If you’re in the mood for highly suspenseful thriller books, you’ve come to the right place. For this post, I’ve chosen five of my favorite thrillers that have the following qualities:
- keep-you-on-the-edge-of-your-seat being-afraid-for-the-characters type of suspense
- descriptive scenes that create vivid pictures in your head
- keep you guessing and anticipating
- likable main characters
- gruesome killers
- psychological factor
- intense atmosphere
Most of them include descriptive scenes some readers might find offensive or hard to read.
This includes rape/sexual assault, child abuse, physical and psychological torture, descriptive crime scenes, and descriptive sex scenes.
For clarity reasons, I’ve separated each book into three parts:
- My thoughts about the books
- Teaser (short passage from the books)
Thriller Books That Are Highly Suspenseful
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Where The Blame Lies by Mia Sheridan
Josie Stratton was abducted when she was 19. Taken from her own bed and chained in a basement where no one could find her. For almost a year she endured the physical, sexual, and mental abuse her abductor subjected her to.
Until she escaped.
Eight years later, the body of a young woman chained in a basement is discovered. Tortured and violated. The details of this case remind Cincinnati Police Detective Zach Copeland of the horrors Josie went through a few years back. He was a rookie then.
The problem? Josie’s aggressor killed himself eight years ago. But Zach knows the crimes are connected somehow. Could it be a copycat?
After surviving hell, Josie has been trying to rebuild her life. She’s still fearful but doesn’t let that ruin her future. Not even when, after eight years since the tragedy that scarred her, another madman seems to have picked up where his predecessor left off.
As Zack and Josie spend more time together, they form a connection she thought she would never need again after what she went through. But his main job is to protect her from the vicious killer and find him before more women suffer at his hands.
The book is told from dual points of view and in the third person. It expertly alternates between “Before” and the present time.
This is the kind of book you keep thinking about long after you finish it. Partly because of the intense atmosphere Mia Sheridan creates, making you feel like you are there witnessing or living those moments. But mostly because of the impact the heroine leaves on the reader. A flawed young woman who goes through unimaginable things but somehow gets out of them alive and fights to rebuild her life. A desperate mother capable of moving sacrifices.
Josie, the heroine of this novel, is special. So much has been taken from her, yet she proves to be the epitome of determination, strength, and selflessness. She’s also caring and loyal that you just can’t help but admire her. Through her, Mia Sheridan creates psychological tension.
Also, the fear and desperation become so real to you! The darkness surrounding these cases is almost palpable. Mia’s writing style is descriptive enough to keep you interested and make you feel.
As for the killer, I think the author does a good job of keeping the readers guessing and invested in finding his identity. In fact, the revelation makes the book a lot creepier!
Then there’s the romance part. If you do not know Mia Sheridan, she mostly writes romance novels. I’ve seen that recently she’s tried the thriller books genre and, honestly, I like where this is going. Keep in mind however that romance isn’t the main focus, but it’s just enough to add more emotions.
“He leaned even closer, and she could tell by the movement of his mask that he was smiling beneath it. ‘
Because,’ he said, ‘because you’re a whore, and you d-deserve to be treated like one.’ His words washed over her along with his scent. It registered, memory responding. Pineapple. Coconut. Something overly sweet and tropical.
And she knew immediately who he was.”where the blame lies, mia sheridan
Where The Truth Lives by Mia Sheridan
The book starts with a heavy prologue that takes the reader back to when Elizabeth Nolan (Liza) was just a child. We get a glimpse into the horrible past she had, one that influences most of her decisions as an adult. Including becoming a doctor and the start of her relationship with the hero.
Switching to the present time, a gruesome serial killer is terrorizing Cincinnati. It all starts when Liza discovers the dead body of the director of the local mental health hospital she works at. The detective assigned to investigate this case? His name is Reed Davis and he happens to be Liza’s one-night stand.
The killer has a sadistic manner in which he poses the victims. This obviously has a certain significance, and the detectives need to figure out what that is. But this is just one small piece of a greater puzzle.
As they put together the evidence and information they discover, unexpected connections between characters start to unravel. This killer, however, has a purpose, and he has not finished his work yet. Everything he does has a meaning, and everyone plays a different role.
Some characters have to fight for survival, others try to redeem themselves, while a few of them won’t stop until they save the lives of those they protect and care about.
First, Where The Truth Lives is part of a series. While you can technically read it as a standalone, I DO NOT recommend you do that! You will cut your experiences short and do a disservice to both you and the awesomeness that are these novels.
Similarly to Where The Blame Lies, this one excels at the suspense element and it involves a little romance too. I think the relationship between the main characters is cute and doesn’t distract from the main mystery.
In Where The Truth Lives we get to witness Liza and her pain, as well as the chemistry and bond she has with Reed. Then there’s Reed with his own complicated liaisons. He goes through his own personal process of self-discovery and affirmation.
