What are the best thriller books of 2023? We just wrapped the latest edition of the BestThrillers.com Book Awards, and we’ve listed the best books of the year across 15 genres: Action Thriller, Crime Thriller, Conspiracy Thriller, Fantasy & Dystopian, Historical Thriller, Horror, Legal Thriller, Medical Thriller, Military Thriller, Mystery, Paranormal, Political Thriller, Psychological Thriller, Sci-Fi and Spy Thriller.
2023 was an amazing year for mystery and thriller book fans. Across our winners and finalists, you’ll find a treasure trove of page-turners. For readers looking for a fresh take on the mystery genre, check out Debbie Burke’s Death By Saxaphone, which traces the search for a Russian “bone record” produced on discarded X-rays during the Cold War and sold on the black market.
Sci-fi fans will relish Lonnie Busch’s All Hope of Becoming Human, which imagines the discovery of aliens responsible for attacks on humans across the globe. Meanwhile, John Mayer and Koji Sakai’s novel Secession describes a modern-day movement for states to breakaway from the U.S. Readers who love a blend of history, myth and military fiction should check out Codename Parsifal, which describes the hunt for the legendary Christian relic, The Spear of Destiny. And those looking for a gritty crime story may relish Saint Bloodbath, written by a retired homicide investigator, describes what happens when a severed hand is found in the desert nearly 100 miles away from a murder scene, forcing a years-long investigation to sprawl across jurisdictions.
Along with a few seasoned veterans, winners and finalists included some hugely talented debut novelists, including Allison McKenzie’s The Unexpected Hostage, Sean M. Christopher’s The White House, and Michael Mullin’s Gothic Revival.
We’re incredibly proud to bring you the best thriller books of the year. Following the Book of the Year winner, category winners are listed in alphabetical order, followed by the complete list of finalists (bonus: you can add these great books directly to your GoodReads bookshelf by joining our Book Award Group on GoodReads!).
BOOK OF THE YEAR
The Forgotten Girl by Daco S. Auffenorde
In Auffernorde’s stunning sophomore novel, a beautiful woman wakes in a hospital bed, shackled and confused.
She’s been in a coma for weeks.
And can only remember her first name—Blue.
Blue learns she fell from a window on the fourth floor of a hotel.
Did she jump? Or was she pushed?
To discover the truth, Blue must figure out who she is and what she was doing in that hotel.
And she needs to do it fast.
Because someone is out there, hunting Blue down, waiting for an opportunity to strike.
Not knowing where to turn or who to trust, Blue must rely on her instincts to survive. Gradually, her memories begin to return, and they’re darker than she could ever have imagined.
Will she put the pieces of her life back together before she’s silenced forever?
BEST ACTION THRILLER
The Blue Hour Sanction by Landon Beach
How did a young woman from a small town in Michigan become the most lethal assassin that the world has ever known?
College heptathlete Margaret Crandall is invited to compete for a spot with a secret company to become an elite assassin.
While still in the training pipeline, her mentor is murdered attempting to kill the billionaire shipping tycoon.
His name is Victor Lars Junius.
Junius is a member of a global criminal empire and is attempting to transform himself into the legendary actor Richard Burton.
As a result, Margaret is promoted and given a new name: Adrienne Astra.
Her first mission?
However, a mole at the off-the-books company is already plotting Adrienne’s demise.
The Blue Hour Sanction is the latest gem in Beach’s string of award-winning books.
BEST CONSPIRACY THRILLER
Ripple Effect Amy Rivers
From the author of ALL THE BROKEN PEOPLE…
Comes Book 3 in the A Legacy of Silence series.
Time is running out.
Tilly’s life is on the line.
Psychologist Kate Medina is on a mission to dismantle the human trafficking ring that has plagued her hometown for decades.
Frustrated by a lack of hard evidence, Kate focuses on community education in hopes of taking away the abusers’ ability to hide in plain sight.
Will Kate uncover the truth behind the trafficking ring?
And if so, will she learn the truth in time to save her sister?
As the investigation leads to several arrests, the traffickers become more desperate, escalating their violence and brutality.
When the ring abducts her sister Tilly and murders a potential ally, Kate seeks help from a person who she knows to be complicit in the abuse.
