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10 Best Thrillers to Read

10 Best Thrillers to Read

Are you into thrillers? (They’re definitely having a moment.) One of the most white-knuckle books I read recently was Tana French’s crime novel The Trespasser. And, although I’m looking forward to more new books, it made me remember the classic thrillers I’ve enjoyed over the years. Have you read anything by, say, Stephen King or Agatha Christie? They’ve stood the test of time and are bone-chillingly scary. Here are 10 all-time greats…

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, 1847
If you’re up for a 19th-Century Gothic thriller/romance, this is your novel. It has thoroughly haunted me since I read it for the first time 20 years ago. (Let’s just say I’m not a fan of attics.) Here’s the premise: A young governess, who had some supernatural run-ins as a child orphan, takes a job in Mr. Rochester’s creaky Thornfield Hall. It’s surrounded by the bleak Yorkshire moors, though the spooky landscape can’t hold a candle to what lies beyond the mansion’s walls. I won’t say more — no spoilers for those who haven’t read it — but Jane Eyre is a beautiful, hair-raising classic.

Dracula by Bram Stoker, 1897
Um, vampires. Need I say more? One of the original horror thrillers, Dracula recounts the story, through a series of letters, diary entries and newspaper clippings, of Count Dracula’s attempt to move from his castle in Transylvania to England. (He’s in search of new blood to feast on and new humans to convert to the dark side.) As a reader, you feel like you’re riding along on a massive, macabre adventure and witnessing a battle royale between the living and the undead. Can you already hear the bats screeching?

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 1902
A suspicious death takes place in England’s Great Grimpen Mire, a deep bog stretching as far as the eye can see — where detectives find “the footprints of a gigantic hound” near the body of a man who had been fleeing in fright just before he died. Many fans of Conan Doyle’s beloved Sherlock Holmes detective thrillers name this one as his sinister tour de force (it involves a family curse and glow-in-the-dark dogs — how can you resist?). So, if you haven’t read any, start here and see what you think.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie, 1927
In middle school, I devoured dozens of Agatha Christie books — and when I recently reread this one, it totally stood up. In 2013, the British Crime Writers’ Association voted The Murder of Roger Ackroyd the best crime novel ever, and it has topped the list of most influential thrillers for more than 80 years. To summarize, detective Hercule Poirot’s friend is murdered, bringing him out of retirement to investigate. Blackmail, heroin, a will, a sketchy doctor and 1,000 plot twists are just a handful of the things that ensue. I’ve never used the phrase “blood-curdling” to describe something before, but it’s truly fitting in this case.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, 1966
This true crime story takes place in Holcomb, Kansas, in 1959, where four members of the Clutter family were brutally murdered. The plot follows the investigation’s circuitous path until the mystery is finally solved. Even though In Cold Blood is written as a novel, with literary elements such as imagined dialogue, the reader’s knowledge that the crime actually happened makes it especially chilling (like, get-up-and-lock-the-front-door-right-now chilling).

The Stand by Stephen King, 1978
Warning: This book is over 800 pages long. But! No list of classic thrillers would be complete without the masterful Stephen King, who once said, “I recognize terror as the finest emotion.” Most readers of King’s oeuvre say The Stand is The One. (If you’d prefer something shorter, try his amazing short story collection Night Shift. His other two masterpieces — The Shining and It — are each over 1,000 pages!) The Stand is a post-apocalyptic fantasy thriller about a man who escapes from a research facility carrying a wipe-out strain of the flu. What could possibly go wrong?

Kiss the Girls by James Patterson, 1995
If you’re getting into thrillers, try James Patterson, who has written nearly 150 of them. His books may not rise to the level of literary genius, but they’re pretty irresistible as action-packed, suspenseful beach reads. Kiss the Girls — Patterson’s scariest and most unforgettable tale — involves two killers working in tandem in L.A. and Washington, D.C.

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, 2003
Hoo-boy! This one is possibly the most talked-about 21st-Century thriller, having sold 10 million copies and spawned thousands of websites, fan clubs and warring code-breaking factions. Here’s the deal: After a curator is murdered in the Louvre museum in Paris, a Harvard professor and a French cryptographer team up to solve the case. Little do they know that it will lead them on a quest for the Holy Grail — the actual Holy Grail — and through thousands of years of religious and art history. For a 454-page book, the reading experience is breakneck (every chapter ends with a cliffhanger, so you have to keep going) and will keep your blood pumping as the two main characters run from their pursuers.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, 2005
I read this book in one day; it was that good. Based in Sweden, the plot follows a troubled 24-year-old hacker with a photographic memory (and a dragon tattoo) who’s hired to help investigate the mystery of a teenager who disappeared 40 years earlier. There’s corporate espionage, jaw-dropping family secrets, an unlikely romance and one of the most surprising conclusions you’ll ever read.

In the Woods by Tana French, 2008
Mystery writers Stephen King and Gillian Flynn (author of Gone Girl) are both huge fans of Irish writer Tana French, whom the Washington Post called “the most interesting, most important crime novelist to emerge in the past 10 years.” The six books in her Dublin Murder Squad series, the latest of which is The Trespasser, are stay-up-all-night reads. I recommend starting from the beginning, with In the Woods, a psychological thriller that opens with three missing children.

Have you read any of these? Which others — classics or new — would you recommend? I can’t wait to hear. (On previous book posts, readers have raved about Dark Places by Gillian Flynn and Under the Harrow by Flynn Berry.)

P.S. The Shining as a romantic comedy. And what’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever read?

  1. I fell asleep reading the Sherlock Holmes series every single night when I was pregnant and was SO disappointed when I had finished every single one, about halfway through the third trimester ;) In hindsight I’m glad I finished cuz ain’t nobody got time for readin’ anymore.

  2. Kelly says...

    Michael Connelly’s books are so very addictive!

  3. Jennifer O. says...

    I’ve read a lot of these. I’d add Frankenstein and Rebecca. You could maybe make an argument for Wuthering Heights.

