Mystery novels are our favorite. We love the whodunnits and the detectives and private investigators who find clues and bring all the suspects together in a room before the lights go out and say, “I’ve brought you all here tonight.” In order to find the best mystery novels ever, our team came up with a list of the 101 best books ever. But a list of the best Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marples in the world isn’t very good. If you want to read a crime novel or a brutal police procedural, you can do that. What about the spy novel that has a lot of intrigue, but a lot more daring-do than detection? What about the thrillers where the person you like turns out to be a killer?
All right, so we’ve put together 110 of the best thriller, crime, and suspense books ever written. Gothic movies, famous secret agents, and psychological thrillers that kept you guessing are all here. It’s time to tell us which books you love, which ones you’re going to read next, and which thrillers we didn’t even think to put in this list! Shake up a martini and enjoy it. If you’re going to add something to your cart, don’t forget to buy local. We’ve listed some great independent bookstores below, and you can also use this tool from Bookshop to find a store near you that sells local books.
The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
When you spend time with people who are bad, you can start to find them a little creepy, like Norman Bates in Psycho or Dexter, the serial killer with good intentions. It was clear to Highsmith that this was true, and her most famous character, Tom Ripley, played with our emotions in five novels. “The Talented Mr. Ripley is one of the best, if not the best, thrillers of all time,” author Karin Slaughter says. You can root for a lot of bad guys, like Don Draper and Tony Soprano, because Tom Ripley is a classic antihero. Highsmith makes him a perpetual underdog, a person who wants to be better than the rich people he wants to be a part of. The reader can relate to him more than the rich people he wants to be like. I think this is a great irony at the heart of a lot of crime novels: you’re not supposed to root for the criminal or vicariously enjoy someone else getting rid of people who “deserve it.” Isn’t it interesting?
Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell
His best-known books are called “Country Noir,” and they are mostly set in the Missouri Ozarks. They are stories about crime and survival, mostly set in the Ozarks, but also in other places. He had a lot of success with Under the Bright Lights in 1986 and The Maid’s Version in 2013. Winter’s Bone, which won an Oscar and has been widely praised, is the best of the two. Author James Patterson says that it’s about 100,000 to 1 that a book will be a success on all levels: storyline and characters who make you care, dialogue that makes you laugh, and description that makes you want to read it again and again (Fear No Evil). What Daniel Woodrell did with Winter’s Bone is what he did well.
Live And Let Die by Ian Fleming
In the James Bond series written by Ian Fleming, the movies that were based on them are more brutal and blunt than the books. At least until the Daniel Craig era went back to the source for ideas. The books and movies about the spy with a license to kill have often been a tantalizing way for kids to learn about the world of adults. President John F. Kennedy gave them a big boost at the start. Ken Follett, a well-known author, was not an exception. At the age of 12, Follett had read all the books in the children’s section of the library, so he moved on to the adult section. Follett started with the Bond book that he still likes the most: “Live and Let Die.” A quote from Follett: “I remember when I asked my father what a martini was.” “Some kind of drink,’ he said grumpily, clearly having no idea what it was.” I couldn’t wait to find out.
In The Woods by Tana French
Why call this list the best thriller/crime/suspense novels when you could just call it the best? Because her first book has all three of them. They are detectives Maddox and Ryan. They work together to solve the murder of a 12-year-old girl, which has ties to Ryan’s past. Author French is very interested in the inner lives of her characters, which makes sense because she was an actress when this book came out in 2007. That makes her Dublin Murder Squad series and stand-alone books more than just “thrill rides,” even though they do. People who want to add up the clues or want big-scale action scenes should look somewhere else. Those who know that understanding our best friends or even ourselves can never be known. You’re in for a real treat.
Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
Atwood is one of the best-known writers of our time, but he doesn’t like being called by a name. She didn’t like the term “science fiction,” even though she had written many books about dystopian futures and stories about genetically modified animals like the pigoon. Atwood agreed to the term “speculative fiction,” but even then, he preferred the more fancy-pants label. Well, that’s nuts. We think that Atwood should be both a sci-fi writer and a crime/suspense author, too. I’m sure she’d like us to say that Alias Grace is a work of historical fiction. Retelling the true story of a woman who killed her boss and his housekeeper in 1843, Atwood tells the story of the woman. As a poet, Atwood has written about this story many times. In 1974, she made a TV movie about it, and then she wrote this novel about it (which itself became an acclaimed miniseries in 2017). It hasn’t been clear for a long time if Atwood thought the real Grace was guilty or not. There’s no question that this is art, no matter what kind of book it is. And that means that you don’t always get a neat label or answer to your question.
Not A Penny More, Not A Penny Less by Jeffrey Archer
As for the George Clooney/Brad Pitt movies or the Frank Sinatra/Rat Pack movie from 1960, the Ocean’s Eleven movies have nothing on this scam. In Not A Penny More, Not A Penny Less, four men are taken advantage of by a dishonest businessman, but they have no way to get back at him through the courts. To get back the money, they work together. They use their unique skills (art dealer, Oxford don, and so on) and the villain’s many flaws (lust for a van Gogh, vanity, etc.) to scam the money. How much cash did the man take? Not more, not less. Like the Sinatra Ocean movie, this one is clever and fun, but it has a great twist, too. People who used to be politicians now write books. Lord Jeffrey Archer almost pulled off the same thing! He went from being in political disgrace and in financial trouble to being one of the world’s best-known writers. This is how he started. Several years later, when Archer was jailed for lying, he turned that into a best-selling prison diary as well, making money from it. He’s a clever guy, just like the people he writes about.