21 best psychological thriller books
Some people like to read stories with happy endings. I am not one of those people. The more twisted the plot, the better, which is why I turn to psychological thrillers so often.
This genre, which often pops up in the mysterious aisle of the bookstore, shouldn’t just be on your radar around Halloween. With its unreliable narrators – maybe someone who’s a compulsive liar, or has a drinking problem and can’t remember half of their day – the tension is basically a guaranteed adrenaline rush. (After all, you can’t trust the very person telling the story.) And who doesn’t love a totally mind-blowing read?
If you’re looking for something scary to read, look no further than this list of the best psychological thriller books:
If you like courtroom drama: The Reckoning: A Novel
Pete Banning was a decorated WWII hero and great neighbor. But one morning he drove into town and committed a shocking crime. Pete’s only statement on this? “I have nothing to say.” He is ready to die without revealing a motive, as his defense attorney desperately tries to save him.
If you love to read about how the other half lives: Nine Perfect Strangers
Nine people gather at an isolated spa. Some want to lose weight, some want a life restart, and some don’t know why they’re there. They all know their 10 days at the resort will involve real work, but it turns out to be more difficult and mysterious than they anticipated.
If you’re a lifelong fanatic: Past Tense: A Jack Reacher Novel
Jack Reacher plans to hitchhike across America, but on a country road in the heart of the New England woods, he sees a sign pointing to the town where his father was born and makes the detour. At the same time, two young foreigners break down in the same place on their way to New York. The circumstances make shocking discoveries that merge the lives of the three people.
If you love alien abduction stories: Look Alive Twenty-Five: A Stephanie Plum Novel
The Red River Deli in Trenton has a problem with the managers disappearing. In the past month, three have gone missing, and the only clue in each case is a shoe that has been left behind. The police are baffled. Lula is convinced that this is an alien abduction. Either way, they need to find out before they lose their new manager, Stephanie Plum.
If you are an FBI fan: Long Road to Mercy (Atlee Pine)
When Atlee Pine was 6, her twin sister, Mercy, was kidnapped right in front of her. Atlee now works for the FBI in a remote area near the Grand Canyon. When one of the Grand Canyon’s mules is found stabbed to death at the bottom of the canyon and its rider is missing, Atlee is called in to investigate. As she begins to piece together clues pointing to a terrifying plot, she is abruptly called off. If she continues her research, she could be fired. But if she lets it go, it could spell the end of democracy in America.
If you like Steven King: Elevation
Although Scott Carey is no different, he steadily loses weight. Plus, he weighs the same in and out of his clothes, no matter how heavy they are. Scott trusts Doctor Bob Ellis to keep his secret. Scott is also engaged in an escalating battle with the lesbians next door, whose dog regularly poops on his lawn. They’re trying to start a new restaurant, but the people of Castle Rock don’t want it. When Scott finally understands the prejudices they face, he tries to help them. The mystery of Scott’s affliction brings out the best in people who have given themselves up to the worst of themselves and others.
If sniper stories are pressing you: Target: Alex Cross
Alex Cross joins the procession of mourners from Capitol Hill to the White House. Then a sniper hits a target in Washington, DC Alex Cross’s wife, Bree Stone, newly appointed DC Chief Detective, must either solve the case or lose her job. Alex is tasked by the new president to conduct an investigation unprecedented in scale and scope. But is the sniper strike a sign of something bigger?
If family secrets freak you out in the best possible way: The Witch Elm: A Novel
Toby is a lovely guy who dodged a scratch at work and is partying with friends when he catches two burglars beating him up and leaving him for dead. Struggling to recover from his injuries, he takes refuge in his family’s ancestral home to take care of his dying uncle Hugo. Next, a skull is found in the trunk of an elm tree in the garden, and Toby is forced to face the possibility that his past is not what he thought.
If ghost stories are your thing: Holy Spirit (A novel by Virgil Flowers)
Nothing ever happened in Pinion, Minnesota, and it seemed like nothing would ever happen … until the mayor came up with a plan to put Pinion on the map. They had heard of a place where a floating image of the Virgin Mary had turned the whole city into a shrine, attracting thousands of pilgrims. But when the corpse appears, that’s just the start of their trouble.
