Your resident thriller expert is back and this time I’m not writing to tell you what future titles you should be reading. Instead, I am feverish to let you in on some titles that might have slipped through your book-hungry fingers the past few decades. All within the last three decades, these books have shaped our modern-day thrillers. Without further adieu, I bring you my list of the best thriller and suspense novels that I’ve loved from my young book-loving years to now.
Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter
Let’s start this off with a bang. Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter is not only one of my favorite thrillers (easily top five), but the reason I even thought to write this article. Shortly after joining Bookstagram, it was the heat of the summer in 2017 and I had just devoured the novel The Good Daughter. After that came the comments from my followers: Was it better than Pretty Girls? Why haven’t you covered Pretty Girls? How does this one compare to Pretty Girls? I was flabbergasted with the buzz over this novel. The next Monday night, I ran a hot bath and dove right in – nothing has kept me engrossed like Pretty Girls. The backstory, the present timeline, the letters from a missing girl’s father – Pretty Girls is an emotional and extremely dark and gritty thriller that will make the entire outside world disappear. The plot is about two estranged sisters who uncover some new leads regarding the 20-year-old cold case of their sister’s disappearance. Then a local girl goes missing and it is a race against the clock to find out the truth – the only question being what price do they have to pay to get there? A powerful thriller that reels you in – Pretty Girls has it all.
Tony and Susan by Austin Wright
I’m sure most of you have heard of the movie Nocturnal Animals starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Amy Adams. I was so looking forward to the movie when it first came out and like the little book nerd that I am, I knew I had to read the book before the movie. Fifteen years after leaving her first husband, Susan is now remarried and playing the role of the doting housewife to a doctor when her world is turned upside down. Out of nowhere, she receives a manuscript from her ex-husband, Edward, asking her to read his work. Edward’s novel is about a man named Tony who, when on vacation with his wife and daughter, has his life violently turned upside down. The contrasts and similarities between what is real and what is fiction is eerie, unsettling and riveting in its prose. Terrified to read more and too stubborn to put it down, I dove into this violent and poignant novel with curiosity and determination. Take a nap during the day, because this one will keep you up all night long.
A Density of Souls by Christopher Rice
Christopher Rice is easily one of the biggest blessings in the publishing world. The fact that A Density of Souls came out when he was 22 is astounding. A Density of Souls is a beautifully written story that is part psychological thriller, part coming-of-age story, and all around a stunning story that will not only make your heart race but also break it. Four childhood friends enter high school – one of them devastatingly shunned as an outcast. Shortly after the friction of revelations, secrets and even death, shatter their lives, affecting their future indefinitely. Years later, when tragedy strikes again, secrets are dug up and exposed, violence emerges, and the consequences are earth-shattering. A Density of Souls will make you cry, keep you on the edge of the world with its prose and thrill you to no end until the brilliant and jaw-dropping finale that is guaranteed to make you a forever Christopher Rice fan. Reading this at 15 definitely shaped my expectations when it comes to novels and it will always be one of the best novels I’ve been ever immersed myself in.
Valentine by Tom Savage
Do away with the world of cell phones and get lost in the world of ’90s stalking with this terrifying read that is not only brutally entertaining but exceptionally paced. This book features an author in Greenwich Village who is being stalked by what could be an obsessed fan or something far more sinister. One of the first novels that I read featuring alternating perspectives, Savage gives the reader the stalker’s perspective as well as some of the women he has killed in the past. Are they connected? Is Jill next? Featuring a plethora of red herrings, a glamorous setting and a brutal backstory, Valentine is the thriller that turned me into a fan of the genre and I haven’t looked back. The novel is completely different from the movie and so much more chilling.
The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf
When I lived in Boston, my Kindle was always with me. I read on the commute to and from work, on my lunch break and loved nothing more than fighting the chill with a thriller and some hot coffee. The Weight of Silence is the novel that brings me back to Boston. When I read it, I was blindsided. I wouldn’t shut up about it and recommended it to anyone who would listen. Featuring a story told from multiple perspectives, the novel starts off with seven-year-old Calli disappears in the night. The catch? She’s mute from a past tragedy. What’s even more insane is that her best friend and neighbor, Petra, has also gone missing. With alternating perspectives between young Calli and the family members of the two missing girls, this novel is a brilliantly paced psychological suspense novel that is beautifully woven together and shocking with its revelations. I was so wrapped up in it, I may or may not have missed my stops on the Boston T a couple of times.
