8 Character-Driven Thrillers for Fans of The Last Thing He Told Me

June 22 2022
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Last year, Laura Dave’s THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME was by far the most popular book of summer. It topped the list in May, June, and July. And while predicting the next summer blockbuster is a tough game to play, I think these eight novels have a lot in common with Laura Dave’s hit. They beautifully balance excitement and fear, contain premises that hook you right from the start, and employ subtle thriller elements that’ll keep you turning the pages. These are my worthy contenders for your 2022 beach read—including both new releases and old gems you may have missed from previous years!

Reputation
by Sarah Vaughan

I loved how the secrets kept piling up in THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME until you didn’t know who you could trust! The secrets in Sarah Vaughan’s REPUTATION are equally thrilling, and the stakes are just as high. Emma Webster’s political career as a member of parliament relies on the approving gaze of the public. So, when a journalist with scandalous information on her is found injured in her house, Emma’s character and career are put in jeopardy. To protect herself, her family, and the important laws she’s attempting to pass, Emma must use grit, intelligence, and connections in her own court case. Along with an intriguing mystery, the character explorations in this book are gripping: Emma’s daughter struggles against school bullies; there’s Emma’s own chaotic relationship with her ex-husband and his new wife (who also happens to be an ex–best friend), and also her mysterious past with a reporter who’s the catalyst for the whole story. 

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Reputation
Sarah Vaughan

“Astonishingly timely and clever, it’s also utterly gripping.” —Lucy Foley, #1 New York Times bestselling author

“Sarah Vaughan has done it again. Superb.” —Shari Lapena, New York Times bestselling author

The bestselling author of Anatomy of a Scandal—now a hit Netflix series—returns with a new psychological thriller about a politician whose less-than-perfect personal life is thrust into the spotlight when a body is discovered in her home.

As a politician, Emma has sacrificed a great deal for her career—including her marriage and her relationship with her daughter, Flora.

A former teacher, the glare of the spotlight is unnerving for Emma, particularly when it leads to countless insults, threats, and trolling as she tries to work in the public eye. As a woman, she knows her reputation is worth its weight in gold but as a politician, she discovers it only takes one slip-up to destroy it completely.

Fourteen-year-old Flora is learning the same hard lessons at school as she encounters heartless bullying. When another teenager takes her own life, Emma lobbies for a new law to protect women and girls from the effects of online abuse. Now, Emma and Flora find their personal lives uncomfortably intersected…but then the unthinkable happens.

A man is found dead in Emma’s home. A man she had every reason to be afraid of and to want gone. Fighting to protect her reputation, and determined to protect her family at all costs, Emma is pushed to the limits as the worst happens and her life is torn apart.

Another breathless and twisty novel from an absolute “master of suspense” (CrimeReads), Reputation brilliantly illustrates that it isn’t who you are that matters…it’s who people think you are.

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The Summer We Lost Her
by Tish Cohen

Sure, THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME starts off with a disappearance, but rather than center the story exclusively on getting to the truth, Laura Dave expertly utilizes the disappearance to explore the intricacies of relationships—between husband and wife through flashbacks and between mother and daughter in present time. Another author who uses the thriller plot to deftly explore characters in depth is Tish Cohen. In THE SUMMER WE LOST HER, Elise and Matt Sorenson have already been feeling the strain on their marriage when their daughter disappears on a family vacation in the Adirondacks. The disappearance forces them to confront their unhappiness, their future, and their lakefront community. At the same time, the story explores the painful ways that memories can bend and break in the wake of a tragedy.

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The Summer We Lost Her
Tish Cohen

For fans of Jodi Picoult and Anna Quindlen, comes an “astonishingly profound…exquisitely written drama” (Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You) about a husband and a wife, a missing child, and the complicated family secrets that can derail even the best of marriages.

It’s been a busy—and expensive—few years for Matt and Elise Sorenson and their young daughter Gracie, whom they affectionately call Little Green. Matt, a Manhattan lawyer, has just been offered a partnership, and Elise’s equestrian ambitions as a competitive dressage rider may finally vault her into the Olympics. But her long absences from home and endless hours of training have strained their relationships nearly to the breaking point.

Now they’re up in the Adirondacks, preparing to sell the valuable lakefront cabin that’s been in Matt’s family for generations. Both he and Elise agree it’s time to let it go. But as they navigate the memories the cabin holds—and come face to face with Matt’s teenage crush, now an unnervingly attractive single mother living right next door—Gracie disappears without a trace.

