18 of the Best Thrillers to Read Right Now
Grab your blanket because these books will give you serious chills!
The thriller written under a not-secret-at-all pseudonym
J.K. Rowling has a follow-up to The Cuckoo’s Calling (Little, Brown). Both books star unkempt investigator/amputee/illegitimate rock-star offspring Cormoran Strike and his secretary, Robin Ellacott, and both books are stellar, stay-up-all-night thriller novels. In The Silkworm (Little, Brown), the pair searches for the murderer of a writer with a very fine opinion of himself that no one else in his life shared. The strong friendship between Strike and Ellacott is the best fictional male-female workplace ‘ship around today, so please, Mr., er, Galbraith, don’t go Moonlighting it up on us. For a real good fright, check out the scariest books of all time.
The thriller anthology filled with the most amazing meetups ever
Pow! That’s the sound of thriller fans’ heads exploding when they hear the bold premise of this anthology. The stories in FaceOff (Simon & Schuster), edited by the gifted David Baldacci, all involve face-offs of famous thriller protagonists. And the lineup is so incredible that it reads like fiction: Dennis Lehane’s Patrick Kenzie meets Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch; Jeffery Deaver’s Lincoln Rhyme meets John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport; Lee Child’s Jack Reacher meets Joseph Finder’s Nick Heller; Steve Martini’s Paul Madriani meets Linda Fairstein’s Alexandra Cooper; and so on. This collection is 11 fever dreams come true.
The wilderness thriller with one memorable opening sentence
Here’s the first sentence of Those Who Wish Me Dead (Little, Brown): “On the last day of Jace Wilson’s life, the fourteen-year-old stood on a quarry ledge staring at cool, still water and finally understood something his mother had told him years before: Trouble might come for you when you showed fear, but trouble doubled-down when you lied about being afraid.”
“Pulse-pounding,” “edge-of-your-seat,” “unputdownable”—these cliches are all on the no-no list for book reviewers, but what’s a reviewer to do when those are the words that best describe a novel? Well, she gets off her literary high horse. This pulse-pounding, edge-of-your-seat, unputdownable thriller is about Jace, the teenage witness to a crime; the evil brothers hellbent on stopping him from talking; and their crazy cat-and-mouse game that plays out in the Montana backwoods. Here are 10 horror films that were actually inspired by true stories.
The genre-defying thriller in which an underdog becomes a superhero
Robin, one of the two main characters in Tigerman (Knopf), is a street-smart kid whose unique vocabulary comes from comic books and computer games. For example, he describes his favorite superheroes as “full of win.” The novel takes place on the fictitious island of Mancreu, a former British colony slated for destruction. Bone-tired British Army Sergeant Lester Ferris has been brought in to get some R & R while serving as Mancreu’s nominal overseer. The island’s chaos has attracted scores of criminals, and Ferris tries to maintain some order and decency—not because he has to but because he wants to—with Robin’s help. It’s one of those thriller novels that’s an adventurous romp which, like hero Ferris, at its core contains a bit of longing. But rest assured, Tigerman is full of win.
The coming-of-age thriller based on bizarre real events
In a story that made national headlines a few years ago, more than a dozen girls in a small town in upstate New York suddenly came down with a Tourette-like condition—they suffered uncontrollable tics, twitches, and stutters. Experts concluded that the cause was conversion disorder, a stress-related psychological illness, but doubts remained about that diagnosis. The Fever (Little, Brown) riffs off of the situation, tracking a similar syndrome’s fallout on a group of high-school girls and one of their parents (who is also a teacher). In this terse thriller, Abbott captures the vulnerability of young women on the cusp of adulthood and reminds us that, like a virus, fear is contagious too. If you’re a thriller fiend, you’ll love reading from this list of the best thrillers of all time!
The only thriller starring an ex-Mossad-agent-turned-art-restorer
Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon novels tend to start the same way: Allon is painstakingly saving a priceless piece of art when he’s reluctantly drawn into action to save a person or persons in trouble. In The Heist (Harper), he’s in the midst of restoring a Veronese when he is called to help his friend, art dealer Julian Isherwood, who is being held for murder. Silva’s 14th Allon thriller has all the delicious bits—including the enticing intro and the references to his hero’s piercing green eyes, storied past, and gorgeous Mossad agent wife—that readers have come to know and expect, as well as the big unknown: So how will Allon pull off the impossible this time?
