Thrillers: What to Read and What to Give a Pass

 1.  Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (June 2012)
It only seems right to start with the book that began the recent Thriller craze. Told from alternating perspectives, this story examines the twisted disappearance of wife Amy and husband Nick whom becomes the prime suspect amidst media frenzy. While reading, I found myself constantly see-sawing back and forth as my opinions of characters (and their guilt) quickly changed from chapter to chapter. As a book that has easily become the definition of the modern thriller genre, I give this book a solid READ stamp of approval. This book also receives a LISTEN award for the excellent job the audiobook narrators did of bringing the story to life. My recommendation: READ/LISTEN

2.  Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (July 2014)
Recently made into a TV mini-series featuring big name actors such as Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, and Zoe Kravitz, this book set in Australia begins with a murder at an elementary school fundraiser.  It then follows the lives of three mothers alternating between the events leading up to the day of the murder and witness interviews – leaving the reader wondering who was murdered and who is the murderer? This book gets a READ from me for its in depth character portrayals and approach to the difficult issues many modern women must face, such as single motherhood, divorce, blending families, sexual assault, and domestic violence. My recommendation: READ

3.  The Innocent Wife by Amy Lloyd (October 2017)
This debut thriller will seem familiar to fans of Netflix’s hit Making a Murderer series. Awkward Brit Samantha moves to America after falling in love with Dennis, a man wrongly incarcerated for the gruesome murder of a young girl. After a documentary exposes the many flaws and biases in Dennis’s case, the true killer is discovered and Dennis is released from prison. However, things aren’t so happily ever after for Samantha and Dennis, as Samantha begins to question how innocent Dennis really is. Lloyd uses pop culture to write a fun, engaging thriller with a unique plot line. My recommendation: READ

4.  The Lying Game by Ruth Ware (June 2017)
In this grown up version of Pretty Little Liars, four friends – known for competitively lying in high school as they attempted to one up each other – reconvene after many years when a body is discovered near their old boarding school. While Ware has conceived an amazing plot concept that immediately hooks readers, she fails to follow through on the ending leaving readers unsatisfied. My recommendation: PASS

5.  Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter (June 2015)
After Claire’s husband is murdered in a mugging, she reconnects with her estranged sister Lydia whom she has grown apart from since the disappearance of their sister Julia when they were teens. They form a wary truce as the sisters begin to question if there is a connection between Julia’s disappearance decades ago and the recent murder of Claire’s husband. Full of unexpected twists and turns – even for a thriller – this novel is definitely an enjoyable READ with the warning that it is not for the timid reader. Slaughter, as her name suggests, includes many gory, gruesome, and downright disgusting details that will make even the most avid horror movie fan gag. If you have a light stomach or aren’t old enough to get into an R-Rated movie by yourself, then I recommend that you PASS. My recommendation: MIXED…READ/PASS

6.  The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison (June 2013)
Told from alternating perspectives, this book follows the lives of Todd (the victim) and his wife Jodi (the murderer) as their marriage falls apart and they speed towards the inevitable conclusion. This book was a surprising read for me. When I reflect back on the story I’m filled with a sense of mediocrity; however, as I was reading the book I was absolutely entranced from start to finish. My recommendation: While it’s not a book you’re going to write home about, it’s definitely worth a READ.

7.  The Girl Before by JP Delaney (January 2017)
Alternating perspectives are a popular writing style of thrillers, and The Girl Before is no exception.  Moving between the lives of Emma – recovering from a traumatic break-in at her previous residence, and Jane – attempting to rebuild after a personal tragedy, this book tells the stories of two women living in the same house, but years apart. As Jane digs to uncover the fate of the girl before her, readers eagerly follow along. My recommendation: This thriller is a must READ.

