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5 Popular Psychological Thriller Books Worth Reading

The psychological thriller books have as focus the mental state of the main characters and what the actions of one impacts another. These novels are really not so much about action or detectives solving crimes, but more about drama and mystery overall with the suspense coming from the mind, rather than from physical hurt.

The main protagonists in these must read psychological thriller books will not use force, physical clues or typical police procedures to solve the crimes, but their mental strength, understanding and ability to solve puzzles and overpower the bad guys who are usually emotionally unstable. When you read a psychological thriller you will find yourself much more engaged with the story than in any other mystery genre, simply because it appeals to your emotions, feelings and mind on a deep, visceral level.

Often elements of horror are a great part of this thriller genre.

Here I have collected for you some of the popular and good psychological thriller books worth reading. They are top of their class and recommended by any fans of this sub-genre of the thriller mystery.

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane

I will start with this popular book by Dennis Lehane because it is simply a classic, and if you haven’t read it yet (or watched the movie for the matter), you’re really missing out on something great that is totally worth reading.

It’s one of those books that once you’ve read, will stay with you forever, being able to recall sometimes even the smallest details in the book years after.

The story takes place in 1954 on a rather secluded island which is the home of a mental institution for dangerous criminally insane. U.S. Marshals Daniels and Aule are sent to the island to shut down the institution since one of the patients escaped. Little did they know that they end up getting trapped on the island due to an unforeseen hurricane that makes it impossible for them to leave.

During their investigation nobody seems to want to help, even though the cops get the feeling that everyone knows more than they let on. And at some point they both realize that once you’re on this island, you don’t get out alive. Like ever.

It’s one of those books that literally stayed with me long after I’ve read it (and I’ve read it several years back).

Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson

Befoore I Go To Sleep by S. J. WatsonThis book is a little known gem which I was really glad to discover back in 2011 when I read it. It is a typical psychological thriller that grips you and never lets you go until you read the last page, and in the tradition of this genre, the story really messes with the mind. In fact it is all about the mind – about memories and remembering them, and how important that is.

When reading the book I was surprised that this was the debut novel of S. J. Watson. It is so well written and the plot is so engaging that I expected this to come from a seasoned writer.

Christine, a 20 year old wakes up one morning in a strange bed, next to a man who apparently is her husband. And when looking into the mirror she notices something really disturbing – she looks middle aged, not not the 20 something she remembers herself to be.

Apparently Christine has a strange form of amnesia where she has to reacquaint herself with everything around her each new morning. So she starts to write in her diary so she won’t forget.

I say read it and be blown away – not by the action, but by Christine’s journey, and you’ll not be disappointed.

The Lion, The Lamb, The Hunted by Andrew E. Kaufman

The Lion, the Lamb, the Hunted by Andrew E. KaufmanThis is a novel I’ve read just recently and will post my review shortly. It is the first in a series featuring Patrick Bannister, a really good journalist who has suffered tremendously during his childhood at the hands of his mother – not so much physically, as emotionally, something that left his deep scars throughout the years, making him write lists in an obsessive compulsive behaviour that stemmed from his long time pain.

As soon as he got to college he moved out and the first time he went back home was at her funeral – and even then he couldn’t wait to get out of there. At the house Patrick discovers a short note written between his mother and his uncle, which talks about a crime committed in the past.

Interestingly enough he soon realized that this note and a necklace found at his mother’s house are somehow related to the kidnapping of a little boy some 30 years ago in a small town, kidnapping which he decides to investigate.

A wonderful book, which even though it doesn’t have quite a lot of action, it makes up in full with the psychological suspense that it offers. This was in fact my first book by Andrew E. Kaufman and reading this book made me check out his other two novels.

Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes

Into The Darkest Corner by Elizabeth HaynesHere is another great book highly recommended in the psychological thriller genre. Many people said that they had to check their doors for being locked before going to bed.

The story is typical, Catherine, who has lived alone before, meets something that she strongly falls for. However soon she discovers that things are not exactly as they seem, and he is not exactly the great guy he presented himself to her either.

Bit by bit she is driven to the darkest corner, isolated from the world and eager to escape, which she meticulously plans.

It’s been 4 years and she is ready to try to embrace life once again…until the past catches up to her once again.

It is a wonderful, scary and quite realistic story, even though the premise is so often written about and shown in movies over the years. Yet when reading it you do develop almost an OCD compulsion to check the doors,windows and corners for anything unusual, and that’s the great thing about it – if you like psychological thrillers, this book is a great fit for the genre, aiming to please – which does it really well.

Enduring Love by Ian McEwan

Enduring Love by Ian McEwanWritten by the author of well known book Atonement, Enduring Love is a book that is classified in many places as contemporary British literature, but don’t get that classification put you off from reading a chilling and suspenseful psychological thriller.

The book starts innocently enough, Joe planning a wonderful afternoon with his lover, Clarissa, who is returning from a 6 week stay in the States. However soon things go bad, and from bad to really bad when the couple (especially Joe) acquires their very own dangerous stalker after a hot balloon accident during that very afternoon.

