The crime-thriller genre has become a staple of literary culture since the mass paperback went to market. Detectives, spies, family drama, and serial killers—the genre is ever-expanding both in its subjects and influence. So if you love to learn about the most obscure parts of history, or just like to be at the edge of your seat, here are some of the most exciting and best crime thriller books of 2020 to help you overflow your 2020 TBR!
Best Crime Thriller Books: Fiction
The Missing American by Kwei Quartey
After her dreams of becoming a police officer come crashing down, Emma starts working for a private detective agency in Accra. Anxious about her uncertain future and career in the city, she soon finds herself investigating the case of a missing American citizen in Ghana. In a plot that expands continents and the secrets of two countries, Emma must navigate a convoluted world of international scams, fetish priests, and the mysteries of the dead.
The Majesties by Tiffany Tsao
A dark and mysterious thriller about family secrets. Gwendollyn is the only survivor of a mass poisoning that has killed her entire extended family all at once. As she finds herself trapped in a comatose state, she has only one certainty of who committed the crimes: her beloved sister Estella. Now Gwendolyn must seek her memory and try to remember the events that led up to the deadly dinner and find out what lead Estella to commit such a hideous act.
Recipe for a Perfect Wife by Karma Brown
A dual narrative linked by two women living in the same house at a different time. Alice has given up her successful career in publicity to become a writer and move to the New York suburbs with her husband. In her new house, she finds a set of recipes written by the previous owner of the house, Nellie Murdoch. Nellie, a quintessential 1950s housewife, enchants Alice, who starts to follow her recipes and advice for homemaking. But the more Alice reads Nellie’s cook writing, she starts to find clues that seem to lead to a series of dark secrets the house has held for decades.
Beheld by TaraShea Nesbit
A historical crime thriller set ten years after the arrival of the Mayflower on American shores, full of religious conflict and claustrophobic mystery. The new colony is not what many of its settlers were promised. Run by a fervent puritan man, many have had to give up their hopes of religious freedom in a new world. As the tensions start to grow amongst different sects and the colony becomes more and more isolated, it might be too late when the next boat arrives. Told from the perspectives of women in the colony, Beheld takes a dark and innovative look in the early days of American colonization and the cabin fever trope.
A Good Man by Ani Katz
Thomas Martin is a good family man. He tries to protect his beautiful wife and daughter from all the horrors of this world. His life’s mission is to keep them safe for as long as he can. But Thomas has failed. Now he is trying to put all the pieces together. How could his family fall apart in such a terrible way? A thrilling psychological thriller, A Good Man is perfect for fans of domestic thrillers and family drama.
The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida by Clarissa Goenawan
Miwako Sumida died by suicide during her sophomore college dorm. Months before, she had retreated into the mountains. Now her relatives and friends are asking, was she running from someone? Her friends Chie, Ryusei, and his older sister, decide to investigate Miwako’s last days.
Streets of Paris, Streets of Murder: The Complete Graphic Noir of Manchette Tardi by Jean-Patrick Manchette
In a never before collected edition of the sensational French noir cartoon, this new volume follows the adventures of legal advisor Griffu. In an almost cartoonish noir setting Griffu must uncover a series of secrets and betrayals, once a sultry blonde walks into his office. Involving war criminals, assassins, and lots of smoking, this graphic novel is perfect for those with dry humor and some nostalgia for classic noir detective films.
These Women by Ivy Pochoda
Pochoda weaves a net of danger and anguish that holds the lives of five different women. All of them connected through one man’s dangerous obsession. Artists, grieving mothers, and ambitious businesswomen, their existences will all be changed as two murders fuse their lives together and destroy those around them.
The Holdout by Graham Moore
Maya Seale believes that Bobby Nock is innocent, so she becomes determined to persuade her fellow jurors of it. Ten years after the trial and Maya’s successful campaign for his innocence, a documentary crew starts to look into what happened between the jurors behind closed doors. Maya, now a defense attorney, finds her life under scrutiny, as a body of one of her fellow jurors is found in her apartment.
The Divinities by Parker Bilal
Detective Sergeant Call Drake has gotten a second chance for his career in the violent crimes unit. When he is the first at the scene of a high-profile double murder in Battersea. After having his career almost destroyed after a botched undercover case. Drake must now find this elusive killer, but in doing so, he will have to navigate the darkest corners of his past. Together with forensic psychologist Dr. Rayhana Crane, they will have to confront their own roles in the police as well as their past military service in Iraq.
Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby
Bug is an honest man and a good father, but that hasn’t always been the case. He thought he left all of that behind, but as his past creeps into his new life, he finds himself tangled again in a world full of violence. Now he must navigate the backdrop of the wasteland that has defined his life and now demands him back.
Meadowlark by Melanie Abrams
After both having grown up in an austere spiritual compound, Simrin and Arjun have led very different lives in their adulthood. Simrin, now a photojournalist, is invited by Arjun to visit his commune, Meadowlark, dedicated to inspire and guide “gifted” children. As Simrin finds more unsettling aspects of the commune and Arjun’s teaching methods, her unease grows deeper. Soon she finds herself in the middle of a criminal investigation that might cost her, not only her life but all of those under Arjun’s spell.
