28 Modern Thrillers You Should Add to Your Reading List ASAP
It all began with an early obsession with Nancy Drew, then I moved on to Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie, and before I knew it I was devouring any book that promised thrills, intrigue, and murder. Is there a detective in it? I'll read it. Bonus points if the protagonist is a woman. And the cherry on top is if the author is British or Scandinavian (or Irish). That said, Gone Girl is one of my favorite books of all time, so if you feel the same, you'll probably love my other picks. Obviously, this isn't an exhaustive list — I've only included books I can vouch for (aka that I've read) — but here are all the modern mysteries guaranteed to keep you up all night.
In a Dark, Dark Wood
The book: A Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware
The hook: If you've ever been to an awful bachelorette party, then you'll be able to commiserate with the heroine in Ware's novel. When Leonora, a reclusive writer, agrees to attend the hen do for a high school pal she hasn't spoken to in years, the weekend getaway isn't all penis headbands and tequila shots — instead, a bitter feud from years earlier boils over, ending in a shocking act of violence.
Fear factor: Ware's endlessly creepy descriptions of the remote country house where the book mainly takes place will have you looking at the dark corners of your own home in fear.
The Woman in the Window
The book: The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn
The hook: If you're the kind of person who loves a good twist, then Finn's novel is a must. The instant New York Times bestseller will give you major Hitchcock vibes as it follows an agoraphobic woman who may or may not have witnessed a crime while staring through her neighbor's window. Is she just paranoid, or did she actually spot something awful? Read it before the film adaptation comes out!
Fear factor: This will keep you up far past midnight because you can't put the book down and because you feel a little spooked.
The book: The Child by Fiona Barton
The hook: When the decades-old bones of an infant are discovered at a construction site in London, journalist Kate Waters makes it her mission to uncover the child's identity. Barton weaves an intense mystery with each passing page, peeling back layer upon layer of familial drama, discord, and shame as Kate untangles the complicated tale.
Fear factor: The only thing scary about this book is its reminder of just how far a human being will go to protect a secret.
The book: The Expats by Chris Pavone
The hook: A suspense thriller that keeps you guessing about the characters' true identities, motives, and loyalties. The chapters go back and forth between the past and the present, culminating in the end.
Fear factor: You may be at the edge of your seat trying to put this puzzle together, but you won't be scared.
Claire Dewitt and the Bohemian Highway
The book: Claire Dewitt and the Bohemian Highway by Sara Gran (No. 2 in the Claire DeWitt series)
The hook: A San Francisco-set new-age noir murder mystery with a sharp, highly flawed female detective as the lead.
Fear factor: It's a murder mystery with some mystical elements but not frightening in the least.
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
The book: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (No. 1 in the Flavia de Luce series)
The hook: A precocious, chemistry-obsessed 11-year-old girl attempts to solve a murder in this charming mystery set in the English countryside.
Fear factor: It's a very light, humor-filled murder mystery. No need to hide under the covers for this one.
The book: The Vanishers by Heidi Julavits
The hook: A woman haunted by a mother she never knew must deal with an altercation with her mentor that takes her down a rabbit hole into her past and her future.
Fear factor: Bizarre and fantastical, yes. Scary? Not really.
Déjà Dead (and Subsequent Books in the Series)
The book: Déjà Dead by Kathy Reichs (No. 1 in the Temperance Brennan series)
The hook: This is the first in an ongoing series of books (No. 17 just came out this year) starring forensic anthropologist Temperance "Bones" Brennan as she solves murders alongside a cop love interest mostly in either Montreal, Canada, or Charlotte,NC. It also inspired the TV show Bones, although the characters and plots differ.
Fear factor: There are always some nail-biting scenes in which Temperance's life is in danger or she's trying to save someone in the nick of time, but it's more thrilling than scary.
The Hand That Feeds You
The book: The Hand That Feeds You by A.J. Rich
The hook: The twists just keep coming in this psychological thriller, which begins when Morgan — a 30-year-old budding criminal psychologist — finds her fiancé, Bennett, mauled to death in her apartment, presumably by her three, blood-covered dogs. As you can probably guess, the truth of what actually happened isn't that simple, which is exactly what Morgan realizes after she starts examining Bennett's life . . . including his — surprise! — several other fiancées.
