10 Philosophical Suspense Reads That’ll Get Under Your Skin

Sara Roncero-Menendez
October 19 2022
Share 10 Philosophical Suspense Reads That’ll Get Under Your Skin

While it’s all well and good to pick up a light read that lets you wind down your brain for a while, sometimes you’re in the mood for something else. Less popcorn and more a four-course meal in book form. Something that asks big questions and gives you a lot to chew on. Well, if you’re looking for a thriller with deep themes, or just some suspense that questions what common sense is, then here are ten books you won’t want to pass up.

We Spread
by Iain Reid

As much as we might not want to admit it, getting old is scary. Losing our family and friends as well as our faculties can be a harrowing experience for anyone. For Penny, this process seems to be alleviated by the thoughtfulness of her longtime partner before their death, as she is set up in a special and seemingly empowering long-term care home. But as Penny finds she’s beginning to lose more and more time, she wonders if there’s not something more sinister at play. WE SPREAD examines ideas of the self and the disconnect between mind and body, and also the relationships that we hold dear.

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We Spread
Iain Reid

The author of the “evocative, spine-tingling, and razor-sharp” (Bustle) I’m Thinking of Ending Things that inspired the Netflix original movie and the “short, shocking psychological three-hander” (The Guardian) Foe returns with a new work of philosophical suspense.

Penny, an artist, has lived in the same apartment for decades, surrounded by the artifacts and keepsakes of her long life. She is resigned to the mundane rituals of old age, until things start to slip. Before her longtime partner passed away years earlier, provisions were made, unbeknownst to her, for a room in a unique long-term care residence, where Penny finds herself after one too many “incidents.”

Initially, surrounded by peers, conversing, eating, sleeping, looking out at the beautiful woods that surround the house, all is well. She even begins to paint again. But as the days start to blur together, Penny—with a growing sense of unrest and distrust—starts to lose her grip on the passage of time and on her place in the world. Is she succumbing to the subtly destructive effects of aging, or is she an unknowing participant in something more unsettling?

At once compassionate and uncanny, told in spare, hypnotic prose, Iain Reid’s genre-defying third novel explores questions of conformity, art, productivity, relationships, and what, ultimately, it means to grow old.

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The Need
by Helen Phillips

Being a mom is no easy task, but it’s even harder when you’re trying to protect your children from a monster you can’t even see. THE NEED follows Molly, who begins to hear footsteps while alone with her two young children. At first, she chalks it up to no sleep and stress, but it becomes clear something is really out to get them. But is she actually perceiving a threat, or has she lost her mind? This novel is chock-full of questions about what it means to be a mother, what to do in the face of danger, and how much you can take before you finally snap.

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The Need
Helen Phillips

***LONGLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD IN FICTION***

“An extraordinary and dazzlingly original work from one of our most gifted and interesting writers” (Emily St. John Mandel, author of The Glass Hotel). The Need, which finds a mother of two young children grappling with the dualities of motherhood after confronting a masked intruder in her home, is “like nothing you’ve ever read before…in a good way” (People).

When Molly, home alone with her two young children, hears footsteps in the living room, she tries to convince herself it’s the sleep deprivation. She’s been hearing things these days. Startling at loud noises. Imagining the worst-case scenario. It’s what mothers do, she knows.

But then the footsteps come again, and she catches a glimpse of movement.

Suddenly Molly finds herself face-to-face with an intruder who knows far too much about her and her family. As she attempts to protect those she loves most, Molly must also acknowledge her own frailty. Molly slips down an existential rabbit hole where she must confront the dualities of motherhood: the ecstasy and the dread; the languor and the ferocity; the banality and the transcendence as the book hurtles toward a mind-bending conclusion.

In The Need, Helen Phillips has created a subversive, speculative thriller that comes to life through blazing, arresting prose and gorgeous, haunting imagery. “Brilliant” (Entertainment Weekly), “grotesque and lovely” (The New York Times Book Review, Editor’s Choice), and “wildly captivating” (O, The Oprah Magazine), The Need is a glorious celebration of the bizarre and beautiful nature of our everyday lives and “showcases an extraordinary writer at her electrifying best” (Publishers Weekly, starred review).

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Complicity
by Iain Banks

There’s nothing wrong with rooting for the underdog—that’s what sports movies from the 1990s are all about! But champion of the underdog and investigative reporter Cameron Colley finds himself in a tricky position when the evil men he’s interviewed and is working to expose get brutally murdered. Is it justified to kill the wicked? Or do two wrongs really not make a right? Colley must contend with these questions as he hunts for the killer to clear his name. COMPLICITY tackles the hard questions about what it means to be complicit in a world full of bad people, and what can be done about it.

