The best suspense & thriller books of all time (2023 update)

A good suspense book can be so painful that you ache to skip to the ending just so you can learn the truth behind the mystery.

But then you find out the friend who gave you the book ripped out the last two chapters. You’re now forced to read through the book and then go to them, begging for release and closure.

Most suspense books are usually mysteries, thrillers, detective whodunit and often horror.

If your interested in books, also check out the darkest, most disturbing books ever written or books like Crime and Punishment.

Below you’ll find a list of the best suspense books ever written.

The best suspense books ever written

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

After doing detailed measurements, a family discovers their house is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.

It doesn’t scare you outright, but it sits in the pit of your stomach and stays there. It comes out when it’s dark.

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Recommended edition: House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett

During World War II, a highly intelligent and violent German spy discovers the Allied plans to invade German-occupied Europe. The only person who can stop him is an English woman who has fallen in love with him.

Deep down, you’ll want the villain to win.

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Recommended edition: Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

An 11-year old enters a secret society of book-dealers in the city of Barcelona, and discovers that someone is destroying all the books written by an obscure writer.

Shadow of the Wind is a brilliant book. I remember reading the first half of the book and thinking I didn’t want to read further because I didn’t want it to end.

I wish I could go back and read it for the first time again.

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Recommended edition: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Presumed Innocent by Scott Turrow

A prosecutor’s secret mistress gets murdered, and he is assigned the case to solve it. However, all evidence points to him as the killer, and he must race to prove both his innocence and find who the real murderer is.

Having spent decades as a lawyer, I often find that books featuring lawyers, the law, and courtroom scenes often contain errors – and this one doesn’t! 

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Recommended edition: Presumed Innocent by Scott Turrow

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

It is the year 1327, and a Franciscan monk arrives at a monastery to investigate claims of heresy but must instead become a detective as the priests start dying one by one.

The Name of the Rose weaves in complex philosophical, religious, and historical themes with interesting characters and a range of subplots.

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Recommended edition: The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler

A detective gets drawn into a world of intrigue when a friend commits suicide after the death of his wife.

“There was a sad fellow over on a bar stool talking to the bartender, who was polishing a glass and listening with that plastic smile people wear when they are trying not to scream. The customer was middle-aged, handsomely dressed, and drunk. He wanted to talk and he couldn’t have stopped even if he hadn’t really wanted to talk. He was polite and friendly and when I heard him he didn’t seem to slur his words much, but you knew that he got up on the bottle and only let go of it when he fell asleep at night. He would be like that for the rest of his life and that was what his life was. You would never know how he got that way because even if he told you it would not be the truth. At the very best a distorted memory of the truth as he knew it. There is a sad man like that in every quiet bar in the world.”

Portrait of a character from the “the long goodbye”

Recommended edition: The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler

The Son by Jo Nesbø

A man escapes prison after spending 12 years for a crime he did not commit, and hunts those who sent him there.

If I have ever read a better detective story, I can’t think of it. Nesbo controls a complex plot and numerous characters in a compelling way that never leaves the reader confused. The “detecting” is outstanding.

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Recommended edition: The Son by Jo Nesbø

Misery by Stephen King

After a brutal car crash, a best-selling novelist comes under the care of a nurse, who happens to be his biggest fan and a deranged psychopath.

I really felt the fear for the novelist. Any time Annie (the nurse) started to get mad I tightened up my body reading it. The intensity is well done and almost palpable as you read through it. And the idea that people can live normal lives and interact with others while they hold somebody captive is a real scenario and brings it to a sense of actuality.

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Recommended edition: Misery by Stephen King

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

A fairy-tale like quest where a woman’s quest to discover her identity is continued by her granddaughter.

The Forgotten Garden weaves a tangled tale of family secrets, kept hidden for generations.

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Recommended edition: The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

Journey Under the Midnight Sun by Keigo Higashino

A Japanese detective becomes obsessed with an unsolvable murder, and tracks the lives of the victim’s son and main suspect’s daughter for the next 20 years.

The disturbing vibe that permeates this book draws on more than the damaged pair of characters tracked over the span of twenty years. It draws power from the gutters of Japanese society that fall under Higashino’s impassive gaze.

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Recommended edition: Journey Under the Midnight Sun by Keigo Higashino

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

A young woman’s marriage to an older, wealthy widower is haunted by the memory of the man’s dead wife.

Just finished the book and I’m blown away. The ending left me in chills.

Reader’s Quote

Recommended edition: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré

A British spy must outmaneuver his Soviet counterpart as he tries to find a traitor hidden deep in the highest ranks of British Intelligence.

LeCarre’s novels are not the novels of say James Bond. Unfortunately, he has taken a bad wrap for it. When people mention, “spy novel” they immediately think James Bond, and not the real, boring, world, but extreme dangerous world of James Bond. There are no megalomanic villlains or sexy supermodel spies in this book.

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Recommended edition: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

Ten strangers arrive on a deserted island and are killed one by one over the next few days.

When I was finished, I had to get up and turn all the lights in my flat on before I could get to sleep, as well as the radio and TV. It was so effective at creating tension that I kept expecting someone to pop out of the walls.

