‘Suspenseful thriller’ is a literary and film genre that uses action-packed plot lines that typically have a gripping, tense, tone. These books are usually mysteries that create anxiety and tension for the reader to urge them to keep reading.
There are frequent overlaps in the genres that make suspense thrillers because there is no set theme that suspense thrillers must all follow – the only mutual element is their fast-paced nature and suspenseful narratives.
The thriller genre is broad and encompasses many sub-divisions, so if you’re interested in a particular niche, be sure to research that sub-genre of thriller instead, otherwise, you’ll be faced with an overwhelming amount of books that probably aren’t what you’re looking for.
Thrillers, in whatever capacity, have been around for centuries. Stories that incorporate surprise, cliffhangers, anticipation, and plot twists can be seen in some of the ancient classics such as Homer’s Odyssey, however, this would not be considered a thriller, it simply uses techniques that set up the basis for the genre.
Murder mysteries, whodunit plots, detective fiction, political thrillers, psychological thrillers, and fantasy thrillers are all based on these original literary techniques, and it was not until the early 1800s that these sub-genres took off as individuals.
Novels such as The Count of Monte Cristo, The Silence of the Lambs, and Gone Girl are some of the most famous suspenseful novels out there but are frequently grouped with other sub-genres that overlap.
The Woman in the Window is a novel written by A.J. Finn in 2018 and follows a former psychiatrist called Anna, who now lives her life from inside her apartment, with old movies, wine, and photos as her only company.
She spends much of her time watching people, so when a new family moves in across the street, her interest peaks. But when witnesses something she shouldn’t, it complicates her life significantly. But what can she do from the inside?
The Woman in the Window is filled with unexpected plot twists and surprises, guaranteed to keep you turning those pages. So, if this book sounds like something you’d enjoy, stick around for 20 similar book suggestions.
Lock Every Door by Riley Sager
Todd Ritter, using the pseudonym Riley Sager, produces one of the most suspenseful, gripping, and creepy stories in this list using the simple premise of a desperate young woman house-sitting in a creepy large building in New York City.
Lock Every Door blends suspense with horror, psychology, and identity. Filled with mysterious surprises and one huge plot twist, this novel follows Jules as she uncovers the dark and twisted secrets of the place she now inhabits.
The Sister by Louise Jensen
Grace is still grieving her friend Charlie, so when she finds a mysterious memory box that was once Charlie’s, filled with unknown secrets and family revelations, Grace is intrigued.
Grace sets out on a mission to find Charlie’s father and soon comes across Anna, someone who claims to be Charlie’s sister. Embracing her as a reminder of her best friend, Grace welcomes Anna into her home, but will she prove to be the person she claims to be?
The Sister is filled with unexpected plot twists and psychological turns that will keep you guessing until the final chapter.
Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin
This is a brilliantly captivating book that intelligently utilizes well-developed characters to drive the action-packed narrative.
Saint X is a fantastic story of familial connection, emotional development, and grief. It follows the events after Alison’s body is found on a Caribbean island called Saint X.
This novel mixes the brilliantly developed murder mystery, whodunit plot, with the emotional impacts of loss, love, and collective grief. It is powerful, gripping, and versatile – a brilliant all-rounded read.
Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell
Lisa Jewell is a well-recognized suspense author whose unpredictable plots and excellent writing skills have captured the interest of millions of readers worldwide.
Then She Was Gone follows Ellie Mack, a young teenager, the youngest of her three sisters. She lived an idealized life, with the perfect family, perfect grades, perfect looks, and the perfect relationship. She was everything any teenager could dream of, until she disappeared.
Now, Ellie’s family is left in tatters and grief has changed the life of every family member. But when Ellie’s mother meets Floyd’s daughter, Poppy, who is the spitting image of Ellie, everything is thrown into question. Is her mind playing tricks on her? Or is Ellie a lot closer to home than everyone thinks?
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
From the brilliant author who brought us Gone Girl, one of the most gripping suspense novels ever written, comes Sharp Objects, an equally twisted and captivating tale that follows Camille after a brief period inside a psychiatric hospital.
She works as a reporter and must now go back to her small hometown to cover the murder of two young girls. But the case opens up a whole new can of worms for Camille, who is struggling with her own familial issues and fragile mental state. She connects with victims on a personal level and allows these cases to mess with her mentality. She must conquer her own issues before she delves into other peoples’, otherwise, she’ll find herself back in the psych ward.
You by Caroline Kepnes
You is the original novel series that inspired the highly popular television series of the same name, starring Penn Badgley.
It follows Joe, a psychopath, who finds himself delving deeply in love with several different women throughout the story. But Joe struggles to differentiate between love and obsession and he has a violent streak that puts every woman he crosses paths with in danger.
Kepnes fantastically depicts the mind of a psychopath, catching the reader off guard by allowing them to simultaneously hate and sympathize with her protagonist. You’ll never know what’s around the corner in this book and you’ll never predict what Joe is capable of.
Someone’s Listening by Seraphina Nova Glass
Faith’s perfect life is turned upside down when her beloved husband, Liam, disappears. There are no clues to indicate where he went, who else was involved, or what happened, but from the police perspective, one thing is for certain – Faith is suspect number 1.
This is an excellent novel that keeps you on your toes right until the very end. You won’t know who to trust and you’ll spend most of the novel trying to entangle the neat little web that Glass constructs.
Someone’s Listening is a complex minefield filled with clues and twists.
The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine
This is an unpredictable, addictive book that will have you second-guessing every page. The Last Mrs. Parrish follows Amber Patterson, a plain, ordinary woman who often fades into the background. She envies Daphne Parrish, who lives a life of luxury, fame, recognition, and seemingly has the perfect life.
When these lives intertwine, secrets uncover and dark pasts come back around to haunt. This is a fantastically gripping novel that breaks down facades.
The Bad Seed by William March
This novel verges into the horror genre and inspired a classic horror movie, directed by Mervyn LeRoy.
8-year-old Rhoda is an innocent, picture-perfect, cute girl. But when terrible tragedies start unfolding around her, she seems to be the only one liable to blame.
The Bad Seed warns that evil can be easily disguised. It is disturbing, twisted, and intelligently written. A must-read for any horror lover.
The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager
Another Riley Sager classic. The Last Time I Lied follows Emma, an artist that paints her memories. When Francesca shows an interest in one of her paintings, Emma is transported back to her childhood, back to Camp Nightingale, and the horrifying memory that she tried to suppress – Emma was the last to see a group of girls disappear into the night, never to be seen again.
Francesca reopens the past for Emma and she is sent on a hunt for clues to discover what really happened that night.
Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris
This spine-tingling story is certain to provoke questions and may inspire you to take a closer look at your own social circle, so proceed with caution.
Behind Closed Doors delves into the relationship between Jack and Grace, who seem perfectly happy and in love from the outside.
But when you take a closer look at their behavior, actions, and expressions, it could be a totally different story.
The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
This brilliantly written story tells of the blindness of love. While it seems like it’s told from the perspective of a jealous ex-wife, The Wife Between Us is actually a tale that helps us to understand how much sacrifice, lying, and deceit couples make in order to fix their relationship.
Gripping, filled with suspense, and with twists in every chapter, this novel will have you gasping until the final page.
When No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole
When No One Is Watching is a great captivating psychological thriller, guaranteed to give you goosebumps.
It follows Sydney Green, who has lived in the same condo despite the constantly changing neighbors. She is frustrated with so many coming and going, so she sets up a walking tour, exploring the history of the area.
This leads her to Theo, her friendly neighbor. The two uncover the secrets of the town and begin to realize why so many people leave so soon after moving in. Are these people moving? Or simply disappearing?
Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson
This innovative novel uncovers what would happen if you lost your memory every time you fell asleep.
Christine wakes up every day unaware of her name, identity, memories, and family. She has no way of finding out anything about herself so when people turn up with stories, she’s all ears. But the question is – who’s telling the truth?
Before I Go to Sleep explores an interesting concept and is fantastically written.
The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
The Woman in Cabin 10 follows Lo Blacklock, a journalist who mainly covers travel writing. Her new assignment sounds like the epitome of luxury – a week-long cruise with only a few cabins and passengers.
But when she sees a woman being thrown overboard, everything changes. No one is missing on the ship and no one else witnessed it, so the ship carries on as usual. But Lo knows something’s up and she’s determined to uncover what it is.
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
This genre-bending novel follows the lives of 5 suicidal women, whose lives center around oppression and hardship.
The Virgin Suicides explores the close relationship between tragedy and humor, creating a terrifying, yet hilarious tale.
The Axeman by Ray Celestin
Set in 1919, this novel follows the events that unfold on the exciting streets of New Orleans. Jazz, gangsters, and conspiracy fill the city, almost overpowering the new revelation of the serial killer that manages to commit the deadliest crimes without leaving a single clue.
The Axeman follows everyone involved in the investigation and uncovers the extremity of the crimes, the past, and the deep secrets that surround this mysterious criminal.
The Whisper Man by Alex North
Tom Kennedy’s life is dominated by grief following the death of his wife. Attempting to start afresh, he moves to a new town with his son.
But Tom is unaware that he’s just moved into a nightmare. A serial killer on the loose sparks fear and turmoil across the town and disappearances are imminent.
The Whisper Man is a fantastic read. Gripping, intense, and filled with unexpected twists.
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
The Devil in the White City is a dark, twisted story that may be uncomfortable for many readers.
It follows an architect, Daniel Burnham, who finds a building that inexplicably contains a gas chamber, crematorium, and dissection table. Many have been tortured and killed here, but who is responsible?
Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney
Amber wakes up from a coma, paralyzed and unaware of anything around her. She has no idea how she got there or how long she’s been there but she suspects her husband is to blame.
Sometimes I Lie flicks between the present and the past to uncover what really happened. But the reader must bear one thing in mind – sometimes Amber lies.
Suspenseful thrillers are super popular, even with people who don’t usually like reading. They are filled to the brim with unexpected plot twists and will keep you excited until the last word.
Any of the 20 books recommended in this list will give you this thrill, but make sure you know that each subgenre will give you something different, so make sure you pick the right one for you!
What are the best thrillers ever written?
This list has primarily focused on some of the lesser-known thrillers out there, but the best-selling thrillers of all time include Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith, and The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris.
What is the difference between a thriller and a suspenseful thriller?
A thriller just refers to an exciting story typically following a hero and a villain. However, suspenseful thrillers use more plot twists, unexpected events, and cliffhangers to create more of a tense and anxious atmosphere for the reader.
Are suspenseful thrillers scary?
No, not always, there are suspenseful thrillers that overlap with the horror genre but this isn’t always the case, suspenseful thrillers typically just create an apprehensive and agitated reading experience.
Are suspenseful thrillers suitable for children?
Not usually no – they normally center around a murder case or a complex situation riddled with danger and violence, so this genre is not recommended for child readers.
Is there a film adaptation of A Woman in the Window?
Yes, it was released in 2020 and stars Julianne Moore and Gary Oldman.