Reading requires organization: you can’t rely on serendipity to guide you through the stacks—there are simply too many great books out there. Take thrillers, for example. February is here, and the hard part about compiling a list of “must-read” thrillers for the month is narrowing it down. The good news is, if you need a little more tension and white-knuckled thrills in your reading, these 13 books have got you covered.
Find Her, by Lisa Gardner
Too often in thrillers involving horrific serial killers and abusers, the victims are just that: passive figures who absorb punishment and invite pity while giving the hero something to save. In Gardner’s eighth D.D. Warren novel, Flora Dane is a different story: after surviving 472 days locked in a coffin, let out only to be brutally assaulted by her abductor, she now compulsively goes out looking for sexual predators. When one of her bar pickups turns violent, she meets Warren, who thinks she might have insight into the case of a girl who has been missing for three months. The fascinating glimpse into the psyche of a survivor makes this one the most fascinating Warren story yet.
The Wolves, by Alex Berenson
In the concluding novel of the unofficial John Wells trilogy (after The Counterfeit Agent and Twelve Days), Berenson’s focus is tighter than your typical political thriller. With the unspoken approval of the president, Wells heads to Hong Kong with a single unofficial mission: assassinate evil billionaire Aaron Duberman, the man who almost tricked the U.S. into invading Iran. What follows is a tense game of spycraft as Wells observes, tracks, and seeks a chink in Duberman’s security armor—one that comes when the Russians and the Chinese enter the picture. Berenson ties off his grand epic with masterful ideas and great writing, making this a must read for any fan.
Try Not to Breathe, by Holly Seddon
Alex Dale, the main character in Seddon’s complex, time-tripping thriller, is a complex, broken woman. An alcoholic who has seen her disease take everything from her—a journalism career, a husband, and family—she’s working as a freelancer, and gets an assignment to do a story about patients in long-term comas and new research that shows some of them might be able to communicate via brain scans. The assignment leads her to 30-year old Amy Stevenson, assaulted at 15 and in a coma ever since. As Alex investigates Amy’s story, she comes to believe it might revitalize her career and get her life back. The reader will be hooked by the alternating narratives as the mystery surrounding Amy is slowly revealed—and Amy herself becomes a fascinating character through flashbacks and technological wonders. Ideal for fans of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, Seddon’s novel stands on its own as a unique creation.
Back Blast, by Mark Greaney
Taking a break from writing Jack Ryan novels, Greaney returns to his celebrated Gray Man series, which finds ex-CIA Court Gentry coming back to the U.S. after five years spent eluding assassins after the CIA issued a shoot on sight order. Gentry is determined to find out why he’s been put on the kill list, and his investigation leads him to an old operation code-named Back Blast. It seems the director of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service, Denny Carmichael, believes Gentry killed the wrong asset on purpose. Brilliantly, Greaney’s outlines the evidence that makes Gentry himself uncertain what really happened even as he leaves a trail of bodies in his wake, as the world’s most capable spy fights an entire country to clear his name—and to survive.
Arcadia, by Iain Pears
Pears roars back with a complex, twisting, thrilling sci-fi novel that combines time travel, environmental disaster, and alternate universes in ways no reader could possibly anticipate. In a ruined future on the verge of complete environmental collapse, a scientist believes she has invented a machine that would allow access to the resources of an alternate universe—but it turns out to be a time machine that transports her to the mid-20th century. She retreats to an isolated home with her lover, a writer and intelligence agent who has created a detailed fictional universe called Anterworld—which she then makes real using a revised version of her machine. And the story gets really complicated when a young girl stumbles into this artificial universe, setting off a tense adventure that trips through the future, the past, and whenever Anterworld exists.
The Art of War, by Stephen Coonts
Coonts returns to his popular characters Jake Grafton and Tommy Carmellini with a story that kicks off with the attempted assassinations of several high-level U.S. officials, leaving hard-nosed, ultra-competent Grafton as interim director of the CIA, and CIA “burglar” Camellini out in the field, where he once again risks everything—and suffers—for king and country. The plot thickens when Jake learns the Chinese have planted a nuclear device somewhere in the United States. The combination of Grafton and Carmellini makes the perfect ingredients for a thriller, and Coonts maneuvers every piece into place as the story roars to an exciting, smoothly-constructed conclusion.
