The 2010s was a decade chock full of amazing mysteries and thrillers. In particular, the crime thriller genre – inclusive of detective fiction, FBI thrillers, serial killer fiction, heist thrillers, police procedurals and many other whodunnits – has burned brightly.
While the genre’s old guard continued to crank out plenty of winners, the decade’s best crime thrillers arguably came from relative newcomers like Gillian Flynn, Denison Hatch, Mary Maddox, Michael Pronko and Lisa Jewell.
Likewise, some of the masters broke out of their respective genres, with horror legend Stephen King cranking out three police procedurals (with a decidedly paranormal twist), and historical fiction master Robert Harris turning in an electrifying novel about high-frequency trading.
Within the criminal landscape, these stories are wide-ranging in location, from gritty Tokyo streets to UK suburbia and the wilds of Yellowstone National Park.
But it’s perhaps the crimes themselves that were so ingenious. Artificial intelligence that preys on human emotion to make billions. A terrifying hybrid predator. And a sociopath who runs people down with a stolen luxury car.
Our panel of 10 trusted editors, critics and publishers have compiled this list of the best crime thrillers of the 2010s! Happy reading.
The Night Stalker: A Detective Erika Foster Novel by Robert Bryndza (2016)
In the dead of a swelteringly hot summer’s night, Detective Erika Foster is called to a murder scene. The victim, a doctor, is found suffocated in bed. His wrists are bound and his eyes bulging through a clear plastic bag tied tight over his head.
A few days later, another victim is found dead, in exactly the same circumstances. As Erika and her team start digging deeper, they discover a calculated serial killer – stalking their victims before choosing the right moment to strike.
The victims are all single men, with very private lives. Why are their pasts shrouded in secrecy? And what links them to the killer?
As a heat wave descends upon London, Erika will do everything to stop the Night Stalker before the body count rises, even if it means risking her job.But the victims might not be the only ones being watched… Erika’s own life could be on the line.
It’s difficult to point to any one thing that makes Erika Foster is such a great literary detective. After all, there are plenty of smart, quirky female detectives in the genre.
But Bryndza’s gift for deep characterization and vulnerability are the key, making her come fully to life on the page.
The Fear Index by Robert Harris (2012)
Harris’ finest novel since Fatherland and certainly his most under-appreciated work to date.
His name is carefully guarded from the general public, but within the secretive inner circles of the ultra-rich, Dr Alex Hoffmann is a legend – a visionary scientist whose computer software turns everything it touches into gold.
Together with his partner, an investment banker, Hoffmann has developed a revolutionary form of artificial intelligence that tracks human emotions, enabling it to predict movements in the financial markets with uncanny accuracy.
His hedge fund, based in Geneva, makes billions. But then in the early hours of the morning, while he lies asleep with his wife, a sinister intruder breaches the elaborate security of their lakeside house.
So begins a waking nightmare of paranoia and violence as Hoffmann attempts, with increasing desperation, to discover who is trying to destroy him.
If you weren’t already frightened of hedge fund managers, this book will make you swear them off for good.
It Ends With Her by Brianna Labuskes (2018)
Redheaded readers may be looking for a dye job after finishing Brianna Labuskes’ terrifying FBI thriller.
Troubled FBI special agent Clarke Sinclair knows that serial killer Simon Cross preys on redheads. She also knows that Cross likes to play mind games. The one he’s playing right now has taken Sinclair all over the United States. Sadly, no good deed goes unpunished. The moment Sinclair discovers a victim, Cross preys on a new one.
The twisted game changes when a blonde woman is kidnapped in upstate New York. As you might imagine from the title, Sinclair’s own life may soon be on the line.
Is It Ends with Her as predictable as its title might indicate? Sadly, yes. But fortunately, Labuskes is excellent at building suspense. She also does an excellent job of developing her protagonist, Clarke, who has more layers than an onion. Some readers may not be ready to embrace such an emotionally disturbed protagonist, but that was the x-factor for this reader.
Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King (2014)
In Mr. Mercedes, King has created one of the most unexpected, original and despicable villains in modern literature. And yes, it’s “literature.” The razor-sharp craftsmanship evident n the psychological war between the Mr. Mercedes and the man he dismisses as “the fat ex-cop” is beyond brilliant.
