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10 Literary Thriller and Horror Novels Wordsmiths Will Admire

Sara Roncero-Menendez
August 25 2021
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Who needs cardio when you can just read a good book to get the heart racing? There’s nothing quite like the feeling of getting sucked into a dark tale of revenge, family secrets, dubious strangers, supernatural entities, and all manner of spooky, suspenseful situations. So, if you need something to thrill and chill you, or you’re just on the hunt for a can’t-put-it-down cover-buster to get you through a hot and muggy August, here are some great reads that will get the job done.

My Heart Is a Chainsaw
by Stephen Graham Jones

If your extensive knowledge of horror films could help you save the day, would you use your powers for good or forsake those who have done nothing but harm you? That’s the dilemma Jade faces in horror master Stephen Graham Jones’s latest book, MY HEART IS A CHAINSAW. Jade has been cast out by just about everyone in her town, seeking solace in scary movies, especially revenge stories. But when the same little town finds itself at the center of its own cinematic blood fest, can Jade put the past behind her, or will her trauma consume her? At once a moving portrait in loneliness and a gripping tale of murder, this is not one to be missed if you’re looking for a good horror read.

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My Heart Is a Chainsaw
Stephen Graham Jones

In her quickly gentrifying rural lake town Jade sees recent events only her encyclopedic knowledge of horror films could have prepared her for in this latest novel from the Jordan Peele of horror literature, New York Times bestselling author Stephen Graham Jones.

“Some girls just don’t know how to die…”

Shirley Jackson meets Friday the 13th in My Heart Is a Chainsaw, written by the author of The Only Good Indians Stephen Graham Jones, called “a literary master” by National Book Award winner Tananarive Due and “one of our most talented living writers” by Tommy Orange.

Alma Katsu calls My Heart Is a Chainsaw “a homage to slasher films that also manages to defy and transcend genre.” On the surface is a story of murder in small-town America. But beneath is its beating heart: a biting critique of American colonialism, Indigenous displacement, and gentrification, and a heartbreaking portrait of a broken young girl who uses horror movies to cope with the horror of her own life.

Jade Daniels is an angry, half-Indian outcast with an abusive father, an absent mother, and an entire town that wants nothing to do with her. She lives in her own world, a world in which protection comes from an unusual source: horror movies…especially the ones where a masked killer seeks revenge on a world that wronged them. And Jade narrates the quirky history of Proofrock as if it is one of those movies. But when blood actually starts to spill into the waters of Indian Lake, she pulls us into her dizzying, encyclopedic mind of blood and masked murderers, and predicts exactly how the plot will unfold.

Yet, even as Jade drags us into her dark fever dream, a surprising and intimate portrait emerges…a portrait of the scared and traumatized little girl beneath the Jason Voorhees mask: angry, yes, but also a girl who easily cries, fiercely loves, and desperately wants a home. A girl whose feelings are too big for her body. My Heart Is a Chainsaw is her story, her homage to horror and revenge and triumph.

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The Drowning Kind
by Jennifer McMahon

Jennifer McMahon is one of those authors who has been quietly taking the genre by storm with stories that hit close to home. Case in point, THE DROWNING KIND follows Jax, a social worker whose unstable sister supposedly kills herself at their grandmother’s estate while researching their family history. Jax finds herself drawn to this dark history, specifically that of her ancestor Ethel, who strikes a bargain that cursed their family for generations. This novel is a tale of love and ghosts, of family ties and the ways those ties can come apart. This is a fantastic thriller for fans of historical fiction.

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The Drowning Kind
Jennifer McMahon

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Invited and The Winter People comes a chilling new novel about a woman who returns to the old family home after her sister mysteriously drowns in its swimming pool…but she’s not the pool’s only victim.

Be careful what you wish for.

