10 Suspenseful Book Club Picks That’ll Thrill You to the Core

Sara Roncero-Menendez
June 1 2022
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Let’s face it, there’s nothing set to kill a book club faster than a boring read. If you can’t get your fellow readers to make it through the chapters, all you’ll end up doing is nibbling on snacks and making polite small talk. The only cure? Books sure to have readers glued to the page with dark twists and surprising characters. So if you’re looking for a read sure to send shivers down your spine in the summer heat and get your book club actually talking about what’s happening on the page, here are ten books you must add to your TBR list.

The Foundling
by Ann Leary

When you think of suspense, one place your mind might go to is mental hospitals, where horror stories often take place. Nettleton State Village for Feebleminded Women of Childbearing Age is the setting for this book, where Mary Engle goes to work as a secretary. But what she finds is an old friend and a terrible secret that will put everything she knew about her world into question. At its heart, this novel is a dark exploration of eugenics, and of the lengths people will go to in order to see their goals and philosophies brought to life. But the most thrilling aspect of THE FOUNDLING is that it is based on a true story, told by author Ann Leary’s grandmother!

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The Foundling
Ann Leary

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Good House, the story of two friends, raised in the same orphanage, whose loyalty is put to the ultimate test when they meet years later at a controversial institution—one as an employee; the other, an inmate.

It’s 1927 and eighteen-year-old Mary Engle is hired to work as a secretary at a remote but scenic institution for mentally disabled women called the Nettleton State Village for Feebleminded Women of Childbearing Age. She’s immediately in awe of her employer—brilliant, genteel Dr. Agnes Vogel.

Dr. Vogel had been the only woman in her class in medical school. As a young psychiatrist she was an outspoken crusader for women’s suffrage. Now, at age forty, Dr. Vogel runs one of the largest and most self-sufficient public asylums for women in the country. Mary deeply admires how dedicated the doctor is to the poor and vulnerable women under her care.

Soon after she’s hired, Mary learns that a girl from her childhood orphanage is one of the inmates. Mary remembers Lillian as a beautiful free spirit with a sometimes-tempestuous side. Could she be mentally disabled? When Lillian begs Mary to help her escape, alleging the asylum is not what it seems, Mary is faced with a terrible choice. Should she trust her troubled friend with whom she shares a dark childhood secret? Mary’s decision triggers a hair-raising sequence of events with life-altering consequences for all.

Inspired by a true story about the author’s grandmother, The Foundling offers a rare look at a shocking chapter of American history. This gripping page-turner will have readers on the edge of their seats right up to the stunning last page…asking themselves, “Did this really happen here?”

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Notes on an Execution
by Danya Kukafka

Serial killings are all the rage, be they on TV, in film, or on podcasts. But NOTES ON AN EXECUTION manages to stand out from the tried-and-true narrative arcs of the serial killer genre by presenting both the killer’s perspective and those of the people around him. Ansel Packer is set to be executed in 12 hours for the brutal killings of a dozen women, but he’s not sorry—he’s just seeking to be understood. Three women—his mother, his wife’s twin sister, and the detective who is tormented by him and ultimately catches him—relay their pieces of his life story as a means of doing that. And if that weren’t all creepy enough, Danya Kukafka presents Ansel’s sections addressed to “you,” bringing the story, and this very disturbing character, all the closer to home.

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Notes on an Execution
Danya Kukafka

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Alys, Always
by Harriet Lane

Sometimes we get drawn into situations that are both deeply personal and intensely disturbing. For Frances, an editor with a humdrum life, it’s the witnessing of a fatal car crash, where she hears the final words of its victim, Alys Kyte. As Frances is the last person to have seen her alive, Alys’s family asks to speak with her, and Frances learns that the deceased woman was the wife of an acclaimed author. Soon, Frances enters a new world of literary hobnobbing and influence that she never could have dreamt, all for it to quickly take a dark turn. What makes ALYS, ALWAYS especially suspenseful is the inner look at Frances’s mind, which has a ruthlessness and perception that add to the ever-growing sense of dread.

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Alys, Always
Harriet Lane

From the author of Her, a suspenseful, assured literary debut that explores the dark side of desire and ambition through one woman's unlikely entry into an elite world and a destiny of her own design.On a bitter winter's night, Frances Thorpe comes upon the aftermath of a car crash and, while comforting the dying driver, Alys Kyte, hears her final words. The wife of a celebrated novelist, Alys moved in rarefied circles, and when Frances agrees to meet the bereaved family, she glimpses a world entirely foreign to her: cultured, wealthy, and privileged. While slowly forging a friendship with Alys’s carelessly charismatic daughter, Frances finds her own life takes a dramatic turn, propelling her from an anonymous existence as an assistant editor for the books section of a newspaper to the dizzying heights of literary society. With her unforgettable protagonist, author Harriet Lane draws readers into a tightly paced tale that careens towards an audacious ending. Transfixing, insightful, and unsettling, Alys, Always drops us into the mind of an enigmatic young woman whose perspective on a glamorous world also shines a light on those on the outside who would risk all to become part of it.

