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19 Best Psychological Thriller Books of All Time

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Get all the best psychological thriller books of all time that will shock, surprise, and disturb you are you compulsively turn the pages, from Gone Girl to Verity, The Kind Worth Killing, The Last Mrs. Parrish, and more books like them.

If choosing a thriller is difficult for you, you will definitely want to check out my personally curated list below of the best psychological thriller books for you to read. I am REALLY tough on thrillers, so they truly are the best of the best!

What is a Psychological Thriller?

The best psychological thrillers books contain mystery, suspense, and unexpected plot twists. They most often include crimes, especially murder. The narrators may be unreliable, immoral, or suffer from mental illness or substance abuse.

Top 2 Best Psychological Thriller Books

Are you wondering, "What is the best psychological thriller to read?"

First, below are the two best psychological thriller books that I love AND have also been REALLY popular with readers of The Literary Lifestyle over the years and more books like them.

The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine

Best for fans of popular thrillers about women vying for one man

  • The #1 bestselling book on my blog
  • An International bestseller

The Last Mrs. Parrish was one of Reese Witherspoon's book club picks.

The main character Amber is a woman with a plan for a bigger life -- to take over the life of wealthy Daphne Parrish and become the new Mrs. Parrish. Amber and Daphne become friends and the pieces of Amber's plans start to fall in place ... with unexpected results.

As mentioned, I'm tough on thrillers, and I loved it! I recommend this book if you want a very female-based thriller.

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Verity by Colleen Hoover

Best for fans of truly macabre thrillers

Social media favorite

  • New York Times Bestseller
  • USA Today Bestseller
  • The Globe and Mail Bestseller
  • Publishers Weekly Bestseller

The single most common reaction I hear to Verity is, "OMG!" It's the book I hear talked about most in my book clubs, and the book I always recommend to others looking for a psychological thriller or an escape book. I read it in one sitting, and I know several others who have done the same.

Struggling writer Lowen accepts a job from Jeremy, husband of best-selling author Verity Crawford, to complete her books after she sustains terrible injuries. As she sorts through Verity's materials, she finds Verity's autobiography, which is filled with an array of chilling events sure to make you gasp. At the same time, Lowen develops feelings for Jeremy.

There's so. Much. More. to this story, but I will leave it for you to find out. I recommend this book to everybody!

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More of the Best Psychological Thriller Books

Below are even more of the best psychological thriller books of all time, based on my very stringent standards when it comes to thrillers.

Daisy Darker by Alice Feeney

INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

Daisy Darker is a VERY different and VERY shocking locked room mystery book -- a true masterpiece of a modern thriller!

Daisy is a woman with a heart condition who claims to have died several times in her life, and her beloved grandmother, Nana, is an author who loved and wrote about her. Nana has now gathered the family at her tiny island estate in Cornwall for her 80th birthday, where she reads her will.

Cut off from the world, a storm rages, and the dysfunctional Darker family ominously discusses how they would each murder someone. Then, at the stroke of midnight, Nana is found dead and, each hour, the death toll increases.

This may sound like a familiar plot, but trust me, the mystery includes riddles and old home movies that show the secrets of the Darker family are truly unlike any others.

And the ending provides the kind of unexpected shock that makes you want to go back and re-read everything. It's a five-star read in my opinion, with a unique plot that's really exquisitely executed and a truly satisfying conclusion you won't see coming.


The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Best for fans of the "original" thrillers you can't miss and unreliable narrators

  • #1 New York Times Bestseller
  • USA Today Book of the Year

The Girl on the Train is one of the best books I could not put down. Unreliable main character Rachel rides the commuter train past perfect suburban homes every day and watches the same happy couple breakfasting on their deck. One day, she seeks something shocking. She tells the police and becomes intimately involved in what happens next.

I recommend this book if you are looking for a real page-turner!


Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Best for fans of the "original" thrillers you can't miss and unreliable narrators

  • #1 NEW YORK TIMES bestseller
  • One of the most influential books of the decade by CNN
  • One of TIME10 best fiction books of the decade
  • One of ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLYS best books of the decade

Gone Girl is the original of the best psychological thriller books, and it is one shocking and sinister book. Chances are you have already read it or watched the movie, but if not, here's a brief intro: The story centers around married couple Nick and Amy Dunne. On their 5th wedding anniversary, Amy goes missing and Nick becomes a suspect after a series of evidence unfolds.

The story takes dark and unexpected turns from there. I recommend this book if you are looking for a dark thriller.


Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

Best for fans of ghost stories and haunted houses

  • Instant NEW YORK TIMES bestseller
  • One of USA Today's Best Books of 2020

Home Before Dark is one hyped-up book that does not disappoint!  In short, a woman named Maggie returns to her childhood house, made famous by her father’s bestselling memoir describing it as a haunted house of horrors, with a sordid trail of deaths within its walls.  Maggie's family fled the house after living there only three weeks after a series of ghostly encounters.  

It's definitely one of the best books to read in the Fall.

Skeptical Maggie was only five at the time and remembers nothing, as she makes plans to renovate and sell the home.  After a grizzly discovery, the house gains notoriety once again as Maggie goes on a quest to determine the true history of the horrors described in her father's book, and dark secrets are revealed.

Home Before Dark feels like both a slow burn and a page-turner at the same time.  The ending surprised me, and it truly delivered.  I also enjoyed reading the perspectives of both Maggie's adult story and her father's book, the chapters of which are sprinkled throughout Home Before Dark.  And, as many readers have said, you will never think of The Sound of Music the same way again...

Related post: reviews and rankings of ALL of Riley Sager's thrillers


The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson

Best for fans of truly macabre thrillers

  • Amazon Editors' Pick

The Kind Worth Killing had a scene so disturbing I almost didn't finish it. But, I'm glad I did. It was one truly dark tale that paid off for the reader.

Ted and Lily meet on a flight, where they play a game of "truth" after a few drinks. Ted reveals that he believes his wife is cheating on him and he could kill her for it. Lily offers to help, as some people are "the kind worth killing." As they put their plan into place, there are several twists that keep you deeply engaged in what happens to whom.

I recommend this book if you like books with untrustworthy characters.

For more, check out my full review of The Kind Worth Killing.


Little Secrets by Jennifer Hillier

Bookstagram favorite

Little Secrets was a book I kept seeing so many top recommendations for on Instagram.  I simply never would have picked it up if I didn't see SO. MANY. people giving it five stars. 

It's about a mother whose son is kidnapped and then learns her husband has been cheating.  This begins a suspenseful quest both for revenge and to find her son, amidst a cast of characters hiding secrets -- including her.

Little Secrets is well written, and the ending provides a great payoff.  I definitely recommend it to people who love thrillers.


The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

Best for fans of family dramas

The Lovely Bones is one of my favorite books of all time. It's a page-turner that depicts the rape and murder of a young girl with a focus on the aftermath and growth that follow in the years that follow.  At its core, it's the story of a family dealing with tragedy as well as a hunt for the killer. 

If you like both thrillers and family dramas, The Lovely Bones is the perfect choice for you, and it's also on the Rory Gilmore book list if you are reading along with the Gilmore Girls.


The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz

Best for fans of unique thrillers

The Plot moves in different, shocking directions than most thrillers. It's about a once-respected author and current teacher who uses the fictional plot idea of a student who died in order to earn his way back into literary fame and fortune.

And it seems to be working -- until he starts receiving threatening anonymous messages. The anxiety of the situation causes him to investigate the truth behind the story in one of the most unique thrillers I've read to date.


Pretty Things by Janelle Brown

Best for fans of suspense

  • NEW YORK TIMES bestseller
  • Amazon Editors' pick

Pretty Things is one book about fraudsters that truly lived up to the hype for me. It's not a traditional thriller, but it had so many twists that I could barely keep count, and it also had tons of suspense at the end.

It's about a young female con artist following along the path of her deceitful mother in order to pay for her mother's cancer treatments. She encounters a new con opportunity via a family she knew in the past. But, of course, that's only the beginning. There are connections between these families that get deeper and more twisted as the story progresses.

I love recommending this book because it's so universally likable. I named it one of my Best Books of 2020.


The Push by Ashley Audrain

Best for fans of thrillers that explore dark family issues

The Push is a shocking thriller with dark themes involving motherhood.

Blythe is a mother who believes her first child, Violet, may be evil at her core, but she bonds with her son, Sam. As she struggles to figure out the truth about Violet and navigate these unfavorable feelings, the reader is left questioning what's real and who is good and evil, just like Verity.

It's the kind of thriller that really makes you think about life. In fact, I'm still thinking about it.


Rebecca by Daphne duMaurier

Best for fans of classic thrillers

"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again..."

- Daphne du Maurier

So begins the classic suspense novel Rebecca from the Rory Gilmore book list. It's also the perfect addition to an Around the World Reading Challenge for the United Kingdom. Rebecca also happens to be on Netflix as a new adaptation!

It was a slow burn, but creepy and atmospheric. The main character is NOT Rebecca, whom the reader never meets. She's a lower-class woman without a family, working as a servant, who meets and quickly marries a wealthy older widow who owns the swoon-worthy estate Manderley. Upon arrival, the "ghost" of his first wife, Rebecca, lingers in the memories of the staff, who loved her and constantly refer to her and how she did no wrong (we all know someone like that, don't we?!).

