41 Of The Most Suspenseful Books You'll Ever Read
We recently asked subscribers of the BuzzFeed Books newsletter to tell us about the most suspenseful book they'd ever read — and they totally delivered. These titles will definitely take your breath away.
1. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Rachel always observed a woman from her train as she passed the suburbs. But what happens when this woman goes missing? Rachel feels compelled to solve the mystery and stumbles upon dark, shocking truths in the process. The narration keeps you gripped and it's a truly chilling read. I stayed up all night finishing it!
Girl on the Train is a page turner from the very beginning, but it picks up momentum in the second half like you would not believe! I finished it in math class (probably not a wise choice, but I could not put it down) and risked an F for the day just to get through the last few chapters. It kept me on my toes (and audibly gasping) all the way through!
2. Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson
Christine Lucas suffers from anterograde amnesia, a disease that causes her to lose all her memories after she goes to bed. She wakes up every morning not recognizing the bedroom she is in, or the man sleeping beside her (whom afterwards claims to be her husband, Ben). Everyday, she also receives a phone call from a doctor who has been helping her without her husband's knowledge, and reminds her about a personal diary she has been hiding. She flips over the cover and sees three words written in her own handwriting: "Don't trust Ben."
—Joesphine Yeh, Singapore
I lost sleep over this one!!
3. Bird Box by Josh Malerman
An unknown creature is stalking the survivors of an apocalyptic attack. One glimpse of it is enough to drive a person to violent, fatal madness. Now Malorie and her two small children must make their way to safety down the river in a small boat — blindfolded, with only their ears to guide them. They can't see what's coming and, for me, that was enough to ramp up the suspense to create a tense, unsettling read.
The story is terrifying because it plays on your fear of the dark and not being able to see what might be coming for you. I read it at night, sitting beside my son's hospital bed after he'd had surgery and, at one point, when a nurse came in to check on him, I nearly screamed out loud.
So intense it's almost uncomfortable to read.
4. An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
Mireille's harrowing fall from a fairy-tale life of privilege to the torment of her kidnap and captivity at the hands of a violent gang is pure thriller material. But it's made so much more powerful by Roxane Gay's incomparably sharp and vivid prose. Also, apparently An Untamed State has been optioned for a film, so read it before it hits the big screen and starts getting even more buzz!
5. Sphere by Michael Chrichton
Six reasons you should read Sphere ASAP: 1) Alien 2) Spaceship 3) Discovered 4) On 5) Ocean 6) Floor. Like, what?! Yes. This is pure Crichton, and my favorite of his books by far. Compulsively readable and exciting.
6. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
A young boy is taken to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books by his father and happens to pick one up. Years later, he finds out someone has been destroying all books by that author, and he's drawn into the mystery surrounding these events. The Shadow of the Wind had me literally gasping out loud at least once during every chapter! Go read it now!
—Heather Wynne, Philadelphia
The perfect suspense-drama-love-story-mystery novel — it was such a page-turner that I stayed up all night to finish (even though I had work the next morning 😳 😂 )!
7. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
Ten strangers are invited to a mysterious island home for a weekend, only to be killed off one by one in increasingly gruesome ways. But no one has any clue who's behind it all or why this group of strangers was brought together in the first place. This is one of the most intense, suspenseful books you'll ever read. I had no clue what was going to happen next and, and the twist ending definitely caught me by surprise. I think I read it in about two hours — the suspense was killing me.
I couldn't put it down and, when I was done, I couldn't fall asleep!
8. Descent by Tim Johnston
Teenaged brother and sister Sean and Caitlin go for an early-morning run during a family vacation in the Rockies, but the Sean returns alone. The novel then follows the Courtland family for the next year as they cope with their loss. They don't know what happened; Tim Johnston leads us to believe that we do — but, in the end, the Caitlin's ultimate fate comes as a surprise to all. Descent is a literary thriller as beautifully written as it is suspenseful.
9. The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty
"Imagine that your husband wrote you a letter, to be opened after his death. Imagine, too, that the letter contains his deepest, darkest secret — something with the potential to destroy not just the life you built together, but the lives of others as well. Imagine, then, that you stumble across that letter while your husband is still very much alive..." —from the publisher
This book ruined my vacation!! In, like, the best way possible. Read it. Get wrecked by it. Pass it along. Go!
10. Intensity by Dean Koontz
Chyna Shepard must escape a madman after witnessing him murder her friend's entire family. The book covers only 24 hours and is, as titled, intense all the way through. I slept with my lights on for a week after reading it.