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Recommended edition: And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

Double Indemnity by James M. Cain

A married woman seduces an insurance agent to kill her husband for the insurance money.

“Under those blue pajamas was a shape to set a man nuts . . . .”

quote from “double indemnity”

Recommended edition: Double Indemnity by James M. Cain

The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson

A young woman convinces a wealthy businessman that an innocent joke about killing his cheating wife can be made not so innocent.

Just when you think you know what’s going on, they throw something else at you. I liked that the thrills went on to the very last sentence too.

Reader’s Quote

Recommended edition: The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson

Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

In the Soviet Union, during the time of Joseph Stalin, a loyal communist secret police officer is given orders to arrest his own wife.

It’s a historical thriller with what feels like dystopian elements since it’s set in Stalinist Russia, which I was all there for. The tone was perfect.

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Recommended edition: Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

Verity by Colleen Hoover

A struggling female writer finds the diary of Verity Crawford, a famous and successful author, and hopes to use its disturbing secrets to seduce Verity’s husband, Jeremy.

This book was disturbing in a way that is hard to put in words.

And the cherry on top? The ending. That probably held the most savage plot twist I have encountered in a romantic book.

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Recommended edition: Verity by Colleen Hoover

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

A freshman student joins a small, exclusive and depraved group of students whose interests include: Plato, Homer, drunken parties, murders, blackmails and more.

I started out in love with the characters but one by one grew to despise them. Their personalities which were initially so bright and fascinating gradually declined like a white tablecloth becoming covered in stains over time, not noticing much difference at first until you compare the before and after.

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Recommended edition: The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

A community’s favored daughter disappears, and they slowly start to suspect the husband for her potential murder, and gradually tighten the noose around his neck.

“Should I remove my soul before I come inside?”

Quote from “gone girl”

Recommended edition: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy

A Soviet captain decides to defect to the United States with his cutting edge submarine, armed with nuclear missiles, while being hunted by the rest of the Soviet Navy.

Submariner here! The book is a great story based around rumors of submarine battles during the Cold War. As a thriller, it’s absolutely spot-on in keeping you on the edge.


Recommended edition: The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy

The Alienist by Caleb Carr

A serial killer terrorizes New York City in 1896, and psychiatrist Laszlo Kreizler must use novel ways to find him, including fingerprinting and psychological profiling.

I stumbled on this by accident many years ago and absolutely loved it, and I typically don’t enjoy period pieces.

The sequel is really quite good as well. I’ve not read any other Caleb Carr books, but one thing that is certain is that he spends a lot of time making sure the details are right, which I appreciate.

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Recommended edition: The Alienist by Caleb Carr

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Sherlock Holmes must investigate a series of gruesome murders at an idyllic manor located in a countryside moor, that are seemingly carried out by a hound from hell.

Out of the four Sherlock Holmes novels written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of Baskervilles is the best. If there is ever a murder-mystery written with an ingenious plot, suspense, intrigue and action perfectly balanced, it, in my opinion, is undoubtedly The Hound of the Baskervilles.

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Recommended edition: The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane

A US Marshall arrives to hurricane-struck Shutter Island to investigate the disappearance of a patient from the Hospital for the Criminally Insane, and find a serial murderess who has escaped somewhere on the island.

Transport yourself to 1954, everyone has just lived through WW II, everyone still smokes, and everyone still remembers the Nazi’s.

Reader’s quote

Recommended edition: Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane

The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris

A trainee FBI agent enters a contract with the devil to track down a serial killer.

“I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti”

Quote from “the silence of the lambs”

Recommended edition: The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

Hercule Poirot investigates a series of murders in a small English village, and everybody seems to be a prime suspect.

The ending is what makes this a 5-star book. Let me assure you: you will not guess who the murderer is. Never ever ever. When the murderer is revealed, you will not believe. When the murderer goes on to explain his/her actions, you will continue to not believe it. Only by rereading certain important passages will you start to realize that the answer was in front of you all the time, and you couldn’t see it. It’s a testament to Christie’s skill as a writer that this is accomplished.

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Recommended edition: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

Sovereign by C.J. Sansom

In 1541, an English lawyer finds himself trapped in a web of intrigue that involves a murderous king, powerful bishops and a secretive prisoner.

This is a novel which is impossible to put down: it recreates this turbulent period with consummate skill. Shardlake (main character) is fiction, but he possesses remarkable facticity. There is also a tortuous mystery for the lovable legal sleuth!

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Recommended edition: Sovereign by C.J. Sansom

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

The lives of three women unravel as the lies they tell themselves are peeled away.

Recommended edition: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

A 12 year old boy befriends the new and unusual next door girl, but she only seems to come out at night.

A really enjoyable book that is really evocative of time and place – northern Europe during the Cold War. Something about the bleakness and harshness of life then really chimes with the story of a lonely boy finding an unusual friend.

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Recommended edition: Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

Jack and Grace seem like the perfect couple, but Grace never seems to come out for coffee and their bedroom windows seem to have bars on them.

Jack is a successful attorney for domestic abuse victims who has never lost a case…

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Recommended edition: Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris