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13 Mystery and Thriller Books That Inspired Films

These books leapt from the page to the screen—and kept our hearts racing.

Whether it's a secret agent infiltrating an international spy ring, a private investigator hot on a killer's trail, or even a woman's disappearance from her suburban home, there's nothing that gets us going like great mystery and thriller books.

What’s more: Many of them have provided the material for top-notch, edge-of-your-seat flicks. From the page to the screen, the following novels and their film adaptations are guaranteed to get your heart racing as you navigate twists and turns before reaching the shocking conclusion.

Buy Six Days of the Condor at Amazon

Six Days of the Condor

By James Grady

When a gunman massacres all of Ronald Malcolm’s colleagues at the CIA, he knows his team has uncovered something they were not meant to find—and that he is next on the hit list. Malcolm soon discovers a conspiracy that reaches all the way up to the highest levels of the Agency.

The book inspired the movie Three Days of the Condor, which stars Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway, Cliff Robertson, and Max von Sydow. Released in 1975, it captured the high tensions and paranoia of the time.

Watch the movie on Amazon 

Six Days of the Condor

By James Grady

Buy The Thirty-Nine Steps at Amazon

The Thirty-Nine Steps

By John Buchan

In this mystery/thriller, set on the eve of World War I, expatriate Scotsman Richard Hannay is confronted by an American stranger upon returning to his London home. The stranger claims that he's been hot on the tail of a German spy ring known as the Thirty-Nine Steps, who have plans to steal British military intelligence. Hannay is immediately plunged into a dark world of murder, espionage, and secrets, as he finds himself on the run from the same group of spies.

Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film, The 39 Steps, is based on Buchan’s novel, though the plot of the movie departs from the original text at times.

Watch the movie on Amazon  

The Thirty-Nine Steps

By John Buchan

mystery_and_thriller_books_that_inspired_films
  • Photo Credit: Still from "To Die For" (1995), via Columbia Pictures
Buy To Die For at Amazon

To Die For

By Joyce Maynard

A reporter at a local news station is desperate to make it in the big leagues. Even if that means ordering her young lover to murder her husband, and using the story as ammo for a potential TV deal.

To Die For, the 1995 cult classic film starring Nicole Kidman, was based on Maynard’s book. The black comedy received rave reviews and also stars Matt Dillion, Joaquin Phoenix, and Casey Affleck.

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To Die For

By Joyce Maynard

Buy The Mr. Moto Novels Volume One at Amazon

The Mr. Moto Novels Volume One

By John P. Marquand

Mr. Moto is the protagonist of six Marquand novels. A Japanese secret agent with the combined talents of James Bond and Sherlock Holmes, Mr. Moto travels the globe helping to expose villainous plots and untangle vast webs of mystery and intrigue.

Eight Mr. Moto movies were released between 1937 to 1939, and star Peter Lorre in the titular role. Lorre starred in many other mystery films, often portraying a villain—including The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) and The Maltese Falcon (1941).

Watch the first movie on Amazon 

The Mr. Moto Novels Volume One

By John P. Marquand

Buy Dead Calm at Amazon

Dead Calm

By Charles Williams

In this psychological thriller, newlyweds are yachting on the Pacific Ocean when they come across a shipwreck survivor. They take the man on board, but soon become suspicious of both his story and his intentions.

Dead Calm was adapted into an Australian film in 1989, starring Nicole Kidman, Sam Neill and Billy Zane. The three actors play the sole characters in this claustrophobic film that offers a great, last-minute surprise.

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Dead Calm

By Charles Williams

Buy The Detective at Amazon

The Detective

By Roderick Thorp

A man dies in an apparent suicide at the local racetrack, but his wife is convinced of foul play. When she hires private investigator Joe Leland to look into the case, the lies, fraud, and corruption begin to unfold.

The Detective was turned into a movie in 1968, starring Frank Sinatra as Leland. The film received positive critical reception, and is said to be one of Sinatra’s most intense and dedicated performances.

