“My Dark Vanessa” shocked readers when it hit the shelves in 2020. Kate Elizabeth Russell’s debut novel explores the complex dynamics of a 15-year-old girl’s relationship with her 42-year-old teacher, who she believes is her true love.
Moving back and forth between two different timelines, the reader experiences the beginning of the graphic affair between Vanessa and her boarding school teacher Mr. Strane as well as her struggle to come to terms with the destruction it had on her life 17 years later in the midst of the #MeToo movement.
Russell masterfully handles the difficult subject matter. She delves into themes of consent, power dynamics, and the impact of trauma on one’s life with incredible nuance. My Dark Vanessa offers much that challenges the reader to think about sexual abuse and manipulation. All the while, Russell keeps you on the edge of your seat and unable to stop turning the page. If this novel hooked you, then here are 20 more thought-provoking and powerful reads sure to stimulate your brain.
“Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn
2012 | Crown Publishing Group
Another novel that creates its tension via a dual narrative, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, received widespread critical acclaim upon its release. The main characters, Nick and Amy Dunne, are unreliable narrators, creating a situation where the reader can never truly separate fact from fiction.
The story’s intricate plot, well-developed characters, and sharp prose leave no wonder as to why this novel was quickly adapted into an Academy Award-nominated film with the screenplay penned by Flynn herself. The story explores themes of marriage, trust, and manipulation.
If you enjoy psychological thrillers, add Gone Girl to your reading list and pick up a copy today.
“Misery” by Stephen King
1987 | Viking Press
Misery is yet another classic by the master of thrillers, Stephen King. The novel explores the consequences of obsession and loneliness through its two main characters, Paul Sheldon and Annie Wilkes.
Widely acclaimed for its suspenseful plot, captivating characters, and psychological themes, it is considered a masterpiece of horror fiction and psychological thrillers.
Like many of King’s works, the novel has been adapted into a successful film and continues to be widely read and discussed, making it an important work of popular culture. If you enjoy suspenseful and thrilling novels, Misery is definitely worth a read.
“The Woman in the Window” by A.J. Finn
2018 | William Morrow
Highly anticipated upon its release, The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn is a psychological thriller masterpiece that has received critical acclaim from Stephen King, Gillian Flynn, and more. It’s been praised for its writing style and the expert way in which it builds tension, making it an engaging and enjoyable read for fans of the genre.
The novel follows the story of Anna Fox, an agoraphobic woman who becomes embroiled in a dangerous and mysterious situation when a new family moves in across the street. With its suspenseful plot and exploration of themes such as isolation, trust, and perception, The Woman in the Window is a must-read.
The novel has also been adapted into a feature film that was released in 2021 starring Amy Adams, Gary Oldman, Anthony Mackie, and Julianne Moore. You can watch it on Netflix.
“Room” by Emma Donaghue
2010 | Little, Brown
Although many people will know Room for its highly successful and award-winning screenplay starring Brie Larson (who won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of “Ma”), the novel by Emma Donoghue is in and of itself captivating and emotionally powerful.
The story is told from the perspective of a five-year-old boy, Jack, who has spent his entire life in a single room and must learn to navigate the world outside of it after a dramatic escape. The novel offers a unique and moving perspective on the effects of captivity and abuse and has received widespread critical acclaim for its writing and treatment of these difficult themes.
The novel was a finalist for several major literary awards, including the Man Booker Prize. If you enjoy novels that are both thought-provoking and emotionally engaging, then Room needs to be on your to-read list.
“Big Little Lies” by Liane Moriarty
2014 | Penguin Publishing
A captivating novel that blends elements of mystery, drama, and humor, Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty is a unique and engaging story. Taking place in a seemingly idyllic Australian coastal town and follows the lives of three women, each of whom is struggling with their own personal challenges.
Moriarty has received praise for her creation of complex and relatable characters, as well as her exploration of motherhood, marriage, and relationships. The plot is filled with unexpected twists and turns that keep the reader engaged until the end.
