Riot Headline The Most Read Books on Goodreads This Week

8 Page-Turning Gritty Thrillers

Julia Rittenberg

Senior Contributor

Julia is a professional nerd who can be spotted in the wild lounging with books in the park in Brooklyn, NY. She has a BA in International Studies from the University of Chicago and an MA in Media Studies from Pratt Institute. She loves fandom, theater, cheese, and Edith Piaf. Find her at

Robyn Harding's The Arrangement.

The Arrangement, a sexy, sinister glimpse into the world of sugar babies. Natalie, a young art student in New York City, is struggling to pay her bills when a friend makes a suggestion: find a sugar daddy—a wealthy, older man who will pay her for dates. All that’s required is to look pretty and hang on his every word. Sexual favors are optional. At first, it seems like true love--but when her sugar daddy abruptly ends things, what was supposed to be a simple arrangement devolves into a nightmare of deception, obsession, and murder.

As winter rolls into the northeast, the weather compels me to burrow into the couch with dark, twisty, gritty thrillers. Gritty isn’t just the hero of Philadelphia, but a way of thriller writing that sticks in your brain and causes fear, discomfort, and an urge to keep reading. While thrillers have a wintery vibe for my reading habits, there are so many great gritty thrillers for all seasons.  

Gritty Thrillers for Your Scaring Pleasure

My Mother's House

My Mother’s House by Francesca Momplaisir

When Lucien and his wife Marie-Ange arrive in Queens, New York, from Haiti, they are searching for a better life for their children. The house they buy acts as a safe house for Haitian immigrants, but everyone confronts the terrifying ordeal of trying to learn a new culture with different rules from the one they grew up with. The house, named La Kay by the family, becomes a sinister presence. The terror of the place that should be safe becoming a judgmental prison is undeniable.

See Her Die

See Her Die by Melinda Leigh

The joy of many detective thrillers is that you can drop in at any point during the series and get a great story. This is the second Bree Taggert mystery from Melinda Leigh, and the crime is so scary and almost incomprehensible that it’s impossible to put down. When there are no weapons or evidence and the only witness is a homeless teenager, Bree has to chase down a murderer who leaves no trace before they kill again.

Dead by Dawn

Dead by Dawn by Paul Doiron

Is there anything more terrifying than being trapped alone in the wilderness? In this new mystery, Mike Bowditch finds himself in that exact situation—while investigating a cold case, people who don’t want him to find the truth leave him to die in the ice floes of Androscoggin. He not only deals with an impenetrably tough wilderness, but a family of criminals out for revenge.

Once You Go This Far

Once You Go This Far by Kristen Lepionka

This installment in the Roxane Weary detective series takes up one of my favorite story tropes—a teenager who seeks out a private detective to solve a murder. Maggie seeks out Roxane to prove that her mother didn’t die in an accident, even though her mother’s ex is a well-connected police detective who has the power to bury the case. This electrifying mystery takes Roxane all over the place, trying to solve the case and outrun the danger she’s putting herself in to solve the case.

Land of Shadows

Land of Shadows by Rachel Howzell Hall

If you want to get into one of the best thriller writers working today, you should definitely start with Rachel Howzell Hall’s Elouise Norton series. The series starts off with the death of a teenager that also draws Lou into uncovering the secrets of her sister’s unsolved disappearance. The gripping story follows Lou into a terrifying, twisting investigation that puts her in just as much danger as the victims for whom she wants to solve the case.

Follow Her Home

Follow Her Home by Steph Cha

In a fantastic start to a series of gritty L.A. thrillers, Juniper Song pursues suspicious activities that launch her back into the criminal underbelly. Like any good detective, Juniper has a dark history that she was to work through while she’s solving cases. This is a pitch-perfect L.A. noir thriller.

Black Rock Bay

Black Rock Bay by Brianna Labuskes

Going back to the small town where you grew up can be its own kind of gritty thriller, but Mia Heart’s experience is made all the more intense by the deaths she experienced as a young girl. When a reporter’s death links back to her two friends 15 years ago, Mia goes into detective mode and uncovers the terrible secrets of the island where she grew up.

We'll Never Be Apart

We’ll Never Be Apart by Emiko Jean

The brilliance of this book is that it immediately sets you up to be a little unclear about the motivations of the narrator Alice—she’s confined to a mental ward after insisting that her twin sister set the fire that killed her boyfriend. After Alice teams up with another patient to seek vengeance, the pieces of the past are thrown into greater turmoil as we follow Alice’s quest for revenge, which gets even more complicated.

Gritty thrillers do the great service of taking my mind off the swirling terrors of the world right now, very much like cozy mysteries. It’s a fun way to experience fear without going outside.

There are many types of thrillers that can stick in your brain in a gritty way, and it normally depends on what already terrifies you, from snowy weather to serial killers to young adult thrillers. I hope you find a compelling read to surprise and terrify you during the winter months, however winter may express itself.