When social worker Jax receives nine missed calls from her older sister, Lexie, she assumes that it’s just another one of her sister’s episodes. Manic and increasingly out of touch with reality, Lexie has pushed Jax away for over a year. But the next day, Lexie is dead: drowned in the pool at their grandmother’s estate. When Jax arrives at the house to go through her sister’s things, she learns that Lexie was researching the history of their family and the property. And as she dives deeper into the research herself, she discovers that the land holds a far darker past than she could have ever imagined.

In 1929, thirty-seven-year-old newlywed Ethel Monroe hopes desperately for a baby. In an effort to distract her, her husband whisks her away on a trip to Vermont, where a natural spring is showcased by the newest and most modern hotel in the Northeast. Once there, Ethel learns that the water is rumored to grant wishes, never suspecting that the spring takes in equal measure to what it gives.

A haunting, twisty, and compulsively readable thrill ride from the author who Chris Bohjalian has dubbed the “literary descendant of Shirley Jackson,” The Drowning Kind is a modern-day ghost story that illuminates how the past, though sometimes forgotten, is never really far behind us.

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Chasing the Boogeyman
by Richard Chizmar

Who doesn’t love a little metafiction? Recent college graduate Richard Chizmar returns to his hometown in the summer of 1988 to find it changed. After a series of mutilated bodies were found, the town is swarmed by law enforcement, curfews are put in place, and rumors abound that the threat they’re facing might be supernatural. Richard, a budding writer, chooses to chronicle this time, though he doesn’t realize just how far these sinister events will take him. Grim, gruesome, and often heartbreaking, CHASING THE BOOGEYMAN will draw you in and leave its mark, even after it’s back on the shelf.

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Chasing the Boogeyman
Richard Chizmar

The New York Times bestselling coauthor of Gwendy’s Button Box brings his signature “thrilling, page-turning” (Michael Koryta, author of How It Happened) prose to this story of small-town evil that combines the storytelling of Stephen King with the true-crime suspense of Michelle McNamara.

In the summer of 1988, the mutilated bodies of several missing girls begin to turn up in a small Maryland town. The grisly evidence leads police to the terrifying assumption that a serial killer is on the loose in the quiet suburb. But soon a rumor begins to spread that the evil stalking local teens is not entirely human. Law enforcement, as well as members of the FBI are certain that the killer is a living, breathing madman—and he’s playing games with them. For a once peaceful community trapped in the depths of paranoia and suspicion, it feels like a nightmare that will never end.

Recent college graduate Richard Chizmar returns to his hometown just as a curfew is enacted and a neighborhood watch is formed. In the midst of preparing for his wedding and embarking on a writing career, he soon finds himself thrust into the real-life horror story. Inspired by the terrifying events, Richard writes a personal account of the serial killer’s reign of terror, unaware that these events will continue to haunt him for years to come.

A clever, terrifying, and heartrending work of metafiction, Chasing the Boogeyman is the ultimate marriage between horror fiction and true crime. Chizmar’s “brilliant…absolutely fascinating, totally compelling, and immediately poignant” (C.J. Tudor, New York Times bestselling author) writing is on full display in this truly unique novel that will haunt you long after you turn the final page.

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Billy Summers
by Stephen King

There’s only one name I think of when it comes to the reigning monarch of suspense—Stephen King. And his latest book only adds to that legacy of thrills and chills. Billy is a gun for hire, but with a very specific requirement: he will take the job only if the target is a truly terrible person. But Billy’s final job before retirement doesn’t go according to plan, and now he must give all he’s got to take down the worst target he’s ever faced. A nonstop roller coaster, BILLY SUMMERS will have you up all night wondering about a man and his gun.

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Billy Summers
Stephen King

From legendary storyteller and #1 bestseller Stephen King, whose “restless imagination is a power that cannot be contained,” (The New York Times Book Review) comes a thrilling new novel about a good guy in a bad job.

Billy Summers is a man in a room with a gun. He’s a killer for hire and the best in the business. But he’ll do the job only if the target is a truly bad guy. And now Billy wants out. But first there is one last hit. Billy is among the best snipers in the world, a decorated Iraq war vet, a Houdini when it comes to vanishing after the job is done. So what could possibly go wrong?

