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10 Best Thriller Books of 2016

These reads will have you at the edge of your seat.

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Over the past few years, the “unreliable narrator” has gained popularity throughout the thriller genre. Luckily for readers this year, the crop of thrillers and mysteries were determined to give a nuanced spin on the genre. (But don’t worry, there are still plenty of unreliable narrators to make you question everything.) Whether it’s Megan Abbott’s You Will Know Me, which explores the dark world of competitive gymnastics, or Ian McEwan’s strangely omniscient narrator in Nutshell, the thriller genre has never been more acquiescent to its readers’ strangest whims. As this year comes to a close, take some R&R to catch up on your reading with the best thriller books of 2016.

best thriller books 2016

You Will Know Me

By Megan Abbott

Megan Abbott’s You Will Know Me is a genre-defying thriller that made it to the top of readers’ lists this year. The novel sets the competitive world of gymnastics as the backdrop to a disturbing mystery. Katie and Eric are determined to make their daughter Devon’s dream of becoming an Olympic gymnast a reality – but a violent death in the community threatens to reveal secrets that will destroy everything they’ve worked for. Katie tries to keep her family from unraveling, but finds herself pulled deeper into the crime. As the dark pasts of those involved bubble up to the surface, everything Katie thought to be her life is thrown into question. You Will Know Me is Abbott’s eighth novel, and critics and readers alike are calling it her best yet.

best thriller books of 2016

The Things We Wish Were True

By Marybeth Mayhew Whalen

There are more secrets to this small town than meet the eye. Told from the point of view of a revolving cast of characters in Sycamore Glen in North Carolina, Marybeth Mayhew Whalen’s novel about the complicated web of small town life struck a chord with readers. Like its title indicates, the reality of suburban life is not as picture perfect as we’d like to believe.

Related: 13 Mystery and Thriller Books That Inspired Films 

When an accident at the local pool disrupts the neighborhood’s placid existence, a prodigal daughter returns, only to find that her past has followed her to Sycamore Glen, and it may have been lurking there all along. Over the course of the summer, long-lost secrets are revealed, and neighbors must face the fact that they may not know those living around them as well as they thought. 

best thriller books of 2016

Sweet Lamb of Heaven

By Lydia Millet

What would you do if your husband threatened to undo everything you knew to be true? Longlisted for the National Book Award, Lydia Millet’s disturbing novel tells the story of a mother and her young daughter on the run from her cheating husband Ned, who has just launched a life in politics. They find themselves hunkered down in a secluded coastal motel, but the longer they stay in hiding, the less it seems Ned’s is just an average political campaign. Anna’s sudden departure doesn’t fit in with the camera-ready family Ned needs, and he’ll do whatever it takes to get them back. Though Sweet Lamb of Heaven might begin like a typical psychological thriller, it defies categorization and even perplexes. One reader compared it to a Rubik’s cube – making it the perfect book for readers looking for something different.

best thriller books of 2016

Under the Harrow

By Flynn Berry

A sister’s worst nightmare unfolds in this debut novel by Flynn Berry. Nora takes a train to visit her sister Rachel and expects her to be waiting at the train station. When she’s not there, Nora suspects she’s at home - but when she arrives at Rachel’s house, she finds her sister has been viciously murdered. As a victim of an unsolved assault herself, Nora has little remaining faith in the police force. She takes it on herself to find her sister’s killer, but she finds that delving into her sister’s life raises questions about her own. The novel explores a fierce love between sisters, seemingly endless grief, and what it looks like when the past refuses to stay hidden. With an unreliable narrator like The Girl on the Train (we’re not done with them yet!), Under the Harrow will keep you guessing until the very end.

best thriller books of 2016

I Let You Go

By Clare MacKintosh

Jenna Gray moves to a remote cottage in hopes of distancing herself from that fateful day when her son wrested himself from her grasp, ran into the street, and was killed by a hit-and-run driver. The police don’t have many leads, but as far as catching the person responsible for this crime goes – Jenna blames herself. Paralleling her anguish are two police investigators hunting for the driver who took Jenna’s son’s life. As Jenna and the officers delve deeper into the tragic accident, they realize there may be more to the story than either party has acknowledged. This novel of one woman’s anguish captivated readers with its shocking twist-ending … so, don’t worry, no spoilers here.

best thriller books of 2016

Before the Fall

By Noah Hawley

When a small plane carrying 11 passengers crashes on its way back from Martha’s Vineyard, the only survivors are Scott Burroughs, a painter, and a four-year-old boy, the only remaining member of a wealthy media family. Hawley tells the story of all the souls onboard, and as their stories are revealed, it becomes frighteningly obvious that this crash was no accident. Was it coincidence that so many powerful people died in a single plane crash, or is there a reason more sinister to blame? But at the center of the novel, the fragile yet glowing relationship between the two survivors of the crash, revealing just how strong of the bond of tragedy can be. Hawley is the creator of two FX television series, Fargo and Legion, and fans love his quirky and intelligent take on the dark and complex secrets shattered in the open from one fallen flight.

Related: The Scariest Books You've Ever Read 

best thriller books of 2016

The Woman in Cabin 10

By Ruth Ware

Travel journalist Lo Blacklock has hit the jackpot. Her job has sent her on a luxury cruise in the North Sea. Everything from the plush cabins to the dinner parties is perfect, but in the midst of a patch of bad weather, Lo witnesses a woman thrown overboard... or does she? Desperate for help, Lo’s horror grows as everyone else onboard acts as if nothing’s happened. Is Lo seeing things, or is she an unwilling participant in the cover up of cold-blooded murder? Despite her claims, all passengers remain accounted for, but she can’t shake the sense that something is very wrong. While other thrillers this year were inevitably compared to Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train, Ruth Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10 has more in common with the classic mysteries of master Agatha Christie and will keep you turning pages late into the night. 

best thriller books of 2016

Nutshell

By Ian McEwan

Nutshell is told from a perspective unlike any other – Trudy’s shockingly inquisitive unborn son. The new novel from master stylist and author of Atonement Ian McEwan has the most unreliable of all unreliable narrators. From his place in the womb, the child witnesses Trudy and her lover, Claude, as they conspire to kill Trudy’s husband John. Just to make things more complicated, Claude is John’s brother. This thrilling take on Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a tight and darkly charming ride that has readers wondering how Ian McEwan does it … again and again. Nutshell is his 14th novel!

best thriller books of 2016

Dear Mr. M

By Herman Koch

Years ago, M’s immense success came from a fictionalized account of a real-life unsolved disappearance. Now, he notices a timid, seemingly well intentioned neighbor keeping a close eye on him. Here is the mystery of a missing man, a teenage couple, a writer in decline and how all their stories intertwine. Koch spares nothing in blurring the line between fact and fiction, paranoia and truth, and human emotions. The author of the chilling novel The Dinner, Koch untangles a devastating connection between all the parties, which swells to a shocking ending that’s become the trademark of his dark and twisted novels.

best thriller books of 2016

The Trespasser

By Tana French

Detective Antoinette Conway is viciously tough, but even she has a breaking point. In book six of Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series, Antoinette hasn’t exactly received a warm welcome since she’s joined the force, and after the murder of a beautiful, lively young woman, she is even more torn. Under mounting pressure from the media and civilians, Antoinette is being pushed by the police chief to arrest the boyfriend fast. But something doesn’t add up, and no one will believe Antoinette’s gut feeling telling her that the killer is not the boyfriend. And even more unnervingly, Antoinette has seen this young woman before. An experienced tactician, Tana French’s latest solidifies her place as the modern, grittier Agatha Christie.

Related: 9 Mystery Books About Strange Disappearances