Gear > Best Books for Men

10 Best Thriller Books of All Time

By Andrew Peloquin  |  Updated March 20, 2024

10 Best Thriller Books of All Time

There are few things more engaging than a well-crafted, fast-paced thriller.

Thriller books bring a high degree of excitement and anticipation, a speedily-moving plot, and high stakes, which combine to make for stories you just can’t put down. Even the slower-paced thrillers that take their time building the suspense and setting the stage rise to a blistering pace and frenetic energy as they race toward their climax.

No matter what genre you love best, you can’t help but get swept up in the tempo and exhilaration of a thriller.

I’ll be honest: even as a writer of fantasy and science fiction, I find myself dipping into the waters of the thriller genre to bring that excitement to my work.

I’ll often approach my stories more like a thriller than a fantasy, taking the time to layer in the details until all the pieces are in place and I can barrel toward some epic conclusion.

Because I love thrillers so much—and they’re so influential to me as a writer—I’ve assembled a list of what I consider to be the best thriller books of all time for you to add to your TBR pile.

  • Mystery vs. thriller. Mystery and thriller are two sides of the same coin. The mystery genre focuses on solving a past crime, whereas the thriller genre focuses on preventing a future crime. Thrillers tend to be more fast-paced than mystery novels, but both can be equally exciting, suspenseful, and dread-inducing.
  • There will always be more good thriller books. With an insane number of books published each year, it’s impossible for anyone to keep up with every new release and read every book. It’s fair to say that I will likely be missing some books that people believe to be “best” because I just don’t have enough time to read everything. As long as you find some good reads on my list below, I’ve done my job of curating correctly!
  • “Best” may differ between us. Literary tastes, like cuisine preferences, can be incredibly subjective. What I may love, you may not, and vice versa. Keep that in mind as you peruse my list. All I can do is hope we’ve got similar enough tastes that you love the same books I do—and if not, maybe you’ll be willing to give a new book a go.

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

Following in the footsteps of Agatha Christie comes Patricia Highsmith, one of the earliest standouts in the psychological thriller genre. It’s also a look at one of the most fascinating characters ever presented in the pages of a thriller novel.

The story follows Tom Ripley, a con artist who, on a journey to Italy, finds himself committing gruesome murders and assuming the identities of his victim to live a life of wealth and privilege.

Though charming on the outside, the roguish Mr. Ripley veneer hides the cunning and cruelty of a psychopath.

It’s not at all a light read, but a deep, riveting insight into the mind of a truly deranged individual—an addiction you won’t be able to put down.

Published In: 1955

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Of course Gone Girl is going to be on this list.

Few thriller novels have tantalized modern audiences and been the subject of so much conversation like Gillian Flynn’s celebrated novel.

Some have called it “the novel of the 21st century”, and I can’t fault that belief because it is a true masterpiece of mystery and thriller fiction.

Gone Girl is all about the disappearance of Amy Dunn on her fifth wedding anniversary, and who else would be the prime suspect but her husband, Nick? Especially after it’s learned that Nick has been having an affair!

And then comes the twist that changes it all. I’m not going to spoil anything, but suffice it to say, it is game-changing and jaw-dropping.

Gone Girl delivers a story that shocked and surprised audiences, and stands out as a true masterpiece of a well-crafted plot twist striking home with laser-targeted precision.

Published In: 2012

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John Le Carre

Trying to pin down just one John Le Carre novel as his “best” is nearly impossible—they’re all just too darned good. But if I had to pick one thriller that I believe combines his best worldbuilding, character tropes, and pacing, it would be Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

The book follows George Smiley, a British intelligence operative set to root out the Russian double agent that has wormed his way to the highest ranks of operational command.

It’s taut, tightly paced, a brilliant take on a highly salacious (and real-to-life) scandal, and the writing is truly marvelous.

Published In: 1974

And There Were None by Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie is a true queen of murder mysteries, but it turns out she can write one heck of a thriller, too.

In And There Were None, a disparate group have been drawn together on an isolated island off the British coast, there to be accused of murder by a mysterious voice recording. When they begin to die off one by one, the survivors must seek a way out of danger while escaping the true murderer sent to hunt them down.

Like most Agathe Christie novels, it’s a short, easy read, but the speedy pace and dread-inducing setting will have you ripping through the pages. It’s also a standalone, so you needn’t have read any of her other works to enjoy this one.

