Psychological thrillers can be intense and they can be claustrophobic. Whether you desire the rush of a whirlwind, high-stakes cat-and-mouse game or the more introspective read of a character’s descent into madness and obsession, or something else entirely, this list has something that’ll mess with you in the best way. Here are ten psychological page-turners you might not have read yet from a few authors you either love already, or are about to love.
Oh, what on earth is even going on here?! This is one of those books that makes writing these types of articles so hard but in the best way possible. Because I want you to read this book . . . maybe I even need you to read this book, but I can tell you only so much. This sci-fi thriller set in the near-future builds and builds for a psychological, mind-bending journey. Junior and Henrietta live comfortably on their isolated farm, far from any cities. They don’t get visitors there, or at least they didn’t. One day a stranger arrives at the farm with news that Junior has been selected to move far away from their little farm. In fact, he’ll be going so far away, he won’t be coming back. This fantastic opportunity is that Junior has been selected to join a colony in space, but this relocation does not extend to Henrietta. The stranger assures him, though, that everything will be fine. In fact, his wife won’t even miss him, because she’ll never be alone. Reid’s writing style brings this whole story together with short chapters that hurtle the reader toward an unsuspecting ending.
*Now a major motion picture starring Saoirse Ronan and Paul Mescal*
A taut, psychological thriller from Iain Reid, “one of the most talented purveyors of weird, dark narratives in contemporary fiction” (Los Angeles Review of Books).
Severe climate change has ravaged the country, leaving behind a charred wasteland. Junior and Henrietta live a comfortable if solitary life on one of the last remaining farms. Their private existence is disturbed the day a stranger comes to the door with alarming news.
Junior has been randomly selected to travel far away from the farm, but the most unusual part is that arrangements have already been made so that when he leaves, Henrietta won’t have a chance to miss him. She won’t be left alone—not even for a moment. Henrietta will have company. Familiar company.
Told in Iain Reid’s sparse, biting style, Foe is a “mind-bending and genre-defying work of genius” (Liz Nugent, author of Unraveling Oliver) that will stay with you long after you turn the final page.
FIRST BORN has so much to unpack! If you like slow-building character studies and insanely twisty endings, then you absolutely need to read this book. Molly and Katie may be identical twins, but they couldn’t be more different in personality. Katie is fearless. She is outgoing, spontaneous, ambitious, and completely unafraid to move from London to New York to study at Columbia. Meanwhile, Molly has always been much more reserved, filled with constant anxiety and needing to live a quiet, structured life. Despite their differences, however, they share a connection . . . right? But now the unfathomable has happened. Katie is found dead in her apartment. Grieving and terrified, Molly makes her way to New York as it looks more and more like her sister was murdered. Molly will have to face her fears and enmesh herself in Katie’s former life if she has any hope of catching the killer. But the more Molly learns, the more she realizes that while they may have looked the same, she didn’t really know her sister at all.
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.
Okay, if you like dysfunctional and downright terrifyingly bloody families, then LITTLE CRUELTIES should be screaming your name. Nugent aims her dark and snarky style at the disturbing side of Hollywood showbiz for a twisty, non-linear story. There are three Drumm brothers, and one of them is dead. Which one is lying in the coffin, and which one did it? Well, those are the questions. With their bitter rivalry, the answer is that any one of them could have been the victim or the killer. Groomed and raised on competition, Will, Brian, and Luke grew up vying desperately for their narcissistic mother’s affection as they built their careers in entertainment. And that same sense of competition between them fuels everything in their adult lives. With a deep dive into these despicable characters, Nugent will have you loathing them as she slowly reveals the who, the why, and the how. This book is so wicked and wild! I loved the non-linear timeline building up until the coffin reveal.
From the internationally bestselling author of Lying in Wait, a biting and masterful new “dark jewel of a novel” (A.J. Finn, #1New York Times bestselling author) that explores the many ways families can wreak emotional havoc across generations, appealing to fans of HBO’s acclaimed series Succession.
All three of the Drumm brothers were at the funeral.
But one of them was in the coffin.
