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Francis Iles was the pen name of Anthony Berkeley, a rather famous mystery writer who wrote under another name when he tried something new. This novel was something new when it was first published, an early example of psychological suspense, a field that Iles excelled at The story follows Lina, a 28 year old virgin spinster, who is swept off her feet and trust fund by Johnnie, a bad boy. Everyone else sees that her hormones are getting the best of her, but Lina ignores the comments. She soon learns that they were right. Johnnie is shown to be a petty criminal with no income, despite the fact hes been living large while they dated.
Lina takes over the checkbook and keeps them on a budget, which makes Johnnie a dull boy. Slowly, Lina starts to wonder if Johnnie is after her trust fund by getting rid of her. The book is a matter of is she crazy or finally wising up? with the reader finding out the truth at the end of the book. Hitchcock made this into his film Suspicion with Joan Fontaine and Cary Grant. Warning: Hollywood pulled its usual tricks and the film has a drastically different ending than the book. So definitely read the book first and watch the movie later.
This novel is one of the best-selling novels of the past few years, so no spoilers in case you havent read it yet. Its another book that starts slowly. Like the previous book, the marriage is the center of the suspense, who was happy who would kill to get out of it. While divorce would be simpler, it doesnt sell books like a good old-fashioned killing. In this case, married writers are both laid off due to the recession. They leave New York City to move to a small town in Missouri and the wife, Amy, soon feels trapped by the marriage and the circumstances. The tension grows as Amy disappears, and it looks like the husband might be the one responsible for the crime.
The noose slowly begins to close around the husbands neck as the police and others look into this disappearance. Like I said, this book is a best-seller at the moment (and for the past year and a half) and Ben Affleck is set to play the husband in the upcoming movie. I would recommend reading the book first because weve all heard about Afflecks screen history. Definitely do not read this while youre pissed at your spouse. It seems like marriage is deadly.
This novel involves a married couple who are in over their heads with the police. Youd think that suspense authors are all divorced or something! Hugh, the hero of the book, is involved in a dicey takeover of his fathers company when his former mistress is located, bound and stabbed and floating in the river. She was always kinky, but this was a little much even for her. To keep his wife happy and the business deal going, Hugh lies to the police. After practically everyone in the book lies to the police, they arrest Hughs wife for the murder.
Then the fun begins as Hugh has to untangle all the lies in order to find out who is really the guilty party here. This book definitely falls into the suspense category, because the discovery of the mistress only is a small blip on the radar at first, as Hugh is much more focused on his business dealings. Its only as the tangled webs get thicker that Hugh has to take notice of whats going on. At least, they arent trying to bump each other off as the earlier couples are doing. Sadly, Francis, who is English, never has caught on in the US. Definitely worth finding, as it did have an American publication.
This author throws in some supernatural abilities in this book, but at its heart, this is still a novel of suspense. Laura is the main character who begins to see a pattern of death among her friends and her adoptive family. The realization comes as she also realizes that she cant save them with her powers of healing either. The killer comes to her in a dream, warning her that shes next on the list. Nothing like a nightmare to tell you about your own death.
The dream is tied to a mysterious meteor that struck her hometown and killed several families, so Laura treks back to find out whats the real story behind the dreams and the killer. Of course, she meets a boy along the way who could possibly be killer fodder as well. This book is part mystery, part science fiction, part romance, and part fantasy, but the suspense is the building threat to the main character and everyone she loves. Its this type of build-up to the ending that is a hallmark of the suspense novel. The novel is still available in print, so definitely find a copy and pick it up. Youll read it in two settings or less.
Books in The Element Tril... Series (2)
Coben writes suburban suspense, featuring the types of characters that youd likely run into walking around the local mall. While hed written a series of mysteries prior to his suspense career, Coben is best known now for these books that feature ordinary people getting dragged into extraordinary circumstances. The same is true for Dr. David Beck, who lost his wife in a kidnap-murder incident. Eight years have passed, but hes still pining away after her. Her killer was brought to justice ages ago, but hes still in mourning.