How about everything.

This spectacular can’t-put-it-down novel is part war story, part love letter to small town America and the people who live there, and it features one of the most compelling and surprising duos in King fiction, who set out to avenge the crimes of an extraordinarily evil man. It’s about love, luck, fate, and a complex hero with one last shot at redemption.

You won’t put this story down, and you won’t forget Billy.

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Winter Counts
by David Heska Wanbli Weiden

Sometimes, the villain at the heart of the story is more insidious than just a man with a gun or a monster lurking in the dark. Sometimes, it’s a whole system designed to make some people rich off the suffering of others. Virgil Wounded Horse is an enforcer, dispensing justice on the Rosebud Indian Reservation when the courts can’t (or won’t). However, when heroin makes its way into the reservation, Virgil’s path to justice will have him confronting a new kind of enemy, as well as coming to terms with what it means to be Native American in the United States. WINTER COUNTS may not have a traditional villain, but the darkness it confronts is just as terrifying, and all too real.

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Winter Counts
David Heska Wanbli Weiden

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The Night She Disappeared
by Lisa Jewell

Lisa Jewell is a master of mystery and suspense, and the cause of many a sleepless night. THE NIGHT SHE DISAPPEARED lives up to that legacy with a twisted tale set in the English countryside. Sophie is a writer who moves to a cottage that borders an estate where a young couple went missing the year before. Spooky, sure, but old places tend to have dark secrets and she thinks nothing of it. Well, until she finds a note on a tree that reads “DIG HERE”. What follows is a winding road of intrigue, secrets, and dark revelations that will have your mind spinning and your fingers desperately turning to the next page.

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The Night She Disappeared
Lisa Jewell

“I love all Lisa’s books, but The Night She Disappeared is her best thriller yet.” —Harlan Coben, New York Times bestselling author of Win

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Then She Was Gone and The Family Upstairs comes another riveting work of “gloriously twisted” (Marie Claire) psychological suspense about a web of people whose lives are forever changed in the wake of a young couple’s disappearance.

On a beautiful summer night in a charming English suburb, a young woman and her boyfriend disappear after partying at the massive country estate of a new college friend.

One year later, a writer moves into a cottage on the edge of the woods that border the same estate. Known locally as the Dark Place, the dense forest is the writer’s favorite area for long walks and it’s on one such walk that she stumbles upon a mysterious note that simply reads, “DIG HERE.”

Could this be a clue towards what has happened to the missing young couple? And what exactly is buried in this haunted ground?

With her signature “rich, dark, and intricately twisted” (Ruth Ware, New York Times bestselling author) prose, Lisa Jewell has crafted a dazzling work of suspense that will keep on the edge of your seat until the final page.

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The Other Side of Everything
by Lauren Doyle Owens

It’s strange how tragedy can unite people. The death of an elderly woman brings together her friend on a mission to protect the neighborhood, his artist neighbor recovering from cancer, and a teenage girl who knows more than she lets on. But as their paths converge, the killer draws ever near, and it’s a race against time to prevent more deaths and the further deterioration of their homes. THE OTHER SIDE OF EVERYTHING is the kind of book that seems like a straightforward crime thriller that quietly but quickly morphs into something altogether creepier, unsettling in all the right ways.

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The Other Side of Everything
Lauren Doyle Owens

Laura Lippman meets Megan Abbott in this suspenseful mystery debut set in the aftermath of a violent crime—for “fans of crime fiction wanting literary flair and emotional depth” (Publishers Weekly, starred review).

After her elderly neighbor is murdered, Amy Unger, a fledgling artist and cancer survivor, takes to the canvas in an effort to make sense of her neighbor’s death. Painting helps Amy recover from the devastating illness that ended her marriage and left her life in ruin. But when her paintings prove to be too realistic, her neighbors grow suspicious, and the murderer, still lurking, finds his way to her door.

