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  • Arnab Ghosh

10 Unforgettable Crime Thriller Books of the 21st Century

Reading crime thriller books be like...

From nail-biting suspense thrillers to gripping crime drama, the last few years have been fantastic for readers of crime thriller books. Detectives, spies, serial killers, drama, this genre is packed with everything.

So, if you love to read about cold-blooded murder and are allured by page-turning plot-twists and spine-chilling mystery, you cannot ignore this list of top crime thriller books of the 21st century that will leave you in awe.

Sara Gran (2011)

Sara Gran’s first book of the Claire DeWitt series, Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, is an exhilarating, mysterious adventure filled with humor, an exciting plot, and a brilliant backstory. In the book, Claire is a self-proclaimed “world’s greatest detective” who learned detection from Jacques Silette’s mysterious handbook, went to New Orleans to solve a murder case.

Sara Gran’s most significant achievement in the book is that she helps us look through the horror of the post-Katrina world. And better understand its children, slowly becoming perpetrators. Gran did a great job of knitting several compelling mystery stories into one novel. With a sharp and engaging voice, she manages to hook the reader and take them into the dark world of DeWitt.

Ugly Score: 84%

Gillian Flynn (2012)

Gillian Flynn, one of the most successful thriller writers of our time, brings the reader in a dark place with her razor-sharp writing in the unputdownable masterpiece, Gone Girl.

The story starts on the morning of Nick and Amy’s wedding anniversary, where Nick’s gorgeous wife Amy mysteriously disappears from their home. Under enormous pressure from police and media, Nick starts to show suspicious behavior. But is he the killer? Is Amy dead? You have to read the book to find out.

Gone Girl was able to successfully capture the female rage and helped to re-popularize female-driven crime thrillers. We, briefly, even considered adding it to our romantic suspense thrillers reading list.

However, this book a bit of a slow burner. It takes time to build up Nick and Amy’s marriage and their secrets. That is why the first half of the book may feel a tad slow to some. Other than that, Gone Girl is a nerve-fraying thriller that puzzles you at every turn.

Ugly Score: 93%

Jane Harper, 2016

Award-winning author Jane Harper published her mysterious, page-turning debut thriller, The Dry, in 2016.

This isn’t a breakneck thriller novel that gives you a rush to read, this is the sort of book that starts slow and gradually gains momentum. The complex web of the storyline captivates the reader’s attention to the point that it keeps you thinking about it for a long time after you finish reading.

Another notable characteristic of the book is the depth and beauty given to the characters. You will feel mentally present in each conversation. Also, the writer did a fabulous job with the minimal description of violence, which makes the book suitable for almost all kinds of thriller readers.

Ugly Score: 78%

Gillian Flynn (2006)

Just Google 'most disturbing psychological thriller books' and you will find Sharp Objects plastered all over the search results, and with good reason.

Sharp Objects is another chilling crime thriller book written by Gillian Flynn. The book tells the story of Camille Preaker, a reporter who has returned to her hometown to cover a murder story.

As the story advances and the case begins to unravel, Camille finds herself mentally attached to the young victim. And she realizes the demon she is searching for may be a lot closer to her than she thinks.

If you are faint of heart, then this book is probably not for you. There are vivid descriptions of violence, substance abuse, and animal abuse in the book. But if you crave for a crime thriller filled with spine-chilling narrative and unforgettable ideas, then you are in for a treat.

Ugly Score: 89%

Bill Beverly (2016)

Bill Beverly’s debut novel Dodgers is a story of a 15-year-old boy, East, a foot soldier of a drug mafia, who is sent to kill a witness in another city. He goes to complete the task with his hothead half brother and two other young men.

East, who never stepped outside his hometown, traveled to another city to commit the murder, but things don’t go as planned.

The book is eventful and primarily follows a road trip with the four main characters. The writer made the characters very believable, and although the drama catches speed early, giving an anticlimax feel, Dodgers is an absolute pleasure to read.

Ugly Score: 74%

Ruth Ware (2019)

The Turn of the Key is a modernized take on a haunted house mystery.

The story revolves around Rowan, who gets a job in a wealthy family as a live-in nanny. As she stays there, she starts to feel that something is a little off. The misbehaving child, the creepy poisonous garden in the back, it all makes her very suspicious. You will discover more mystery as the story unravels.

Right from the beginning, the book manages to hook the reader with vivid, hair-raising depictions of suspense. That said, this book is a slow-burner, and as the story unravels, the intensity increases.

With a brilliant and suspenseful plot, Ruth Ware delivers a stellar suspense thriller book.

Ugly Score: 81%

Steve Hamilton (2009)

Steve Hamilton took a break from his Alex McKnight Series and created a truly unique lead character in the book The Lock Artist. And he did a really great job with it.

Michel is an eighteen-year-old boy with the exceptional talent of picking locks. He can pick any lock in the world. Due to some trauma in childhood, he hasn’t uttered a single word in ten years. Still, his unique set of abilities pushes him into the world of crime until he sees a chance to escape.

If you are not usually one for crime thriller books, you might want to give this book a spin. This is not just a crime thriller but a tale of love, curse, redemption, and horror.

Ugly Score: 78%

Stieg Larsson (2009)

The Girl Who Played with Fire is the second novel in Stieg Larsson's best-selling series, Millennium. It was published in Swedish in 2006 and in English in 2009.

The story revolves around a genius but troubled hacker Lisbeth Salander who is accused of murdering two reporters. As the story advances, Salander draws herself into a pursuit of the murderer, which leads her to face her own dark past.

The book is hefty. Larsson crafted his suspenseful story in such a way that it gives you a taste of a fast-paced, cinematic crime thriller. With enough plot twists and a compelling cast of important characters, you will either love the book or hate it, as the mood takes you.

Ugly Score: 94%

Mike Herron (2018)

Slough House is an amazing spy series created by Mike Herron, and London Rules is a brilliant fifth addition to the series.

The main character in the book is Lamb. He is an obese, alcoholic spy who says what should not be said, does what ought not be done. But it gives Herron the license to write unpredictable twists in a way that truly lets the character comedy shine through.

Herron’s story is imaginative but realistic. With an unusual twist to keep it interesting, there’s a lot of dark comedy that will keep readers smirking, giggling, and even laughing out loud.

Honestly, if you get a kick from reading crime thriller novels and like humor too, you must start reading London Rules today.

Ugly Score: 87%

Mark Dawson (2018)

The author of the famous John Milton series, Mark Dawson, published the 13th mission of John Milton by the name Sleepers.

Milton is tasked to eliminate a Russian team that assassinated a Russian defector. The journey takes him to Moscow and sees a confrontation with the directorate of the Sleeper agency.

Sleepers is a thrilling, suspenseful story with multiple viewpoints which run separately but successfully come together in the end. The characters are strong and well-developed. Dawson successfully keeps the reader hooked through to the end of the book. This book was simply written for success.

Ugly Score: 84%

That's it for now, folks. Hope you enjoy reading some of these crime thrillers if you haven't already. Is there another crime thriller you loved that you think should be a part of this list? Let me know in the comments.


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  • This listicle has been edited by the Ugly Tales admins.


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