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Top 25 Best Mystery Thriller Books

The Best Mystery Books That Double Down as Thrillers

Even though many people use the words “mystery” and “thriller” interchangeably, they’re not the same. Thrillers often contain elements of mystery to them, but that does NOT make them the same category. We argue here that Thrillers are a distinct genre from Mystery. Indeed, Thrillers have a bit more common with the Suspense category than the pure Mystery genre.

Unfortunately, publishers tend to lump all books that fall into the mystery, the thriller, or suspense into the Mystery/Thriller category. 

But this term obfuscates the fact that these are completely different genres in many ways. To make things even more confusing, you'll often see Suspense books thrown into the mix. Mystery Suspense, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, etc.

Mystery Thrillers Subgenre

Quite often The Thrillers will combine elements of the Mystery, so there is a good deal of mixing between the two. usually though a thriller that incorporates mystery elements will still be considered a thriller. For our own categorization purposes, we say that thrillers that contain a mystery plot as a large element of the story are Mystery Thrillers. Keep in mind that NOT all thrillers contain a mystery element.

The Mystery Genre

The mystery at its heart is a search for a killer, someone who has murdered another. There are a number of ways a mystery is presented to the reader; the classic format is the whodunit which starts off the mystery with a murder or crime and the characters in the book try and figure out WHO did it. Mystery books are often more subtle, more quiet, and sometimes more character and plot driven than thrillers.

The Thriller Genre

A thriller, on the other hand, may have an unknown murderer, but its stakes are much higher than in a mystery. It may be world domination or may be domination of the neighborhood lemonade stand, but the crimes have higher stakes than a typical mystery. Additionally, the thriller usually starts with a bang. There’s no subtlety here. You know that you’re in for the ride of your life. You might think of thrillers as books you pretty much are watching. They often have a larger than life, big-screen quality to them. Couch potatoes love thrillers, so don’t be too surprised to find that most of these have been made into films as well. So sit back and read about some.

Suspense Genre

Suspense books are often bundled into a single category labeled as "Mystery / Suspense / Thriller" because many elements of 'The Suspense' are found in both the Thriller and The Mystery genres. However, Suspense is not the same as either and arguably a distinct genre just on its own. The difference is that Suspense often generates it's 'thrills' through psychological tactics rather than pure action and excitement and danger (as in the Thriller). As such, Suspense is often (but not always) found within Mysteries and in Thrillers, if there is a psychological tension developed. Note that you can have a Mystery Suspense blend just as you can have a Mystery Thriller which basically uses the Mystery tropes but combines them with a solid usage of Suspense literary techniques.

Regardless of the relationship between the Mystery and the Thriller, we bring you a list of the Top 25 Best Mystery Thriller books ever written -- these are solid thrillers that also double down a Mystery tale in their own right. If you are a fan of these type of stores, all check out our Best Suspense Books, which often feel a lot like a thriller but build that tension and thrill through psychological tension rather than action.

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Award Nominations:1989 WFA

This is probably the book that I dont have to tell you about. Its one of the most recognizable books and films around. The story of Clarice who has to decide whether she wants to be a skin suit or dinner. From the opening pages of the book, you connect with the character, because she, like you, is in over her head. You have not one, but two, crazies to deal with. This constant exposure to two forms of danger are what making this book a thriller. She is in danger from the first page to the last. Shes put into a place where she has no choice but to deal with Hannibal Lecter, one of the most memorable and hungry criminals ever to grace the page. Beyond this particular thriller, hes been featured in other books, other movies and recently he got his own television show. Not bad for the least crazy serial killer in the book.

If you havent read the book and seen the movie, what exactly are you waiting for? Order a bottle of wine, dine on some cow brains, put on your best skin suit and then get down to the best thriller out there. Its overdue.

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Though not quite as well-known as Hannibal and crew, Larsson burst on to the thriller scene in about 2008 with a series of three tightly written thrillers. Sadly, Larsson had already passed away, meaning that he wouldnt be able to write any more in this bestselling series. This was the first of those books. The book opens with the downfall of the hero, Blomkvist, who has just lost a libel suit against a billionaire. He agrees to look into a cold case in exchange for evidence against the billionaire. Along the way, there are kidnappings, killings and other nasty things.

This is a darker thriller than some of the others on the list, if you can imagine that. One of the major themes of the book is surviving rape, and several of the major characters have been raped repeatedly. This is not a book for your grandmother or to be read late at night, but its a fast and tortuous ride. The book has been made into two movies in the short time its been out. Once in Sweden and the other time in the United States. The Swedish version is better if you can read subtitles, so check it out and then read the book.

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Perhaps its just a matter of having two serial killers in a book that gets you on this list. James Patterson is known for his thrillers. In this case, Casanova and The Gentleman Caller are the two killers who are communicating and sharing information about their crimes. Alex Cross, who is Pattersons detective throughout many novels, works for the FBI and learns that his niece has been kidnapped by Casanova. Of course, he gets involved in the case to save his niece and uncover two ruthless killers.

One of the reasons this is such a great thriller is that with two serial killers, Cross and the reader can trust no one at all. Everyone is a suspect and this creates a tension between all the characters in the book. Everyone is a suspect and in true thriller form, some of the lead suspects end up as dead, which means we can finally trust them. The lack of trust means that Cross will eventually go off by himself to find the killers and be in danger from them. This was made into a movie with Morgan Freeman playing Alex Cross. The results were okay, but the book with all of its intricate plot twists is still far better. Pick it up and trust no one.

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Heres the problem with government programs. Jason Bourne is part of a cadre of operatives who were turned into ruthless killing machines by the government. The only problem was that they made a few errors along the way and the program needed to be shut down when the debt ceiling was reached (not really.) Oops they forgot to put an off switch on these killing machines and of course, this was an issue.

When we meet Jason, hes lost his memory and is picked up by a fishing boat. Hes set ashore and tries to figure out who and what he is. He also meets a hot girl who in turn trusts him and hates him. The thrill is the fact that hes not fighting one or even two serial killers, but the entire US government and all of its resources. Will he escape from the governments clutches or will he be another failed program? Ludlum wrote a series of Bourne books, and just to show that he was equally invincible, the books have kept coming even after this death! Three of the books were made into Matt Damon movies, which arent bad. Be sure to check out this series if you like to see the government put in its place.

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Another of the incredibly well-known thrillers, The Da Vinci Code tells the story of a man who is determined to get to the bottom of a mystery thats been hidden for centuries. When a man is murdered in the Louvre and the victim recreates the Da Vinci drawing of the Vitruvian Man (Vitruvian is Latin for naked with all of your appendages sticking out) our intrepid hero, Robert Langdon, goes on a quest to find the Holy Grail, the same one sought by the Knights Templar and Monte Python.

The course of the plot takes Langdon, and the victims daughter, in a quick romantic twist, from Paris to England and then Scotland. Brown uses a number of age-old conspiracies and alternative explanations for the grail and religious figures in order to twist out a plot with too many turns to put into this explanation. Each is explained in turn as bullets fly around them. Brown set off a host of imitators who use shadow organizations and little known historical fascts to make a thriller come alive. Of course, this was made into a Tom Hanks movie. Everyone loves Tom Hanks, so you have no excuse to skip the movie either.

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This is one of two entries from Stephen King on the list, who is best known as a horror writer, but in many cases, the horror creates danger for the main characters from the opening pages. As a result, it becomes a damned good thriller as well. I dont think King would mind being on this list at all. This was one of Kings first big novels and it does not disappoint the reader.

This is another book that needs little in the way of explanation. Jack Torrance and his family go to stay at remote, snowed in hotel as the caretakers for the winter. Immediately, all hell breaks loose and each member of the family has its own problems to deal with. Jacks son is psychic, but not even so to know to get out of that place now. The tension grows from the first pages and you just know things are not going to end well here. Of course, everyone knows of the Kubrick-Nicholson film made from the book. Its a great interpretation, but not nearly as creepy as the original book. Be sure to check it out, but definitely do not read this one on a snowy night.