Bernard White, a widower who has isolated himself for years after a family scandal, can’t stop thinking about the murder of an old friend—and what it means for his fellow octogenarians as the death toll rises. He convinces the neighborhood’s geriatric residents to band together to protect one another. But the Originals, as they are known, can’t live together forever. As it is, Bernard is pressing his luck with the woman he’s moved in with.

Maddie Lowe is a teenager trying to balance her waitressing job and keeping her family intact after the disappearance of her mother, even as their neighborhood becomes more dangerous by the second. She has information crucial to solving the crime. But she doesn’t realize it–until it’s almost too late.

Their paths converge around the killer terrorizing their neighborhood and they are all faced with a life—or death—decision…

A gripping page-turner that explores the strange connections between strangers, the past and the present, and the power of tragedy to spark renewal, The Other Side of Everything marks the exciting debut of a vibrant and riveting new voice.

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One of Us
by Tawni O'Dell

The past never really leaves us, and thrillers often show us the various ways people can be haunted by those who came before. In ONE OF US, Dr. Sheridan Doyle may appear to be a put-together, sophisticated psychologist, but he is still troubled by his turbulent upbringing in a small town, especially by his sister’s death. Doyle’s work brings him in contact with the dead, as he works with the Philadelphia PD, but his latest case is different. Teaming up with veteran detective Rafe, they discover that a body found at the site of a famous execution may reveal more about Doyle’s own family than he could have ever imagined.

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One of Us
Tawni O'Dell

“A fearless exploration of the line between mental illness and true evil, a place many thriller writers visit but without the kind of fearless insights [Tawni] O’Dell reveals in this powerful novel” (The New York Times Book Review).

Dr. Sheridan Doyle—a fastidiously groomed and TV-friendly forensic psychologist—is the go-to shrink for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office whenever a twisted killer’s mind eludes other experts. But beneath his Armani pinstripes, he’s still Danny Doyle, the awkward, terrified, bullied boy from a blue-collar mining family, plagued by panic attacks and haunted by the tragic death of his little sister and mental unraveling of his mother years ago.

Returning to a hometown grappling with its own ghosts, Danny finds a dead body at the infamous Lost Creek gallows where a band of rebellious Irish miners was once executed. Strangely, the body is connected to the wealthy family responsible for the miners’ deaths. Teaming up with veteran detective Rafe, a father-like figure from his youth, Danny—in pursuit of a killer—comes dangerously close to startling truths about his family, his past, and himself.

With “poignant…achingly beautiful prose” (San Diego Union) and “rich, compassionate storytelling” (Entertainment Weekly), O’Dell weaves a masterful, thrilling tale reminiscent of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, where the past and present collide to put Lost Creek’s long-lived ghosts to bed.

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The Glass Forest
by Cynthia Swanson

It can be hard getting along with family, but Angie Glass has a particularly hard time with her niece, Ruby. After Ruby’s father kills himself and her mother goes missing, Angie accompanies her husband, Paul, to comfort the girl. However, Ruby is not one to be coddled, instead dissecting the state of affairs of her parents’ affairs in their absence. Both Angie and Ruby will come to find the dark secrets and the limits people will go to stay together . . . or to pull people apart. THE GLASS FOREST is the kind of slow burn that draws you in before turning the world upside down, leaving you suspended in shock and awe.

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The Glass Forest
Cynthia Swanson

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When No One Is Watching
by Alyssa Cole

Sydney Green is a Brooklyn native, distressed by the gentrification of her neighborhood. More and more, her neighbors are leaving for the suburbs, and Sydney finds herself allying with her neighbor Theo to try and keep the place’s history alive. But what if those neighbors haven’t moved away, but rather moved on from this mortal plane to make room for new, wealthier tenants? There’s something sinister at work in WHEN NO ONE IS WATCHING, and it’s not just the number of condos popping up. Dark, twisted, and poignant, this novel will have you thinking twice before dreamily browsing Zillow for dream apartments again.

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When No One Is Watching
Alyssa Cole

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