He receives a strange computer message that makes him wonder if his wife is still alive. Hes told not to tell anyone and distances himself from his closest friends and family, since theyd know something was up. He gets more messages and starts down a dangerous path to find out if his wife is still alive. These books are extremely twisty and turny in their plots and the reader gets more involved with each new challenge for the character. Coben is known for including one last twist and this book is no different. The book is being turned into a Ben Affleck movie (what is it with Affleck and this list?) so be sure to read the book before hitting the cinema. Youll be glad you did.
It doesnt take a rocket scientist or even an author to figure out where King got the inspiration for this thriller. King takes innocent things and turns them into everyones worst nightmare. Misery is a look at fandom and its impact on the person being idolized. A writer crashes his car and is taken prisoner by a fan. You have to wonder what King fan brought about this novel? In the book, the tension builds slowly as the writer begins to recover from his automobile accident and yet also begins to realize how much power this fan has over his every move.
When the fan learns that her favorite character is being killed off in the latest book, well, its the fan who hits the shit, not the other way around. The tension builds until you wonder if the author makes it out alive. Youll have to buy the book to find out for sure. The book is wonderful and was made into a film starring Kathy Bates and James Caan as the author. Both vehicles are well worth looking up. Be sure to carry a copy of Misery to the next book signing you attend. Youll freak the author out.
Sometimes its the little things that can make for the best suspense and Charlotte Armstrong is one of the best authors around for doing just that. She could easily have her own top 25 list for suspense. This book is one of her masterpieces, a small tale with lots of repercussions. The main character in this book, Kenneth Gibson, has recently married. When his new (and much much younger bride) is hurt in an accident, Kens sister moves in with them and on them. In no time, shes undermined Gibson enough that he wants to end it all. So he packs up a deadly poison in an old olive-oil bottle (you have to love recycling, right?) and carts it off with him on the bus where he promptly forgets it.
The suspense in this book is who is going to end up with a dinner surprise in the form of kicking it. Gibson rushes off to find the bottle and the tension mounts as he continues to be two steps behind in the path of the poison. This book deservedly won the Edgar from the Mystery Writers and blessedly its been re-released as an eBook, so you know what your next download should be.
Sheldon wrote blockbuster books, but at their heart was still suspense. Sheldon just used a Dynasty background over the hot spots of Europe to cover up the fact that these were still crimes of home and family. This novel is no exception. This novel is the story of two women in love with the same man. That rarely works out well for anyone. That rule is true in this case where Larry has won the affections of his wife from another man. However, shes not the only one with a past. Larry had another lover years before.
Hes promised her marriage and respectability but turns out he lied to her. The reader certainly couldnt have seen that coming. Now the spurned lover, Noelle, wants revenge on Larry and his new and happy wife. Larry, who was never apparently able to say no, jumps in bed with Noelle and agrees to her plans to get rid of the new wife, because suspense novels never have divorce lawyers in them. This book was a bestseller for years and was made into a 1977 movie with all those stars that you never knew what happened to. Stick to the book, which is still easy to find in paperback.
Books in Midnight Series (2)
Suspense novels can be written for the young adult market; theyre just more angsty and emotional than their adult counterparts. Malice is a fantastic example of a supernatural suspense young adult novel. Millingham, MA has had a rash of teen suicides lately, but a local lad named Lysander knows better because rule number one is that all adults are idiots in a young adult book. And of course, Lysander doesnt talk to the adults because they just wouldnt understand.
As the body count grows, he begins to search for a pattern and finds out that the mysterious force causing these kids to kill themselves is out for him next. The book ties back to the Salem witch trials and the evil emanates from those events. The book draws readers in with the main character and the slow realization that theres a serial killer at work. The book has a number of twists and turns at places that the reader isnt expecting them, which is something that makes this book particularly good. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who likes their suspense to be youthful. Its available in print and for eBooks right now, so what are you waiting for?
