I’ve gotten to the point in my reading journey that it takes a lot to impress me. My genre of choice has been thriller books for years, and having sifted through hundreds, there is a handful I confidently recommend to others who enjoy a good suspenseful read as well. I know I can’t be the only one who has searched for a book that makes me want to pull a Joey Tribbiani and toss it in the freezer like he did with The Shining.
While I do often take a “the spookier the better” approach in most cases, I’ve come to learn the best thriller books do not have to have slasher film-level scenes to be impressive (although some do!). There are page-turners out there that are captivating based off suspenseful situations, high-stakes decisions, and even some supernatural manifestations. But don’t get me wrong, some of my favorite thrillers also include gruesome murders and serial killers.
That’s why I’m happy to present a list of all of the above: the best thriller books no matter what type of story or thrill level is preferred. From a high-intensity “beach read” to Zodiac Killer-levels of scariness, there’s something for every thriller book-loving reader out there. Check out my thriller book recs below, organized by “Thriller Level” with some included trigger warnings for plot topics that may be difficult for moms to read.
Thriller Level: 👻
This is the closest thing I can give to a "beach read" on this list. And by that I mean, it's an easy read, a lower suspense level than some of the others, and it was recently made into a series starring Jennifer Garner (so you can compare and contrast!).
As happy as Hannah is in her marriage, she can't seem to break through to her step-daughter Bailey. Until one day, she receives an ominous note from her husband explaining that she needs to "protect Bailey" and he disappears. Hannah and Bailey's world is flipped upside down as they set out to find answers, and the mystery brings them closer to one another than they ever thought possible.
The first of three books in a YA fiction series, this thriller will get you hooked—and excited to read the two sequels next!
The murder of Andie Bell by her boyfriend, Sal Singh, shook Pip's hometown and haunts the residents to this day. But Pip has always believed there was more to the story than meets the eye. For a school project, Pip decides to reexamine the case and starts to uncover dark secrets that may just prove Sal is innocent.
A new novel by seasoned thriller writer Ruth Ware, and this one's just as gripping as you'd expect.
Jack and her husband, Gabe, knew their career of choice came with some risks—they get hired to break into buildings and hack security systems, after all. What Jack could never have imagined is that she'd come home one day to find Gabe dead and herself at the top of the police's suspect list. Now she's on the run and searching for the real killer. This one is a mystery until the bitter end.
Thriller Level: 👻👻
"Hey Crime Junkies," this one's for you! Fans of popular true crime podcast Crime Junkie likely already know that host Ashley Flowers wrote her debut novel in 2022. If you haven't gotten your hands on this one yet, you're going to want to.
Margot Davies is a big-city journalist with a story from her past that still haunts her. When she was younger, her small Indiana town experienced tragedy when January Jacobs, a girl the same age as Margot, was found in a ditch after going missing. Her killer has never been brought to justice. When Margot has to return to her hometown, she hears about a young girl named Natalie from the next town over who's gone missing under eerily-similar circumstances to January. Margot takes it upon herself to solve January's murder and bring Natalie home.
TW: plot includes the murder of children
I was hooked on this book the second I learned it was from the POV of a serial killer's daughter, and author Stacy Willingham didn't lose my attention even once throughout the book.
Chloe Davis was 12 when her father confessed to the murders of six teenage girls in their small Louisiana town. Since then, she's grown up to be a successful therapist who helps others process their trauma. Now, 20 years later, girls are again starting to disappear under similar circumstances even though her father is behind bars. Chloe feels a responsibility to help bring the copycat killer to justice, but, in doing so, uncovers more family secrets than she ever wanted to know.
TW: plot includes the murder of children
Escape to the mountains of North Carolina with this eerie thriller.
Ten years ago, Abigail Lovett found a home working at a cozy resort inn nestled in the mountains. But a string of disappearances haunts her beloved town of Cutter's Pass. When journalist Landon West, who's in town to cover the disappearances, disappears himself, the town's dark history is brought to light. Abby starts asking questions and learns more than she bargained for about her town, friends, and the inn itself.
To put it simply: I loved this book. It was unlike anything I've read before and anything else on this list—it's truly unique and so enjoyable.
Wanting to escape busy city life, former marine Harry, his wife, Sasha, and their golden retriever, Dash, buy a home in the Teton Valley of Idaho. As they get settled into their new slower lifestyle, they meet their neighbors who have lived in the valley for years. They learn that the land has a mind of its own, and each season of the year has rituals the couple must follow exactly to keep malevolent spirits of the land at bay. As the seasons go on, Harry and Sasha see firsthand the evil manifestations of their new home and must tackle them together.
