The best psychological thrillers that function as demented self-help books

Who am I?

I suppose I’ve asked myself the question, “Why do people do bad things?” I became passionate about exploring the bleak side of the human condition. It wasn’t always a joy ride, I assure you. I’ve read many books and done hours and hours of research online. What I couldn’t garner from books and the Internet, I sought from the professionals. I even had the opportunity to interview one of the premier forensic psychiatrists in the world, Dr. Ronald Markman. He’s the guy who determines who is “competent to stand trial” and he’s interviewed the most infamous. His book, Alone with the Devil, would be my 6th book to recommend. 

I wrote...

In Twilight's Hush

By Laurie Stevens,

Book cover of In Twilight's Hush

What is my book about?

Troubled Detective Gabriel McRay investigates a cold case from 1988 involving a missing teenager named Nancy Lewicki. Evidence is sparse and Gabriel has no leads. Much to his dismay, a celebrity psychic, Carmen Jenette, hypes the unsolved case on her television show. Gabriel warns Carmen not to interfere. Meanwhile, strange dreams of water and corpses haunt Gabriel's sleep and unnerve him. Are they clues? Is he crazy? When the psychic's life is threatened, Gabriel connects the dots back to the missing girl and realizes his cold case is burning hot. Someone doesn't want Nancy found and will kill to keep her hidden. Named to Kindle Book Reviews’ Top 5 Mystery/Thrillers of 2021.

The books I picked & why

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Alfred Adler's Basic Concepts and Implications

By Robert W. Lundin,

Book cover of Alfred Adler's Basic Concepts and Implications

Why this book?

I stumbled upon this book when I researched the psychology behind my first novel (the protagonist goes to therapy sessions). Although most psychologists follow Jung, I decided to make the therapist in my book an Adlerian psychologist. Why? Because Adler studied the criminal mind and posed interesting theories of how we follow a “faulty pattern of life” set forth from the time we are children. Kids develop defense mechanisms that allow them to cope with a given situation (violent parent, cloying parent, bullying at school, etc.) The problem is, as the kids grow up, they forget that these “patterns” they’ve cultivated were based on survival and may not guide them in the right direction. To be happy, people may have to rewire their brains. Good stuff! And I used the heck out of it. 

Beyond Belief: Moors Murders

By Emlyn Williams,

Book cover of Beyond Belief: Moors Murders

Why this book?

This is an old book, but it digs deep into the fragility of the human spirit. As Emlyn states in the foreword: "The proper study of mankind is man. And man cannot be ignored because he has become vile. Woman neither.” Perhaps nowadays we should say the proper study of humankind is humans. Whatever way you’d like to put it, the sentiment behind the pronouns rings true. It’s written as a fictional novel but it follows the crimes of Myra Hindley and her sadistic lover, Ian Brady. Emlyn Williams does a fine job of laying out everything that stoked the fire of that ill-fated and dangerous friendship. What do you come away with? How a human being can fall apart into something inhumane. 

Red Dragon

By Thomas Harris,

Book cover of Red Dragon

Why this book?

This book precedes Harris’s famous The Silence of the Lambs. Red Dragon scared the heck out of me. Why do I think it fits my chosen theme? Because Harris shows us the struggle people face to feel accepted by their peers, to fit in. In the case of the killer in this book, to envy happy families. We get into the killer’s brain, and I got more out of that than the tongue-in-cheek banter between psycho-psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter and the detective. You almost feel sorry for the guy, and why you do is something to think about.


By Stephen King,

Book cover of Carrie

Why this book?

A classic. It’s every outcast’s dream to find something that makes him/her/they feel powerful. In Carrie’s case, she develops telekinesis and can move objects with her mind. We are rooting for Carrie a) because her mother is strange, fanatical, and violent, b) kids pick on Carrie at school, and c) even the adults mistreat her. Most people will feel alienated at some point in their lives, and we are so happy for Carrie when she begins feeling empowered (and yes, a little bit pretty, too). This being an A-1 horror story, you can bet the good times don’t last. However, the takeaway is why we feel such compassion for Carrie. Compassion and awareness go a long way in this world and are two vital traits worth exploring.

Jane Eyre

By Charlotte Brontë,

Book cover of Jane Eyre

Why this book?

Is this a psychological thriller? I’d say ‘yes.’ It features an orphaned girl, living in a period of time when the only county facilities that helped the “poor” were workhouses. Jane suffers abuse in the home of her aunt, who then ships the young girl off to a school, where the cruelty continues. Through it all, Jane has stamina and works on herself to always be strong. When she becomes a governess at the dark estate of Mr. Rochester, she stands up to his scrutiny and brusqueness. Jane suspects something is wrong about the whole setup, especially when she hears creepy laughter at night, nearly catches an arsonist, and bandages a wound on a strange, raving man. What do we learn from Jane’s experiences? To be graceful under fire. To believe in one’s inner strength and to trust in our capacities, even when it seems the entire world (even the era in which we live) is out to get us.

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