The 50 Best Suspense Books of All Time

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The 50 best suspense books of all time.

The 50 Best Suspense Books of All Time

Whether you need a beach read, an airplane read, or just something to peruse before bed (if you dare), there’s one category you can always count on: suspense books. These tales full of enigmatic intrigue and shocking twists have always enthralled readers, and they’ve become more popular than ever over the past few years.

Now, you might be wondering: what exactly are “suspense books”? Suspense isn’t a genre in and of itself, per se — it’s a category that encompasses mystery , thriller , and even some horror novels . The one thing that unites all suspense novels is, of course, the tantalizing buildup of suspense . Whether it’s about an unsolved murder or a cheating husband (or, as in many a modern domestic thriller, both), a suspense novel will have you on the edge of your seat, heart pounding, blood racing… all that adrenaline-y stuff.

And if you’re a fan of suspense novels, you know that once you start reading them, you can’t stop. Luckily, we’re here to feed your addiction. Here are the 50 best suspense books ever, from well-loved classics to exhilarating new titles.

If you're feeling overwhelmed by the number of great suspense books to read, you can also take our 30-second quiz below to narrow it down quickly and get a personalized thriller  recommendation  😉

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The World's Bestselling Mystery \'Ten . . .\' Ten strangers are lured to an isolated island mansion off the Devon coast by a mysterious \'U.N. Owen.\' \'Nine . . .\' At dinner a recorded message accuses each of them in turn of having a guilty secret, and by the end of the night one of the guests is dead. \'Eight . . .\' Stranded by a violent storm, and haunted by a nursery rhyme counting down one by one . . . one by one they begin to die. \'Seven . . .\' Who among them is the killer and will any of them survive?

1. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

Perhaps the best-known murder mystery of all time, And Then There Were None absolutely epitomizes suspense. Ten strangers meet on an isolated British isle at the behest of their oddly absent hosts. But when they start dying off one by one — in disturbing parallels to a children’s nursery rhyme — they realize that this is no vacation, but a collective execution. Christie brilliantly immerses the reader in the fear and paranoia of the guests as they try to determine who among them is the killer… before their time runs out.

2. A Simple Favor: A Novel by Darcey Bell

If you’ve seen the trailers for the recent adaptation starring Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively, you know that A Simple Favor smoothly combines 1950s-style noir and twenty-first-century drama. Stephanie is a widowed mommy vlogger whose life suddenly gets a lot more interesting when she meets Emily: a beautiful, mysterious woman who loves garnering others’ secrets, but seems dead-set against anyone else knowing hers. The big question at the heart of A Simple Favor is, who is Emily? And will Stephanie find out the truth about her before it’s too late?

3. Baby Teeth: A Novel by Zoje Stage

This 2018 novel follows a dysfunctional family with a terror of a daughter ( you might call her a bad seed ). Hanna is seven years old and has never spoken, but that’s the least of her mother’s worries; you’d probably feel the same if your little girl were trying to kill you. As Hanna’s mind games escalate and her father remains oblivious, Hanna’s mother must take matters into her own hands — because baby teeth might look sweet, but they can bite your head clean off.

4. Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson

Every day, Christine Lucas forgets everything about herself, even her name. Suffering from anterograde amnesia, her only clues to her identity come from her journal… but how can she trust this record if she can’t even remember writing it? Needless to say, if you loved Memento , Watson’s mind-bending novel should be next on your reading list.

5. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

If all fiction is lies, Moriarty can still spin ‘em like no other — and her most prominent work, Big Little Lies , takes the concept to a whole new level. In this novel, an idyllic coastal town is sucked into sordid scandal involving a young mother’s traumatic past, another’s secret home life, and a kindergarten scuffle that gets way out of hand. Read the book first, and then watch the excellent Reese Witherspoon-produced HBO series to see the story truly spring to life.

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6. Bird Box by Josh Malerman

When the bizarre and terrifying phenomenon of “The Problem” begins to cause mass violence and suicide, one thing becomes clear: no one is safe. Malorie and her two children take refuge against the outside world, training themselves to live without sight, since looking at “The Problem” seems to drive people insane. But as the children grow older, Malorie must choose: venture outside and risk their horrific deaths, or remain trapped in the box forever?

7. The Couple Next Door: A Novel by Shari Lapena

Happy suburban couple Anne and Marco Conti seem to have a perfect life — but that illusion quickly shatters when their six-month-old daughter goes missing. With a detective hot on their heels and their neighbors’ suspicions increasing, Anne and Marco soon realize that they’re both hiding huge secrets… secrets that could mean the end of their marriage, or worse.

8. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

If you’ve gone this long without experiencing The Da Vinci Code , you’re in for a jam-packed thrill ride, made all the more affecting by its connection to real historical events. Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is in town on standard business when he’s suddenly called to the Louvre to inspect a murder victim. This victim is none other than the museum’s curator, discovered in the pose of the Vetruvian Man , with strange symbols all over his body. Langdon must team up with cryptographer Sophie Neveu to figure out who did this and why — a mission that leads them down a spiraling path of religious legends and conspiracy theories come true.

9. Descent by Tim Johnston

Another deceptively happy family features in this heart-pounding thriller book. The Courtlands are vacationing in the Rocky Mountains right before their daughter Caitlin leaves for college. While the athletic children enjoy the fresh air and mountainous terrain, the parents try desperately to fix their marriage. But all that’s forgotten when Caitlin goes for a run one morning and doesn’t come back. Who — or what — could have taken her down? And what are the Courtlands keeping from each other?

10. The Dinner by Herman Koch

Told over the course of a single evening, The Dinner begins with couple Paul and Claire meeting to discuss their children’s future with Paul’s brother and his wife — who also happen to be prominent political figures. However, the nature of the discussion isn’t college admissions or career choices, but something much more sinister. This taut novel sheds light on European sensibilities, complex family dynamics, and how far people are willing to go for those they love.

11. The Dry by Jane Harper

The Dry is an evocative portrait of a small farming community, Kiewarra, plagued by drought… and a recent triple homicide that seems to seal its doomed fate. Detective Aaron Falk returns home to Kiewarra for the funerals and is convinced to stay by the perpetrator’s mother — who believes her son is innocent. Astutely intertwining environmental, economic, and moral degradation, this novel will leave you haunted by how our communities not only shape us, but can destroy us too.

12. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

From the author of Tipping the Velvet comes another gorgeously atmospheric Victorian story. Sue Trinder and Maud Lilly have been raised in opposite circumstances, and when Sue is hired as a maid to defraud the wealthy lady Maud, she thinks of it as a necessary evil. But this is complicated by Sue’s growing attraction to Maud… and thrown into chaos when Sue realizes Maud isn’t who she says she is.

13. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The suspense sensation of 2015, The Girl on the Train follows Rachel Watson, a woman who’s lost everything: her husband, her job, and arguably her mind. Rachel whiles away her days drinking on trains, romanticizing the lives of the picture-perfect suburbanites she passes — until one day she sees something shocking through her window. In that moment, Rachel becomes embroiled in something much bigger than herself… a scandal to which she has a closer connection than she even knows.

14. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

A dark, epic saga that’s spawned widespread acclaim and multiple adaptations, Larsson’s Millennium series begins with this book. Lisbeth Salander is a researcher and computer hacker with a troubled past and a taste for vengeance. Naturally, she’s happy use her skills to help invesitgate a young woman’s murder. But as she and journalist Mikael Blomkvist get closer to the truth, they start to receive their own threats — still, this won’t stop our heroine, who’s determined to bring as many violent misogynists to justice as she can.

15. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Did you really think we’d write a list of the best suspense novels ever and not include Gone Girl ? What starts off as a standard domestic thriller book about unhappy couple Nick and Amy escalates into an unputdownable tale of love, duplicity, and media distortion. However, the masterful prose and revolutionary plot twists of this zeitgeist-defining novel can really only be appreciated firsthand. If you haven’t read it, go read it right now; and if you have, go back and read it again. Trust us, it holds up.

16. The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

What if your husband wrote you a letter containing his deepest, darkest secret, only to be opened in the event of his death… but you accidentally stumbled upon it long before then? When this predicament befalls Cecelia Pitzpatrick, a happily married mother of three, she must decide whether to open the letter and jeopardize her relationship and blissful life — or live in doubt and fear until her husband’s death. Another stunning work of suspense from Moriarty, The Husband’s Secret takes a relatively simple premise and turns it into something extraordinary.

17. Intensity by Dean Koontz

This pressure-cooker of a novel takes place over a single weekend, closely tracking the movements of college student Chyna Shepherd as she attempts to outwit sociopathic murderer Edgler Vess. If she can stay one step ahead of him, his plans to kill again just might be thwarted — but all this hangs in the balance, as the two remain neck-and-neck the entire book. Seriously, if you want to be sweating bullets while you read, Intensity is for you.

If you want to read more of Koontz's most suspenseful works, check out this list of his 16 best books!

18. In the Woods by Tana French

In the Woods is the first book in French’s Dublin Murder Squad series (which is even darker than it sounds, if that’s possible). This installment revolves around Detective Rob Ryan: a survivor of a strange, inexplicable incident that claimed the lives of two children, and who finds himself facing an eerily similar case when a girl is found murdered in the nearby woods. Ryan must now delve back into his past to solve the mystery of the present… but will he be able to handle what he unearths?

19. Killing Floor by Lee Child

This one’s a little more action-packed than most of the psychological-leaning thriller books on our list — so if you love Mission Impossible and Die Hard , you’ll find your literary fix with Lee Child. Killing Floor kicks off Child’s stellar Jack Reacher series, beginning with the titular Reacher getting arrested for a murder he didn’t commit (though that’s not to say he’s never killed before). Now Reacher has to figure out who really did do the crime, so he himself doesn’t have to do the time. Needless to say, his approach to this is something of a five-fingered intervention .

20. The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson

Swanson’s second novel reimagines a classic Patricia Highsmith book as two strangers, Ted and Lily, meeting on an airplane rather than on a train, and one of them being a woman — which makes the “deal” they strike to co-murder Ted’s wife all the more interesting. Of course, Ted’s only joking… but what he doesn’t realize is that Lily may not be, especially given her past work in this particular field.

21. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere is domestic for sure, if not exactly a thriller. Rather, it’s a 350-page slow burn (no pun intended) following the intricacies of various relationships in Shaker Heights, Ohio in the nineties — the town and era during which the author grew up. Ng brings incisive authenticity to this gripping story of mothers and children struggling with identity and morality — a collective struggle that coalesces into incredible suspense in the final portion of the book.

22. Long Man by Amy Greene

In Long Man , another child goes missing, though this time under particularly dire circumstances: an impending flood. Young mother Annie Clyde Dodson has refused to evacuate her home in eastern Tennessee despite the threat of the Long Man river, in a desperate ploy to save her daughter’s eventual inheritance of their land. But in the middle of an argument with her husband — who wants them to leave and start over in Michigan — Gracie disappears. Will the Dodsons be able to recover her in time for all of them to make it out alive?

23. Memory Man by David Baldacci

David Baldacci has been writing thriller books for over two decades, but it’s his 2015 book Memory Man that takes the cake for dramatic suspense. This novel centers around Amos Decker, a football-player-turned-detective after a traumatic brain injury gave him hyperthymesia . When Decker’s family is murdered under mysterious circumstances, he renounces his career as a full-time investigator… but is pulled back into the game after a local school shooting, which might just have something to do with his family’s deaths.

24. Misery by Stephen King

“I’m your biggest fan” was a perfectly innocent compliment until Misery : a novel about an acclaimed author, Paul Sheldon, being held captive by a deranged fan, Annie Wilkes. Of course, in a story populated by just two people in a remote Colorado cabin, the suspense has to be pretty damn good. Luckily, King delivers. From Wilkes’ unpredictable outbursts and creative methods of torment, to Sheldon’s increasing desperation, you’ll find yourself simultaneously transfixed and terrified right up to the very last page.

25. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Another one of Christie’s most exalted murder mysteries , Murder on the Orient Express is essentially the reverse of And Then There Were None . Instead of one killer and multiple victims, the murder is an isolated incident — and everyone aboard the Orient Express is a suspect. Fortunately, esteemed inspector Hercule Poirot (and his equally esteemed mustache) are on the case. But when each new clue seems to lead him in a different direction, Poirot realizes he’ll have to dig a bit deeper than circumstantial evidence to uncover the true culprit.

26. Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain

For fans of Jodi Picoult who want something a bit more substantial, Diane Chamberlain is your solution — and you should start with Necessary Lies , a historical drama about a small town in 1960s North Carolina. Epilepsy-afflicted teenager Ivy Hart and social worker Jane Forrester become friends when Jane begins visiting Ivy’s home, where Ivy cares for her mentally ill sister and elderly grandmother all by herself. The more Jane gets to know the Hart family, however, the more she struggles with the assignment she’s been given by Grace County Hospital. At what point do her lies to the Harts stop being necessary, and start being monstrous?

27. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

A classic of sinister suspense, this novel by Daphne du Maurier is narrated by “the second Mrs. de Winter.” As you might expect, the story revolves around the first Mrs. de Winter, Rebecca, who has passed away… but who still haunts Manderley estate, where the narrator now lives with her new husband. As Mrs. de Winter #2 learns more about her predecessor, she can’t help but wonder what really happened to Rebecca, and whether the same fate will soon befall her.

28. Serena by Ron Rash

Serena is a remarkable woman: strong, capable, and single-minded. She proves all this to her husband George when they move to the mountains in 1929, ready to establish a timber empire together. But when Serena discovers that she is barren — and that George has fathered an illegitimate child who lives in their small mountain community — she flies into a rage. Suddenly that single-mindedness is a menace, as Serena goes after the child and George finds himself unable to stop her… or to keep her from coming after him next.

29. Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

You’ve probably detected a common theme of familial dysfunction in these suspense books, but Sharp Objects takes it to the next level. Journalist Camille Preaker left behind her hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri long ago, but is forced to return when a young girl is murdered and Camille has to cover the story. This dredges up memories of her younger sister’s death — and before long, she begins to draw disturbing connections between the two. Adding color and intrigue to this story are Camille’s unstable mother, Adora, and her half-sister Amma, an adolescent master of manipulation and disguise.

30. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The year is 1945; the place, Barcelona. Eleven-year-old Daniel Sampere is introduced to The Shadow of the Wind , a mysterious and beautiful volume from his father’s enormous library. Daniel falls in love with the story; however, when he attempts to find more of the author’s work, he realizes it’s being systematically destroyed. Now Daniel’s quest isn’t just to find these books, but to save them… no matter what the cost. A somewhat nontraditional suspense novel, you’ll nevertheless be riveted by Daniel’s magical journey.

31. The Shining by Stephen King

An isolated, possibly haunted hotel in the dead of winter, a volatile alcoholic writer, and his young family — what could go wrong? If you haven’t yet read Joey Tribbiani’s favorite thriller book , just know that The Shining is not only one of the scariest horror novels of all time, but also one of the most suspenseful; as in Misery , King builds up to the climax with deliciously mesmerizing prose.

32. The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris

Hannibal Lecter may be a cannibalistic serial killer, but that doesn’t stop young FBI agent Clarice Starling from confiding in him… in exchange for crucial information about another serial killer, that is. This elegant work of horror relies heavily on tense, psychologically revealing scenes between Lecter and Starling, which would later be immortalized in the 1991 film .

33. The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

Alicia Berenson is living the dream, working as a painter in London and happily married to her photographer husband. But even the most idyllic-looking life can be a tenuous illusion — as Alicia demonstrates the day she shoots her husband to death. Now she refuses to speak, even to defend herself. Can a brilliant forensic psychotherapist break her vow of silence — and what horrors will Alicia reveal if he does?

34. The Snowman by Jo Nesbo

A vicious murderer who uses snowmen as his calling cards: pretty chilling concept, no? It gets even more chilling in one of the most classic thriller books of all time. When Detective Harry Hole realizes that a recent murder in Oslo follows the same pattern as cold cases from twenty years earlier, he understands that only he can track down the killer before it happens again. And no one is outside Hole’s suspicions, not even his own partner.

35. Social Creature by Tara Isabella Burton

The main characters of this novel come from completely different worlds: Louise works multiple jobs to pay her NYC rent, while Lavinia is a spoiled socialite partying her life away. Yet the pair forge an unlikely bond after fate brings them together. And once Louise gets a taste of the high life, she’s not about to let it slip away — no matter what it takes.

36. The Surgeon by Tess Gerritsen

Did you know that before Rizzoli & Isles was on TNT, it was a series of thriller books by Tess Garritsen? The Surgeon is the first in that series, about a murderer whose M.O. is torturing and killing women using seemingly medical knowledge — hence his nickname, “the Surgeon.” Detective Jane Rizzoli begins tracking him based on her knowledge of another, very similar case from several years before… the only thing is, the perpetrator in that case was killed. So who is this new Surgeon, and what’s provoking him to such horrific acts?

37. Stillhouse Lake by Rachel Caine

When her husband turns out to be a serial killer, midwestern mom Gina Royal is forced to completely remake herself to escape the past. Now calling herself Gwen Proctor, and having moved to the remote Stillhouse Lake with her children, she thinks she can finally breathe easy. That is, until a corpse surfaces in the lake and “Gwen” knows it’s a message for her — not from her ex-husband, who’s in prison, but from a new source of evil entirely.

38. The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

Perhaps only Hitchcock can match Patricia Highsmith in her masterful invocation of classic psychological suspense. The Talented Mr. Ripley was originally published in 1955, and has become since shorthand for sociopathic duplicity: it follows a scam artist named Tom Ripley who kills a wealthy friend and adopts his identity, hoping to live out a life of leisure abroad. But his troubles are far from over, as more innocents are caught in his increasingly complex web of lies. Can Ripley’s talents really pull off this ultimate scam?

39. Tell No One by Harlan Coben

Eight years ago, Dr. David Beck lost his wife after tragedy struck during an anniversary celebration. David is told that she’s dead and it’s time for him to move on. But then a mysterious email arrives one day insinuating that Elizabeth is still very much alive, along with instructions to “tell no one.” And David knows he can’t rest until he tracks her down… even if that means disappearing himself.

40. Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver

Speaking of disappearing, Vanishing Girls is a 2015 YA thriller book from Lauren Oliver, the author of the much-praised Before I Fall . Our narrator is Nicole (“Nick”), and the titular girls are Dara and Madeline: the first, Nick’s sister, and the second a nine-year-old girl who vanishes shortly after Dara. Nick realizes that only she sees the link between these two cases, and must take matters into her own hands to figure out what happened to the girls — despite knowing she’ll be endangered in the process.

41. The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

More young, endangered girls feature in The Virgin Suicides , but this time they’re a danger to themselves. The Lisbon family is thrown into disarray when the youngest daughter, Cecelia, inexplicably kills herself, and her sisters Lux, Bonnie, Mary, and Therese are put on suicide watch. But of course, their parents’ restrictions only make the girls more inclined to rebel — especially Lux ( played by the inimitable Kirsten Dunst in the movie ). The Virgin Suicides is another novel that wouldn’t normally be described as “suspense”; yet the tension between the girls and their parents, and the aura of mystery that surrounds them in the eyes of the neighborhood boys (who narrate the novel), make for a spellbinding read.

42. White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi

This modern work of cosmic horror from Helen Oyeyemi is another atypical suspense novel — not exactly thrilling, but penetratingly creepy. Miranda Silver has just lost her mother, and her habits are growing stranger and stranger: namely, eating mass quantities of chalk and attempting to communicate with the spirit world. When she disappears, her family knows she isn’t truly gone — they only have to look for her in the right place. But do they even want to find her, and what will happen when they do?

43. Where Are The Children? by Mary Higgins Clark

Imagine losing your husband, having your children brutally murdered, and then being accused of carrying out the massacre yourself. Imagine moving across the country to leave all that behind, marrying again, and starting a new family… only for the same pattern to start anew. This is the horror of Where Are the Children?, a deeply unsettling work of suspense that takes a mother’s worst nightmare and makes it real — not once, but twice.

44. The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks

One of our best books of 2018 , this novel alternates between the POVs of two women, Vanessa and Nellie, who are opposites in every way but one: they’re in love with the same man. Both are battling for his attention and love — but only one can win, and only one does. It just won’t be in the way you might think. Hendricks and Pekkanen are undoubtedly masters of deception, and the twist in this book will give you a new gold standard for psychological thriller books.

45. Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle

Sean Phillips may live in a small apartment, but his “true world” is fantastical and infinitely expanding: he is the creator of Trace Italian, a wildly successful text-based roleplaying game. But when two of the Trace Italian’s players bring the game into the real world, the consequences are dire enough to make Phillips second-guess his career. His choose-your-own-adventure-style game provides a framework for Phillips to reimagine what life would’ve been like if he’d chosen different paths, and Wolf in White Van explores these paths in a brilliantly non-linear manner… such that the reader often can’t be sure what’s real and what’s not.

46. The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

If you enjoyed The Girl on the Train (#13 up top, if you need a refresher!), The Woman in Cabin 10 is its nautical remix. Travel journalist Lo Blacklock has just been assigned to write about her weeklong stay on a luxury cruise ship. Which is a pretty sweet gig — until she sees a woman being thrown overboard. But when all the guests on the ship are accounted for, Lo thinks she must be imagining things… or is she?

47. The Woman in the Window by A. J Finn

Alternatively, if you’d like to get back to some good ol’-fashioned Rear Window -style snooping, check out The Woman in the Window . Anna Fox is a pill-popping, wine-swilling, former child psychologist whose main non-substance-related pastime is spying on her neighbors. One night, she witnesses something more disturbing than all of her past clients’ problems combined… yet this classic unreliable narrator can’t even trust herself, and is going to need to do some more detective work before she can be sure of what she may have seen. Of course, that’s assuming she won’t be too late.

48. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

The Woman in White was actually one of the very first mystery and suspense novels, with elements of melodrama that established the “sensation novels” subgenre. It also marks one of the first uses of the “doubles” trope in suspense fiction — the titular woman in white bears a striking resemblance to another character, and this becomes a major plot device in the novel. The full plot is a bit too complex to explain here, but it involves some very Dickensian drama , including a scheme to steal an inheritance, intense romantic rivals, and someone contracting typhus.

49. The Wrath & the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh

Part love story, part meta-storytelling, and all nail-biting suspense, The Wrath and the Dawn eloquently retells One Thousand and One Nights for a modern audience. Sixteen-year-old Shahrzad becomes betrothed to the murderous Caliph of Khorasan, who’s killed every one of his past brides after a single day and night. But Shahrzad is determined to prove her worth and stay alive — which she does by telling the Caliph eloquently-woven stories every night, stories that evolve more and more imaginatively and urgently. Will he tire of her tricks and wrap a cord around her neck, or will Shahrzad and the Caliph succumb to the unique power they hold over each other?