Big Little Lies has received widespread critical acclaim, making it a popular choice for book clubs and fans of contemporary fiction. It has also been adapted into an award-winning HBO miniseries. If you’re a fan of books that are both entertaining and thought-provoking, then Big Little Lies is for you.
“The Silent Patient” by Alex Michaelides
2019 | Celadon Books
Alex Michaelides’s debut novel, The Silent Patient, was an instant success when it hit the shelves in 2019. Michaelides was inspired by the writing of Agatha Christie, which had a heavy influence on the narrative structure. As such, the story is told from multiple perspectives, which adds a level of depth and complexity.
The novel follows the story of a famous painter, Alicia Berenson. Everything in her life seems to be perfect until one night changes everything. After her husband arrives home late from work, Alicia shoots him in the face five times, killing him. She then never utters another word. It is up to criminal psychotherapist Theo Faber to get the truth of what happened. This will prove to be no simple task as he must balance the conflicts of his own life with his search for the facts.
The Silent Patient spent over 50 weeks on the bestsellers list. You can find out why by getting your copy today.
“The Woman in Cabin 10” by Ruth Ware
2016 | Simon & Schuster
Following the story of Lo Blacklock, a travel journalist who witnesses a murder on a luxury cruise ship but cannot find any evidence of the crime, The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware is a suspenseful and atmospheric novel.
Known for its tight writing, well-drawn characters, and exploration of themes such as trust, guilt, and the nature of truth, The Woman in Cabin 10 received widespread critical acclaim upon its release that saw it immediately land on the bestsellers list.
If you’re someone who enjoys mysteries and thrillers with a strong sense of atmosphere and a touch of psychological suspense, The Woman in Cabin 10 is a binge-worthy read for you.
“A Flicker in the Dark” by Stacy Willingham
2022 | Minotaur Books
Stacy Willingham’s debut novel, A Flicker in the Dark, is a psychological thriller that will be impossible for you to stop turning the page.
The story follows Baton Rouge psychologist Chole Davis. One summer, when she was twelve, six teenage girls disappeared from her Louisiana town. When her father comes forward and confesses to the crimes, he is put away for life, and she is left to deal with the traumatic fallout.
As an adult, she finally has the beginnings of happiness that have eluded her for over twenty years. However, when teenage girls start disappearing, she is pulled back to that terrible summer and is left questioning if the parallels of the past are real. Is she being paranoid, or is she on the brink of unmasking a killer…again? You can experience all the thrills and plot twists by getting your copy now.
“Rebecca” by Daphne du Maurier
1938 | Little, Brown and Company
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier is widely regarded as one of the greatest novels of the 20th century. This classic has had a lasting impact on the mystery, thriller, and suspense genres.
The story follows a young woman who marries a wealthy and brooding widower, only to find that his late wife, Rebecca, still haunts their lives. Daphne du Maurier’s writing is atmospheric and evocative, and her descriptions of Manderley, the mysterious mansion at the heart of the story, will transport you to another world.
Rebecca is a timeless classic that explores themes of love, passion, and obsession in a beautiful and haunting way. Given this novel’s place in the pantheon of all-time classics, Rebecca is a must-have for any avid reader. Add this masterpiece to your collection today.
“The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins
2015 | Riverhead Books
One of the most talked about psychological thrillers of the last decade, The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins is a gripping and suspenseful novel that will keep you hooked from beginning to end.
The novel tells the story of Rachel, a divorcee who becomes embroiled in a mystery after she witnesses something shocking from the window of her daily train ride. Rachel is an unreliable narrator, which lends to a plot full of twists and turns.
The novel explores themes of addiction, relationships, and the dangerous consequences of obsession. With tight and suspenseful writing, the characters are well-developed and memorable. Overall, The Girl on the Train is a must-read for fans of psychological thrillers and anyone who enjoys a fast-paced and addictive read.
“We Need to Talk About Kevin” by Lionel Shriver
2003 | Counterpoint
We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver is a powerful and thought-provoking novel that delves into the complex relationship between a mother and her troubled son.