The overall helplessness of the main character to effect change can be a wonderful plot device to build suspense in a novel. This book has that in spades. Allison Willetts has been put into a waking coma by a sadistic killer. She can see and hear, but she cannot communicate with the outside world, and cannot share what she knows about the man who did this to her. As the police learn more about the man responsible, they find that hes killed before, though apparently the previous victims were mistakes that he shrugs off as acceptable errors. The danger in a man who takes human life so lightly worries the police, but they have few clues to go on.
DI Tom Thorne is introduced in this book as the hero and while he focuses on a particular suspect, he focusing other parts of his anatomy on a doctor friend of the suspect who is also Allisons doctor. Thorne has now appeared in 11 novels. This book was a huge seller in Britain when it was released, though it did not receive the same reception in the US. Be sure to check out a copy and be prepared for some sleepless nights.
Books in Tom Thorne serie... Series (9)
Hyped as a Jewish Da Vinci Code, this book is a lot more than that. The main character, Nathan, is a bipolar computer programmer, who doesnt realize that his landlord is going all NSA on him. The question of the book is whether or not the first five books of the Bible, the Torah, was actually inspired by God or just written by a ghostwriter for a few extra bucks. Nathan who lives for coding and its encryption wonders about a possible encoding in the Torah and those questions get him into hot water. He has to leave his apartment after the death of a detective and he meets up with a tarot card reader, not exactly the type of woman youd expect a devout Bible-reader to have, but hey, opposites attract.
The rest of the book is told on the run as they try to solve the code and figure out why they are being pursued. The book actually has a series of essays at the end of the book which talks about the ideas introduced in the book. If youre not looking to learn from the book, you can skip these, but I strongly recommend getting a copy of this one. While it may not be divinely inspired, its a good read.
Millar, who is better known today as the wife of private eye writer Ross Macdonald, is one of the best suspense authors of the 20th century. Millar wrote mostly psychological suspense, in which she looked into some of the recently discovered diagnoses within the bounds of the suspense field. She had a way of writing that slaps you so hard in the last few pages that you dont know what hit you. The Fiend is one such book.
The book follows a recently released from prison child molester who keeps noticing young children in his neighborhood. Theres no interaction between the children and man at any point in the book (or it wouldnt be suspense!) but the tension is unbearable. No one will guess the ending of this book, which is a huge crescendo to the insane tension that Millar has created. Its that outside the expected, and yet totally in character with the book as a whole. This book could never be filmed as it is, but theres no way that you should miss out on this title. Its fiendish if you dont pick up a copy, which is recently available on eBooks after being out of print too long.
Loosely based on a real crime out of Indianapolis, this book is a suspense novel at heart. The main character is a young man who lives next door to an eccentric woman. He tells the story in retrospect, looking at the effects it had on his life. Despite the neighbors oddities, the kids think shes cool because she doesnt put restrictions on them while they hang out at her house. They can rough house as much as they want, pop a cold one, and do whatever. The narrators perspective begins to change when the woman takes in two nieces, who have lost their parents. Now that the kids can see how she treats her own wards, suddenly shes not so cool. The woman is slowly going crazy which shows in her treatment of the girls, who suffer both verbal and physical abuse.
The suspense grows as the book moves along, wondering at what point will the abuse either turn deadly. The young man decides to intervene and he receives the same treatment as the girls. Now three of them are in danger. Ketchum is a pen name for Dallas Mayr, a well-known author on his own. The book was turned into a 2007 movie that abruptly went from winning awards to premium cable and then DVD. Read the book first and then try to find the DVD.
Information officers are those men who spin the news, twisting it into pretzels to suit their purposes and persuade their audiences. In this case, Max Chadwick is trying to dupe the Maltese people into continuing to support the Allies during World War II. Its a difficult job because cable news wont be around for another 50 years. The island is constantly bombed, and not in the lets smoke one way. Hitler wants the island to get to Europe and obviously the Allies want the opposite.