The gritty thriller by the best Scottish writer working in the genre today
Denise Mina’s fellow Scottish mystery writer Val McDermid once said of the author of this thriller, “If you don’t love Denise Mina, you don’t love crime fiction.” Mina sets her books in the seamier parts of Glasgow, where no one trusts the polis (as they call them) and the polis don’t trust themselves. The Red Road (Little, Brown) is the fourth of Mina’s novels to feature the principled DI Alex Morrow, who is frantically juggling her roles as detective, wife, mother, and sister of one of Glasgow’s most notorious gangsters. But you don’t have to have read the other Morrow books to enjoy this installment. The theme that runs through Mina’s work is how we can’t escape our pasts yet we never stop trying, and in the riveting, nuanced Road, the characters on the run are career criminal Michael Brown, teen-delinquent-turned-nanny Rose Wilson, lawyer Robert Macmillan, and Morrow herself. For more thriller fun, watch one of the 35 scariest movies ever.
The sci-fi thriller centered on a lonely little girl with an unusual secret
Young Melanie sits in a cell under armed guard on a military base in a plague-ravaged world. She is released every week for a handful of reasons: to eat grubs; to shower in a chemical solution; and to take lessons in a schoolroom with a handful of kids also kept in cells. Like the reader, Melanie has no idea why she lives the way she does, but after she is let loose one day, she starts learning the truth. The Girl with All the Gifts (Orbit) is a propulsive, imaginative novel that features all the sci-fi staples (breathless battles and chases, scary inhuman creatures, a trek across a desolate post-apocalyptic landscape) along with something not so expected: heart.
The murder-mystery thriller that’s shot through with whimsy
Imagine if Wes Anderson set a mystery at a high-school music convention at a once-luxurious Catskills hotel during a blizzard, and you’ll get a sense of the quirky delight that is Bellweather Rhapsody (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). A murder-suicide once occurred in room 712 at the Bellweather, and Minnie Graves, a teenage bridesmaid, was the horrified witness. Fifteen years later, she’s returned to the hotel to exorcise her memories, and her visit coincides with the statewide festival. Her path crosses with the musical Hatmaker twins, reserved Rabbit and diva-esque Alice, after Alice’s roommate disappears—from haunted room 712. The novel’s cast also includes Natalie, the twins’ chaperone wrestling with her own traumas; Fisher, the sarcastic, seven-fingered orchestra conductor; Viola, the sadistic conference head; and Hastings, the lonely concierge. But playing as dominant a role as these people is music, and the joy, expression, and escape that it offers us. Check out these books that inspired hit movies.
The sepia-tinted historical spy thriller
If Alan Furst’s spy novels were made into movies, they’d all star George Clooney. That’s because the typical Furst hero is world-weary and irresistible—to desperate women, bad men, and morally ambiguous situations. Yet he always manages to emerge with ethics intact (which can’t be said of his heart). The author’s favorite era is the 1930s and 1940s, and Midnight in Europe (Random House) takes place with the Spanish Civil War as its dramatic backdrop.
The soapy society thriller about trust funders living with a family curse
The Heiresses (Harper) is a classic beach read that follows in the smartly shod footsteps of Judith Krantz and Sidney Sheldon. It’s got all the goods: beautiful people, designer clothes, suspicious deaths, fabulous wealth, seething emotion, buried secrets, torrid romance, and crazy twists. The only things missing? A cool drink in your hand, an umbrella to sit under, and a weekend or two to while away. Check out more of the best beach page-turners of all time.
The first-ever hard-boiled detective thriller from Stephen King
Stephen King has written more than 50 books, and they have all been bestsellers. He is incapable of writing books that are NOT the thrillingest thriller novels ever, and with Mr. Mercedes (Scribner), he’s produced a nail-biting detective thriller. Check out some more chilling reads with these true crime novels that will keep you up at night.
