Top 10 Thriller Book Covers of 2020
The main challenge in determining what makes a great thriller cover is the age-old issue of figuring out what books are really thrillers at all. (We went broad, with suspenseful books that weren’t predominantly mysteries.)
Here are the resultant top 10 best thriller covers of the year, selected by our editorial team.
You Betrayed Me
The motif of shattered glass goes a long way in portraying betrayal. One imagines how Lisa Jackson’s protagonist, Rebecca, must feel similarly shattered. Or how the other woman must feel, locked in a room, trapped, terrified, and desperate.
The cover of You Betrayed Me evokes the fear and the sense of shattering, and so has earned its place on our top ten list of best thriller covers of the year.
On the surface, there’s nothing earth shattering about the cover of Roz Nay’s Hurry Home. There’s a home, a sunset, a woods. But then on closer inspection one wonders if it’s sunset at all, or maybe fire–real or metaphorical. And whose home? And what waits there under the stormclouds?
Bonus points for a blurb from the talented Mary Kubica. It’s unfortunate that the size of the font for her testimonial doesn’t pop even in a large thumbnail.
Former screenwriter Chris Hauty’s Deep State is both an excellent debut as a thriller, and as a cover. The best part of the cover isn’t the (loud and clear) message that things are upside-down in the nation’s capitol. Instead, it’s the smaller details that make this a worthy (even exceptional) cover: The way “A Thriller” is also upside-down, the way the cuppola finishes the negative space in the “A” of “State,” and the hard block font that tell us we’re in for a no-nonsense ride if we crack into the first page.
The Wild One
There are a lot of people running on the covers of thrillers. Lots. And what makes Nick Petrie’s The Wild One a worthy thriller cover isn’t the bow to the genre (though we get it). Instead, it’s the balance of foreground, midground, and background that evoke a northern wilderness. Bonus for the very readable quote from Lee Child to help seal the deal.
The Heat Wave
In setting and tone, Kate Riordan’s The Heat Wave is a very French thriller. Maybe that’s what makes the cover, which has some of that Mediterranean green, such an appealing candidate. Colors, along with the shimmering water that evokes both “heat” and “wave” provide the atmosphere, and seem to hint that there’s more going on beneath the surface.
Probably what we like about Jack Carr’s cover for Savage Sun is how much it exemplifies the protagonist, James Reece. And given that, from Carr’s own description, Reece is drawn significantly from his own Navy Seal experience, we’re reminded of Carr himself on the cover.
Add to that the sepia tones, the half-revealed face (truly an antidote to the running man trope), and the rugged backdrop of the north, this is a cover that deserves to crack the top 5.
Yes, it’s a little creepy. Yes, there’s a certain Hardy Boys aspect to the four silhouettes that seem to be stumbling forward into danger, but we’re total suckers for a well-executed image. In this case, it’s the way the shadows provide the negative space for the skeletal hand. It’s even in the title, The Shadows. Too perfect. Fine, take our top four ranking. Well deserved!
Scott O’Connor’s Zero Zone doesn’t really have a “thriller” vibe but it has a fun color palette, a mysterious blurred out face, and circles reminicent not just of the “zeros” of the title, but also the “O” in O’Connor’s name. Whoever put this together deserves a raise, and it had better be bigger than zero.
One By One
There are no humans on the cover of Ruth Ware’s One By One, and yet we have no trouble figuring out that real (ok, fictional) humans are dying one by one. Credit to the massive avalanch for that, which we’re just sure is significantly more sinister than it looks. Not a “natural” disaster at all.
What really propells this cover into the finals is the detail on the snow. Take a closer look at how nearly every snowflake is accounted for in terrifying, frozen-death detail. The flakes billow up into the title, slam against Ruth’s name, and look like they’re ready to topple trees. A violent, fierce cover deserving of a top spot.
The cover of Don Bentley’s debut is understated. Just a man and a gun. Close, face cropped and concealed in shadow. His body blends into the black of the background. But like this book, the man on the cover (protagonist Matt Drake) means business.
This is a cover no one would feel ashamed of displaying in public, whether on a crowded subway line, a hardhat job site, or third deployment overseas. The cover almost confers gravitas to the reader. “I read books that kick your book’s ass.”
Extra bonus not just for the exceptional quote from superstar Lee Child, but also for the brevity of it, which highlights every other understated element of this year’s best cover in the thriller genre.