Looking for a list of the best psychological thriller books? You’ve come to the right place.
And why do readers love psychological thriller books? Because deep down, we all crave experiences that delve deep into the labyrinthine depths of the human mind, exploring the murky and unpredictable terrain of the human psyche. Through intricately layered and intensely drawn characters, these works explore themes of memory, identity, and psychology, exposing the hidden machinations of the human soul.
And how about those narrators? In many cases, we seem to crave points of view that are somewhat unreliable, if not downright untrustworthy.
As you journey through these books, you will feel the full spectrum of human emotion – from fear and anger to guilt and shame – as you become fully immersed in a world where nothing is as it seems. The twists and turns of these narratives will leave you gasping for breath, and the complex and nuanced characters will leave an indelible imprint on your psyche.
The best psychological thrillers are a rollercoaster of suspense, mystery, and enigma that will leave you questioning everything you thought you knew.
Are you ready to be transported to a world where reality is but a shadow, and truth is a slippery eel, just out of reach?
These books will seize your imagination and hold you captive, delivering an unforgettable and life-altering reading experience.
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
Susanna Clark, who is perhaps best known for her novel Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, has created a one-of-a-kind tale that readers won’t soon forget.
Told in the first person from Piranesi’s point of view, the first few pages grab immediately with its puzzling description of himself and his environs. Like some castaway who has taken it upon himself to explore and map his world, he describes the rooms and corridors he has catalogued. It’s neither labyrinth nor island, but it contains an ocean, creatures and endless statues.
There are also bodies.
And an irritable human called “The Other,” who treats Piranesi like a research assistant.
There are no two ways about it: Clark has created a puzzle told in 243 pages. Each chapter is a dare to figure out who Piranesi really is and where he is before he himself realizes it.
It’s a gripping, tidy tale that can easily be finished in an afternoon. But thematically, it is actually quite expansive, with much to say about power dynamics and psychology.
Crickets by Lee Chappell
A small-town psychological thriller with a big-time payoff. This stunning debut novel is a must-read for Gillian Flynn fans.
“Mine’s one of those stories that can’t be true,” says Kara Peterson in the first chapter of Crickets. Kara, the daughter of Paige, Ohio’s former Sheriff, accused Dalton Rolenfeld of rape a decade earlier. Her father’s sudden death has brought her back to Paige, where Rolenfeld is running for one of Ohio’s senate seats.
As long-buried memories of her rape come back to her, she’s particularly struck by the sound of crickets in December, which, to her own admission, sounds “crazy.” When meeting with detective Samantha Ellis to introduce new evidence, she decides not to mention it.
Author Lee Chappel reveals Kara’s story gradually through a series of haunting memories and interactions told in alternating points of view. Chappel creates a world in which everyone seems to know each other, but no one can quite be trusted. That goes double for certain members of local law enforcement, who imply that Kara may have made the whole thing up. Additional suspense comes from the fact that Kara doesn’t quite trust her own recollections either, although she’s learning to go with her gut instinct.
Is Kara trying to sabotage Rolenfeld’s Senate campaign? Is Rolenfeld trying to frighten her away? Or is there some other dark operator at work?
It’s hard to believe that this chilling, tautly-crafted novel is Chappel’s first. While she draws new detective Sam to perfection, she also deftly positions Kara as an amateur, if somewhat unreliable, sleuth. The interplay between the two is highly satisfying. Crickets is mesmerizing from the get-go, even as it deliberately holds back key details, only to unleash them like lightning strikes at key points in the narrative en route to an explosive climax. Crickets deserves to go straight to the top of readers’ reading list.
Falling by T.J. Newman
In T.J. Newman’s new thriller, a commercial aircraft pilot is leaving his home just as a repairman shows up to fix the Internet. He doesn’t give it much thought, distracted by his wife’s ire over the fact that he’s missing his son’s game.
What neither of him understand is that the repairman is in fact a psychopath who has already blackmailed the pilot’s colleague to make sure he boarded the flight. Once at the helm of the aircraft, where one hundred and forty-three other passengers are aboard, he receives a video call from the blackmailer.