So when dead bodies start showing up around the island, pointing to a killer who is on the side of the Allies, the Nazis suddenly dont look so brutal to the Maltese. Chadwick has to find out who is really killing the residents and stop the crimes before the people decide to throw them off the island. Of course, no one can know since the whole point of an information officer is to limit the truth from the audience. The atmosphere and characters are heavily emphasized in the book, since most of us are only familiar with the falcon from Malta. Definitely pick up this book, which evokes a bit of Casablanca as you try to figure out the killer.
Lippman cant write anything bad. She currently alternates novels of suspense with those of her Baltimore private eye Tess Monaghan. Every Secret Thing was her first suspense novel. Like most of her other standalones, the book investigates an older crime and its impact on the people in the story. Two young girls were accused of taking a baby from an unsupervised carriage and the kid dies while they have her. Since theyre both underage, the two only get seven years for the crime and theyre released as adults.
Of course, history always come revisits like last nights burritos, and kids in the neighborhood start playing whack-a-mole. They disappear here and show up there. Except one does not. The two girls, who are now adults, face charges for the crimes. Of course, a large part of the suspense here is who really killed that baby? Both girls deny their part, so it becomes a guessing game until the last chapters where Lippman reveals all. A film version of the book is underway. Filming is underway now, so it may be a real movie by the time you read this. You should definitely pick up this book and every other one of her suspense novels. Youll be glad you did, even if you dont sleep for days.
Lessons of Evil is another example of psychological suspense, because the main character, Dr. Laura Covington, is a psychologist. See how that works? She starts therapy with a new patient who turns out to have multiple personalities. Instead of accusing him of watching too many Hollywood movies, she listens to his story about a cult in the desert. Apparently the cult is led by a ruthless man who seems to have his own mental issues.
The good doctor is already dealing with a difficult boss, an even more difficult mother, and a child shes take in. She still finds time to bring this to the attention of the authorities, who since this is a suspense novel, get nowhere with the cult. Though no proof exists, it appears that the cult might be responsible for a series of murders in town, and soon there are indications that the doctors family is under attack as well. The unrelenting build-up of tension pulls the reader along and keep them reading until the very last page. This is not a book to start late at night, because you wont stop until morning (remember when that used to mean something else?) Even so, pick this one up and read it in the daylight hours.
Christie had a way with all type of mystery, thrillers and suspense and Endless Night was one of her best and nearly her last novel. It appeared in 1968 at a time when many of Christies works were sliding from their earlier genius.
Michael Rogers, the narrator, is a working (well, hardly working) man who meets and falls in love with an heiress. She hears Michael talk about his love for a piece of land called Gypsys Acre. The heiress is warned by an old woman of the curse on the land and she tells the young bride to leave. The tension rises as the words stick with the girl and odd things begin to happen. The tension continues to build as the reader wonders if the land truly is haunted or if an evil person is behind all of the mischief.
The book was a departure for Christie in many ways, being suspense, writing in the perspective of a much younger man, and completing the book in a scant six weeks, a timetable that most authors would kill for. The book is still in print; even Christies laundry list is still in print. There was a movie made in the early 1970s with Hayley Mills in it. Christie found it too racy, which means you might like it as well as the book.
This best-seller tells a very creepy story of psychological suspense. The book was based on a true story that the authors read in a newspaper account. The book tells the story of twins, Michael who seems fairly normal and David who is not by a long shot. Both boys grow up to be gynecologists, which sounds like a great job to share with your family, and share a practice.
At points, their bond is so close that they compare themselves to the original Siamese Twins, who had to share everything, and I do mean everything. When Michael starts a typical adult life, David does not, attempting rather to recreate his bond to his twin first with other men, then later with drugs and later still by trying to pull Michael back into his own orbit. The slow build to the realization of Davids obsession is tense beyond belief. You know this isnt going to end well.
The book was re-released in 1988 as Dead Ringers after the movie version of this book came out. Its a Cronenberg movie, which means that it bears little in common with the original material. Jeremy Irons and Genevieve Bujold. Definitely read the book first before checking out the movie.
