10 Gripping Thriller Books to Keep You Up at Night
When it comes to books, you simply can’t go wrong with a good thriller novel. They come in such a variety that you can find one for every occasion and desire. If you’re looking for a delightfully dark story that draws inspiration from psychology, there are psychological thrillers like The Silent Patient. If you’re looking for a classic whodunit mystery, there are mystery thrillers like The Woman in the Window and Then She Was Gone. You’ve also got crime thrillers, action thrillers, legal thrillers, romantic thrillers, sci-fi thrillers, or even religious thrillers.
Thrillers tend to overlap with other genres, giving them a wide range and potential to appeal to a broad audience. However, regardless of whether it’s a love story, psychological profile, murder mystery, or family saga, there is always that underlying feeling of anticipation, suspense, excitement, and dread. A good thriller has readers desperate to know how the story ends, and the best thrillers will have you on the edge of your seat as they mislead you and surprise you.
Thrillers satisfy our need for stimulation and allow readers to confront the dark side of humanity or experience the thrill of danger and mystery, without ever actually being in physical danger. Additionally, they satisfy those looking for a puzzle to solve or for a truly unputdownable novel. Here are 10 of the best thriller books that will surprise you, scare you, and satisfy your thirst for drama, mystery, and danger.
The Silent Patient
The Silent Patient is a psychological thriller by Alex Michaelides that was released in 2019. The novel follows psychotherapist Theo Farber, who has seemingly met his match with patient Alicia Berenson. Faber is obsessed with discovering the motive of his silent patient, Berenson. Berenson, a famous painter with an idyllic life, shocked the world when she shot her husband in the face 5 times one night and proceeded to not say another word to anyone afterward. Her morbid crime is fodder for psychotherapists like Faber, who digs deep to understand how a woman could up and kill her husband for no apparent reason. While attempting to find her motives, though, he must also confront his motives for tackling Berenson as a client.
The Silent Patient is everything one could want in a psychological thriller. It’s a seemingly dark, in-depth exploration of a depraved crime. However, it is also a mystery with many twists and turns and everything is not as it seems. Not only that, but the book purposefully misleads the readers by leaving out one key detail. There is some narrative trickery going on in The Silent Patient, but it is unlikely any reader will be able to see through it and solve the mystery. The Silent Patient is a dark and twisted tale with complex characters and a deep dive into psychotherapy, which shamelessly confuses and misleads readers to create a bombshell ending that no one is at risk of predicting.
Verity is a 2018 psychological-romance thriller from Colleen Hoover. The novel follows Lowen Ashleigh, an aspiring author who accepts a ghostwriting position offered to her by Jeremy Crawford. Jeremy is the husband of Verity Crawford, a best-selling author unable to complete her latest series after being incapacitated in a car accident. Hence, Ashleigh sets out to complete Verity’s series. However, while gathering Verity’s notes, she discovers Verity’s unpublished autobiography and uncovers her dark and horrific secrets. As Ashleigh develops an attraction to Jeremy she struggles with whether to tell him the truth about the dark past of the comatose wife he continues caring for.
What makes Verity so good is that it is both a steamy romance novel as well as a deeply twisted and disturbing psychological thriller, flawlessly wrapped into one story. On the one hand, readers are reading the writings of a truly disturbed and evil woman and, on the other hand, are reading the tale of a woman in an exceedingly complicated and ill-advised relationship. On top of that, the reader is ultimately left not knowing who to believe or who to root for. The only thing the reader will know for sure is that few stories rival Verity in being so simultaneously steamy, disturbing, and surprising.
Little Face is a psychological crime thriller by Sophie Hannah that was published in 2008. The novel follows Alice Fancourt, a new mother, who takes the plunge and goes out without her newborn daughter for the first time. When she returns, she finds herself living out a mother’s worst nightmare when she realizes her daughter has been swapped with another child. However, no one, including her husband, believes that the baby isn’t hers. Detective Simon Waterhouse believes her to be suffering postpartum depression, yet can’t help becoming intrigued and invested in her case. When Fancourt herself disappears, it becomes apparent that darker forces are at play than previously thought.