His wife and son appear to be at home, but they are wearing suicide vests.
The blackmailer’s proposition is a simple one: for the pilot’s family to live, everyone on the plane must die.
Specifically, he wants the plane crashed into a yet unnamed target in Washington D.C.
What is so perplexing is that the blackmailer seemingly has no political motive. He does not seem like a terrorist. Just like a madman. Or is he?
The premise almost sounds too simple and clean, but Newman has taken this simple setup and done wonders with it. Of particular interest is Jo, a veteran flight attendant who may be the only person in the world whom the pilot can truly trust.
Characterization, plot and believability: check, check, check. The book’s urgency is palpable, making it almost impossible to put down.
Plus, there’s this: T.J. Newman, a former bookseller turned flight attendant, worked for Virgin America and Alaska Airlines from 2011 to 2021. She wrote much of Falling on cross-country red-eye flights while her passengers were asleep.
That’s right. Your flight attendant was thinking about how to make a plane crash, possibly while you were on board.
Dare you to read it on a long flight.
Gwendy’s Final Task by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar
A satisfying conclusion to the Button Box trilogy that takes heroine to new heights, both literally and metaphorically.
Book one, Gwendy’s Button Box – which we ranked as one of Stephen King’s best audiobooks – kicked things off in familiar ground for King fans. In Castle Rock, Maine, a device with terrifying and glorious powers reveals itself to Gwendy Peterson, who is challenged to act responsibly. The box offered treats and vintage coins, but pushing any of its eight colored buttons promised death and destruction.
Years later, the button box still features prominently Gwendy’s life. Now a successful novelist and a United States senator, Gwendy is once again forced to deal with temptation. Malignant forces seek to possess the button box, and it is up to Senator Gwendy Peterson to keep it from them at all costs. But where can she hide it?
Space. Gwendy uses political connections to arrange to be taken up to the international space station, where she plans to free Earth of its temptation once and for all.
There’s just two problems with her plan. First, the trip has been financed by an obnoxious billionaire who is clearly obsessed by the box. He’s exactly the type of person Gwendy needs to keep the box away from. The other problem? Gwendy has Alzheimers, and it’s getting worse fast. At times, she can barely remember what the mission is. There’s an easy temporary cure available, but the consequences are devastating.
This, the trilogy’s third and final installment, takes the story in both new and familiar territory. The suspense created as Gwendy attempts to hide her affliction – as well as the button box itself – from her fellow passengers is riveting. Longtime King fans will also find lots of references to familiar settings and characters from his vast catalog. Among them are the eternally curse Derry, Maine; an evil clown lurking in sewer drains; references to a certain tower.
And finally, what could be more King than numerous references to real-world right wing politics, including several jabs at Donald Trump? Readers looking for an escape from American politics won’t find one here. With that said, Gwendy’s Final Task is packed with suspense from start to finish, as well as some of King’s most heartfelt writing.
When I Was You by Minka Kent
Minka Kent gives identify theft an entirely new meaning in this thoroughly engrossing novel.
In Minka Kent’s new psychological thriller, assault survivor and landlord Brienne Dougray suffers from crippling memory loss, and relies on tenant Dr. Niall for help.
But soon, Brienne discovers evidence that she has a double. Someone else has her name, her car, her hair, her clothes and even the same social media network. Is this real, or a side-effect of her already disturbing neural issues?
To find out, Brienne must overcome the agoraphobic-like instincts that have kept her a prisoner of her own home. She ventures out into the world to hunt this familiar stranger that goes by her own name.
Kent’s new thriller is gripping from the very first chapter, as Brienne – who tells the story in the first person – recounts the story of her trauma in painful detail. In the audiobook version, narrator Erin deWard successfully captures Brienne’s vulnerability and paranoia without ever becoming whiny.
The vulnerability earned in those early pages creates significant narrative momentum that will propel many readers to finish the book – which weighs in at an economical 282 pages – in just one or two sittings.