  4. Such a great post! I’ve just signed up to my local library and borrowed The Murder of Roger Ackroyd – my first ever Agatha Christie novel! I’ll be working my way through this list I think!

  5. SHANTAY says...

    I knew this would be a good list when I saw Jane Eyre, Dracula and the hounds of Baskervilles. I love those books and now I’m intrigued to read the other books on this list!

  6. excellent mysteries/thrillers:
    – (some of) linwood barclay
    – sharon (sj) bolton
    – jane casey
    – lee child (although *make me* was definitely not a favorite)
    – harlan coben (but i haven’t read his myron bolitar series)
    – deborah crombie
    – tana french
    – (some of) gregg hurwitz
    – barry maitland (brock&kolla series)
    – michael robotham (joe o’loughlin series)

  7. Samantha says...

    Yes! The Stand is totally a “gateway drug” into Stephen King! I just finished The Tommyknockers and I could not put it down!

  8. Leah says...

    If you like In Cold Blood, Capote also has a fun, spooky piece called Handcarved Coffins in his collection Music for Chameleons.

  9. E says...

    Jo Nesbo!!! I love all of his books…

  10. Ana says...

    Alfred Hitchcock’s Short stories! They’re short but intense, he really is the master!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oooh good tip! thanks, ana!

  11. Camila says...

    “The Collini Case’ by Ferdinand von Schirach and “The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair” by Joel Dicker are two very good reads!

  12. MCW says...

    Although not a novel- Joyce Carol Oates’ short story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” still lingers with me. It’s dark and creepy and sits in the pit of your stomach. Pretty powerful for short form! Since having kids (three under four!) I have a harder time keeping up with longer reads now, but I can handle short stories! It’s off-topic but if anyone else is in this boat I highly recommend Granta- it’s self-described as the magazine of new writing (but each issue is actually a paperbound book)and each issue focuses on a single topic or theme. It’s also great for a book club!

    • Cat says...

      I taught this story to my AP Literature seniors when I was a HS English teacher. It’s amazing and so, so creepy.

  13. Victoria D. says...

    Ooooh! I want to play too! Only I have insomnia and I’ve had to work thrillers out of my reading consumption. Could we do another list like this with light hearted rom-com type books? Maybe some motivational reads? I could add to lists like that! I was considering the dragon tattoo books but a friend told me she suspected elements of them would be too dark for me :-(

    • Victoria D. says...

      I just wanted to add that I saw the youth thriller Super Eight in the theater and I didn’t realize until we walked out that apparently I screamed during a suspenseful part…and jolted throwing my nerd candies everywhere…just saying…

  14. belinda says...

    thanks for this, i’ve been wandering aimlessly round the local library and coming up empty handed, not anymore!

  15. Asia says...

    Gone Girl is a top-notch twisty thriller, but I also really like You and Hidden Bodies by Caroline Kepnes. Her sociopathic main character is a truly original voice.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      thank you!!

  16. june2 says...

    Ha, I checked out “The Chemist” by Stephanie Meyer but the plotline was so scary that I ended up returning it without even reading it! I don’t think I can really handle thrillers…I’m more of a unicorns and rainbows kind of girl! The last scary book I read through was as a kid – one of Anne Rice’s vampire books.

    I guess climate change, etc is scary enough for me nowadays!

  17. maría josé says...

    I read Dark Places and Sharp Objects. Both are great!

  18. Maria says...

    The Terror, by Dan Simmons is quite long and dense and the ending is a bit off the rails but I was terrified all the way through! The premise of the novel is an actual historical event. It’s a fictionalized account of Captain Sir John Franklin’s lost expedition of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror to the Arctic in 1845–1848 to force the Northwest Passage. In Dan Simmon’s telling, the surviving crew members are stalked by a monster…

  19. Tana French is one of my favorites! I’m currently reading her latest myself and Into The Woods is one of my all-time faves. In Cold Blood is another fave. Great list. My husband just sold his first novel – also a thriller – and it is going to be available on Audible.com this summer. Super excited to read (well, listen to) the finished copy of it rather than drafts along the way.

  20. Kim says...

    Anything by Edgar Allen Poe. I stopped reading a book of his short stories when I was pregnant because I was afraid my baby was going to be messed up.

  21. Elga says...

    Loved this! Agatha Christie was my favorite author when I was around 13 (I would say it was Jostein Gaarder, but I devoured her books 3 times faster).
    For me this list should have some Anne Rice too! I love Interview with the vampire and “the witching hour” sequence as well.

  22. Laura C. says...

    So. I read “The Hounds of Baskerville” some years ago and I had to continue reading it BY DAY- AT HOME-WITH MY MOM AT HOME because I was really scared!!
    And Agatha Christie totally cheated on me. The very first book of hers that I read was, “The Man in the Brown Suit”. You know you suspect on EVERYONE except one? Well, it was that one. I, who am the supposed Sherlock Holmes in my family, was totally mislead. What a lady, Agatha Christie!

  23. K says...

    Aw, In Cold Blood is my favorite book. Such beautiful writing and such a gripping story!

  24. Abby says...

    Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier is definitely a thriller that everyone should read.

    • Noreen says...

      YES!!! Reading it is a rite of passage for the women in my family. I just gave a copy to my new sister in law. SO GOOD.

    • Dana says...

      Yes yes! It’s the best.

  25. Alyssa says...

    As a 12th grade English teacher, I love that I came to this list for thrillers and read a list of classics instead!
    Jane Eyre is a must-read, full stop.

  26. Angela says...

    Very recent, but I have to plug The Kind Worth Killing. Could not put it down! Amazing!

  27. Kush says...

    I had an Aha moment..I always say that thriller and horror, is not my genre, but realized, I have read all the books on your list ..Yay! takes me back to my 90s :).

  28. emily says...

    I was never that into thrillers, but a coworker loaned me a book that changed all that. Last summer, our entire office was passing along Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes and then showing up to work with dark circles under our eyes because we couldn’t put it down to sleep. Another incredible thriller I read shortly after that was Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson. Both are the kind of book you just can’t put down and don’t want to!