Josie and Zach from the previous one appear in this too. What is the connection they share with Reed or Liza? I’m not going to tell you, so you’ll have to find out for yourself. Though this time, what brings them all together is the light in this dark plot that can make you addicted to Mia Sheridan’s words.
The majority of the book, though, focuses on the horrendous crimes that take place in Cincinnati. The plot is well-thought-out, with twists and turns that challenge your detective skills.
The characters are likable, and grow as the story progresses. As you get to know them better, they become like part of your family. You start rooting for them and even fear for their lives when some of them are in risky situations.
“He’s drunk, Mady whispered, voicing what Liza suspected, but didn’t want to let herself believe. Cold dread settled in her stomach, far colder than the frigid air of the house that their father didn’t allow them to heat when he was gone. Please just let him pass out on the couch or in his bed. Please.
‘Shh,’ Liza said, trying to soothe her younger sister, even while panic sluiced through her veins.”where the truth lives, mia sheridan
More Thriller Books That Will Blow Your Mind
Find Her by Lisa Gardner
There are three perspectives you have to follow: flashbacks of the past (when Flora Dane was being held captive), Flora’s current predicament, and the current investigations led by Detective D.D. Warren.
Seven years ago, carefree student Flora Dane was abducted from a Florida beach. 472 days she spent with her captor, a serial rapist and kidnapper by the name of Jacob Ness. Locked in a wooden box, sexually abused, starved, and psychologically tortured.
She survived, but what returned home wasn’t the same Flora Dane.
She became obsessed with self-defense and tracking and saving other missing persons. This is where we find Flora in “the present”.
Amid the disappearance of another college student whose case has grown cold, Flora can’t just wait and do nothing. So she starts hunting.
Her reckless actions make her the object of D.D. Warren’s investigation. But what happens when she’s kidnapped again? And this time, the kidnapper doesn’t plan on letting her get away.
Not much of a fan of Flora’s vigilante ways, D.D. must find this mysterious perpetrator and save Flora. Again!
While it is the eighth book in the D.D. Warren Series, it CAN be read as a standalone.
Given the unimaginable abuse Flora suffers, this one is hard to read. Add to that the insight we get into Flora’s head during all this time and even after, and you should understand why.
However, this shows what a masterful job Lisa did! Just know that with this one you’re pulled out of your comfort zone by a wide margin!
I think what makes this darker than the previous two I mentioned is the lack of the romantic aspect. When there’s romance involved, you at least have a distraction from all the darkness. Because what some characters from Mia Sheridan’s books go through is just as horrible in their own way, but at least you’ve got hope.
The fact that the flashbacks are told in the first person (while in Mia’s novels, she uses the third person) makes it more personal and intimate. Sometimes there’s irony or sarcasm in her tone (Flora’s tone) that alleviates the darkness just a little bit.
The psychological element is very strong in Find Her. We are let in on a victim’s perspective of her abuse and the aftermath of it. The author delves so deep into the mind of the victim and leaves you with no choice but to feel everything.
As far as characters are concerned, Flora is one of a kind. To me, she outshines D.D., even if it’s her series. The dynamic between Flora and D.D. is another interesting aspect. They are fun to watch. D.D. is definitely not a fan, yet she must do her best to save Flora. Their relationship evolves satisfyingly throughout the next books in the series.
“There’s not much to do day after day trapped in a coffin box. In fact, there’s really only one thing worth imagining, obsessing, contemplating minute by minute, hour after terrible hour. One thought that keeps you going. One focus that gives you strength. You’ll find it. You’ll hone it. Then, if you’re anything like me, you’ll never let it go. Revenge. But be careful what you wish for, especially if you’re just a stupid girl trapped in a coffin-sized box.“find her, lisa gardner
The Torment Of Others by Val McDermid
This is the fourth novel in the Tony Hill and Carol Jordan Series. While some readers recommend you read them in order to fully understand the relationship between DCI Carol Jordan and criminal psychologist Dr. Tony Hill, I read this one first and I had no problem. I don’t feel I missed something important.
That being said, The Torment Of Others finds Carol Jordan trying to emotionally and physically recover and focus on work after a failed undercover operation that takes place at the end of book three.
The chief constable assigns Carol as head of a special crime unit. They have to investigate two cases: one of a second young boy who goes missing in Bradfield, the other one- a murder case. A prostitute is found grotesquely murdered in a cheap motel room. Her body left in a parody of ecstasy. Too much blood drained out of her.
What’s creepy is that it’s the exact MO of a series of four murders that took place two years before. What’s even creepier is that the forensic evidence from those cases indisputably led to the conviction of Derek Tyler. And Derek Tyler is still locked up in a secure mental institution.
Carol and her team, alongside Dr. Tony Hill, have to find this sadistic killer. We know from the beginning about a Voice that’s behind the killings. But when Tony starts to suspect someone else is the mastermind of these perverse acts, Carol rejects his theory.
