Best thrillers of 2022—so far

Megan Miranda knows how to land a twist, and her latest thriller demonstrates that to dizzying effect. Set in an isolated and hazardous pocket of the Appalachian Mountains, The Last to Vanish elegantly builds a near-gothic atmosphere as it tells the story of an inn with a troubled past and the locals who are keeping deadly secrets.

Abigail Lovett loves her quiet job at the Passage Inn in Cutter’s Pass, North Carolina. The inn butts up against the Appalachian Trail, catering to guests looking to lose themselves in nature. Unfortunately, Cutter’s Pass has a dark history of people becoming lost for good. Decades ago, a group of college students, dubbed the Fraternity Four, vanished while on a hike. Over the years, two women also disappeared. Most recently, a journalist named Landon West set out to write about the strange history of Cutter’s Pass only to disappear himself. Now Landon’s brother, Trey, has arrived at the Passage Inn to try and find clues to his brother’s whereabouts. Most of the town’s residents attribute the mysterious goings-on to accidents on the trail, but Landon’s disappearance unsettled Abby, and now she’s starting to wonder if they are all connected.

A pervasive sense of unease runs throughout The Last to Vanish, whether Abby is facing the dangers of the mountains or the sneaking suspicion that the locals are monitoring her every move. The Passage Inn is a character in itself with quirks, secrets and dark basement rooms. Facing all these strange happenings at what used to be her comforting, calm place of work further spooks Abby: The phones keep going down, and one of her co-workers quits with only a brief note explaining her departure.

As the novel progresses, Miranda slowly gives readers more information about Abby, which only leads to more questions: Where did she come from before she, rather suddenly, arrived in Cutter’s Pass, and why did she decide to live and work at the inn in the first place? She’s not quite an unreliable narrator but rather one whose personal details are revealed with careful precision by Miranda, who ensures that Abby is fascinating, not frustrating. 

A perfectly balanced cross between a cold-case mystery and a psychological thriller, The Last to Vanish‘s expert plotting and surprising twists will delight readers.

Megan Miranda's latest is a perfectly balanced cross between a cold-case mystery and a psychological thriller that features a fascinating amateur sleuth.

In Sarah Gailey’s latest thriller, a woman returns to her childhood home and comes face to face with the trauma of her youth.

Just Like Home opens with Vera Crowder returning to the house her father built to care for her ailing mother. Daphne Crowder—who insists Vera call her Daphne, not Mom—is barely alive, a pale imitation of the strict mother figure readers get glimpses of through Vera’s flashbacks: “The cold authority had drained out of Vera’s mother like brake fluid from a cut line.”

It is immediately apparent that something violent and bizarre, something far worse than standard mother-daughter tension, has ruptured Vera and Daphne’s relationship. When people recognize Vera in town, they react with horror, and when her past is revealed at work, she loses her job almost immediately. Just Like Home reveals the facts of the Crowder House tragedy early on but unearths the emotional fallout of the events expertly and slowly, meditating on the possible culpability of everyone involved.

In addition to being an excellently crafted thriller, Just Like Home is scary enough to satisfy horror fans, particularly those who revel in disturbing images and suffocating settings. Gailey lends the Crowder House all the intensity of a living being as claustrophobic scenes unravel within its dilapidated walls.

An excavation of tense and toxic family dynamics, Just Like Home uses atmospheric scenes of supernatural horror to unpack the impact of a traumatic event. And Gailey goes even further, observing throughout their terrifying tale that any of us could be haunted—whether by gender ideology, the weight of secrets or the actions of our family members—while bravely refusing to offer clear-cut answers about the nature of good and evil.

An excavation of toxic family dynamics, Sarah Gailey's Just Like Home uses atmospheric scenes of supernatural horror to reveal the terrors that haunt us all.

A decade ago, Kat Roberts was an L.A. Times rookie, part of a team working on a high-profile news story about a predatory high school principal. In hopes of jump-starting her career, Kat decided to conduct her own secret side investigation and wow her new boss with the results. But things went terribly wrong, and to this day, she blames the person who sparked her interest in the side story: a young woman named Meg.

Fifteen years ago, Ron Ashton rendered a teenaged Meg Williams homeless. Her mother fell in love with the successful real estate developer and was grateful when he agreed to help refinance their beloved home. Alas, he lied about the documentation as well as about his intentions; Meg’s mom died not long after, leaving her daughter alone to deal with unresolved grief and sudden housing insecurity. 

But an incandescently angry Meg determinedly clawed her way to solvency one con job at a time, with impeccably thorough research as her secret weapon and terrible men as her favored targets. She’s become very, very good at conning people: As she asserts in the opening pages of Julie Clark’s intricate and engrossing The Lies I Tell, “By the time you’re saying nice to meet you, I’ve already known you for months. Does this worry you? It should.” 

Why Julie Clark refuses to write unreliable female narrators.

In present-day Los Angeles, a Google alert lets Kat know that Meg’s returned to town, right in the middle of Ashton’s run for state senate. A strong researcher herself, Kat has some idea of Meg’s backstory, plus her current false identity as a real estate agent. Kat resolves to use that information to launch a con of her own: She’ll pose as a potential buyer, befriend Meg and twist trust into revenge. Or will she?

It’s an exciting premise, bolstered by intriguingly detailed descriptions of Meg’s various ruses, compelling character growth and lots of slow-building tension via complex manipulation. Clark, author of New York Times bestseller The Last Flight, has yet again crafted a fascinating pair of women who wrestle with trauma, sexism, identity and whether it’s ever okay to do bad things for good reasons.

