10 Psychological Thriller Books that Explore the Twisted Human Mind

Psychological thriller is one of the most fascinating genres of fiction because it is essentially a study of the human nature, specifically the dark side of human nature. Each of the following ten novels show the depths to which a deranged and twisted mind can fall.

The beauty of many of these novels lies in the fact that the killer is often a (seemingly) normal, functioning member of society, an ordinary citizen whom no one would suspect. That’s what makes each of the following ten riveting tales even more terrifying.

10. The Killer Inside Me, by Jim Thompson

First Published: 1952

What It’s About:

This classic tale follows a man you would least expect to be a highly-disturbed individual: a deputy sheriff in Texas called Lou Ford. Since childhood, Lou has always had a twisted mind and his actions almost got him to prison once, but he was saved by his brother. Today Lou is a grown man, living in Texas as a well-mannered law enforcement officer with a good reputation. Beneath the veneer of a decent human being, however, lurks a psychopath that no one knows about. His involvement with a local prostitute leads to a chain of events that can only end in disaster.

Why You Should Read It:

Making the best use of first-person narration, The Killer Inside Me, takes you into the mind of a deeply disturbed man who finds it increasingly difficult to repress his sadistic urges. It should be noted that this dark novel contains some graphic violence. Jim Thompson was one of the pioneers in the noir genre of fiction, where the protagonist often possesses self-destructive qualities and is often seen as the victim.

Best Quote:

“There are things that have to be forgotten if you want to go on living.”

9. 2666, by Roberto Delano

First Published: 2004

What It’s About:

This novel focuses around a series of unsolved murders of women and young girls in the fictitious Mexican area of Jurezon on the U.S. Mexico border. The expansive plot also focuses on a range of topics and characters including a mysterious German novelist, a teenager, her mentally unstable widower father, and several other academics and even convicts. All of these characters are brought together in the story at Juarez where hundreds of workers are disappearing every day. The plot in the novel is divided into five parts, each connected in some manner to the 300 plus murders that have taken place in the Santa Teresa region.

Why You Should Read It:

Delano is considered one of the most significant Latin American writers of his generation. The homicides in the novel were inspired by the real-life murders that took place in Ciudad Juarez. After its release, 2666 was recognized as one of the best literary works to emerge from Spain and Latin America. The novel is essentially a murder mystery that examines human nature with a great focus on death as well as violence. Interestingly, the author was battling for his life while writing 2666 and died before it could be published.

Best Quote:

“The truth is we never stop being children, terrible children covered in sores and knotty veins and tumors and age spots, but ultimately children, in other words we never stop clinging to life because we are life.”

8. Reconstructing Amelia, by Kimberly McCreight

First Published: 2013

What It’s About:

Kate Baron is a single mother and a busy lawyer. Kate receives a phone call from her daughter’s private school informing her that her daughter Amelia has been caught cheating. By the time Kate arrives at the school, she is told her daughter is dead. Unable to cope with the cheating allegations against her, Amelia jumped from the roof of the school building. Or so Kate is told. She believes this to be the truth until she receives a text message saying, “She didn’t jump.” Thus begins Kate’s journey to piece together the last weeks of her daughter’s life in order to unearth the truth behind Amelia’s tragic death.

Why You Should Read It:

A riveting thriller, it is also a heartbreaking story about a single mother and her relationship with her daughter. The story will make you ask the question: how well do we really know the people we are supposed to be closest to?

Best Quote:

“Sometimes it’s hard to tell how fast the current’s moving until you’re headed over a waterfall.”

7. The Mermaids Singingby Val McDermid

First Published: 1995

What It’s About:

In the town of Bradfield, four men have been discovered hacked to death and criminal psychologist Tony Hill is in charge of the investigation. The series of mutilations before him is unlike anything Tony’s ever encountered and he knows that he’s dealing with a true psychopath. Hunting down this ruthless killer and understanding his motives means Tony has to confront his own past. It soon becomes clear that Tony may be the killer’s perfect victim.

Why You Should Read It:

A dreadful game of cat and mouse, this page-turner will have you hooked from start to finish. Val McDermid is known for producing some of the greatest criminal novels and in this work, she creates a portrait of a sadistic killer obsessed with medieval torture techniques, while being a psychologically complex individual. This gruesome story is not for the faint-hearted.

Best Quote:

“It’s only hunting you that keeps me from being you.”

6. The Girl on The Train, by Paula Hawkins

First Published: 2015

What It’s About:

Rachel travels to and from London every day, as do millions of commuters in England. Except Rachel observes the houses she passes daily, making mental notes of a few that she has noticed. Rachel finds something soothing in seeing a happy couple in their home or on their balcony facing the train tracks as she passes daily. Until one day, when Rachel sees something that changes her entire perspective of what she has actually been witnessing daily. Unknowingly, Rachel could now have become a witness to a crime.

Why You Should Read It:

The book is an arresting portrait of a woman who is so relatable, yet so deeply broken by her circumstances, that the reader will have to decide whether to trust her vision or not. The novel is a chilling thriller that will have you turning pages to get to the truth. As we learn about Rachel’s life, her past and her present, along with the truth about the people she observes from the train, we realize that the worst thing we can do is to make assumptions about people and situations based solely on how they appear to be. Looks can be deceiving and sometimes a wrong assumption can cost you your life.

Best Quote:

“There’s nothing so painful, so corrosive, as suspicion.”

5. Into the Darkest Corner, by Elizabeth Haynes

First Published: 2011

What It’s About:

Catherine Bailey is a pretty young girl who meets Lee Brightman, a gorgeous man that seems perfectly suited to her. The two embark on a passionate relationship which quickly descends into a nightmare for Catherine. Lee is a deeply-disturbed and controlling individual who suffers from bouts of rage and jealousy. Unable to get any support from her friends, Catherine plans to escape from the relationship as she constantly fears for her life. Four years later, Catherine is safe and Lee is behind bars. Her new neighbor Stuart encourages her to face her fears and may be exactly the type of man to help Catherine move on. The nightmare, however, is far from over as Catherine learns the day her phone rings.

Why You Should Read It:

Haynes’ description of an abusive relationship will send chills down your spine and may, unfortunately, resound with many people around the world today. A psychopath can blend in a crowd and the story proves that sometimes you won’t know how crazy someone really is until it’s too late.

Best Quote:

“This isn’t normal. This isn’t how normal people think.”

4. The Memory Game, by Nicci French

First Published: 1997

What It’s About:

Jane Martello is shocked when the skeleton of her childhood best friend, Natalie is found in her family home’s garden. Natalie went missing twenty-five years ago and now Jane must confront her past to unearth the truth about Natalie’s death. Jane is encouraged by her therapist to get to the bottom of her childhood memories, which on the surface seem idyllic to Jane, but may hold a deadly secret in reality. Does Jane remember something which could explain what happened to Natalie all those years ago? Could find out the truth about the past have an adverse effect on her future?

Why You Should Read It:

Your memory is often how you want to remember events instead of what actually took place. This book proves that our memories can deceive us and in Jane’s case, could prove deadly.

Best Quote:

“And how do you undo damage that’s been built into the foundations? With houses, it’s easier to pull the whole thing down and start again. You can’t do that with people.”

3. Misery, by Stephen King

First Published: 1987

What It’s About:

Paul Sheldon is a successful writer who writes a series of historical romance novels, each with the protagonist Misery Chastain. Sheldon has just finished the latest manuscript for, what he hopes will be, the final book in the series. He decides to drive home in the snow drunk and crashes on the side of a mountain. He is rescued by Annie Wilkes, a nurse, who instead of taking him to a hospital, takes him home to nurse him back to health. She is a huge fan of Sheldon’s work, especially the character Misery. As the novel progresses, it becomes clear that Wilkes is a deeply-disturbed woman obsessed with Sheldon.

Why You Should Read It:

Stephen King is one the greatest horror writers of the 20th century and if a heavy dose of crazy is what you are looking for, Misery won’t disappoint.

Best Quote:

“I am your number one fan.”

2. Silence of the Lambs, by Thomas Harris

First Published: 1988

What It’s About:

A sadistic killer is on the loose and it’s up to FBI trainee Clarice Starling to catch him. Clarice is given the task of drawing a psychological profile of the elusive killer dubbed “Buffalo Bill” and to do so she must interview a brilliant forensic psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lecter, who happens to be a cannibalistic serial killer. Clarice and Lecter strike an interesting camaraderie as the brilliant psychiatrist helps the trainee detective catch the killer, despite being a monster himself. Readers may find themselves conflicted regarding their feelings towards Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

Why You Should Read It:

Hannibal Lector remains one of the most chilling characters ever created. Thomas Harris’ novel is stomach-churning and full of suspense mixed with dread. The novel will keep you hooked because of the way that Clarice pieces together cryptic, macabre information that she gathers from each victim.

Best Quote:

“I ate his liver with some fava beans and a big Amarone.”

1. Psycho, by Robert Bloch

First Published: 1959

What It’s About:

Norman Bates runs a motel along with his aging mother, a deeply possessive woman with strong views about how her son should live his life. The hotel’s business is dwindling due to recent changes in the area. Mary Crane is a young woman on the run after stealing a large sum of money from her employer. She arrives at the deserted hotel, and what ensues is a chilling tale. Whether or not you’ve seen the infamous shower scene, this novel offers an unparalleled insight into the mind of a deeply disturbed man.

Why You Should Read It:

Psycho is arguably the most famous psychological thriller ever written and beautifully displays the workings of a twisted, deranged mind. By taking something as simple and sacred as the mother-son relationship, Bloch creates an unforgettable nightmare. Alfred Hitchcock made a cult classic with his movie adaptation and this tale remains just as chilling today.

Best Quote:

“We’re all not quite as sane as we pretend to be.”

Conclusion

If you are looking for the perfect psychological thriller that explores the most twisted minds amongst us, these ten novels are your best picks. Not only do they continue to fascinate, but their central characters will send chills down your spine as you read about the actions of some of the most depraved individuals in fiction.

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