    • Nicole K. says...

      I second “Before I Go to Sleep” — I read it straight through in one sitting, it took me four hours. Could NOT put it down!! I heard there was a movie made of it, maybe with Nicole Kidman, but I haven’t seen it yet. Highly, highly recommend the book!

  29. My first, and so far favorite, thriller was Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. I could not put this book down! I would highly recommend this for readers new to the genre, like I was at the time.

    The only one I’ve read from this list so far is Jane Eyre (….but I’ve read it several times. I can’t get enough of the classics!). I’m a huge fan of the Sherlock Holmes movies (with RDJ) and TV show (with Benedict), so I think I might just have to try the books themselves next!

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      That was my first favorite, too, Logan!!

    • Kush says...

      Yes! ‘Then there were none’ was my first ‘grown-up’ thriller too. Grown-up Coz, I very much considered Nancy Drew and Hardy boys as finest thrillers as a kid :).

    • Edwina says...

      If you loved the book – you should watch the gorgeous BBC adaption of it. Its available as a DVD on Amazon.

  30. Lauren says...

    A few of my favorites have already been mentioned (The Historian, Shadow of the Wind) but I had to mention one of my absolute favorite thrillers, Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante. To my mind it’s the best in the ‘unreliable narrator’ subcategory…
    I also love Icelandic writer Arnaldur Indridason, my favorite of any Scandi writer.
    Also, Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead. So gritty and fun.

  31. Karolina says...

    Turn of the screw Henry James. Blood chilling!

    • JoAnn says...

      We are reading this in book club now! …..dreadful……..dreadfulness!

  32. Susie D says...

    The Trespassers is waiting on my bookshelf. Really looking forward to it now!

    I’ve never considered Jane Eyre as a thriller, but I can see how it fits the bill. It’ll always be a love story for me though.

    A really good one is Dark Matter: a Novel – Michelle Paver. It’s haunting and forboding. Most of the action takes place with only one character, but his isolation, overactive imagine (or maybe not) and his terror really comes beautifully across.

  33. Ramona says...

    I love Tana French. My absolute favorite book by her is The Likeness.

  34. Claire says...

    I recommend “Descent”, by Tim Johnston

  35. The Secret History by Donna Tartt. Hands down the best thrilling, creepy, well written, strange, well-paced novel ever.

    • Kendra says...

      Agreed! Such a page turner.

    • I was going to recommend this one, too! The first time I read it, I would wake up each morning under a cloud, thinking, “What terrible thing happened? What awful thing have I DONE?” I was over-identifying with the characters because they were so real to me.

  36. KylieO says...

    I really like Stephen King, and remember reading ‘It’ as a teenager and almost crying I was so scared (lol!). But one of my favourites of his is a ghost story that no one else seems to like – ‘Bag of Bones’. I read it every fee years and enjoy it every time!

  37. Lo says...

    My list of the above reads I’ve completed are: The Da Vinci Code and ‘Kiss the Girls’. I read ‘The Stand’….and stopped about 170 pages from the end, I was just sooooo bored! It never captured me, I never fully appreciated the writing and having struggled through 600 odd pages, I’d had enough.

    However, ‘Angels and Demons’ (another Dan Brown) is my ABSOLUTE FAVOURITE BOOK EVER!! My copy is so battered, it looks like hell, but I never fail to devour the pages and the magic of the story. It even ended in a trip to Rome to do and see everything in the book – I was, and still am mesmerised by his writing <3

    Jane Eyre has been in my book case for longer than I can remember, I must pick that up one day!

    themixturesat30.blogspot.co.uk

  38. Julia says...

    Joy Fielding writes the most intense psychological thrillers out there. I still remember many of her (female) protagonists years after reading them. I particularly loved “See Jane Run” and “Whispers and Lies”. The latter has one of the most chilling and surprising endings I’ve ever read.

  39. ‘The Angel Maker’ by Stefan Brijs. I loved that book and I ussualy do not really care for thrillers.

  40. Trish says...

    The Passenger by Lisa Lutz

    • HJM says...

      I came here to say the same thing… I don’t think I unclenched my muscles the entire time I read that!

  41. Ali says...

    I must admit I read The Trespasser on A Cup of Jo’s recommendation – and thought it was so boring! Sorry, I’m really not one to write negative posts but I just wanted to share in case others were on the fence about purchasing :)

  42. Sophie says...

    Rebecca is one of my all-time faves.
    Just read a real adrenaline fix: The Quality of Silence by Rosamund Lupton. Could not put it down.

    • JoAnn says...

      I was hoping someone would mention Rebecca…. and the Hitchcock movie is an excellent adaptation

    • Noreen says...

      AMAZING. I give that book to everyone…totally under rateed and under the radar!

  43. Ailsa says...

    Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier! Oh gosh its so good. I read it again for the second time recently, even though I knew what happened I was still like… OMGEEEE.

  44. Elise says...

    Try reading Tokyo by British writer Mo Hayder, will send thrills down your spine. Also, not a thriller but all books by Swiss author Ramuz have a way of making mountains really scary. My favorite of them all: La Grande Peur dans la Montagne.

  45. Haley says...

    Rebecca!!

  46. Tim McGuire says...

    “Dracula”, with its old English, transported me into the past. Sadly I’ve never seen this book actually put on the screen in a way that does justice to the book.

  47. Lisa says...

    There’s loads of “Scandi-crime” books similar to Stieg Larssons The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – check out the authors Kepler, Roslund/Hellström, Hjort/Rosenfeldt amongst others. I would also recommend anyone who enjoyed Stieg Larssons books to watch the Swedish movie series made – avoid the American version!! The Swedish one is so well made and authentic (just watch with subtitles) and the American one is horribly incorrect and fake and missing so many of the key points from the books. Give the Swedish version a chance!

  48. Julie says...

    The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing. So dark and strange! A bit old-fashioned, but probably for someone with children would be especially chilling.

    • Totally creeped me out!

  49. Susye says...

    “Pretty Girls” by Karen Slaughter…..SO GOOD and plot twists all the way through!

    • JoAnn says...

      Just FYI: this book is gruesomely violent, I didn’t know that and had to put it down!

  50. Alexandra says...

    Yes to Rebecca – incredible and haunting!

  51. Haylie says...

    The big mystery in Jane Eyre is why they pronounce “St. John” like that.

    • Lexi Mainland says...

      Haha, that made me laugh. It was indeed very confusing when I first read it in high school. It’s a French-ism. Sinclair is the equivalent for St. Claire. (Dealing with a dorky French literature major here…)

    • Haylie says...

      Haha thanks, Lexi! I’m getting my PhD in (medieval) English literature right now, and somehow, I’ve never come across that explanation! In college, I asked my beloved British professor (a Brit herself, also prof. of British lit.), and she had no idea.

  52. Tyler says...

    The Stand is my favorite novel, always and forever. The Night Shift is also absolutely brilliant. Love, love, love Stephen King.

  53. I am obsessed with Tana French! Thank you for reminding me of her new book, Joanna. I love your blog so much! It makes me miss Park Slope :-)

  54. JP says...

    I wholeheartedly agree with everyone else – Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier is worth your time, preferably read during the autumn or winter gloom.

    My other suggestion is anything by Kelly Link – clever, chilling, creepy. Top pick is ‘The Specialist’s Hat’ from Pretty Monsters about a babysitter who is not quite right.

  55. Anna says...

    Not quite a thriller more of a mystery series but if you aren’t reading the Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny you are missing out . Such good mysteries and so vulnerable.

    • I recently enjoyed I Let You Go by Clare MacKintosh, and have heard great things about The Girl Before by J. P. Delaney but haven’t read it yet. Also loved Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty – not quite the same as the ones you’ve listed, but I literally had to finish it in one sitting or I would have gone crazy. Loved the Girl with the Dragon tattoo series and all of Dan Brown’s books!!

    • Ahh Louise Penny’s books are some of my favourite of all time! I think there is a new one coming out this summer! #fingerscrossed

    • I love Louise Penny’s Gamache series! They are wonderfully written and the characters really come alive.

  56. Jessica says...

    I absolutely love Tana French’s books. I’ve powered through the first four just over the past 3 months! I also have to second all the wonderful nineteenth-century suggestions in these comments. I teach nineteenth-century literature, and it’s not even work to convince my students to enjoy these novels! I’d highly recommend Dracula if you’ve never given it a chance–I never read it because I “wasn’t a vampire person,” until it was required in a graduate seminar–and then I couldn’t put it down! Also: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, any Sherlock Holmes, and Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White and The Moonstone.

  57. I am an avid reader and my go-to genre is suspense thrillers.
    Recent favorites:
    • Orphan X
    • I Am Pilgrim
    • The Travelers
    • The Couple Next Door

    • kristen says...

      just finished the couple next door…it had me until that ending…ugh.

  58. I didn’t really like In Cold Blood. When I think thriller I always go back to Agatha Christie and the simplicity of And Then There Were None.

    • G says...

      YES

    • Maggie says...

      Double YES

  59. Great list! I recently listened to “Behind Closed Doors” by B. A. Paris (audiobook version obviously) and I quite literally couldn’t focus on anything else for four days! I was gripped!! Highly recommend if you’re looking for a new one.

    • Christina says...

      I just read this and had nightmares! BUT I couldn’t put it down and the ending was superb.

    • Lindsey says...

      I listened to “Behind Closed Doors” as an audiobook as well and was entranced the entire way through. I could hardly drive and listen at the same time, I was that engrossed. Highly recommend listening to it on Audible!

  60. Dorothy says...

    Body of Evidence by Patricia Cornwell, and her earlier Kay Scarpetta novels.

  61. Carrie says...

    Tana French’s earlier books are even better (just skip The Secret Place)!

  62. I’ve read Jane Eyre, In Cold Blood, and Angels and Demons (somehow not Da Vinci Code). All SO GOOD. Thanks for reminding me that I need to get back into this genre. ;)
    http://www.wonderlandsam.com

  63. Justine says...

    Don’t Look Now by Daphne Du Maurier. A short story but soooo spooky. It has stayed with me for years. And yes, Rebecca too. Jane Eyre is such a beautiful novel. Like most, I never thought of it as a thriller. Fair enough. The most recent film version was good too. Michael Fassbender was perfect in it.

  64. jenna says...

    I LOVED girl with the dragon tattoo. but by the time I got through the series…..the ‘explanation’/family history just didn’t hold up for me. let down.

    • Lexi Mainland says...

      Totally agree — the rest of the trilogy was not as awesome. Did you know Steig Larsson died before it was published? So crazy to think he never knew the response.

    • Lisa says...

      What. This is so weird. I think I need to read it in English now (read it in Swedish before) to see how there can be a differnce!

  65. Val says...

    Shadow of the wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. One of my favorites. I like the series but the first book is the best. And he will not let anyone make a movie out of it. Awesome!

    • Jean says...

      Loved this book!!! One of my favorites.

    • Claudia says...

      oh god yes! ive read the book and listened to the audiobook, simply amazing!

    • Lauren says...

      yes, one of my favorite books of all time!

  66. Maria C says...

    I’m not one for thrillers but I read Harlan Coben’s “Tell No One,” and could not put it down. There’s an equally good French movie adaptation with the same title. I’d recommend both!

    • JoAnn says...

      Yes! Movie is excellent

  67. Alice says...

    Yes! Love this! Read some, but not all. Good tail end of winter reading.
    I’d have included, as others have said, Don’t Look Now and definitely, definitely, Perfume. Such a head twister.

    I love your book posts on COJ and the comments that come from them, more please! More genres, all genres – I love getting recommendations rather than hunting. The weirdest or unexpected stuff turns up that way.

  68. Eve says...

    We read In the Woods in my book club and people generally didn’t love it. It was a fun read, but many of us were disappointed at the end. The main character (a male) had next to no redeeming qualities. And half of the book club, those who read the most thrillers, knew the whole time “who did it” (I did not!).