Just when we were sure that King couldn’t top his time-travel thriller 11/22/1963, he comes out with one of his most robust tales ever. In terms of sheer stakes, it’s easy to mistake this book as “small” by King’s standards (if you call running down down a handful of innocents waiting in a job line small). There’s no massive mysterious dome that suddenly appears over an entire town, no opportunity to save John F. Kennedy and change the course of history.
But Mr. Mercedes is anything but small. Both the book’s protagonist and its villain are themselves masterpieces. At every point in the book, we know exactly what they want and the things about their past, present and future that are driving them to get there. The genre of retired detectives coming back to solve one more case could be a genre unto itself, but we guarantee you’ve never read one like this.
In a mega-stakes, high-suspense race against time, three of the most unlikely and winning heroes Stephen King has ever created try to stop a lone killer from blowing up thousands.
In the frigid pre-dawn hours, in a distressed Midwestern city, hundreds of desperate unemployed folks are lined up for a spot at a job fair. Without warning, a lone driver plows through the crowd in a stolen Mercedes, running over the innocent, backing up, and charging again. Eight people are killed; fifteen are wounded. The killer escapes.
In another part of town, months later, a retired cop named Bill Hodges is still haunted by the unsolved crime. When he gets a crazed letter from someone who self-identifies as the “perk” and threatens an even more diabolical attack, Hodges wakes up from his depressed and vacant retirement, hell-bent on preventing another tragedy.
Gone Girl by Jillian Flynn (2012)
Gone Girl launched a thousand imitators – each one of them striving for a narrator that is somehow less reliable than Flynn’s – but still has few peers.
Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge.
Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?
As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence.
Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?
The Moving Blade by Michael Pronko (2018)
A string of grisly murders, high stakes geopolitics and the prose of a master craftsman elevate this crime thriller to rarefied air.
That’s the question facing investigators in The Moving Blade, the second in Michael Pronko’s Detective Hiroshi series. The book opens with a break-in at the Tokyo home of diplomat Bernard Mattson during the victim’s own funeral. The experienced burglar quickly finds his target: two files from the deceased’s computer, which he downloads onto two USB drives before hiding them in a cigarette pack. Less than an hour later, the burglar himself is slain on a dead-end street.
Fortunately for Detective Hiroshi Shimizu, the swordsman leaves one of the precious files behind. Tokyo Police find a curious file containing two rare erotic woodblock prints. The post-it notes and pencil sketches around the margins are of particular interest. And what of the filename, “SOFA,” an acronym for The Status of Forces Agreement with America, the agreement governing the continued military presence of American military following the post-War occupation?
Mattson’s estranged daughter, Jamie, hasn’t been back to the country since she was 13 years old. She finds a world of quiet expedience where everything from the autopsy to the particulars of her father’s death have been all-too-conveniently whisked away. Through her eyes, we experience the seemingly impenetrable bureaucracy and bewilderment of a relative outsider in Japan. It’s inevitable that her insistence on a thorough investigation will put her in danger, but thanks to Pronko’s expert pacing, the build-up is anything but predictable.
In this second series installment, Pronko resists the temptation to morph Hiroshi into a Western-style investigator trademarked by quirkiness or self-abuse. Instead, Hiroshi remains a likable but thoroughly believable vehicle through which we explore this sophisticated, multi-faceted puzzle. Thanks in large part to the extreme care in which each and every sentence is crafted, Fans of Barry Eisler’s John Rain series may find a new favorite author in Pronko.
HYBRID by James Marshall Smith (2017)
Exhilarating and original, HYBRID demonstrates that even wildlife conservation can have a sinister underbelly.
Dieter Harmon seems to be nothing more than an unassuming veterinarian. He’s also the new guy in town. Not long after stumbling upon a mutilated body in the woods, just the latest in a string of animal attacks, he finds himself at a moral crossroads.
It seems that the government is trying to restore the wolf population inside Yellowstone. But after Dieter meets the conservation group – including a including a pair of ne’er-do-well rangers in their own power struggle — he also realizes that something’s not quite right about the wolves roaming outside the Grand Loop. Things soon get hairy as Dieter discovers that he has become prey.