Richard Paige is an early pseudonym for Dean Koontz, who is a master of suspense under any name. This is one of his earliest efforts, but it still shows the type of suspense that he became known for. Laura McCaffrey is called to the scene of a double homicide, because her ex-husband along with a few other bros was found murdered. She could be a suspect, since the ex-husband kidnapped their daughter rears ago. Hours later, the daughter is found wandering the streets naked in LA (as if people would notice most days) and whispering the words the door to December.
When some of her ex-husbands associates start dying one by one, the police have to solve the crimes and Laura has to figure out whats up with her daughter. This is one of the better Koontz novels. Its early which means that he hadnt started having to write what was expected for him, and the book features more suspense and supernatural events than might otherwise be expected. The book is definitely suspense, because the earlier events seem like a routine police case, but as the crimes are exposed the tension starts to build with multiple twists in the plot. This is another one not to start in the evening, because it will keep you up all night!
This novel of suspense throws in some supernatural elements and romance at its core. Erynne misses her mother, who just passed away. Shes going through her things and finds a beautiful necklace. Shortly thereafter, she begins to have some sexy-time dreams about a mysterious man who she swears shes never met. Erynnes a bit freaked out, because mom had some mental issues and shes worried that the nut hasnt fallen far from the pistachio tree.
She doesnt know that the man is having the same dreams about her, and he awakes with the idea that he needs to save her which is better than some of the things he could awake with. All sounds well and good except theres an peeking tom in the dreams, a second man who feels that he will only keep his secret powers if he kills Erynne. He tracks her down while Erynne while the other man slowly tries to make his ways to Erynne.
Romantic suspense usually doesnt push the envelope quite so far, because any reader who can put words together knows that the author wont kill off one of the two leads in the book. However, Froelich creates a very taut plotline that makes you wonder if shes read all those warnings about such things. Definitely a book to pick up and read soon. Its a recent novel, so no movies, but I wouldnt be surprised to see one out in a few years.
The author is actually a British couple, who write about the dark side of romance. This is not the Lifetime movie version of suspense. Its more like a horror movie with two people making out. Miranda meets Brendan and they date briefly until she catches him reading her diary. End of affair or so she thinks. A few weeks later, she learns that Brendan is dating her sister and hanging out with her parents. After sis and Brendan hook up, they ask to move in with Miranda, who for some reason lets them. The pair overstay their welcome to the point where Miranda moves out. It only gets worse from there.
This is a great example of suspense in its slow build-up to disaster. At the beginning of the book, no one could predict (well, except for you guys now that Ive told you) whats going to happen in the coming chapters. A common event becomes a nightmare for the lead character. This couple has actually made a living off of this type of book, and Secret Smile is the seventh book by the couple. Theyre all good, but this one stands out in the level of devastation wrought by the short term lover.
Dorothy B. Hughes was a bit of a Renaissance writer. She was biographer, reviewer, and an incredible suspense author. She wrote the noir classic In a Lonely Place and Ride the Pink Pony, but she could also write a mean piece of suspense. In Dread Journey, the main character is a Hollywood starlet on the way out who gets on a train heading west and almost immediately knows that shes targeted to be killed. Gives a whole new meaning to getting cut from a film. The reader follows along as she tries to take precautions against being killed while at the same time she makes incredibly impetuous and foolhardy moves.
The actions of the characters are mundane. They eat, drink and drink some more and all of them are wondering whats going on. When the heroine keels over dead, the others have to wonder if she was right about her suspicions or if someone else wanted her dead as well. Hughes paints a dark picture of Hollywood and the system that produced starlets. Its no wonder that she was blackballed from Hollywood a few years later. This has never been made into a movie, but I would strongly suggest finding a copy of this book. Its been rereleased as an eBook so fire up that Kindle and buy a copy.