    Thrillers are not my go-to, I confess. I stress enough as it is…

    • Helena says...

      Yes! In to the Woods was such a disappointment! I haven’t been able to make myself read more of Tana French afterwards.

      What everyone should read instead (or perhaps has already) is Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. Talk about suspense and thrill! A modern classic! It has everything, set in a beautiful scenery, loveable (and hateable!!) main characters and a murder which is sure to make the reader react. Please don’t miss this one! It’s just too good!

      Also agree on Jane Eyre and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (though I feel this one is less a thriller than a comedy), great books!

  69. Tania says...

    I really love these book posts! As soon as I opened this, I thought “Dracula better be on here.” For my money, it is the scariest novel I’ve ever read–gives you chills if you’re reading it in the summer sunshine.
    I just got into Tana French…and will order a few more of her books from the library!

  70. Jen says...

    Honestly? I found Dracula such a letdown.

    I stayed in Whitby last summer (in the same building that Bram Stoker did!) and thought it’d be fitting to read Dracula whilst there. And yes – the first half of the book was wonderfully atmospheric (even more so tucked up in bed looking out across west cliff to the abbey in moonlight), but then it just… fizzled out. I think I was a victim of my high expectations (and imaginings of a stormy violent dash up the 199 steps!).

    • Susan says...

      Ha, I agree. I expected it to be terrifying, but instead it seemed hokey — sort of like an atmospheric Scooby Doo episode with the whole gang missing the obvious.

  71. Trisha says...

    I JUST finished The Stand. Really long but whoa! So good. I love Pet Semetary, The Shining and It. Those gave me goosebumps. And yes- another reader said Perfume! Such a creepy little book. Totally strange and I love that. Also, I remember watching/reading Rebecca in high school! Good old gothic stuff!

  72. Brianna says...

    I love Frances Brody’s Kate Shackleton series and Todd Borg’s Owen McKenna series. There are 8 and 14 books in each, respectively, and you can start anywhere with any of them.

  73. I just read Into the Woods and it is one of my favorites! So glad you included it here.

  74. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters. I could hardly believe my eyes at one point. Gripping. And weird….

    • Jessica says...

      Agreed, Annie G! I love Sarah Waters and Fingersmith is hands-down one of my favorite contemporary novels I’ve read–and with a twist that I never saw coming–and then yet another one!

    • I loved Fingersmith. Not your typical thriller as it was well written and had other subplots.

    • Lauren says...

      The Handmaiden (stunning, imho) was based on this book, which has made me want to read it.

  75. Molly says...

    Seconding the recommendations for The Woman in White, The Turn of the Screw and The Devil in the White City. All give me the creeps and Devil is downright chilling.

    • Alos LOVE Devil in the White City as it is also TRUE!!! Creepy…in a time when women just disappeared and no one looked!

  76. Giulia says...

    How about ‘Perfume – the story of a murderer’ by Patrick Sueskind. Plays in 18th century France and is the terrifying examination of what happens when one man’s indulgence in his greatest passion—his sense of smell—leads to murder.

    • Kate says...

      Oh man, yes to this. Finally read it last year and I could not put it down!

    • Giulia says...

      Kate, I read it at 13, 23, 33 and I turn 43 this year so I really want to read it again….

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      wow, giulia, that is a ringing endorsement!

  77. Sarah says...

    Night Film by Marisha Pessl is a page-turner (one that I had to read mostly in the daytime because the darkness of night was too spooky!)

    • Second this, SO GOOD.

  78. The Maisie Dobbs Series by Jacqueline Winspear and The Molly Murphy Mysteries. Great female leads, not too dark, and historically interesting!

    • Susie says...

      Agree – this is one of my all time favorite series!

  79. Lauren says...

    Shirley Jackson should be somewhere amongst the recommendations.

    • Kim says...

      You’re so right. Also Patricia Highsmith, I would say.

    • Dana says...

      Agreed! We Have Always Lived in the Castle is amazing.

  80. Cynthia says...

    I’d also recommend Stephen King’s Cujo and Dolores Claiborne, as well as Salem’s Lot, and of course, Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca.

    • Rebecca says...

      DuMaurier’s _Rebecca_ for sure. It may feel like not much is happening but hang in there….it gets exciting fast!

    • I love Rebecca, which is very like Jane Eyre. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys is a more modern companion to Jane Eyre. The Collector by John Fowles is also terrifying.

  81. Haylie S. says...

    This is *so* timely! I have a really long solo drive coming up (13 hours, both ways) and need more than my usual (lengthy!) list of podcasts to make it through. Thanks!

    • Haylie S. says...

      Obviously, I’m talking about getting the audiobook versions ;)

    • shannon says...

      Listening to thriller audiobooks on a long solo roadtrip?! You are braver than I!!! Plus, THIRTEEN hours = spooky!

    • Haylie says...

      Shannon, I know, ugh. But yes, thrillers! I never ever read them in print, but I think they’ll be perfect for a long drive. I’m gonna need something gripping to make it all that way :/

  82. Kelly says...

    Yes Rebecca! And anything by Agatha Christie. And The Westing Game, omg must re-read this soon! i can’t believe no one has mentioned Patricia Highsmith, who wrote The Talented Mr Ripley and many other thrillers. I used to read these books while babysitting for neighbors by my family’s cabin in Wisconsin, nothing like sitting in an old, unfamiliar, seasonal house deep in the woods and reading murder mysteries! the parents would come home and I would practically jump out of my skin.

    And, while not a classic like these, a few years ago I read Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl and really enjoyed it.

  83. Jennifer says...

    We Have Always Lived in the Castle is the most creepy book I’ve read recently! Highly recommend.

    • Monica says...

      Yes! I just read that last year and loved it. That classic creepy suspense.

  84. Emme says...

    Both amazing: The Harry Hole series by Jo Nesbo (first book – the Bat) and the Inspector Montalbano series by Andrea Camilleri (first book – The Shape of Water)

    • Kari says...

      Yes!! I read 4 of the Harry Hole books over my Christmas vacation!