The Girl You Lost by Kathryn Croft
Eighteen years ago, Simone Porter’s six-month-old daughter, Helena, was abducted.
Simone and husband, Matt, have slowly rebuilt their shattered lives, but the pain at losing their child has never left them.
Then a young woman, Grace, appears out of the blue and tells Simone she has information about her stolen baby.
But just who is Grace – and can Simone trust her?
When Grace herself disappears, Simone becomes embroiled in a desperate search for her baby and the woman who has vital clues about her whereabouts.
Simone is inching closer to the truth but it’ll take her into dangerous and disturbing territory.
Simone lost her baby.
Will she lose her life trying to find her?
Ashes in Venice by Gojan Nikolich
Gojan Nikolich’s Ashes in Venice is many things, among them revenge thriller, police procedural and darkly comic commentary on the state of criminal justice. The novel begins with a murder scene strongly reminiscent of Dexter. Based on the precision with which he dispenses his own brand of meticulously prescribed justice, it’s clear that Jasper Colt is a seasoned serial killer, and that his motivation, which Nikolich reveals gradually throughout the novel, may be noble.
In many ways, the story seems to belong to Colt, whose background in government work for the FBI and the Center for Disease Control gives him a unique perspective on law enforcement and humanity itself. But if Colt is an antihero, then Nikolich blesses us with a proper hero in Detective Sergeant Francis Savic. Like so many fictional detectives, he’s on the brink of retirement and also dealing with significant personal trauma. But Frank turns out to be a true original. He’s a gifted detective, a charismatic biker and is so fond of profanity that his boss thinks he may be developing Tourette syndrom.
The way in which Nikolich makes both men aware of each other is a thing of beauty. For example, Colt, who is also a skilled hacker, hilariously observes that Savic has “developed a bad habit of clicking on any enticing website or renegade phishing e-mail offering financial advice and/or pre-owned motorcycle parts and sales that caught his fancy.” The eventual result is a rare manhunt in which antihero and hero are both predator and prey.
Throughout, Nikolich’s wordcraft is nothing short of jaw-dropping. From his urban landscapes in the opening chapter, the laugh-out-loud descriptions of bodies both alive and dead, the storytelling sparkles. Nikolich delivers an absurdly high number of lines in which most writers could simply drop the mic and walk away. Fortunately for us, he saves the book’s most profound insight for the very last sentence. Bravo.
The Hiding Girl by Dorian Box
When two predators come to 12-year-old Emily Calby’s home asking to siphon gasoline, she immediately senses what her mother does not – their lives are in imminent danger. Only Emily escapes.
Armed with extraordinary powers of perception and five-thousand dollars that her father had stashed in the garage, she goes on the run. A born survivalist, Emily prowls unlocked cars at night, finding a stun gun, a knife, makeup and a Stephen King book. She makes it to a sketchy neighborhood in Memphis, where she pays a professional counterfeiter named Lucas in cash for a fake ID, becoming sixteen-year-old Alice Regina Miller from Chattanooga, TN.
Like Emily, Lucas’s entire family is dead. The two bond, and he becomes an unlikely ally in her quest for justice. After nothing comes of the anonymous tips Emily sends the Sheriff back home, she receives an unexpected message from the FBI to her fake email address. The special agent in charge of the investigation wants to bring her back to Georgia. But for Emily, there’s far too much at stake to simply head home to be placed with a foster family. Only justice will give her peace.
In Emily, Author Dorian Box has created a rarity – a teenage protagonist that is at once sympathetic, vulnerable and largely fearless. Made unusually mature for her age after losing her father in an accident, Emily is an old soul in a way that is both tragic and inspiring. And while her plight gives her little time for grief, those brief moments of raw emotion resonate hugely. This sharp characterization within a fast-paced work of suspense makes The Hiding Girl one of the year’s most exciting series openers.
Watching You by Lisa Jewell
What’s creepier than a peeping Tom? How about an obsessive, socially dysfunctional teenager who spends all his free time watching and cataloguing the movements of his neighbors? He even has nicknames for them, like “red boots.” Oh, did I mention that his biggest dream is to become a spy?
Melville Heights is one of the nicest neighborhoods in Bristol, England; home to doctors and lawyers and old-money academics. It’s not the sort of place where people are brutally murdered in their own kitchens. But it is the sort of place where everyone has a secret.
As the headmaster credited with turning around the local school, Tom Fitzwilliam is beloved by one and all—including Joey Mullen, his new neighbor, who quickly develops an intense infatuation with this thoroughly charming yet unavailable man. Joey thinks her crush is a secret, but Tom’s teenaged son Freddie (the one who is always watching) is all too aware.
One of Tom’s students, Jenna Tripp, also lives on the same street, and she’s not convinced her teacher is as squeaky clean as he seems. For one thing, he has taken a particular liking to her best friend and fellow classmate, and Jenna’s mother—whose mental health has admittedly been deteriorating in recent years—is convinced that Mr. Fitzwilliam is stalking her.
Meanwhile, twenty years earlier, a schoolgirl writes in her diary, charting her doomed obsession with a handsome young English teacher named Mr. Fitzwilliams.
What could go wrong?
Lisa Jewell has created a complete ecosystem made up of just the right people, with the right urges, and the right weaknesses for a delectable mystery. Impeccably paced, Watching You is not to be missed.
The Broadcast by Liam Fialkov
What if a technological breakthrough could allow people to view video footage of historical events going back thousands of years?
That is the promise of a fascinating technology at the center of The Broadcast, a novel about a television network called TXB that produces believable footage of contemporary events, as well as historically significant ones, such as the Battle of Gettysburg, without so much as a set, a production crew, actors or animators. The footage appears to be, for lack of a better term, authentic. Is it real, or some kind of hoax?
Meanwhile, TXB fan Sarah, a psychologist who lives with her husband in a small central California town directly on the San Andreas Fault, is perpetually haunted by the forced adoption of her newborn son when she was just sixteen. While she and her husband appear to build a life together – complete with three dogs, eleven cats, the chickens, ducks, and geese – it’s really a house of cards on the verge of collapse. The circumstances surrounding her pregnancy and the mystery over her son’s whereabouts have left a void in her life that proves impossible to satiate, leading to increasingly provocative behavior that threatens to turn her life upside down. Author Liam Fialkov takes his time building Sarah’s character arc, and the payoff is worth the wait.
In terms of sheer real estate, one could argue that this is Sarah’s story, but the concept itself is truly the star. When religious groups become concerned about whether TXB can reach back 2000 years, and what future episodes might reveal, Liam Fialkov’s fascinating concept becomes a bonafide page-turner. Like Dave Eggers’ The Circle, The Broadcast also evokes important questions about society’s relationship to media, surveillance and personal privacy.
The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn
The similarities between A.J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window and Hitchcock’s Rear Window are, shall we say, undeniable. But just because a novel is highly derivative of a master work doesn’t mean it isn’t good. In this case, it’s damn good, and in some ways, an elevation.
Finn’s Anna Fox – a recluse in her New York City home – is one of the most engaging characters we’ve read this year. Is she sympathetic? Not exactly. Is she horrid? Absolutely not. But for anyone who has ever been inclined to voyeurism (I’m talking to you, 99% of humanity), she’s hugely relatable, and yes, flawed.
Fox spends her day drinking more wine than is good for a person, watching old movies and spying on her neighbors.Then the Russells move into the house across the way: a father, mother, their teenaged son. The perfect family.
But when Anna, gazing out her window one night, sees something she shouldn’t, her world begins to crumble and its shocking secrets are laid bare.
What is real? What is imagined? Who is in danger? Who is in control? In this diabolically gripping thriller, no one—and nothing—is what it seems.
Classic Psychological Thriller Books You Might Consider
Have you read all our top recommendations? If you’re looking for a list of even more classic psychological thrillers, here are a few more you might enjoy.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
Misery by Stephen King
The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin
The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson
You by Caroline Kepnes
The Good Girl by Mary Kubica
Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh
The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchison
The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena