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21 Psychological Thriller Books That Mess with Your Head

There's no escaping your own mind.

We're always down for a horror movie, but for a dose of real terror, we turn to psychological thriller books. While ghosts and bloodthirsty creatures are certainly terrifying, the best scares are the ones that play with your head. After all, there's nothing more freaky than being unable to trust your own mind, right? 

The following books will keep you guessing (and more than a little creeped out), as friends, couples, families, and neighbors come to realize that appearances are deceiving and the truth isn't always clear...


Buy Josie and Jack at Amazon

Josie and Jack

By Kelly Braffet

The titular brother and sister of Braffet's “darkly gothic” debut lead unsupervised lives in a secluded Pennsylvania home (Publishers Weekly). Their father may be a batty physics genius, but he’s also a negligent parent—which leaves both kids at the mercy of bad influences and decisions. Their sibling relationship becomes increasingly fraught as Jack makes bizarre demands of Josie, all the while exhibiting clear signs of sociopathy. Things get even more twisted when the siblings strike out on their own and head towards a catastrophic end that they—and you—won't see coming. This is a thrilling update of the classic Hansel and Gretel fairy tale, though it also incites the skin-crawling creepiness of V.C. Andrew’s Flowers in the Attic.  

Josie and Jack

By Kelly Braffet

Buy We'll Never Be Apart at Amazon

We'll Never Be Apart

By Emiko Jean

Once, 17-year-old Alice Monroe was just your average teenager. Now, she's locked up in mental hospital, still reeling from her boyfriend’s death at the hands of her calculating, arsonist twin. To pass the long and uneventful days, Alice occupies herself by writing out her thoughts of vengeance, which all involve giving her sister a taste of her own murderous medicine. An unhealthy friendship with a fellow patient only fuels her fire (no pun intended)—though resurfaced memories will make Alice realize that her mind has blurred fact and fiction.

We'll Never Be Apart

By Emiko Jean

Buy The Practice of Deceit at Amazon

The Practice of Deceit

By Elizabeth Benedict

Psychotherapist Eric Lavender loves living the lifestyle of a Manhattan bachelor. But when he meets Colleen Golden—a single mom and divorce lawyer from outside the city—he begins to sing a different tune. Under Colleen's influence, Eric turns into not just an honest man but a father and suburbanite. Of course, these ideal beginnings are short-lived, as Fatal Attraction-esque disaster looms on the near horizon: Colleen has a past far grimmer than anyone could've imagined, and it'll take a professional fiasco to bring her true nature into the light.

The Practice of Deceit

By Elizabeth Benedict

Buy Come Closer at Amazon

Come Closer

By Sara Gran

A popular choice for "top scary books" lists, Come Closer charts a woman’s mysterious downward spiral. But is her unraveling caused by madness—or something even more terrifying and powerful? This is the question that’ll keep readers on the edge of their seats, as the source of Amanda’s violent mood swings, visceral nightmares, and monstrous thoughts continue to baffle herself, her family, and her friends. Hailed by Bret Easton Ellis as “hypnotic” and “disturbing,” this isn’t your average psychological thriller—and that’s what makes it all the more riveting.

Buy A Brief Lunacy at Amazon

A Brief Lunacy

By Cynthia Thayer

Jessie and Carl Jensen have been together for forty years, and while it hasn’t been easy—they’re the parents to a wayward, schizophrenic daughter—they’re confident in their marriage. Enter Jonah, a man they hardly know, but whose arrival may destroy them entirely. When he shows up at their cabin saying he’s been robbed, Jessie and Carl invite him to use their phone and stay for dinner. It doesn't take long for the couple to realize Jonah is more monster than victim—and that he knows more about them than any normal stranger should. Thayer keeps tensions high, as the Jensens try to win their visitor's messed-up, psychological games.

A Brief Lunacy

By Cynthia Thayer

Buy The 7th Victim at Amazon

The 7th Victim

By Alan Jacobson

In the first of Jacobson’s Karen Vail series, the female FBI profiler is on the hunt for a Virginia serial killer known as “dead eyes.” It’s bad timing: on top of an impending divorce, Karen has to deal with an ailing mother. But despite her personal problems, Karen's powers of intuition haven't been dulled, and she's convinced the answer lies within its seventh victim. Can she solve the case in time to stop the killer and save her career?

The 7th Victim

By Alan Jacobson

Buy Cage of Bones at Amazon

Cage of Bones

By Tania Carver

Detective Phil Brennan and psychologist Marina Esposito have made a shocking discovery inside an abandoned house: A cage made of bones, which holds a feral child. Now, they're in the middle of a grisly serial killer case that has stumped police for 30 years. In a terrifying marriage of horror and psychological suspense, Tania Carver's novel keeps the chills and surprises coming as the duo confronts a dark and elusive evil. 

Cage of Bones

By Tania Carver

Buy Damage at Amazon

Damage

By Josephine Hart

This gripping novel by Josephine Hart follows a man who seemingly has everything, but whose obsession with his son’s fiancée drives him into a reckless, unforgivable sexual frenzy. The basis for the 1992 movie adaptation starring Jeremy Irons and Juliette Binoche, Damage is a masterful psychological thriller that will make your blood run hot and cold.

Buy Mortal Memory at Amazon

Mortal Memory

By Thomas H. Cook

Purely by luck, Steve Harris did not meet the same fate of his mother and brother, who were murdered by his father in 1959. Since then, Steve has tried to move on with his life, though a new true crime book threatens to open old wounds. Still, Steve cooperates with author Rebecca Soltero, as she digs deeper into the events of that fateful day. What ensues is an eye-opening investigation that reveals painful truths about the crime, Steve's father, and the family he loved and lost. 