  85. Im not a Steven King fan, but i did read Misery, that was a great thriller. I enjoy books like The Count Of Monte Cristo, one of my all time favorites. But not a thriller, more like a romantic drama.

  86. Monica says...

    I’m a huge mystery/thriller lover and have read all those except The Stand. They are all soooo wonderful.
    Others I’d recommend:
    – Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier
    – In a Dark, Dark Wood, by Ruth Ware
    – The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova
    – The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield
    – The Pale Blue Eye, by Louis Bayard

  87. Vanita says...

    I feel that labeling Jane Eyre as a thriller is reductive. While it definitely has hair raising qualities, I believe the themes speak more to a woman clinging to her faith while experiencing intense passion for a broken man, her rank in society, and power as a woman.

    Oh and Agatha Christie is always the best!!

    • I’ve probably read “Jane Eyre” 15 or 20 times since I was nine or ten, but I have never thought of it as a “thriller.” Maybe I was so young when I first read it that I just assumed her situation was normal for her time and place? While it has some “thriller” aspects, there is so much more to it — It’s a splendid read that defies being put into just one category. It’s a gothic romance, a mystery with supernatural aspects, a very educated woman’s coming-of-age story. We tend to forget that it was quite political and daring for 19th-century England: the heroine, poor and plain, is raised as a charity case yet she believes herself the equal of, if not superior to, the aristocrats in the story (long before we learn that she is one, too).

  88. The Stand is a great Stephen King gateway drug kind of book. I wouldn’t classify it as horror, like It or some others–it’s a character-driven post-apocalyptic novel, which is hard to do in that genre. One of my favorites of all time. That being said, I also really liked It despite its length and disturbingness.

    Agatha Christie is classic. And Then There Were None (formerly Ten Little Indians) is amazing and never gets old.

    Tana French is my favorite writer of all time. That is all.

    • But that’s the beauty of Stephen King… even his straight up horror is sooo character driven! I haven’t read IT since high school, and honestly, I remember the characters more than the scary stuff!

  89. Erin says...

    Another book that is historical fiction, YA, and semi-thriller is The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. I believe it’s by Avi.

    • Kate says...

      Oh man, I read and re-read and re-re-re-re-re-read this book!! One of the highlights of my life was getting to welcome Avi to our school and show him around. I think it’s time to read it again, 20 years later!

    • Emily says...

      I LOVED that book when I read it in elementary school! Funny how some books stick with you over the decades.

  90. Laura says...

    Anything by Megan Abbott! Her earlier novels are more noir crime novels, but with interesting and fully developed female protagonists and villains. More recently her work has delved into the crazy messed-up world of teenage girls. Could there be anything more terrifying than the social norms of teenage girls?…

  91. Colleen S. says...

    I recommend Tana French’s The Likeness. I like her books, but the last two fell flat for me.

    • jill says...

      That is one of my all time favorite books! I agree that The Trespasser didn’t do it for me.

  92. liz says...

    How about a list of suspense movies (not horror/slasher) but scary suspense types?

  93. Rita says...

    Anything that Ruth Rendell wrote would be in this list! Psychological thrillers, full of dense characters and superb writing, could not recommend it more to people who like thrillers/ mystery books.

    • Angela says...

      Yes! She also has books under the name Barbara Vine.

  94. Amy says...

    I love The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. It seriously keeps me turning the pages even though I’ve read it so many times.

    • Kate says...

      Yes! I always have to read this with the lights on, facing the door and with my back to a wall….just in case. Did you hear she’s coming out with another book this year? I’m so excited!

    • Kate says...

      Yes!! I love love love The Historian! Whenever I re-read it, I just feel SO on edge. It makes me want to wear a cross when I sleep. The research she must have done to write it and her pacing and development are just so spot on. I was a little let down by the Swan Thieves but The Historian is one of my favorites.

    • Claudia says...

      i forgot about this book!! i think i need to re-read it.

    • Lauren says...

      I love this book too! The first 50 pages are a little slow and then after that I can’t put it down.

  95. Erin says...

    The Stand is one of my all-time favorite books. I have read it at least 3 times. The first time I read it, I was in undergrad in Vermont and it totally freaked me out when they were walking along Route 89 – which was only a few miles from where I was at the time!

    DaVinci Code was also great.

  96. I really don’t like thrillers, but I love classic, macabre thrillers like Dracula and Frankenstein. The writing is so beautiful and poetic and I love that readers in the late 1800’s were fascinated by the macabre.

  97. Mo Kilgallon says...

    Disclaimer by Reneé Knight was fantastic. I don’t know if it made an impact in the states, but people were obsessed with it on this side of the pond. Since reading it, I’ve passed it on to loads of people with the warning that you will sacrifice sleep, food and personal hygiene to complete it in one sitting.

    • Kate says...

      ooh, this made me put it on hold at my library! Thanks!

  98. Kate says...

    This is my favorite genre!! Here are some I can think of off the top of my head (though they skew toward the ghostly):

    -So Cold The River by Michael Koryta
    -The Cedar House by Michael Koryta
    -ANY of Joe Hill’s books. He’s Stephen King’s son, and while I’ve never been able to really get into any SK books, Joe Hill keeps me up at night reading til I’m done!
    Slade House by David Mitchell
    Jane Steele by Lindsay Faye (if you like Jane Eyre you’ll love this!)

  99. Jess says...

    Salem’s Lot by Stephen King. Hands down one of the scariest books I have ever read. I’ve never had the hair on the back of my neck stand up while reading before.

    • Lora says...

      Agree completely. My all-time favorite SK book.

  100. Katie says...

    So interesting to see Jane Eyre on this list. I definitely have never thought of it as a thriller. I think of it as being about female empowerment first and foremost. One of the very best, either way :)

    • Have you read Mary Stewart’s ‘Nine Coaches Waiting’? It covers a lot of Jane Eyre-y ground (orphaned governess heroine, isolated setting, manipulative employer, etc.), but in a more straightforward gothic-thriller style. It’s awesome, and #1 on my list of “Books I Wish Someone Would Adapt Into A Movie”.

