Thrillers have long reigned supreme over the bestseller charts as one of the most-read and most-talked about book genres. 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 best thriller books make for fast-paced book-to-screen adaptations. Over the last few years several of these adaptions have achieved huge great success, with Big Little Lies, The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl being some of the most well-known examples. 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!).
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 a great book recommendation for you.
Best thriller books to read in 2020
Best thriller books with killer twists
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. They cast characters in murky new lights and unearth secrets just when you think there’s nothing more to learn.
For the ultimate rollercoaster reading experience this year, look no further than His & Her by Alice Feeney and Emily Elgar’s debut novel, Grace is Gone which are well worth a pre-order. With their flair for the dramatic, you can’t help wondering where your loyalties lie when the truth is revealed…
Grace is gone, by Emily Elgar
His & Her, by Alice Feeney
SHOP NOW: His & Her by Alice Feeney, HQ, PB, £7.99
Fans of the ultimate twist will also be chilled to the bone by Kate Rhodes’ latest instalment of the Ben Kitto series – which sees the Scilly Isles’ Deputy Chief of Police racing against time as threats and murder taint all outsiders with suspicion. Until, that is, Kitto starts to wonder if the perpetrator could be closer to home than he thought…
Whilst Phoebe Morgan’s new tale of murder and deceit, The Babysitter, delves into the complexities of one “perfect” family’s inner workings, unveiling their lies to the reader in a sublimely dark way before the final big reveal.
Burnt Island, by Kate Rhodes
The Babysitter, by Phoebe Morgan
And Louise Jensen’s addictive thriller, The Family, delves into the complex relationship between a mother and daughter drawn in by a charming leader of a self-sufficient community. But as things take a sinister turn, will blood with thicker than water?
The Family, by Louise Jensen
And if you’re looking for an even more chilling twist to subvert all your expectations why not have a read of M.W. Craven’s The Curator? Christmas may be the time for loving and giving, but when a sadistic serial killer begins displaying body parts across Cumbria, things get a whole lot darker for The National Crime Agency’s Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw.
Meanwhile Sabine Durrant’s new release 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…
The Curator, by M. W. Craven
Finders Keepers, by Sabine Durrant
And 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?
Before I Say I Do by Vicki Bradley
Still searching for more? Why not try the instantly suspenseful After the Fire by Jo Spain. The drama of the opening scenes can’t fail to draw you in, as a young woman walks down a packed Dublin street, her body covered in burns. Chief Superintendent Tom Reynolds quickly discovers she is the survivor of a housefire started deliberately. Will the truth emerge from the ashes?
And Helen Callaghan’s latest psychological thriller 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. Fiona soon suspects not only that something horrific has happened, but that Madison had been about to reveal an earth-shattering secret…
After the Fire by Jo Spain
Out 6 August
PRE-ORDER NOW: After the Fire by Jo Spain, Quercus, HB, £14.99
Night Falls, Still Missing by Helen Callaghan
Thriller books that feel timely
With their dark themes and conflicts, thrillers also have the ability to explore current affairs and issues, interwoven into the more day-to-day drama. This makes them all the more timely, as well as encouraging debate that makes these thrillers even more of a talking point.
2020 has a great selection of issue-focused thrillers worth adding to your reading list. Helen Monks Takhar’s much-talked about upcoming debut Precious You taps into the perceptions and conflict between generations X and Snowflake in the form of an intense work-place rivalry. Whilst Jane Casey’s The Cutting Place covers corruption, freedom of speech and how having friends in high places can often be as dangerous as it is useful. Definitely two to watch out for!
Precious You, by Helen Monks Takhar
The Cutting Place, by Jane Casey
Why not also take a look at Lisa Gardner’s When You See Me? This all-too believable read delves into the aftermath of a serial kidnapper’s reign of terror in a small Deep South town, the trauma he caused and the way the town supposedly had no idea.
And they’re not the only ones turning a blind eye, as in bestselling author Harlan Coben’s latest release, The Boy From the Woods, the residents of a small town aren’t too concerned when a local girl goes missing. But after security expert Wilde is asked to step in and a human finger arrives in the post, Wilde is soon led down a path of murder, betrayal and cover-ups.
When you see me, by Lisa Gardner
The Boy from the Woods, by Harlan Coben
The subject of maternity leave and the feeling of being replaced is a similarly timely subject at the forefront of Heidi Perks’ soon-to-be released Three Perfect Liars, after three woman become suspects in the burning down of their workplace.
Three Perfect Liars, by Heidi Perks
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.
The Split, by Sharon Bolton
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.
Brixton Hill by Lottie Moggach
Best thriller books with psychological insight
Many of us are drawn to thrillers for the way they delve into the perspectives of twisted and damaged characters. Our need to understand motivation and find some shred of humanity in the most evil of criminals is something that is encouraged by this trend.
Released earlier this year, The Wreckage explores the psychology of teacher Ben and widow Alice following the traumatic death of her husband as feelings of guilt and obsession rise to the surface. Rachel Abbott’s The Murder Game also showcases the psychology behind the disturbing decisions taken by a group of old friends, when the ends come to justify the means in their quest for the truth.