The Law of Lines by Hye-young Pyun
From the Shirley Jackson Award–winning author, The Law of Lines follows the parallel lives of two young women who are suddenly stricken by loss. Se-oh loses her entire life in just one night, as her home goes up in flames with her father inside. Now the police are trying to claim it was suicide and insurance fraud, as she tries to dodge the prying investigators and debt collectors. On the other side of town, Ki-Jeong decides to investigate the death of her younger half-sister. The police believe she died by suicide by drowning. Ki-Jeong does not believe them. As both women try to uncover the truth, they find themselves entrapped by a plot much bigger than they expected.
Best Crime Thriller Books: Nonfiction
Yellow Bird: Oil, Murder, and a Woman’s Search for Justice in Indian Country by Sierra Crane Murdoch
After serving time in prison in 2009, Lissa Yellow Bird finds that her home in the Fort Berthold Reservation has been entirely changed by the Bakken oil boom. Now with a destroyed landscape and a surge of violence and addiction, Lissa’s home is forever changed. Three years after, she finds that a white oil worker know as KC has been missing, and no one has heard about him for days. Yellow Bird follows Lissa’s journey in trying to find out what happened to KC while navigating two worlds. That of her own tribe with its new-found economic prosperity, and her own inner struggle to find personal reckoning and justice for KC. This book is a must for true-crime fans. Not only for its main subject, but also for the complexity and diversity of issues it addresses about the oil trade and Native American communities.
Race Against Time: A Reporter Reopens the Unsolved Murder Cases of the Civil Rights Era by Jerry Mitchel
Race Against Time follows Jerry Mitchel’s research and campaign to re-open four infamous cold cases from the civil rights era. With newly found evidence and long-lost suspects and witnesses, Mitchel can find suspects and put four leading Klansmen behind bars. This book redefines the importance of cold cases and what it means to accomplish historical justice.
America’s First Female Serial Killer: Jane Toppan and the Making of a Monster by Mary Kay McBrayer
Disclaimer: The author is a fellow contributor for Book Riot and was kind enough to send me an advance copy for review.
McBrayer’s exploration into the life of a little known serial killer, Jane Toppan, is a fresh new take on narrative nonfiction. With an almost genre-bending writing style, the book introduces the young life of Honora Kelley, who would eventually become Jane Toppan. A young woman who grew up as an indentured servant and eventually became a nurse. She killed over 31 people, but very little is know or written about her life. In a similar form of true crime writing as that of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. Mary Kay McBrayer attempts to retrace Toppan’s life to try and understand what lead her to kill, at both times creating a work of biography and social commentary.
The King of Confidence: A Tale of Utopian Dreamers, Frontier Schemers, True Believers, False Prophets, and the Murder of an American Monarch by Miles Harvey
In 1843 James Strang, a young atheist lawyer, vanished from his hometown and reappeared on the Midwestern frontier, having converted to Mormonism. After the sect’s leader Joseph Smith is murdered, Strang unveiled a letter that proclaimed him Smith’s righteous successor. After persuading hundreds of converts to join him and settle on an island in Lake Michigan, Strang proclaimed himself king. He eventually controlled the entire state in a stronghold, creating a pirate state that made the front page news and deeply unsettled the U.S. government. A long-forgotten figure of American history, Strang’s story is not only full of wild adventures, lousy behavior, and crazy ideas, but it forever defined one of the most well-known characters in American culture: The Confidence Man.
The Kidnap Years: The Astonishing True History of the Forgotten Kidnapping Epidemic That Shook Depression-Era America by David Stout
The Great Depression, one of America’s darkest times, was culminated by mass hunger, poverty, and lawlessness. Gangs, organized crime, and corrupt law enforcement culminated into a fascination for crime as a way to economically advance. One of the little known or talked about phenomena at this time were mass kidnappings. Practiced by civilians and criminals alike, it created a mass panic, which eventually culminated into one of America’s most infamous episodes: the Lindbergh kidnapping. Stout explores the waves of missing people and how that informed the American mentality towards crime for years to come.
Unspeakable Acts: True Tales of Crime, Murder, Deceit, and Obsession edited by Sarah Weinman
A new collection of the most riveting true crime stories of recent times. Unspeakable Acts unites some of the most exciting voices in true crime together in 13 pieces. Showcasing the power of true crime writing today and the rise of this new genre has changed how we consume journalism and entertainment.
Magnetized: Conversations With a Serial Killer by Carlos Busqued
During a dark September week in 1982, Buenos Aires is shaken by the murders of four taxi drivers. All done in cold, methodical precession by a 19-year-old, who appears to be wholly sane and calm through the entire police operation. More than 30 years later, author Carlos Busqued starts visiting Ricardo Melogno, no longer a 19-year-old, to remember his life and try to discover what lead Melogno to commit such horrific crimes. As Busqued starts to learn more about Melogno, the focus slightly shifts from the murders to Melogno’s misdiagnosis and his final fate: being incarcerated for the rest of his life, despite having served his sentence.