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While Agatha Christie is mainly known for her detective novels today, she also wrote some page-turning thrillers as well. Christies thrillers typically featured a pair of bright young things as she called them who find themselves in over their heads. This book is no exception to that. Christie starts with a bang when Bobby Jones finds a nearly dead golfer on the course. The man asks Bobby the title question before passing away. Bobby is curious and relates the story to Lady Frances, who wants in on the fun. They soon find that its anything but that as killers try to do away with them in any number of ways.

Since it is Christie, she packs a double wallop at the end of the book too. Christies books are more tightly plotted than some of the other authors on the list, but like the rest, the danger is real and the heroes face death repeatedly. This book is one of her better thrillers and one that has stood the test of time. The BBC made this into a television drama decades ago. Find the book, find the show and enjoy what the Queen of Crime can do with a tightly plotted thriller.

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The search here is not for a colorful calendar, but a Russian nuclear sub pimped out with technology that makes it invisible to sonar, which the US uses to track vessels. The captain of the sub wants to defect but can the US (and the intrepid Jack Ryan) trust him? Do you let something that cant be traced close enough that it could shoot you? When the Russians get wind of the defection, they too go in search of the stealthy sub to sink it before the US can get ahold of it.

The tension for this thriller comes from both inside and out. Outwardly the battle of wits and arms between the Russians and the United States is something to watch. Clancy had a background in military history, so the details rang true. The internal tension came from the fact that no one knew what the Russian sub was really up to. Did the captain really want to defect or was this just a ploy to destroy the US Navy? The book was made into a movie with Alec Baldwin, before his temper became more nuclear than the sub, and Sean Connery. Definitely worth taking a look at the book before you watch the movie.

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The Hound is one of the most popular of the Holmes stories, which is saying a lot. While most consider Holmes a detective, many of the stories are more thriller than puzzle. The old Baskerville curse seems to have reared its ugly head when the latest Baskerville is frightened to death and witnesses can only see the footprints of a gigantic hound. The dog in the story is real and seems to be out for the Baskervilles This book is filled with thrills and atmosphere. The action takes place just away from the moors, which suck any unsuspecting man or beast into them without leaving a trace of them behind the opposite of a landmine. Fog swirls in to make it even more difficult to make your way through the moors. Add to that some flashing lights in the middle of the night and you have an atmospheric thriller that will have you reading late into the night and giving weird looks to your own pooch..

From the very beginning of the story, the reader knows that Sir Henry is in a kennels worth of trouble and part of the challenge to Holmes and Watson is keeping their client safe while trying to figure out what the doggone is going on.

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What can you say about this book? First, I doubt that you really know whats in the book. Its been done so many times and in so many ways that now we have sparkly vampires, hunky vampires and even American vampires on TV and in the movies. The original bloodsucker has been remade and refashioned so many times that the original book has been obscured. While the legend of a bloodsucker had been around for centuries, Stoker was the first one to write it down in novel form.

In the original book, Dracula decides to leave his home in Transylvania to head to London, where there are necks-aplenty. He leaves his new lawyer at the castle, and the reader can follow Draculas path to London from the mayhem and corpses he leaves behind. Of course, the reader gets to see Dracula turn his first victim into a vampire as well.

Though modern readers are familiar with the legend and the multiple versions of Dracula today, the original book scared readers who locked their windows and covered their necks with garlic. Todays readers are more apt to fall in love with Drac and want to spend eternity with his sparkly self. Skip all of the remakes and just read the book. Just make sure that your bookmark is a wooden stake.

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Thrillers can be told when the main character cannot protect themselves from the coming danger. That certainly applies to Lincoln Rhyme, a forensic scientist who is also a paraplegic who can only move a single finger. Hes called one of the best minds in the forensic fields and hes fascinated by this latest case. The loss of control frightens Rhyme and the reader, since he cannot possible save himself from any attack.

In this first book in the series, someone is out there recreating a part of New Yorks shady past (and theres so much of it to mine here.) Rhyme meets an attractive detective who also happens to be the one to find one of the bone collectors victims, a man whose hand is stripped of skin and whose finger wears a womans ring. The crimes are described in the book in gory detail, which lets the reader know exactly what this detective is up against. Another victim remains unaccounted for and the police and Rhyme need to find a killer quickly. This was made into a Denzel Washington film with Angelina Jolie as the attractive detective they got that right. Stick with the book though. Its part of a long-running series with the early books have the most thrills per page.