  101. The Secret History, by Donna Tartt. A beautifully told story that stuck with me for years.

  102. Abby says...

    Devil in the White City! The most captivating murder story.

    • Martina says...

      Yes! I was going to recommend that one! Its SO interesting

  103. Anne says...

    I love Tana French!! I feel a little like I was a fan before she hit it big, even though that’s probably not strictly true. I find her books to be a tiny bit formulaic, but it’s and AWESOME formula. Probably the best books I’ve read in the last couple years!

  104. shannon says...

    Jane Eyre is my favorite book! I’ve never thought of it as a thriller – but it totally is, especially once you hit the halfway point or so.

    I get beyond freaked out by thriller/suspenseful/horror movies, but I have enjoyed the books that I’ve read that are on this list. Maybe it’s time to try a few of the scarier ones!

  105. Lauren E. says...

    I can’t even watch scary TV shows (had to take a hard pass on The Walking Dead) but when it comes to books, the scarier the better. I had no idea The Shining was 1000 pages because I read it on my Kindle and basically devoured it. It’s fantastic.

    • Brianna says...

      I’m the same way, except I love mystery shows, like Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, NCIS, any British mystery drama. For some reason, those don’t scare me (except the Christmas episode of Miss Fisher’s – brilliantly done, but man that kept me up nights for a while).

  106. Elizabeth says...

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned P.D. James, who died within the last couple of years. She was an English coroner before turning to writing mystery novels, and she used the same detective, Adam Dalgleish, in most of her books. One book that didn’t use Dalgliesh as a character was “Innocent Blood,” which works backward, in that you know who the murderer is and the book unfolds as to why a murder is committed. Scary and good!

    Joanna, maybe you could enlighten us as to why the Brits excel at crime fiction. Is it the juxtaposition of quaintness with the darkness of the human soul that results in such great contributions to this genre?

    • MrsB says...

      Agreed. Cut my teeth on P. D. James and Dorothy Sayers. I reread Gaudy Night every year.

      And have been huge Tana French fan from first book.

  107. Angela says...

    Probably not on the same level, but in high school, I used to read a ton of Mary Higgins Clark. As a rule, though, I don’t read thrillers anymore because my imagination is far to vivid. Yikes!

    For kids (5th-12th grades maybe?), The Westing Game is a great one and it’s a Newbery winner.

    • Angela says...

      The Westing Game is by Ellen Raskin- forgot to mention that! Also should mention that a college children’s lit professor I had described this book as his favorite mystery of all time!

    • Katie says...

      I started reading my mom’s Mary Higgins Clark books when I was, IDK, 13, so nearly 25 years ago. I loved them then and I still read her new book(s) every year. I can honestly say that reading them allowed me to see all the different occupations women could hold, which was a welcome relief from the small town I grew up in.

    • Erin says...

      I LOVE The Westing Game. It is STILL one of my most favorite books.

    • Jennifer Tamir says...

      I ADORE The Westing Game. I won it as a prize in my fourth grade spelling bee, and I love to reread it around Halloween. I can’t wait for my kids to read it someday!

  108. Meg says...

    My favorite thrillers were ones I read as a kid. Those first brushes with thrilling, tingling fear leave a mark. I think about Lois Duncan’s Down a Dark Hall regularly.

    • amanda june says...

      I LOVED Lois Duncan books growing up!

  109. Claire says...

    Such a great post. I love reading thrillers! I also recommend Rebecca by Daphne Daphne du Maurier. It’s one of my favorite books ever.

    • Emilie says...

      I love Rebecca, too, Claire – it really sticks with you! I recommend it to people all the time.

    • Anna says...

      I was going to mention this book! So suspenseful and rewarding at the end.

    • Chantal says...

      Was just going to add this! My favorite book, ever.

  110. Elizabeth says...

    My flute teacher — the most brilliant person I know — said that “The Haunting of Hill House” was hands down the scariest book she’d ever read.

    • Elizabeth says...

      I forgot to say that “The Haunting of Hll House” is by Shirley Jackson, who wrote the short story “The Lottery.”

    • Claire says...

      Shirley Jackson is amazing. I love “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” also.

    • Katie says...

      I remember reading the Lottery in 9th grade! What a story!

  111. Melissa says...

    It edges more along the horror side of things, but I really recommend the book Bird Box. If you fear the unknown (and like being scared!), this is the book you want. Kept me at the edge of my seat.

    • Daynna says...

      YES. Bird Box was beyond excellent.

    • Sara says...

      Yes! I read it in October and still can’t let me dog in the back door at night without thinking about Bird Box. The author is from Michigan, too. :)

  112. Annie says...

    Thanks for the recommendations, would love to see a similar list of non-fiction thrillers in the future!

    • Alexandra says...

      Start with Helter Skelter – still chilling after nearly 50 years!!

  113. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James would absolutely be on my list. And I’m really interested in ‘golden age’ detective fiction (one day I would LOVE to do a PhD on this! Dream on…) One of the best locked-room-mystery thriller writers was John Dickson Carr, who also wrote as Carter Dickson. The Hollow Man is his most famous- it’s mid-way between a thriller and a detective story, and it’s very creepy and very ingenious!

    • Rebecca says...

      Yes to the ‘Turn of the Screw’! I read it during my daily commute and was getting the chills at the end, even in a train car full of people. I’d recommend the film version ‘The Innocents’, with Deborah Kerr. It’s in the Criterion Collection.

    • Kari says...

      I just finished reading “By Gaslight” by Steven Price. It’s loosely based on the Pinkertons and is set in a very dreary London and civil war United States. Fantastic character development with a healthy dose of mystery. Highly recommend!

  114. Hayley says...

    The Magus by John Fowles! Oh my goodness–it is intense and really draws you in! And masterfully written. Not a scary book, but definitely a mind game and a psychological thriller.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      a mind game = sounds SO good!

  115. anything gillian flynn- and i’m currently reading my husband’s wife and already feeling a little ~thrilled~!

    xo, brittany

    • Katie says...