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The Well
by Catherine Chanter

Add a little variety to the standard suspenseful fare with THE WELL, a tale filled with magical realism and the ugliness of human nature. Ruth Ardingly is blessed or cursed, depending on how you look at it. Her farm, known as The Well, is flourishing and green, while the rest of her neighbors suffer from a terrible drought. It doesn’t take long for jealousy to fester, causing harassment from those around her, the government, and even a religious order known as the Sisters of the Rose. When tragedy inevitably strikes, Ruth ends up going to jail, only to return years later, trying to figure out what is at the heart of all this misery. As mystifying as is it horrifying, THE WELL will have you thinking about family in a whole new light.

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The Well
Catherine Chanter

Set in a modern-day Britain where water is running out everywhere except at the farm of one seemingly ordinary family whose mysterious good fortune leads to a shocking act of violence, The Well is “extraordinary...a mesmerizing read…combining a gripping mystery, nuanced psychological drama, and striking prose” (Publishers Weekly, starred review).

When Ruth Ardingly and her family make that first long drive up from the city in their grime-encrusted car and view The Well, they are enchanted by a jewel of a farm that appears to offer everything they need: an opportunity for Ruth, an escape for her husband, and a home for their grandson. But when the drought begins, everything changes. Surrounded by thirty acres of lush greenery, the farm mysteriously thrives while the world outside crumbles under the longest dry spell in recorded history. No one, including the owners, understands why.

But The Well’s unique glory comes at a terrible price. From the envy of their neighbors to the mandates of the government, from the fanaticism of a religious order called the Sisters of the Rose to the everyday difficulties of staying close as husband and wife, grandmother and child—all these forces lead to a shocking crime. Accusations of witchcraft, wrongdoing, and murder envelop the family until their paradise becomes a prison.

A beautifully written debut novel that “channels Margaret Atwood and Gillian Flynn, creating a story that’s speculative and suspenseful” (Minneapolis Star Tribune), The Well is an utterly haunting meditation on the fragile nature of our relationships with each other and the places we call home.

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The Other Black Girl
by Zakiya Dalila Harris

Standing out in a workplace isn’t always the best thing, but, unfortunately, there are situations where this is inevitable. Take Nella, the only Black employee in her publishing house, who is constantly othered by her coworkers. But there’s hope when Hazel, another Black woman, joins the company and is seated right next to Nella. However, as strange and threatening notes start appearing on Nella’s desk, she starts to wonder if Hazel might not be the lifeline she was hoping for. Full of surprises as well as unsettling realities of what it means to be a person of color in a predominantly white workplace, THE OTHER BLACK GIRL is sure to spark a number of important and introspective conversations.

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The Other Black Girl
Zakiya Dalila Harris

“Riveting, fearless, and vividly original” (Emily St. John Mandel, New York Times bestselling author), this instant New York Times bestseller explores 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. Having joined Wagner Books to honor the legacy of Burning Heart, a novel written and edited by two Black women, she had thought that this animosity was a relic of the past. Is Nella ready to take on the fight of a new generation?

“Poignant, daring, and darkly funny, The Other Black Girl will have you stressed and exhilarated in equal measure through the very last twist” (Vulture). The perfect read for anyone who has ever felt manipulated, threatened, or overlooked in the workplace.

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First Born
by Will Dean

There’s that whole trope of twins having a deeper connection than all other siblings, but it seems like the opposite is true for Molly and Katie. Molly is a shy young woman, living a highly structured life in England, kept safe by her various routines. Her sister, Katie, however, is an outgoing, party-loving woman living it up in New York. But after Katie’s murder, Molly finds out her sister had darker inclinations and seedier connections than Molly could have ever imagined. FIRST BORN is the kind of murder mystery where the victim is as much an enigma as the killer, which is even weirder when the would-be detective is someone with the same face.

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First Born
Will Dean

From the acclaimed author of The Last Thing to Burn, a psychological thriller about the dark secrets that emerge when a woman’s twin sister is murdered, with his signature “intense, gripping, taut, terrifying, moving, and brilliant” (Lisa Jewell, #1 New York Times bestselling author) prose.

Sisters. Soulmates. Strangers.

Molly Raven lives a quiet, structured life in London, finding comfort in security and routine. Her identical twin Katie, living in New York, is the exact opposite: outgoing, spontaneous, and adventurous.