Fear factor: If you have a fear of dogs, this book will definitely creep you out a bit! It also gets a little gory. But otherwise, it's light on scares and heavy on intensely riveting story.
The Girl on the Train
The book: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
The hook: Even if you've already seen the movie, reading the book is still absolutely necessary. Hawkins's novel shifts between the perspectives of three women as a twisted web of murder and deceit, which stems from one of the women's observations during a daily train ride, begins to unspool around them.
Fear factor: This psychological thriller just might make you start questioning yourself.
The Cuckoo's Calling
The book: The Cuckoo's Calling by J. K. Rowling under the alias Robert Galbraith (No. 1 in the Cormoran Strike series)
The hook: A supermodel's suicide might not be what it seems when her brother hires an ex-military private investigator to uncover what really happened, digging up family secrets along the way.
Fear factor: Harkens to the good ol' days of detective stories, with likeable, rough-around-the-edges main characters and a plot that keeps you guessing. Big on mystery, light on the scary.
The book: Joyland by Stephen King
The hook: Set at a beachside carnival in the '70s, this supernatural mystery is a nod to the kind of ghost stories you told around the campfire.
Fear factor: This ghost story is about as scary as the haunted mansion ride, and just as nostalgic.
The book: Faithful Place by Tana French (No. 3 in the Dublin Murder Squad series)
The hook: All the books in this series have a way of burrowing into your psyche and lingering with you for days or weeks after you finish them, but this one especially so. Alternating between the past and the present, this story follows a detective who never recovered from being dumped by his first love on the day they were supposed to run away together. Then his entire world is turned upside down when her suitcase is found 22 years later in their meeting spot.
Fear factor: This is one of those psychological mysteries that messes with your head more than anything.
Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children
The book: Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (No. 1 in the Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children series)
The hook: Graphically abhorrent monsters, dark history, and murder make this time-traveling story about a boy who discovers his late grandpa's secret past anything but kid friendly.
Fear factor: What really makes this book chilling is the vintage photos interspersed throughout, which the author used as inspiration for the story.
The book: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
The hook: I never like to give away too much with this one, because the more ignorant you go into it, the better. I will say that this is the story of a toxic marriage, deceit, and manipulation. I've never read anything like it before or since.
Fear factor: Besides being terror-stricken with the idea that all relationships are f*cked up under the surface, this story has some geniunely icky moments that may give you goosebumps.
The Ice Princess
The book: The Ice Princess by Camilla Läckberg (No. 1 in the Fjällbacka series)
The hook: This Swedish crime drama series is chillingly sinister and superbly written, and it kicks off with an engrossing story about the suspicious suicide of a beautiful young woman found frozen in a bathtub.
Fear factor: It's a dark murder mystery, sure, but considering the series only gets darker as it goes on, I'd say this one won't have you spooked.
The book: The Likeness by Tana French (No. 2 in the Dublin Murder Squad series)
The hook: The concept of this series is unique in that Tana French takes a minor character from the previous novel (all of whom are detectives at the same Dublin squad) and makes them the protagonist of the next. In this follow-up to In The Woods, a female detective is called to a murder scene where the victim looks exactly like her and carried an ID with the name she used as an undercover detective years before.
Fear factor: Reading the premise alone sent tingles down my spine, and it keeps you mystified until the bitter end. However, the bulk of the story isn't as unnerving as the rest of the series.
The Good Girl
The book: The Good Girl by Mary Kubica
The hook: This taut thriller revolves around Mia Dennett, the daughter of a prominent Chicago judge, who is kidnapped and held for ransom. The novel shifts perspectives from that of Mia's anxiety-ridden mom, the world-weary detective assigned to her case, and her kidnapper, making for a tense, fast-paced story.
Fear factor: No scares here! But trust me when I say that you'll tear through this book in record time; it's that good.
The Woman in Cabin 10
The book: The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
The hook: In this tightly wound story reminiscent of Agatha Christie's works, a journalist, Lo, is sent to cover a brand new luxury cruise on the North Sea with only a handful of cabins before it opens to the public. Despite her plush surroundings, Lo soon begins to suspect that not all is as it seems, especially after she witnesses a woman being thrown overboard. The only problem? No passengers are missing the next morning, and no one believes her. Can she solve the mystery of what really happened before it's too late?
