Readers who love psychological suspense and thrillers, this is the only must-read list of suspense novels you need. These eight books are some of the greatest psychological thrillers and suspense novels of all time. These plot twists, suspicious characters, unreliable narrators, and dangerous, eery settings make for intensely enjoyable reads. But that’s not all. When you read these books, you’re reading the novels that have inspired so many others that have come after.
Patricia Highsmith; Paula Hawkins (Introduction by)
Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train kicks off this list for good reason. Highsmith’s novel is everything you could want in a noir thriller: intrigue, fast-paced drama, suspense, and yes, murder. Even if you’re very familiar with the beloved Hitchcock adaptation, the novel itself deserves a read. This book is the story of Guy Haines and Charles Anthony Bruno, two men who meet on a train. After chatting for a while about their troubled personal lives, Bruno hatches a sadistic plot: he’ll murder Haines’ wife for him if Haines will murder Bruno’s father.
Ever since Gillian Flynn came out with her bestselling novel Gone Girl, psychological thriller readers everywhere have been chasing that Gone Girl high. While many books have claimed to be the “next Gone Girl,” nothing beats the original. On Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary, Amy goes missing. Nick appears to be the concerned husband at first glance, but something seems off about him. Is he hiding something? Amy’s diary entries also reveal trouble in a marriage that from the outside seemed so perfect. But was it enough to lead to murder?
Say the name “Hannibal Lector,” and everyone will know who you’re talking about. Lector is the ultimate villain of modern fiction, and Silence of the Lambs is the novel where Thomas Harris’s character really comes into his own. In this book, Clarice Starling is a young FBI trainee who is trying to catch up with a dangerous serial killer. But in order to get into the mind of a psychopath, Clarice seeks help from an unconventional source: the cannibalistic serial killer Hannibal Lecter.
In his novel Misery, bestselling author Stephen King tapped into his own anxiety about writing and appealing to rabid fans. And reading this book, we all felt that thrilling dread right along with him. Paul Sheldon is a novelist who comes face-to-face with his biggest fan: Annie Wilkes, a nurse who is tending to Paul after a car accident leaves his body completely shattered. But in Paul’s vulnerable state, it soon becomes clear that Annie is not just his caregiver. She’s his captor.
There’s a reason Patricia Highsmith appears twice on this list. She’s simply the master of psychological thrillers. The Talented Mr. Ripley is the first novel in Highsmith’s propulsive series about Tom Ripley, a master of deception. In this novel, Tom Ripley is a young man in his twenties and a recent arrival in Manhattan. He befriends a wealthy man named Dickie Greenleaf and soon becomes obsessed with Dickie and his lifestyle. When Tom is tasked with traveling to Italy to bring Dickie back home, the obsession becomes sinister as Tom Ripley begins to think murderous thoughts.
What makes Steph Cha’s Your House Will Pay so special? The way the book is able to thoughtfully consider issues of racism, the justice system, family, violence, revenge, and much more. And it does all this while also being a thrilling, fast-paced psychological thriller with serious noir vibes. This novel follows the story two families—one Korean-American and one African American—and how these families deal with the effects of a decades-old crime.
If you’re looking for a psychological thriller that’s really going to mess with your head, look to Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane. Set in 1954, this book is about U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels and his new partner, Chuck Aule, who travel to Shutter Island, home of Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Rachel Solando, a murderer, has gone missing somewhere remote island, despite being locked in a cell and under constant surveillance. Teddy and Chuck are not leaving the island until they find out what happened to Rachel Solando, but the more they investigate, the more they discover that nothing on Shudder Island is what it seems.
Daphne du Maurier’s novel Rebecca is another psychological thriller novel that’s inspired many thrillers that have come since, and several retellings too. This book is another one that caught the eye of Alfred Hitchcock and was adapted into a much-praised film. Rebecca is narrated by an unnamed woman who is romanced in Monte Carlo by handsome, wealthy widower Maxim de Winter. When Maxim suddenly proposes marriage, our heroine can’t believe her luck. But the fairy tale romance ends as soon as they leave Monte Carlo and return to Maxim’s country estate. Here, the memory of Maxim’s late wife Rebecca fills every corner of every room, and threatens to destroy their marriage.
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