But, like all thrillers, there's so much more to the story and the truth behind Rebecca's tragic death.

The writing is immersive and, while there is resolution, the last 100 pages keep you wanting more. You will assuredly be left wondering what a sequel may uncover.


The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Best for fans of dark academia and atmospheric thrillers

The Secret History by Donna Tartt, author of The Goldfinch, is a MUST READ for book lovers, and it's the ultimate thriller/suspense/mystery book.  A favorite of Reese Witherspoon and Jenna Bush Hager, it's a modern classic, with some of the best writing (especially dialogue) I've ever read.

The Secret History is about an outcast from California, desperate to fit in, who attends a preppy college in Vermont in the 1980s and becomes friends with an eccentric group of his fellow Greek classmates.  Ultimately, their dark obsession with Greek has deadly consequences, and the novel explores the lead-up to these events as well as the aftermath, in which the crew spiral downward in processing the gravity of their actions.

The Secret History gave me the vibes of Catcher in the Rye and The Talented Mr. Ripley.  The ending had a lot of suspense, and I felt like there were a lot of payoffs and really no way of "figuring out" where it would go.  I also adored the picturesque setting and 80s school mood.  I felt transported to the time and also like I actually knew the characters, and I was constantly trying to "cast" them for a hypothetical movie.

In conclusion, PUT THIS ONE ON YOUR LIST! It's my favorite on this list.


The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

Best for fans of unexpected twists

  • Instant #1 NEW YORK TIMES bestseller

The Silent Patient is popular for a reason -- it contains a really amazing twist! A famous painter named Alicia, married to a popular fashion photographer, shoots him five times in the face, and then never speaks another word again.

But criminal psychotherapist Theo Faber is determined to get her to talk. In the process, he goes down a twisted part of revealing why he is so consumed with her silence. The Silent Patient is a quick and unique thriller almost guaranteed to please.

For more, check out my full summary and book club questions for The Silent Patient.


Survive the Night

Best for fans of suspense

  • INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

In the Riley Sager book Survive the Night, it’s November 1991, and movie-obsessed college student Charlie is in a car with Josh, a man who might be a serial killer. They met via a campus board, both looking to share the drive home to Ohio.

Charlie is wracked with guilt and grief over the murder of her best friend -- the third victim of the Campus Killer, and she's also an unreliable narrator struggling with mental health issues.

Josh claims to be heading home to care for his sick father. There’s something suspicious about Josh and, as they travel across the highway in the dead of night, she begins to think she’s sharing a car with the Campus Killer.

Literally, this entire book is filled with suspense, and what follows is a game of cat and mouse that keeps you on the edge of your seat, playing out during an age when the only call for help can be made on a payphone and in a place where there's nowhere to run.

It kept me super engaged, and I was not able to solve the mystery. I also thought the ending tied the book together really cohesively and made me feel really satisfied.


The Whisper Man by Alex North

Bookstagram favorite

  • NEW YORK TIMES bestseller

The Whisper Man is a page-turner! When Tom's wife unexpectedly dies, he and his young son Jake move to a new home.

At the same time, a young boy has been abducted in a manner similar to the serial killer "The Whisper Man," who was captured twenty years earlier and is in jail. The old detective gets involved in the case and, after a series of events, Tom and Jake become involved in the investigation as well, with interesting twists linking the characters.

Then, young Jake begins to hear whispers at his window, and the book takes fast turns that will keep you guessing.

I recommend this book if you want a unique thriller.


The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

Best for fans of books involving two female and one male lead

  • Instant New York Times bestseller

The Wife Between Us delivers on twists. Naive Nellie is a teacher with the sense she is being followed as she plans her wedding to the older Richard. Previously, Richard had dumped his first wife, Vanessa, who was forced to start over from the bottom. Vanessa is determined to stop Richard's wedding.

The twists come in the way the story is told, and it will keep you intrigued and likely surprised! I recommend this book if you really like twists.


The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

Best for fans of unreliable narrators

  • #1 New York Times bestseller

The Woman in the Window is one of the few thrillers that really held my attention throughout. It's got an unreliable narrator -- an agoraphobic, alcoholic woman who believes she witnessed her neighbor being stabbed. Then, the woman appears totally fine.

As the aftermath unravels, we learn the truth about the narrator's past, and she risks it all in one truly suspenseful ending, trying to figure out what happened the night she believes she witnessed a crime.

It's a popular modern thriller that really delivers what readers love.


Those are the best psychological thriller books to read. I hope you choose at least one to try!

Shop my full list of psychological thrillers on Amazon.

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