Best thriller books of 2021 for readers who love a psychological page-turner

Our pick of the best thriller books of 2021—how many have you read?

Best thriller books
(Image credit: Future)

The best thriller books will leave you desperate to turn the page, wracking your brains for an answer, and sometimes - scared out of your wits.

Thrillers have long reigned supreme over the bestseller charts as one of the most-read and most-talked-about book genres, whether you read them on your Kindle or prefer a traditional paperback. But just why are they so popular? And which standout thrillers should you have on your list to read this year?

Due to their high drama storylines, range of complex characters and shifting perspectives, the very bestselling thriller books make for some of the best book-to-screen adaptations and count as some of the most popular TV shows and movies of recent times. 

Over the last few years, several of these adaptions have achieved huge international success, with Big Little Lies, The Girl on the Train, and Gone Girl being some of the most well-known examples. And their popularity has secured more fans for the thriller books genre in general. But with bigger and better stories being published all the time, it won’t be long before another dark tale comes along to capture our imaginations (and dominate our book club book chats!).

Best thriller books to read in 2021

We all love a twist in the tale and this is something thrillers have come to master. Building suspense, all the while preparing for the final devastating reveal, the best novels have not one, but several, major surprises in store. Here we reveal our pick of the latest and best thriller books in this gripping genre. Whether you want a brilliant plot twist, something with psychological insight, or a classic deception story, we've got some great recommendations for you.

Crime thriller books

Crime thrillers are perhaps one of the most popular types of thriller books, and for good reason. These options lead from crime - be they murders, disappearances, or so much more - giving the author a chance to explore the impacts of such crimes and the race to solve it. A crime thriller can hook us with multiple twists, turns and shocks, which is why we all find them so fascinating. 

The Last Thing To Burn by Will Dean

You won’t so much read as breathlessly inhale this unbearably tense tale about a woman held captive on a remote farmhouse in the British Midlands. Thanh Dao – or “Jane”, as her husband Lenn prefers to call her – is a victim of trafficking, sold into a life of slavery, fear and unimaginable cruelty, who is about to find a new reason to fight back. Shocking, visceral and totally unforgettable.


The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse

Luxury hotel Le Sommet may look like the perfect place to escape from it all, but there’s a reason the former sanatorium is located in such an isolated spot high in the Swiss Alps. As it soon transpires, the grand old building is not the only player in this deadly game hiding past secrets, and as a storm blows in and bodies begin to pile up, it’s up to troubled detective Elin to dig until she uncovers the truth. Genuinely scary and deliciously atmospheric, and one of the best books of 2021, this international bestseller is guaranteed to give you goosebumps.


Before She Disappeared by Lisa Gardner

Recovering alcoholic Frankie Elkin spends her time searching for missing people the world has given up on – a pastime that leads her to a Boston neighbourhood with a tough reputation, where she begins a hunt for Haitian teenager Angelique Badeau. Facing resistance from the local police department and even the girl’s own family, Frankie senses that she’s on the verge of uncovering some extremely troubling truths – but will she catch up with the perpetrators before they catch up with her? A read-in-one-sitting triumph.


The Burning Girls by CJ Tudor

Since her unforgettable debut The Chalk Man stormed into the bestseller charts three years ago, CJ Tudor has become the go-to author for creepy horror-thrillers – and The Burning Girls may well be her best yet. Rev Jack Brooks moves to the small town of Chapel Croft with his teenage daughter Flo looking for a fresh start, but it soon becomes clear that the close-knit community is hiding something. Why are they receiving macabre messages? Is Flo really having visions? And why did the last vicar kill himself? A breathless, brutal and brilliant read.


The Downstairs Neighbour by Helen Cooper

Fans of Lisa Jewell and Shari Lapena will enjoy this twisty tale. In a West London townhouse, three families co-habit in apparent harmony. Teenage Freya lives on the top floor with her devoted parents Steph and Paul, Emma and her insomniac hamster reside below and driving instructor Chris is in the basement with his wife Vicky. It is only after Freya goes missing that cracks begin to appear, hidden truths are revealed and a mysterious character emerges from the shadows of the past…


The Survivors by Jane Harper

Jane Harper has emerged as one of the top must-read authors in the crime thriller genre over the past few years, and her debut The Dry was made into a movie starring Eric Bana which broke box-office records when it premiered in the author’s native Australia. This, her most recent novel, is an intricate and atmospheric why-and-whodunnit set in a small costal town, where secrets are rife and old wounds still weep.


Shiver by Allie Reynolds

When Milla joins her snowboarding friends for a reunion in the same French Alps resort where they competed against each other ten years ago, she believes she’s there at the behest of Curtis, the man she cannot seem to let go. At first, the trip is every bit as exhilarating as she hoped, but it soon becomes clear that time has not healed all the group’s old resentments – nor has it shed any light on what happened to Saskia, the girl who disappeared all those years ago… A hugely enjoyable cat-and-mouse whodunnit.


The Curator by M.W. Craven

Part of the Washington Poe series, this new instalment of the crime thriller books sees Poe and Tilly Bradshaw trying to get to the bottom of linked crimes all over Cumbria in the build up to Christmas. Nothing is making sense and things get even darker when a disgraced FBI agent gets in touch to warn them about a criminal who calls himself 'The Curator'…


When You See Me by Lisa Gardner

One of the best thriller books of the last year, from international bestselling author Lisa Gardner, this dark tale follows a task force committed to hunting down every last trace of a notorious serial kidnapper. Although the kidnapper is now dead, his legacy lingers and the town he once terrorised is still not safe.


Brixton Hill by Lottie Moggach

Focusing on the British prison system, Lottie Moggach’s Brixton Hill follows Rob who is approaching the end of a 7-year sentence. All he has to do now is stay out of trouble – something he seems to be managing until one day his path crosses with that of a mysterious woman. Moggach paints a fascinating picture of prison life and delivers well-rounded characters to believe in.


Psychological thriller books

In the same way that the best historical fiction books bring the past to life, many of us are drawn to thrillers for the way they delve into, and bring to light, the perspectives of twisted and damaged characters. Our need to understand motivation and find some shred of humanity in the evilest of criminals is something that is encouraged by this trend. And psychological thrillers are where we get the chance to explore this concept in action. Psychological thrillers explore the psyche of people - both criminal and otherwise - with nail-biting twists and turns along the way.

The Perfect Father by Charlotte Duckworth

New mum Esther is initially overjoyed when Robin offers to become a stay-at-home dad to their baby daughter. She had struggled through pregnancy and was missing her job, so it seemed to make sense. That is, until the dynamic of her and Robin’s relationship begins to alter dramatically. Esther is about to confront her husband when she arrives home to find both he and the baby missing. Could it be that this seemingly perfect man was, in fact, anything but? Smart, compulsively readable and with an ending you will not see coming, there’s nothing about this gripping story that fails to satisfy.


People Like Her by Ellery Lloyd

Following on in the trailblazing wake of crime-writing duo Nicci French, husband and wife Collette Lyons and Paul Vlitos have teamed up to become Ellery Lloyd and share the narrative strands of this unputdownable chiller. Mumfluencer Emmy puts so much effort into portraying the perfect image on her social channels that she fails to see just how distant her novelist husband Dan has become. There is also someone watching her – a follower who’s becoming increasingly malicious – and they are a lot closer than Emmy could ever have imagined. Sinister, thought-provoking and refreshingly relatable, People Like Her will have you hooked from the very first page.


Girl A by Abigail Dean

Perhaps one of the most-hyped releases of 2021, Girl A became an instant bestseller in both the UK and the USA when it was released in January. Dark and shocking, it follows Lex – dubbed by the media as “Girl A” – the only one of six children who managed to escape their parents’ House of Horrors. When her mother dies in prison, Lex must reconcile with her siblings and decide what to do with the home that was once their prison. A powerful read.


The Murder Game by Rachel Abbott

A year after the wedding that never was, friends gather at Lucas' Cornish seaside stately home, to mark the anniversary of the ill-fated day that saw tragedy strike. Now, Lucas has told his guests that he has planned a game, and everyone has costumes to wear and parts to play. But no one knows what the game means, and what will happen once it's over. Full of twists and turns, this is a book that will keep you turning the pages until well into the night...


Strangers by C.L. Taylor

If you’re dying for more psychological thrillers to sink your teeth into, look no further than C L Taylor’s Strangers. The characters in this tale of revenge and obsession are drawn together by terrifying circumstances. Initially all strangers, the bloody events of a single evening change everything.


Magpie Lane by Lucy Atkins

In Lucy Atkins’ Magpie Lane, she dramatically delves into what it means to be family and how unbreakable and terrible this bond can be, after the eight-year-old daughter of an Oxford College Master goes missing. At the heart of it all is the family's Scottish nanny, Dee, who - following the news - reflects on her time with the well-to-do family, and the accomplished but dysfunctional unit she really found them to be. 



Invisible Girl by Lisa Jewell

Jewell brings to life the pain Saffyre Maddox who has never been able to move past a childhood trauma that occured when she was 10 years old. When she goes missing from opposite the house of loner Owen Pick, on Valentine's Day of all days, he’s soon on the receiving end of harmful accusations. So was Owen responsible for her disappearance? Or is something much more sinister going on?


Just Like The Other Girls by Claire Douglas

In Claire Douglas’ latest, young Una Richardson jumps at the chance of a fresh start when Elspeth McKenzie employs her as her live-in carer and companion. But things take a sinister turn when it emerges that Una’s predecessors vacated their position in very quick succession. This is a haunting tale of obsession and rejection that shows how far some people will go to belong.


The Other Passenger by Louise Candlish

And from the bestselling author of Our House, Louise Passenger, comes another addictive thriller - The Other Passenger - where charismatic Kit is murdered the night after having an argument with his friend and fellow commuter. Deliciously disturbing, this is one story that will keep you guessing which character you should trust right until the end.


Domestic thriller books

Perhaps the most prominent and popular theme in domestic thrillers is the idea that perfection is impossible. Unlike the best romance books, thrillers take the idea of the ideal family and twist it - a concept which never ceases to engage, entertain and shock in equal measure. Domestic thrillers are all about anticipating the cracks beneath the perfect façade - and the following books do this best. 

Finders Keepers by Sabine Durrant

Sabine Durrant’s Finders, Keepers is an eerie tale of neighbours Verity and Ailsa. The question of who needs the other more soon becomes the focus as Ailsa befriends her lonely neighbour. And once Verity’s in with them, there’s no getting rid of her…


Before I Say I Do by Vicki Bradley

Never let yourself think that the secrets of the past can remain buried forever, as Vicki Bradley reveals in Before I Say I Do when bride Julia’s fiancé goes missing on their wedding day. But is it the skeletons in her closet that have caused events to spiral out of control?


Night Falls, Still Missing by Helen Callaghan

Like all of the best thriller books, this one is incredibly hard to put down - so much so that some people read it in almost one sitting. Night Falls, Still Missing is a masterclass in tension-building. When Fiona receives an invitation to come to Orkney from her best friend, Madison, she arrives and discovers Madison is missing and her house is stripped bare. Fiona soon suspects not only that something horrific has happened, but that Madison had been about to reveal an earth-shattering secret…


The Split by Sharon Bolton

Sharon Bolton’s The Split is another thriller that isn’t afraid to delve into the dark depths of obsession and highlight the issues surrounding unhealthy relationships and stalking as Felicity Lloyd tries desperately to evade a man whose only thoughts are of finding her. This is a tense and character-driven read that builds to an explosive ending.


All My Lies Are True by Dorothy Koomson

In Dorothy Koomson’s highly-anticipated sequel to The Ice Cream Girls, prepare yourself to see the dramatic events unfold from all sides and perspectives, as Serena and Poppy once more take centre stage, this time with their families. Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but the anger that propels one person towards vengeance is red hot.


The Other Mrs by Mary Kubica

As one of the biggest themes within the crime fiction and thriller genre it’s no surprise that there are so many tense crime thrillers out there joyfully dismantling the idea of the perfect family. And Mary Kubica’s The Other Mrs is no exception as one woman discovers her husband has been keeping a dangerous secret that could threaten their very survival.


The Last Wife by Karen Hamilton

In Karen Hamilton’s The Last Wife, though Marie has spent years longing for her late friend Nina’s seemingly charmed life, things start looking much less rosy when she finally obtains her dream.


The End of Her by Shari Lapena

Acclaimed thriller writer Shari Lapena knows how to wrack up the tension in The End of Her, which takes apart the idea of the perfect family unit. Recently married, with adorable baby twins, things seem perfect for Stephanie and Patrick until an allegation is made about his first wife: that he murdered her. Is Patrick telling the truth when he claims he’s innocent, or should Stephanie escape while she still can?