Warning – possible spoilers! (Tiny ones, though, and I’ll try to avoid even those; I swear I’ll give my best not to ruin it for you… :-))
I love to read many different genres, but thrillers and mysteries will always have a special place in my heart. It might be weird, but I kind of see them as pick-me-up stories – they are fun and exciting, full of turns and mysteries, and you can just follow along without getting too emotionally involved. Which sometimes (okay, often) is exactly what I need.
Mystery thrillers offer an exciting and engaging form of escapism that allows me to immerse myself in a different world. The fast-paced nature of thrillers and the intrigue of mystery stories always keep me on the edge of my seat, turning the pages to find out what happens next.
And of course, you can also find a more serious side to these stories, if that’s what you’re after. Thriller and mystery books often explore important and thought-provoking themes such as justice, morality, betrayal, compassion, revenge, responsibility, etc.
Well-crafted thrillers and mysteries can also be psychologically gripping. They rely on suspense, tension, and twists that can be both surprising and satisfying. They make us question our perception of the world and can challenge our beliefs, leading to a more well-rounded understanding of life.
Of course, not every thriller book lives up to the expectations, but the ones below are the best thriller mystery books I’ve read so far, and I wanted to share them with you today.
What Makes Good Thriller Mystery Books
The fact is – we all have different criteria when it comes to books. The list below represents what I consider to be some of the best thriller mystery books, but I am fully aware many of you wouldn’t agree.
For some people, it’s all about the plot. They want a thriller that is engaging and well-crafted, preferably with an unpredictable outcome. Other readers are mostly into characters. They want strong and well-developed protagonists that keep them feel invested.
There’s also the ‘unputdownableness’ vibe. Thrillers and mysteries are defined by their suspense factor, and a good book in this genre should have a sense of tension and danger that builds throughout the story. This creates a feeling of unease and keeps the reader engaged.
And almost equally important are the setting and narration. A well-described setting can add to the atmosphere and sense of danger, making the story more immersive. And the writing should be clear, engaging, and atmospheric, with a focus on dialogue, pacing, and detail.
And I agree that all these elements should be present in a good thriller mystery book. But the writing style I love you may hate and the characters that make me wanna follow them to the end of the world might leave you indifferent.
Still, here are just some of the things that can make or break my reading experience when it comes to thrillers:
What I love to see in thrillers and mystery books:
- Light, easy writing;
- Unique plots (or as unique as possible these days);
- Likable characters that are easy to root for (or unlikable characters that are easy to root for, whichever I’m in the mood for);
- Lots of drama (a reality show in a thriller form would be great, thanks very much);
- Good pacing – not too slow, not rushed up;
- Details that are at least book-believable if not real-life-believable;
- Just a fun story that I can have a great time with.
What I don’t like in thrillers and mysteries:
- Detective stories (though I have a couple of series I love, including Ahata Christie’s novels, but I have a whole other post dedicated to her);
- MCs that would totally die first in a horror movie;
- A plot that doesn’t bring absolutely nothing we haven’t read a thousand times before;
- Twists for the sake of twists;
- Too many plot holes.
Finally, here are some of the best thriller mystery books I’ve read, and I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I did…
10 Best Thriller Mystery Books
1. The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
Year published: 2019
Rated on Goodreads: 4.18
My full review: The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
The Silent Patient is about a famous painter named Alicia Berenson who has been institutionalized after shooting her husband five times in the face. She has remained silent and unresponsive since the incident, refusing to speak or explain her actions.
The story is told from the perspective of a forensic psychotherapist named Theo Faber who becomes obsessed with uncovering the truth behind Alicia’s silence. He becomes her therapist in the hope of getting her to speak and finally unravel the mystery of what led to her husband’s murder.
As Theo delves deeper into Alicia’s life and past, he begins to uncover a web of dark secrets, lies, and betrayals that have been kept hidden for years. Overall, The Silent Patient is a masterful psychological thriller that explores the themes of love, madness, and betrayal.
2. The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joël Dicker
Year published: 2012
Rated on Goodreads: 4.16
The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair is set in the small town of Somerset, New Hampshire, and revolves around the disappearance of Nola Kellergan, a 15-year-old girl who went missing in the summer of 1975. The story focuses on the relationship between Nola and the famous writer Harry Quebert.
The book opens thirty-three years after the incident, when Marcus Goldman, a young writer, arrives in Somerset to help Harry, who has been implicated in Nola’s disappearance and is now facing murder charges. As Marcus delves into the case and begins to uncover the truth about Harry and Nola’s relationship, he finds himself caught up in a web of lies and secrets that have been hidden for decades.
The story is told from multiple perspectives, including Marcus, Harry, and Nola, and moves between 1975 and 2008 as the mystery of Nola’s disappearance is slowly unraveled. Love, loss, and the power of the written word are some of the main themes in this novel.
3. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Year published: 2012
Rated on Goodreads: 4.12
A woman named Amy Dunne disappears on the morning of her fifth wedding anniversary, and her husband, Nick, becomes the prime suspect in her disappearance. The book is told from the alternating perspectives of Amy and Nick, as the reader is taken on a journey through their marriage and the events leading up to Amy’s disappearance.
As the investigation into Amy’s disappearance continues, Nick begins to reveal a darker side to their relationship, and Amy’s diary entries paint a picture of a marriage that is far from perfect. The story is full of twists and turns.
Gone Girl is a masterful exploration of the human psyche and the nature of relationships. It is a must-read for fans of psychological thrillers and mystery novels.