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The Detective

By Roderick Thorp

mystery_and_thriller_books_that_inspired_films
  • Photo Credit: Still from "Don't Bother to Knock" (1952), via 20th Century Fox
Buy Mischief at Amazon

Mischief

By Charlotte Armstrong

In this suspenseful thriller, two new parents leave their child with a babysitter, Nell, for the night while the father delivers an important speech in New York City. Though things start off okay, the babysitter’s facade quickly cracks to reveal the madness underneath. Marilyn Monroe portrayed the unhinged sitter in the 1952 movie adaptation, Don't Bother to Knock, which was her first co-starring role.

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Mischief

By Charlotte Armstrong

Buy Ride the Pink Horse at Amazon

Ride the Pink Horse

By Dorothy B. Hughes

Sailor knows that his employer, a senator, ordered a hit on his own wife. And while Sailor has agreed to remain silent for a payoff, the situation grows increasingly explosive when a cop, out for blood, emerges on the scene. As an annual Fiesta in New Mexico rages in the background, these three men close in on one another.

The 1947 movie starred Robert Montgomery. Though many characters are changed, the general blackmail plot and the Fiesta setting remain the same.

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Ride the Pink Horse

By Dorothy B. Hughes

Buy The Maltese Falcon at Amazon

The Maltese Falcon

By Dashiell Hammett

Fictional private detective Sam Spade—introduced here—is considered one of the key figures in the development of hard-boiled crime fiction. He was also a major inspiration for Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. After his partner is murdered, Spade is dragged into a complicated world of crime and mayhem, all in the pursuit of a valuable falcon statue.

The Maltese Falcon was turned into an Academy Award-nominated film starring Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor in 1941. Variety praised the film, saying it was “one of the best examples of actionful and suspenseful melodramatic story telling in cinematic form.”

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The Maltese Falcon

By Dashiell Hammett

mystery_and_thriller_books_that_inspired_films
  • Photo Credit: Still from "Gone Baby Gone" (2007), via Miramax
Buy Gone, Baby, Gone at Amazon

Gone, Baby, Gone

By Dennis Lehane

Dennis Lehane, the author of Mystic River and Shutter Island, pens this thriller that follows private detectives Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro. Here, they're hired to track down a woman's missing niece.

Ben Affleck wrote and directed the movie adaptation of Gone, Baby, Gone. It stars Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan, and received many awards and nominations—including Amy Ryan’s Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

Watch the movie on Amazon 

Gone, Baby, Gone

By Dennis Lehane

Buy The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo at Amazon

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

By Stieg Larsson

Stieg Larsson’s international bestseller follows the exploits of Lisbeth Salander, a brilliant but enigmatic hacker, and investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist. Hired by an ail ingbusiness tycoon, they both try to solve the long-ago disappearance of the man's niece.

The Swedish adaptation of the book starred Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace, and was released in 2009. An American version followed, starring Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig, in 2011. Both films were popular and received positive reviews. The second and third books were adapted into Swedish films, and the American franchise will continue with a second installment in October 2018.

Watch the Swedish adaptation on Amazon 

Watch the U.S. adaptation on Amazon 

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

By Stieg Larsson

Buy Gone Girl at Amazon

Gone Girl

By Gillian Flynn

In Gillian Flynn’s bestselling psychological thriller, Nick Dunne is immediately considered the primary suspect when his seemingly perfect wife, Amy, goes missing. Suffice it to say there is much more to Nick and Amy’s marriage—and to Amy, in particular—than meets the eye.

David Fincher directed the film adaptation, which starred Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike as Nick and Amy, respectively (Pike ultimately received an Academy Award nomination). Just as the novel spawned a thousand copycats, the film started a wave of Gillian Flynn adaptations.

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Gone Girl

By Gillian Flynn

mystery_and_thriller_books_that_inspired_films
  • Photo Credit: Still from "The Big Sleep" (1946), via Warner Bros.
Buy The Big Sleep at Amazon

The Big Sleep

By Raymond Chandler

In the first of the famous Philip Marlowe novels, the P.I. is hired by a wealthy old general who wants him to stop a bookseller from blackmailing his younger daughter. Marlowe is in for a wild ride, as secrets, murder, and double-crosses await him down the line.

The Big Sleep was adapted into the classic hit film by the same name in 1946, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. It’s known as one of the most important American films, and was added to the National Film Registry in 1997 by the Library of Congress.

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The Big Sleep

By Raymond Chandler

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Featured still from Gone Girl (2014), via 20th Century Fox 

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