The title of this book refers to the London Underground , which like the rug, takes people to where they want to go. In this case, the story deals with Jarvis Stringer, who is writing a book about the history of the underground system of London. However, being a writer, he needs cash to support himself. So he takes in lodgers, many of them street performers from the Underground, into his converted school house.
One by one, the novel looks at each character in the story, more than a few who have abandoned their children or neglect them terribly. The book bounces through the perspective of each character, so that you can like them all and begin to wonder what the ending will bring for these misfits. Like all of her novels, this book is rich in detail with the focus on the characters, even including snippets of Stringers book as well.
Barbara Vine is a pen name for Ruth Rendell, a master of suspense. Its no surprise that this book won the Crime Writers Award for 1991. This is probably the quietest and most subtle of the suspense books on the list. It sneaks up on you when youre not looking. Mind the gap and pick up a copy of this book before your next ride on the Underground.
Yup, a second King book on the list. This isnt one of Kings possessed bicycle or psychic ability novels. This is definitely a more subtle book, one that builds the tension slowly. When a married couple decides to go away for the weekend to spice up their marriage, neither of them figured it would end up like this. Gerald ends up dead oops, didnt see that coming and the wife, Jessie, ends up handcuffed to the bed with no one to help her escape.
As the hours pass, the cramps and aches from being bound are the least of her worries. A stray dog comes in and starts munching on the hubby, and then she starts seeing a man in the corner of the room. Since its King, we have to wonder if hes real or not. Its amazing that King can fill up 400 pages with the story of one woman alone, using mainly her inner thoughts but he brings it off without a hitch, including a twist at the end.
Of course, since its Stephen King, the book is still in print and is likely in every bookstore youll visit. So go ahead and pick up a copy now. Its worth your time.
This is the last book on the list, but its the first of the Alex Delaware novels by Jonathan Kellerman. Be sure to use his first name when you ask for his books, because his wife, his kid, his maid and the family dog all also write suspense novels. The books feature Delaware who is a burnt out child psychologist, who opted to retire in his mid-thirties. He had seen too many cases of abused children and needed a break from the profession, but his friend, Detective Sturgis, needs a hand with a recent investigation involving a little girl who wont share what she might have seen. Its no surprise that the girl and the crimes tie back to Delawares past as well, since this is a suspense novel. Though the good doctor is pretty mellow, the early pages of the book let you know that the crimes he uncovered are anything but mellow. This example of psychological suspense deals with what rich and powerful men can get away with.
This book took home a number of awards for best first novel and was made into a TV movie starring Ted Danson. Just stick to the book and forget the movie. You can thank me later.
Books in Alex Delaware Series (31)
Our Version of the List
At a Glance
- 1 Before the Fact (Francis Iles)
- 2 Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn)
- 3 Betrayal: The Crisis in the Catholic Church: ...
- 4 A Human Element (Donna Galanti)
- 5 Tell No One: A Novel (Harlan Coben)
- 6 Misery (Stephen King)
- 7 A Dram of Poison (Charlotte Armstrong)
- 8 The Other Side of Midnight (Sidney Sheldon)
- 9 Malice (John Gwynne)
- 10 Sleepyhead (Mark Billingham)
- 11 The Torah Codes (Ezra Barany)
- 12 The Whitechapel Fiend (Cassandra Clare)
- 13 The Girl Next Door (Jack Ketchum)
- 14 The Information Officer: A Novel (Mark Mills)
- 15 Every Secret Thing: A Novel (Laura Lippman)
- 16 Lessons of Evil (Linda B. Myers)
- 17 Endless Night (Agatha Christie)
- 18 What to Do When You're Having Two: The Twins ...
- 19 The Door to December (Dean Koontz)
- 20 Dream of Me: A Sweet Contemporary Romance (De...
- 21 Secret Smile (Nicci French)
- 22 Dread Journey (Dorothy B. Hughes)
- 23 King Solomon's Carpet (Ruth Rendell)
- 24 Gerald's Game (Stephen King)
- 25 When the Bough Breaks: An Alex Delaware Novel...
Publicly Ranked Version of the List25 items >>