There’s nothing quite like a really good thriller book, is there?
Anticipation, horror, excitement. It’s all part of the experience.
And if you’re one of those who enjoys reading books that can truly mess with your head, then you’ll want to stay right here, as we list some of the best psychological thriller books of all time.
Psychological Thriller Books With Blockbuster Film Adaptations
1. Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn
The story revolves around the unhappy marriage of Nick Dunne and his wife, Amy. Amy has inexplicably gone missing, leaving Nick as the primary suspect.
The book alternates between the narration of present-day Nick and the diary entries of his missing wife. As with all great psychological thriller books, Gone Girl has the capacity to keep readers on the edge of their seats.
After being published in 2012, it was adapted into a major motion picture, starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike. Both the book and the film were received with great enthusiasm and praise for the author.
2. Shutter Island, Dennis Lehane
Another book which was later adapted onto the big screen (this time starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo and Ben Kingsley), Shutter Island has become one of the genre’s classics.
The story revolves around U.S Marshall Edward Daniels’ investigation of Shutter Island – an island which is home to the Ashecliffe Hospital for the criminally insane, after the disappearance of one of their patients, Rachel Solando.
Dennis Lehane manages some expert psychological manipulation in this book, leaving readers with a very faint grip on what is actually real and what isn’t.
3. The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins
Published in January 2015, The Girl on the Train was very positively received by critics and audiences alike. It is no surprise that it debuted at the very top spot of the New York Times’ Fiction
Best Sellers of 2015, and stayed there for the next 13 consecutive weeks.
The Girl on the Train follows the story of how failed marriages, divorces, affairs and psychological manipulation combine to bring the lives of three young women together. It has been frequently likened to Gone Girl, another entry on this list, because of the similar themes and ‘unreliable narration’.
The book was adapted into a hit movie starring Emily Blunt, and was released in 2016.
4. The Silence of the Lambs, Thomas Harris
One of the older entries in this list, The Silence of the Lambs was published way back in 1988, as a sequel to Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon.
The story revolves around Clarice Starling, an FBI trainee, who is attempting to track down a rampant serial killer, nicknamed Buffalo Bill. Jack Crawford, her boss, wants to enlist the help of a cannibalistic serial killer, named Hannibal Lecter. The book takes us down a dark and disturbing path, with gritty tension and dazzling writing.
Truly one of the greatest books of all time. The excellent film adaptation also helped popularize the franchise, with a dazzling cast, including Jodie Foster (Clarice Starling) and Anthony Hopkins (Hannibal Lecter).
Future Classics of the Genre
5. I See You, Clare Mackintosh
A story as ominous as its title may suggest, I See You is a story of Zoe Walker, a young woman who sees a grainy photo of her face in an advertisement in the local paper.
Other women begin appearing in this ad every day, and Zoe soon finds out that these women were victims of heinous, violent crimes.
Zoe grows anxious that this ad may have been the killer’s way of telling her she’s next. The book was published in 2016 and was quite well-received. Clare Mackintosh, an ex-police officer herself, has done a superb job of capturing the anxiety, paranoia and fear inside an excellent story.
6. The Straw Men, Michael Marshall
The book, published in 2002, tells the story of Ward Hopkins, an ex-CIA agent, who comes home from burying his parents to find some clues suggesting they might not actually be dead.
The seemingly unconnected story of ex-homicide detective, John Zandt combines to create an action-packed, intriguing story which will keep you on the edge of your seat.
Interestingly, unlike most of the other entries on this list, The Straw Men wasn’t adapted into a movie (yet), but was adapted into a comic book.
7. Watch Me Disappear, Janelle Brown
The story starts off a year after the mysterious disappearance of Billie Flanagan, a beautiful and charismatic mother with an enviable life, who went on a hike and never came back. Her body was never found – only a hiking boot and a shattered cell phone.
Her daughter, Olive, and her husband, Jonathan, are both struggling to cope with this loss, until Olive begins to have visions of her mother, still alive. Meanwhile, Jonathan begins unearthing secrets which completely shift everything he thought he knew and understood about his beloved wife.
Together, Olive and Jonathan embark on a journey to understand the truth – about Billie, and more importantly about themselves. In a real page-turner, Janelle Brown has managed to provide some compelling insights about the dynamics of intimate relationships, all within a nervy story that will keep you guessing, up until the very last page.
The book was published in 2017, and there is no doubt it can become one of the classic psychological thriller books of our time.
The Secret She Keeps, Michael Robotham
The story revolves around Agatha, a pregnant woman who works in a supermarket. The only joy she gets is getting a glimpse of Megan, a customer with a very enviable life, who Agatha absolutely idolizes.
When Agatha realizes that Megan is also pregnant and that their due dates fall within the same month, she plucks up the courage to go talk to her, armed with the fact that they have something in common. Little did Megan know that this seemingly inconsequential exchange with a supermarket employee could change the course of her ‘perfect’ little life.
Michael Robotham, an international bestseller, was described as ‘an absolute master’ of the psychological thriller genre by none other than Stephen King, which makes it no surprise that this book was so well-received by critics and audiences.In The Secret She Keeps, which was released in 2017, Robotham has once again managed to deliver a captivating psychological thriller which is impossible to put down.
The List Goes On…
Of course, this list doesn’t encompass every great psychological thriller ever written – there are simply too many! And with the genre ever evolving and writers only getting better and more creative, it is exciting to see what they can come up with next.