50. You by Caroline Kepnes

As you can probably tell from having read this far, suspense books make for great adaptation material, and our final entry is no exception. Before You was a Netflix thriller series, it was a book about an aspiring writer, Beck, and her ever-so-slightly overbearing boyfriend Joe. And by ever-so-slightly, we mean a lot . But in a refreshing turn of events, Beck ends up being pretty twisted herself. We won’t give away any more, but suffice to say that You is an electrifying tale of obsession and destruction that will leave you reeling.

Hungry for more? Check out this ranking of every Stephen King novel , or this list of the best true crime books of all time . And don't forget to keep an eye out for new thriller & suspense books on Reedsy Discovery !

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The 23 best thriller books of the year, according to the Goodreads Choice Awards

When you buy through our links, Insider may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

  • Thrillers are suspenseful mystery stories filled with twists and turns.
  • We turned to Goodreads reviewers to rank the most popular thrillers from 2021.
  • Reader's favorites included "Apples Never Fall" and "Razorblade Tears."

Insider Today

It's almost impossible to resist a great thriller . Thrillers are some of the most exciting novels you can read, made enticing with suspenseful storylines, unique characters, and the staple plot twists that leave readers reeling. The best ones remind readers how much fun reading can be. 

To make this list, we turned to reviewers on Goodreads . Goodreads is a book reviewing platform where over 125 million readers rate, review, and share their favorite book recommendations with friends and the book community. From stunning debuts to gripping psychological mysteries, here are the most popular thrillers from 2021, according to Goodreads reviewers. 

The 23 best thriller books from 2021, according to Goodreads:  

"apples never fall" by liane moriarty.

best selling fiction suspense books

"Apples Never Fall" by Liane Moriarty, available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $18.41

This bestselling thriller follows the four adult siblings of the notable Delaney family as their mother goes missing, leaving their father as the only suspect. Torn between protecting him and turning against him, the siblings square off and begin to re-examine their shared family history with a new lens. 

"Razorblade Tears" by S.A. Cosby

best selling fiction suspense books

"Razorblade Tears" by S.A. Cosby, available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $16.19

When Derek and his husband Isiah are found murdered, their fathers, Ike and Buddy Lee, come together over their shared pasts and deep desires for revenge. Each an ex-con and struggling with their own deeply held prejudices, the fathers set off on a fast-paced journey for retribution and redemption. 

"The Push" by Ashley Audrain

best selling fiction suspense books

"The Push" by Ashley Audrain, available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $19.69

In this book that I, like countless others, read in a single day (or single sitting), Blythe Connor is a new mom and determined to be the loving mother she never had. When her connection with her daughter isn't what she hoped it would be, she finds an inseparable bond with her second child — until a terrible incident leaves Blythe convinced there is something truly wrong with her firstborn. 

"Every Last Secret" by A.R. Torre

best selling fiction suspense books

"Every Last Secret" by A.R. Torre, available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $11.95

Neena Ryder and her lackluster husband have just moved into a beautiful new neighborhood with seemingly perfect neighbors Cat and William Winthorpe. Anxious to move up in the world, Neena develops an infatuation for Cat's incredible husband, which quickly turns into a dangerous obsession in this domestic thriller about Neena's desperate and toxic drive for the life she's always wanted. 

"All Her Little Secrets" by Wanda M. Morris

best selling fiction suspense books

"All Her Little Secrets "by Wanda M. Morris, available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $13.08

Ellice is a respected attorney in midtown Atlanta with a "for fun" relationship with her boss, Michael. When Ellice goes to meet Michael one morning, she finds him dead with a gunshot wound to the head. Needing to avoid the spotlight with a murder investigation, she walks away from the scene but finds she can't outrun her past, her secrets, or the strange conspiracies swirling around her for long. 

"Not a Happy Family" by Shari Lapena

best selling fiction suspense books

"Not a Happy Family" by Shari Lapena, available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $17.97

As wealthy Fred and Sheila Merton convene for Sunday family dinner with their three adult children, they have no idea it will be their last. When the couple is found brutally murdered, the children appear devastated. But with their inheritance on the line and countless hidden secrets, this gripping thriller proves nearly impossible to put down. 

"We Begin at the End" by Chris Whitaker

best selling fiction suspense books

We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker, available at Amazon and Bookshop , $16.79

"We Begin at the End" is a character-driven thriller about police chief Walk and 13-year-old Duchess, who don't seem to have a lot in common but are inexplicably entwined over a murder from decades prior. When an old friend and convicted murderer Vincent King is released from prison, the two are brought together over their drives for self-preservation.

"The Wife Upstairs" by Rachel Hawkins

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"The Wife Upstairs" by Rachel Hawkins, available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $14.99

This modern-day Southern retelling of the classic "Jane Eyre" is about Jane, a dog-walker who has only recently moved into her impressive new gated community when she meets Eddie Rochester, a recent widow. Believing Eddie could offer Jane the life she's always wanted, the two fall in love — until Jane's past and the legends of Eddie's previous wife begin to haunt her new life. 

"Harlem Shuffle" by Colson Whitehead

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"Harlem Shuffle" by Colson Whitehead, available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $17.75

Ray Carney is an upstanding furniture salesman in 1960s Harlem whose cousin occasionally helps him out with shady business dealings that keep his family's financial concerns at bay. When Ray's cousin gets drawn into a complicated and dangerous heist, Ray finds himself torn between his salesman persona and a growing identity as a crook. 

"A Slow Fire Burning" by Paula Hawkins

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"A Slow Fire Burning" by Paula Hawkins, available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $16.80

When a man is found murdered, the police begin to question three women from his life — a one-night stand, a grief-stricken aunt, and a nosy neighbor — each holding their own resentment towards the man. With unreliable and unlikeable characters, this complex thriller begins as a slow burn but takes off with plenty of satisfying twists and turns. 

"The Good Sister" by Sally Hepworth

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"The Good Sister" by Sally Hepworth, available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $16.79

This captivating thriller is about Fern, who struggles with a sensory processing disorder but enjoys spending time with her protective twin sister, Rose. When Rose finds out she can't have a baby, Fern sees it as an opportunity to pay her sister back for everything she's done in this family drama thriller with dark secrets desperate to be revealed. 

"The Survivors" by Jane Harper

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"The Survivors" by Jane Harper, available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $18.20

This dark and tense thriller links a past tragedy to a new one when a woman is found dead on the beach and police inadvertently find a connection to an accident 12 years prior. Set in an eerie coastal town, this thriller is full of lies, injustice, and guilt. 

"Billy Summers" by Stephen King

best selling fiction suspense books

"Billy Summers" by Stephen King, available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $15

Billy Summers is a killer-for-hire but only if the target is a bad person who needs to be taken down. Looking to retire into oblivion after one final job, Billy goes undercover for weeks as an author writing a book and finds himself writing his own story. 

"The Last Thing He Told Me" by Laura Dave

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"The Last Thing He Told Me" by Laura Dave, available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $14

Before her new husband mysteriously disappeared, he left Hannah a note reading "Protect her," clearly about his 16-year-old daughter, Bailey. When the FBI arrests Owen's boss and shows up at their house, Hannah and Bailey must come together to figure out Owen's true identity, his deceitful past, and the future they'll both need to survive. 

"The Plot" by Jean Hanff Korelitz

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"The Plot" by Jean Hanff Korelitz, available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $14.30

While teaching at a third-rate MFA program after his own writing dreams didn't pan out, Jacob Finch Bonner is approached by a student who claims he doesn't need his class and explains the incredible plot of his sure-to-be-published future novel. When Jacob finds out the student passed away, he steals the plot of the novel for his own publishing success — until a cryptic email threatens to unravel his success and the story's history. 

"Local Woman Missing" by Mary Kubica

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"Local Woman Missing" by Mary Kubica, available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $10.74

When two women and a six-year-old girl named Delilah go missing just blocks from each other, their small community is shaken and left searching for answers. 11 years later, Delilah returns just as mysteriously as she disappeared and everyone wants to know what happened to her in this outstanding thriller that can be read in a single sitting. 