Faced with the possibility that they’ll never see their daughter again, Elise and Matt struggle to come to terms with what their future may bring. The fate of the family property, the history of this not-so-tiny town, and the limits of Matt and Elise’s love for each other are inextricably bound up with Gracie’s disappearance. Everything for the Sorenson family is about to change—the messy tangle of their past, the harrowing truth of their present, and whether or not their love will survive a parent’s worst nightmare.

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No One Knows
by J.T. Ellison

If you’re up for another thriller plot where the husband disappears and his past deeds reveal themselves through a thrilling web of information, then you’ll love this one! Aubrey Hamilton’s husband has been missing for five years, and while still trying to puzzle out what happened to him and grieving through it all, she becomes the prime suspect. When Aubrey’s husband is finally declared dead, Aubrey keeps digging for answers— particularly, as a beguiling new stranger comes into her life. As with THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME, the desire to uncover what happens will pull you through, as each flashback reveals tantalizing new details.

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No One Knows
J.T. Ellison

With the same page-turning suspense as The Girl on the Train and The Husband’s Secret, New York Times bestselling author J.T. Ellison’s No One Knows is a “riveting…skillfully plotted” (Publishers Weekly) thriller that questions if the narrator’s husband really has returned from the dead—or if she’s merely losing her mind.

Aubrey Hamilton has been mourning her missing husband for five years, despite being even while she was considered the prime suspect in his murder. But when he is officially declared dead, there are still more questions than answers: Why didn’t Josh show up at his friend’s bachelor party? Was he murdered, or did he run away? And who is the new, mysterious and strangely familiar figureman suddenly appearing in Aubrey’s life? And has she finally lost her mind after years of loneliness and confusion?

No One Knows is an evocative mystery that explores the complex darkness within all of us, perfect for fans of Gillian Flynn, Liane Moriarty, and Paula Hawkins.

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The Eye of Jade
by Diane Wei Liang

Hannah Hall sure did do a good job of putting on her detective hat in THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME—but even still she was an amateur. If you’re ready to follow the sleuthing of a more practiced caliber, THE EYE OF JADE is for you. Beijing’s first female private investigator Mei Wang is tasked with her most expensive case yet: to find a jade piece believed to have been looted by the Red Guards during China’s Cultural Revolution. Hunting high and low through China, Mei begins to uncover secrets about her own family while getting over the man she once loved.

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The Eye of Jade
Diane Wei Liang

Mei Wang is a modern, independent woman whose intuition and curiosity make her Beijing's first successful female private investigator. When Mei is hired to find a Han dynasty jade of great value, the search leads her through banquet halls and back alleys, seedy gambling dens, and cheap noodle bars near the Forbidden City.

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More Than You'll Ever Know
by Katie Gutierrez

With a title and premise equally as alluring as THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME, this debut, where the events unfold in alternating story lines, is a fantastic pick for a summer read. One story, in 1985, follows Lore Rivera, whose international banking job allows her to move between Mexico and America (and her two separate, unsuspecting families in each, as well) with relative ease. The other story follows true-crime writer Cassie Bowman, in 2017, as she attempts to track down the twisted, tragic truth behind Lore Rivera’s secrets, secrets which might unravel her own. With double the time lines, there’s double the family drama, and this one doesn’t hold back. 

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More Than You'll Ever Know
Katie Gutierrez

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The Perfect Family
by Robyn Harding

The premise of this thriller is just so good that it’ll completely reel you in. As the title implies, Viv and Thomas, the couple who head the perfect Adler family, are polite, attractive, successful, and have no cause for a fight. So, who keeps egging their porch? And why do the pranks keep ramping up to a frighting level? As the perpetrators’ work turns violent, the Adlers’ attempt to investigate—and realize that every single one of their family members (including their two children) has dirty secrets they’ve been hiding behind.

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The Perfect Family
Robyn Harding

The bestselling author of the The Swap explores what happens when a seemingly perfect family is pushed to the edge... and beyond in this “propulsive, constantly surprising” (Laurie Elizabeth Flynn, author of The Girls Are All So Nice Here) thriller.

Thomas and Viv Adler are the envy of their neighbors: attractive, successful, with well-mannered children and a beautifully restored home.

Until one morning, when they wake up to find their porch has been pelted with eggs. It’s a prank, Thomas insists; the work of a few out-of-control kids. But when a smoke bomb is tossed on their front lawn, and their car’s tires are punctured, the family begins to worry. Surveillance cameras show nothing but grainy images of shadowy figures in hoodies. And the police dismiss the attacks, insisting they’re just the work of bored teenagers. Unable to identify the perpetrators, the Adlers are helpless as the assaults escalate into violence, and worse. And each new violation brings with it a growing fear. Because everyone in the Adler family is keeping a secret—not just from the outside world, but from each other. And secrets can be very dangerous….

