The Essential Reading List: Thrillers (2023)

The Essential Reading List: Thrillers (1)


  1. The Top 25 Thriller Novels to Add to Your TBR Pile

The Top 25 Thriller Novels to Add to Your TBR Pile

Looking for your next read? We’ve been compiling an essential reading list of the top 25 best books in each genre. Here’s what you’ve missed so far:

  • The Best Mystery Novels of All Time
  • The Best Dystopian Novels of All Time
  • The Best Sci-Fi Novels of All Time
  • The Best Historical Fiction Novels of All Time
  • The Best Horror Novels of All Time
  • The Best Fantasy Novels of All Time
  • The Best Romance Novels of All Time

Today, we're looking at thrillers.

Tales of suspense and adventure, thrillers get readers’ hearts racing and keep them turning the pages until the very end. The faster the pace, the more enjoyable the thriller, it seems.

Here are the top thrillers of all time, according to National Public Radio, Reader’s Digest, and Goodreads.

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1. The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris

A serial killer is on the loose who believes beauty is only skin deep, and one FBI investigator is determined to catch him. The only man who can help her is locked in an insane asylum; however, he’s willing to make a deal.

2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

A crusading journalist teams up with a troubled, tattooed genius hacker to solve the forty-year disappearance of the youngest member of one of the wealthiest families in Sweden. Astonishing corruption coupled with exceptional iniquity is only the tip of the iceberg.

3. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon and French cryptologist Sophie Neveu investigate the murder of the Louvre’s curator inside the museum. What they uncover leads from secret societies to world class conspiracies. A breathtaking secret is hidden in labyrinthine puzzles that Langdon and Neveu must decipher while avoiding an adversary bent on their destruction at every turn.

4. Kiss the Girls by James Patterson

Patterson’s intrepid Alex Cross is set to solve the most baffling and terrifying murder case of his career. A reporter investigating a string of murders is killed in Los Angeles, while a medical intern suddenly disappears in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Two clever killers are trying to out-murder each other from coast to coast.

5. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

How well can anyone really know the "perfect couple"? On Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary, Amy disappears. As the police and the media get closer to the facts of the case, Nick comes under scrutiny and suddenly things aren’t what they seem. But could Nick really be a killer?

6. The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum

Jason Bourne is suffering from amnesia and is trying to find out if he’s an assassin, a terrorist, a thief, or something else. Why does he have four million dollars in a Swiss bank? And who is trying to murder him and why? In order to find out the answers to his questions, he needs to stay one step ahead of his would-be killer.

7. The Shining by Stephen King

Jack Torrance lands a new job as the off-season caretaker at the Overlook Hotel during the winter months. Bringing his family along with him, little does he know that the Overlook Hotel isn’t the perfect location they thought it was. And the only one who can see the terrible and strange things happening is his son, five-year-old Danny Torrance.

8. A Time to Kill by John Grisham

A page-turning tale of retribution and justice, A Time to Kill uncovers racial violence in a small southern town. A ten-year-old black girl is raped by two white men, and her father takes matters in his own hands and kills them both. Defense attorney Jake Brigance must save the father’s life in the courtroom and his own life outside.

9. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Truman Capote reconstructs the murder of four family members and the investigation, trial, and execution of their killers. There was no apparent motive for the crime and very few clues, but Capote creates a suspenseful tale riddled with astonishing empathy.

10. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

Ten dinner guests are assembled at a private island off the coast of Devon. Their eccentric millionaire host is unknown to all, but each person has a deep, dark secret and a wicked past that becomes their downfall. As each is marked for murder, only the dead are above suspicion.

11. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Rachel rides the same train to work every morning and fantasizes she knows the people living in a row of houses along the tracks. When she sees something shocking one morning, her imagining of their "perfect" life changes. She takes advantage of the situation to become part of their lives and solve the mystery.

12. Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane

A patient has disappeared on Shutter Island, home to the Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane. U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniels and his new partner Chuck Aule are investigating in the midst of a killer hurricane bearing down on the island. As they uncover the deep, dark secrets of Shutter Island, they realize that the Hospital is not what it seems on the outside.

13. The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy

A military thriller covering the greatest espionage coup in history, The Hunt for Red October features the search for a top secret Russian missile submarine. The sub, called the Red October, is heading west. The Americans want to find her and take her, and the Russians want her back, culminating in an incredible chase.

14. Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

On an island, scientists work to recover and clone dinosaur DNA, bringing to life extinct creatures from eons ago to roam Jurassic Park. The park is soon to be open to the world and all who want to visit. On display is the awesome presence and mystery of dinosaurs. Until something goes very wrong.

15. Mystic River by Dennis Lehane

Three childhood friends share a secret that changed them fundamentally, ending their friendship and putting them on different paths. Sean is a homicide detective, Jimmy is an ex-con, and Dave is trying to hold his marriage together. Jimmy’s daughter is murdered, and Sean is assigned the case. Jimmy wants to turn to his criminal ways to solve the crime. And why did Dave come home covered in someone’s blood the night Jimmy’s daughter died?

16. The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth

The Jackal, a tall blond Englishman with gray eyes. A killer at the top of his profession. No secret service in the world knows his identity. He is contracted to kill the world’s most heavily guarded man. As the minutes count down, it seems there is no power in the world that can stop the Jackal.

17. The Bone Collector by Jeffrey Deaver

Lincoln Rhyme was once a top criminologist until an accident leaves him physically and emotionally shattered. He must work with police detective Amelia Sachs to find a diabolical killer who leaves a labyrinth of clues reaching back into New York City’s past. They delve into the mind of a madman who strips life down to the bone.

18. Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett

An enemy spy knows the secret to the Allies’ greatest deception, a code nicknamed "The Needle"—and holds the key to the ultimate Nazi victory. Only a lonely Englishwoman on an isolated island stands in his way.

19. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

Edmond Dantes is a young, successful merchant sailor who comes home to Marseille to marry his fiancé when he is thrown into prison for a crime he did not commit. While imprisoned, he learns of a hidden treasure on the Isle of Monte Cristo. He plans his escape from prison when he’ll find the treasure and use it to destroy the lives of the three men responsible for his imprisonment.

20. Jaws by Peter Benchley

A killer shark is preying on a beach community. Police chief Martin Brody stands as the lone voice of reason against those who want to downplay the shark’s presence so as not to scare away the tourists. Brody will find a way to kill the beast even if it means putting his own life on the line.

21. Killing Floor by Lee Child

Ex-milliary policeman Jack Reacher is a drifter. As he’s passing through Margrave, Georgia, he’s arrested for murder. All he knows is that he didn’t kill anyone—at least not in Margrave. But he can’t convince anyone in Margrave that he’s not a killer—no chance in hell.

22. The Alienist by Caleb Carr

The story centers on newspaper reporter John Schuyler Moore and his friend Dr. Laszlo Kreizler—a psychologist or "alienist". They investigate the horribly mutilated body of an adolescent boy abandoned on the unfinished Williamsburg Bridge in New York in 1896. The two descend into the tortured past and twisted mind of a murderer who will kill again.

23. Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow

Rusty Sabich is chief deputy prosecuting attorney in a large city when his fellow prosecuting attorney Carolyn Polhemus is murdered. Rusty is in charge of the investigation and must solve it before his affair with Carolyn is uncovered. But election day brings a new prosecuting attorney into the office who arrests Rusty for Carolyn’s death.

24. No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

Llewellyn Moss finds a pickup truck surrounded by dead men with a load of heroin and two million dollars in cash in the back. Moss takes the money, setting off a chain reaction of catastrophic violence no one can contain. Moss works to evade his pursuers, including a mastermind who flips coins for human lives.

25. The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly

Mickey Haller is a criminal defense attorney who operates out of the back seat of his Lincoln Town Car. A Beverly Hills playboy arrested for attacking a woman he picked up in a bar hires Haller to defend him. Haller thinks this might be the easiest case of his career—until someone close to him is murdered.


And that’s the top 25 best thrillers we could find. Surely we’ve missed some of your favorites though. Let us know in the comments below.

Want to read more? Check our other reading lists below:

  • The Best Mystery Novels of All Time
  • The Best Dystopian Novels of All Time
  • The Best Sci-Fi Novels of All Time
  • The Best Historical Fiction Novels of All Time
  • The Best Horror Novels of All Time
  • The Best Fantasy Novels of All Time
  • The Best Romance Novels of All Time

Are you ready to write your thriller novel? Download this free book now:

This guide helps you work out your narrative arc, plan out your key plot points, flesh out your characters, and begin to build your world.

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