Little Face is a thrilling, complex, and surprising tale that will have readers at the edge of their seats. As with most thrillers, nothing is as it seems. Suspense builds with every page as the reader becomes more and more confused about who to believe. Each character has secret, ulterior motives and dark sides, making Little Face far more complex than it seems on the surface. The layers of Little Face are practically endless, before reaching the unexpected, yet surprisingly simplistic core. Ultimately, one mystery gives way to a whole slew of mysteries that will keep the reader engrossed as each one unravels.
Everything I Never Told You
Everything I Never Told You is a poignant and complex mystery thriller published by Celeste Ng in 2014. The searing novel follows the Chinese American Lee family, who are reeling from the sudden death of their daughter, Lydia. Lydia was the favorite child upon whom the parents laid all their hopes and dreams. When her body is discovered in a nearby lake and the police force suspects suicide, the formerly picturesque family starts to deteriorate. Long-held family secrets, desires, and resentments start to come out as the family struggles to unravel and understand their daughter’s death, as well as unravel and understand each other.
Everything I Never Told You is a beautifully written and heartbreaking, yet hopeful tale of a family in crisis. It is certainly not your typical thriller, but the typical suspense and dread are still there. Readers not only race to solve the mystery of Lydia’s death, but also the mystery of the Lee family. There is constant doubt about whether this family will survive the most tragic event imaginable. Everything I Never Told You will give you mystery and suspense, but it will also break your heart as you examine how a rather simple, realistic family tale can turn into a thriller only because they fail to tell each other the intricacies of their fears, desires, and identities.
The Woman in the Window
The Woman in the Window is a psychological-mystery thriller from A. J. Finn that hit shelves in 2018. The novel follows agoraphobic Anna Fox, who secludes herself in her New York home, unable to go outside after a traumatic car accident. She has recently separated from her husband and he maintains custody of their 8-year-old daughter, Olivia. Fox spends most of her days browsing online forums, reminiscing about happier times, and subtly watching the doings of her neighbors. However, one day, Fox sees something she shouldn’t have from the home of the seemingly perfect family across the street. Her witnessing of the event leaves her rattled and struggling to sift through what is real and what is fake.
The Woman in the Window is gripping, unpredictable, and surprisingly human. Finn’s novel is an honest and heartbreaking portrayal of agoraphobia, grief, depression, and substance abuse. However, it is also simultaneously a suspenseful murder mystery with a wholly unexpected twist at the end. Many psychological thrillers attempt to explore the dark side of humanity. However, The Woman in the Window follows the dark side of humanity from the perspective of someone human and broken. It pursues the idea of being at the wrong place at the wrong time, yet overcoming the trauma of life to delve into a mystery you weren’t meant to be a part of.
Then She Was Gone
Then She Was Gone is a 2017 mystery-thriller and family drama from bestselling author, Lisa Jewell. The novel centers around the unsolved disappearance of Ellie Mack. Ellie was 15 and a smart charming girl who gained her parents’ favoritism and had a doting boyfriend. However, in the blink of an eye, her bright future was wiped away when she disappeared without a trace. 10-years later, Ellie’s mother, Laurel, is trying to put the pieces of her life back together, when she falls in love with a dashing stranger, Floyd. However, when Laurel discovers Floyd’s daughter, Poppy, is the spitting image of Ellie, she finds herself once more seeking answers to her daughter’s disappearance.
Then She Was Gone is similar to Everything I Never Told You, in that it is both a thrilling mystery and a heartrending family saga. The novel encroaches on one of the biggest fears we have all hiding inside us: the idea of disappearing, or a loved one disappearing, with no trace. In addition to that underlying fear is the tale of a family who uncovers numerous regrets and secrets, only because of the occurrence of a tragic event. Then She Was Gone tops it all off with an unexpected ending and haunting narrative. The novel is chilling, dark, and unexpected, as well as a poignant tale of a family affected by tragedy.