The Murder Game, by Rachel Abbott
The Wreckage, by Robin Morgan-Bentley
SHOP NOW: The Wreckage by Robin Morgan-Bentley, Trapeze HB, £14.99
And 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.
Taking the themes of obsession and revenge one step further is the single-minded villain of Teresa Driscoll’s I Will Make You Pay as protagonist Alice is haunted by her past and her life soon becomes a living nightmare.
Strangers, by C L Taylor
I Will Make You Pay, by Teresa Driscoll
Whilst 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 daughter of an Oxford Master goes missing.
Magpie Lane, by Lucy Atkins
And why not indulge your love of all things psychological still further with Alex North’s follow-up to his bestselling first novel, The Whisper Man. In the wonderfully suspenseful The Shadow Friend, he explores the trauma caused in childhood when Paul Adams’ school friend brutally killed their classmate and disappeared.
Returning to the village now, the time might have finally come to learn the truth about what really happened all those years ago.
The Shadow Friend, by Alex North
Two more fabulous and chilling thrillers that are imminent releases and are well worth looking out for have to be Lisa Jewell’s Invisible Girl and Claire Douglas’ Just Like The Other Girls. Jewell brings to life the pain of Saffyre Maddox who has never been able to move past a childhood trauma. When she goes missing from opposite the house of loner Owen Pick, he’s soon on the receiving end of harmful accusations…
Whilst 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.
Invisible Girl by Lisa Jewell
Out 6 August
PRE-ORDER NOW: Invisible Girl by Lisa Jewell, Century, HB, £14.99
Just Like the Other Girls by Claire Douglas
Out 6 August
And from 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.
The Other Passenger by Louise Candlish
Thriller books that switch perspective and make you doubt
The ability to navigate often several distinct perspectives, adding extra insight into the characters’ motivations, suspicions and mistakes is another critical factor in the rise of the thriller genre. Nothing engages a reader more than the reveal of an unreliable narrator, or a suggestion that someone has been on completely the wrong track…
If you want to read a thriller that takes in all angles, then two titles not to miss are The Other People by C J Tudor and She by H. C Warner – both wonderfully gripping and doubt-inducing. When a different character perspective comes to the forefront, every clue must be questioned and every conclusion re-examined.
She, by HC Warner
The Other People, by C J Tudor
Switching perspectives effortlessly, Lucy Foley’s The Guest List also takes this idea and runs with it, bringing her cast of characters together in an Agatha-Christie style way at a country house. Their invitations are exclusive, but will they all survive?
And in Nikki Smith’s clever debut, All in her Head, this technique is also used to great effect as main character Alison’s long suppressed memories begin to emerge, casting doubt upon everything she was once so certain of.
The guest list, by Lucy Foley
All in her head, by Nikki Smith
Whilst 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.
All My Lies Are True, by Dorothy Koomson
Best thriller books to remind us perfection is deception
Perhaps the most prominent and popular theme in domestic thrillers is the idea that perfection is impossible. They take the idea of the ideal family and twisting it never ceases to engage and entertain in written form and in adaptations alike. As we anticipate the cracks beneath the perfect façade.
The more perfect the starting point, the further the fall – something captured brilliantly in Jane Corry’s I Made a Mistake. Look out for this dark tale of temptation as “perfect” wife and mother Poppy’s life is upturned by former flame Matthew. Sarah Alderson’s In Her Eyes takes the idea to an even darker place when a mother is forced to question everything in her life after a home invasion leaves her young daughter in a coma.
I Made A Mistake, by Jane Corry
In Her Eyes, by Sarah Alderson
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.
And Roz Watkins’ upcoming release, Cut to the Bone, is similarly disturbing as a Peak District town’s supposed perfection is shattered when a young woman goes missing and blood and hair are found at the local abattoir…
The Other Mrs, by Mary Kubica
Cut to the Bone, by Roz Watkins
Meanwhile queen of thrillers, Adele Parks, returns with a bang with Just My Luck as one unsuspecting family win £18 million on the lottery, only for the money to begin to drive them apart…
And the dismantling of the perfect family illusion occurs just as powerfully in Sandie Jones’ The Half Sister where the arrival of a long-lost daughter pushes Kate’s family to the limit -with devastating consequences.
Just My Luck, by Adele Parks
The Half Sister, by Sandie Jones
And it’s perhaps no surprise to anyone, let alone protective father Ed, when the new, perfect boyfriend of Ed’s daughter Abbie in T M Logan’s The Catch turns out to not quite be what he claims. This is a psychological thriller sure to give you chills.
Whilst 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 Catch, by T M Logan
SHOP NOW: The Catch by T M Logan, Zaffre, PB £8.99
The Last Wife, by Karen Hamilton
And in A.J. Park’s The First Lie, a seemingly ideal marriage is pushed to the limit when Paul Reeves returns home from work to find his wife, Alice, covered in blood and shaking. There’s only one thing for it – they must cover up a murder. In this gripping debut, we see how one lie leads to another, leaving the couple to wonder who they can really trust.
The First Lie by A.J. Park
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?
The End of Her by Shari Lapena