William, Brian, and Luke: three boys, born a year apart, trained from birth by their wily mother to compete for her attention. They play games, as brothers do…yet even after the Drumms escape into the world beyond their windows, those games—those little cruelties—grow more sinister, more merciless, and more dangerous. And with their lives entwined like the strands of a noose, only two of the brothers will survive.
Hailed by New York Times bestselling author Shari Lapena as “brilliant, engrossing,” and perfect for fans of breathtaking suspense, Little Cruelties gazes unflinchingly into the darkness collecting in the corners of childhood homes, hiding beneath marriage beds, clasped in the palms of two brothers shaking hands. And it confirms that Liz Nugent is truly “a force to be reckoned with” (Lisa Jewell, New York Times bestselling author) in contemporary fiction.
A missing father, an isolated cabin, and a confrontation of past trauma . . . let’s dive right in! GULL ISLAND is intense and quiet as Jude’s mind slowly unravels. Jude’s father is missing, and normally, that’s not much of a surprise, but this time things are different. Tasked by her mother, Jude ventures out to the old family cabin on Gull Island in search of his will. However, when entering with the neglected structure, Jude must confront her own just as neglected childhood. Loneliness, nightmares, and frightening memories take hold as a vicious storm sweeps her boat out to sea, stranding her. Now completely isolated, she realizes there is more to fear than just her past. This haunting psychological thriller lives inside Jude’s mind and the reader’s with a wonderful gothic atmosphere and a slow stumble into madness. I love how Porter brings all Jude’s fears and worries to fruition while Jude is trapped both physically and by her own memories.
A haunting psychological suspense novel about a young woman who visits her remote family cottage seeking answers to a murky past—for fans of Catherine McKenzie and Amber Cowie.
When her estranged father goes missing, Jude is persuaded by her mother to find his will. She travels to the family cottage on remote Gull Island, glad to be away from the city and to have the chance to sort through old memories, but is unsettled by what she finds there.
While contending with the neglected cottage and encroaching wild animals, Jude looks not only for her father’s will, but also for photographs of herself as a baby, desperate for proof that she was loved as a child. However, loneliness and terrifying dreams soon wear on her, bringing back frightening memories. Thoughts of her distant mother and intimidating father, her jealous sister, and her mother’s mysterious friend infest Jude’s increasingly clouded mind.
Then a fierce storm sweeps away her boat and severs her from the outside world. Forced to reckon with long-buried truths and filled with the terrible sense that the cottage may be haunted by more than the past, Jude begins to fear for her sanity—and her life.
Alyssa Cole tackles a fantastic concept in WHEN NO ONE IS WATCHING, combining psychological horror with very real injustices as gentrification sweeps in. Sydney Green was born and raised in Brooklyn, but these days it feels like her neighborhood changes by the second. New condos fill every empty space and “For Sale” signs appear out of nowhere. But it’s more than just the buildings that are changing, it’s the people too. Neighbors she’s known since she was a kid, people she thought would never move, are disappearing too. Desperately clinging to her community, Sydney creates a walking tour of the neighborhood. With the initial unwanted help of one of her new neighbors, Theo, she digs into the history of these streets. The more they research, the more it becomes clear that things are not as they seem. The people Sydney grew up around are not moving to the suburbs or other boroughs, and the revitalization efforts are much more sinister than she ever would have guessed. With paranoia growing, will Sydney and Theo be able to trust each other before they disappear too? WHEN NO ONE IS WATCHING nudges closer toward thriller horror that will lead you on a terrifying and wild tour of your own.
BONE DEEP came out a few years ago, but if you haven’t had a chance to dive in, it’s an enthralling read. Eerie and creepy, this story is very atmospheric and filled with betrayal, tension, love, and spooky legends. What if the legends are true? Mac is a retired academic working on writing a collection of folk stories inspired by local legends. Her son, worried about his mother’s health, insists that Mac hires an assistant. So Lucie, suddenly in need of a place to stay, finds herself living in the cottage on the property and transcribing Mac’s work. The more Mac writes, the more she becomes obsessed with the story of rival sisters who fell in love with the same man. The more Mac and Lucie work together, the stranger things seem to get as both women are determined to keep their secrets to themselves. I live in a city filled with local legends and have always been fascinated by those types of folk tales—so that piece really adds to the tense vibe of BONE DEEP.
