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10 Evocative Thrillers with the Power to Break Your Heart

Sara Roncero-Menendez
October 12 2021
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Has a thriller ever devastated you? I mean, really brought you to the edge of your seat before ripping your heart out and stomping all over it? There’s nothing quite as satisfying as the kind of read that shatters both your spirit and your expectations all at once, and yet keeps you coming back for more. If you’re looking for the kind of spine-tingling read that’ll tug at your heartstrings, look no further than these ten thrillers.

Plus, enter for a chance to win a killer prize pack of one Apple iPad Mini ™ and eleven thriller audiobooks!

The Night She Disappeared
by Lisa Jewell

Thrill master Lisa Jewell is never one to disappoint, with her multitude of characters and heart-stopping twists. Her latest novel, THE NIGHT SHE DISAPPEARED, only serves to further cement that reputation. What thrills and terrors could await in an idyllic English cottage? Newly-moved-in writer Sophie certainly isn’t expecting a dark mystery in her own backyard. But when she finds a note on a tree that reads “Dig here,” she gets sucked into the dark intrigue of what happened to a young couple, and what happened to them on these haunted grounds. The twists don’t stop coming until the very end, leaving your heart in tatters.

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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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A Head Full of Ghosts
by Paul Tremblay

Full disclosure: this book’s ending was so intense, I physically threw my copy across the room and still have the dent in the wall to prove it. That’s just how invested you’ll get in the characters of A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS. Merry Barrett is haunted by the memory of her teenage sister, Marjorie, who the family believed had become possessed. In dire financial straits, the Barretts agree to become the center of a reality TV show focusing on the possession. From Majorie’s strange behavior to the unsettling supernatural occurrences leading up to a heartbreaking ending, this book goes hard on both the thrills and chills.

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A Head Full of Ghosts
Paul Tremblay

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Little Broken Things
by Nicole Baart

What would you do if an estranged family member suddenly showed up at your door with a child and instructed you to take care of them? That’s the dilemma Quinn faces when her aloof sister, Nora, comes bearing a little girl named Lucy and asks Quinn to take care of her before abruptly leaving. Oh, and she can’t tell anyone Lucy is there, not even to ask for help. LITTLE BROKEN THINGS takes an already uncomfortable and mysterious situation and cranks the thrills to the extreme. While Quinn has to figure out who Lucy is and what trouble they’re all in, Nora is in over her head and struggling to keep those she loves safe from the oncoming storm.

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Little Broken Things
Nicole Baart

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The Other Black Girl
by Zakiya Dalila Harris

Twenty-six-year-old editorial assistant Nella faces an unfortunate situation many people face in the working world: being the only Black woman in her office. Everything changes when Hazel arrives on the scene, and the two hit it off right away. Or, at least, so it would seem. Because soon, Nella finds herself on the out, with threatening messages being left on her desk to clear out for good. Could Hazel be behind these cruel threats or is there something bigger at play? THE OTHER BLACK GIRL is the kind of obsessive, paranoid thriller that will keep you up at night, with just enough social commentary to have you emotionally devastated at every turn of the knife.

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The Other Black Girl
Zakiya Dalila Harris

“Riveting, fearless, and vividly original. This is an exciting debut.” —Emily St. John Mandel, New York Times bestselling author of The Glass Hotel

Get Out meets The Devil Wears Prada in this electric debut about the tension that unfurls when two young Black women meet against the starkly white backdrop of New York City book publishing.

Twenty-six-year-old editorial assistant Nella Rogers is tired of being the only Black employee at Wagner Books. Fed up with the isolation and microaggressions, she’s thrilled when Harlem-born and bred Hazel starts working in the cubicle beside hers. They’ve only just started comparing natural hair care regimens, though, when a string of uncomfortable events elevates Hazel to Office Darling, and Nella is left in the dust.

Then the notes begin to appear on Nella’s desk: LEAVE WAGNER. NOW.

It’s hard to believe Hazel is behind these hostile messages. But as Nella starts to spiral and obsess over the sinister forces at play, she soon realizes that there’s a lot more at stake than just her career.

A whip-smart and dynamic thriller and sly social commentary that is perfect for anyone who has ever felt manipulated, threatened, or overlooked in the workplace, The Other Black Girl will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last twist.

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Quiet Dell
by Jayne Anne Phillips

Not all knights in shining armor are as chivalrous as they seem. Harry Powers was one such man for Asta Eicher, a widowed mother of three in need of money living in 1930s Chicago. However, this fairytale comes to a quick and gruesome end when Asta and her children end up dead. The murder trial is a frenzy, with reporter Emily Thornhill chomping at the bit to figure out what exactly happened to this beautiful family. Based on the true story of a widow-swindling con man, QUIET DELL is a heartbreaking story of a family looking to survive, the villain looking to make off with whatever he can, and a reporter looking to make sense of a mad world.

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Quiet Dell
Jayne Anne Phillips

A female journalist in 1930s Chicago investigates the sudden deaths of a woman and her three children. Is the charming man who promised to marry her and provide for her and her children involved? Based on the crimes of a real con man, Phillips crafts a mesmerizing and moving hunt for justice.

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House on Fire
by Bonnie Kistler

Getting remarried is never easy, especially when it means blending two families. However, divorce lawyer Leigh thinks she and her second husband, Pete, are pulling it off pretty well. That is, until Pete’s son Kip gets in a car accident that leaves Leigh’s daughter Chrissy dead. HOUSE ON FIRE pulls no punches, literally breaking your heart right from the outset with a devastating premise. It’s made all the worse though when Kip changes his story, saying that Chrissy was driving and that he can prove it. A family is torn apart by shifting alliances, dark secrets, and endless heartbreak, and you’ll find yourself crying right along with them.

