The world is now replete with technological innovations, but
books have yet to be bested. Better than any gizmo, they can transport us to other places, manipulating our emotions and keeping us hooked until the very last page. In no genre is that magic more evident than thrillers: A good thriller can get a reader’s heart racing, their brain ticking, and make them forget where they are — all with just words on a page.
Though suspense has always been a feature of storytelling, all the way
back to , the thriller as a genre of novel began in the 20th century. Many believe that John Fowles’ dark kidnapping story The Iliad and The Odyssey The Collector is the first real thriller novel, but there are plenty of earlier books that also fit into the genre, from Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca to Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley novels.
More recently, thrillers have, like other genre fiction, functioned as a space for marginalized writers — especially women — to write about their experiences, either directly or through allegory and metaphor. This list includes a rich wealth of these novels, including Megan Abbott’s cheerleader noir
Dare Me, Lauren Wilkinson’s African spy thriller American Spy, Zakiya Delila Harris’ publishing satire The Other Black Girl, and many more.
Below, the 35 best thriller books to read now.
There’s nowhere better to start a list of thriller novels than Daphne du Maurier’s classic Gothic romance
Rebecca. Even if you haven’t read Rebecca before, chances are, elements of it will be familiar: It was inspired by Jane Eyre — which in turn inspired Phantom Thread — and has birthed two cinematic adaptations, one made in 1940 and the other in 2020. But even if you think you know Rebecca, the best way to experience the story is to read du Maurier’s gripping, unnerving story about falling for a dangerous man. 2 The Postman Always Rings Twice The Postman Always Rings Twice may not be quite as enduringly beloved as Rebecca, but it’s just as full of suspense and seduction — and, as a result, was both hugely popular and hugely scandalous when it was first published in 1934. The novel is narrated by a young man, Frank, who stops in at a diner and falls in love with the beautiful woman who works there. The only problem is, she happens to be married to the much older man who owns the place... who they just might have to remove from the picture. 3 Rogue Male
Published on the eve of World War II, this thriller fuses political commentary with a harsh survivalist plot. It follows a professional hunter traveling through a central European country who attempts to murder the resident dictator, only to be captured by his bodyguards and tortured. Before he can be executed, he escapes back to his home in England — but no matter where he goes, his enemies follow him, forcing him to flee further and further into the wilderness until they reach a final confrontation.
4 Hangover Square
World War II had a profound impact on writers of all genres, but it particularly influenced noir and thriller writers.
Hangover Square is, like Rogue Male, a classic example of a book that isn’t exactly about the war, but can be read as an allegory for the rise of fascism. More concretely, it’s the story of George Harvey Bone, a hapless, pathetic man with alcohol use disorder who falls desperately in love with a cruel woman. But George has a split personality... and half of him is desperate to kill her. 5 In a Lonely Place
Dorothy B. Hughes tackled the aftermath of World War II in
In a Lonely Place, a pitch-black noir thriller first published in 1947 and narrated from the point of view of a serial killer. Dix Steele, a veteran who flew planes during the war, is now adrift in Los Angeles, where he’s busy occupying himself strangling women and reconnecting with one of his old army buddies, who happens to be a detective. 6 The Tiger in the Smoke
Although Margery Allingham may not be as well-known now as her contemporaries Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers, she was another popular and celebrated female mystery writer from the “Golden Age of Crime” whose books are ripe for rediscovery.