The novel is written in the form of letters from the mother, Eva, to her estranged husband, and it explores the events leading up to and after a school massacre committed by her son, Kevin. The novel is a haunting meditation on the nature of evil, motherhood, and the responsibilities of parenting.
Shriver’s writing is insightful, and her character development is superb. The themes and questions explored in the novel are timeless and relevant, and they will linger with you long after you have finished reading. All of this makes We Need to Talk About Kevin a captivating read for anyone interested in exploring the darker aspects of human nature and the complexities of parent-child relationships.
“Sunburn” by Laura Lippman
2018 | William Morrow
Laura Lippman is at her best with Sunburn. Captivating and suspenseful, this novel explores the dangerous and unpredictable nature of human relationships.
Polly and Adam meet at a tavern in a small Delaware town. Both say that they’re only passing through. Yet both stay, and a steamy affair follows. However, each is holding back secrets from the other. The plot is full of twists and turns, and Lippman expertly builds the tension to a climactic finale.
Lippman’s descriptions of the small town setting are vivid, and it all adds up to create a fantastic modern noir. Get yourself lost in this captivating and unpredictable read today.
“The Guest List” by Lucy Foley
2020 | Willam Morrow
Set on an isolated island, where a group of friends and family have gathered for a lavish wedding celebration, The Guest List by Lucy Foley is a thrilling and engaging novel.
When a murder takes place on the island, the guests find themselves trapped and facing a series of investigations and confrontations. Each suspect has a motive that would make it simple to understand why they would commit murder. This leaves the reader guessing until the end, which is exactly what you want from this kind of novel.
Foley expertly crafts an eerie setting on the isolated island which creates a wonderful atmosphere. Overall, The Guest List is an excellent psychological thriller that we highly recommend.
“The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown
2003 | Double Day
Selling over 80 million copies worldwide, The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown is a page-turning thriller classic. The second novel to feature the character Robert Langdon, Brown once again takes the reader on a journey through the hidden mysteries of history and religion.
The reader follows Langdon as he races against time to uncover the truth behind a series of cryptic symbols and clues that point to a shocking secret about the Holy Grail and the Catholic Church. Brown expertly builds the tension to a climax that is both surprising and satisfying.
Engaging and easy to read, The Da Vinci Code is a fantastic and page-turning literary experience.
“The Passenger” by Lisa Lutz
2016 | Simon & Schuster
The Passenger by Lisa Lutz is one of the few novels in the genre that embraces dark comedy as a major storytelling element.
Lutz tells the story of a woman who is once again on the run after she kills her husband and leaves his body at the bottom of the stairs. The protagonist, Tanya (for now), is a complex and relatable character. The reader is drawn into her journey as she navigates the difficulties of staying one step ahead of her pursuers.
With witty and entertaining writing as well as vivid descriptions of the various locations Tanya travels to, Lutz crafts a wonderfully dark and creative story that makes The Passenger a great read for fans of the genre.
“Shutter Island” by Dennis Lehane
2003 | William Morrow
Dennis Lehane crafted an absolute classic thriller in Shutter Island. The basis for an equally gripping film directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, this novel is nothing short of brilliant.
Taking place on a remote island off the coast of Massachusetts, the story follows two U.S. Marshals, Teddy Daniels, and Chuck Aule, as they investigate the disappearance of a female patient from a high-security asylum for the criminally insane. The investigation leads Teddy down a dark path of deception and paranoia as he begins to question his sanity and the motivations of those around him.
Lehane’s writing is masterful, and the atmosphere of the island is effectively creepy and oppressive. The themes of mental illness, the nature of reality, and the power of the human mind are explored in a thought-provoking way. Shutter Island is the definition of a must-read.
“Sharp Objects” by Gillian Flynn
2006 | Shaye Areheart Books
It would be criminal not to include yet another Gillian Flynn masterpiece. Sharp Objects tells the story of a reporter, Camille Preaker, who returns to her hometown to cover the murder of two young girls. As she investigates the murders, she is forced to confront her own troubled past and the dysfunctional relationships within her family.