BEST CRIME THRILLER
Saint Bloodbath by Frederick Douglass Reynolds
Written by a retired LA County Sheriff’s homicide sergeant, Detectives McGuire and Cortes take on a gruesome homicide case in Long Beach, California.
The pair must navigate the complex role of being the murder police in an area marked by homelessness, drug abuse, and gang violence.
With little but their combined decades of detective experience to go on, they investigate personal and gang-related motives in an attempt to identify and arrest their suspect.
When a severed hand is found in the desert nearly 100 miles away, their years-long investigation crosses jurisdictions.
Can they connect the dots before the bloodbath continues?
Saint Bloodbath explores the story of multiple heinous crimes.
And the lives and experiences of the investigators bringing the murderer to justice.
It’s an unputdownable read from the author of Black, White and Gray All Over.
BEST FANTASY & DYSTOPIAN NOVEL
The Witchfinder’s Serpent by Rande Goodwin
When fifteen-year-old Nate Watson moves to Windsor to live with his mysterious Aunt Celia, the last things on his mind are witches and magick and ancient vendettas.
While Nate focuses on building a new life for himself and his younger brother, making new friends and adjusting to a new high school, he can’t escape the feeling that something isn’t as it seems.
Nate’s search for answers leads him to a forbidden, locked door in Aunt Celia’s mansion. Inside, he finds a witch’s workshop full of mystical artifacts, some dating back to the time of the earliest Puritan settlers.
It’s no coincidence that Nate is now living in the very same town where, forty-five years before the Salem witch trials, Alse Young was hanged as America’s first witch.
Could magic be real? Nate remains skeptical until he picks up the witchfinder’s serpent—a powerful, demonic bracelet that wraps itself around his arm and permanently imbeds itself into his flesh. Now Nate must confront the truth about Aunt Celia’s unlikely ancestry—as well as his own. And with her help, he must a way to remove the bracelet before the serpent’s previous owner returns—an ancient and powerful enemy who will stop at nothing to get it back.
BEST HISTORICAL THRILLER
In The Lair of Legends by Dave Buzan
The most highly decorated Native American in the history of the United States Cavalry, Jolon Winterhawk is a combat veteran of countless bloody skirmishes during the American Civil War. He’s a man of honor, struggling with sworn allegiances to two different nations-the country he’s sworn to protect, and the tribe he’s promised to defend.
During a top-secret mission to escort a military gold train through Oregon’s rugged Cascade Mountains, Winterhawk emerges as the sole survivor of a large-scale ambush. Duty-bound to complete the assignment and honor the sacrifices of his fallen comrades, Winterhawk makes the fateful decision to personally deliver the precious cargo of gold.
While Winterhawk embarks on a treacherous wagon trip across miles of dangerous wilderness, an aerial unit from the Army Balloon Corps has been dispatched to locate the missing train.
Soon, the aeronauts seize upon a diabolical opportunity-stealing the gold for themselves.
Outnumbered and outgunned, Winterhawk soon finds himself in the fiercest battle of his life. But he quickly discovers that man is not his greatest enemy. Because there’s something else lurking deep in those woods. A monster of myth, a horrifying creature of enormous size.
BEST HORROR NOVEL
Gothic Revival Michael Mullin
Gothic Revival opens as Eric Asher, celebrity novelist and oscar-nominated screenwriter, sends an out-of-the-blue invitation to a group of old grad school friends. In the letter, which acknowledges that he’s become a recluse, he offers to fly them to San Francisco, then whisk them away by private plane to a remote lake villa for “four days of fun, nostalgia, inspiration, creativity, and reward.”
The reflective, playful letter ends on a somewhat desperate, potentially ominous postscript: “It’s imperative that everyone be there. If for some reason you cannot attend on those dates, let me know ASAP, and I will reschedule.”
What could possibly go wrong?
Even before the group sets foot on the plane, it’s clear that the reunion is going to be a bumpy one.
The entire group attended the same creative writing MFA program, and each has grown self-conscious about their respective levels of professional success. As an example, one of Eric’s character’s has become a cultural icon, while free-spirited Fiona sees herself as living essentially the same life she did years ago.
Among the group, jealousy, suspicion and resentment bubbles to the surface at the mere thought of seeing each other.