"Arsenic and Adobo" by Mia P. Manansala

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"Arsenic and Adobo" by Mia P. Manansala, available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $14.40

Lila Macapagal decides to move home to recover from a terrible breakup and is swiftly recruited to help save her aunt's restaurant. When Lila's food critic ex-boyfriend suddenly drops dead, the police treat Lila like she's the only suspect, leaving her to conduct her own investigation and clear her name in this delicious new thriller. 

"The Night She Disappeared" by Lisa Jewell

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"The Night She Disappeared" by Lisa Jewell, available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $16.76

In 2017, Tallulah left her daughter with her mother to enjoy a night out with her boyfriend, a night from which she never returned. When detective novelist Sophie inadvertently stumbles upon a clue to Tallulah's mysterious disappearance, the case slowly unravels in this haunting thriller. 

"Rock Paper Scissors" by Alice Feeney

best selling fiction suspense books

"Rock Paper Scissors" by Alice Feeney, available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $15.29

10 years into their marriage, Adam and Amelia know things haven't been great for a long time. So when they win a trip to Scotland — a trip could make or break their marriage. On their anniversary, a decade of secrets and lies threaten to ruin them in this gripping domestic thriller. 

"The Maidens" by Alex Michaelides

best selling fiction suspense books

"The Maidens" by Alex Michaelides, available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $16.78

At Cambridge University, a secret society of women students called The Maidens is devastated when one of their own is killed. Convinced the adored Greek Tragedy professor is a killer, therapist Mariana becomes obsessed with proving his guilt and willing to stop at nothing to prevent another murder. 

"Finlay Donovan Is Killing It" by Elle Cosimano

best selling fiction suspense books

"Finlay Donovan Is Killing It" by Elle Cosimano, available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $9.99

When Finlay Donovan is overheard discussing her new murder novel with her literary agent, a stranger mistakes her for a killer-for-hire and offers her a huge sum of money to kill her problem husband. Finlay swiftly finds herself entangled in a real-life murder investigation in this thriller that is equal parts hilarious and suspenseful. 

"The Man Who Died Twice" by Richard Osman

best selling fiction suspense books

"The Man Who Died Twice" by Richard Osman, available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $16.30

"The Man Who Died Twice" is the second novel in the "Thursday Murder Club" thriller series about a group of four retired friends who meet up once a week to investigate unsolved murders. In this sequel, Elizabeth receives a cryptic letter from an old colleague, asking for help. She recruits her fellow Murder Club members to hunt for a murderer, recover stolen diamonds, and save her friend's life. 

"Win" by Harlan Coben

best selling fiction suspense books

"Win" by Harlan Coben, available at Amazon and Bookshop , from $9.99

When a man is found murdered beside two objects that link the crime to a cold case and a kidnapping from over 20 years ago, the FBI begins to look into Windsor "Win" Horne Lockwood III, who has no idea how these items of his and his family ended up with the murdered man. With a personal connection and an untapped fortune, Win subscribes to his own brand of vigilante justice to solve the case. 

Sign up for Insider Reviews' weekly newsletter for more buying advice and great deals. You can purchase logo and accolade licensing to this story here . Disclosure: Written and researched by the Insider Reviews team. We highlight products and services you might find interesting. If you buy them, we may get a small share of the revenue from the sale from our partners. We may receive products free of charge from manufacturers to test. This does not drive our decision as to whether or not a product is featured or recommended. We operate independently from our advertising team. We welcome your feedback. Email us at [email protected] .

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The 12 best thrillers of 2023

Spy novels and serial killers, suburban drama and domestic upheaval, puzzles and plot twists — this year was a great one for thrillers.

S py novels and serial killers, suburban drama and domestic upheaval, puzzles and plot twists — there’s something for everyone in this year’s top 12 thrillers.

‘All the Sinners Bleed,’ by S.A. Cosby

Simmering racial tension in a Southern town erupts after a school shooting that leaves one White teacher dead and a young Black man shot by two White police officers. Titus Crown, the county’s first Black sheriff, is tested throughout this riveting murder mystery, which also delivers a nuanced portrayal of racism, politics and small-town life. As Crown tries to make sense of the shooting, he uncovers horrors of torture, sexual abuse and murder, and realizes that a serial killer is living in their midst.

Review: 'All the Sinners Bleed,' by S.A. Cosby

‘Bright Young Women,’ by Jessica Knoll

After her success with books such as “Luckiest Girl Alive” (now a movie starring Mila Kunis) and “The Favorite Sister,” Jessica Knoll turns to history in her latest novel, specifically Ted Bundy. “Bright Young Women” opens with a powerful — and gory — scene evoking Bundy’s killing spree at a sorority house in the late 70s, which left two young women dead, and another two maimed. Rather than sensationalize violence against women, however, Knoll’s provocative novel focuses on the stories of those affected by the killer’s rampages.

Review: 'Bright Young Women,' by Jessica Knoll

‘City Under One Roof,’ by Iris Yamashita

Alaska’s natural beauty plays a central role in this taut suspense novel set in the state’s remote corners. When a teen out kayaking with friends discovers a severed “green and almost translucent” human hand and a disembodied foot still stuck in a boot, the search begins for answers to the mysterious body parts. Replete with plot twists, “City Under One Roof” lures readers into this wild and alarmingly isolated small-town environs.

Review, 'City Under One Roof,' by Iris Yamashita

‘The Detective Up Late,’ by Adrian McKinty

Tough but charming detective Sean Duffy is back in the seventh novel in Adrian McKinty’s series, set amid the Irish Troubles. Those familiar with the series will relish Duffy’s (supposedly) final act before retiring from full-time work, so that he, his wife and his toddler can move to Scotland to escape bombs, riots and soldiers on the streets. Those new to the series (the books need not be read in order) will appreciate Duffy’s dogged persistence as he investigates a missing persons case that gets progressively more alarming as the details unfold.

‘The Eden Test,’ by Adam Sternbergh

Fans of Laura Dave (“The Last Thing He Told Me”) will enjoy this domestic thriller, in which a wife, Daisy, surprises her husband, Craig, with “The Eden Test,” a pricey and mysterious week-long retreat that promises to revitalize relationships, leaving participants “forever changed.” Both Daisy and Craig come to the getaway armed with their secrets; neither is prepared for what the week will bring in this engrossing drama.

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‘Exiles,’ by Jane Harper

The last book in Jane Harper’s Falk trilogy begins ominously: An infant is found tucked inside her stroller, abandoned at a festival in South Australian wine country. Her mother, Kim Gillespie, is nowhere to be found. One year later, Gillespie is still missing, and federal agent Aaron Falk is called upon to research her disappearance. Harper’s rich use of Australia’s landscape and her thoughtful portrayal of social issues enhance the story.

Review: 'Exiles,' by Jane Harper

‘Happiness Falls,’ by Angie Kim

Twenty-year-old narrator Mia Parkson is so deeply entrenched in the details of her own life, it is hours before she realizes her 14-year-old nonspeaking brother who lives with a rare genetic disorder called Angelman syndrome has returned home from his daily hike without their father. What Mia calls “The Day Dad Disappeared” fuels this thrilling yet endearing mystery, as the family attempts to unravel what happened in the woods that day.

Review: 'Happiness Falls,' by Angie Kim

‘The Helsinki Affair,’ by Anna Pitoniak

Even those who don’t traditionally reach for spy novels will find something to love about “The Helsinki Affair,” a thriller featuring young CIA officer, Amanda Cole, who has followed her father’s path into the agency and is eager to prove her worth. When she is assigned to investigate the assassination of a U.S. senator, her father’s past and her present converge, and she finds herself descending deeper and deeper into a web of blackmail and corruption.

