10 best psychological thriller books
For some readers, a novel that is simply enjoyable or stimulating is not enough. They don’t just want romance. Or just horror. Or a real crime. They don’t even want the best. No, these readers, they love to be laughed at at their novels – deceived, delighted, grieved, guessing until the very last page. If this sounds like you, then you’ve come to the right place.
Psychological thrillers offer one of the most captivating reading experiences available. These novels are the predator and the helpless readers are the prey, caught in their spell of sweaty palms and hallucinations. We’ve rounded up ten of our favorites, which illustrate the best that this depraved genre can offer, as well as the wide variety of stories writers can tell in this familiar setting. While psychological thrillers often lend themselves to stories of crime and criminally insane, this is not always the case. (To take Rebecca, for example, a psychological thriller where the disorder is perfectly garden variety. Seeing a character slip away, no matter what the cause, is all the fun.) opioid crisis and the racist criminal justice system, can cause disintegration of the mind.
Read on for ten of our favorite psychological thrillers – and if you need a palate cleanser afterwards, don’t worry. Here too, we’ve got you covered.
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The ladies, by Alex Michaelides
In this high-flying gothic thriller, we meet London psychotherapist Mariana Andros, who rushes alongside her niece at Cambridge University in the wake of the murder of a beloved classmate. Mariana immediately suspects Edward Fosca, a charismatic professor of Greek tragedy who has assembled a secret society of college girls known as The Maidens. As Maidens’ bodies continue to pile up, Mariana’s obsession with solving the case soon puts her life in danger. Layered with dreamlike references to Greek mythology and ancient ritualized murders, this clever literary page turner firmly establishes Michaelides as an unstoppable force in the thriller space.
Sharp objects, by Gillian Flynn
Missing girl gets all the press, but Flynn’s lesser-known debut is as much of a psychological thriller as they come. After a stint in a mental hospital, troubled journalist Camille Preaker returns to her hometown of Missouri to investigate a series of violent crimes against teenage girls. After years of estrangement, Camille finds herself face to face with her loved ones: the neurotic mother who haunted her childhood and the troublesome teenage stepsister she barely knows. Settled in her family’s Victorian mansion as she investigates the murders and disappearances, Camille is drawn ever deeper into the dark secrets of the city, as her psychological state crumbles under the threat of her own demons. Twisted and depraved, Sharp objects will accompany you for a long time.
Strangers on a train, by Patricia Highsmith
Strangers on a train is a staple of the psychological thriller genre for a reason. In Highsmith’s tense first novel, two men meet on a train journey. Guy, our hero, confides that he is about to divorce the woman he hates; Meanwhile, the dangerous psychopath Bruno shares that he wishes his father was dead and comes up with a plan for “the perfect murder”. Bruno will kill Guy’s wife, Guy will kill Bruno’s father, and no one will be wiser, because men are strangers who cannot be connected. A dismayed Guy refuses, but when his wife is found dead, it quickly becomes clear that Bruno intends to proceed with the murder swap, whether Guy likes it or not. In this tense and brilliant tale, Highsmith asks us to wonder how much darkness slumbers within us and how much it would take a little push to bring our worst impulses to the surface. The next time you strike up a conversation with a stranger, Strangers on a train will make you think twice about what you share.
My sister, the serial killer, by Oyinkan Braithwaite
Are you tired of coming to the rescue of your siblings? Be glad you don’t have it as bad as Korede. In this delightfully dark novel, set in Lagos, Nigeria, we meet two sisters: Ayoola, a charming serial killer, and Korede, the resentful sister who allows her. Whenever Ayoola kills her latest boyfriend, Korede arrives with bleach and rubber gloves to clean up the crime scene. Everything changes when Ayoola sets her sights on Tade, Korede’s longtime crush. After a lifetime of playing second violin to her beautiful and deadly sister, Korede finds the courage to stop Ayoola’s murderous madness before it’s too late for the man she loves. In this sardonic confrontation between sisters, Braithwaite weaves a psychologically complex dichotomy between two fascinating women.
Long luminous river, by Liz Moore
If you like your psychological thrillers with a side of procedural detective story, then this title is for you. Located in a Philadelphia neighborhood ravaged by poverty and drug addiction, Long luminous river is the story of two estranged sisters: Mickey, who runs through those scrabble blocks as he passes the police, and Kacey, who lives in the neighborhood while battling her addiction. When Kacey goes missing in the midst of a mysterious murder spree, Mickey is desperate to find his sister before it’s too late. Both a gripping crime thriller and a poignant neighborhood-level take on the opioid crisis, Long luminous river is an unforgettable story.
Your house will pay, by Steph Cha
In today’s Los Angeles rocked by protests over the police shooting of a black teenager, two families face the decades-old crime that binds them together. In the early 1990s, a Korean convenience store owner shot dead a black teenager; now the store owner’s daughter and the teenager’s brother are on a collision course, with dangerous implications for their respective families. Through this layered story of racism, the broken justice system, and revenge, Cha delivers a noir thriller filled with surprises.
Shutter island, by Dennis Lehane
Of course you remember the Martin Scorsese movie Shutter island, but have you read the acclaimed novel it’s based on? Set in 1954, the book centers on Teddy Daniels, a U.S. Marshal investigating crimes and conspiracies on Shutter Island, home to the Ashcliffe Hospital for Insane Criminals. Sent there to locate a fleeing murderer, then trapped by an impending hurricane, Teddy and his partner are plunged into a web of locked rooms and secret codes, which gradually reveal that Ashcliffe Hospital is not what it seems. Lehane’s gripping and winding novel will manipulate your mind until the very last page.
These bones are not my child, by Toni Cade Bambara
Edited by Toni Morrison, who calls These bones are not my child Bambara’s masterpiece, Bambara’s latest novel is his most unforgettable. Set in “The City Too Busy to Hate” during the Atlanta Child Murders, it’s the heartbreaking story of Zala and Spence, a estranged couple whose teenage son, Sonny, goes missing on a hot summer day. When the search for Sonny is met with indifference from the racist authorities, Zala and Spence resort to their own desperate measures to find him, before becoming suspects themselves. In this imposing interpretation of an anguished time and place, Bambara captures the tumult of a city, while two parents realize their greatest fear.
Outside, by Natsuo Kirino
Kirino, a literary superstar in her native Japan, caused a sensation on the American coast with Outside, her edgy black comedy about a group of unlucky women in Tokyo. When a worker in a bento factory strangles her deadbeat husband, three coworkers gather around her to dispose of the body and cover up the murder. A local criminal network takes note and offers women additional opportunities; soon, relations between the women strain, while the detectives are on their heels. Both a literary turner and a biting commentary on Japan’s social underclass, Outside masterfully probes the psychology of women on the brink.
Rebecca, by Daphné Du Maurier
“Last night I dreamed I was going to Manderley again.” With this iconic opening line, Du Maurier plunges us into the chilling universe of Rebecca, a ghost story haunted by an invisible ghost. When an anonymous young woman marries the wealthy widower Maxim de Winter, the newlyweds head to her ancestral estate in Manderley, where they aim to rebuild their lives together. The second Mrs. de Winter soon sees her life dominated by Rebecca, Maxim’s late wife, whose memory hovers ominously in every corner of the estate. As the second Mrs. de Winter recreates the secret story of her predecessor, the obsession drives her to the brink of insanity, creating an otherworldly psychological thriller that you can never get rid of.
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