The action starts with a bang in the first chapter and it is non-stop all the way. You fall in love with Chyna right away and only want to save her. It's every mother's worst nightmare; my heart was literally racing at every turn of the page.
It scared me so much, I gave the book away so it wouldn't be in my house any more. And I am a VETERAN horror reader.
—Randelle White, Axtell, TX
11. Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King
Retired detective Bill Hodges is on the trail of a killer who's toying with him in return. But Bill must act quickly, before thousands more lives are put at risk. Both antagonist and protagonist are fleshed out with remarkable fullness, which caused me to get even more involved in this book — I couldn't put it down.
12. Playing with Fire by Tess Garritsen
OMG Tess Gerritsen, give me my life back! I've never been so consumed by a book — let alone one about a...diabolical cursed violin score, toddler psychopath, and WWII-era Italy? Yeah, I was as skeptical as you probably are, but somehow it all works. I couldn't stop tearing through the pages to see how Gerritsen brought everything together in the end. What a whirlwind!
13. Alex by Pierre Lemaitre
The novel begins with a young woman trapped in a box suspended in an empty warehouse, naked with a bowl of dog food, waiting and listening to the rats coming for her. From here you are introduced to a unique French detective investigating murders around Paris who has twisted demons of his own. Nobody in the book is who you think they are. Will Alex escape? How is she connected to the detective? Fast-paced, intricate, and utterly compelling — you won' be able to put it down.
14. In the Woods by Tana French
"As dusk approaches a small Dublin suburb in the summer of 1984, mothers begin to call their children home. But on this warm evening, three children do not return from the dark and silent woods. When the police arrive, they find only one of the children, Rob Ryan. He is gripping a tree trunk in terror, wearing blood-filled sneakers and unable to recall a single detail of the previous hours. Twenty years later, an eerily similar tragedy gives Rob, now a Dublin Murder Squad detective, the chance to uncover both the mystery of the case before him and that of his own shadowy past." —from the publisher
French has a powerful way of playing with the characters' minds — which in turn messes with yours!
The ending is utterly incredible and original. Read all of her books!
15. Serena by Ron Rash
The beautiful bride Serena is cruel, cunning, and seductive. She will clearcut native forests, her enemies, and anything in her way. In her, Ron Rash has created one of literatures best villainesses, an icon of primal, bloodless terror.
16. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
"Late one night, a drawing teacher meets a mysterious woman dressed in white. Who is she, and what is her connection to the teacher's new pupil, a beautiful heiress? Told from multiple perspectives, The Woman in White builds into a thrilling tale of mistaken identity, psychological drama, dark desires, and haunting Gothic horror." —from the publisher
I had no idea where it was going. I flipped through the pages so rapidly they could have caught fire.
A veritable forefather of the genre, it's unbelievable how modern this feels despite being published in 1860. The Woman in White is a masterpiece that everyone should read.
17. The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain
What do you do when you learn that the sister you thought committed suicide as a teenager is actually alive and living under a new identity? I would freak the fuck out. But Riley MacPherson gets to work digging into the many mysteries of her sister's — and entire family's — past, giving us one helluva ride/read.
18. The Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson
"Disgraced crusading journalist Mikael Blomkvist has no idea of the levels of conspiracy he will uncover when is enlisted to investigate the unsolved disappearance nearly forty years ago of a Swedish industrialist’s niece. And when the pierced and tattooed computer savant Lisbeth Salander joins him, together they unearth layers and layers of secrets and scandals that permeate the highest levels of society, from politics to finance to the legal system itself--at the bottom of which lies unimaginable cruelty perpetrated on the weak. In the course of these three shocking, unputdownable thrillers, we encounter one of the most heroic of survivors, as she battles some of the most heartless villains ever imagined." —from the publisher
This the by far the most gripping series I've ever read. Finishing the last book left me in a book hangover for many days. Disturbing, shocking and hands-down brilliant.😍 😍
It wasn't until after I finished that I realized how much I'm going to miss these characters. The magic of Stieg is unconquerable.
19. The Secret History of Las Vegas by Chris Abani
As far as Las Vegas goes, this set-up might not even sound that strange: a teenage girl found murdered, conjoined twins as the suspects, and an unlikely transcontinental duo left to fit the pieces of the puzzle together. But throw enough prostitutes, psychopaths, and South African fairy tails into the mix, and you have yourself a dizzying funhouse mirror-version of a crime novel that leaves you spinning — and grinning — throughout.
20. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
For starters, this book is downright bizarre! You spend the first 100 pages in a state of utter confusion, but somewhere along the line it just draws you completely into the life of the geeks and the circus! By the end you care so much about Oly that you are racing through in hopes she gets the happy ending you wish for, while scared to continue in case she doesn't! Not a stereotypically suspenseful novel, but I was gripped till the end.
21. Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
A mysterious beast is stalking the halls and basement of the New York Museum of Natural History in the days leading to a huge exhibition. Museum officials insist on running things according to plan and, as you can imagine, terror ensues. The back story is incredibly well-written, and there are so many things that click into place along the way that feel like personal victories for the reader as well. I found myself holding my breath countless times. Plus, the twist at the end will blow your mind.
22. In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware
Told in alternating past and present perspectives, this novel follows the main character Lee as she is forced out of her beloved seclusion to attend a childhood friends bachelorette weekend. What should be a fun few days of drinks and old memories takes a tragic turn as Lee wakes up in a hospital room with an armed guard at the door. It's there that she learns someone didn't make it through the night — and the armed guard isn't for her protection, it's because she might be a suspect.
23. The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
Secret societies, puzzles and codes, kidnapping, noetic science, and a cryptic chase through the hidden chambers, tunnels, and temples of Washington, D.C.? Oh my! And a smart guy in a tweed jacket? Uh, yes please! I couldn't flip the pages fast enough. I've never been more enthralled by a plot or worried about a fictitious person. When you finally pick your eyes up off the pages, it feels like you're coming out of a literary dream coma.
24. The 5th Wave by Rick Yancy
In the wake of an alien apocalypse on Earth, Cassie is fighting against all odds to rescue her little brother from Them. Action, chaos, romance, and constant edge-of-your-seat suspense abound.
The 5th Wave is a web of never-ending action from start to finish. The plot is amazing and Rick Yancy has a way of helping the reader stay two steps ahead of the characters — but it's by no means predictable. I actually had to put the book down on a few occasions because it was too intense!
25. The Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin
"Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky. There, to her shock, Yeine is named an heiress to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle." —from the publisher
OK, I didn't think I was into fantasy until my sister gave me the first book in this series — and then I was hooked. Jemisin creates such a dark, twisted, and vibrant world, filled with so many compelling characters — you'll never want to leave!
26. Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle
Wolf in White Van is a gripping novel, told from the perspective of Sean Phillips, creator of Trace Italian, "a game of strategy and survival!" Trace Italian brings players on an intricately detailed interactive journey through imaginary, ravaged Future America. But everything goes awry when high school students Lance and Carrie take their play outside the game and into the real world, and Sean is forced to take responsibility for these two children. Wolf in White Van is structured in reverse order, each chapter taking you a step backward into Sean's life. The suspense builds subtly, leading to a totally unexpected conclusion. This is unlike any book I've ever read.
—Jessica Rouzan, Boston
27. Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes
Into the Darkest Corner grabbed me from the beginning and held me — literally shaking — to the end. It's about a survivor of abuse who goes through daily rituals to try to keep herself safe. Every time she opens the door to her apartment, you're terrified with her that he'll be waiting for her. You also learn the backstory that led to the abuse, which makes the book even more scary and suspenseful.
28. The Secret In Their Eyes by Eduardo Sacheri
The Secret in their Eyes starts with the reopening of a decades-old unsolved rape and murder — and only gets more dark and twisted from there. Because retired detective Benjamín Chaparro is haunted by his own past as well. The twist at the end totally threw me — it seriously took me multiple days to recover.
29. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
I love mysteries and read many, so it is somewhat surprising that one of the most suspenseful books in my memory is not a traditional mystery at all. Rebecca tells the story of the disappearance of a man's first wife through the eyes of his second wife. It is both gripping and disturbing, working slowly, creeping towards a most startling conclusion.
Why that strange and frightening housekeeper? What are the noises coming from the attic? Daphne Du Maurier ramps up the atmospheric anxiety and fear masterfully.
30. Long Man by Amy Greene
This gripping novel follows the Dodson's multi-day hunt to find their missing 3-year-old daughter amid the looming destruction of their land. As the government plans to flood out their rural Tennessee town to modernize and bring electricity to more inhabitants, the Dodsons enter a battle against time and nature itself. Throw in a cast of truly unforgettable, well-developed characters, and you've got a story which brings tears and audible gasps, engrossing any reader and staying with you long after the last page is read.
31. Rose Gold by Walter Mosley
"Rosemary Goldsmith, the daughter of a weapons manufacturer, has been kidnapped by a black revolutionary cell called Scorched Earth. Their leader, Uhuru Nolicé, is holding her for ransom and if he doesn’t receive the money, weapons, and apology he demands, 'Rose Gold' will die — horribly and publicly. So the authorities turn to Easy Rawlins, the one man who can cross the necessary lines to resolve this dangerous standoff and find Rose Gold before it’s too late." —from the publisher
Ahhh yes, the good ol' days of seedy '60s Los Angeles police corruption and calamity around every corner. Even if grit and noir aren't your thing, Mosley writes with so much personality and punch that you'll be hooked from the first page.