The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
Who cares that this novel came out the year after I was born? Everyone has heard of or gotten to meet Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling in the movie The Silence of the Lambs, but have you been able to fully embrace the story by reading it? I believe this is the novel that brought about my love for reading psychological thrillers, police procedural novels and fictional serial killer stories. I love the relationship between Hannibal and Clarice, but the brilliance in the plot is amazing. The Silence of the Lambs exposes the ugliness in the criminal world and ensures you that you’ll not just be staying up late to read, you’ll be triple-checking the locks on all of your doors before going to sleep. If you haven’t picked up this one or feel you don’t need to because you saw the movie a hundred times, do it anyway – I promise it’s better than the movie.
The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison
Unfortunately, A.S.A. Harrison died shortly before the publication of her debut novel The Silent Wife but what a legacy did she leave behind. Harrison’s voice is prominent and razor sharp in this domestic psychological thriller that is both cunning and Hitchcockian. The Silent Wife tells a harrowing and cinematically stunning tale of a husband and wife and the wreckage of their marriage. Todd, a serial cheater, is used to his wife and her denial of their lifestyle. With nothing to lose, Jodi soon begins to plot revenge on Todd for all of the years he has taken advantage of her. Told through dual perspectives, this noir cat-and-mouse thriller is both character-driven and deliciously deceiving. I couldn’t get over how brilliantly Harrison created two very distinct voices to tell this story and was both shocked and enamored with the ending. If Gone Girl is the rebelling teenager, The Silent Wife is her cool older sister that she’s always admired… and could never one-up.
The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney
The minute I read the synopsis for The Long and Far Away Gone by Lou Berney, I knew it was endgame for me. This novel is unlike any thriller I have read. It is phenomenal and I eagerly await the day I can pick it up for a re-read. This is a psychological thriller that combines a police procedural/private investigator element with, not one, but two cold cases (which is a big yes for me) and a character study of two survivors. Almost 30 years ago, two crimes rocked a small community. Neither crime was ever solved… until now. Wyatt, a private investigator and the sole survivor of one of the tragedies takes on a case that brings him back to his past and collides brilliantly with the female lead’s story. This novel is psychologically compelling and visually stunning. Berney captures the feeling of the ’80s brilliantly and weaves together two stories with a plethora of smalltown characters that are frighteningly believable and provides the reader with a shocking novel that will not only keep you on your toes but emotionally shock your heart.
Postmortem by Patricia Cornwell
I’ve heard things for years about the brilliance of a Patricia Cornwell novel. In my opinion, this is a prime example of the brilliance behind movies and novels released in the 1990s. Cornwell nails the forensic aspect so brilliantly in Postmortem, a thrilling suspense novel featuring Dr. Kay Scarpetta – a Chief Medical Examiner who finds herself working with the police on a case involving a serial killer. Listen, I’m lucky I passed bio in both high school and college, but Cornwell has a knack for being both detailed while making the forensic aspect easy to follow and understand… thank God! This series was a beautiful combination of Scarpetta’s home life, love life and the work that goes into a case like this, all while being paced spectacularly. I may have read this one years ago, but the minute it was done, I was feverishly taking notes on the Scarpetta series as it’s definitely one I’d love to revisit.
The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson
Peter Swanson is brilliant and The Kind Worth Killing is easily one of the best novels I’ve read. A tale as old as time, Ted meets Lily in an airport and the two get to drinking martinis and talking about life. Ted admits in his drunken stupor that his wife is cheating on him and he wishes he could kill her. To this news, Lily is fully on board to help. By the time Ted finally gets to Boston, he stays in touch with Lily and they begin to take their drunken confessions to a whole other level by actually plotting his wife’s death. But what Ted doesn’t know is that Lily is no stranger to these dark thoughts and actions. Told in alternating timelines between the present and Lily’s past, this novel is full of shocking twists and turns all while being both cinematically stunning and atmospherically delicious. You either kick off your summer reading with something like this or you save it for the fall on one of those crisp nights with red wine and your favorite hoodie.
Hush by Anne Frasier
Anne Frasier captivated me in high school and scared the living daylights out of me with Hush. Sure, I was 15 and wow did this one shake me! This was the first novel that I read arrogantly, believing what happened on the page could never be real… I was wrong. Hush tells a story about a serial killer called the Madonna Murderer who would target single mothers and their newborn sons… killing both and leaving a snow globe in the crib as his signature. Twisted, isn’t it? Twenty years after Ivy Dunlap survived her attack and ultimately lost her newborn son, she is now a criminal psychologist who is trying to mind her own business, still haunted by her loss… and then the Madonna Murderer strikes again. Is it a copycat or is he back? A story that is sure to frighten, encompass and thrill its reader, I definitely can’t write a review about amazing thrillers I’ve read in my life without including this terrifying tale.
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