8.  Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris (February 2016)
While Jack and Grace seem to be the perfect couple to all those around them, it is revealed to the readers that Grace is not Jack’s wife, but rather his prisoner. Paris has attempted to create a thriller about a case of extreme domestic abuse; however, in writing Jack and Grace’s background and the explanation for how Grace found herself in this devastating situation Paris strays too far from reality.  While thrillers dabble with the line between fantasy and reality, they should never wander too far from it, as the fear that the story could happen is one of the elements that keeps readers on the edges of their seats. My recommendation: PASS

9.  The Passenger by Lisa Lutz (March 2016)
This novel follows Tanya/Amelia/Debra as she crisscrosses the country swapping identities like you’d change your socks. Attempting to escape from a mysterious past, the main character seems to run straight into even bigger problems along her journey – including a dead husband and a kidnapping at gun point. Lutz does an excellent job advancing the story while slowly dolling out hints about the main character’s past, making the ending understandable but not predictable. My recommendation: The book was incredibly enjoyable and gets a big READ.

10.  The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine (October 2017)
When Amber Patterson wants something, she uses all of her cunning, wit, and manipulative prowess to take it.  And she has her sights set on Jackson Parrish – no matter that he’s already happily married with two adorable daughters.  The Last Mrs. Parrish is not a normal tale of a husband-stealing mistress, but rather a blend of a typical thriller with a complex heist novel that will make you question who the real winner is.  This book wows from page to page.  If you only read one book from this list, then this should be it. My recommendation: READ

11.  Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll (May 2015)
Elite New York socialite Ani returns to her prestigious high school to participate in a documentary being made about her time there. While her life may seem perfect now, readers discover that Ani comes from a tragic past and that high school was not a bed of roses. Although it is billed as a thriller, Luckiest Girl Alive doesn’t really fit into the genre even though it does offer a few surprises.  If you’re on a strictly thriller diet, then you should give this book a PASS. However, if you’re just looking for an interesting read, Knoll has a satisfactory writing style and uses a compelling form of character development that leaves the reader liking and disliking Ani all at the same time, making this book deserving of a READ. My recommendation: MIXED…READ/PASS

12.  The Other Widow by Susan Crawford (April 2016)
Beginning with the car crash of a local businessman who gives vague warnings of an indistinct threat moments before his death, this tale chronicles the lives of three women – his wife, his mistress, and the former police officer turned insurance adjuster investigating his death. While Crawford has the outlines of a great thriller, she has a tendency to rush through dramatic action scenes making the reader wish they were on the edge of their seat, but they aren’t. If Crawford had taken more time to draw out the thrill, then I would have given this book my recommendation. My recommendation: PASS

I’m interested to know if you’ve read any of these books, and if so, did you give them a read or a pass? Please leave your comments below.

This post was originally written by Colleen Melone, former Adult & Teen Services Supervisor at the Crest Hill Branch.


  1. Melissa May 5, 2018 at 11:03 am

    I’ve read a few of these books and I agree with the writer’s reviews. I bet we have similar taste!! I plan to add a few of these books to my summer reading list. I can’t wait to read “Pretty Girls” and “Big Little Lies”

  2. Mallory Brooks May 5, 2018 at 12:24 pm

    I’ve read several of these books and agreed pretty much to a T on your commentary. Great list/selection! Constantly looking for new books to read and thrillers are one of my favorite categories. Definitely looking forward to checking out the READS from this blog! Thanks!

  3. Kasey May 6, 2018 at 7:44 am

    I have been looking for something like this for a long time. I have a hard time picturing in my head what the book is about. The back of the book never really gets to me. This is just my genre!!! I’m so happy that there is something like this that will help me pick out a book! I have long commutes to work so when picking a audio book I need to pick a good one that keeps me focused! This is FANTASTIC!!!!!

  4. Deirdre May 9, 2018 at 5:48 pm

    Thriller isn’t the usual genre that I pick up off the shelf. It’s nice to have an idea of what might catch my interest and what might be a waste of my time. I think this list encompasses a good variety of different types of thrillers, and I wouldn’t mind taking a look at those that are recommended for reading.

  5. Nick May 9, 2018 at 9:26 pm

    Great list, definitely some new ones for me!

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