32. Armada by Ernest Cline
Catastrophe turns teenage gamer Zack Lightman into the reluctant hero Earth doesn't deserve but desperately needs. Flying saucers, sharp pop culture references, and all the twists and turns you could ask for make this a truly riveting science-fiction novel. Each chapter adds something new and interesting to the plot line and keeps you on the edge of your seat. And in true Ernest Cline fashion, the characters are as delightfully quirky as they are relatable.
33. Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver
After a terrible car accident dramatically scars her sister Dara's face, Nick is left to cope with the aftermath and her own guilt. We learn about the events leading up to Dara's birthday and the accident through Dara's old diary pages, in a slow trickle of information that builds up to an explosive secret. I've read so many mysteries but was still gob-smacked by this twist. And the book as a whole is such a heartfelt examination of sisters, secrets, and guilt — when I finished, I just had to hug it.
—Cameron G. Rose
34. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Sixteen-year-old Lydia Lee is dead — but how, and why? Everything I Never Told You digs into the aftermath of tragedy unlike anything else I've ever encountered. It's tense, tender, and terrifying all at once — and written so, so beautifully to boot!
35. The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson
It all starts when two strangers who meet at an airport decide to play a game of truth. Ted is unhappy in his marriage and Lily... well, just imagine if Amy from Gone Girl had an older, more devious sister. Soon, they're plotting the murder of a cheating spouse. But they quickly learn that murder is harder than it looks — and can go terribly awry if not done properly. A suspenseful, devious, psychological tale with countless curve balls and twists, The Kind Worth Killing keeps you at the edge of your seat throughout.
This is one of the most well-written mysteries I've read in a long while. It features well-developed characters and a dark, twisted plot.
36. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
This is a great love and crime story about an orphan-cum-con-artist growing up in Victorian England. It's so exciting and well-told that it basically reads itself — and has an astonishing and intricate twist that blows your mind. Literally, it will give you one of those WTF moments when you want to throw the book out the window and keep reading at the same time. And it gets even better from that moment on! I've never seen anyone disappointed with this book after reading it — it's a total package: suspense, a unique love story, dirty London depravity, a murder, and mystery aplenty — what more could you possibly need?
37. Killing Floor by Lee Child
"Ex-military policeman Jack Reacher is a drifter. He’s just passing through Margrave, Georgia, and in less than an hour, he’s arrested for murder. Not much of a welcome. All Reacher knows is that he didn’t kill anybody. At least not here. Not lately. But he doesn’t stand a chance of convincing anyone. Not in Margrave, Georgia. Not a chance in hell." —from the publisher
Killing Floor will make you forget about the world around you (and the actor who played Jack Reacher in the movies!). It's electrifyingly, addictively good — with all the over-the-top, unbelievable hijinks and ballsy bravado a good thriller should have.
38. The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh
Each day the Caliph of Khorasan marries a new bride, only to have her executed the next morning without reason. So it's unthinkable that Shahrzad would volunteer to marry him — albeit to avenge the death of her friend. Then, just as everything is falling into place in Shahrzad's plot to foil the king...she finds herself falling for him. The intertwining drama and deceit makes this book SO suspenseful: Will Shahrzad be saved by her father? And why were the brides actually murdered? Perhaps everything in Khorasan isn't exactly as it seems.
39. 1st to Die by James Patterson
Four badass ladies come together to stop a psycho with a penchant for killing newlyweds, and the Women's Murder Club is born. Combining the special skills of an assistant D.A., medical examiner, homicide inspector, and crime reporter, it seems like the the WMC has everything it needs — until everything goes terribly wrong. 1st to Die made me *literally* shriek and squirm so many times; I can't recommend it highly enough.
40. The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)
"A brilliant mystery in a classic vein: Detective Cormoran Strike investigates a supermodel's suicide." —from the publisher
The Cormoran Strike novels gave me such an adrenaline rush that they actually kept me awake overnight — I didn't want to stop! The writing is so incredibly detailed, it really makes you think harder, and your heart beat faster.
41. The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
Yeah, yeah, yeah you've seen the movie and you know who Anthony Hopkins is, big whoop — the book is still better! Like, deliciously, deliriously, checking-under-your-bed-for-monsters-even-though-you're-thirty-two-years-old good. Read it and (literally) weep.
Note: Entries have been edited for clarity and length.