The chill of the winter season sets the perfect scene for the most chilling winter thriller books and mysteries. Here you’ll find a handpicked list of tried and true book recommendations for every reader’s tastes, from the most gripping atmospheric thrillers to the most cozy winter mysteries.
As your warm up by the fire, your heart will race as you turn these pages. Let’s transform those cold nights into suspenseful literary adventures!
First, if you’re extra curious or in a rush, below is a quick, shoppable list of all the books that made the list.
- A Castle in the Clouds by Kirsten Gier
- The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley
- Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
- No Exit by Taylor Adams
- One by One by Ruth Ware
- Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney
- The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse
- Still Life by Louise Penny
- Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden
- The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon
Details on All the Best Winter Thriller Books
Winter makes one of the most poignant book settings, many of which offer thrilling plots. As a very seasonal reader, each winter, I read as many books about winter as possible to help readers find exactly the right book to read.
Since I’ve read so many at this point, this list of winter thriller books aims to narrow my recommendations down even further for those only seeking thrillers and mysteries.
Of note, I didn’t include any Christmas-themed thrillers or mysteries here since they have a more festive than wintery tone, but I DID include a few post-winter/New Year’s books to transition you from holiday to winter reading.
A Castle in the Clouds by Kerstin Gier
Best for Young Adult readers
A Castle in the Clouds is a Young Adult book that takes place at a grand old hotel in the Swiss mountains in the week leading up to New Year’s Eve at the famous ball. Hotel intern Sophie is hard at work when she finds herself in the middle of a thrilling adventure that places both her job and her heart at risk.
Not everyone is who they seem, and it’s an atmospheric and suspenseful tale of laundering, kidnapping, jewelry theft, and even a love triangle in which readers of all ages will enjoy indulging.
The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley
Best for fans of murder mysteries
New York Times bestseller
The Hunting Party is an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery set in the Scottish Highlands, where a group of thirtysomething friends from school reunite for their annual holiday celebration during a blizzard that cuts them off from the outside world.
This year, the burden of secretkeeping becomes too much when they reminisce about the past. As they ring in the New Year, one of them is dead and another is to blame.
There are a lot of characters, but they aren’t too hard to keep track of. Overall, the remote setting, hunting activities, and points-of-view of both insiders and outsiders give this book a really creepy and ominous feel.
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
Best for fans of travel and mysteries
The most widely read mystery of all time
In the cold Winter mystery novel Murder on the Orient Express, after the stroke of midnight, a snowdrift halts the Orient Express to a stop. By morning, an American tycoon lies dead in his compartment, having been stabbed a dozen times, with his door locked from the inside.
Isolated by the snow and with a killer on board, the renowned detective Hercule Poirot must uncover the murderer from a cast of memorable characters full of secrets.
No Exit by Taylor Adams
Best for fans of suspense
In No Exit, Darby is headed to Utah to visit her dying mother when she finds herself stuck by a blizzard at a Colorado rest stop with a group of strangers.
After a while, she ventures outside, where she discovers something utterly chilling: There is a young girl locked inside a crate in the back of one of the other cars stopped there.
With no cell phone service and no way out, she must find a way to release the girl and keep them all safe. After all, there’s a kidnapper amongst them.
This story has such an ominous feel and lots of suspense, and it made for a great, heart-palpitating Hulu movie adaptation.
One by One by Ruth Ware
Best for fans of Agatha Christie and “Clue” type mysteries
Instant New York Times bestseller
One by One is an Agatha Christie-style locked room mystery book set in Winter.
After eight coworkers from a trendy London tech start-up get snowed in at a luxurious ski resort in the French Alps, an avalanche cuts the group off from the outside world.
It may seem cozy, but as the hours pass without any sign of a possible rescue, the group begins to dwindle, as four characters die “one by one.” Ulterior motives and dark secrets are slowly revealed as tensions mound.
This atmospheric book kept me totally engaged and guessing “whodunnit” as I read along in the “dead” of Winter. It remains a favorite, particularly on a snowy day, and I also recommend that you reference my One by One character guide to keep track of all the many characters.
Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney
Instant New York Times bestseller
Of all these Winter thriller books, Rock Paper Scissors exquisitely delivers unique plot points and twists that are almost guaranteed to surprise you.
Work-obsessed screenwriter Adam and his wife Amelia retreat to the snowy Scottish highlands for a weekend retreat that they intend to either save or end their marriage. Adding strains on the marriage are Adam’s inability to recognize faces and his grief over the tragic death of his mother.
Intermixed with the present storyline are ten wedding anniversary letters to Adam slowly revealing the past and threatening not just their marriage, but their lives, in the present.
The twists (yes, that’s plural) are, indeed, twisted, and I truly don’t think anyone would be able to see them coming. Feeney is an absolute master at crafting twists that are so precise and unfamiliar, and it shows in this particular novel really well. The pacing in the middle felt slow to me, and it lacked some believability, but I did also love the haunting feeling of the ending.
Overall, I thought it was a really satisfying cozy Winter mystery book that felt totally unexpected, leaving the reader to ponder what a person really knows about his or her spouse.
The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse
Best for fans of atmospheric thrillers
- An instant New York Times bestseller
- Reese’s Book Club pick
The Sanatorium is an atmospheric thriller, taking place at an isolated hotel (formerly a sanatorium) high in the snowy Swiss Alps.
Elin has taken time off from her job as a detective and is still processing the death of her brother many years ago when she visits with her estranged brother and his new fiance to celebrate their engagement.
During a storm, something even more sinister is brewing as her soon-to-be sister-in-law goes missing. As the storm closes off access to the hotel, panic ensues and a wild ride of twists, turns, more missing persons, and even deaths unfold, thrusting Elin back into detective mode to uncover the truth about this hotel.
It’s a captivating and creepy, wintery thriller that constantly moves in different directions and tackles numerous mysteries at once in the most perfectly eerie setting for the season.
Still Life by Louise Penny
Best for fans of cozy mysteries and series
Winner of the New Blood Dagger, Arthur Ellis, Barry, Anthony, and Dilys awards
Still Life begins the bestselling “Inspector Gamache” series, in which murders are investigated in a small Canadian town called Three Pines.
This one begins during Thanksgiving week, and ends in the Winter as snow is falling. Centered on the suspicious death of a retired teacher and painter, which may have been a hunting accident or a murder, what’s unique about this mystery book (and the entire series) is how it delves into the human psyche and what lies beneath the surface of a seemingly quaint, quiet town.
Indeed, “Still Life” is the perfect title to begin the series of familiar townspeople and their thoughtful investigator. This is the obvious choice for those looking to binge a wintery mystery series.
(Read the books in order if you don’t want spoilers.)
Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden
Best for fans of thrillers with a social conscience
Winter Counts is a page-turning suspense novel about drug addiction on a Native American reservation, weaving into its thrills social commentary.
Virgil Wounded Horse is the “enforcer” on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota, and when heroin use rises in the reservation and affects the life of his own nephew, he enlists his ex-girlfriend to track down the source of the drugs. Along the way, he realizes that being a modern Native American comes at an incredible cost.
Winter Counts was so addictive and easy to read, and I absolutely loved the audiobook version. It’s what I call a thriller with a social conscience, that will make you think long after turning the pages.
The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon
Best for fans of spooky, supernatural ghost stories
The Winter People was such a great read for me! For fans of Stephen King and Stranger Things, it’s great for those who want the spooky reading season to last beyond the Fall. The suspense kept me engaged, and the twists surprised me.
In present-day Vermont, the town of West Hall has a history of mysterious disappearances and deaths, all the way back to Sara Harrison Shea, who was found dead in 1908 shortly after the tragic death of her daughter, Gertie, in a snowstorm. Now, in the same house, nineteen-year-old Ruthie’s mom has disappeared without a trace.
A partial copy of Sara Harrison Shea’s diary begins to offer clues about The Winter People, as Ruthie learns she’s not the only one looking for someone that they’ve lost. The race for the truth reveals both the supernatural dangers that lurk in shadows and the power of familial love.
These winter thriller books are bound to chill you on cold and dark nights, even when you are curled up by the fire.