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House on Fire
Bonnie Kistler

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The Eighth Girl
by Maxine Mei-Fung Chung

Alexa Wú has a complicated life: she’s a photojournalist, an abuse survivor, and a patient suffering from dissociative amnesia and several alternate personalities. Things only grow more chaotic as Alexa’s best friend, Ella, works at a seedy club where the owner, Navid, is up to no good. The two vow to take him down, but there’s danger around every corner, and Alexa struggles to keep herself and her best friend safe, a task made worse when her personalities keep getting in the way. Chung is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist, which makes the portrayal of Alexa’s condition all the more heartbreaking. A must-read for fans of psychological thrillers!

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The Eighth Girl
Maxine Mei-Fung Chung

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The Last Thing to Burn
by Will Dean

All the books on this list are captivating in their own way, but only LAST THING TO BURN will make you feel like you’re being held captive. The novel follows Thanh Dao, a woman who arrives in the UK and is kidnapped by an abusive man named Lenn. Trapped on his farm, under constant surveillance, “Jane,” as she is renamed by Lenn, is forced to comply with his every demand for seven years as he threatens to hurt her sister if she disobeys him. However, when “Jane” ends up pregnant, she works on a means of escape, a plan complicated by the appearance of a second kidnapped woman on the farm. A brutal story of one woman’s resilience and bravery in the face of danger, this book will not let you go until the very last sentence.

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The Last Thing to Burn
Will Dean

“Immediate, intense, gripping, taut, terrifying, moving, and brilliant.” —Lisa Jewell, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Invisible Girl

“Brilliantly written...terrifying.”—Ruth Ware, #1 New York Times bestselling author of One by One

A woman being held captive is willing to risk everything to save herself, her unborn child, and her captor’s latest victim in this “intense, dark, and utterly chilling” (Jennifer Hillier, author of ​Jar of Hearts) thriller in the tradition of Misery and Room.

On an isolated farm in the United Kingdom, a woman is trapped by the monster who kidnapped her seven years ago. When she discovers she is pregnant, she resolves to protect her child, no matter the cost, and starts to meticulously plot her escape. But when another woman is brought into the fold on the farm, her plans go awry. Can she save herself, her child, and this innocent woman at the same time? Or is she doomed to spend the remainder of her life as a captive?

Intense, dark, and utterly gripping The Last Thing to Burn “explores the resilience of the human spirit, even in the face of unfathomable evil. This harrowing journey is one worth taking” (Publishers Weekly).

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Close
What Was Mine
by Helen Klein Ross

One decision has the power to change so many people’s lives. When Lucy, a successful businesswoman who has trouble conceiving, kidnaps a baby during a trip to IKEA, the effects ripple outward for decades. The story follows Lucy; the baby’s mother, Marilyn; and grown-up Mia as the truth comes to light, for better and for worse. And while this might seem like a cut-and-dry story of a kidnapping, each of these characters is written in such a devastating and relatable way, that you won’t know what to feel by the end. WHAT WAS MINE is the kind of novel that will have your stomach tied in knots and leave you with hard questions to answer about how far you’d go for love and family.

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What Was Mine
Helen Klein Ross

“A suspenseful, moving look at twisted maternal love and the limits of forgiveness.” —People

“Not only a terrific, spellbinding read but a fascinating meditation on the choices we make and the way we love.” —Elin Hilderbrand, New York Times bestselling author

Simply told but deeply affecting, in the bestselling tradition of Alice McDermott and Tom Perrotta, this urgent novel unravels the heartrending yet unsentimental tale of a woman who kidnaps a baby in a superstore—and gets away with it for twenty-one years.

Lucy Wakefield is a seemingly ordinary woman who does something extraordinary in a desperate moment: she takes a baby girl from a shopping cart and raises her as her own. It’s a secret she manages to keep for over two decades—from her daughter, the babysitter who helped raise her, family, coworkers, and friends.

When Lucy’s now-grown daughter Mia discovers the devastating truth of her origins, she is overwhelmed by confusion and anger and determines not to speak again to the mother who raised her. She reaches out to her birth mother for a tearful reunion, and Lucy is forced to flee to China to avoid prosecution. What follows is a ripple effect that alters the lives of many and challenges our understanding of the very meaning of motherhood.

Author Helen Klein Ross, whose work has appeared in The New Yorker, weaves a powerful story of upheaval and resilience told from the alternating perspectives of Lucy, Mia, Mia’s birth mother, and others intimately involved in the kidnapping. What Was Mine is a compelling tale of motherhood and loss, of grief and hope, and the life-shattering effects of a single, irrevocable moment.

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The Guest List
by Lucy Foley

There are some characters so wretched, so evil, you’re glad to see them get exactly what they deserve. The murder victim in Lucy Foley’s THE GUEST LIST is no exception. During a wedding on a remote Irish island, we come to find out that someone involved in the wedding has done an immeasurable amount of harm to several characters. From cheating to stealing, to downright illegal activities, this character is truly the worst of the worst. Your heart will break for every single one of these potential murderers as the truth is uncovered and you learn how they have suffered. Each twist only adds to the ever-mounting tension in this whodunit, and the twist is one you’re unlikely to see coming.

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The Guest List
Lucy Foley

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MENTIONED IN:

New in Paperback: 9 October Reads More Exhilarating Than a Haunted House

By Alice Martin | October 18, 2021

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By Sara Roncero-Menendez | October 15, 2021

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By Off the Shelf Staff | October 14, 2021

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By Sara Roncero-Menendez | October 12, 2021

10 Historical Novels Perfect for Crisp Autumn Nights

By Chris Gaudio | October 11, 2021

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Photo credit: iStock / finwal

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