You may recognize Hillier’s name from some of her other thrillers, such as JAR OF HEARTS or THE THINGS WE DO IN THE DARK, but her earlier erotic thriller, CREEP, is just as dark and obsession fueled. Dr. Sheila Tao is an expert on human behavior, so she knows she needs to get her life on track and settle down with the good, kind-hearted, and well-off investment banker who truly adores her. And in order to do that, she needs to end the complicated, sexy, terribly messy, and all-consuming lustful affair with her graduate teaching assistant, Ethan. But when she attempts to end their fling, Ethan refuses to let her go. Obsessed with making her pay for rejecting him, Ethan is determined to ruin her relationship and her career. Ethan and Sheila circle each other in a violent chess match until a female student is found murdered on campus. Determined to keep her secrets, Sheila finds herself playing a far deadlier game than she realized. If you are looking for a fun psychological thriller that is quick, thrilling, and creepy—well, then, CREEP lives up to its name!
Pulsing with the dark obsession of Radiohead’s song “Creep,” Jennifer Hillier’s superb debut thriller is a terrifying cat-and-mouse game between a woman with everything to lose, and the lover she couldn't resist…who’s now the monster who won’t let her go.
A popular psychology professor in Seattle, Sheila works hard to keep her secrets hidden. On the surface, she’s an expert in human behavior and a well-liked educator, but nobody knows she’s a recovering sex addict in therapy—not even the love of her life, Morris. And she needs it to stay that way, or she could lose everything.
But Ethan Wolfe is impossible to resist. The graduate student is brilliant, charming, and seductive as hell. He’s also Sheila’s teaching assistant, and thirteen years her junior. Ignoring the risks to her career and relationship, they begin an illicit affair that lasts three months, until Morris asks her to marry him. Determined to get her life back on track, Sheila commits to a future with her fiancé, a man she’s not sure she deserves.
But Ethan can’t move on so easily. He didn’t pursue his professor for as long as he did to get dumped for some boring, middle-aged suit. Ethan’s made plans too, and he doesn’t take rejection well. When the body of one of Sheila’s students is discovered floating in Puget Sound—a young woman Ethan was rumored to have dated—it’s clear that the graduate student has secrets of his own.
And he’s not about to let Sheila get away.
If you’re in search of a thriller with a truly unreliable narrator, plagued by tragedy and determined to find the truth, then you should probably pick up RIVER ROAD. It’s a chilling, atmospheric thriller that’ll leave you more twisted on the inside than a dark, wintry road. Nan has faced tragedy before. After losing her young daughter, she never really recovered from her grief. Instead, she’s devoted herself to teaching her creative writing students at a local college. So when she finds out at the faculty holiday party that she still hasn’t made tenure, she reaches a new low. Things get worse when she hits a deer on the way home. Only, she can’t find the deer . . . Perhaps it was only injured and ran off? But now, stuck in a snowstorm, Nan is forced to leave her car at the side of the road and trudge home. To her horror, she is awakened by the knocking on the door from a police officer. Perhaps the only thing worse than the state of her career and losing her daughter is being accused of killing one of her students in an accident that eerily reflects how her daughter was killed. Leia Dawson was found dead on the side of River Road, killed in a hit-and-run, with Nan’s car making her the prime suspect. Outraged, the entire community turns against Nan, but she is determined to prove her innocence. Could she really have done it, or was someone else on the road that night? Goodman weaves a tale of such uncertainty as Nan, isolated and desperate, begins to spiral into addiction.