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Complicity
Iain Banks

COMPLICITY n. 1. the fact of being an accomplice, esp. in a criminal act
Local journalist Cameron Colley writes articles that are idealistic, from the viewpoint of the underdog. A twisted serial killer seems to have the same MO -- he commits brutal murders on behalf of the underdog. As the two stories begin to merge, Cameron finds himself inextricably and inexplicably implicated by the killer.
When the arms dealer whom Cameron plans to expose is found literally "disarmed" before Cameron can even put pen to paper and the brewery chief, loathed by Cameron, who sold out at the expense of his workers finds himself permanently unemployable, the police become convinced of Cameron's guilt, as do half his friends and colleagues, forcing Cameron to employ all his investigative skills to find the real killer and his motive.

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The Only Good Indians
by Stephen Graham Jones

Stephen Graham Jones is a master of mixing social commentary with spine-chilling horror, and THE ONLY GOOD INDIANS is one of the best examples of this. The novel follows four friends who are being persecuted by a vengeful deer after they commit a youthful indiscretion while hunting. As each of the four come face-to-face with the consequences of their actions, the prejudice, discrimination, and microaggressions that haunt them are revealed as well. Dark, thrilling, and heartbreaking, this novel will have you seeing the world in a different light.

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The Only Good Indians
Stephen Graham Jones

A USA TODAY BESTSELLER
A Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year

In this latest novel from Stephen Graham Jones comes a “heartbreakingly beautiful story” (Library Journal, starred review) of revenge, cultural identity, and the cost of breaking from tradition.

Seamlessly blending classic horror and a dramatic narrative with sharp social commentary, The Only Good Indians is “a masterpiece. Intimate, devastating, brutal, terrifying, warm, and heartbreaking in the best way” (Paul Tremblay, author of A Head Full of Ghosts). This novel follows four American Indian men after a disturbing event from their youth puts them in a desperate struggle for their lives. Tracked by an entity bent on revenge, these childhood friends are helpless as the culture and traditions they left behind catch up to them in violent, vengeful ways. Labeled “one of 2020’s buzziest horror novels” (Entertainment Weekly), this is a remarkable horror story “will give you nightmares—the good kind of course” (BuzzFeed).

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The Hole
by Hye-young Pyun

When Oghi awakens from a coma and finds himself both paralyzed and a widower, it seems like things can’t get much worse. But as his caretaker, who is his wife’s mother, begins to start digging massive holes in his wife’s beloved garden, Oghi slowly realizes there’s something horribly amiss (and maybe not just with his mother-in-law). Part meditation on grief, part unreliable narrator’s descent into madness, THE HOLE may be short but it’s got a lot more buried under the surface.

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The Hole
Hye-young Pyun

Winner of the Shirley Jackson Award. Named One of the Top 10 Thrillers to Read This Summer by Time Magazine. Misery meets The Vegetarian in this psychological thriller about loneliness and the dark truths we try to bury.

In this tense, gripping novel by a star of Korean literature, Oghi has woken from a coma after causing a devastating car accident that took his wife's life and left him paralyzed and badly disfigured. His caretaker is his mother-in-law, a widow grieving the loss of her only child. Oghi is neglected and left alone in his bed. His world shrinks to the room he lies in and his memories of his troubled relationship with his wife, a sensitive, intelligent woman who found all of her life goals thwarted except for one: cultivating the garden in front of their house.

But soon Oghi notices his mother-in-law in the abandoned garden, uprooting what his wife had worked so hard to plant and obsessively digging larger and larger holes. When asked, she answers only that she is finishing what her daughter started.

A bestseller in Korea, The Hole is a superbly crafted and deeply unnerving novel about the horrors of isolation and neglect in all of its banal and brutal forms. As Oghi desperately searches for a way to escape, he discovers the difficult truth about his wife and the toll their life together took on her.

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One of Us
by Tawni O'Dell

Family can be a killer . . . and sometimes literally. For Dr. Sheridan Doyle, a serial killer expert and psychologist, this is a concept burned into his psyche as he returns to the small town where he grew up. And wouldn’t you know it, just as he returns, he finds a dead body belonging to the wealthiest family in town. Teaming up with Detective Rafe, Doyle must figure out who committed such a heinous act without unearthing all the secrets and trauma he’s buried. Exploring themes of family, connection, and the power of cruelty, ONE OF US will have you questioning whether you really need to go to that high school reunion after all.

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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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Rose Madder
by Stephen King

It should be no surprise that Stephen King is on this list. After all, with a bibliography as long and as varied as his, there are a lot of big ideas at play. ROSE MADDER presents a dark, twisted tale of abuse and obsession that will have you questioning your sense of right and wrong. Rosie is an abused housewife who finally gets the opportunity and courage to run away and start anew. But her husband, Norman, is a predator through and through, and he will stop at nothing to bring her under his heel again, even chasing her across the country. To survive, Rosie must lean into her darkest instincts and motives and become Rose Madder, for better or worse.

