Wow, this was a hard list to compile–I don’t know that I’ve ever seen as many great new psychological thrillers come out in a single year. I had to physically restrain myself from adding at least ten more titles, or getting bogged down in crafting a notable list, because I wanted to put so many darn titles on it. You’ll see a few works in translation on the list below, as many of the most distinguished titles in translation this year fit the psychological thriller profile to a T, and I wanted to honor them for their sophisticated and shocking takes on the genre. This year brings a strange combination of deep character studies, carefully plotted twists, and satisfying takedowns. I hope you’ll find some new favorites here, and keep an eye on the site as we release many more best of the year lists in the days to come.
Pilar Quintana, Abyss
Translated by Lisa Dillman
A young girl grapples with the complexities of the adult world in this moody psychological thriller. Her mother is deeply depressed, flourishing only when tending to her plants or in the arms of her lover, and her father is older, absent, and unable to process emotions. The father finds out about the lover, who disappears, and the family heads to a modern home in the Columbian mountains to recover their intimacy; the home, like the mother, is beautiful and cold, and its former mistress went out one night in her car and never returned…
Wendy Heard, You Can Trust Me
Summer was raised as a wild child, then abandoned by her irresponsible hippie mother. Growing up rough, she learns how to pick pockets and fend for herself, that is, until she meets Leo, a fiercely free young woman. When Leo heads to a private island with a techie billionaire, then disappears, Summer must use all of her cunning in order to find out what’s happened to her friend.
Jean Kwok, The Leftover Woman
Jean Kwok established herself as a writer to watch with her stunning debut, Searching for Sylvie Lee, and her upcoming novel is just as emotional, beautiful, and haunting. A young woman leaves China and heads to America to search for her daughter, stolen by her husband as a newborn and trafficked to America for international adoption. Meanwhile, an editor struggles with motherhood and finds herself feeling shamed by the love her adopted daughter has for their nanny. Kwok has woven an impeccably plotted domestic thriller that culminates in a profoundly satisfying ending, and I must insist that everyone pick this one up.
Una Mannion, Tell Me What I Am
In Una Mannion’s beautiful, elegiac new psychological thriller, a girl named Ruby grows up with a mercurial father, a man her aunt Nessa has always suspected of killing Ruby’s mother. In alternating chapters told by Ruby and Nessa, Mannion slowly unspools a dark tale of control, abuse, and secrets. Perfectly plotted and gorgeously written, this novel is not one to be missed.
Colin Walsh, Kala
In 2003, a tight-knit group of friends in small-town Ireland is torn apart when one goes missing. Nearly two decades later, a body is found, just in time for a hen party bringing everyone back together. Alternating between past and present, Colin Walsh skillfully reveals the dark secrets behind the murder and missed opportunities to bring the killer to justice. Of particular note is Walsh’s talent for dialogue and dynamic descriptions.
Yomi Adegoke, The List
Yomi Adegoke’s debut thriller is sophisticated, complex, and smart, posing an uneasy question: what would you do if your partner was accused of a heinous act? And how would you go about finding out the truth? The List follows Ola and Michael, two Black British professionals whose status as #couplegoals is threatened by shocking (and anonymous) revelations about Michael’s behavior towards another woman.
Ashley Winstead, Midnight is the Darkest Hour
Ashley Winstead’s new novel is a darkly romantic gothic tale of a swampy Southern town with too many bad men and too much fear of the devil. A preacher’s daughter and her best friend once covered up a crime, and now it threatens their precious, hard-won freedom from the oppressive mores and pervasive hypocrisy of their small town. What secrets will come to light as the investigation progresses? And who will cast the first stone of retribution? Winstead’s spellbinding prose ensnares the reader just as much as the eerie setting and driving suspense.
Adorah Nworah, House Woman
This one features a young woman who goes from Lagos to Houston for an arranged marriage. Once she arrives, she finds her soon-to-be-in-laws more controlling, and her husband more indifferent, than she would like; as her conditions deteriorate, and tensions grow, this brutal character study leads to a visceral and shocking ending.
Samantha Downing, Twisted Love Story
Samantha Downing is one of those rare writers equally focused on character and plotting, and it shows in the twists and turns of her novels, as well as the genuine emotions they evoke in readers. In her latest, an on-again-off-again couple is bound together by a dark secret—and it’s unclear whether it will destroy them or allow them a chance to prove their love fully, once and for all. The ending is as satisfying as it is surprising, and no matter their actions, Downing never loses track of the humanity of her characters.
Maud Ventura, My Husband
Translated by Emma Ramadan
My Husband is a sly psychological thriller about a marriage that is not what it seems. A woman passionately in love with her husband keeps a detailed diary of his slights and insults, punishing him accordingly in the name of balance. Surprisingly comical and deeply insightful, My Husband is not to be missed.
Angie Kim, Happiness Falls
Angie Kim once again combines an intense character study with a searching mystery, this time after her narrator’s husband disappears, and police are interested in quickly pinning it on her nonverbal son. Kim uses the parallel investigations of police and family to explore the complex dynamics of interracial marriage, Asian and biracial identity in America, and the nuances of raising a child with special needs. You’ll want to savor every word as Kim plunges the depths of human action and finds love at the center.
Emma Rosenblum, Bad Summer People
Stephen Amidon, Locust Lane
Stephen Amidon has spent considerable time in London, so perhaps that’s why he’s so good at conjuring the nasty wittiness of a mid-century British novel (which is exactly the tone I want to find in a book about wealthy people behaving very, very badly). The characters of Locust Lane bicker snidely, make harsh judgements about those they despise, and willfully ignore the faults of those they love. When a girl is found murdered, the parents of the three teenagers who were partying with her will do anything to protect their own, prepared for victory by a lifetime of privilege yet vulnerable to the consequences of a lifetime of secrets.
Rose Wilding, Speak of the Devil
Seven women. One decapitated head. And plenty of reasons for murder. When Jamie Spellman is found dead, a detective works to find the killer, but it quickly becomes clear that the victim deserved what was coming. A clever and tight thriller that demands to be read in one setting.
Louise Mey, The Second Woman
Translated by Louise Rogers Lalaurie
The Second Woman is at once a chilling psychological thriller and a visceral exploration of internalized misogyny and the mechanics of abuse. The woman of the title is the new partner of a man suspected of involvement in the disappearance of his wife. When the wife returns, with seemingly no memory of him or her son, a game of cat and mouse begins, between the detective and the husband, and between the narrator’s wishful hopes and her slow acknowledgement of her dark reality.