Julie Clark's intricate and engrossing suspense novel is the story of a con artist, a reporter and whether it's okay to do bad things for good reasons.

What better to read on a hot summer day than a chilling thriller set in, well, Iceland? In Outside, Reykjavik native and internationally bestselling author Ragnar Jónasson turns the snowy “fjord-indented coastline [and] reindeer-haunted wilderness” of the Nordic island’s eastern highlands into an antagonist just as dangerous to the book’s central characters as the murderer (or perhaps murderers?) in their midst.

At first, there’s no thought of life-threatening peril when four college friends reunite for a woodsy weekend hike to hunt ptarmigan and catch up on one another’s lives. There’s Daniel, an aspiring actor who lives in London; Gunnlaugur, an argumentative lawyer; Helena, an inscrutable engineer; and Ormann, a wealthy tour company owner and leader of their trip.

An unexpected blizzard catches the quartet off guard, its fierce winds and zero visibility sending them into survival mode. Ormann knows of a hut they can hole up in until the worst of the weather passes—but just getting there is onerous as the snow piles higher, the air gets colder and the mostly amateur hikers’ nerves become frayed.

Once they get to the cabin, things get even scarier as frustration transforms into fear and life-or-death decisions are made more difficult by years-old resentments boiling up to the surface. Their paranoia grows in the cabin’s suffocatingly small space as Helena thinks to herself, “Guns, isolation, fear, and uncertainty—they were such an explosive cocktail.”

Jónasson inspires fast page turns via quick cuts among the four characters as they reflect on the past (so many secrets!) and frantically strategize about the present. Mini cliffhangers keep the story humming along; the author doesn’t shy away from ending chapters with lines like, “He had never been so afraid in his life.”

Spare prose and brisk pacing make for an immersive read that’s less about the individual characters and more about what they become when they’re forced together, no longer able to dissemble or hide. Will they work together to save themselves before it’s too late? Can they? Outside is an intriguing study of isolation, claustrophobia and the particular menace to be found in beautiful yet unforgiving terrain.

Outside is an intriguing study of isolation, claustrophobia and the particular menace to be found in beautiful yet unforgiving terrain.

A Riley Sager novel is a guaranteed wild ride, and the New York Times bestseller’s hotly anticipated sixth book, The House Across the Lake, is no different. Sager is the literary equivalent of a master chef, using a deft hand to configure tasty ingredients—a complex, grieving woman with alcoholism; a missing supermodel with dangerous secrets behind her dazzling smile; and the picturesque lake that brings them together—then adding a generous pinch of pulp and a delicious surprise at the end. The result is an addictive beach read that fans will devour in one sitting and leave feeling thoroughly sated.

Rear Window meets Lake Placid in the story of Casey Fletcher, a character actress with a complicated legacy. Her mother, legendary musical theater performer Lolly Fletcher, who prefers hoofing it on stage to providing emotional support, has shipped her off to the family cottage and ordered Casey to relax and reflect. Casey is also supposed to stay sober, which is all but impossible given her grief over the recent accidental death of her husband, Len, in the lake right next to the cottage. Enter Tom and Katherine Royce, a tech mogul and retired model, respectively, who are staying in the glass house across the lake. A tentative friendship between the women ensues, but soon after, Katherine disappears without a trace. Is Tom responsible? How about hunky handyman Boone? Or do the answers lie in the body of water that claimed the love of Casey’s life?

Sager (Survive the Night, Home Before Dark) balances the novel’s short timeline and limited setting with rich characterization for all, especially Katherine, whom the reader meets as she nearly drowns in the dark, freezing lake, and Casey, whose never-ending supply of snarky one-liners and wisecracks never quite camouflages the deep emotional turmoil that ended her once-successful acting career. The House Across the Lake is a psychological thriller that’s thoroughly personality-driven, following women whose motives, means and opportunities are as murkily fascinating as the titular loch.

Riley Sager’s latest thriller is an addictive beach read that fans will devour in one sitting—and leave feeling thoroughly sated.

There comes a point in many people’s lives when they wonder, what if I could start over? What if I could be someone else, free of the baggage and the travails that have accumulated until now? In Chris Pavone’s suspenseful new novel, Two Nights in Lisbon, recently married couple Ariel Price and John Wright have shirked their former identities for new lives unfettered by past encumbrances.

Or so they think.

Only Pavone knows their secrets, and he reveals them slowly and deliberately, expertly seeding the novel with intrigue and suspense, one page at a time.

Chris Pavone on why no one gets a fresh start in his new thriller.

While accompanying John on a business trip to Lisbon, Portugal, Ariel awakes to an empty bed. She immediately reports John’s absence to the police and, when they don’t appear to be overly concerned, the American embassy. The authorities have plenty of questions for which she only has vague answers, because John has his own secrets; decades of his life are unknown to her. Her panic intensifies as his absence lengthens, and then her worst fears are confirmed with the arrival of a ransom note. As Ariel learns more about John, and Pavone reveals more of Ariel’s secrets, the collision of both characters’ pasts and presents fuels the increasingly thrilling tension.

“We tell ourselves stories about each other, about ourselves too, our pasts. We construct our narratives,” Pavone writes. “Maybe she doesn’t know her husband at all.” Pavone himself had to reinvent his life in 2015, when he left a successful career as a book editor to move to Luxembourg with his wife. His Edgar and Anthony Award-winning debut The Expats explored this territory, and Two Nights in Lisbon proves that it’s still fertile ground, packed with stay-awake-all-night thrills for readers.

Chris Pavone's latest novel is packed with stay-awake-all-night thrills as it follows a recently married couple with no shortage of secrets.

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