Will a dangerous undercover police operation trap the murderer? Does Tony know who the Voice is? And what happens with the missing boys?
What stands out the most to me in this novel is the atmosphere. It’s a certain heavy feeling you have of something bad that’s going to happen. Or something dark and twisted that surrounds the people and city. Especially when the author describes the killings of the prostitutes and when you read what’s inside the Voice‘s head.
I like that McDermid takes the time to characterize her characters, outlining their flaws and strengths, and telling stories about their pasts. This way, the reader gets to know them well and relate. They are well-written and complex and you end up caring about them.
I actually read the next one in the series, Beneath The Bleeding, just because I wanted to know what happens with a certain character in this book.
She uses the right descriptions and tone to make you a part of her captivating and complex plot. The suspense is addictive. What happened to the missing boys, and who took them? Who’s killing the prostitutes? Is there someone else telling them to kill? And if so, who?
Like Find Her by Lisa Gardner, this has a strong psychological element. But this time it is the insightful look into the KILLER‘s mind, not the victim’s, that creates the psychological tension. Written with italic letters, his point of view is in the third person.
“Just because you hear voices, it doesn’t mean you’re mad. You don’t have to be well smart to know that. And even though you did all that stuff that made the jury look sick to their stomachs, at least you’re clever enough to know that doesn’t make you a nutter. All sorts of people have other voices in their heads, everybody knows that.”the torment of others, val mcdermid
Stone Cold Heart by Laura Griffin
Sara Lockhart is one of the best at what she does. She’s one of the nation’s top forensic anthropologists.
So when two local climbers find what appears to be human remains abandoned in White Falls Park, Texas, she’s the first person police detective Nolan Hess calls to ask for help.
What Sara finds at the crime scene is a body in a state of advanced decomposition and evidence that is partially buried.
Detective Nolan Hess believes there’s a high chance this could be the body of a teenage climber who went missing during the previous summer. The pressure on that missing case is high, and he’s desperate to make sure the parents’ victim get some closure.
But if this isn’t Kaylin, he has two potential murder victims in his jurisdiction.
Sara’s instinct tells her they are looking for more than just one body. Putting together all the clues they have gathered so far, her suspicion is proven correct when they find more human remains further along the gorge the first victim was found in. Meanwhile, another young woman goes missing.
What’s more, these cases start to look a little too much like a chilling case from her past.
Sara and Nolan team up to find this cold-hearted killer and save the missing woman. That is, if it’s not too late or if they don’t get hurt in the process.
Stone Cold Heart is the 13th book in the Tracers Series and can be read as a STANDALONE. Laura Griffin writes thriller books with a touch of romance in them. So I’d say this is the typical romantic suspense novel fans of the genre love to read.
The plot is really intriguing and definitely keeps you guessing, curious and anticipating. Not only do we have creepy discoveries of human remains, but we also have a mysterious person posting videos of said discoveries as they were being dug up.
Then there’s also the missing young woman. As with the previous books, this one also reveals the victim’s point of view (in the third person), though not as elaborate as the others. But we still feel the desperation and fear for her life.
The main characters are relatively new (I think only Sara appears briefly in the previous book). A few side characters who appear regularly in the Tracers series are also mentioned here. But I like their friendship.
The hero and the heroine certainly have chemistry. Sara is dealing with some insecurities as far as men are concerned. Nolan is the sweet and understanding one.
I also couldn’t guess who the serial killer was. I’m curious if someone can figure out who it is before being revealed.
One thing this book has that the others don’t is the focus on forensics. It’s clear the author did her research thoroughly.
Also, Stone Cold Heart has to be the least dark of them. It is definitely easier to read than the rest. It doesn’t have on-page rape, descriptive abuse, or other particular triggers.
“They turned into an alley, and Grace glanced around, startled. ‘Um, the hotel’s on Brazos Street?‘ ‘Shortcut.’ His eyes met hers in the rearview mirror, and Grace’s skin went cold.
She pulled out a twenty-dollar bill. ‘Actually, just drop me off here, thanks.’ He turned into an even darker alley beside a parking garage. Grace’s throat went dry as he rolled to a stop. She lunged for the door, but it wouldn’t open. Her heart hiccuped as he turned in his seat and reached back.”stone cold heart, laura griffin
Final Thoughts | Thriller Books Conclusion
If I had to recommend each novel for only two things, it would be like this:
- Where The Blame Lies and Where The Truth Lives by Mia Sheridan – for the characters and the many emotions Mia makes you experience (suspense, fear, joy, sadness, love, admiration)
- Find Her by Lisa Gardner – for the character (Flora Dane) and the psychological element
- The Torment Of Others by Val McDermid – for the atmosphere of the book and the psychological element
- Stone Cold Heart by Laura Griffin – for the attention to forensics and the suspense.