This twisty, addictively page-turning suspense novel about a perfect family’s perfect façade will keep you turning pages until its explosive ending.

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All Her Little Secrets
by Wanda M. Morris

With a vibe similar to How to Get Away with Murder, this fast-paced legal mystery is about a Black lawyer, Ellice, who discovers her white married boyfriend, Michael, shot dead—and she just walks away from the scene. We’re given this intriguing opening, and then left to squirm as Ellice continues pretending that everything’s fine. Even as she’s promoted to replace her now-dead ex, even as rumors among her colleagues spread, and even as her new promotion makes her privy to unethical company practices that may hold answers to who killed Michael. Complete with conspiracies, past family secrets, and present moral conundrums, this book will keep you on the edge of your seat, beach towel, hammock, etc.

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All Her Little Secrets
Wanda M. Morris

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Small Admissions
by Amy Poeppel

While this isn’t exactly a thriller, it’s one that you’ll nevertheless devour, and might even find yourself slightly thrilled by, since it involves the escapades of navigating the prep school admissions process in NYC. When Kate Pearson’s (no connection to This Is Us) postgrad life devolves into a chaotic firestorm, she resorts to moping. But when her sister lands her a job in the admissions office of Hudson Day School, her new fast-paced (and sometimes hilarious) work life and loving support of friends and family begin to pull her out of her rut. Just as THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME explored relationships other than romantic ones, SMALL ADMISSIONS explores the connections built between friends and family.

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Small Admissions
Amy Poeppel

People’s Book of the Week

“Perfect for fans of Curtis Sittenfeld's Prep.” —Booklist

Top 6 Books You Need to Read —BuzzFeed

Best Books to Give Every Book Lover on Your List —Town & Country

In this witty, hilarious, and entertaining novel that’s “The Devil Wears Prada meets Primates of Park Avenue” (The New York Times), a young woman is unexpectedly thrust into the cutthroat world of New York City private school admissions, from award-winning author Amy Poeppel.

Despite her innate ambition and summa cum laude smarts, Kate Pearson has turned into a major slacker. After being unceremoniously dumped by her handsome “almost fiancé,” she abandons her plans and instead spends her days lolling on the couch, watching reruns of Sex and the City. Her friends don’t know what to do other than pass tissues and hope for a comeback, while her practical sister, Angela, pushes every remedy she can think of, from trapeze class to therapy to job interviews.

Miraculously, Kate manages to land a job in the admissions department at the revered Hudson Day School. In her new position Kate learns there’s no time for self-pity or nonsense during the thick of the admissions season, or what her colleagues refer to as “the dark time.” As the process revs up, Kate meets smart kids who are unlikable, likeable kids who aren’t very smart, and Park Avenue parents who refuse to take no for an answer. Through a comical and crazy run of wildly unpredictable interviews, subtle bribes, outright threats, final judgments, and page-turning twists, the highly competitive and occasionally absurd world of private school admissions is brought to light in all of its outrageous glory that is reminiscent of Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep.

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The Last Thing He Told Me
by Laura Dave

And, of course, a reread of THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME is always a good idea!

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The Last Thing He Told Me
Laura Dave

From internationally bestselling author Laura Dave comes a riveting new suspense novel about a woman’s search for the truth about her husband’s disappearance—no matter the cost.

We all have stories we never tell.

Before Owen Michaels disappears, he manages to smuggle a note to his beloved wife of one year: Protect her. Despite her confusion and fear, Hannah Hall knows exactly to whom the note refers: Owen’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Bailey. Bailey, who lost her mother tragically as a child. Bailey, who wants absolutely nothing to do with her new stepmother.

As Hannah’s increasingly desperate calls to Owen go unanswered; as the FBI arrests Owen’s boss; as a US Marshal and FBI agents arrive at her Sausalito home unannounced, Hannah quickly realizes her husband isn’t who he said he was. And that Bailey just may hold the key to figuring out Owen’s true identity—and why he really disappeared.

Hannah and Bailey set out to discover the truth, together. But as they start putting together the pieces of Owen’s past, they soon realize they are also building a new future. One neither Hannah nor Bailey could have anticipated.

With its breakneck pacing, dazzling plot twists, and unforgettable characters, The Last Thing He Told Me is bestselling author Laura Dave’s finest novel yet, certain to shock you with its final, heartbreaking turn. This propulsive thriller with a heart is for fans of Liane Moriarty and Jojo Moyes.

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Photo credit: Simon & Schuster

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