Thriller Level: 👻👻👻
Popular true crime podcast host Alix Summer meets Josie Fair by a twist of fate when they're at the same local pub each celebrating their 45th birthday on the same night. When they run into each other again a few days later, Josie convinces her to let her be on her podcast. As the two work together more, it becomes clear that Josie is hiding some very dark secrets. When Josie disappears, Alix realizes she has become the subject of her own podcast—and she and her family are in grave danger.
Have you ever finished a book and oddly missed the characters and wanted more of their story? I'm talking Taylor Jenkins Reid's Evelyn Hugo-level withdrawals where you flip the last page and feel sad to leave the character. That's how I felt when I finished Real Easy (in record time, I might add).
Samantha is a seasoned dancer at the Lovely Lady strip club. Though she knows better than to take new dancers under her wing, she has empathy for a newcomer and offers her a ride home. A simple act of kindness turns deadly when the duo is run off the road—and when the police arrive, only one body is found. With both a hit and run and a missing person case on their hands, other dancers are not only on edge, but take it upon themselves to help the investigation. Along the way, they learn valuable life lessons on love, loss, and friendship.
The most enjoyable thrillers leave you guessing until the bitter end—and this is totally the case with this masterpiece by Mary Kubica.
Eleven years ago, Shelby Tebow went missing. A short time after, Meredith Dickey and her young daughter, Delilah, also go missing from just a few blocks away. The cases go cold until Delilah surprisingly returns. As the town begins to seek answers, they could never prepare themselves for what they find out.
TW: plot includes the kidnapping of a child
An oldie but a goodie, as they say. I like to credit this book as the one that catapulted me into the thriller genre—and I've never looked back.
Joe Talbert is a college student tasked with interviewing and writing a biography of a stranger. He heads to a local nursing home where he finds Carl Iverson, a Vietnam Veteran who is close to death and is a convicted murderer. As Joe works with Carl, he can't believe a valorous veteran could have completed the murders and seeks out the truth behind the crimes.
If this one reminds you of Lizzie Borden and the unsolved case of the Borden family, you're not the only one.
Now reduced to a schoolyard chant, the Hope family murders shocked the Maine coast one bloody night in 1929. While most people assume 17-year-old Lenora was responsible, the police were never able to prove it. Other than her denial after the killings, she has never spoken publicly about that night, nor has she set foot outside Hope’s End, the cliffside mansion where the massacre occurred. Decades later, Lenora, now in her 70s, tells her home-health aide she’s finally ready to tell the truth.
On the eve of Y2K, as the world is expected to collapse, four teenagers working at a Blockbuster Video store in New Jersey are attacked and only one survives. The only suspect, a boyfriend of one of the teenagers, flees town and can't be found. Now, 15 years later in the same town, teenagers working at an ice cream shop are brutally murdered, and again, only one survives. The Blockbuster survivor, the brother of the suspect, and an FBI agent work together to uncover the truth.
TW: plot includes a sexual relationship between an adult and minor
In this Reese's Book Club Pick, a mother witnesses something no parent should have to: her son murdering a stranger. As her son is taken into custody, she goes to bed in despair. But, when she wakes up the next day, she realizes it's yesterday. When she wakes up again, it's the day before yesterday. She realizes time is reversing. Somewhere in the past is where it all went wrong, and it's up to her to stop it.
Thriller Level: 👻👻👻👻
Fair warning, while I could not put this book down, it was also one of the darkest books I’ve ever read, especially when it comes to motherhood, and it may be triggering for some readers—moms in particular. That said, I finished this in about 24 hours, and the end left me questioning everything I thought I knew.
Struggling writer Lowen Ashleigh accepts an offer to ghost write the remaining books in bestselling author Verity Crawford’s famous series after Crawford was injured in a car accident and cannot finish. When Lowen visits Verity’s home to review her notes and find inspiration, she uncovers a manuscript of Verity’s autobiography that she never planned for anyone to read.
TW: plot includes abortion, the death of children, and child violence
In his latest release, the king of horror thrills readers by bringing back a repeat character, Holly Gibney. Holly is just about to go on leave from her strenuous detective job when she hears the desperation in a mother's voice after her daughter, Bonnie Dahl, has gone missing. Down the road from where Bonnie disappeared is a seemingly-distinguished couple who may just be harboring a sinister secret.
If you've never dove into the world of Karin Slaughter, I suggest you do so immediately—and Pretty Girls is a great place to start.
Ever since their other sister went missing 20 years ago, Claire and Lydia have grown so far apart that they are barely recognizable to one another. When Claire's husband is murdered, the sisters come to a truce and work together to solve his murder and the disappearance of their beloved sister.
