The best thrillers that give you something to chew on

Who am I?

I love thrillers. Mysteries, police procedurals, domestic noir, horror—no matter the sub-genre, I love books that grip me in a well-structured plot. But the books that I re-read, that leave me thinking about them long after, have more than just the pull of a page-turner. There’s a lushness to the language, a psychological complexity to the characters, and the landscapes are alive, vivid, and filled with menace. I call these books “chewy” because, like excellent food, there’s so much to savor. They satisfy my cravings and fill me up, but their flavors and textures add layers to the experience. I hope you’ll devour and savor these books as much as I have.


I wrote...

Beneath the Stairs

By Jennifer Fawcett,

Book cover of Beneath the Stairs

What is my book about?

Few in sleepy Sumner’s Mills have stumbled across the Octagon House hidden deep in the woods. Even fewer are brave enough to trespass. A man had killed his wife and two young daughters there, a shocking, gruesome crime that the sleepy upstate New York town tried to bury. One summer night, an emboldened fourteen-year-old Clare and her best friend, Abby, ventured into the Octagon House. Clare came out, but a piece of Abby never did.

Twenty years later, an adult Clare receives word that Abby has attempted suicide at the Octagon House and now lies in a coma. With little to lose and still grieving after a personal tragedy, Clare returns to her roots to uncover the darkness responsible for Abby’s accident.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

What's Done in Darkness

By Laura McHugh,

Book cover of What's Done in Darkness

Why this book?

Laura McHugh writes about parts of the U.S. that are often either villainized or over-simplified. Instead of leaning into the cliches, she brings these landscapes and their people alive with compassion but without pity. From the first paragraph, I could feel the oppressiveness of the protagonist’s world but I could also see its wild beauty. This is a place where the air is “heavy as a sodden sponge” and insects buzz like an “unholy plague.” The darkness implied in the title has a layered meaning here: there’s the darkness of ignorance, the darkness of the human mind that is capable of justifying cruelty as salvation, and the darkness of hidden and ignored places. 

What's Done in Darkness

By Laura McHugh,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked What's Done in Darkness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Abducted as a teenager, a woman must now confront her past and untangle the truth of what really happened to her in this dark thriller from the author of The Wolf Wants In. 

ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Self • “Compulsively, propulsively readable.”—Laura Lippman, bestselling author of Lady in the Lake

Seventeen-year-old Sarabeth has become increasingly rebellious since her parents found God and moved their family to a remote Arkansas farmstead where she’s forced to wear long dresses, follow strict rules, and grow her hair down to her waist. She’s all but given up…


The Doctor's Wife

By Elizabeth Brundage,

Book cover of The Doctor's Wife

Why this book?

I once heard Elizabeth Brundage talk about how she sees the thriller plotline as something to attach larger ideas to. That made so much sense to me. It was hard for me to choose which of her books to recommend, but I decided on The Doctor’s Wife because it has a new resonance with the current debate around reproductive rights. There are two characters in this book who are on opposite sides of the abortion debate. Brundage’s characters can do monstrous things but they are not monsters; they are complex, hurt, angry, loving, and so recognizably human.

The Doctor's Wife

By Elizabeth Brundage,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Doctor's Wife as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A stunning work of literary suspense by the the acclaimed author of All Things Cease to Appear.

"The memory starts here, in my apron pocket, with the gun."

Lydia Haas is devoted to Jesus, her church, and her husband. Only recently, after it's too late, has she understood how much she has sacrificed to all of them.

Michael Knowles is a rising young doctor, an OB/gyn at a prominent hospital. A man committed to his principles, to rescues with uncertain outcomes; to his wife. The life they've made. He never intended to have to make a choice.

Annie Knowles is…


Broken Harbor

By Tana French,

Book cover of Broken Harbor

Why this book?

This story starts out simply enough: a gruesome crime with some mysterious holes in the walls and a strange collection of baby monitors. But add to this the eerie landscape of an abandoned suburb (the perfect metaphor for broken dreams) and you have a story about the insidious decay of paranoia that eats its way into a family and tears it apart from the inside. Tana French is a masterclass on how to explore the labyrinth of the human mind through fiction. When I read Broken Harbor, it snaked around my mind until I was so far inside the obsessive delusions of the characters that the only way out was through the final page.

Broken Harbor

By Tana French,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Broken Harbor as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From Tana French, author of the forthcoming novel The Searcher, a New York Times bestselling novel that "proves anew that [Tana French] is one of the most talented crime writers alive" (The Washington Post).

"Required reading for anyone who appreciates tough, unflinching intelligence and ingenious plotting." -The New York Times

Mick "Scorcher Kennedy is the star of the Dublin Murder Squad. He plays by the books and plays hard, and that's how the biggest case of the year ends up in his hands.

On one of the half-abandoned "luxury developments that litter Ireland, Patrick Spain and his two young children…


Descent

By Tim Johnston,

Book cover of Descent

Why this book?

This book is a meticulous and gut-wrenching story of the unraveling of a family. At its center, is a young woman who is abducted while running in the Rockies, but it is so much more than that (and that story in and of itself is riveting). I’ve always been drawn to stories that look at the ripples of an act of violence. There’s the shock of the act itself, but then there’s all of the days and years after. What Johnston does so beautifully in this story is show how this family unravels but also how each one of them fights like hell to survive within that unraveling and how that hope ultimately saves them all. 

Descent

By Tim Johnston,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Descent as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

As their world comes undone, the Courtlands are drawn into a vortex of dread and recrimination. Why weren't they more careful? What has happened to their daughter? Is she alive? Will they ever know? Caitlin's disappearance, all the more devastating for its mystery, is the beginning of the family's harrowing journey down increasingly divergent and solitary paths until all that continues to bind them together are the questions they can never bring themselves to ask: At what point does a family stop searching? At what point will a girl stop fighting for her life? Written with a precision that captures…


Good Neighbors

By Sarah Langan,

Book cover of Good Neighbors

Why this book?

In Good Neighbors, author Sarah Langan takes everything that’s familiar: the petty rivalries of a middle-class cul de sac, the oppressive heat of summer fueled by climate change, and the complexity of the mother-daughter relationship, and she dials it up and then flips it into a place that is both familiar and startling and utterly terrifying. This book left me deliciously unsettled for days.

Good Neighbors

By Sarah Langan,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Good Neighbors as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Named by Goodreads as One of the Most Anticipated Mysteries and Thrillers of 2021

"A modern-day Crucible....Beneath the surface of a suburban utopia, madness lurks." -Liv Constantine, bestselling author of The Last Mrs. Parrish

"A sinkhole opens on Maple Street, and gossip turns the suburban utopia toxic. A taut teachable moment about neighbors turning on neighbors." -People

"One of the creepiest, most unnerving deconstructions of American suburbia I've ever read. Langan cuts to the heart of upper middle class lives like a skilled surgeon." -NPR

Celeste Ng's enthralling dissection of suburbia meets Shirley Jackson's creeping dread in this propulsive literary…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in kidnapping, New York State, and loss?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about kidnapping, New York State, and loss.

Kidnapping Explore 73 books about kidnapping
New York State Explore 492 books about New York State
Loss Explore 47 books about loss

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Virgin Suicides, The Auctioneer, and Cackle if you like this list.