Review: 'The Helsinki Affair,' by Anna Pitoniak

‘Hot Springs Drive,’ by Lindsay Hunter

Lindsay Hunter dishes about the realities of motherhood with a side of “Gone Girl” and “Desperate Housewives” in this gripping psychological thriller. The novel opens with the murder of suburban mom Theresa Linden. Hunter then leads us back in time through the plot turns and betrayals that result in Theresa’s death, with a focus on her best friend, Jackie, who covets Theresa’s life — and husband.

Review: 'Hot Springs Drive,' by Anna Pitoniak

‘Pet,’ by Catherine Chidgey

Chidgey, a mystery powerhouse in her native New Zealand, tackles manipulative relationships among girls and women in this quirky, offbeat thriller. Preying on young girls when they are at their most vulnerable — in the throes of puberty — Mrs. Price, a teacher at a small Catholic school, forms bonds with her students only to exploit and control them. Her mind games put a new spin on preteen horror stories.

‘The Puzzle Master,’ by Danielle Trussoni

Cruciverbalists, Dan Brown lovers and code aficionados alike will be taken with protagonist Mike Brink, a handsome ex-football player who, after a traumatic brain injury in high school, develops a preternatural gift for creating and solving puzzles. When a prison psychologist calls on Brink to help her understand a prisoner who will only engage with the world through Brink and his professional puzzle work, we are propelled into the world of an ancient mystery.

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‘The Traitor,’ by Ava Glass

Ava Glass delivers more of secret agent Emma Makepeace in her latest installment of the Alias Emma series. When an MI6 operative is found dead, naked and stuffed into a large suitcase, Makepeace and colleagues suspect he is the victim of a nerve agent, possibly administered by a group of Russian oligarchs. As she goes undercover to understand the root of the assassination, Glass delivers everything fans of spy fiction could want — an absorbing plot, complex characters and propulsive action.

Review: 'The Traitor,' by Ava Glass

Jill Pellettieri is a contributing editor at The Yale Review and a former editor at Slate.

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Join Book Club: Delivered to your inbox every Friday, a selection of publishing news, literary observations, poetry recommendations and more from Book World writer Ron Charles. Sign up for the newsletter .

Best books of 2022: See our picks for the 23 books to read this summer or dive into your favorite genre. Look to the best mysteries to solve as you lounge by the pool, take a refreshing swim through some historical fiction , or slip off to the cabana with one of our five favorite escapist reads .

There’s more: These four new memoirs invite us to sit with the pleasures and pains of family. Lovers of hard facts should check out our roundup of some of the summer’s best historical books . Audiobooks more your thing? We’ve got you covered there, too . We also predicted which recent books will land on Barack Obama’s own summer 2023 list . And if you’re looking forward to what’s still ahead, we rounded up some of the buzziest releases of the summer .

Still need more reading inspiration? Every month, Book World’s editors and critics share their favorite books that they’ve read recently . You can also check out reviews of the latest in fiction and nonfiction .

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16 Thriller Books That'll Give You Instant Goosebumps

Since you can't get your adrenaline rush out there, find it in here on the page.

Headshot of Keely  Weiss

We’re still a few months out—at least—from being able to get our thrills at amusement parks, sporting events, and escape rooms, but adrenaline junkies still have one place to turn to get their fix: the bookshelf. For fans of heart-pounding stories of crime and suspense, nothing makes for a better escape from reality than a good thriller novel. Fortunately for such people, we’ve kept track of the very best. Read on for a list of our top 16 thrillers from the 21st century and beyond.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

There’s a reason Gillian Flynn is a household name: She is the queen of the 21st-century suspense novel, her prose compulsively readable, her troubled heroines—and villainesses—cultural icons in themselves. Whichever of her books is your favorite, there’s no denying that Gone Girl , the zeitgeist-shaping story of a missing woman and the husband under suspicion for her disappearance, is a post-recession classic.

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

If Gillian Flynn is the queen of modern suspense, Ruth Ware is the knight presiding over the Round Table. Oft likened to a modern-day Agatha Christie, Ware excels at thrillers set within the confines of close spaces—such as  The Woman in Cabin 10 ,  set aboard a cruise ship where a travel journalist witnesses a murder. When she can find no evidence that the victim was ever aboard, writer Lo begins to question her own sanity.

Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha

Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

Relative newcomer Lucy Foley has honed her unique brand of reverse-whodunit suspense down to a science—and thank goodness for that. As in The Hunting Party , Foley’s breakout thriller from 2018, The Guest List —set at a ritzy wedding-gone-wrong on a remote Scottish isle—starts with a murder, and then plays a game of keep-away with the victim’s identity until the very last pages.

You, Volume 1 by Caroline Kepnes

You, Volume 1 by Caroline Kepnes

We all owe Caroline Kepnes a debt for penning the source material that gave us Penn Badgley’s terrifying performance as Joe Goldberg on the hit Netflix serial-killer show You— but the original book is nothing to sneeze at either. The first in a series (Books 3 and 4 are on the way, according to Kepnes), this pitch-perfect thriller bucks genre conventions by taking us inside the mind of the killer himself.

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

God is a woman, but make it “the original master of the psychological thriller.” Though Patricia Highsmith may be best known today as the author of the classic lesbian romance Carol , she actually made a name for herself in the mid-20th century as the author of gripping suspense novels like Strangers on a Train (yes, as in the Hitchcock film) and Deep Water . Not to mention, she is the pen behind the fantastic  Ripliad series, which traces the footsteps of a brilliant—and dangerous—con artist.

Black Water Rising by Attica Locke

Black Water Rising by Attica Locke

You already know Attica Locke’s work, whether or not you realize it: The author is also an accomplished screenwriter who counts Empire, When They See Us, and  Little Fires Everywhere among her TV credits. But it’s her acclaimed debut novel, set in 1980s Texas and following a down-on-his-luck lawyer who gets in over his head after saving a woman from drowning, that you should know now.

An Untamed State by Roxane Gay

An Untamed State by Roxane Gay

Bad Feminist , this is not. Released the same year as her breakout essay collection, Roxane Gay’s debut novel tells the story of a Haitian-American woman who is kidnapped and subjected to brutal torture when her wealthy Haitian developer father refuses to pay her ransom.

The Perfect Nanny by Leïla Slimani

The Perfect Nanny by Leïla Slimani

Remember The Nanny Diaries ? Well, this is like if someone brushed the pages of that book with arsenic. Inspired by a real-life event that took place on the Upper West Side in 2012, Leïla Slimani’s first book to be published in the United States starts with the unthinkable: A nanny murders the two children in her charge, then attempts to kill herself. The story then jumps back in time several months, inviting readers to try and figure out how—and why—this terrible thing happened.

They All Fall Down by Rachel Howzell Hall

They All Fall Down by Rachel Howzell Hall

Who doesn’t love a good “strangers united by a horrifying secret” thriller? In one-time James Patterson collaborator Rachel Howzell Hall’s heart-pumping standalone novel, seven people are invited to travel to a remote private island, only to find that they have been summoned there under false pretenses—and their mysterious host has a deadly agenda.

Misery by Stephen King

Misery by Stephen King

When it comes to books that thrill and terrify, Stephen King is the GOAT. Newcomers to his work could do worse than to start with Misery , which follows popular writer Paul Sheldon as he gets rescued from a snowy car accident by superfan and former nurse Annie Wilkes—only to discover that he is now in even greater danger.

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

Part domestic thriller, part Kafka-esque allegory, Han Kang’s Man Booker International Prize–winning three-part novel centers on a woman who decides to become a vegetarian after waking from an awful, blood-drenched nightmare. Sounds innocuous, right? It’s not: The Vegetarian is brutal and unrelenting, following its main character through sexual assault, eating disorders, and psychological torment.