But when Molly hears that Katie has died, possibly murdered, she is thrown into unfamiliar territory. As terrifying as it is, she knows she must travel across the ocean and find out what happened. But as she tracks her twin’s final movements, cracks begin to emerge, and she slowly realizes her sister was not who she thought she was and there’s a dangerous web of deceit surrounding the two of them.

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Cherish Farrah
by Bethany C. Morrow

Cherish and Farrah are the only Black girls at their local country club, but the two couldn’t be more different. Farrah is the daughter of a well-off Black family, while her best friend, Cherish, was adopted by a white family. When Farrah’s family faces a sudden and unexpected threat of foreclosure, she decides her best bet is to stay with Cherish and her family while everything gets sorted out. But the longer she stays with the family, the weirder things get—sudden illnesses, escalating tensions, strange dreams—all while Farrah is struggling to maintain her sense of control. A look at the intersections of race and class, CHERISH FARRAH starts pleasantly enough but gets grisly as the story progresses.

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Cherish Farrah
Bethany C. Morrow

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All I Want
by Darcey Bell

Buying a new home is a daunting process, not least of which because you never know what the previous tenants are leaving behind. When Emma’s husband, Ben, puts in an offer on a creepy Victorian home, the expectant mother is hoping for some safety for their budding family. But upon moving into the space, things begin to go sideways. Ben is growing ever distant, the house becomes dark and imposing, and Emma grows more and more paranoid about what they’ve gotten themselves into. A modern Gothic novel about what it means to build a home and a community, ALL I WANT is sure to make those late-night Zillow searches go from fun to frightening.

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All I Want
Darcey Bell

The New York Times bestselling author of A Simple Favor brings her “sly, satirical, subversive” (L.S. Hilton, author of Ultima) prose to a pitch-perfect psychological suspense novel about a young couple whose disintegrating marriage and remote new home in rural, upstate New York make for a terrifying descent into the darker side of human nature.

When Emma’s husband, Ben, falls in love with a large Victorian mansion for sale in upstate New York, he swears to her the fixer-upper will be worth the risk. With a baby on the way, Emma would like to live in a charming, safe community, after all—and in a space larger than a one-bedroom New York City apartment. On impulse, she agrees to Ben’s plan and they put in an offer on the house.

Sure, the mansion has a somewhat creepy backstory and is a bit dilapidated, but Emma and Ben are in this together, aren’t they? When strange things start happening, Emma begins to experience a little buyer’s remorse. What’s the real history of this house? Is its dark history repeating itself? Why does her husband suddenly seem so distant? Is she in danger? Is her baby?

Combining the domestic anxiety of Liane Moriarty and the haunting twists and turns of Shirley Jackson, All I Want is an intensely absorbing novel that will change the way you look at your neighbors.

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The Violin Conspiracy
by Brendan Slocumb

It’s the little possessions that can bring us joy, things that hold a lot of sentimental value. For the gifted Ray McMillian, that object is his PopPop’s fiddle, which was given to him by his former master when PopPop was a slave. And while it needs a lot of love and work, violin prodigy Ray loves it and gets it back in playing condition . . . only to discover that it’s a Stradivarius worth a whole lot of money. Still, Ray won’t part with it, using it to prepare for the prestigious Tchaikovsky Competition, which would change his life. But this is a thriller, so something horrible has to happen, and it does—two weeks before the competition, the violin is taken for ransom. THE VIOLIN CONSPIRACY might seem like a simple whodunit, but the story deals with issues of race, class, duty, and desire, and it will definitely pull at your heartstrings.

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The Violin Conspiracy
Brendan Slocumb

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The Night She Disappeared
by Lisa Jewell

Leave it to Lisa Jewell to create one of the most gripping missing-girl stories in the genre. Nineteen-year-old Tallulah disappears one night in 2017, leaving behind her mom and her baby daughter. Two years later, Sophie comes to work as head teacher at a local school in the village where Tallulah disappeared, only to find a sign on a tree in her backyard with the ominous words “DIG HERE” written on it. THE NIGHT SHE DISAPPEARED is a story of dueling perspectives, one of a mother desperately searching for her daughter and the other of a teacher in way over her head. With every new revelation, the narrative gets harder to put down, the perfect choice for a book club in need of a little thrill ride.

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The Night She Disappeared
Lisa Jewell

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Then She Was Gone comes “her best thriller yet” (Harlan Coben, New York Times bestselling author) about a young couple’s disappearance on a gorgeous summer night, and the mother who will never give up trying to find them.

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 place 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?

“Utterly gripping with richly drawn, hugely compelling characters, this is a first-class thriller with heart” (Lucy Foley, New York Times bestselling author) that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

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