BEST LEGAL THRILLER
Early Grave by Paul Levine
A profound legal thriller that vacillates between comedy and tragedy en route to a moving finale. Levine delivers rarefied entertainment while daring us all to question the status quo.
The final book in Paul Levine’s Jake Lassiter series finds the defense attorney engaging in a battle that is decidedly personal. Long before Jake’s law career, he was a linebacker for the Miami Dolphins, where he was part of “the perfect season” – an undefeated record punctuated by a Super Bowl win. But with six of his teammates dead from CTE, and Jake himself struggling with the fatal disease, his time as a player now seems far from perfect.
When his godson, Rod, suffers a critical football injury, Jake decides to go on the offensive. He files an ambitious lawsuit to abolish tackle football in high schools – or at least make them drastically safer.
The initial result is a media storm in which Jake is publicly villanaized. In the following days and weeks, uninvited visitors to Jake’s home and Rod’s hospital room make clear that this is just the start of a very dangerous game.
Readers can look forward to a brilliant literary headfake regarding Jake’s future that would be the envy of Dolphins great Larry Csonka.
Early Grave may be the last planned installment in the Jake Lassiter series, but thanks to just enough backstory, the book can easily be devoured by first-time fans as a gateway to Levine’s other work.
BEST MEDICAL THRILLER
The Deadly Deal by J. Lee
The Deadly Deal is the story of an ordinary man whose life is suddenly turned upside down by a vast conspiracy he can scarcely comprehend.
As the novel begins, Pharma exec David Centrelli is under pressure to deliver a major deal that the company’s CEO and its investors are personally counting on.
The consequences of not coming through could mean the end of his career at the firm. The young hotshot seems confident, but is still humble enough to feel like he’s sitting at the big boys’ table.
Just two hours later, the must-win deal is the very last thing on his mind. After learning that his best friend and his wife are dead – apparently victims of an apartment fire – he tells his employer that he needs to take time off.
But he’ll have no time to grieve. Shortly afterwards, Anne Halavity, whom David has never seen in his life, forces him to go with her at gunpoint. And once they’re alone, Anna reveals a bombshell: his friends didn’t die in a fire. And it wasn’t by accident.
That’s just the start of David’s troubles. What comes next is a blistering tangle of blackmail and threats. Meanwhile, the CEO at David’s company is being muscled by some corporate gangsters. For reasons not yet clear to him, they want David dead.
BEST MILITARY THRILLER
Codename Parsifal by Martin Roy Hill
Inspired by historical events…
Martin Roy Hill’s award-winning military thriller focuses on the quest for the The Spear of Destiny, the Roman Legionnaire’s lance that pierced Christ’s body as he hung on the cross.
Legend claims whomever possesses it will become a great conqueror.
But if they lose it, they will lose everything—including their lives.
Shortly before WWII, Hitler stole the spear from a museum in Vienna.
In the last weeks of the European war, he lost it. General George Patton orders an American OSS team to find the spear and recover it.
Unknown to the Americans, both the Russians and the Germans have also sent commando teams to retrieve it.
In the dying embers of Europe’s largest conflagration, the three teams are on a collision course that will lead them to one of the evilest places on earth—the ideological heart of the Nazi SS.
The combination of religious ideology, superstition, myth – as well as the fact that some of what appears in the book actually happened – make this a page-turner.
Death by Saxophone by Debbie Burke
There’s no way to properly describe Death by Saxophone without first defining the object of its characters’ obsession: black market recordings called “bone records.” Also called “ribs,” bone records are bootlegged gramophone recordings first made from X-ray films as a way to smuggle banned music in and out of the Soviet Union.
When smooth jazz icon Jerry Zolotov learns about the existence of bone records from an uncle in Ukraine, he becomes consumed with owning one. At a time when Jerry’s reputation and sales are on the rocks, he devotes himself to finding and purchasing “the rarest one of all” – even at the steep price of $2.7 million.
Meanwhile, American radiology tech Becka Rifkin reconnects with love interest and theremin player Pyotr Fisheleff. Through a series of events, Pyotr connects Becka with someone who may be able to get her a rare copy of one of her favorites, Polka Dots + Moonbeams. But the music itself turns out to be far less interesting than the object. Rumor has it that the recording is embedded within an x-ray linked to one of Russia’s most notorious leaders. It’s fair to say that some would kill to keep the long-dead strongman’s secret.
