Smokin’ Thrillers

Welcome to my list of banging thrillers. Some of these are more literary, some are more experimental, but all are solid page turners. I’ll freshen this list up from time to time, like a good hostess gliding up and adding a bit more prosecco to your glass. Let me know what you end up reading, what you end up loving and what you think I should read next.

A note on content notes:  I’ve added a few in white text (highlight the space indicated by ‘CN’ to reveal them). These are just from memory and are not definitive, so if you think of any that I’ve omitted, feel free to drop me a line on the old twitterphone.

The End of Everything by Megan Abbott.
1980s, small-town America. First person, teen narration. Thirteen year old Evie goes missing, and best friend Lizzie is left behind to try to make sense of it all.

If you liked this, try: Dare Me, You Will Know Me or The Fever (all by Megan Abbott, all focus on teenage girls, all are BRILLIANT), or Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman.

The Girls by Emma Cline.
1960s California. First person, teen narration. Based on the Manson family murders. A lonely teenager is seduced by a bohemian free spirit. Beautiful, unique use of language.

If you liked this, try Foxlowe by Eleanor Wasserberg, The End of Everything by Megan Abbott or The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly.

Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty.
Contemporary London. Courtroom drama. That one off the telly. A woman has an affair that ends in MURDER. Absolutely cracking, often frustrating to read due to the treatment of the protagonist. CN: rape.

If you liked this, try Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes.

Lie With Me by Sabine Durrant.
MALE NARRATOR ALERT. Total creeper. British bastard on holiday in Greece. Great poolside read.

If you liked this, try You by Caroline Kepnes.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn.
Small-town, contemporary America. I don’t care what your preconceptions are: this is her best book. It will chill you to the absolute core. A journalist returns to her hometown to investigate a creepy ass murder. Also, did you know her name is pronounced with a hard G? Yep, for real. CN: self harm.

If you liked this, try Dark Places by Gillian Flynn and – fuck it, why not? – you may as well take Gone Girl for a spin as well.

The Collector by John Fowles.
1960s London. You will never find this shelved in the Crime section of a bookshop but it’s a thriller, it’s banging and you will absolutely gag. Split narrative between stalkee and stalker.

If you liked this, try The Way I Found Her by Rose Tremain, You by Caroline Kepnes or The Book of You by Claire Kendal.

The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer.
Contemporary USA. A mother turns her back for a second (that old chestnut) and her daughter vanishes. Split narrative between mother and daughter as weeks turn into months turn into years. Really quite a wonderful, special book.

If you liked this, try: The Burning Air by Erin Kelly is probably the best bedfellow for this book.

The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris.
1980s USA. Third person narration. Imagine your back is turned to me, and I’m holding my arms out and telling you to fall. If you fall into my loving arms without hesitation, read Red Dragon first. If you pause – even for a second – just jump straight into The Silence of the Lambs and see how you feel. Your mileage may vary on Hannibal (I loved it). Everyone hates Hannibal Rising.

If you liked this, try Post Mortem by Patricia Cornwell.

Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes. CN: spousal abuse.
Contemporary UK. Checkerboard between the protagonist’s carefree early twenties and her anxious, obsessive compulsive present day. An intensely readable, unsettling, page-turner.

If you liked this, try I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh, The Book of You by Claire Kendal or Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty.

The Burning Air by Erin Kelly.
Contemporary UK. A tightly plotted autumnal novel that jumps between perspectives. GOD IT’S SO GOOD. I don’t know what I would compare this to… if you liked this, move on to The Poison Tree or He Said/She Said, both by Erin Kelly.

The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly.
1990s London. A straight-laced student is seduced by a pair of glamorous siblings. This is my all-time favourite book.

If you liked this, try Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman, The Girls by Emma Cline or – to break free of the thriller theme but to stick with the three’s-a-crowd theme – try Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler or The Dreamers by Gilbert Adair.

The Book of You by Claire Kendal.
Contemporary London. Creepy stalker. Second person narration, stalkee talking to stalker. Claustrophobic. Yes, this sounds almost identical to You by Caroline Kepnes but they are very different books in style and tone.

If you liked this, try that or Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes.

You by Caroline Kepnes.
MALE NARRATOR ALERT. Contemporary New York. Creeper stalker. Second person narration, stalker talking to stalkee. Yes, this sounds almost identical to The Book of You by Claire Kendal. If you only read one, read this one. There’s also an enjoyable sequel called Hidden Bodies.

If you liked this, try Lie with Me by Sabine Durrant or The Collector by Jonathan Fowles.

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh.
Contemporary UK. A woman tries to escape her murky-ass past by moving to the coast. Incredibly satisfying plot.

If you liked this, try The Burning Air by Erin Kelly.

Beside Myself by Ann Morgan.
Contemporary UK. Twins swap places, and then one refuses to swap back. This is actually so much more emotional and intelligent than I expected from the premise, and I think it’s a really special book.

If you liked this, try Foxlowe by Eleanor Wasserberg or The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer.

Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh.
1960s America. Everyone loved this book. If you didn’t love it, you can’t sit with us. A lonely woman works in a juvenile detention centre and some shit goes down.

If you liked this, try The Girls by Emma Cline, The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly or Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman. None of these are similar in style or tone, but they share the theme of reckless friendships.

The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson.
Contemporary America. First person narration. So tightly plotted, this actually reminded me of a Gillian Flynn novel. Strangers on a Train meets Gone Girl.

If you liked this, try Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. But like, actually do. They are quite similar books, but everyone compared everything to Gone Girl so that recommendation has become somewhat redundant.

The Way I Found Her by Rose Tremain.
Contemporary Paris. Teenage narrator. Thirteen year old Lewis is enchanted by his mother’s glamorous employer. When Valentina goes missing, Lewis takes it upon himself to try to find her.

If you liked this, try The Collector by John Fowles.

Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman.
1990s USA. A pair of teen narrators take it in turns to tell their side of a bloody, murderous story that involves quite a lot of cheap beer and Nirvana.

If you liked this, try The End of Everything by Megan Abbott.

Foxlowe by Eleanor Wasserberg.
Contemporary UK. Life in a cult, from a child’s point of view.

If you liked this, try Beside Myself by Ann Morgan or The Girls by Emma Cline. The relationship between the two sisters also really reminded me of The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood.