Different readers have different tastes: some want to spend two hours having a good laugh, while others want to gush over epic romances.
Still others enjoy sitting at the edge of their seats with the latest psychological thriller. After all, not only does this genre provide an unrivaled sense of horror, but the surprising plot twists will keep you guessing until the very last page.
Not only are psychological thriller books entertaining, but they offer a unique look at the intricacies of the human mind and leave us with much to mull over even after we finish the book.
Best Psychological Thriller Books
If you’re looking for your next psychological thriller, here are some of the best picks, from the most recent year way back to the 1950s:
1. The Favorite Daughter by Kaira Rouda
This book follows Jane, a troubled mother whose beloved daughter, Mary, died the year before. Since then, Jane lost herself in a blur of antidepressants as she tried to cope with her grief. Finally, when her youngest daughter is about to graduate high school, Jane makes up her mind to get back to the world.
But things are not the same as when Jane checked out a year ago: her husband has gotten used to working late into the night at the office, her daughter Betsy has turned rebellious and secretive, and someone is sending Jane strange messages that imply Mary’s death was not an accident.
2. Tony and Susan by Austin Wright
This novel inspired the 2015 film Nocturnal Animals. The movie follows two storylines, beginning with art gallerist Susan Morrow, whose ex-husband asks her to read his new manuscript.
His story is sad and violent, and she can’t help wondering if the manuscript is a metaphor for their own emotionally troubled relationship.
3. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Amy and Nick seem to be the perfect couple. But after their fifth anniversary, Amy suddenly disappears, and all clues point to Nick. Is Nick really the perfect husband everyone thought him to be?
4. A Circle of Wives by Alice LaPlante
Dr. John Taylor is a reconstructive surgeon dedicated to helping children. So when someone finds him murdered in a hotel room, it doesn’t make sense. But detective Samantha Adams soon discovers that Dr. Taylor had been married to three women in three different cities, and two of these had no idea about the others.
5. Snake Eyes by Joyce Carol Oates
Attorney Michael O’Meara manages to overturn the case against Lee Roy Sears, who had been on death row. When Lee is released from prison, he stays close with his attorney and becomes friends with Michael’s wife—which soon leaves Michael second-guessing his helping Lee and letting him become friends with his family.
6. Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane
The story opens with U.S. Marshal Edward Daniels and his partner Chuck Aule, looking for an escaped convict: Rachel Solando, who was detained at Shutter Island, an island-bound hospital designed for the criminally insane, for drowning her three children.
During their investigation, they find clues for a 67th patient on the island, even though the records only show 66 patients.
7. American Psycho by Easton Ellis
This novel inspired the 2000 movie and is set in New York City in 1986. The story follows Patrick Bateman, played by Christian Bale in the film, who lives a double life as an investment banker by day and a serial killer by night.
An in-depth look at a psychopath’s possible thought process, the film portrays a brutally honest picture of American materialism in the 1980s.
8. Delirious by Daniel Palmer
Charlie Giles is a successful director of a startup company, with everything neatly in place in his life. But when his coworkers begin getting killed left and right and all clues point to Charlie, he’s at a loss: he doesn’t think he ever hurt anyone, but because he has a family history of mental illness, he begins to question his own sanity.
9. Single White Female by John Lutz
This novel inspired the movie of the same name, which came out in 1992, already deemed one of the best psychological thriller novels under the “tenant-from-hell” theme.
When software designer Allison Jones discovers that her fiancee Sam is sleeping with his ex-wife, she kicks him out of their New York apartment and instead welcomes a shy single lady named Hedra Carlson as a roommate. Things take a turn for the worst when Sam reconnects with Allison and Hedra becomes unreasonably jealous of their relationship.
10. The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
The film adaptation of this book won five Oscars in 1992. The story follows Clarice Starling, a young FBI agent seeking out Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a psychiatrist turned serial killer, to learn his thought process in order to catch another similarly terrifying murderer.
Starring Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster, this successful movie spawned a sequel entitled Hannibal in 2001, and two prequels, Red Dragon in 2002 and Hannibal Rising in 2007.