It is quite a disturbing story, one that will leave you thinking about the book long after you’ve finished reading it. That very afternoon changed their lives forever, bringing a very unstable psychopath within.

It is a haunting story about obsession and a strange psychological disorder called De Clérambault’s Syndrome, of which I’ve first heard when reading this book, also called erotomania.

Below you will find a few additional handpicked psychological thriller novels that are well recommended for something new to read – especially if you have read some – or all of the above stories.

Messiah and Storm by Boris Starling

Intensity by Dean Koontz

The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson

The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris

Any book by the author duo Nicci French

The Never List by Koethi Zan

Rush of Blood by Mark Billingham

Just What Kind of Mother Are You? by Paula Daly

The Silent Wife A. S. A. Harrison

Any of the 3 books by Gillian Flynn


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  1. I highly recommend “The Kind Worth Killing”.
    “Enduring Love” and “Into the Darkest Corner” are great and not too scary, but “Enduring Love” is just plain weird. “Defending Jacob” is great.

  2. Great to find this site! I read “Enduring Love” and “Into the Darkest Corner” as a result – plus I had already enjoyed most of the titles listed. It is tough to find “my kind” of mystery, but this is a great place to look! May I make a recommendation? An incredible eBook is now available as a paperback, and it is one of my top 10 psychological mysteries. PLEASE don’t miss “Trigger Finger” by Jackson Spencer Bell. You’ll take his warning (“Lock your doors”) literally.

  3. I enjoy watching psycho thrillers but i’m not sure if i can read a book on this genre.. i just feel so scared when i read a word dead or morgue, much worse when they’re describing a corpse.. 🙂 but i do love the movie Atonement, so i would try to read Enduring Love.. and i also like Before i go to sleep.. I hope they’re not that scary..

  4. Hello. I have a suspense/thriller novel that is available on amazon. It is getting good reviews in Canada, the U.S. and the U. K. Would you be interested in taking a look at my profile and the book for your consideration to add to your list on this site? The book page is here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00T3T3P1A

  5. I’ve been meaning to read “The Lion, the Lamb, and the Hunted” for a while now. The premise vaguely reminds me of LM Giebfried’s “Damnatio Memoriae,” which was a psychological thriller that shook me to the core. Great list. Shutter Island was fantastic — though I agree that the movie just didn’t do it justice.

    1. Oh thanks Lucy for giving me a good reading idea – Damnatio Memoriae. Have put it on my wishlist. Looks like the series has two books out already.

  6. And here’s a winner for those who don’t want your usual ‘whodunnit’: Joseph Hirsch’s FLASH BLOOD.

    I like my action vivid and my stories fast. One of the first things a thriller reader will note is Flash Blood’s attention to detail, right down to the sights and smells of atmosphere that impart a ‘you are there’ feel to almost every page.

    It represents a pivot point in Detective Arklow’s life, plain and simple. As such, it will immerse readers in a world of good and bad choices, and it powers all these choices with a potent protagonist whose ultimate goals and reality prove subject to change without notice. Detective novel genre readers, take note: this is a far more complex scenario than your usual ‘whodunnit’ – and therefore, far more satisfying a read.

  7. I’m a voracious reader of thrillers, but most of their plots tend to run together or sound alike, over time. A top psychological thriller will stay in one’s mind long past reading – and such as Bill Leibowitz’s Miracle Man, first read in March.

    Readers are treated to a plot with many twists and turns: it holds intrigue, describes compulsions and diversions, shows how a genius battles dark forces within and outside of himself, and generally paints a powerful picture of a search for privacy, as much as meaning.

    —-And so a gripping novel of psychological tension becomes much more than your usual ‘medical thriller’, and is a pick for any who want high octane action and emotionally-charged reading right up to an unexpected, gripping conclusion.

  8. Obtenir des livres Merci beaucoup d’amis, je suis de nouveau à thrillers, mais tout juste de terminer un, “Chasing A Miracle” par Eliot Hartford Bailey, le premier livre d’une trilogie qui est sûr d’obtenir seulement de mieux en mieux! Je suis maintenant accro!

  9. I am new to thrillers, but just finished one, “Chasing A Miracle” by Eliot Hartford Bailey- the first book in a trilogy that is sure to only get better and better! I am now hooked! Can’t wait to check out some of the books you have recommended above.

  10. I love your site. I also love a good psychological thriller! I am going to look into getting The Lion, The Lamb and The Hunted. It sounds like a book that I would really enjoy. I love books that get my heart racing and keep me on the edge of my seat.

  11. I have read only Dean Koontz from this list and I am surprised I have never read any of these other authors considering how much I love psychological thrillers. I have heard of Shutter Island. I should make this the next in my ‘must-read’ list.

  12. I read Shutter Island, but not until after I saw the movie. I liked the movie so much that I ran out and bought the book that day. Like in most cases, the book was so much better 🙂

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