13 Thrillers We Couldn't Stop Thinking About In 2019
Poison gardens, lying spouses, creepy neighbors, and murder — this year's thrillers had it all.
If you like your thrillers with a dash of horror, you’ll love Riley Sager’s latest novel Lock Every Door, which feels eerily similar to Rosemary’s Baby (emphasis on the eerie) but with a broke millennial twist. After losing her job, her boyfriend, and her apartment in the same week, Jules scores a too-good-to-be-true job as a highly paid apartment sitter in a historical Central Park West apartment complete with gargoyles…and a bizarre list of rules. She soon realizes that things aren’t quite as they seem when another apartment sitter disappears and she begins to investigate the building’s sordid history. Just like in Rosemary’s Baby, Jules has to decide who she can trust. Lock Every Door is suspenseful with twists you won’t see coming.
A devastating fall that might not have been an accident, two separate paternity mysteries, an affluent West Coast seaside town — no, this isn’t Big Little Lies. But if you’re disappointed that there won’t be a Season 3, pick up The Night Olivia Fell by Christina McDonald. The plot centers around single mom Abi, who is awakened in the night by the news that her daughter has fallen off a bridge and is brain dead and pregnant. When the police rule the fall an accident, Abi begins a heartbreaking journey to find the truth for herself. You’ll want to read The Night Olivia Fell slowly as it’s equally a story about mothers, daughters, and the secrets they keep to protect each other.
If there’s one book I wished was longer this year, it’s Girls Like Us by Cristina Alger. You’ll most likely recognize some of the ripped-from-the-headlines plot elements in the novel — including a reclusive financier known for his celebrity-studded parties with teenage girls, and a serial killer who’s been using Long Island beaches as a dumping ground — but that’s just part of what makes Girls Like Us so gripping. When FBI agent Nell Flynn’s estranged detective father dies unexpectedly in a motorcycle crash, she returns home to Suffolk County for the first time in 10 years. There, she becomes involved in the investigations into the murders of two young Latina women, while privately digging into her father’s personal life and her own mother’s murder years earlier. Soon evidence begins to point to a larger conspiracy involving Nell’s father, his friends in the Suffolk County police department, and Long Island’s elite. Girls Like Us isn’t just a page-turner; it also examines class, race, and power on Long Island through the point of view of a protagonist who straddles those lines.
Deliciously creepy are the two words that come to mind when I think of Ruth Ware’s much-anticipated fifth novel The Turn of the Key. If the title reminds you of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, that’s because it’s intentional; Ware’s novel both pays homage to the earlier novella and offers a modern update complete with a nightmarish smart home. The Turn of the Key starts with a letter from governess (and unreliable narrator) Rowan, who is in prison for the murder of one of the children in her care. To understand what happened, you’ll jump back to the very beginning, when Rowan accepts the job after having lied on her résumé. She soon finds herself alone with her new charges at Heatherbrae House — a historic manor that’s been partially converted into a smart home controlled by an app ironically called Happy — in the remote Scottish Highlands. Things immediately take a turn for the worst when the kids begin misbehaving, the app goes haywire, and Rowan starts hearing creepy noises from the attic at night. The Turn of the Key contains twist after twist right until the last few pages and might have you sleeping with the lights on.
Often referred to as a thriller for the #MeToo era, Whisper Network by Chandler Baker is one of 2019’s best book club books. Inspired by the “Shitty Media Men” list, it’s timely, thought-provoking, and has a relatable cast of characters you’ll likely recognize from your own life. The novel opens with a fatal jump from a high rise office building — but you’ll have to keep reading to find out who fell and if they were actually pushed. Whisper Network centers around a group of women lawyers who have worked together for years at sportswear company Truviv. When the Truviv CEO suddenly dies, making their boss Ames the likely replacement lawyers Sloane, Ardie, and Grace, and office cleaner Rosalita — all of whom have complicated relationships Ames — set in motion a series of events that will change their lives forever, while exposing long-kept secrets and bringing one life to an end.
It seems that everyone has a secret in this atmospheric whodunit from Lucy Foley. In the same vein as an Agatha Christie mystery, The Hunting Party opens with the discovery of a body at a secluded manor where a group of college friends, now in their thirties, have been snowed in over New Year's Eve. All that we know is one of them is dead, and one of them is a killer. Through a series of flashbacks, we begin to piece together the past two days and all of the resentments, lies, and secrets throughout their 10-year friendships that have led to this point. If you’re looking for a classic mystery to ring in the new year with, this is the book for you.