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Michael Crichton is best-known for writing scientifically-based thrillers, scaring the pants off readers by asking them what if this happened. In Jurassic Park, that what-if is what would happen if scientists could use bugs trapped in amber to find dinosaur DNA and bring them back to life in an amusement park. Bad idea. The reader knows from the first page that sticking a T-Rex inside a zoo is probably not going to end well. Sure enough within a few pages the first signs of destruction begin and the reader is hurled along with the book faster than a Pterodactyl on speed.

The movie picks up the best moments of the book and lends them the visual qualities that make the movie so good. The scene where the liquid in the glass starts to show movement is creepy, knowing that trouble is on the way. The danger is present up until the last chapter and not everyone makes it out alive. Be sure to check out the film on this one (ignore its oh so many painful sequels were at what? 17 or so now?) and then read the book. Then read a few of his other books too. Crichton was a master at using science as the starting point for a good thrill.

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This was Grishams first novel written before the days of his blockbuster novels. Grisham has told the story of how he had to sell the book out of the trunk of his car before he became famous. Its a good thing that he did, because this first novel is a powerhouse thriller. Set in Mississippi, the book looks at the effects of racism on a small town when a young African American girl is raped by two racists who brag about their feat. The father of the girl kills the men and is put on trial for their murders.

The rest of the book is a deadly chess match between the defense attorney and the various racist factions and the prosecution. Each side raises the stakes of the game and the other side retaliates. Its frightening to think that this level of injustice can exist in the United States unchecked. Of course, like all Grishams books, this was made into a movie some years back. The movie is adequate, but doesnt match the book for the emotions or the impact of the crime. This is definitely a case of reading the book and watching the movie if you find it while channel surfing one evening.

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This is a thriller that keeps readers guessing up to the last page, and then doesnt tell them the answers! The reader is thrown into the world of Edward Daniels, who goes to Shutter Island, a home for the criminally insane, on the hunt for a missing patient. While there, he begins to suspect that another unnamed patient is on the island as well. As the plot unfolds, the reader begins to question if Daniels is in fact that unnamed patient, known as #67 (since there are 66 others there.) When he finds the patient, shes not what he was expecting. Are you questioning yourself yet? Good, thats just what Lehane wants here.

The thriller in this novel is what to believe. Trust no one is more than a motto for this book, which means that the reader has to be on her toes all the time. Lehane said that he wanted to write something taut, and this one about snaps from the tight plot. This was made into a Leo DiCaprio movie a few years ago, but not one where he hangs from the front of the ship. Given the twists and turns of the book, this is definitely a case of read the book first (and now!)

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This book swings back and forth between reality and fiction. The Jackal is an internationally known, English born assassin who has been hired by a radical group to kill Charles De Gaulle, the president of France. In actuality, there was such a plot by that particular radical group to kill de Gaulle around 1963. However, Forsyth then veers off into fiction by showing the unnamed Jackal as he prepares to kill the president. The second and third parts of the book show the international community trying to find the Jackal and stop him before he can kill De Gaulle on the anniversary of Frances liberation from the Nazis. The issues of an English killer and a French leader make for difficulties in communicating between law enforcement officials, and allows the Jackal to get very close to his goal.

The book had a rocky road to publication, since for some reason, publishers didnt want to print a book that dealt with the assassination of a still alive public figure. The book was finally published and became a big hit for the publisher and author. Its been filmed three times though the earliest version with Edward Fox as the Jackal is the best.

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This novel isnt based on a Bible verse, but it answered some prayers for Ken Follett. This book was the break-out novel for Follett and won him the Edgar from the Mystery Writers of America back in 1979. The story is relatively simple and another that is based on actual historical fact. A German spy has been tasked with learning which beach the Americans and English want to attack for their landing in France on D-Day. Most of the other spies who have tried to learn this have been killed, so Henry Faber (also known as the needle for his habit of killing with a long thin knife) is sent to England to learn the truth. After he does, Faber needs a way to communicate his information to the Nazis. Hes first stopped by a horny landlady (like I could make this stuff up!)