The Tiger in the Smoke features her signature detective, Albert Campion, who is enlisted by a war widow to track down her husband, who may still be alive after all. 7 The Talented Mr. Ripley
Patricia Highsmith may be the unparalleled master of cold-blooded suspense in American fiction. She never indulged in sentimentality, or took the easy way out; most of her main characters, in fact, are psychopaths. Tom Ripley, her most famous creation and the protagonist of
The Talented Mr. Ripley, is her most charismatic and ruthless psycho, a violent pathological liar who impersonates and kills other people in order to live the luxurious life of his dreams. Ripley is morally indefensible, but Highsmith’s writing is so masterful that you can’t help but be drawn into his web, just like the other characters in the novel. 8 We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Shirley Jackson is best known as a horror writer, but much of her work could just as easily be described as suspense, especially
We Have Always Lived in the Castle, a claustrophobic family novel set on isolated estate Vermont. Merricat, the 18-year-old narrator, and her older sister Constance are social pariahs in their small town because everyone believes they murdered their family. Merricat doesn’t mind this so much as long as she has her sister — but when their charismatic cousin Charles appears and begins wooing Constance, the delicate balance of their lives goes haywire. 9 The Collector The Collector is considered by many to be the first literary thriller that follows the modern conventions of the genre. It begins from the perspective of Frederick Clegg — described in as “one of literature's most evil characters” — a psychotic and socially alienated young man who becomes obsessed with an art student whom he eventually kidnaps. The second half of the book is told from the point of view of the student, Miranda Grey, in the form of a diary she writes while she is being held captive. The Guardian in 2014 10 Out Out tells the story of Yayoi Yamamoto, a young woman who works at a boxed-lunch factory and endures abuse from her husband when she goes home at night. One day, seemingly out of the blue, she murders him — and finds herself with a dead body and a baby to take care of. She turns to her colleagues, all women with problems of their own to deal with, to help her cover up her crime. Together, they band together and try to mislead the police... which only gets them into more trouble. 11 Those Bones Are Not My Child Those Bones Are Not My Child, the final, posthumous novel by documentarian, activist, and writer Toni Cade Bambara, was edited by Toni Morrison, who described the book as Bambara’s “magnum opus.” The novel chronicles the mass kidnappings and murders of Black boys in Atlanta between 1979 and 1981 from the fictionalized perspective of one of the mothers of the boys. Marzala, the mother in question, joins the activist group STOP after becoming disillusioned with the official government response, and works with her estranged husband to discover who killed their son. 12 The Shadow of the Wind The Shadow of the Wind — a tale of disappearing books and antiquarian book dealers — may not be the kind of title expected to top bestseller lists, which makes its staggering sales record ( 15 million copies and counting) all the more impressive. Sometimes, novels succeed because they really are that good. And although The Shadow of the Wind may sound a little esoteric, it’s a mystery at its core, full of murder and suspense — and old books. 13 Winter’s Bone Winter’s Bone is now better-known as Jennifer Lawrence’s breakout film — for which she was nominated for an Oscar in 2010 — but it began as a novel that’s just as gripping. The story centers around Ree Dolly, whose father has disappeared after being arrested for running a crystal meth lab. If he doesn’t show up for his court date, Ree and her family will have to forfeit their house — so, desperate and out of options, Ree sets out to track him down at any cost. 14 What the Dead Know
Laura Lippman has published over 20 crime and thriller novels, and many of them would be a good choice for this list. But
What the Dead Know, one of her early hits, is a good place to start. It revolves around a cold kidnapping case that’s reopened when a female hit-and-run driver claims to be one of the girls who was abducted 30 years earlier. The detectives, attorneys, and social workers can’t quite decide whether they believe her or not, and Lippman slowly unravels the mystery for them and for the reader. 15 The Exception
This chilly, riveting novel takes place in the fictional Danish Center for Information on Genocide. There, four women work to investigate genocides, but their lives are turned upside-down when half of them receive death threats. At first, they suspect a Serbian war criminal whom they’ve been investigating, but quickly their suspicions turn to each other, and loyalties within the Center devolve. In
The Exception, author Christian Jungerson probes what exactly “evil” means... and whether anyone can ever really trust another person. 16 Penance
According to her official bio, Japanese author Kanae Minato was a home economics teacher and a housewife before she started publishing the haunting, suspenseful novels that have made her an international bestselling writer. In
Penance, she melds her expertise in women’s lives and the domestic sphere with her ability to send a chill down the reader’s spine. The novel tells the story of three women who were present when their friend was abducted and, they later discover, murdered as a young girl. As adults, they still feel guilty — and desperate to find the killer, lest their dead friend’s mother exact revenge. 17 All Yours
When Inés decides to follow her husband of over 20 years, she expects to find evidence of his adultery — not to see him murder the woman with whom he’s arranged a clandestine rendezvous. At first, Inés is perversely reassured by her husband’s act of violence, but when he continues to embark on extramarital affairs, she decides to take things into her own hands and exact revenge.