The Good Son by You-Jeong Jeong

The Good Son by You-Jeong Jeong

Ah, the unreliable narrator—a staple trope of the suspense genre. When 25-year-old Yu-jin wakes to the discovery of his mother’s dead body at the bottom of the stairs of their sleek apartment, he realizes that he has no recollection of the night before other than the vague memory of his mom calling his name. As he desperately searches for the truth of what happened that night, Yu-jin unearths some family secrets that can’t be reburied.

Those Bones Are Not My Child by Toni Cade Bambara

Those Bones Are Not My Child by Toni Cade Bambara

Toni Cade Bambara’s These Bones Are Not My Child  isn’t just a gripping thriller; it’s a masterwork of American literature. (Just ask Toni Morrison—she was Bambara’s editor and longtime friend.) Published posthumously and set against the backdrop of the Atlanta child murders of 1979-1981, Bambara’s last novel follows a mother whose worst nightmare is realized when her teenage son goes missing.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Released in Stieg Larsson’s native Swedish in 2005 and in English in 2008, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo introduced the world to hacker-vigilante Lisbeth Salander—and became a near-instant literary phenomenon in the process. The first novel of Larsson’s posthumously published Millennium  series sets Lisbeth and her co-protagonist Mikael Blomkvist on the trail of a woman from a wealthy family who mysteriously disappeared 40 years prior.

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

Megan Abbott’s name may not be as widely known as that of Gillian Flynn, but she is equally as essential a writer for fans of suspense and thriller fiction, and You Will Know Me showcases the author at her best. Abbott’s novel follows Katie and Eric Knox, the intense stage parents of a 15-year-old gymnastics star, as news of a violent death disrupts the community of Olympic gymnastics hopefuls to which the Knoxes belong.

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10 Riveting Thriller Novels to Read in 2021

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Michelle Regalado is a New York-based digital writer and editor. When she's not hunting down her next must-read book (recommendations are welcome!) or writing about all things pop culture, you can probably find her drinking iced coffee and hanging out with her dog, Lola. Follow her on Twitter: @mar8289

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This year will bring no shortage of riveting thrillers to add to your TBR list. Whether you prefer a locked-room mystery or a family crime saga, these propulsive new reads are guaranteed to keep you engrossed until the twisty end. Here are ten captivating suspense novels you won’t want to miss out on in 2021.

shiver book cover

Shiver by Allie Reynolds (January 19)

Set in the French Alps, this compelling locked-room thriller centers on five friends who reunite at a remote mountaintop ski resort after more than ten years apart. Once they arrive, they quickly realize the resort is deserted. What awaits is a game meant to remind them of the sixth member of their group, who vanished years ago. Alternating between the present and a decade prior, this buzzy debut is filled with suspense and thrills that will keep you reading long into the night. 

do no harm

Do No Harm by Christina McDonald (February 16)

This gripping and timely thriller follows a mother who turns to selling opioids in a desperate attempt to raise money for her son’s cancer treatment. But when one of her clients end up dead, she’s forced into a dangerous game of cat and mouse — with her own police detective husband at the other end of the chase. 

best selling fiction suspense books

The Girls Are All So Nice Here by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn (March 9)

This chilling and twisty thriller centers on two former best friends who return to their alma mater for a college reunion. Once there, they quickly realize someone is targeting them for revenge for what they did ten years ago. Devastatingly dark and thrumming with tension, The Girls Are all So Nice Here offers a juicy, unflinching portrait of the complexities of friendship and social ambition. 

when the stars go dark

When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain (April 13)

In this stunning and atmospheric crime novel, a seasoned missing persons detective returns to her hometown after a personal tragedy. When she arrives, she learns a local teen girl has gone missing in a case eerily reminiscent of one from her childhood. As her past and present collide, she finds herself further entangled in a complex mystery that will have you glued to the page. 

while justice sleeps

While Justice Sleeps by Stacey Abrams (May 11)

In between battling voter suppression and playing an instrumental role in Georgia politics,  Stacey Abrams has written several wildly popular romance novels — and now she’s conquering the world of legal thrillers. Set against the backdrop of the Supreme Court, Abrams’s electrifying novel follows a talented young law clerk who unexpectedly becomes the legal guardian for a justice after he slips into a coma under suspicious circumstances.

best selling fiction suspense books

The Other Black Girl  by Zakiya Dalila Harris (June 1)

As the only Black employee at her esteemed publishing imprint, Nella Rogers is thrilled when another Black woman starts working in the cubicle beside hers. But her excitement quickly turns to trepidation when her new co-worker becomes increasingly competitive — and threatening notes start appearing on her desk warning her to leave the company. Inspired by the author’s own experience in publishing, this electrifying thriller is an excellent observation of the microaggressions that can make a workplace toxic.

the maidens

The Maidens by Alex Michaelides (June 15)

This captivating thriller centers a charismatic professor at Cambridge University who gets enmeshed in a series of murders on campus. Mixing Greek mythology with psychological suspense, this intriguing twisty tale is the perfect antidote to your summer reading ennui — and yes, it’s already been optioned for a TV series adaptation. 

dark roads

Dark Roads by Chevy Stevens (August 3)

Chevy Stevens makes her highly anticipated return with this propulsive thriller about two women who unknowingly put themselves on a collision course with a killer when they return to Cold Creek, a dark stretch of highway long known for being the site of mysterious disappearances. Gripping, unsettling, and brimming with suspense, Dark Roads is another worthy entry from the accomplished mystery storyteller. 

a slow fire burning

A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins (August 31)

Four years after her last novel, Paula Hawkins is back with a riveting new mystery, set on a London houseboat. After a young man is found murdered, police investigate three women with separate connections to the victim and equal motives for revenge. Filled with unpredictable twists and turns, this compulsively readable thriller will keep you guessing until the final page. 

harlem shuffle

Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead (September 14)

Set in 1960s Harlem, Colson Whitehead’s latest work centers a furniture salesman who finds himself living a double life after getting drawn into a heist gone wrong. Part family saga, part crime novel, Harlem Shuffle provides a gloriously entertaining adventure that only further solidifies Whitehead as one of the most versatile authors today. 

For more mystery and thriller goodness, check out these mysteries you may have missed in 2020 . If cozy mysteries are more your jam, these cozies are hitting shelves in the first half of 2021 .

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How We Chose the 100 Best Mystery and Thriller Books of All Time

A dead body is found at the bottom of the stairs. A child is kidnapped. A wife vanishes without a trace. What happened? Who did it? And, perhaps most importantly, why? These are the questions that guide mystery and thriller books—and it’s the process of uncovering the answers that makes the genre so engaging. These are the novels that invite readers to investigate alongside hard-boiled detectives, aspiring sleuths, and hapless husbands, among others. In this world, anyone can be a hero or a villain. 

Which is why TIME set out to create a definitive list of the English language’s 100 Best Mystery and Thriller Books of All Time . We began in early 2023 by recruiting leading authors to sit on our panel: Megan Abbott, Harlan Coben, S.A. Cosby, Gillian Flynn, Tana French, Rachel Howzell Hall, and Sujata Massey. This group joined TIME staff in nominating the top books of the genre and rating more than 250 nominees on a scale. (Panelists did not put forward their own work.) Using the responses, TIME editors created a ranking, then evaluated each finalist, as well as additional titles, based on key factors including plot payoff, suspense, ambition, originality, critical and popular reception, and influence on the mystery and thriller genre and literature more broadly.

The resulting list features books that came out as long ago as 1860 and as recently as 2022, were originally published in 15 different countries, and are written by 100 distinct authors—no single writer’s work appears more than once. Taken together, the list celebrates books that offer a chance to escape, but also to interrogate the darkest parts of humanity—to become engrossed in these stories is to enter worlds both familiar and foreign, to put together the pieces of a perplexing plot, to think critically about what it means to be good and what it takes to be bad, and all that exists in the messy in-between.