I love how unnerving and remote an island-setting feels in a thriller. THE BLACKHOUSE comes alive with vivid descriptions and a heap of superstition for an all-around enchanting, chilling, and brooding read, as any good gothic mystery should be. There are many secrets on the remote Scottish island of Kilmeray. First, there is Robert Reid, a man who brought his family to the island in hopes of safety only to realize that he cannot escape his fate. Second is Maggie. Maggie MacKay has felt haunted by a sense of wrongness her entire life. And maybe she’s right, maybe there is something wrong with her. Because when Maggie was five she stated that a man had been murdered on the island, but she’d never been there and did not know the man. Her claims drew wild media attention and created paranoia and distrust that hasn’t ceased. Now, Maggie is determined to return to Kilmeray and make sense of what she felt as a child. But the islanders are not kind to outsiders; they never have been. Told from both Robert’s and Maggie’s perspectives, there is much to love and unpack in this sinister horror thriller.
From the author of the “dark and devious...beautifully written” (Stephen King) Mirrorland comes a richly atmospheric thriller set on an isolated Scottish island where nothing is as it seems and shocking twists lie around every corner.
A remote village. A deadly secret. An outsider who knows the truth.
Robert Reid moved his family to Scotland’s Outer Hebrides in the 1990s, driven by hope, craving safety and community, and hiding a terrible secret. But despite his best efforts to fit in, Robert is always seen as an outsider. And as the legendary and violent Hebridean storms rage around him, he begins to unravel, believing his fate on the remote island of Kilmeray cannot be escaped.
For her entire life, Maggie MacKay has sensed something was wrong with her. When Maggie was five years old, she announced that a man on Kilmeray—a place she’d never visited—had been murdered. Her unfounded claim drew media attention and turned the locals against each other, creating rifts that never mended.
Nearly twenty years later, Maggie is determined to find out what really happened, and what the islanders are hiding. But when she begins to receive ominous threats, Maggie is forced to consider how much she is willing to risk to discover the horrifying truth.
Unnerving, enthralling, and filled with gothic suspense, The Blackhouse is a spectacularly sinister tale readers won’t soon forget.
THE HOUSEKEEPER is subtle in its menacing obsession. This story doesn’t begin with a murder or a stalker or a threatening note—just people, people with secrets and fascinations that turn dark and ugly. And while this one may not feel like an all-out sprint of a thriller, the psychological character aspects and tense drama create something compelling. If you are looking for a drama-driven read, then this should be next on your list. Anne Morgan was happy and secure in her place in the culinary scene with her position as a sous chef at a high-end London restaurant and in her relationship with said restaurant’s handsome owner. But when he leaves her for another woman, Anne is shocked, embarrassed, and looking for a new start. She stumbles upon a blog post from the inspirational Emma Hemsley, a Martha Stewart type, who is in need of a housekeeper. Anne jumps at the opportunity and is hired to clean for the picture-perfect Hemsleys. However, Anne soon finds herself cleaning up more and more messes revealing Rob’s and Emma’s secrets. But Anne has fallen in love with this life and her purpose in the family, and will do what she must to keep those truths hidden.
"An addictively dark tale full of psychological drama, long-hidden secrets, and the dangers of fabricating a pristine public façade, The Housekeeper will satisfy any reader’s cravings for family drama." —Redbook
"[The Housekeeper] will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last page." —Buzzfeed
“A tantalizing glimpse into the everyday lives of the rich and famous—and the people who work for them.”—Shelf Awareness
When Anne Morgan’s successful boyfriend—who also happens to be her boss—leaves her for another woman, Anne finds herself in desperate need of a new job and a quiet place to recover. Meanwhile, her celebrity idol, Emma Helmsley (England’s answer to Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey), is in need of a housekeeper, an opportunity which seems too good to be true.
Through her books, website, and blog, Emma Helmsley advises her devoted followers on how to live a balanced life in a hectic world. Her husband, Rob, is a high profile academic, and her children, Jake and Lily, are well-adjusted teenagers. On the surface, they are the perfect family. But Anne soon finds herself intimately ensconced in the Helmsley’s dirty laundry, both literally and figuratively. Underneath the dust, grime, and whimsical clutter, everyone has a secret to hide. And Anne’s own disturbing past soon threatens to unhinge everything...
For fans of Notes on a Scandal and The Woman Upstairs, The Housekeeper is a nuanced psychological drama about the dark recesses of the human mind and the dangerous consequences of long-buried secrets.
Photo credit: iStock / Esther Derksen