The romantic thriller that toggles between two eras
This novel switches between two stories in two time periods: that of Vivian Schuyler, an aspiring writer and working girl in 1964 Manhattan whose wisecracks are a cover for a tender heart, and of Violet Grant, a young physicist in 1914 Berlin married to a domineering, loutish scientist yet in love with another man. Books with dual narratives are tough to pull off; almost always, one plot is just more compelling. However, The Secret Life of Violet Grant (Putnam) is a rare exception. Vivian’s storyline, which is lighter and deals with romantic and family intrigue, plus Violet’s storyline, which has the dawn of World War I as its setting and revolves around espionage and forbidden love, add up to create one sweeping read.
The literary thriller about a young woman in search of her real family
I’m taking liberties with the thriller category by including The Rise & Fall of Great Powers (Dial Press). In this warm, artful Russian doll of a novel, no one gets killed or comes down with a lethal disease, nothing gets stolen, no one is arrested or taken hostage, and no one disappears. Yet I’m counting it as a thriller because it centers on a mystery—a young woman named Tooly tries to piece together her weird upbringing and figure out who really raised her—and you’ll keep turning the pages, jittery with curiosity, until you know the answer.
The mysterious thriller that will make you afraid of the woods
Ten years ago, a father and son disappeared into the Boundary Waters, a place in Minnesota spanning hundreds of miles of lakes and forests. As search teams uncovered their campsite, it appeared to be ravaged by a bear attack and the two were presumed dead. That is, until the son reappeared ten years later after he ransacked a store. The boy is violent and can’t communicate so he is sent to a psychiatric facility to be evaluated by Maya Stark, an assistant language therapist. Her attempts to get the boy to talk about his father or the last ten years of his life are futile. And even though he refuses to talk, she will do everything she can to reunite him with his father, who may not be dead after all. One bestselling author calls Leave No Trace (Simon & Schuster) “as thrilling as a whitewater rapid and as dark as the Minnesotan wilderness itself.”
The thriller that takes you on a wild ride full of plot twists and turns
As most book-to-TV/film adaptations go, the book, Sharp Objects (Penguin Random House), is even more chilling and mysterious than its HBO series counterpart starring Amy Adams. Thriller writer Gillian Flynn, renowned for Gone Girl, is dropping her readers’ jaws once again with this eerie story about Camille Preaker, a newspaper journalist who returns to her hometown in Missouri after ten years to report on the brutal murders of two preteen girls. After returning home to her neurotic mother and discovering that she has a 13-year-old half-sister, Camille finds herself coming face-to-face with not only the evil in her town, but the demons within herself. As her murder investigation unravels, she starts to wonder if the crimes and her past are a little too close for comfort. Check out some more books that inspired your favorite TV shows.
The man-in-over-his-head thriller
Michael Tanner unknowingly mistakes a U.S. senator’s laptop for his own in the TSA security line. He doesn’t realize the monumental mishap until he arrives home and finds top secret government documents on the laptop. The next thing he knows, Tanner becomes a hunted man on the run who fears for his family’s safety and can trust no one but himself. The Guardian hails The Switch (Dutton) as one of the best crime books and thriller novels of 2018. Kirkus Reviews says the author “delivers a tense, uncannily relevant tale about government secrets falling into the wrong hands…seemingly ripped from recent headlines.” Think of this story like a fictional Snowden 2.0!
The spine-tingling thriller that will have you constantly asking, “Who dunnit?”
After being held captive in an underground cell for three years, Detective Jude Fontaine is finally free. Except now she has a heightened sixth sense—the ability to read the body language of both the living and the dead, a talent she inadvertently developed from observing and learning her captor’s every move. Despite her colleagues’ protests, she returns to the homicide unit to chase down a killer who targets young women. Not only is she faced with adapting to the outside world again, but she also has a slew of personal issues to deal with from an estranged father who is also the governor to her philandering brother. In addition, her mother was also accidentally shot when she was just a kid. But as Detective Fontaine traces the killer’s footsteps, she finds that he or she may be much closer than she ever imagined. The Body Reader (Thomas & Mercer) is the first of the Detective Jude Fontaine Mysteries series. For more spine-tingling excitement, watch these suspense movies with twist endings you’ll never see coming.
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