Mysteries, thrillers, and spooky books have been my favorites ever since I was a kid and had a massive collection of those yellow hardback Nancy Drews (anyone remember those?). I just love everything about mysteries – the page turning, can’t-put-it-down aspect, of course, but also the atmosphere…the creepy feeling…the whodunit?…just all of it!
One thing I’ve been thinking about lately is how thriller, mystery, and suspense often get lumped together, but there are definitely distinctions between the three – and further, I think, a subdivision for actually creepy books! For more on the distinctions check out this great post from Jordys Book Club, which is kind of what got me thinking about it. I probably could’ve done a full post on spooky books and a separate one on mysteries and thrillers but I thought it would be good to just combine them here, since there is a lot of crossover. I’m also not really getting into horror here at all, which is another sub-genre (or I guess totally different genre?) – the defining feature being gore, I suppose. I’m not really one for gore, although I did absolutely love Fantasticland and that was pretty damn gory! I guess some might define Stephen King as horror? The lines get so blurry!
Lastly – I’m linking to books here through Bookshop.org, where all of your purchases benefit independent bookstores. I know we all use Amazon and I’m certainly not saying I don’t use it for toilet paper and things (lol), but when it comes to books, indies have been positively decimated by the pandemic and need our help so badly! So I hope you’ll consider shopping through Bookshop – it’s a great, easy to navigate site and really the best alternative to Amazon that I’ve found. Thanks guys 🙂
Favorite Spooky/Mystery Reads
When it comes to spooky reads, almost all of the books I’m talking about here walk that very fine line where there’s a hint of the supernatural perhaps…but then again, is there? It could be something otherwordly, or it could just be something psychological. That’s something I LOVE. There are a lot of books out there that go full supernatural – Simone St. James, for example, (and I like her books), but the ones I’m talking about here do that really delicate dance where it could be supernatural…or not…you’re really not quite sure. You’re just left with a sort of unsettled feeling, and I truly love that. I think that’s really hard to do, so I tip my hat to the authors here who pull that off.
The Little Stranger – my favorite spooky book and one of my top five books of all time. This is like my Platonic ideal of a gothic novel. Sarah Waters is an incredible writer – there are scenes in here that are so masterfully executed in their creepiness, I still think about them to this day. It’s also a perfect example of the crumbling mansion in the English countryside sub-genre of mysteries (which I think I just made up?), so I truly couldn’t love it more. Also the movie isn’t good so please don’t judge it on that!
The Turn of the Key and The Death of Mrs. Westaway – my two favorite Ruth Ware books. I think she really excels when she’s doing the creepy, gothic books, rather than her books that are more of your standard thrillers. These both feature isolated, crumbling English mansions and things that go bump in the night, and as mentioned above, there’s truly nothing I love more, so these were great.
Pet Sematary – one of my favorite Stephen King books of all time! This one is so atmospheric and legitimately scary. I think it plays on the most universal of fears, and I’d be surprised if anyone could read this without getting goosebumps. It might fall a little into the horror genre, so be warned! Also – the recent movie is BAD. So bad.
The Shining – classic Stephen King that will truly have you checking over your shoulder while you walk around your house at night. It’s obviously also classic of the haunted house genre and if you haven’t read it by now, you just have to! It lives up to the hype and it’s scary – perfect for Halloween.
The Whisper Man – I loved this book so much because while it is in the genre of thriller, it seemed to have so much more going on with it. It delves into family and especially father/son relationships, the character development was really strong, and it legit creeped me out with some Sixth Sense-type vibes. Truly perfect for Halloween and a standout mystery/thriller among the many, many mediocre ones out there!
In the Woods – the first Tana French and the beginning of my absolute love affair/obsession with her books. I think they’re worth reading in order and this one particularly is a great mix of detective novel/police procedural/creepy psychological thriller. Her character development is second to none and I still wish she would bring back Rob Ryan, her main character here – flawed and impossible not to fall in love with. This book will give you shivers and you will not be able to put it down! It’s not as creepy as the ones mentioned above, but it flirts with creepiness in a wonderful way – something that I think only really skilled authors can pull off.
Broken Harbor – my ultimate favorite Tana French. Yes, I adore In the Woods and The Likeness (the second of her novels), but Broken Harbor just kills me. It is SO good, and another one that is just the perfect amount of creepy. Truly un-put-downable and there’s just this one aspect to the main storyline in there that I found completely unforgettable. I won’t say what obviously, but the tension and sense of madness and unreality builds and builds…it’s so masterfully done and unlike anything else I’ve read.