Published In: 1939

Memory Man by David Baldacci

David Baldacci is one of the best-known names in the crime thriller genre, and an author with so many spectacular books it’s nearly impossible to narrow down the list to just one recommendation.

But I will attempt it and put forward Memory Man, the first in his Amos Decker books.

In Memory Man, we learn about the head injury that turned this NFL player into an investigator with the FBI, a man with a perfect photographic memory—a skill that serves him well when working to solve crimes.

It’s exciting, engaging, and follows a character that is instantly relatable, an everyman you want to read about in book after book.

Published In: 2015

Clear and Present Danger by Tom Clancy

Tom Clancy was the master of political military thrillers, the once-in-a-generation literary talent behind Hunt for the Red October and Patriot Games and countless other spellbinding novels. But the novels that made him one of my all-time favorite authors focus on the special forces units that serve on the front line—or in the shadows—in direct, brutal, and highly engaging military action.

Clear and Present Danger is the first of these spec-ops novels, which led to the creation of Rainbow Six, one of the best-known and best-loved fictional military units that spawned more novels and games.

It’s the first novel where we’re dropped into hostile territory with a small, handpicked, highly trained unit of operators and set to carry out some specific, dangerous, and often bloody mission.

But where Tom Clancy truly shines is in showing not only the “dirty and gritty” elements of combat, but also the political maneuverings taking place behind the scenes.

The scope of the story changes from chapter to chapter, and this dilation and expansion has the effect of keeping you fully grounded in the personal while also being hooked on the big-picture threats and challenges.

Published In: 1994

The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum

Robert Ludlum is another master of the thriller genre, with more than 210 million Ludlum books in print around the globe. And no book of his is better-recognized than the Jason Bourne series, which gave rise to the Hollywood hit movies by the same name.

In The Bourne Identity, we first meet the titular hero, Jason Bourne, who is suffering from amnesia and is plagued by questions to which he is determined to find answers—among others, why does he have $4 million in a Swiss bank account and why is someone trying to kill him?

What begins as a man’s quest to rediscover his lost identity sets him off on a whirlwind adventure around the globe, fraught with danger, threats, and challenges on all sides.

If you enjoyed the movies, you’re absolutely going to love the books, because they’re far more complex and insightful, not to mention deliver far higher stakes and greater action.

Published In: 1980

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is raw, gritty, fraught, and emotionally gripping—everything you want in a good psychological thriller.

It’s equal parts mystery and thriller (see the definition above), but it’s so good that it deserves a place on both this list of the best thriller books and my list of the best mystery books, too!

At its core, it’s a story driven by revenge, and it does a masterful job of balancing plot, pacing, and character to slowly peel back the layers of corruption that has enabled violence against women in Sweden—and around the world—to go unanswered for years. Brace yourself: this is not a read for the faint of heart.

Published In: 2005

Bad Luck and Trouble by Lee Child

Few crime thrillers have enchanted me as thoroughly as the Jack Reacher novels, even before the movies and TV shows were ever released. I’ll admit it: I’m a sucker for a soft-spoken, big-hearted giant of a fellow with a quick mind and mighty muscles.

Picking just one Jack Reacher novel is nearly impossible, but Bad Luck and Trouble is the one I’ve settled on as Lee Child’s best.

When the soldiers in Reacher’s unit begin turning up dead, it’s up to him and the survivors—including the ever-awesome Neagley—to unmask the killer (and the ones behind the deaths) before he finds himself in the crosshairs.

It’s Reacher at his finest and most badass, and a thrilling novel that will have you frantically turning pages to find out what comes next.

Published In: 2007

Out by Natsuo Kirino

Out is a riveting piece of literature written by a Japanese author in a Japanese style, but with the modern Western thriller pacing and structure integrated into its DNA. The result is something truly original and breathtaking.

The story starts off small—four Tokyo women working at a bento box shop—but once the murders start happening, the stakes grow high, the world expands, and the pace begins to pick up.

By the end, the women are racing against time and evading both the yakuza and law enforcement in a desperate bid to get away with the murders they’ve committed.

There’s a palpable anger in the novel, and some consider it a “feminist” piece of literature. But I’ll just say that it’s one of the most enjoyable pieces of fiction to come out of Japan—which is saying a great deal!

Published In: 1997

WERD has been reader-supported since 2009. When you buy through a link on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. We do not accept compensation for reviews.
WERD is proud to be hosted by Kinsta