TW: plot includes rape, sexual assault, suicide, and torture
This book offers a great reminder that things aren't always what they seem.
Alicia's life could not appear to be more perfect. She's a successful painter who's married to a famous fashion photographer. When her husband comes home late one night, Alicia shoots him dead. When she's taken into custody, she goes silent, and has remained that way ever since. Criminal psychotherapist Theo Faber jumps at the opportunity to work with Alicia, determined to get her to speak and get to the bottom of why she shot her husband.
TW: suicide and mental illness
True crime podcast fans are likely very familiar with Morbid: A True Crime Podcast with host Alaina Urquhart. The autopsy tech wrote her first novel in 2022 and it's just as thrilling and captivating as you'd expect from her.
Set in the ever-moody and hauntingly beautiful city of New Orleans, The Butcher and the Wren tells the story of a meticulous serial killer and the distinguished forensic pathologist Dr. Wren Muller set out to stop him.
This book can be especially hard for moms to read, but nearly everyone who reads this says it's a quintessential page-turner that you won't be able to put down.
Blythe Connor never had a loving and warm mother, so when she gets pregnant with her first child, she is determined to be just that for her baby. But after having her baby girl, Violet, she feels so disconnected from her little girl that she knows something must be wrong with her daughter. As her husband continuously tells her she's imagining things, she begins to question her own sanity. When she has her second child, a son named Sam, she finally feels the mother/child connection she was always hoping for. But when tragedy strikes their family, Blythe is forced to face the devastating truth.
TW: postpartum depression and child death
This is a must-read for all horror movie fans, as it is the inspiration for M. Night Shymalan's new movie, Knock at the Cabin, which can be streamed on Peacock.
The tense tale tells the story of Wen, a young girl, and her parents, Eric and Andrew, who are vacationing at their remote cabin in New Hampshire. On a quiet afternoon, three strangers arrive at the house with weapons. We soon learn that the fate of the world lies on this one family.
TW: child death
Thriller Level: 👻👻👻👻👻
Any scary movie fans or avid thriller novel readers are familiar with the term 'final girls.' They're the ones who survive horrible attacks—think The Texas Chainsaw Massacre's Sally or Scream's Sidney.
In this tale by seasoned thriller writer Grady Hendrix, Lynnette Tarkington is a final girl who survived a horrible massacre. In the time since, she's joined a support group that includes five other survivors and a therapist. When one of the girls doesn't show up for their regularly-scheduled session, Lynette knows the worst has happened—someone is targeting the final girls once again.
TW: mass murder, graphic violence, and gore
For me, this book was a 'happy accident' as it randomly caught my eye at the library while I was picking up a book I placed on hold. While I can't remember the book I was picking up, I'll never forget this one.
When a young woman is found viciously murdered in an Iowa cornfield, newly-appointed head of investigations, Riley Fisher, is on the case. It quickly becomes personal when she realizes the victim is a childhood friend that is connected to a dark part of her past. As she continues to investigate, she realizes that what lies below the surface of this murder stretches far beyond the Midwest.
TW: rape, sexual assault, and gore
When a book has horror-writing royalty like Stephen King saying it, "scared the hell out of me," you know it's going to be a doozy. As a trigger warning, this book does involve children and may be hard to read for parents.
Each year, scoutmaster Tim Riggs and a group of boy scouts head to the Canadian wilderness for a camping trip. Their quiet exploration goes awry when a thin, pale, hungry, and vicious intruder stumbles into their campsite.
TW: child endangerment and animal abuse
A great read for anyone who follows true crime, the Unsub series was inspired by the infamous Zodiac Killer.
Caitlin Hendrix is a detective in the Bay Area following in her father's footsteps. Back in the 1990s, her father was working on a case of unsolved murders with a suspect known only as 'The Prophet.' The 'unsub,' or unknown subject, would leave cryptic messages and play mind games with the detectives on the case. After many years of the case being cold, The Prophet strikes again, and, going against her father's advice, Caitlin feels compelled to help stop the heinous murders.
TW: torture and self-harm
After getting out of rehab, Mallory unexpectedly falls into a job she loves—nannying for a 5-year-old named Teddy. The two quickly bond, and she grows to love Teddy. The young boy is attached at the hip with his sketchbook, and often draws normal things. Then one day, when he shows Mallory his latest sketch, she sees a disturbing image: a man dragging a women's lifeless body in a forest. As his drawings become increasingly sinister and far too advanced for a 5 year old, Mallory knows something is horribly wrong and it's her responsibility to save Teddy before it's too late.