It’s no great mystery that thrillers are consistently among the bestselling books on the market. There’s just something about crime—whether it be a killer at-large, or a cryptic investigation with plenty of twists and turns—that gets readers every time. Granted, there’s a lot of fluff out there, so that’s why keeping an ear to the ground for recommendations is absolutely key. To that end, we’ve done the work for you. Ahead, find 15 of the best mystery and thriller books published in 2020.
The Missing American
Kwei Quartey takes us to the corruption and grit of Ghana’s streets from the perspective of Emma Djan, a private investigator about to tackle her first missing persons case. As the title suggests, an American goes missing during a visit to the country to meet a woman he met online. Like any scam, money theft is involved, but where this one gets interesting is how Quartey adds in the magical and the occult, specifically voodoo traditions that have taken deep root in the corrupt government.
The prolific Dean Koontz is always up to something, and his fans know that he’s quite the dog lover. So, it makes sense that he would write a novel that is essentially a love letter to human-canine companionship. Kipp is a devoted dog that has a secret power—the ability to communicate without speaking. Woody Bookman is an 11-year-old that hasn’t spoken since his father died. When unspoken evil creeps on the horizon for both Woody and his mother, it’s up to their devoted dog, Kipp, to help.
This book gets right what other medical thrillers get wrong. The science is spot-on, and the star of the novel, medical examiner Jessie Teska, is truly memorable. When she is transferred from Los Angeles to San Francisco, she is struck by the rampant disorganization in her new office. Her first case, a possible overdose, might have been an open-and-shut case, but that would be too easy. Teska is strong-willed and the sort of character that carries even the most mundane moments well.
Home Before Dark
Riley Sager has quickly become a standout name in the world of mysteries and thrillers. His latest doesn’t disappoint. This time, he turns his attention to the haunted house novel. Maggie Holt and her family moved to Baneberry Hall, a huge Victorian estate in the Vermont woods. They lasted three weeks before leaving the place. Flash forward to the present day, Maggie flips houses for a living and doesn’t remember what happened at Baneberry Hall…that is, until she inherits the estate after her father dies. What happens next is, in true Sager fashion, full of surprises at every turn.
The Sun Down Motel
Sometimes a story’s location has so much charm, intrigue, and charisma, it becomes a character all its own. This is the case with the eponymous roadside motel in Simone St. James’s The Sun Down Motel. A woman named Carly is searching for her aunt, Viv Delany, who went missing before she was born while working a night shift at the Sun Down Motel. As it turns out, Carly’s fascination with the motel wasn’t by chance. It wanted her there all along.
St. James takes her time turning up the volume on the supernatural edge of the thriller so well, you’ll find yourself basking in the setting, holding back the frenetic turning of the pages just to enjoy Sun Down a little while longer.
The Other People
Gabe is driving home one night when he witnesses his daughter being kidnapped. When she's hustled into a rusty old car that he happens to be driving behind, he's powerless to do anything, and watches in horror as his daughter is sped away. Worse still, no one believes Gabe, and he’s considered a suspect in her disappearance. Years pass, and he's given up on everything but his search when he crosses paths with a strange woman and her child. You'll never guess what happens from here.
Jason Palmer’s novel is a bit different from many of the other books on this list. Here we are introduced to a shapeshifter named Harry McComber, who is anticipating a violent encounter with Brian Thurgold, his antagonist and a supervillain. This is good-versus-evil, dystopian action at its best. Read it if you want some superhero sci-fi incorporated into your thriller narrative.
City of Margins
William Boyle knows Brooklyn by heart, down to the cadence of the streets. His latest novel focuses on a variety of characters via interlinked stories, including Donnie, the very definition of a “crooked cop.” Other characters include widower Ava Bifulco; her son Nick, who dreams of buying his way to success; Mikey Baldini, a college dropout drifting through life; Donna Rotante, Donnie’s ex; Rosemarie, Mikey’s mother; and Antonia Divino, a high schooler keen to break free of Brooklyn’s grip.
Boyle deftly spins each character’s story in a manner that doesn’t leave the reader, or any of the characters, behind. Read it if you want a slice of desperation that you can only find in cities like New York City.
The Law of Lines
Hye-young Pyun has won a multitude of literary awards, and it isn’t difficult to see why. Here we are introduced to the crumbling life of Se-oh, whose house is set on fire with her father’s body still inside. If that wasn’t enough, her estranged sister dies too, her body found in a river. It is suggested that both of these deaths may be suicides. Of course, all this tragedy happened due to unseen nefarious forces that get you wondering with increasing intensity how it all connects.
The Coyotes of Carthage
Toussaint Andre Ross is an African American political consultant known for his aggressive tactics. With his career on the verge of spoilage, his boss sends him to Carthage, South Carolina with $250,000 to manipulate the locals to vote in favor of the sale of a mining company. Wright flexes his prowess with American law to create a believable and memorable political thriller involving the corruption of democracy.
Veteran reporter Jack McEvoy is back in Michael Connelly’s latest thriller. The title refers to the nonprofit consumer protection news website where our protagonist works, and the story focuses on the unregulated genetic analytics industry. Jack becomes a suspect in the murder of Tina Portrero, someone that he met at a bar and had a one night stand with about a year ago. It wouldn’t be a Connelly thriller without the perfect pacing, with many quick turns throughout the plot.
The Body Double
Emily Beyda’s debut novel explores the star-studded world of Hollywood, along with the tabloids and media circus that come with being a celebrity. The narrator of the novel is discovered while working at a movie theater in a small town. The man offers her a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity—to leave everything behind and move to Los Angeles to be the body double of Rosanna Feld. Of course, the world the narrator enters changes her dearly, and the drama and deceit of Hollywood threatens to overtake her very existence.
Tana French has made a name for herself with masterfully plotted gritty thrillers that take routinely place in pastoral settings. In her latest, she transports readers to rural Ireland. Ex-cop Cal Hooper moves to a small town expecting peace, but when he becomes ensconced in the disappearance of a local boy, the idyllic countryside opens up to reveal its secrets.
If you like your thrillers draped in crime and action, S.A. Cosby’s novel is right up your alley. Beauregard “Bug” Montage is a mechanic and reformed criminal with a relatively normal life, including the struggle to stay afloat financially. As is often the case, an opportunity he can’t refuse comes along, and he decides on one last getaway driver gig. He swears it’s the last time and that he’s doing it for his family, but you can’t deal in excuses when living a life of crime. Soon, Bug finds his entire life coming apart at the seams.
Trouble Is What I Do
Walter Mosley simply cannot write a bad book. Every new novel he puts out is as amazing as the last, and in Trouble Is What I Do, we are given the reins on a new investigation. Leonid McGill is a complex private investigator who specializes in cases involving people dealt a shoddy hand by society. When 92-year-old Phillip “Catfish” Worry calls for Leonid’s help to deliver a letter, only to have Catfish become the subject of a gang hit, Leonid is placed in the difficult position of protecting his client while also protecting himself from the dark memories of the past.