Mortal Memory

By Thomas H. Cook

Buy Captured at Amazon

Captured

By Neil Cross

From the creator and showrunner of the BBC series Luther comes a gritty thriller about promises and second chances. Diagnosed with terminal cancer and approaching death, Kenny Drummond sets out to right all his past wrongs. But when he reaches the name of his former schoolmate Callie Barton, all his attempts to locate her come up empty. Kenny vows to find out what happened to Callie—but does he have enough time?

Buy Harriet Said at Amazon

Harriet Said

By Beryl Bainbridge

Loosely based on the Parker-Hulme murder seen in the Kate Winslet film Heavenly Creatures, Harriet Said stars two bored teenage girls who go embark a disturbing mission: They're going to woo the much-older and married Peter Biggs. But how far will they go to achieve their goal? Well, it's up to whatever Harriet says—and what she says will surely incite life-shattering terror.

Harriet Said

By Beryl Bainbridge

Buy Copycat at Amazon

Copycat

By Gillian White

Fans of the movie Single White Female will recognize a familiar trope in this thrilling novel by Gillian White: Martha and Jennie are neighbors and occasional frenemies, with Martha on top and Jennie struggling to fit in. But when the tables are suddenly turned, this harmless friendship turns into a dark obsession that doesn't end well.

Buy Cross Her Heart at Amazon

Cross Her Heart

By Sarah Pinborough

Sarah Pinborough blew everyone’s mind with the ending of her psychological thriller Behind Her Eyes. She’s up to the same tricks in Cross Her Heart, which sees long-kept secrets poison the bonds between three women. Frustrated by her mother’s overprotectiveness, 16-year-old Ava is ready to defy the rules and do things her way. But there’s a reason Lisa is such a paranoid helicopter parent, and when Ava’s heroics gain media coverage, those reasons begin to reveal themselves. And when Lisa’s only friend, the flawless Marilyn, gets involved, it becomes even more obvious that people are not at all who they seem...Readers can expect delicious curveballs that are worthy of the #WTFThatEnding Twitter hashtag.

Cross Her Heart

By Sarah Pinborough

Buy Jane Doe at Amazon

Jane Doe

By Victoria Helen Stone

Helen Stone's 30-year-old protagonist is an anti-heroine straight out of the Amy Dunne handbook: To her insufferable boss, Stephen, Jane is just a normal Midwesterner—hard-working, reliable, and good-natured. Of course, his assumptions couldn’t be farther than the truth. In reality, Jane is an angry sociopath who blames Stephen for her friend’s suicide. While she plays the role of his dutiful manager, she secretly plots his demise—and as far as she's concerned, the more brutal, the better. Her unapologetic hatred and quest for revenge makes for a fast-paced, darkly humorous psychological thriller unlike any you’ve read before.

Jane Doe

By Victoria Helen Stone

Buy Sharp Objects at Amazon

Sharp Objects

By Gillian Flynn

After years of self-harming and substance abuse, reporter Camille Preaker thinks she’s finally conquered her demons. But when she’s assigned to cover the the murders of two young girls in her hometown, she realizes that her demons are much closer than she thought. In fact, they're lurking in her own backyard...in her own childhood home...and amongst her own family.

Sharp Objects

By Gillian Flynn

Buy Pretty Girls at Amazon

Pretty Girls

By Karin Slaughter

Ever since their younger sister vanished more than 20 years ago, Claire and Lydia have lived separate lives. But when Claire’s husband winds up dead, the estranged siblings must end their decades of separation to uncover what connects these two devastating crimes...

Pretty Girls

By Karin Slaughter

Buy Swerve at Amazon

Swerve

By Vicki Pettersson

If the person you love was abducted, would you flee to safety or pursue their kidnappers? For Kristine Rush, the answer is clear—she'd stop at nothing to bring the criminal to justice. Like Kill Bill or Drive, Vicki Pettersson’s novel is the story of one determined woman on a road trip from hell.

Swerve

By Vicki Pettersson

Buy A Place of Execution at Amazon

A Place of Execution

By Val McDermid

This award-winning thriller contains two interwoven narratives: One takes place in 1963, as inspector George Bennett attempts to solve the case of a missing English girl. The second is set in the present day, where journalist Catherine Heathcote aims to write a book about the case. But when Bennett stonewalls Heathcote just before her book's publication, she suspects that Bennett hasn't given her the full story...

A Place of Execution

By Val McDermid

Buy Before the Fall at Amazon

Before the Fall

By Noah Hawley

From the creator of Fargo comes this New York Times bestseller about the survivors of a plane clash—a down-on-his-luck painter and the 4-year-old son of one of the prominent families killed. As the investigation unfolds, the stories of those onboard indicate that perhaps the crash wasn’t an accident after all.

Before the Fall

By Noah Hawley

Buy In the Blood at Amazon

In the Blood

By Lisa Unger

In this award-winning psychological thriller, college student Lana Granger is a compulsive liar who has always gotten away with her fabrications. But when she starts babysitting for a manipulative 11-year-old boy, Luke, she knows she's met her match—and perhaps her downfall. The disappearance of Lana's best friend requires bigger lies than she's ever told before. They might convince the police of her innocence, but Luke won't be so easily fooled.

In the Blood

By Lisa Unger

Buy Let Me Die in His Footsteps at Amazon

Let Me Die in His Footsteps

By Lori Roy

Winner of the 2016 Edgar Award for Best Novel, Let Me Die in His Footsteps takes place in the lavender fields of 1950s Kentucky, where 15-year-old Annie ventures into forbidden territory on a nighttime stroll. She never expected to find a dead body—or that the discovery would expose her family's deepest, darkest secret. 

Let Me Die in His Footsteps

By Lori Roy

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