MI-5, the British intelligence is on his tail, and he ends up on Storm Island (the original title of the book) living with a young woman and her disabled husband. They made a film out of this with Kiefer Sutherlands dad and other people you wont have heard of. Definitely check out the book which is a page-turner.

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Awards Won:1987 BFS
Award Nominations:1987 LocusF, 1987 WFA

Its not every thriller that can let a pronoun scare the dickens out of you, but Stephen King can. The book starts with a bang as a mysterious character kills a small boy in the sewers. Of course, in this case, this thriller follows the shape-shifting terror that takes the form of whatever one of the six children followed in this book fears most. The book is told from varying viewpoints and in various times, showing that this character has been around for ages and is not easy to kill. The violence escalates as the children become more frightened and desperate to escape the violence and fears that this creature brings. After the children have grown, they must return to their town to battle It once again.

Of course, one kid was scared of 1000 page novels, and he got this one to frighten him. Its a long read, but one well worth the time. Being King, this has been filmed. It (like I did that?) was a television mini-series, which still shows up from time to time on cable. Rumors of a movie have swirled for years, but it would need to be a yearlong marathon to include all the subplots and action.

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Jack Reacher is the main character of the Child novels and a huge hunk of a man who single-handedly takes on entire towns just because he can. Hes an ex-military police major who left the service and wanders the country looking for trouble and his next book-length bestseller. Somehow, he always manages to find it and end the book unscathed.

In this book, Reacher opts to work with the DEA in order to have a second go at his archenemy. He helps recover a young boy from a kidnapping just so that he can get close to a criminal. In order to get a promotion to head honcho in the criminals operation, Reacher has to off a few people, but thats standard fare for a Reacher novel. All of this is done just to have another round with Reacher and his personal Moriarty. Its definitely not a book for the feint-hearted or weak-stomached, but its a thriller from the word go.

In an absolutely amazing piece of franchise-ending film-making, the diminutive Tom Cruise, who wasnt even as tall as Katie Holmes, played Jack Reacher. Stick with the series of books for this particular author, and let Tom destroy another franchise instead.

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From the opening pages of the book when the couple cant get it on because one of them gets eaten by a shark (a much better excuse than I have a headache!) you know that youre in for a thrill ride. Benchley had storytelling in his bones; hes the grandson of famous author, Robert Benchley. The story is well known. A shark terrorizes a seaside town and has to be eliminated. This is a great example of a thriller, because the threat is not understood at first, but as the book goes on, the characters realize what theyre up against and the threat becomes personal as the family and friends of the main characters are threatened directly by the shark. As the main characters go out on the water to confront the shark, the odds tilt in favor of the shark and the main characters have to battle back to the last pages.

The film stars Richard Dreyfuss and its hard to beat in terms of the scares per minute. Skip the many sequels which are not up to par with the original. Be sure to watch the movie and read the book, but do it from a landlocked state. You wont want to be near the water for a while.

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An alienist is the old-fashioned name for a psychologist and one of the lead characters in this book dabbles in psychology back when it was a new field. This novel is set in the late 1800s and deals with the city of New York during that time. When a young male prostitute is found hanging from a bridge mutilated and with his eyes gouged out, Dr. Kreizler and a newspaper reporter are called to the scene. They disagree with the medical report and discuss the case with the police commissioner (who happens to be Teddy Roosevelt one of the many cameos by real people in the book.) They know of two other children with their eyes gouged out.

Along with a woman from the police department, the three look into the past of the victims, hoping to use psychology to solve the crimes. This is a big book, long and full of details, but the pages turn quickly as the criminal continues to outwit the trio as they look for the truth. The book was optioned for film, but the level of graphic violence against children in the book caused issues that could not be overcome. So youre stuck with the book, but its a great one, so enjoy.

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Poor Rusty. His girlfriend is dead in what looks like a sexual kink gone wrong. On the bright side, she wont be able to say anything to his wife. Rusty happens to be a prosecutor in Kindle County (which is a great idea to name your setting after an eReader!) so the investigation falls into his lap just like his girlfriend. The girlfriend was also a prosecutor, so the police are industrious, trying to find out who killed a member of the law enforcement community. It isnt long before they discover that Rusty has whats called a conflict of interest, meaning that its tough to investigate what you used to sleep with.