In her introduction to the project , panelist and best-selling author Tana French reminds us of the genre’s impact, especially in increasingly turbulent times. “In a world that can often be chaotic and reasonless, we need these stories,” she writes. “We need to believe that sometimes things can fit together and make sense, even when that seems impossible; that someday our crisis will end and we’ll be able to leave it behind.”

Read More: Why Mystery Books Are So Satisfying

To catalog the best mystery and thriller books of all time means considering the history and evolution of the genre. The invention of the modern mystery is widely attributed to Edgar Allen Poe, who established many of the conventions we associate with detective stories—from the genius, amateur sleuth to the friendly narrator—when he published the 1841 short story “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” Crime and suspense were present in fiction before Poe, but it was his series of tales featuring eccentric investigator C. Auguste Dupin that originally emphasized solving a mystery by gathering evidence. Since Poe primarily wrote short stories and poems, none of his titles are included on this list of novels. But his influence on the development of the literary mystery is evident in every selection. 

In 1860, Wilkie Collins published what is considered the first mystery novel, The Woman in White . The genre took off from there, progressing from the early detective stories of the 19th century (in which a sleuth solved a crime using logic and reason), to the so-called golden age of detective fiction of the interwar era (in which the “whodunnit” subgenre gained popularity), to the hardboiled crime heyday of the 1930s to the 1950s (featuring protagonists with especially steely exteriors), and beyond. Each of these periods saw the rise of their own respective mystery masters, from Arthur Conan Doyle to Agatha Christie to Raymond Chandler .

For the purposes of this list, TIME defined mysteries and thrillers as books that center on an unsolved crime or threatening circumstance, and the person or people determined to solve or prevent it. With those guidelines in mind, we also contended with the fact that the genre is wide-ranging, covering everything from classic noir to police procedural to cozy mystery to modern thriller—a subset whose notable rise is reflected in its strong presence on this list. 

The origins of the literary thriller can be traced back to ancient texts like The Odyssey , The Epic of Gilgamesh , and The Arabian Nights , while 19th-century works like James Fenimore Cooper’s 1821 Revolutionary War novel The Spy and Alexandre Dumas’ 1844 revenge classic The Count of Monte Cristo laid the groundwork for the modern form. Contemporary, domestic thrillers became especially popular in the 2010s with Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl , a masterclass in the art of unreliable narration which followed the dissolution of a seemingly perfect marriage and set off a wave of copycats.

While working to create a list that reflects trends throughout this history, we also strove to contend with the stories that have been less represented in mainstream publishing. Throughout the 20th century and into the 21st, mystery books have long been dominated by white authors telling stories that center white characters. The genre, like the rest of the industry, has become more inclusive in recent years, but as panelist and best-selling author Rachel Howzell Hall argues in her essay for this project , there’s still a long way to go. “Publishing and marketing more diverse writers will help the world of books become richer, fuller,” she writes. “If you agree, pull up a chair. We got a bunch of stories to tell.”

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Write to Annabel Gutterman at[email protected] and Megan McCluskey at [email protected]

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USA TODAY’s Best-selling Booklist

best selling fiction suspense books

USA TODAY collects sales data from booksellers representing a variety of outlets: bookstore chains, independent bookstores, mass merchandisers, and online retailers. Using that data, we determine the 150 top-selling titles of the week. The top 150 are published online Wednesdays at 6 a.m.

USA TODAY's Best-selling Booklist reflects combined sales of titles in print and electronic format, if available. The rankings reflect sales from the previous Monday through Sunday.

For more detailed information about our Booklist and our methodology , check out About the List and our FAQs.

If you are a retailer and want your book data included in this list, please email us at [email protected] .

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The best recent science fiction, fantasy and horror – reviews roundup

The Scandalous Confessions of Lydia Bennet, Witch by Melinda Taub; Mothtown by Caroline Hardaker; Saturnalia by Stephanie Feldman; Writing the Future, edited by Dan Coxon and Richard V Hirst; She’s a Killer by Kirsten McDougall

The Scandalous Confessions of Lydia Bennet, Witch by Melinda Taub

The Scandalous Confessions of Lydia Bennet, Witch by Melinda Taub (Jo Fletcher, £20) Novels about witches are thick on the ground at present, but this one stands out for its wit and charm. The second novel by the Emmy award-winning TV writer addresses the hidden life of Lydia, the youngest (and wildest) Bennet sister from Pride and Prejudice, revealing a world of witchcraft and demonology behind the decorous romance of her oblivious sister and Mr Darcy. Infused with elements of English folk horror, this Regency-era comedy of manners makes for a lively, delightful adventure.

Mothtown by Caroline Hardaker

Mothtown by Caroline Hardaker (Angry Robot, £9.99) David has never felt comfortable in his own skin. The only person who seemed to understand was his grandfather, a scientist whose investigations for the Institute of Dark Matter could provide the key to another world. But his grandfather disappeared before he could tell David what he needs to know, and his parents won’t talk about it. His life becomes a solitary quest for answers. The news is filled with stories of people gone missing, referred to as “the Modern Problem”, and David knows his family fears he will fall prey to it. But he will take any risk if there’s a chance of making it through to another reality, as he thinks his grandfather did. A strange, haunting tale about loneliness, grief and the yearning for transformative experiences, with illustrations by Chris Riddell adding to the uncanny atmosphere.

Saturnalia by Stephanie Feldman

Saturnalia by Stephanie Feldman (Verve, £9.99) Taking place over the course of one long night, this dark fantasy is set in a near-future version of Philadelphia where the midwinter festival of Saturnalia is celebrated as a grand carnival hosted by social clubs named after pagan gods. It’s a chance for people to party and ignore the climate crisis they are living through, the floods and tornadoes that have demolished whole neighbourhoods and sent the wealthiest fleeing up north. Former Saturn Club employee Nina is commissioned by her friend Max to find a package hidden in the building. At first she’s only worried about an uncomfortable encounter with her former best friends at the club, but she’s soon running for her life from a terrifying creature, not knowing who she can trust, or who wants her dead, or why. An unusual blend of thriller, alchemical fantasy and climate apocalypse, it’s a wild, entertaining ride.

Writing The Future: Essays on Crafting Science Fiction by Dan Coxon (Author), Richard Hirst (Author)

Writing the Future , edited by Dan Coxon & Richard V Hirst (Dead Ink, £9.99) This collection of essays on the crafting of science fiction will be of interest to aspiring writers, but also to readers wanting to understand what SF has to offer. Going well beyond the usual “how to write/sell” guides, Aliya Whiteley, Oliver K Langmead, Toby Litt, TL Huchu and other current practitioners offer thought-provoking perspectives on the genre, looking at why it is especially open to experimental writing, whether it can ever be “prophetic”, what it has in common with historical fiction, and more. Elsewhere Nina Allan , Adam Roberts and Anne Charnock turn their attention to groundbreaking works by JG Ballard, HG Wells and Margaret Atwood . An important addition to any writer’s bookshelf, it informs and inspires.

She’s A Killer by Kirsten McDougall

She’s a Killer by Kirsten McDougall (Gallic, £16.99) Set in a near-future New Zealand strained by an influx of “wealthugees” fleeing climate disasters in their own countries, this savagely funny novel is narrated by Alice, who notes: “The problem with emergencies was that the longer they went on, the more they just felt like normal life.” She is almost a genius and possibly a sociopath, communicates with her mother in the flat upstairs via morse code and spends most of her time talking to Simp, the imaginary friend from her childhood who has (invisibly) turned up again. When a wealthugee offers Alice several thousand dollars to let his 15-year-old daughter stay with her while he goes back to China to rescue his ex-wife, her life takes a much wilder, more dangerous turn. An outrageous, comic, disturbingly timely novel.

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