Violent Crimes, by Phillip Margolin
Margolin brings Amanda Jaffe back, throwing her into a complex and ethically ticklish story that intertwines two apparently unrelated cases. First, Jaffe takes on the case of a veteran suffering from PTSD accused of murdering his boss, lawyer Christine Larson. Then, the senior partner at Larson’s law firm is murdered, and his son Brandon, seen fleeing the house covered in blood, claims he killed his father as a pro-environment and anti-Big Oil message. Jaffe takes on Brandon’s case at the urging of his mother—but then comes to realize the cases are unexpectedly linked, and must unravel the mystery while somehow not entering into a conflict of interest, even when bad news for one client might be good news for the other. A twisting story that tests Jaffe to her limits—and that will keep readers turning pages in delight.
Missing Pieces, by Heather Gudenkauf
In a novel at first deceptively simple, Gudenkauf introduces Sarah and Jack, a happily married couple who return to Jack’s childhood town after the death of his Aunt Julia, who took him in when his parents were killed in a car accident. Upon arrival, Sarah’s world is turned upside down as she discovers that Jack has been lying to her about his parents’ deaths, and that the police are classifying Julia’s own death a homicide—with Jack and his troubled sister the prime suspects. Building off the sudden paranoia of discovering someone you thought you knew has been lying to you, Gudenkauf crafts a surprising thriller that reveals a new piece of the puzzle on every page.
The Oxford Inheritance, by A.A. McDonald
American Cassie Blackwell takes a year abroad at Oxford—but she has a secret motive: investigating the mysterious death of her mother, a mentally unbalanced woman who committed suicide in murky circumstances that involved a campus secret society that may or may not have existed. McDonald plays with expectations by continuously questioning which possibility might be true, as every revelation shuffles the deck of who might be lying to Cassie, and who might be telling the truth. McDonald mirrors this sense of disorientation for the reader with tricksy writing that contributes to a dense feeling of paranoia and confusion.
Under the Influence, by Joyce Maynard
Divorced, a recovering alcoholic, and struggling to maintain a connection to her son Ollie, Helen meets Ava and Swift Havilland, who quickly bring her into their privileged life, giving her work photographing their art collection, taking her to dinner, and treating Ollie like a member of the family. But when a horrible accident leaves the Havillands dependent on Helen supporting their version of events, the situation quickly sours into threats, and worse. Anyone who has ever had a lopsided relationship involving “friends with money” will recognize that queasy feeling that you don’t really belong, which Maynard leverages that into a tense, page-turning story.
Hidden Bodies, by Caroline Kepnes
Joe Goldberg, a serial killer hiding behind a superficially normal life, returns in this sequel to You as compelling and as unrepentant as ever. When his (unknowing) girlfriend Amy suddenly leaves him and travels to California to pursue an acting career, he follows, determined to make her regret her decision. Dropping bodies in his wake, he has one adventure after another—and, remarkably, begins a transformation that is both wholly unexpected and incongruously enjoyable. Both a tense story of a monster and a fascinating psychological study, the book dares you to empathize with a killer while keeping you guessing as to what will happen next.
Brotherhood in Death, by J.D. Robb
Robb (a.k.a. Nora Roberts) returns to the world of the future, where a proper mystery awaits: Dennis Mira, husband of Charlotte and friend of Eve Dallas, goes to the magnificent West Village townhouse left to him and his brother Edward by their grandfather—under the condition that they keep it in the family—when he hears Edward intends to sell anyway. Upon arrival, he glimpses Edward bloody and injured in a chair, and is then knocked unconscious. When he comes to, Edward is gone, and all trace of the incident has been removed. Leave it to Charlotte, expert profiler, and, of course, Eve Dallas herself, to untangle this fun, twisting late-21st century romp.
Breakdown, by Jonathan Kellerman
Genius psychologist Dr. Alex Delaware and Los Angeles police detective Milo Sturgis team up again when a mentally unbalanced young TV actress has a public meltdown that brings her to Delaware, and is later found dead on the grounds of a Hollywood estate, her son missing. As the duo investigates the killing and searches for her child, more disappearances hint at something darker going on. The sad tale of Zelda Chase, haunted actress, makes Delaware determined to solve the case and find some semblance of justice—but as the mystery deepens, he realizes he’ll need every bit of his brilliant mind to get there. With a multi-layered mystery painted on a vibrant canvas of modern day celebrity, Kellerman continues to live up to his reputation as one of the modern masters of the psychological thriller.