Author James Marshall Smith’s follow up to SILENT SOURCE, one of our picks for the Best Thrillers of 2016, has created anything but a standard whodunit in HYBRID. Smith paints a lurid story involving personal vendettas and underground experimentation. At times, it read like a wondrous mash-up between Mary Shelly and James Patterson.
It’s not a slow burn. Cerebral, complex and yet heart-pounding, the book teeters at a full boil throughout. A finalist for the 2017 William Faulkner-Wisdom Novel Award, HYBRID is a must-read.
Concealment, a Crazy Amy Thriller by Rose Edmunds (2015)
A breathless, blistering psychological thriller guaranteed to hold you captive until the very last page is read.
The story is told from the point of view of Amy, a powerful finance executive. For Amy, every interaction with another human being is a potential attack to be analyzed and countered. Her colleagues are “puppets” and “opportunistic robots,” and her boss, Ed Smithies, is “sinister,” “grating,” and “miserly.”
While Amy’s inner thoughts are an endlessly entertaining stream of hilarious insults, she’s also straightforward and outspoken. Here’s the boardroom comment – preceded by a call for diverse hiring practices – that gets her in hot water with her boss: “Look, you guys. Diversity doesn’t mean filling every job vacancy with a black lesbian in a wheelchair. It’s not some box-ticking formulaic exercise—it’s about people.”
It’s easy to see why Amy is such a brilliant protagonist. Beneath her exhausting bitterness, she has the guts to say what other people are too afraid to. That quality is precisely what will make many readers want to root for her. And despite her rock-hard veneer, she’s actually quite fragile. Edmunds plays on Amy’s vulnerabilities like a master violinist.
Office drama is already at a fever pitch when Amy’s subordinate Isabelle Edwards goes missing. Days later, Isabelle is found floating in the Grand Union Canal (In case you’re wondering, Amy is not exactly grief-stricken: “I hated the suave little bitch, but I’d recommended her for promotion anyway”).
Soon, Amy realizes that she’s suspected as an accessory to murder. Her alleged co-conspirator is her former brother-in-law (and ex-lover, and subordinate), Ryan.
Could Ryan have actually committed murder? Or is it Smithies, who seems keen on fingering him for it? And why, exactly, was Isabelle killed in the first place? Can Amy’s lone friend at the company, Lisa, help reveal the truth, or will she also turn out to be just as conniving as the rest of them?
Thriller fans are strongly advised to dig in and find out.
Darkroom, a Kelly Durrell Thriller by Mary Maddox (2016)
The Bottom Line: One of the year’s best crime thrillers. Mary Maddox just may be the dark princess of suspense we’ve all been waiting for.
What would you do if your best friend went missing? That’s the compelling question at the core of Darkroom, which puts Boulder resident Kelly Durrell in the role of anyone who has ever realized that they are all that stands between someone they care about and tragedy.
Day Randall, named after a 70s rock band, is a freelance photographer who has been living rent-free in Durrell’s condo. Given Day’s bohemian lifestyle, there’s little evidence that she hasn’t simply moved on. But after the cops show little progress in the investigation, Kelly – a museum employee with no formal investigative skills – tries to make sense of Day’s circle of associates, including the Helms, a family of wealthy business magnates. Kelly’s investigation takes a sudden turn when she’s given a fragment of a road map to a remote mountain estate. Soon after, she realizes that the trouble that found her friend may well find her as well.
In a genre full of heroines that seem entirely too clever and smug, Maddox’s Kelly is a hugely relatable breath of fresh air. Tenacious, but hardly reckless nor extraordinarily brave, Kelly simply does what we hope anyone would do for us, even as she finds herself faced with a nightmare underworld of predators and prey.
In terms of subject matter and tone, Darkroom is a close cousin to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or TV’s True Detective. A gifted wordsmith, Maddox uses the Colorado landscape to great effect in creating suspense (“Highway 119 tracked Boulder Creek upstream through bottlenecks and blasted rock, sudden curves and harrowing switchbacks, rising more than three thousand feet in sixteen miles.”) Even in a world where technology seems to have erased personal privacy, Maddox reminds us that we still live in a world where doing evil, and hiding it, is disturbingly easy. Highly recommended.
Flash Crash, a Jake Rivett Thriller by Denison Hatch (2016)
An absolute bullseye, reinventing the heist thriller for the information age.