Fear factor: To Ware's credit, this book is immensely claustrophobic, and might put you off of cruise ships for life.
The book: The Stonecutter by Camilla Läckberg (No. 3 in the Fjällbacka series)
The hook: If you've read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, you know that those Scandinavians have some sort of dark magic when it comes to creating crime thrillers, and this is no exception. All the books in this series incorporate chapters that give you insight into some unknown, usually sinister character, and in this one you get a historical story alternating with the modern-day investigation of a murdered little girl found in the water.
Fear factor: Whenever kids are involved, you can bet the story is going to be both sad and disturbing, and this book has a creepy edge to it.
The book: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
The hook: A journalist faces her own dark past and family secrets when she goes back to her hometown to investigate the grisly murders of two preteen girls.
Fear factor: Not gonna lie, just thinking about this book again gives me the heebie-jeebies. Not to say too much, but there are some straight-up nauseating moments. Definitely not a feel-good story.
The book: The Preacher by Camilla Läckberg (No. 2 in the Fjällbacka series)
The hook: The remains of two young women who had disappeared 20 years ago are found next to a new victim in this thrilling story of family secrets and religious fanatics. It alternates between the present investigation and the perspective of the murdered girls, including their final moments.
Fear factor: It's one thing to follow a crime from the safety of the detective's perspective, it's another to be put in the shoes of the murder victims when you know their macabre fate.
In the Woods
The book: In the Woods by Tana French (No. 1 in the Dublin Murder Squad series)
The hook: Three children go missing, but only one is found — a boy with blood-filled sneakers who lost his memory of what happened in his state of shock. That boy is now a detective who must return to his hometown to investigate a murder with similarities to his own unsolved mystery.
Fear factor: Children being murdered in the woods is a recipe for an eerie piece of literature, and this one will raise the hairs on the back of your neck.
The book: Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
The hook: The sole survivor of her family's mass murder in their home, a little girl is now a fully grown train wreck who begins to doubt her young testimony that her brother was the killer. The narrative jumps back and forth in time, taking us through the day of the tragedy from the perspective of all the characters involved.
Fear factor: Life (or death) sucks for pretty much all the characters in this story, so it can be just as depressingly sad as it is terrifying.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
The book: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (No. 1 in the Millennium Trilogy)
The hook: Just as dark and chilling as the icy Swedish setting it takes place in, this thriller follows a disgraced journalist who sets out to solve a decades-old case of a missing girl alongside an unconventially badass computer hacker.
Fear factor: The graphic rape scenes, violence against women, and ominous villains are enough to turn your stomach. But as disturbing as it is, you really can't put it down.
The book: Broken Harbor by Tana French (No. 4 in the Dublin Murder Squad series)
The hook: A detective with his own murky past finds himself attempting to solve a twisted murder of two small children and their father — along with the attempted murder of the mother — who were all found dead in their home. Adding to the mystery of the crime are the numerous holes smashed in the walls, the baby moniters scattered throughout the house, and the menacing animal trap in the attic.
Fear factor: Nothing like a home break-in with a multiple homicide to have you hiding under your bed. You'll be double- and then triple-checking your door locks while reading this psychological thriller.
The Shining Girls
The book: The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
The hook: This sci-fi mystery puts you in the shoes of two main characters as it alternates chapters: a ruthless, repulsive time-traveling murderer and the one victim who got away and is now hunting him. There are mystical elements to this story, but it's mainly a thrilling and gruesome crime novel.
Fear factor: This is probably the most gory of the bunch, and there's a major ick factor as you're forced to read the chapters from the killer's point of view. It's a frightening read with some nail-biting moments.
The book: Night Film by Marisha Pessl
The hook: The daughter of a reclusive, enigmatic filmmaker known for pushing boundaries with his horror films is found dead under mysterious circumstances, and a journalist becomes obsessed with finding the truth. This haunting story also creatively incorporates fake news clippings, Wikipedia entries, and other media throughout. It's petrifying, inventive, and deeping engrossing.
Fear factor: Let's just say you might not be able to sleep at night. While lot of the horror of the novel is more in your head — à la an Alfred Hitchcock film — it's straight-up blood-curdling at times.