Becka then learns something even more staggering – a historically related bone record has been purchased by none other than musician Jerry Zolotov, now deceased. Knowing what she does, Becka can’t help but wonder – was it really suicide, or was Jerry murdered?
Shadowed Horizons by Reily Garrett
A young psychic hunted by a psychopath.
A tech genius determined to protect.
A fate they can’t deny.
Kiera Channon’s unique abilities make her a prime target for shadowy figures intent on dominating the supernatural world.
Raised by a group of like-minded psychics, she has the unique ability to link with the two wolves that protect her.
Advanced keyboard skills and innate curiosity lead Wyatt McGlauklin to invent the unimaginable.
When a blonde spitfire steps out of nowhere to prevent his assassination, his life’s direction takes an extraordinary turn his analytical mind can’t validate.
Kiera’s vow to protect Wyatt adds a new dimension to her life, a growing attraction difficult to ignore.
Only by combining forces can they navigate the murky waters of betrayal and deceit to survive.
Garrett’s tautly-woven plot and compelling characters add up to a winning combination.
The Unexpected Hostage by Allison McKenzie
Nothing in her life has been stable since Tess’s beloved fiancé Kyle died in a tragic accident.
She’s spent the past year hell-bent on outrunning her grief, jetting between high-stakes meetings and the rock clubs where she can disappear.
Avoiding her pain was almost working…
…until she and her colleagues are taken hostage by a violent Eastern European terrorist group.
With no means to escape her captors, Tess and fellow captive Mark must rely on one another to survive.
Together, they’ll risk their lives and endure a brutal journey toward freedom as they forge a bond that neither can forget.
The mysteries of the past refuse to lay dormant for long as Tess is thrust into the center of another international cybercrime and uncovers the shocking truth about Kyle’s death.
This time, she’ll need Mark’s help to avenge her losses as she races across the globe to save her company…and their lives.
THE GIRLS IN THE CABIN BY Caleb Stephens
A dad will do anything to keep his daughters safe.
But the phone lines are down.
The roads are blocked.
And the woman in the cabin is hiding a terrible secret . . .
This camping trip is Chris’s last chance to repair his relationship with his daughters, Kayla and Emma.
Nothing’s been the same since they lost their mom.
But things go wrong as soon as they get to the mountains.
When they make camp, nine-year-old Emma runs off into the woods. By the time they find her, there’s a snowstorm rolling in. And Emma’s leg is badly broken. They need to find shelter, fast.
They think they’re safe when they come across an old farmstead. The woman inside welcomes them in from the howling blizzard and straps up Emma’s leg.
They settle down for the night, but when Chris wakes at dawn and looks over . . . Emma is gone.
And this family’s nightmare is only just beginning.
All Hope of Becoming Human by Lonnie Busch
The world is about to change in unimaginable ways.
Earthquakes rock the planet, revealing massive metallic objects and vast subterranean graveyards. One such location is in the Arizona desert. Scientists believe this incredible discovery may hold answers to the origins of man, but when the site is suddenly shut down due to seismic activity, one researcher knows she must return. Assistant archaeologist Rebecca Duccati sneaks into the compound alone, and will have to dig deep to find clues in these strange underground caves and tunnels. The work is dangerous and frightening, but she feels a connection to this bizarre phenomenon that even she isn’t fully aware of yet.
FBI Special Agent Demzey knows nothing about archaeology; his specialty— anomalous crimes, the fringe edge of the aberrant and the unknown. Demzey is investigating a recent rash of vicious and brutal murders, the clues surrounding the killings both disturbing and inexplicable. He and his assistant Connie Wegman catch a break when they discover remains of two monstrous creatures unknown to science, believed to be a race of aliens responsible for attacks on humans across the globe.
With the death toll ticking ever higher, scientists and intelligence agencies on every continent search for the source of these vicious creatures, until the combined efforts of Duccati and Demzey begin to unravel the mystery, though what they uncover could spell the end for the human race.