When a rogue quantitative programmer intentionally crashes the gold index, it seems that Wall Street’s worst nightmare has come true. In truth, the crisis has just begun. Across town, an armored truck filled with $120M of gold bullion is hijacked by an ingeniously crafted electromagnetic crane and seemingly driven into thin air.
As a SWAT team is deployed and Major Crimes launches into action, the NYPD’s finest undercover detective, Jake Rivett, is sent to investment bank Montgomery Noyes’ Wall Street headquarters. Suspicion is soon cast upon David Belov, one of the firm’s quantitative programmers, or “quant” for short. While author Denison Hatch leaves no question as to Belov’s guilt, the investigation into the quant’s motivations are more than enough to make for gripping reading. The first-generation Russian immigrant is an essential cog in two enormous machines with virtually no chance of upward mobility in either one. But as Rivett soon learns, the stakes for Belov are higher than anyone can fathom.
As detectives go, Rivett is hardly ordinary. Among other quirks, he sings for a struggling screamo band in his spare time. Despite some impressive police work, his character arc pales beside that of Belov (that is surely intentional, as Hatch is playing the long game with Rivett by planning an entire series around him). Nevertheless, riding shotgun with Rivett as he unravels this audacious caper is immensely satisfying, and the book’s immersion into the financial services culture feels authentic and right. By the time you’re finished with Flash Crash, you’ll be jonesing for a second Jake Rivett novel.
Watching You by Lisa Jewell (2018)
What’s creepier than a peeping Tom? How about an obsessive, socially dysfunctional teenager who spends all his free time watching and cataloguing the movements of his neighbors? He even has nicknames for them, like “red boots.” Oh, did I mention that his biggest dream is to become a spy?
Melville Heights is one of the nicest neighborhoods in Bristol, England; home to doctors and lawyers and old-money academics. It’s not the sort of place where people are brutally murdered in their own kitchens. But it is the sort of place where everyone has a secret.
As the headmaster credited with turning around the local school, Tom Fitzwilliam is beloved by one and all—including Joey Mullen, his new neighbor, who quickly develops an intense infatuation with this thoroughly charming yet unavailable man. Joey thinks her crush is a secret, but Tom’s teenaged son Freddie (the one who is always watching) is all too aware.
One of Tom’s students, Jenna Tripp, also lives on the same street, and she’s not convinced her teacher is as squeaky clean as he seems. For one thing, he has taken a particular liking to her best friend and fellow classmate, and Jenna’s mother—whose mental health has admittedly been deteriorating in recent years—is convinced that Mr. Fitzwilliam is stalking her.
Meanwhile, twenty years earlier, a schoolgirl writes in her diary, charting her doomed obsession with a handsome young English teacher named Mr. Fitzwilliams.
What could go wrong?
Lisa Jewell has created a complete ecosystem made up of just the right people, with the right urges, and the right weaknesses for a delectable mystery. Impeccably paced, Watching You is not to be missed.
Stillhouse Lake by Rachael Caine (2017)
A genuine nail-biter that will have you second-guessing what your spouse does when you’re not around.
You could be forgiven for thinking your’e too old for to reach Rachel Caine’s new crime thriller. After all, Caine has earned her reputation as one of the hottest YA novelists working today, including the Morganville Vampires series. But forget all of that, because with Stillhouse Lake, Caine has written one of the year’s most talked about thrillers.
Gina Royal is the definition of average—a shy Midwestern housewife with a happy marriage and two adorable children. But when a car accident reveals her husband’s secret life as a serial killer, she must remake herself as Gwen Proctor—the ultimate warrior mom.
With her ex now in prison, Gwen has finally found refuge in a new home on remote Stillhouse Lake. Though still the target of stalkers and Internet trolls who think she had something to do with her husband’s crimes, Gwen dares to think her kids can finally grow up in peace.
But just when she’s starting to feel at ease in her new identity, a body turns up in the lake—and threatening letters start arriving from an all-too-familiar address. Gwen Proctor must keep friends close and enemies at bay to avoid being exposed—or watch her kids fall victim to a killer who takes pleasure in tormenting her.
Has she learned how to fight evil? She better hope so, because she’s in for the fight of her life.