Ten Thrillers to Read Before You Die

Are these the ten best thrillers ever written? We can’t say so with any certainty. But if you like thrillers, you’ll want to have read all ten of these. And if you don’t like thrillers (well, why are you here?) but even so, you’re probably looking for a place to start. So take a gander at the list we’ve compiled of ten of the best and crack open the first one that strikes your fancy. Really, you can’t go wrong.


The DaVinci Code

Dan Brown catches a lot of flack for sentences (or entire paragraphs) that, under a microscope, do appear somewhat ridiculous. But there’s no arguing that the pacing, the mood, and the downright thrill of this book is nearly unbeatable.

Follow Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon as he tries to solve the murder of the Louvre’s curator–while also getting caught in it himself. It’s a pageturner to take to the beach, the mountain cottage, or anywhere but the art museum. 


The Girl On The Train

Love them or hate them the characters in Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train are taudry, flawed, self-sabotaging, and utterly engaging. The story is told from the three perspectives of Rachel, Megan, and Anna, who, each in their own way, are hot suburban dumpster fires. But this thriller deserves the hype, and is ultimately a clever whodunnit. 

Whether you’re a regular reader of psychological thrillers, a lover of mysteries, a reader inversted in the inner lives of flawed British women, or simply a casual fan of thrillers, The Girl on the Train is for you. 


Fight Club

Sure, Fight Club is more famous as a movie than as a book, but Chuck Palahniuk’s debut thriller is arguably his best. Unlike some of the other psychological thrillers on this list, Fight Club unabashedly channels the male zeitgeist. Here, protagonist Tyler Durden finds release from a dead-end job through a secret “fight club” found in the basement of seedy bars. 

Palahniuk’s novel is dark, at a level where readers should go in with both eyes open. But ultimately the darkness is more than worth it, with Fight Club not just providing a page-turning read, but also an unflinching look at the flaws in manhood and the modern world.   



The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

One of the great tragedies in the world of contemproary thrillers is that Stieg Larsson never got to see the impact his trilogy had on the world of crime, thriller, and Scandinavian noir, as the books were published pothumously. In a way, that tragedy makes these thrillers all the more intriguing. And the most intriguing of all is the first, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

In this atmospheric novel, journalist Mikael Blomkvist investigates the disapearance of a wealthy family’s daughter, leading him to muder and deeper tragedy. Not for the feint of heart, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, despite its translation from Swedish, remains one of the best thrillers ever written.


The Firm

The only legal thriller in our list, John Grisham’s The Firm, is the pillar of its subgenre. And though, like many of the titans on this list, The Firm was also a popular movie, the book differs substantially, including a completely different ending. So, even if you’ve watched the Tom Cruise version of this story, prepare to be surprised by a novel that has twist after twist, and leaves the reader wishing all of John Grisham’s (still very stellar) books were this good.


The Hunt For Red October

When Ronald Regan called Tom Clancy’s debut “my kind of yarn” or “a perfect yarn” (sources vary) it launched The Hunt For Red October into the stratosphere where it truly belonged. Not only is the book a page-turning thriller, but it’s a story of its time: truly the quintessential tale of the Cold War. Here, Clancy imagines (through a level of research that left the US Navy scratching its collective head) what it might be like if a Soviet captain defected with his submarine, prepared to bring it to America’s shore.

Things are never that simple, and aren’t in the book either. As captain Marko Ramius brings The Red October to the East Coast, he does so with both the American and Soviet navies searching frantically for the sub. And maybe both willing to destroy it. 


The Silence of the Lambs

Thomas Harris’ seminal novel is part mystery, part psychological horror, and ALL thriller. There’s kidnapping, murder, chases, and a ticking clock — everything a lover of psychological thrillers could desire.

In The Silence of the Lambs, FBI trainee Clarice Starling consults the netorious serial killer, Hannibal Lecter, on a killer-at-large dubbed “Buffalo Bill.” Her consultations with Lecter lead Ms. Starling on a series of twists that even the evil genius of Lecter may not see coming. A must-read for thriller fans.


The Shining

Like The Silence of the Lambs above, The Shining doesn’t fit neatly into the thriller genre. Elements of horror, supernatural, and even fantasy are present. Still, it’s representative of the psychological thriller genre, with time running out for young Danny Torrance and his mother.

What makes The Shining so engaging isn’t the haunted-house motif, the jump scares, or the chills. It’s the character of Jack himself, who like King at the time, struggles with drinking and maybe with anger. The deep dive into the subconscious. The flight of good from evil. And maybe a safe peek at the evil in all of us. 


Gone Girl

Was Nick Dunne involved with his wife’s disappearance? Probably, he killed her. Right? All signs point that way. 

We probably shouldn’t be too quick to assume.

Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl has more twists than a hangman’s rope. Thrills. Changes in narration. Lies, deceit, betrayal.

Like a lot of the greats, this doesn’t fit squarely into domestic thriller. Elements of mystery and even noir are heavily woven into the story. Still, it’s one of the best thrillers ever written, and a must read before you die!


The Bourne Identity

Our top choice for thriller to read before you die, Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Identity is the book every suspense/espionage/thriller reader loves to read and writer wants to write. It’s got deception, conspiracy, espionage, assassination and so much more, plus a core romance that isn’t cloying or overdone. Characters to relate to. An overwhelming sense of the unknown, purpose, and pursuit. Twists, mystery, action. Truly a thriller that everyone should get their hands on.