2023 is one of the most exciting years in recent memory for mystery and thriller fans, with a plethora of new nail-biters from some of the genre’s most prominent authors. New books by industry titans Nora Roberts, Sarah J. Maas, Karin Slaughter, C.J. Box, Stephen King, James Patterson, L.T. Ryan, John Grisham and others are out now or on the way.
The year is still young, but here’s our list of the best thriller books of 2023 so far. The list include top-shelf sci-fi, terrorism thrillers, fantasy, crime and psychological thrillers. Readers will find familiar names in literary legends Justin Cronin (The Passenger) and Dennis Lehane (Mystic River), as well as shooting stars Freida McFadden, Isabella Maldonado and Rebecca Yarros.
We’ll revise this list several times as the year goes on. Until then, here’s our take on some of the best books of 2023 so far.
The Cold People by Tom Rob Smith
The author of Child 44 has created one of the more memorable sci-fi books of the past decade. The Cold People follows the survivors of an alien invasion who have been forcibly banished to Antarctica. While the parallels to human colonialism (and exiling indigenous people to reservations) are unmistakable, The Cold People feels like an entirely new story.
To say the novel is about the survival of humanity would be selling it short. Instead, it’s about a select number of individuals that Smith works hard to make us care about. Each with their own struggle, they’ve all lost everything — and are working together to create a new civilization.
Most interesting are the plight of the ice-adapted species a team of human scientists dares to create. Terrifying in concept, they offer true hope for the future of the species, and perhaps someday, a return to own the planet they once ruled.
The Ferryman by Justin Cronin
From the author of The Passenger comes The Ferryman, an action-packed thriller set in a post-apocalyptic world. Proctor Bennett, of the Department of Social Contracts, has a satisfying career as a ferryman, gently shepherding people through the retirement process—and, when necessary, enforcing it.
But all is not well. For one thing, he’s been dreaming—which is supposed to be impossible in Prospera. For another, his wife has discovered that his “monitor percentage” – which seems to be a measure of both mental fitness and physical health – is dropping fast. And then comes the day he is summoned to retire his own father, who gives him a disturbing and cryptic message before being wrestled onto the ferry.
Meanwhile, a revolution is afoot. The Support Staff, ordinary men and women who provide the labor to keep Prospera running, have begun to question their place in the social order. Unrest is building, and there are rumors spreading of a resistance group—known as “Arrivalists”—who may be fomenting revolution. Soon, Proctor finds himself questioning everything he once believed, entangled with a much bigger cause than he realized—and on a desperate mission to uncover the truth.
The Housemaid’s Secret by Freida McFadden
As housemaid Millie struggles to find gainful employment without being questioned about her murky past, she feels fortunate when the affluent Garrick family hires her to clean their luxurious penthouse and prepare sumptuous meals in their shiny kitchen. It seems like the perfect job for Millie, who plans to keep a low profile until she can earn a degree and become a social worker.
But something seems off. Millie has yet to meet Mrs. Garrick, and she can’t shake the feeling that there’s something strange going on in the guest bedroom.
The Housemaid’s Secret may be a sequel, but author Freida McFadden has cleverly constructed the book with new fans in mind. Millie’s “dark secret” is expertly held from readers (and her love interest) until deep into the story. In addition, a prior love interest is fleshed out with just enough detail to keep readers wanting more. Readers can easily enjoy the novel as a stand-alone.
While Millie is big-hearted, her behavior is also maddening. While most of the choices she makes are ill-advised, her misadventures get her into a lot of hot water, which is a recipe for suspense. Ultimately, whether readers root for Millie or not may depend on how much appetite they have for women who treat men badly (only an absolute saint would put up with what she puts her loyal boyfriend through). With that said, McFadden’s plot is so ingenious that Millie’s likability is almost a non-factor. Highly recommended.
Small Mercies by Dennis Lehane
Mystic River author Dennis Lehane returns with a superb novel.
In the summer of 1974 a heatwave blankets Boston and Mary Pat Fennessy is trying to stay one step ahead of the bill collectors. Mary Pat has lived her entire life in the housing projects of “Southie,” the Irish American enclave that stubbornly adheres to old tradition and stands proudly apart.
One night Mary Pat’s teenage daughter Jules stays out late and doesn’t come home. That same evening, a young Black man is found dead, struck by a subway train under mysterious circumstances.
The two events seem unconnected. But Mary Pat, propelled by a desperate search for her missing daughter, begins turning over stones best left untouched—asking questions that bother Marty Butler, chieftain of the Irish mob, and the men who work for him, men who don’t take kindly to any threat to their business. As they try to navigate their way through this dangerous world, they soon discover that there may be no way out without paying a heavy price for their mistakes.
Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros
This one goes out to all those patiently waiting for a new George R.R. Martin epic.
Twenty-year-old Violet Sorrengail was supposed to enter the Scribe Quadrant, living a quiet life among books and history. Now, the commanding general—also known as her tough-as-talons mother—has ordered Violet to join the hundreds of candidates striving to become the elite of Navarre: dragon riders.
But when you’re smaller than everyone else and your body is brittle, death is only a heartbeat away…because dragons don’t bond to “fragile” humans. They incinerate them.
With fewer dragons willing to bond than cadets, most would kill Violet to better their own chances of success. The rest would kill her just for being her mother’s daughter—like Xaden Riorson, the most powerful and ruthless wingleader in the Riders Quadrant.
She’ll need every edge her wits can give her just to see the next sunrise.
Yet, with every day that passes, the war outside grows more deadly, the kingdom’s protective wards are failing, and the death toll continues to rise. Even worse, Violet begins to suspect leadership is hiding a terrible secret.
A Killer’s Game by Isabella Maldonado
In a high-stakes thriller from the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Cipher, an FBI agent with a background in cryptography and a cunning game maker seeking revenge engage in a deadly chess match.
As the book opens, FBI Special Agent Daniela Vega is rushes to meet Special Agent in Charge Steve Wu, who redirects her to investigate a bomb threat at the courthouse. While on her way, Daniela witnesses an extremely creative assassination: poisoning via umbrella. The victim is the chief of staff for a powerful New York senator, and the assassin-turned-informant, Gustavo Toro, heads through a group of schoolchildren before escaping on a subway.
As Dani uncovers a complex conspiracy, she realizes the only way to take down the criminal mastermind is to work alongside Toro, infiltrating his inner circle at a secluded facility. But is it all just an elaborate trap?
It’s a terrific setup that ensures plenty of conflict en route to a satisfying and pacy thriller.