18 Dare Me
Megan Abbott, one of America’s reigning queens of crime, has made a specialty out of writing books about traditionally female pursuits — particularly physical activities like gymnastics, ballet, and in this case, cheerleading — and exploring their dark sides. In
Dare Me, the relationships and fluctuating power dynamics between narrator Addy, her dominating and cruel friend Beth, and their tough new coach makes for a complicated web, which gets even trickier once murder is involved. 19 The Round House
Acclaimed Ojibwe author Louise Erdrich — who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2021 for her novel
— has expertly spanned genres throughout her long career, and in The Night Watchman The Round House she puts her own spin on mysteries and thrillers. The novel, which won the National Book Award, tells the story of Joe Coutts, a 13-year-old boy who embarks upon his own investigation to find the person who attacked his mother after law enforcement fails to do so. 20 My Sister, the Serial Killer
Like many of the best thriller writers, Nigerian author Oyinkan Braithwaite melds social commentary with suspense, murder, and plenty of dark humor. Korede has long put up with living in her younger sister Ayoola’s shadow, and even cleans up Ayoola’s messes for her, in the form of the bodies of the boyfriends she keeps on murdering (all, supposedly, in “self-defense”). But Korede’s life gets a lot more complicated when Ayoola starts dating the man Korede secretly loves — and would rather not see dead.
21 The Perfect Nanny
This chilling novel, which won France’s prestigious Prix Goncourt, was inspired by a
2012 case in which a nanny murdered her two young charges. Leila Slimani approaches her fictionalized version of the story from every point of view, exploring both the mother Myriam, and the enigmatic nanny, Louise. Slimani’s keen sense of plotting as well as her refusal to shy away from the ugliest parts of this story make this a riveting, if gruesome, read. 22 A Girl in Exile: Requiem for Linda B.
This novel by Albanian author Ismail Kadare blends mystery with Soviet-era paranoia. It follows Rudian Stefa, a playwright living under Albania’s communist regime who comes under the state’s microscope when a young woman, Linda B., from a suspected family is found dead with a copy of one of his plays in her possession. Rudian begins investigating Linda’s life, quickly becoming consumed by her — even though she’s no longer alive.
23 American Spy
Marie Mitchell, a Black FBI agent in the 1980s, is thrilled to escape her boring desk job when the Bureau offers her the opportunity to travel to Burkina Faso on a mission to undermine Thomas Sankara, the president whose communist beliefs have made him a target of American intervention. Soon enough, she’s made her way into Sankara’s inner circle — but the more time she spends there, the more she begins to question whether or not she’s doing the right thing.
24 In a Dark, Dark Wood
After becoming estranged from her friend Clare, Leonora is unexpectedly invited to her bachelorette party (or hen do, as they say in the UK). She makes the trip to a secluded house in the woods for the party, despite her reservations, but something isn’t quite right... and when she wakes up in the hospital days later, she struggles to remember just what that something is, and what she might have done to cause it.
25 Miracle Creek
drew on her own experiences raising a son with ulcerative colitis to inspire her award-winning debut novel, Miracle Creek. She tried out an experimental treatment called hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), in which patients were placed in highly flammable hyperbaric oxygen chambers. Fifteen years later, she wrote Miracle Creek, in which the mother of an autistic son is charged with deliberately killing her son by igniting his hyperbaric chamber. This novel is part medical thriller, part courtroom drama, and immigrant family story — in other words, it has pretty much everything. 26 The Other Black Girl
In Zakiya Delila Harris’ hit debut, Nella Rogers, a young, Black editorial assistant at a major New York publishing company, is unnerved when another Black woman, Hazel, starts working as an assistant on her floor. Though she’s initially excited at the prospect of having someone to commiserate with, she quickly realizes that there’s something about Hazel that’s not quite right. As the book progresses, Harris adds a speculative twist that makes this novel even more suspenseful.
27 My Mother’s House
Fans of the smart Netflix horror film
His House — about a pair of Sudanese refugees living in an unfriendly house in England — will enjoy Francesca Momplaisir’s similarly sharp thriller My Mother’s House. As in that film, Momplaisir deftly melds social commentary and nail-biting tension. Married couple Lucien and Marie-Ange flee Haiti for New York City, settling in a burgeoning Haitian neighborhood. But Lucien is up to no good, and the house he’s bought turns out to have a mind of its own — and quickly turns on him. 28 When No One Is Watching When No One Is Watching has garnered comparisons to Rear Window and Get Out, and for good reason: It combines the neighborhood investigation elements of Rear Window with Get Out’s sense of conspiratorial dread. The novel follows Sydney Green, a Brooklyn native who’s frustrated by the accelerating pace of gentrification. As she embarks on a local history project to preserve her neighborhood’s character, she and her new neighbor and friend Theo begin to suspect that something darker than mere gentrification is going on, and set out to find out where exactly all their neighbors are vanishing to. 29 Lightseekers
Nigerian novelist Femi Kayode
drew inspiration from the real-life murders of four undergraduate students in Nigeria for his debut novel, Lightseekers — a taught, politically sharp thriller. Dr. Philip Taiwo, Kayode’s protagonist, is an investigative psychologist. When he’s called in by the government to investigate the political murder of three students, he quickly finds himself enmeshed in a more complicated, treacherous investigation than he’s ever faced before. 30 Saving Ruby King
In this debut thriller, Catherine Adel West ably fuses a rich tale of friendship with one of family strife. After the death of her mother, Ruby King is trapped living with her abusive father. Her only lifeline is her best friend, Layla — who is determined to rescue her best friend despite her own father’s demand that she stay away.
31 These Toxic Things
In this gripping thriller by bestselling author Rachel Howzell Hall, a young woman, Mickie Lambert, becomes an unlikely investigator. She works as the creator of digital scrapbooks, tying together important mementos for clients like Nadia Denham, who’s elderly and suffers from Alzheimer’s. But when Mickie starts to work on Nadia’s project, she begins to receive threatening messages... which only get worse when Nadia dies in an apparent suicide.
32 The Jigsaw Man
In many ways,
The Jigsaw Man appears to be a conventional mystery novel: It revolves around a police detective who’s investigating a serial killer — one who’s imitating another legendary killer who’s still in prison (think Hannibal Lecter). But Nadine Matheson sets her protagonist, Angelica Henley, apart in two key ways: She’s a woman, and she’s Black. Although Matheson doesn’t linger on Angelica’s identity, it infuses the book with extra depth and complexity. 33 Lady Joker, Volume 1
Kaoru Takamura is widely acclaimed in Japan, but her writing only made it to America in 2021 with the two-volume publication of
Lady Joker. This epic tale — which is based on a real crime — revolves around a group of struggling, disaffected men in postwar Japan, who decide to kidnap and demand a ransom for the CEO a large beer conglomerate. 34 The Night Will Be Long
The Night Will Be Long, Colombian author Santiago Gamboa weaves the sharp, caustically humorous narrative of journalist Julieta Lezama together with a more somber commentary on the dismal state of Colombia. After receiving a tip from a teenage boy, Julieta embarks upon an investigation of a violent conflict between two churches, which take her beyond Colombia into other nearby nations (including Brazil and French Guiana) which suffer from similar problems. 35 Untraceable
Acclaimed Russian novelist Sergei Lebedev drew inspiration for
Untraceable from the state-ordered murders of a former Russian agent and his daughter in 2018. In Lebedev’s version, the would-be victim is a chemist who invented the poison that may be used to kill him. Although he defected to the West years before, he’s never really escaped his home country... and they haven’t forgotten about him, either.
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