Beware: these best thriller books of 2021 will keep you up all night with edge-of-your-seat action and gripping mysteries. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
It’s 1 am, and you know it’s way past your bedtime and you’ll pay for this tomorrow. But you cannot seem to put your book down. You have to know whodunit and if your favorite character will survive until the end of the book.
The best thriller books keep you glued to your seat. What a delicious feeling it is to be full of suspense at the turn of a page.
I don’t know if it was the pandemic, but I got hooked on thriller books in 2020. All year, I’ve been scouting out the best thriller books of 2021, hoping to find great domestic thrillers, gritty mystery books, and edge-of-your-seat thriller books that you’ll be dying to read.
Since you likely don’t have time to read a zillion books a year as I do, let me narrow it down for you. Here are my picks for the best thriller books of 2021.
Best Psychological Thriller Books 2021
TOP PICK: Up-and-coming British actress Mia Eliot heads to Hollywood to get her mind off her recent shocking breakup. While auditioning, Mia does a favor for another actress which turns into much more of a hassle than she expected. Yet, the next time they meet, Mia swears that Emily is a completely different woman, and no one believes her. My surprise pick for the best psychological thriller of 2021, The Disappearing Act knows exactly when to hold your suspense and when to pivot with an engaging story that keeps you guessing.
RUNNER UP: On their annual girls’ trip, Emily and Kristen are having the time of their lives in Chile. On the last night, Emily comes back to the hotel to find Kristen with a dead body. Kristen claims she killed him in self-defense. Except, the same thing happened last year to Emily. As Emily’s guilt over the cover-ups reaches a boiling point, Kristen makes a surprise trip to visit her and Emily has serious doubts about their friendship. The story starts off with a bang as lightning strikes twice with Emily and Kristen’s disastrous trips abroad. Bartz did just enough to keep up the suspense through the middle of the book as Emily begins to question Kristen’s motives in this all-around fun thriller to read.
HONORABLE MENTION: All children have imaginary friends, but Georgina begins to wonder when her seven-year-old son tells her he met a new friend, New Granny, at the park. Is Georgina just overreacting with the death of her mother still so painful? What if his imaginary friend isn’t imaginary? A great thriller book with an unreliable narrator to read this year, Ryan does an excellent job throwing in plenty of red herrings, keeping you on your toes the whole time.
HONORABLE MENTION: When her roommate is murdered on campus, Charlie is desperate to get away. She posts a notice on her college rideshare board and snags a ride back to Ohio from a handsome stranger. However, Charlie quickly realizes that Josh isn’t who he seems. Charlie’s fragile state of mind will keep you gripped to this cat-and-mouse game. With plenty of twists and turns and a little over-the-top theatricality, Sager’s latest psychological thriller will keep his fans content and rightly belongs on my list of the best thriller novels of 2021.
HONORABLE MENTION: After winning a trip to a remote Scotland getaway for the weekend, Adam and Amelia try one last-ditch effort to save their marriage. Amelia is tired of Adam putting his work as a screenwriter before her and Adam is just tired of Amelia. As things start to unravel and their past is revealed through secret anniversary letters Adam has never read, you find that someone is lying and someone doesn’t want them to end happily ever after. An artfully executed twist lands Rock Paper Scissors a place among the best thriller books of 2021.
Best Domestic Thriller Books
TOP PICK: Instamom Emmy Jackson is known for telling it as it is to her millions of Instagram followers. She knows exactly how to monetize her life as a “good-enough” mom. When Emmy’s online narrative pulls further from the truth it begins to strain her marriage. Meanwhile, an obsessed follower begins stalking the family, with a major grudge against Emmy. With an accurate portrayal of influencer life and a compelling stalker story, People Like Her is an all-around fun thriller book to read that makes you think about how putting our lives online affects us.
RUNNER UP: Bree Cabbat wakes up one more to find a witch looking in through her window. She shakes it off as a nightmare, but then she experiences every mother’s worst nightmare: her baby boy is abducted. Instead of a ransom note, she finds a message telling her to follow the instructions to get him back, forcing her to decide how far she will go for her child. Mother May I starts strong, with great twists and shocking moments, and then settles into an investigation story that, while more predictable, is still compelling enough to earn it a spot among the top thriller books of 2021.
HONORABLE MENTION: The night after having Easter dinner with their three grown children, a wealthy couple is murdered. Of course, the Merton children are devastated. Or are they? They stand to inherit millions and Daddy dearest wasn’t exactly the nicest guy. Was it a random act of violence or was the perpetrator someone much closer to home? But if one of your siblings was a murderer, you would know … wouldn’t you? Despite its less than original premise, Lapena’s domestic thriller is a fast-paced fun read that will keep you guessing whodunit.