      I just started my husband’s wife on the commute this morning! so far so good… (in fact, I think I originally found out about it through joanna’s instagram?)

    • Marite says...

      Yes! I’m reading this, too! Also because I saw it featured here. Makes me wonder if we need a Cup of Jo book club….

    • amanda june says...

      i just finished my husband’s wife — also read it after reading about it here :) it was good, but i had just read all the missing girls, which i found to be just a little bit more engaging.

  116. Jules D says...

    Currently devouring Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier! I’m also a huge Stephen King since I read Carrie when I was 11!

    • Amy says...

      Lovvvve Rebecca. I just recommended it to someone this past weekend.

    • Brittany says...

      I was just about to recommend this when I saw your comment! One of my favorites.

    • margaux says...

      yes!!! rebecca! i discovered that book in my college library. love love love.

  117. Molly says...

    I LOVE Tana French’s books. After I read all the Gillian Flynn books (also loved them all), I read the first three Dublin Murder Squad books as fast as I could get them. Since then I’ve pre-ordered every single one as soon as it was announced. They’re so engaging, I can’t put them down.

  118. JP says...

    I loved reading Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. I liked it so much I rented the video tape of the movie from the local library. Yup, I’m a child of the 80s.
    (Oh – I see that someone just mentioned Rebecca too!)

  119. Bailey says...

    South African writer Lauren Beukes has written some very memorable thrillers, “Broken Monsters” and “The Shining Girls.” They have a hint of sci fi and magical realism. Both terrifying at times. Highly recommend.

  120. elaine says...

    Gorki Park

  121. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (1860) is an enthralling and unputdownable Gothic mystery.

    • Twyla says...

      I loved the Woman in White & recommend it to everyone! Such a page turner, and although it’s an older book – it’s not overly wordy like some from the same era. It’s totally underappreciated IMO.

    • Jen says...

      One of my favorites and often listed as the first and best classic mystery novel. I was going to add it!

    • Jessica says...

      Great suggestion, Tonia! Wilkie Collins is so under-appreciated. I teach nineteenth-century literature, and I always think it’s a shame that Collins isn’t as well known as Dickens, Hardy, or the Brontes. I love The Woman in White, but actually prefer The Moonstone, especially because it’s also a rather sharp commentary on the British Empire. You should definitely read it if you liked The Woman in White!

  122. Myra says...

    I remember being freaked out by a kiss before dying when I was a teen. But then I do scare easily. A recent scary (more in a supernatural way) one that I actually loved was Thin Air by Michelle Paver. I would highly recommend it.

  123. Ha I was just ordering the new Tana French novel! I loooove her. Thanks for this list! (I love that Jane Eyre is on it.) Slow burn but I want to add Donna Tart’s “A Secret History”. Sooo good.

    • Lindsey says...

      One of my favorites!

    • Marite says...

      “A Secret History” is my all-time favorite book!

    • Kate says...

      Ooh, A Secret History is so amazing. I also liked The Little Friend! She’s such an amazing writer.

  124. Sara says...

    I would add that Laura Lippman’s books, especially the stand alone novels are very well written, character driven thrillers.

    • Oh my gosh, yes! I agree that her stand alones are probably better written, but I think I enjoy her Tess Monaghan series more. Like, in a guilty pleasure way.Ha.

  125. It’s so funny and interesting to hear Jane Eyre be described through this lens. It’s my favorite book and I always think of it as being thoughtful and thematically rich, but honestly kind of forget the “secret in the attic” portion of the story. It’s cool to hear that others view it so differently!

    Briana
    http://www.youngsophisticate.com

    • I felt the same way! The book is on my list to read since I didn’t read it growing up, but the movie (With Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens), I love SO much, and found very moving and thoughtful, as you say. She has such beautiful character. It’s suspenseful and eerie at times, to be sure, but I never thought of it as a thriller. I’m curious how the book expounds on that and which parts will stand out to me. Otherwise, thriller novels are probably not something I’m really into. My sleep is too important these days!!

  126. Kelsey says...

    A list of thrillers isn’t complete without Daphne du Maurier. Highly recommend Rebecca or (among her short stories) Don’t Look Now.

    • Myra says...

      I basically came here to say this :)

    • julie says...

      REBECCA.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh my gosh, yes! daphne du maurier lived in cornwall, in the same harbor as my grandparents’ little fishing village! every time we’re there we take the rowboat by her house!
      http://cupofjo.com/2014/08/our-england-vacation/

    • Elizabeth says...

      “Don’t Look Now” is one of the scariest books I’ve ever read. And I’ve been suckered more than once: I always think it will be along the lines of “Rebecca” and I re-read it, and then on the last page it all comes back to me. Shudder….

    • margaux says...

      the best.

  127. Sam says...

    I scare easily, and although I love to read I can’t always bring myself to pick up thrillers. I do think that Stephen King is a brilliant writer and storyteller, and loved his The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon and 11/22/63. I’m going to note some of the books on this list for when I’m feeling brave!

  128. Martina says...

    My favourite Agatha Christie is “And then there were none.” There’s a new BBC miniseries of it that’s amazing too.

  129. Ellen H. says...

    I hadn’t thought of Jane Eyre as a thriller, but it so fits the bill. Looking back now it definitely gave me the chills when I first read it as an impressionable middle school girl! It’s beautiful and haunting. And I greatly enjoyed Gone Girl. I was naughty and didn’t read it until after the movie came out. I have a really fond memory of going to see it in a French movie theater with a group of fellow American girls. We were on a weekend trip in Rouen, Normandy and went back to our hotel room after seeing the film. We were all crammed on one bed, trying to fall asleep, when suddenly I blurted out, “How do you know if someone’s a psychopath?”. Needless to say EVERYONE screamed at me!

  130. Jamie says...

    Rebecca!! the best classic thriller.

    • Lexi Mainland says...

      I knew someone would miss that! I absolutely loved that book as a teen but when I went back to it for this list it didn’t seem as durable. It’s creepy though (that beach shack!), and the movie is amazing.