Bucharest Legacy: The Rise of the Oligarchs by William Maz
CIA agent Bill Hefflin is back in Bucharest—immersed in a cauldron of spies and crooked politicians
The CIA is rocked to its core when a KGB defector divulges that there is a KGB mole inside the Agency.
They learn that the mole’s handler is a KGB agent known as Boris.
CIA analyst Bill Hefflin knows that Boris is the code name of Hefflin’s longtime KGB asset.
If the defector is correct, Hefflin realizes Boris must be a triple agent, and his supposed mole has been passing false intel to Hefflin and the CIA.
What’s more, this makes Hefflin the prime suspect as the KGB mole inside the Agency.
Hefflin is given a chance to prove his innocence by returning to his city of birth, Bucharest, Romania, to find Boris and track down the identity of the mole.
It’s been three years since the bloody revolution, and what he finds is a cauldron of spies, crooked politicians, and a country controlled by the underground and the new oligarchs, all of whom want to find Boris.
But Hefflin has a secret that no one else knows—Boris has been dead for over a year.
BOOK AWARD FINALISTS
Sixty sensational finalists were chosen for recognition in our 2023 Book Award series. Finalist book titles are listed in alphabetical order.
Aiken in Check: A Spy Game Novel by Michael Frost Beckner
The Algorithm Will See You Now by JL Lycette
Antelope Girl by Steve Carr
ASSUMED by MHR Geer
Baja Silver by Timothy Brown
The Blind Puppeteers by Michael Allan Scott
Blood Brothers by Sebati Edward Mafate
The Blood of Patriots and Traitors by James Scott
Body of Water by Daniel J. Boyne
A Bounty of Bone by PG Lengsfelder
Breakage by David-Michael Harding
Burn Hot Burn Long by Byran Cassiday
Clifford’s War: Without End by J. Denison Reed
Cram Down by Mark Shaiken
Crystal Blue Murder by Saralyn Richard
Deadly Odds 5.0 by Allen Wyler
Deceit of the Mind – Quantum Evolution by Henry Cox
DEFCON – A Matti Baker Thriller by Michelle Packard
Down a Bad Road by Regina Buttner
The Empty Kayak by Jodé Millman
Facts Are Stubborn Things by Richard A. Danzig
False Summit: The Truth Is Hard to Face by Cam Torrens
The Federal Case by J.B. Manheim
Feeders by Caleb Stephens
The General’s Briefcase by Ray Collins
The God Protocol: Dragon by D. L. Wilburn Jr.
Guidance to Death by Daniel V. Meier Jr.
Havana Hangover by Randy Richardson
House of Giral by Mark Laurence Latowsky
In the Shadow of the Sun by Poli Flores Jr.
Legacy of Atonement by Stephen Maitland-Lewis
The Light Reapers by Gary Hickman
Love Lost on Cloud 9 by K.C. Brote
A Long Time Dead by T.L. Bequette
Maelstrom of Darkness: Alex Schofield Book 2 by D.W. Whitlock
Maskirovka – The Russian Science of Deception by Richard Meredith
The Memory Seeker by Ronald Niezen
The Midnight Cafe by J.R. Peter
The Nocturnal Devil: A Griffin Knight Mystery Thriller by Miguel Angel Hernandez Jr.
Nunzio’s Way by Nick Chiarkas
REVELATION: Book Three of The Devolution Trilogy by John Casey
The Rio Affair by Micah Barnett
River of Wrath by Alexandrea Weis and Lucas Astor
RX for Murder by Sue Hinkin
Sea of Red by James Bultema
Secession by John Mayer and Koji Sakai
Segment of One by Michael Grigsby
The Serpent Underneath by Julia Fragoules
That Last Ghost Dance by L. C. Hayden
The Things That Secrets Cannot Hide by Peter W. J. Hayes
Vengeance Flight by T.R. Matson
Verity Easton M. by Rebecca Wildsmith
The Wayward Assassin by Susan Ouellette
The White House by Sean M. Christopher
The Windy City Terror: A Griffin Knight Horror Mystery by Miguel Angel Hernandez Jr.
When I Killed You by Liam Fialkov
Who Killed Gary? by Sahar Abdulaziz
Who Killed Jerusalem? by George Brown
Winter’s Dead by Philip Warren
The Zone: A Cyberpunk Thriller by Stu Jones