15 Books With Plot Twists You Never Saw Coming
If you participated in Mystery & Thriller Week on Goodreads earlier this year, then you probably used the opportunity to crack open at least a few of those mind-bending, spine-tingling reads in your TBR pile. But with the week only running May 1 through May 7 (due to the fact that, you know, weeks are only seven days long) you may not have had quite enough time to get your fill of creepy, shocking, heart-pounding books with plot twists you never saw coming. (I barely made a dent in my own TBR pile, TBH.)
The good news is, you don’t have to stop reading great thrillers just because the Goodreads’ Mystery & Thriller Week is over. If you’re the kind of bookworm who loves her shelves stacked high with one shocking plot twist after another, then maybe every week is Mystery & Thriller Week in your reading life. Or maybe you used the opportunity to spark a new love of mysteries and thrillers — in which case you’re probably going to need some book recommendations, amirite? From classics like Henry James to contemporaries like Paula Hawkins, there are plenty of thrillers on this list that’ll shake up your reading life. And, if you like your plot twists a little less terrifying, there are also a few non-thrillers that will leave you just as floored.
Here are 15 novels with plot twists you never saw coming — at least, I didn’t.
1'Big Little Lies' by Liane Moriarty
Even if you missed the HBO mini-series Big Little Lies, it’s not too late to check out Liane Moriarty’s New York Times bestselling novel from which the show was adapted. (And even if you did, there are some big differences between the novel and the show that are definitely worth checking out.) For those who don’t know, Big Little Lies tells the story of a group of mothers who are all wrestling different demons — some psychological, others pulled directly from the real world, and a few that fall under both categories, and they’re not always honest about it; often lying to each other and themselves. Somehow this novel will manage to both amuse and disturb you, often on the very same page. And it will definitely surprise you.
2'Everything, Everything' by Nicola Yoon
Another New York Times bestseller, this YA novel will surprise — and maybe even infuriate you — with its ending. (And if you haven’t seen the film yet, definitely read the book first.) Everything, Everything introduces readers to 17-year-old Madeline, a girl who has never left her house. She is, as she describes, allergic to the whole world. But when the tall, dark, and handsome teen Olly moves into next door, Madeline finally discovers something — or rather someone — she is willing to risk stepping outside for. But not everyone is going to be happy about it.
3'Water for Elephants' by Sara Gruen
Don’t let the performance of the circus distract you — Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants has some surprising twists you’ll want to watch out for. In this Depression-era novel, penniless college drop out Jacob Jankowski hops a freight train in the middle of the night, and joins the circus; the Flying Squadron of the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, to be exact. But the most spectacular show on earth isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be, and behind the scenes things like sex and alcohol, violence and betrayal abound. And, everyone isn’t who they seem to be — or, at least, they’re not who they are for the reasons you might expect.
4'People Who Knew Me' by Kim Hooper
On September 11, 2001, Emily Morris’s entire life is transformed — pregnant and prepared to leave her husband for the man she’s been having an affair with, Emily instead uses the national disaster to take on a new identity, leaving New York City and the mistakes she made there behind. Fast forward 13 years, and Emily is raising a teenage daughter and battling a terminal illness — one that leaves her wondering if she can re-imagine her life, and more importantly the life of her 13-year-old daughter, once more. Maybe other readers predicted the ending of People Who Knew Me, but I definitely didn’t.
5'Into the Water' by Paula Hawkins
I don’t even know where to begin with this one. Into the Water is filled with more twists and turns than any book I’ve recently read — and once you think you’re starting to figure it out, author Paula Hawkins will surprise you again. This novel, from the bestselling author of The Girl on the Train, takes readers to a small, storied town, where a teenage girl and a single mother are found drowned in the nearby river — a river that has seen a disturbing number of drownings of women before. Suddenly, long-buried local mysteries rise to the surface, and there are a few people in the community who can’t let that happen.
6'The Queen of the Night' by Alexander Chee
A lengthy read, Alexander Chee’s The Queen of the Night is not, IMO, a book to be missed. Blending historical fiction with a mystery thriller, The Queen of the Night takes readers back to the historic Paris Opera, where the legendary soprano Lilliet Berne has just been given the role of a lifetime — one that will define her legacy in the opera forever. But as she begins to perform her part, she realizes the opera is based on a dark and secret part of her own past, which, if revealed, could certainly ruin her life. The thing that terrifies Lilliet even more than the opera itself is who could have committed her secrets to performance in the first place — and that’s the question that will keep you guessing as well.