HONORABLE MENTION: It should be the golden years for Stan and Joy Delaney now that they’ve sold their tennis academy and settled into retirement, so why aren’t they happy? When they welcome a bleeding stranger into their home, her arrival begins a cascade of events. Now Joy is missing, and the four grown Delaney children wonder if their father might have done it. As always, Liane Moriarty’s latest book is compulsively readable, though the excessive length almost dragged it out of my picks for the top thrillers books of 2021.
HONORABLE MENTION: A quirky free-spirited librarian with Asperger’s, Fern Castle likes to keep her life strictly regimented. On the other hand, Fern’s twin sister Rose is the responsible one with the perfect house and the perfect marriage, a sister who spent their childhood protecting Fern from their abusive mother. As Fern starts making more choices on her own, she begins to realize that maybe Rose might not such a good sister after all. Although the drama with Rose is overly predictable, The Good Sister made it on my list of the best thriller books of 2021 because you’ll adore Fern as an all-around perfect narrator with a well-played romance storyline.
Explore the Best New Books of 2021!
Spooky Bestselling Thriller Books 2021
TOP PICK: Growing up, Lex and Jax were inseparable, spending summers at their grandmother’s estate in Vermont, known for its underground springs rumored to grant wishes … but also take things in return. When Lex dies in the pool, Jax returns home and begins to learn more about the house’s supernatural history, including the story of a woman in 1929 desperate to have a baby. The Drowning Kind was a perfectly spooky read making you wonder: is something in the water or is it just Lex’s manic imaginings?
RUNNER UP: Among the best new thriller books is the English edition of a recent Swedish bestseller. In 1959, a Swedish mining town mysteriously vanished. Police only found the body of a woman stoned to death in the town square and a crying baby. Now, filmmaker Alice Lindstedt sets out to make a documentary and hopefully solve the mystery of what happened to the village, and her grandmother’s family. While The Lost Village isn’t an edge-of-your-seat thriller, you’ll love the mood the story sets, enveloping you in a sense of dread as the small group explores the abandoned village and feels like they are being watched.
Best Crime Thriller Books 2021
TOP PICK: Coming home to help his parents move, Kieran Elliott is haunted by a reckless teenage decision that ended up costing the lives of three people during a storm. Now, a body is discovered on the beach of his hometown, and old memories are brought back to light. With a slow atmospheric build that examines how guilt and loss shape our lives, The Survivors is a character-driven mystery that is the winner among the best mystery books of 2021.
RUNNER UP: After a personal tragedy, Anna Hart leaves her life as a missing persons detective in San Francisco to return home to Mendocino, California. When she arrives, she gets drawn into the case of a local missing teen, one that is hauntingly similar to an unsolved murder from her childhood. Instead of page-turning action, you get a slow atmospheric character study of a cop haunted by her own traumas who sees herself in the victims
HONORABLE MENTION: Before Owen Michaels disappeared, he smuggled a note to his new wife Hannah: Protect her. Hannah knows he’s referring to his sixteen-year-old daughter Bailey, but Bailey doesn’t want anything to do with Hannah. As Owen’s boss gets arrested and the FBI comes knocking, As Hannah tries to unravel Owen’s true identity and learn to connect with her stepdaughter, the suspense keeps you turning pages. Instead of a high-action plot, Dave opts for an intriguing character study that places this Reese Witherspoon book club pick among the best thriller books of 2021.
HONORABLE MENTION: Haunted by her past, recovering alcoholic Frankie Elkin travels all over the country trying to solve missing person cases. In the Boston neighborhood of Mattapan, she searches for a Haitian teenager who vanished from her high school, teaming up with a tough local detective. If you like gritty detective thrillers, you’ll love the case, which is intriguing and travels in refreshingly unexpected directions.
HONORABLE MENTION: After a tumultuous childhood, Leigh Coulton has built a completely ordinary life as a defense attorney. When she lands a career-changing case defending a wealthy man accused of rape, she realizes that she knows him. And he knows what happened all those years ago. Now she must get him acquitted her risk losing everything. Slaughter is frequently listed among the top thriller books to read. Just be aware that her latest thriller is extremely graphic at times.
HONORABLE MENTION: One night in 2017, a teen mom has her mother watch her baby boy so she can attend a party in the nearby woods, only to disappear without a trace. Two years later, mystery novelist Sophie is wandering the woods near her new house when she finds a note attached to a tree saying, “Dig Here.” Lisa Jewell’s dark thriller books are always among the best thriller books, displaying the harrowing lengths to which humans can descend.
When a young man is murdered on a London houseboat, police investigate his troubled one-night stand, Laura. Yet, Laura is not the only damaged one in Daniel’s life. Between his grieving aunt and famous uncle, his nosy houseboat neighbor, and his mother’s elderly neighbor, everyone has secrets to hide. With multiple points-of-view and unlikeable characters, A Slow Fire Burning is an overly complicated slow-burn mystery that was just good enough to rate a mention, without earning a glowing review.
What do you think are the best thriller books of 2021?