4. Finlay Donovan Is Killing It by Elle Cosimano
Year published: 2021
Rated on Goodreads: 4.04
My full review: Finlay Donovan Is Killing It by Elle Cosimano
Finlay Donovan is a single mother and a work-from-home writer who is trying to balance her job, her family, and her social life. When she is suddenly thrust into the middle of a murder investigation, she must navigate a dangerous and unpredictable world, all while trying to protect her family and clear her name.
With its witty humor, well-drawn characters, and suspenseful plot, Finlay Donovan Is Killing It is a fast-paced and entertaining story that is perfect for fans of light mystery novels. The book is a delightful mix of mystery, humor, and heart, and is sure to keep readers engaged and entertained from start to finish.
5. The Housemaid by Freida McFadden
Year published: 2022
Rated on Goodreads: 4.37
My full review: The Housemaid by Freida McFadden
Millie finds herself in a difficult situation, struggling to secure employment due to her past. She’s forced to live out of her car until she finally lands what she believes is the perfect job as a housemaid for the wealthy Winchester family. She accepts the live-in position, eager to start a new chapter in her life.
However, soon after beginning work, Millie realizes that Mrs. Winchester (Nina) is far from a perfect employer. She is acting erratically, accusing Millie of theft, and her daughter is acting weird. The only bright spot is Mr. Winchester (Andrew), who treats Millie kindly. The landscaper, Enzo, warns her that the house is not safe, but Millie cannot afford to leave her job.
With the situation becoming increasingly tense, Millie is left wondering if she’ll be able to make it out of the Winchester house unscathed.
6. The Retreat by Mark Edwards
Year published: 2018
Rated on Goodreads: 4.07
My full review: The Retreat by Mark Edwards
Lucas Radcliffe, a horror writer, travels to a writer’s retreat near his hometown of Beddmawr, Wales in hopes of finding inspiration for his next novel. The retreat is run by Julia, a beautiful widow who lost her husband and daughter in a drowning incident. Despite her husband’s passing, Julia holds onto the belief that her daughter is still alive as her body was never found.
Lucas, who has experienced his own losses, quickly forms a bond with Julia. However, strange events begin to occur at the retreat with the writers reporting voices, sightings of mysterious figures, and the disappearance of personal items.
Lucas becomes curious about the myth of The Red Widow, a witch who is said to demand a child sacrifice every 35 years to prevent her from cursing Beddmawr. Despite his skepticism of the supernatural, Lucas begins investigating to provide closure for Julia concerning her daughter’s death.
7. The Lies I Tell by Julie Clark
Year published: 2022
Rated on Goodreads: 4.13
My full review: The Lies I Tell by Julie Clark
With her well-honed skills of planning and execution, Meg is able to adopt different identities and live multiple lives as a con artist. She is a master of deception, able to effortlessly transform into whoever her target expects her to be, swindling them before they even realize what happened.
Kat Roberts, a seasoned journalist, has been searching for Meg for a decade with one goal in mind – revenge. Now that she has Meg within her grasp, she is determined to not let her go before exposing the woman who ruined her life.
However, when Meg reappears and the two grow closer, they soon realize that things are not always as they seem. This book delves into the distinction between retribution and righteousness from differing perspectives, and it kept me captivated from start to finish.
8. Pretty Little Wife by Darby Kane
Year published: 2020
Rated on Goodreads: 3.94
My full review: Pretty Little Wife by Darby Kane
Lila Ridgefield lives in a beautiful college town and seems to have an idyllic marriage, but looks can be deceiving. Now her husband, Aaron, is missing, becoming the last person to disappear in a string of missing cases.
Lila is, of course, suspected to have something to do with the incident, but no one is more confused than her. What no one knows is that – yes, she was the one to last see his body. But how the hell did it just vanish?
As the investigation into Aaron’s disappearance progresses, secrets from Lila’s past come to light, including a long-buried incident that she had hoped to keep hidden. Lila must fight to clear her name from the dangerous truths that threaten to destroy everything she has worked so hard to build.
9. 56 Days by Catherine Ryan Howard
Year published: 2021
Rated on Goodreads: 3.78
My full review: 56 Days by Catherine Ryan Howard
56 Days is a thrilling novel set against the backdrop of the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown. The story begins 56 days ago in Ireland. Ciara and Oliver meet for the first time while taking a break from work for lunch. Just as the virus begins to spread, they feel an instant connection.
35 days ago, the country was quickly moving into lockdown. Oliver asks Ciara to move in with him for the two-week period when people are only allowed to leave their homes for essential reasons. Ciara agrees, even though they don’t know each other all that well.
In the present day, a decomposing body is discovered in Oliver’s apartment. Detectives work tirelessly to uncover the cause of death and uncover anything they can about the victim.
10. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Year published: 2015
Rated on Goodreads: 3.95
I had a weird relationship with this book, but in the end it ended up on my list of best thriller mystery books. The first time I read it I didn’t like it, mostly because it has a trope I hate. Then I watched the movie and Emily Blunt did such an amazing job, it blew my mind. So I reread the book and the second time around I liked it way more. I gave it 5 stars and I’ve been loving it ever since.
The Girl on the Train follows the story of a woman named Rachel, who is an alcoholic and recently divorced. She takes the train to work every day. And becomes obsessed with a seemingly perfect couple she sees from her window. One day, Rachel sees something shocking, and the next day, the woman she’s been watching disappears.
As the investigation into the disappearance unfolds, Rachel becomes embroiled in the case and must confront her own troubled past and troubled relationship with alcohol. The book explores obsession, deception, gaslighting and the power of memory.