Playing Nice is a gripping psychological thriller from J. P. Delaney that hit shelves in 2020. The novel follows Pete and Maddie Riley, a young couple enjoying life with their 2-year-old son, Theo. However, their lives shatter in an instant when Miles Lambert knocks on their door to deliver the news that Theo is not their son. Riley’s son, Theo, and Lambert’s son, David, were switched at birth. Initially, Miles seems interested in resolving the issue smoothly by merely entwining their lives. As time goes on, though, Lambert’s intentions and the birth swapping itself become increasingly suspicious, and Pete and Maddie have to stop playing nice to save their family.
Playing Nice is the kind of novel that forces readers to imagine their worst nightmare. Just imagine someone knocking on your door midday to drop the news that your child isn’t yours. As devastating as that sounds, Playing Nice makes it even worse by revealing the biological parents of your child are untrustworthy and that the swap may not have been a “mistake” after all. It’s a novel that preys on parents’ nightmares, while also examining the twisted psychology of narcissistic parents, as well as the unexpected revelation of family secrets amid a crisis. Playing Nice is a disturbing and twisted tale of how far a family will go to protect themselves and each other.
The Surrogate Mother
The Surrogate Mother is a gripping psychological thriller by Freida McFadden that was released in 2020. The novel follows Abby, a woman who longs to be a mother after experiencing numerous failed fertility treatments and adoptions. After another failed adoption, Abby’s assistant, Monica, comes forward with a proposition too good to believe. She offers to carry Abby’s child in exchange for Abby and her husband helping her cover her college tuition payments. However, the offer does prove to be too good to be true when Monica slowly starts backtracking on her agreement and proves to be after much more than help paying the bills, all while carrying Abby’s child.
The Surrogate Mother is a gripping thriller. However, it takes a unique approach to thrillers by letting the reader know a whole lot more than the protagonist of the book does. The reader becomes aware early on of what is taking place, and that knowledge adds to their frustration as the events of the novel play out. One character is harassed, framed, and played, yet fails to understand what’s happening to her. She also fails to gain the trust or belief of those closest to her. The Surrogate Mother will spark shock, outrage, and suspense as readers comb through the tale of how one woman’s “dream come true” turned into the biggest nightmare of her life.
Room is a psychological thriller and drama by Emma Donoghue that was released in 2010. The novel is told through the unique perspective of imaginative five-year-old Jack. Jack has been raised in Room ever since he was born. It is the only world he has ever known. However, to his mother, Ma, it is a prison she has been held captive in for seven years after being abducted. Ma has done her best to create a world in a single room for Jack, but as Jack’s curiosity and Ma’s desperation grows, it becomes clear the two must daringly attempt to escape the room.
Room is thrilling and suspenseful, while also offering a unique and poignant take on abduction and trauma. While Room explores the daring escape of a mother and her son held captive for far too long, it also explores their very human and painful aftermath as they learn to adjust to a world that has seemingly moved on from them. Donoghue’s novel strikes the perfect balance between thrilling and personal as it tracks one family’s desperation for survival, as well as their path to healing.
The Perfect Child
The Perfect Child is a psychological thriller by Lucinda Berry that was released in 2019. The novel follows Christopher and Hannah, a married couple that has longed for a child for many years. Their situation is seemingly solved when six-year-old Janie turns up in need of a home. Christopher and Hannah have a home to offer her and expect their longings for a child to be fulfilled. However, Janie isn’t an ordinary child and the trauma of her past and her behavioral issues prove to be more than Christopher and Hannah can handle. As time goes on, Hannah finds herself unable to cope with Janie’s behavioral problems, but Christopher remains oblivious and enamored with the child, threatening their marriage and lifestyle.
The Perfect Child is suspenseful, haunting, and dark enough to intrigue any reader. What makes it so haunting is its focus on a six-year-old child. Few would think a six-year-old could be the subject of a psychological thriller. However, The Perfect Child does just that as it boldly examines the impact of childhood trauma and abuse. It is grim and disappointing, while also effectively shocking and horrifying. The Perfect Child isn’t for everyone, but it will draw in the most devoted psychological thriller enthusiasts.
(featured image: Celadon Books, Atria, Ballantine, Little Brown and Company)
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