This book is a non-stop series of twists and turns. The reader never gets comfortable, before Turow pulls another fast one and everything has changed. This is a true thriller in that Turow starts the action from the beginning and doesnt let up until the last chapter. Dont start this one late at night, because youll have to cancel your plans for the next day. The book was made into a movie back in 1990 and stars Harrison Ford as Rusty. Its definitely worth the effort to find it and watch it.

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This is not a geezer flick by any means. The title actually comes from a Yeats poem, which now gives you your daily dose of culture. The book takes place in the lawless country around the Texas desert as if Texas wasnt lawless enough everywhere else. When one of the locals finds a pick-up truck thats been abandanoed, well if you consider everyone in the truck being dead as abandoned, the truck is full of money and heroin. Being the law abiding citizen that he is, Moss just takes the money and leaves the drugs. Even so, he sets off a minefield of unexpected consequences. Hes chased by a ruthless hit man and a criminal who flips coins to make decisions. The Old Men in the title refers in part to the sheriff who cant contain the violence going on around him, including the death of some of his lawmen.

This is one of the more recent books on the list, making it easy to pick up on the paperback racks at your local bookstore. It was also made into a Bruce Willis vehicle that won Best Picture of the year. It was directed by the Coen brothers, which should give you an ideas of the level of gore in it. Read the book first, and then see the movie.

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With so many thrillers focusing on how the west beat the USSR, one thriller is set in that country with a Soviet policeman as the hero of the book. Gorky Park, for those of you too young to remember, was an amusement park in Moscow. It wasnt quite so amusing when the Soviet police officer ArkdayRenko is called there to investigate three murders. The killer is smart. He cuts off the victims fingertips and faces to avoid recognition. That makes it tougher on Renko, but the hero is not afraid to go after any clue despite his position in the Soviet power structure. As he follows the clues, the reader can see that Renko is getting push back from both the killers and the people in the Soviet hierarchy that might be exposed by these crimes. They go so far as to label Renko with a fake mental illness just to keep him in line.

The book opens with three murders and threatens to rip the lid off of Soviet corruption making this all thriller. The author didnt let the west get too complacent, adding in a scene where Renko sees the west as equally corrupt as the Soviets. The book was made into a film with William Hurt. Its hard to find, but its not bad just not as good as the book. Be sure to pick up a copy of this book and its two sequels for some history lessons.

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Over the years, writers have made many things evil, fish, clowns, but Ira Levin made something cute and adorable be the most evil thing on earth a baby. For those of you who have some babies lying around the house, you might understand where Levin got his ideas, but its still one of the creepiest books ever.

Rosemary Woodhouse is the main character. Shes married to an up-and-coming actor, which was her first mistake. They move into an old building and shortly thereafter, her husbands career takes off after certain actors can no longer play their parts. The neighbors next door are overly interested in Rosemary, especially after she is expecting. Few people believe Rosemary with her concerns, and those who do end up dead in a hurry. Instead of Lamaze classes, Rosemary is soon trying to perform exorcisms on the spawn inside of her.

The book was one of the bestselling novels of the 1960s, so if you havent checked out this novel, its time to do so in between diapers and feedings. The movie starring Mia Farrow, won a bunch of Oscars. It still plays on cable late at night after the babies are asleep, so check it out.

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So when thriller writers run out of new places to set a novel, they only need to look down as they did in Subterranean. In this book, the author went down into the earth itself. Explorers find a series of labyrinths underneath Antarctica, in the ice at the bottom of the sea. This new area is filled with riches like you wouldnt believe, things that would make Donald Trumps hair stand on end oh wait.. Of course, anything this good has to have a downside and it turns out that others live in this caverns along with a monster thats not to be believed.

The book takes a little bit of accepting the hard-to-believe, but once you do, this tale is hard to put down. The plot has more twists and turns than the mazes written about in this tale. The idea of learning more about our world and our people from the caves would intrigue anyone interested in the world around us. This is a great thriller to end the list with, one that takes us to the ends of the earth and offers untold wealth some of the best things that the thriller genre has to offer. Be sure to pick up this book as soon as you can.

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