If You Can’t Put Down Crime Dramas: Ambush (Michael Bennett)
An anonymous tip about a crime in Manhattan turns out to be a set-up. Michael Bennett and his family are in danger. A series of murders ensue, each with a separate signature, informing Bennett that a professional killer is likely to be behind the deaths. Bennett’s team follows the leads, but they all turn out to be wrong. Bennett can’t say what makes the killer tick, but he can say it’s personal and part of something big.
If you liked Serial: You Don’t Own Me
Laurie Moran is approached by Robert and Cynthia Bell, parents of Dr. Martin Bell, a talented doctor who was shot dead while parking in the driveway of his house five years ago. The Bells are sure Martin’s wife Kendra committed the murder. Determined to prove Kendra’s guilt and secure custody of their grandchildren, they beg Laurie to feature their son’s case on her show “Under Suspicion”. was not the perfect person he seemed to be.
If you want endless twists and turns: The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins
Rachel is depressed and unemployed, still reeling from a devastating breakup and battling alcohol-fueled power outages. So when she sees something shocking on her way and brings it to the police, they don’t believe her. But what she saw was real … and will change her whole life.
If you hated your friend’s bachelorette party: In A Dark Dark Wood by Ruth Ware
No matter how bad your BFF’s weekend was, it’s nothing more serious than waking up in the hospital, the suspect in a murder investigation. (Funny!) That’s what happens to Nora in this psychological thriller and now she’s trying to prove her innocence.
If you are looking for a new series: In The Woods by Tana French
Detective Rob Ryan must come to terms with his dark past when called in to investigate the murder of a young girl in the same woods where her two best friends went missing in 1984. The case now has chilling parallels to this. that happened to Rob all those years ago. ..to unearth the truth about what really happened to Rob and his friends in the woods.
If you want a classic: Rebecca by Daphné du Maurier
This OG thriller tells the story of newlywed Mrs. de Winter, who marries her husband Max after a whirlwind romance. But as they settle into their new life in her domain, memories of his late beautiful wife, Rebecca, haunt her with every step and make her wonder what really happened to the first Mrs. de Winter.
In case you missed it the first time: Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl
I know, I know, but I wouldn’t be doing my job right if I didn’t put it on the list. Nick Dunne wakes up on his fifth wedding anniversary to find that his wife Amy is missing and that he is the prime suspect. It sounds like your standard psychological thriller at first, until you get to the whole, groundbreaking mind that is the second half of the book.
If you like ghost stories: Siobhan Adcock’s Barter
This spooky debut novel follows two overlapping storylines. In the present, Bridget is haunted by a chilling presence in her home that only she (not her husband) can feel. In the distant past, Rebecca’s new motherhood pushes her to leave her husband and abandon her home. Finding out what connects these two timelines (and how it will all end) will keep you awake at night.
If you think JK Rowling is a one-ride pony: Robert Galbraith’s Career of Evil
Yes, Harry Potter is iconic and everyone should read it. But Rowling’s writing skills are just as amazing with her Cormoran Strike series (written under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith). The third novel in the series features a serial killer who begins sending body parts to PI Strike’s assistant, Robin. What follows is a cat-and-mouse game where everyone’s assumptions (and realities) are tested to the limit.
If you are fascinated by the family life of killers: The Widow by Fiona Barton
Jean’s husband has been charged with committing a horrific crime. Jean stood at his side. He’s now dead and everyone wants John to say if he really did or not. But Jean herself is a damn good liar … and hides her own secrets.
If You Never Want To Trust Anyone Again: Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson
In this intense psychological thriller, Christine is an amnesiac who cannot form new memories, so every day she wakes up with a completely blank slate. But she keeps a journal to help her remember, and one day she finds out that she wrote Don’t trust ben. Too bad that’s the name of the man who is apparently her husband …
If you like real crime podcasts: I’ll Be Gone In The Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search For The Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara
It’s not technically fiction, but Michelle McNamara’s compelling reporting is so good it feels like a thriller. The story is twofold: You follow California law enforcement’s desperate 1970s hunt for the Golden State Killer, a serial killer and rapist, and follow the author’s decades-long quest to finally unmask his identity in the present.
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