanded after the death of five cheerleaders, all unrelated but close together. Five years after the deaths, the community is finally ready to move forward — except for Monica, who just discovered letters and an old cell phone in her step-dad’s desk. I accidentally read most of it in one sitting just because the story flows so smoothly.
Thrill factor: The flashback snippets providing little clues.
An investigative YA thriller
In this YA thriller favorite, the case is already closed. Sal Singh murdered Andie Bell five years ago. Everyone knows he did it — except Pippa, who chooses to investigate the murder for her senior year project. As she begins to uncover long-buried secrets, there might be some who need the truth to stay buried lurking in the shadows. If you love true crime, murder mysteries, and unstoppable young women, this is the perfect easy-read thriller to grab.
Thrill factor: The feeling of investigating alongside the protagonist.
A thriller version of “The Breakfast Club”
This YA thriller uses spectacular character development and dramatic, unreliable rumors to create a who-dunnit thriller that will keep you guessing until the very end. On Monday’s detention, five students walk in and one never walks out. Simon, now dead, planned to post high-profile secrets about the others the next day, making the other four students murder suspects in the ensuing investigation. There’s a lot of depth to this book besides the thrill ride, which makes it even more satisfying to read.
Thrill factor: The equal probability of every suspect’s guilt.
A paranormal thriller novel
Riley Sager has published four great thrillers so far but this one’s my favorite. In this spooky and paranormal haunted house thriller, Maggie returns to restore the recently inherited home that made her family famous. Her father wrote a non-fiction bestseller based on their family’s three-week stay in the home before they were forced to flee in the night. Not only was Maggie too young to remember what happened; she doesn’t believe any of it is true. I genuinely had a great time reading this thriller — it was so much fun to feel the fear and expose the truths of this house alongside Maggie.
Thrill factor: Skepticism and doubt mixed with a foggy memory.
A haunted “smart” house
Ruth Ware is another notorious thriller writer and this is my favorite of her books so far — and was actually too scary to read alone at night. It takes place in a technologically-advanced home in the Scottish Highlands, where Rowan is hired as a live-in nanny and earns an outrageous salary. Told in the form of a letter from Rowan to her lawyer, she recounts the events from her arrival at the home to the death of one of the children. This story is so immersive and scary that I had to remind myself more than once that it’s just a book.
Thrill factor: Technology’s role in generating unease.
The tale of a spooky motel
This book is filled with so many vivid and borderline violent scenes that build the tension throughout the story. Viv works at a 1982 roadside motel to pay for her move to New York City. As the secrets of the motel and its guests begin to reveal themselves, the nights seem to grow darker and darker. Once I finished this book, I felt like I could exhale for the first time in days — I was so satisfied with the resolution.
Thrill factor: Realizing that the deeper the shadows, the more secrets that can hide within.