As expected, Flynn demonstrates her mastery of words. Her writing is powerful and evocative, with the atmosphere of the small town effectively unsettling. Her characters are once again complex and flawed, and the themes of trauma, family dynamics, and mental illness are explored in a thought-provoking way.
Once again, Flynn saw her work adapted to film with HBO releasing a miniseries starring Amy Adams in 2018. Unsurprisingly the gripping plot saw the adaptation nominated for several awards. Sharp Objects is another fantastic addition to the genre and absolutely belongs in any thriller lover’s collection.
“Before I Go to Sleep” by SJ Watson
2011 | HarperCollins
Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson tells the story of a woman, Christine Lucas, who suffers from anterograde amnesia. Every morning she wakes up with no memory of the past. She keeps a journal to help piece her life together, but as she begins to uncover the truth about her past, she realizes that everything she thought she knew may be a lie.
Exploring themes of memory, identity, and trust, Watson crafts a story full of characters who are complex and relatable. With an ending that is both surprising and satisfying, Before I Go to Sleep is an exceptional psychological thriller.
“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” by Steig Larson
2005 | Vintage Crime/Black Lizard
Written by the late great Swedish author Stieg Larson, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the first of the internationally best-selling “Millennium” series. The story follows journalist Mikael Blomkvist and computer hacker Lisbeth Salander as they investigate a wealthy family’s dark past and uncover a web of corruption and murder.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has been praised for its complex and well-developed characters as well as its intricate plot. All of the novels were published and translated from their original language of Swedish after Larson’s death in 2004.
While he never got to see the impact that his writing had on the world, you can still experience it for yourself by picking up a copy here.
“A Place of Execution” by Val McDermid
1999 | HarperCollins
It’s Manchester in 1963, and two children have disappeared. Then, thirteen-year-old Alison Carter vanishes from her town. George Bennett has just been promoted to inspector and is already faced with a case that will define his life. In the modern-day, journalist Catherine Heathcote is trying to piece together Bennett’s story and publish it in a novel. However, just when she thinks she is ready to share it with the world, Bennett makes a new discovery that will define both of them.
This is the story of A Place of Execution by Val McDermid. A master of her craft, she expertly uses a multilayered narrative to create a sense of tension and unease throughout the novel. With an unexpected and enjoyable ending, A Place of Execution is an ingenious piece of work that you’re sure to enjoy.
This list was admittedly hard to make. There are so many psychological thrillers that are worthy of inclusion. It’s a genre that stimulates and captivates as few others can. Every novel on this list will be hard to put down at night and will have you turning page after page until their dramatic conclusions. Happy reading!
What are the characteristics of psychological thrillers?
Storylines are often layered and told from multiple perspectives, and reality may not always be what it seems. Time is almost always of the essence to the protagonists. The tempo can vary and depend on the author, but most will be fast-paced page-turners which will have you wondering where the time went. The endings will have twists that the reader may not always expect, which only adds to the allure.
I like this character; should I trust them?
One of the main themes in psychological thrillers is exploring the character’s mind. Quite often, novels will feature unreliable narrators, which makes it hard for the reader to know what reality actually is.
1. Stephen King
2. Dennis Lehane
3. Gillian Flynn
4. Thomas Harris
5. Agatha Christie
6. Daphne du Maurier
7. Dan Brown
8. Stieg Larson
Almost every single author on our list has published multiple novels in this genre. Many of these novels are part of a series that feature the same protagonists.
What are some more psychological thriller novels I can check out?
1. The Silent Wife by Asa Harrison
2. I See You by Clare Macintosh
3. The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
4. The Widow by Fiona Barton
5. The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
6. I Know What You Did Last Summer by Lois Duncan
7. The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson
8. The Good Girl by Mary Kubica
9. The Shining by Stephen King
10. The Girl Before by JP Delaney
Which of these novels has been adapted into film?
1. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
2. Misery by Stephen King
3. The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn
4. Room by Emma Donaghue
5. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
6. We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
7. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
8. Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane
9. Before I Go to Sleep by SJ Watson
10. Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
11. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larson
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