The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell has everything: dysfunctional family, a potential cult, multiple murders, a creepy London mansion, and twist after twist. Told from three perspectives, the novel begins when 25-year-old Libby receives a letter from a London lawyer that not only reveals the identity of her birth parents but also names her as the sole inheritor of an empty townhouse in London’s posh Chelsea neighborhood. Libby soon learns that she was found in the house alone after police were called for a mystifying triple suicide. Meanwhile, in the south of France, down-and-out mother of three Lucy gets a reminder on her phone that reads, “The baby is 25.” Intricately plotted, it’s nearly impossible to guess what’s going to happen next. And although Lisa Jewell has released at least one thriller a year for the past few years, The Family Upstairs proves she not even close to running out of dark, original ideas.
In Angie Kim’s Miracle Creek, everyone is lying. Miracle Creek centers around a hyperbaric oxygen therapy treatment facility in rural Virginia, run by recent Korean immigrants the Yoo family. When the HBOT chamber — which may help cure conditions like infertility, autism, and cerebral palsy — suddenly explodes and kills two people, it’s clear that the explosion wasn’t an accident. Was the mother of a patient to blame? Protestors trying to prove the treatment is unsafe? Or the Yoos and their investors, seeking an insurance payout? Based on her own experience as a Korean American, a trial lawyer, and the mother of an HBOT patient, Angie Kim’s novel asks: How far would you go to help the people you love? Miracle Creek is either a legal thriller that reads like literary fiction or literary fiction that reads like a thriller; either way, it’s undoubtedly one of the most impressive debut novels of 2019.
Winner of the 2019 Goodreads Choice Award for mystery/thriller, The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides was this year’s breakaway hit. The patient in question is Alicia, who was once a glamorous London artist with an equally glamorous fashion photographer husband. But six years before the book’s present day, Alicia fatally shot her husband and has refused to speak ever since, leading to her being held in a psychiatric institution called the Grove. The novel is told from the point of view of psychotherapist Theo, who becomes obsessed with Alicia’s case and gets a job at the Grove with the hope of getting her to talk — all while dealing with difficulties in his own relationship. In The Silent Patient, Michaelides creates an unreliable narrator you won’t be able to forget and delivers the biggest and most shocking twist of this year.
Heidi Perks’ debut novel Her One Mistake plays on every parent’s worst nightmare: a missing child. When Charlotte loses her best friend Harriet’s daughter at a school fair, she panics. She knows she only took her eyes off the little girl before she seemingly vanished into thin air, but still blames herself. Now Harriet — already a secretive and private person — can’t bring herself to even talk to Charlotte and further isolates herself in the aftermath. But as police investigate and secrets begin to surface, it becomes clear that at least one of these women is lying. In the vein of Liane Moriarty’s novels, Her One Mistake is a supremely suspenseful take on the dynamics of female friendships, marriage, and parenthood, in which nothing is as it seems.
Helen Phillips' The Need also deals with parenthood anxieties. When Molly, paleobotanist and mother of two young children, starts hearing footsteps in her home, she assumes it's all in her head — symptoms of the sleep deprivation she’s been dealing with since the birth of her last child. When her worst fear is realized, and she finds herself up against an intruder who knows way too much about her family, she is forced to question her own sanity and capabilities as a mother. A Goodreads Choice Awards Finalist for Best Horror, The Need is a strange and frightening look at the complexity of motherhood.
If you’ve ever woken up with blurry memories of the previous night — or if you happened to hang out at Brooklyn hipster parties in the 2000s — you might see yourself in The Lost Night by Andrea Bartz. Ten years ago, Lindsay woke up after a drunken night with very little memory of the night before. What she does know is that her close friend Edie was found dead in her Bushwick loft apartment with an apparent suicide note next to her body. In the decade since, Lindsay has stopped drinking and moved on from that period of her life — until she finds a disturbing video from that night which makes her question what really happened to Edie. As she investigates, she begins to examine her own involvement and her past demons. Twisty and unpredictable, The Lost Night will keep you guessing — and might make you reexamine your own past.
It’s the middle of the Cold War, and FBI intelligence officer Marie Mitchell is trying to make her way as a young black woman in a traditionally male field. Passed over for high-profile assignments in the past, she finally gets a break when she is asked to join a task force with a mission to overthrow the communist president of Burkina Faso. To do so, she must come to terms with some possibly uncomfortable truths — that she was probably chosen for the assignment because of what she looks like, that she actually admires much of the president’s work, and that she’s still not over her sister’s mysterious death. Part spy thriller, part historical fiction, American Spy ambitiously tackles race, gender, and politics at the same time.