11. The Executioners by John D. MacDonald
This is the novel which inspired the 1990 film entitled Cape Fear, which was already the second film adaptation, the first being back in 1962, which starred Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck. This second version stars Robert De Niro, Nick Nolte, Juliette Lewis, and Jessica Lange.
The story follows a convicted rapist who spends 14 years in prison reading books, improving his body, and plotting revenge against the defense lawyer he blames for putting him in jail. He’s finally released and starts implementing his plan.
12. Misery by Stephen King
Made into a film adaptation in 1990, this terrifying story revolves around Paul Sheldon, a bestselling author trapped in the home of an obsessive fan who forces him to make her desired changes to his novel series.
The fan is a deranged psychopath named Annie Wilkes, but Paul has just come from a car accident and could barely move: how in the world will he survive?
13. We’ll Never Be Apart by Emiko Jean
Alice Monroe used to be just an average teenager. But when her twin kills her boyfriend, she ends up in a mental hospital, where she spends her time plotting revenge on her sister. Her plans are further triggered by the unhealthy friendship she forms with another patient.
14. Dead Calm by Charles Williams
The 1989 film adaptation stars Nicole Kidman, Billy Zane, and Sam Neill. Kidman plays the vulnerable housewife turned survivor who needed to outwit the character played by Zane using her sexuality.
15. Red Dragon by Thomas Harris
This is the novel that inspired the 1986 film Manhunter, which features Dr. Hannibal Lecter, who later became a household name for thriller fans in Silence of the Lambs. Because of that later success, this earlier, overlooked movie has since gotten more attention.
16. After She’s Gone by Sheryl Browne
Detective Inspector Matthew Adams has known Patrick Sullivan since they were children, and he believes Patrick has zero morals. When Matthew leads a drug bust that kills Patrick’s brother, the hostility between them escalates: how far will Patrick go to get back at Matthew?
17. Come Closer by Sara Gran
This novel follows Amanda’s strange downward spiral, with violent rages, visceral nightmares, and unusual murderous thoughts. Are these the signs of oncoming madness, or is there something more powerful at work?
18. A Brief Lunacy by Cynthia Thayer
Jessie and Carl Jensen have it all together, even with the challenges of raising a schizophrenic daughter. When a man named Jonah knocks on their door saying he’s been robbed, they immediately let him use their phone and invite him for dinner—but they soon realize Jonah is not really a victim, but a potentially dangerous individual who knows more about their lives than he should.
19. Jane Doe by Victoria Helen Stone
Jane has earned a reputation for being a hard-working and reliable employee, but behind it all, she’s actually plotting revenge on her boss, whom she believes was the cause of her friend’s suicide.
20. In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware
When the reclusive Leonore receives an invitation from a long lost friend for a remote escape in the English countryside, she accepts. But two days later, she wakes up in the hospital with absolutely no memory of what happened. Has she been involved in someone’s death?
21. The Guilty Die Twice
Two brothers, both lawyers, find themselves on opposite sides of the courtroom in a high-profile double murder case. Each brother is convinced they’re on the side of justice, but the case turns out to be much more complicated—and dangerous—than either could have imagined.
Best Psychological Thrillers
The best psychological thrillers give readers an in-depth look into the minds of sociopaths and killers, making them more than meets the eye.
Their shocking twists and juicy storylines also make them very hard to put down! For more gripping reads, be sure to check out our list of the best thrillers.
Do you have a favorite psychological thriller? Share it with us in the comments below!
If you enjoyed this post, then you might also like:
- 11 Best Thriller Novels That Will Keep You Hooked (Updated for 2020)
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- 15 New James Patterson Books For Your Reading List
- 15 Best Dean Koontz Books You Shouldn’t Miss
Yen Cabag is the Blog Writer of TCK Publishing. She is also a homeschooling mom, family coach, and speaker for the Charlotte Mason method, an educational philosophy that places great emphasis on classic literature and the masterpieces in art and music. She has also written several books, both fiction and nonfiction. Her passion is to see the next generation of children become lovers of reading and learning in the midst of short attention spans.