7'The Turn of the Screw' by Henry James
Henry James's The Turn of the Screw is a classic Gothic horror, telling the story of a governess who moves into an English estate to care for two children, only to have her sanity compromised by supernatural happenings and evil phantoms — phantoms that her two charges already seem eerily well familiar with. Or, was the well-meaning governess insane to begin with? If you haven’t read this classic yet, definitely check it out.
8'Gone Girl' by Gillian Flynn
The way I see it, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl did (at least) two important things for the thriller genre: it made thrillers appealing for people who never read thrillers, and it turned the violent male/victimized female formula of the genre entirely on its head. And I’m glad for that. If you haven’t read this one yet, you should. When Nick Dunne’s wife Amy disappears before their fifth wedding anniversary, suspicion immediately falls on Nick — who, let’s face it, isn’t awesome. And his lies make him look even worse. But the plot twist Flynn has in store might actually make you shout out loud from surprise. Really.
9'Waking Lions' by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen
Set in the novelist’s native Israel, Ayelet Gundar-Goshen’s Waking Lions begins with a murder — the hit-and-run of an undocumented Eritrean immigrant by Israeli doctor Eitan Green. Eitan, speeding down a rural road late at night, slams into Asum and after a quick inspection of the immigrant’s body, decides to flee the scene. Except he’s left some evidence behind — evidence that Asum’s wife, Sirkit, will use to blackmail the doctor into operating a free, nighttime health clinic for Israel’s undocumented immigrants and refugees. In Waking Lions, the bad guys are the good guys, the victims are the perpetrators, and the ending is definitely not what you’ll expect.
10'The Circle' by Dave Eggers
Man has always had a complicated relationship with machines — but that relationship is getting a whole lot creepier of late. Written like 1984-meets-The Fountainhead for the social media generation, Dave Eggers' The Circle will take you behind the scenes of one of the world’s most powerful tech companies — one that monitors your every move, where secrets, privacy, and unplugging are automatically suspect. What’s so shocking about The Circle isn’t the ending (with its strong echoes of Winston and Julia) but rather how familiar some of the disturbing happenings in The Circle will start to sound.
11'Second Life' by S.J. Watson
Another novel that will make you re-think your relationship with the internet forever, S.J. Watson’s psychological thriller, Second Life, tells the story of a fairly unremarkable wife and mother whose entire life is turned upside-down after her sister is murdered. According to Julia, the police aren’t doing everything to find Kate’s killer, and so she takes matters into her own hands. Suddenly, Julia finds herself immersed in her sister’s secret world of online dating and cybersex, and quickly begins to succumb to a hidden, and potentially deadly, digital "second" life of her own.
12'The Westing Game' by Ellen Raskin
Featuring a surprising plot for a YA/Middle Grade novel, Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game just might have been your very first mystery thriller. In The Westing Game, sixteen characters are thrown together to play a series of games hosted by a dead millionaire — and lifelong lover of games himself. Samuel Westing’s will is filled with games, tricks, and mysteries, all leading his heirs to their share of his estate… and although all are somewhat eccentric in their own rights, one might actually be a murderer.
13'Before the Fall' by Noah Hawley
Alternating between the past and the present, Noah Hawley’s novel, Before the Fall, tells the story of a terrible (and unlikely?) boating accident. When an entire boat of people traveling from Martha’s Vineyard to New York one summer evening disappears into the thick fog off the coast, only two survivors surface: an unknown painter and a four-year-old boy who seems to have lost his entire family. But was the disappearance really an accident? As past and present begin to collide, and theories abound, the possibility that this was really a planned conspiracy becomes increasingly likely — and disturbing.
14'The Kite Runner' by Khaled Hosseini
Young Afghan boys Amir and Hassan might feel like they’re best friends, but the ethnic and tribal tensions that permeate every aspect of Afghan society say otherwise. Amir is the son of a wealthy Pashtun merchant and Hassan, of the Hazara caste, is technically his servant. But Baba Amir’s father, loves both boys as sons; often exhibiting a soft spot for Hassan, while critiquing Amir. This fear of disappointing his father causes Amir to betray his lifelong friend, threatening their relationship with more than just the dynamics of Afghan politics. And once Amir betrays Hassan, unforgivably, he discovers — through one surprising twist after another — that the rest of his life risks being defined by this betrayal.
15'We Were Liars' by E. Lockhart
The winner of several awards for books for young writers, E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars introduces you to Cadence Sinclair, a teen suffering from amnesia who is struggling to remember the accident that led to her injury, trusts no one, and is questioning everything — including her cousins and best friends, the “Liars.” Written in choppy, nontraditional prose, We Were Liars will take you through Cadence’s internal journey, into the darkest depths of her mind, leaving you wondering whether she is the victim of a terrible violence or an unreliable narrator. All is revealed in the end.