Last Updated on April 17, 2023
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
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
This 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
This 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
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
Written 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.
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