CBTB’s Best Psychological Thrillers of 2018
7 page-turning, addictive psychological thrillers I loved this year
Twisty plots, unreliable characters, binge-worthy pacing—there’s so much to love about a really good psychological thriller, and 2018 gifted us crime readers with tons of excellent options to add to our reading lists. Over the course of the year, we saw fantastic new releases from longstanding authors to debut authors and everyone in between; we immersed ourselves in psychological thrillers laced with gothic suspense, creepy summer camps, murderous family members, and, yes, even beetle collecting. There truly was a fantastic variety of psychological suspense released in 2018—and today on the blog I’m rounding up my very favorite psychological thrillers of the year! Read on for my picks for twisty, addictive, page-turning 2018 suspense.
THE DEATH OF MRS. WESTAWAY by Ruth Ware
No surprise here: psychological suspense queen Ruth Ware delivered another fantastic read in 2018. Ware is one of my favorite authors, and THE DEATH OF MRS. WESTAWAY is my favorite book of hers yet! In this novel of gothic suspense, a young woman is the recipient of a vast fortune when an elderly matriarch passes away. The only problem? The fortune wasn’t actually intended for her, and she’s going to have to use every trick up her sleeve if she wants to claim it for her own. Readers will absolutely love Hal, the protagonist of THE DEATH OF MRS. WESTAWAY: she’s spunky, spirited, and very endearing—even when she’s trying to scam her way into an inheritance. Bonus: THE DEATH OF MRS. WESTAWAY has a strong gothic suspense component that elevates it above its peers.
From My Review of THE DEATH OF MRS. WESTAWAY:
Where does an author go when he or she has written as much that’s been as well-received as has Ruth Ware? In this case, the author just continues on her upward trajectory—a remarkable feat that Ware has somehow made look effortless (though I can only imagine the countless hours and incredible amount of work that have gone into making this happen). Ware has cemented a reputation for herself as “the Agatha Christie of our time,” and this title is perhaps nowhere as well-represented as it is in THE DEATH OF MRS. WESTAWAY. In this modern-day suspense story tinged with a gothic atmosphere, Ware highlights her keen ability to blend past and present, delivering an on-trend crime novel with a deep bow to crime fiction classics. Of all Ware’s titles, THE DEATH OF MRS. WESTAWAY might be her most effective ode to crime fiction’s past yet, delivering not only a plot worthy of an Agatha Christie novel, but an atmosphere and setting worthy of one, too. Prepare to be completely immersed in this book’s richly-developed world; from its family secrets to the gothic mansion where they play out, THE DEATH OF MRS. WESTAWAY is every bit a story that would make the Queen of Crime proud.
LYING IN WAIT by Liz Nugent
No one writes crime fiction quite like Liz Nugent. Understated yet razor-sharp, her suspense novels expertly balance entertainment value and astute psychological observations—and LYING IN WAIT is no exception. Each of Nugent’s books begin with a relatively simple premise (i.e. you won’t find high-stakes thrills or action-packed fight scenes here), but it’s what Nugent does with those premises that consistently blows me away. In LYING IN WAIT, the story of a dysfunctional family becomes a tense, claustrophobic exploration of interpersonal manipulation, greed, possessiveness, and so much more. From its first pages to its very last, LYING IN WAIT is immersive, intimate, and impossible to put down. Nugent is an expert of observer of human nature, and the biggest thrills of this novel lie in exploring the dark corners of the characters who fill its pages.
From My Review of LYING IN WAIT:
What an absolute talent Liz Nugent is. The Irish crime writer made a splash with her debut UNRAVELING OLIVER, and this June, her sophomore effort releases in the US. LYING IN WAIT is every bit a propulsive, compulsively-readable psychological suspense novel. With the sharp intelligence and insight of UNRAVELING OLIVER and a quiet, driving tension all its own, LYING IN WAIT is sure to please established Nugent fans and newcomers to her work alike. You would be hard pressed to find another psychological suspense author who writes with the same unfussy dexterity as Nugent—her clean, to-the-point prose and candid observations of human nature come together here to deliver a truly outstanding summer read. Sparse, blunt, and wholly engrossing, LYING IN WAIT shocks and captivates not with blood and gore, but with the tragic capacity for desperate, ordinary people to do terrible, far-from-ordinary things.
THE NIGHT VISITOR by Lucy Atkins
When I look back on my year in books, Lucy Atkins’ THE NIGHT VISITOR springs to mind as one of the most downright fun crime novels I had the pleasure of reading. This gripping, page-turning psychological thriller centers around the many ways friendship can become twisted and distorted. When an acclaimed biographer sets out to write a new book about one of England’s first female physicians, she brings on board a research assistant - a quirky, eccentric woman whose interest in our protagonist quickly takes a sinister turn. THE NIGHT VISITOR is jam-packed with chills, tension, and suspicion—it just has that “it factor” that makes a psychological thriller such fun to devour. It’s an added bonus that Atkins uses her thriller to explore the complexities of a platonic relationship, and that her protagonists are two women working in academia—both angles that made this psychological thriller a standout. This was the first Lucy Atkins book I’ve ever read, but it certainly won’t be my last.
From My Review of THE NIGHT VISITOR:
Every summer that CBTB has been in existence, there’s been one out-of-left-field psychological thriller that has snuck up on me and totally blown me away. In 2016, this was BLOOD WEDDING by Pierre Lemaitre; in 2017, it was a book I was lucky enough to work on publicity for - FINAL GIRLS by Riley Sager. This year, I’ve found my “out-of-left-field” favorite: THE NIGHT VISITOR by Lucy Atkins. Atkins is an award-winning author and journalist, and THE NIGHT VISITOR is her third novel - but it’s the first of her work that has ever found its way onto my reading list, and boy, am I so glad that it did. After devouring this exceptional psychological thriller, Atkins has secured herself a spot on my list of must-read suspense writers. So impressed was I with Atkins’ writing that I did a little reading about her background, and discovered that she has extensive experience both as a book critic and a teacher of creative writing. Frankly, given the quality of her newest release, I wasn't the least bit surprised. Take it from me: her professional experience shows. Wholly original and utterly unputdownable, THE NIGHT VISITOR delivers a superb story of suspense with a personality all its own. If you love gripping psychological thrillers, quirky and compelling characters, and a story with a totally unique backdrop (an old estate + the world of academia!), THE NIGHT VISITOR belongs on your reading list. In short: every book should be as fun to read as this one.
IN THE VINES by Shannon Kirk
Shannon Kirk’s IN THE VINES is, in a word, twisted. Written in lush, immersive prose and brimming with psychological tension and just a touch of gothic suspense, IN THE VINES is a genuinely delicious and gripping read. Oh, and it’s nuts. If you’re looking for subtlety in your next read, you may want to give this one a pass… but why on earth would you want to miss out on Kirk’s delightfully wicked thriller? (Correct answer: you wouldn’t.) Exploring the generations-old secrets housed in a lavish seaside estate in New England, IN THE VINES finds a young woman seeking to reconnect with her aunt following the untimely death of her mother. But when our protagonist arrives at her aunt’s once-grand home, she discovers that both the aunt and the house have fallen into disrepair - and that the family connection she so desperately wants may have serious consequences. IN THE VINES is a genuine madhouse, and I loved it. From gothic imagery to goosebump-inducing chills and raucous emotion that leaps off the page, IN THE VINES has it all, and it belongs on your TBR.
From My Review of IN THE VINES:
As a crime fiction reader, what could be better than finding a psychological thriller that is so effective and immersive in its portrayal of an unhinged mindset that it actually makes you start to feel just a bit unhinged yourself? Finding a book that does this effectively is never easy, but today’s featured title does it in spades. IN THE VINES by Shannon Kirk will make for twisted, page-turning summer reading - a shocking and purely entertaining psychological suspense novel for the reader who doesn’t want to just see the deterioration of the story’s main characters, but wants to feel it, too. Kirk has written an immersive, addictive story of toxic family secrets and the fallout of their surfacing. From its atmospheric backdrop (a seaside New England estate, now falling into disrepair) to its vivid, impactful writing and (let’s not forget) genuinely twisted central mystery, IN THE VINES delivers the total package - and makes for the perfect addition to your summer reading list.
SOMETIMES I LIE by Alice Feeney
If you’re in the market for a psychological thriller that earns its descriptor of “twisty,” this one’s for you. SOMETIMES I LIE is claustrophobic, tense, and totally shocking—at the time that I read it, it was the first book in quite a while to genuinely surprise me with the twists and turns of its plotting, and what fun it was to be fooled as thoroughly as I was here. Feeney brings together all the “trendy” suspense elements a reader might want (unreliable characters, plot twists, domestic secrets, and more), yet she somehow manages to do so in a way that feels completely fresh and new. Alternating between present, near past, and our protagonist’s childhood, this thriller explores the events that led up to an accident that put our protagonist in a coma - the state in which readers first meet her. My favorite scenes of the entire book were those in which we experience protagonist Amber’s hospitalization: as she lies in her bed, comatose, unable to react to anything happening in the room around her - but aware of all of it. It’s a visceral, claustrophobic experience, and it elevates SOMETIMES I LIE from really good to fantastic.