The Ruins – one of my favorite books of all time and there’s this sense of building panic and foreboding here. I wouldn’t necessarily call it spooky, but there is something definitely eerie about it – probably part of why I love it so much. There was a HORRIBLE movie made based on it and it would kill me to think that anyone would judge the book based on it. You will NOT be able to put this book down.
Mexican Gothic – I really liked this book – it’s slow, so I wouldn’t really call it a thriller, but it’s a good mystery and very atmospheric, and in the crumbling mansion genre (this time in Mexico though, not England). It has a creepy vibe and while it’s not outright scary at all, I love how the author builds the tension and atmosphere, and I found it to be a really unique book in a genre that I read often.
Little Darlings – I feel like I never really heard or saw anyone talking about this book so I don’t know if I’m the only one who liked it, but I thought this was so good and had a definite creepy vibe! It felt like a dark fairy tale, which to me made it really unique and took it above your average thriller. I like when there’s that little dose of something outside of reality in a book, ya know. Some people on Goodreads were saying it had a bit of magical realism to it, which I hadn’t really thought about before but when you consider the fairy tale aspects, it makes sense. A great Halloween read, I think!
Never Let Me Go – part of wonders if I should be putting books on the list that I remember really loving, but can’t remember a damn thing about – this is one! That doesn’t say anything about the quality of the book, tbh, it’s just a me thing where I pretty much forget everything I ever read. In a way it’s good because then I can read things again as if for the first time, lol. But anyway from what I do remember of this, it’s very atmospheric, haunting, and thought-provoking. I’m going to reread it!
Favorite Mystery/Thriller Books (not spooky)
You – this is SUCH a good thriller! I would categorize this one as thriller and not mystery, because while the two genres often get mixed up, there’s no real mystery here. Just an awesome main character unlike any other I’ve read and a completely un-put-down-able story. The Netflix show is actually really good too but the book is irreplaceable.
The Kind Worth Killing – kind of a modern day Strangers on a Train and one of my all-time favorite thrillers. I can’t really say much about it without giving things away, and that would ruin it, so I’ll just say it had this one jaw-dropping moment where I kid you not, my jaw actually dropped. When does that ever happen?! It’s just such a good thriller!
Unraveling Oliver – one of my recent favorite thrillers. Similar to You, it’s more like a character study/thriller than a mystery, but it’s got that suspenseful quality of can’t put it down, must find out what’s going to happen. Again, I read so many thrillers and this is a uniquely good one, in my opinion. It’s not spooky, but it is good and creepy because the main character is quite chilling.
The Dry – loved this. I find Jane Harper to be comparable to Tana French – and believe me, that is the highest of praise! Similarly to the way Tana French’s books really incorporate Ireland into the story, Jane Harper’s books feature Australia in a really interesting way. For both the setting plays a large role, but not in a distracting or obvious way. So this is my favorite of Jane Harper and I would wholeheartedly recommend all of her books! She’s a wonderful writer and the mystery really keeps you turning the pages. I’m ridiculously excited that she has a new one coming out in 2021!
A Simple Plan – a great thriller/mystery that puts ordinary people into an extraordinary position and then kind of sits back and says – let’s watch this spin completely off the rails. Like all of the books on this list, the description simply doesn’t do it justice. It’s clever, compelling, and thought-provoking.
Horns – so good! The premise is a bit nutty but you just have to go with it. It’s a great mystery/thriller with a romance at the heart of it that I found really gave the book depth and substance. It’s stuck with me over the years which as mentioned above, is a bit rare for me!
Sister – a mystery/thriller that centers on a woman’s search for her sister. I remember thinking that similar to Horns, this has real emotions at the core relating to loss that give the story substance and made it very poignant – but also very much a page-turner.
Miracle Creek – a mystery/courtroom drama that I completely adored. Total page turner, great writing, and a complex mystery that pulls in themes of family, disability, motherhood, and a lot more, all in this small town where a terrible tragedy has occurred. Like Jodi Picoult but to me so much better (I don’t like Jodie Picoult tbh).
My Sister the Serial Killer – I feel like this is one that falls between genres, it’s not a mystery but I guess sort of falls between thriller and suspense. Either way, I loved it. It’s got a great premise, it moves along at a clip, and honestly packs so much good story into such a compact package, which I find very impressive!