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Rose Madder
Stephen King

The #1 national bestseller about a woman who escapes an abusive marriage is “one of Stephen King’s most engrossing horror novels. Relentlessly paced and brilliantly orchestrated…fueled by an air of danger immediate and overwhelming” (Publishers Weekly).

After surviving fourteen years of hell in a violently abusive marriage, Rosie Daniels has finally summoned the courage to flee for her life. But leaving her husband Norman for a new city and a new start is a very daunting prospect. It’s hard for Rosie not to keep looking over her shoulder, and with good reason—Norman’s a police officer with the instincts of a predator, a force of relentless terror and savagery…a man almost mythic in his monstrosity.

He’s very good at finding people, even if he is losing his mind. Rosie’s only hope for salvation may lie in a far more dangerous place, where she must become her own myth and the woman she never knew she could be.

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Perfect Family
by Pam Lewis

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” Tolstoy posited in ANNA KARENINA, and the Carteret family is definitely unique in its unhappiness. After the strange drowning of Pony, the family’s strongest swimmer, her brother William decides to take it upon himself to discover what really happened. But the deeper he delves, the worse things seem, leading William to discover something about his dead mother that should have stayed buried. PERFECT FAMILY is a great reminder that we don’t always really know people, even if we grew up with them.

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Perfect Family
Pam Lewis

From the acclaimed author of Speak Softly, She Can Hear, a literary page-turner about a proper New England family and the dark secrets that undo them.

Pony Carteret -- the lovely headstrong youngest member of the Carteret family -- has always been a strong swimmer. So when she is discovered drowned at the family's summer home on Lake Aral, Vermont, her red hair tangled in an anchor chain and her baby abandoned on shore, her family is stunned by disbelief.

As the police conduct their investigation, Jasper Carteret, the patriarch, calls an urgent family meeting. Had any of her siblings known that Pony would be at the house that day? Was she having personal problems, was she depressed? Had she ever revealed the true identity of her baby's father? Neither sister -- Tinker, the family caretaker, nor Mira, the moody, thoughtful one -- has any information, and ultimately the police rule the drowning an accident.

But William Carteret, Pony's older brother, can't accept the explanation that his favorite sister's death was an accident. Determined to uncover the truth, he eventually learns the disturbing fact that a stranger had been present at the house the evening Pony died. Who was this man, what was he doing at the house, and why hasn't he stepped forward? As William digs deeper, his investigations quickly lead him to a new and more daunting series of questions, not only about the mysteries in Pony's life but also about the shadowy details of his deceased mother's past and even his own. Before long, he has opened a Pandora's box of family secrets, including one dangerous fact his mother has kept hidden for a generation.

Pam Lewis's Perfect Family is a masterful, atmospheric tale about the ways in which family secrets, no matter how long they're buried, can wield their tremendous power.

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The Unforgotten
by Laura Powell

In the summer of 1956, Betty Broadbent’s whole world changes: her sleepy little village is invaded by the press after a series of murders catches the public’s attention. At first, Betty is thrilled by the new people and the attention, even going so far as to befriend an aloof reporter, Mr. Gallagher. The two of them stumble upon a horrible truth and end up having to make a life-altering choice. THE UNFORGOTTEN might feel like the tried-and-true small-town murder mystery, but the twists and turns in the narrative will have you questioning your own moral code.

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The Unforgotten
Laura Powell

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The Devil You Know
by Elisabeth de Mariaffi

“Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t” is how the saying goes, but a devil is still a devil. For Evie, that devil is the man who sexually assaulted and killed her best friend when they were growing up. And while Evie hunts for this man as he hunts her, THE DEVIL YOU KNOW provides a level of reflection on women’s struggle for safety and security in a world designed to make them vulnerable and easy prey. A feminist take on the vengeance thriller, this book is definitely bound to give you something to think about.

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The Devil You Know
Elisabeth de Mariaffi

“Gripping!” —Margaret Atwood via Twitter (@MargaretAtwood)

In the vein of Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects and A.S.A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife, The Devil You Know is a thrilling debut about a rookie reporter, whose memories of the murder of her childhood best friend bring danger—and a stalker—right to her doorstep.

The year is 1993. Rookie crime beat reporter Evie Jones is haunted by the unsolved murder of her best friend Lianne Gagnon who was killed in 1982, back when both girls were eleven. The suspected killer, a repeat offender named Robert Cameron, was never arrested, leaving Lianne’s case cold.

Now twenty-one and living alone for the first time, Evie is obsessively drawn to finding out what really happened to Lianne. She leans on another childhood friend, David Patton, for help—but every clue they uncover seems to lead to an unimaginable conclusion. As she gets closer and closer to the truth, Evie becomes convinced that the killer is still at large—and that he’s coming back for her.

From critically acclaimed author Elisabeth de Mariaffi comes an “exceptional book…full of surprises” (Suspense Magazine) about secrets long buried and obsession that cannot be controlled.

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