From My Review of SOMETIMES I LIE:
I know all too well—it can seem hard to find a psychological thriller that can fill the huge shoes left behind by some of 2016 and 2017’s biggest releases, but I promise, SOMETIMES I LIE is the puzzle piece your reading list has been missing. Feeney keeps the reader constantly wrong-footed in a debut suspense novel that’s equal parts claustrophobic and captivating. With the shocks of Gone Girl, the interpersonal drama of Behind Closed Doors, and the unreliable characters of The Girl on the Train, SOMETIMES I LIE is a guaranteed hit for readers looking to be swept up in a story that thrills and entertains from the first page to the last. Sinister, shocking, and just plain fun to read, SOMETIMES I LIE is impeccably on-trend yet also inventive and original. Feeney's debut is the answer for any reader looking to find the next buzzy, trendy psychological thriller.
THE LAST TIME I LIED by Riley Sager
A summer camp with a creepy history? Check. A cast of female characters with secrets to hide? Check. A camper gone missing, and a friend determined to find out the truth? Check. Riley Sager’s THE LAST TIME I LIED has everything going for it, and it totally delivers. Fans of Pretty Little Liars will find so much to love here—THE LAST TIME I LIED has the same kind of entertainment value, creepy mystery, and touch of drama at its core. Years ago, a young girl went missing while away at summer camp. Now, in the present day, one of her former cabin-mates is set to return to that very same summer camp as an instructor… and to solve the mystery of the disappearance once and for all. In THE LAST TIME I LIED, Sager weaves a cinematic, chilling story set against a backdrop worthy of your favorite suspense film. This novel is richly atmospheric and immersive, and will transport you from your reading spot to a summer camp outside New York with a dark past and an equally dark present.
From My Review of THE LAST TIME I LIED:
What do you get when you cross a creepy cabin in the woods with drama worthy of Pretty Little Liars? Meet one of the most deliciously entertaining “popcorn reads” of the summer: THE LAST TIME I LIED by Riley Sager. Sager took the crime writing world by storm last year with his stellar psychological thriller FINAL GIRLS, and this July, he’s back—and, with his newest release, he’s proving once and for all that he’s here to stay. In his New York Times bestselling novel THE LAST TIME I LIED, Sager leans into a subtle brand of suspense driven by interpersonal secrets, richly-developed atmosphere, and drama a plenty. Where FINAL GIRLS was an ode to slasher films, THE LAST TIME I LIED isn’t quite as dark or bloody—though it’s no feel-good summer camp story, either. Sager strikes a pitch-perfect balance between horror elements and a lighter suspense plotline in his newest book, and the result is an endlessly entertaining summer binge-read. Pick up THE LAST TIME I LIED for its gorgeous cover, stay for its addictive and twisty story of years-old secrets and a summer vacation gone very wrong.
OUR HOUSE by Louise Candlish
Readers of domestic suspense: you’re going to love Louise Candlish’s fresh take on the genre. OUR HOUSE begins with a bizarre scenario: a woman is driving down her street, about to pull into her driveway, when she discovers that a new family is moving into her home… and that her husband and her sons are nowhere to be found. What follows is a twisty, engaging story of a marriage with serious secrets. While much of this story is very focused on the intimate details of our protagonist’s married life, Candlish also injects into her novel a third party: a podcast dedicated to exploring the plight of our protagonist, a woman who has apparently been abandoned by the person she was supposed to be able to trust above all - her husband. To bring this podcast to life, readers are provided with podcast episode “transcripts” plus social media reactions to the “episodes”—an incredibly immersive and effective storytelling tool, bringing readers right into the heart of the action. Candlish’s story of marriage gone wrong is inventive, sly, and completely entertaining.
From My Review of OUR HOUSE:
The way I see it, the ever-growing list of new domestic suspense novels is a two-sided coin for us readers. On the one hand, who doesn’t love a great domestic thriller? It’s such fun to see what new suspense novels we can add to our “anticipated reads” lists. But on the other hand… how on earth are you going to separate the great from the so-so? It can feel like picking up a new domestic suspense novel is a bit of a gamble—but not in the case of Louise Candlish’s OUR HOUSE. Fresh, fun, and engrossing, OUR HOUSE is a new take on domestic suspense: a binge-worthy story of secrets in a marriage that will take readers down a totally unexpected path. Come to OUR HOUSE for its gorgeous packaging; stay for its inventive storytelling structure and page-turning reading experience. OUR HOUSE is a little bit twisty, a touch dramatic, and a whole lot of suspense reading fun. It’s hard to describe this book as anything but propulsive—from its first page to its very shocking last, I was hooked on Candlish’s inventive story of betrayal, guilt, and relationships gone very wrong.