Are you looking for the best plot twist books to add to your reading list? Read this article.
If you’re a lover of mysteries and psychological thrillers, you probably already know that the lure of these types of stories lies in their often shocking and unexpected plot twists. Of all the novels I have read and movies I have seen, I can most vividly remember those with great plot twists, and they remain my favorite stories up to date.
If you’re in the mood for a murder mystery or psychological thriller with shocking plot twists, here’s a list of must-reads to add to your book collection.
1. Lost Ground (2011)
Lost Ground is a crime novel by the popular South-African author Michiel Heyns. The protagonist of the novel, Peter Jacobs, is a South African expatriate living in London since he was 18 years old. At the start of the novel, he’s a middle-aged man whose career as a journalist has not amounted to much. When his cousin is murdered in the small South African town where he grew up, he packs his bags and sets off for South Africa to learn about what happened.
As a gay and somewhat bitter man, Jacobs is a far cry from the traditional Sherlock Holmes-like detective figure. At first, the reader assumes that he travels to South Africa out of concern for his deceased cousin, Desirée. However, it soon becomes apparent that Jacobs intends to use the story to try and revive his dwindling career as a writer. Although Jacobs is quite assured of the presumed guilt of Desiree’s colored husband, Hector, when he sets foot on South African soil, he soon finds that many surprises await him. One of the biggest surprises is reconnecting with his erstwhile best friend, Bennie.
During his investigation, Jacobs fumbles from one incorrect assumption to another. After he learns that Hector has been falsely accused of the murder, he decides that Bennie is the murderer. Too late, Jacobs realizes that instead of having arrived at his conclusions, he had been told who the murderer was — by the murderer herself. What follows is a tragedy.
“No, of course you had no idea. You’re like your cousin, you don’t know what effect you have on other people, so you sail through life not looking back at the people you’ve left behind in your wake. But the people you’ve left behind don’t stop feeling just because you’ve forgotten them.” Michiel Heyns
2. Great Expectations (1860)
Although Great Expectations is more than 160 years old, it’s one of those great books that never age. Apart from some of the best plot twists ever, Charles Dickens provides his readers with a cast of colorful characters in this bildungsroman. For instance, the eccentric and wealthy spinster, Miss Havisham, has never taken off her wedding dress since she was left at the altar as a young girl.
The story revolves around the boy Pip, whose badly-tempered sister raises him “by hand” — which is a nice way of saying that she constantly slaps and punishes him. The often menacing and mysterious atmosphere of Great Expectations is introduced in the very first scene of the novel. Pip encounters an escaped convict in the graveyard where his parents are buried.
A few years later, Pip is invited to visit Miss Havisham and her adopted daughter, Estella. He starts to visit them regularly and falls passionately in love with the aloof and cold-hearted girl. When he’s old enough to learn a trade, the visits stop. Four years into his apprenticeship, Pip learns that an anonymous patron has provided him with enough money to live as a gentleman. Thinking that Miss Havisham is his benefactress, Pip visits her. His assumption, however, could not be further from the truth.
“But I saw that everything within my view which ought to be white, had been white long ago, and had lost its luster and was faded and yellow. I saw that the bride within the bridal dress had withered like the dress, and like the flowers, and had no brightness left but the brightness of her sunken eyes. I saw that the dress had been put upon the rounded figure of a young woman, and that the figure upon which it now hung loose had shrunk to skin and bone.” Charles Dickens.
3. The Girl on the Train (2015)
The psychological thriller, The Girl on the Train, by British author Paula Hawkins will keep you on the edge of your seat as you flip from page to page. The title of the novel refers to Rachel Watson, a 33-year-old alcoholic divorcee who takes the train to and from London at the same time daily. Her daily commute takes her past her old house, where her ex-husband, Tom, now lives with his new wife, Anna, and their daughter.
Her attention, however, is mostly transfixed on the house of another couple, Megan and Scott Hipwell, who lives nearby. She fantasizes about their seemingly perfect relationship and happy family life. One day, everything changes. On her daily commute, she sees Megan kissing another man. The next day, Rachel wakes up injured and bloody after a night of heavy drinking and has no idea what happened. She learns that Megan is missing.
After Anna reports that she had seen a drunken woman that resembles Rachel staggering around the neighborhood on the night of Megan’s disappearance, the police questions Rachel. Desperately wanting to find out what happened to Megan, and to herself, on that fateful night, Rachel turns into an amateur detective. What she finds is far worse than she could have suspected.
“My head leaning against the carriage window, I watch these houses roll past me like a tracking shot in a film. I see them as others do not; even their owners probably don’t see them from this perspective. Twice a day, I am offered a view into other lives, just for a moment.” Paula Hawkins.
4. Rebecca (1938)
Rebecca is another classic novel that makes it onto this list of best plot twists ever. Penned by Daphne du Maurier, this gothic novel tells the story of an unnamed girl who works as a companion to a rich American woman while the latter is on holiday in Monte Carlo. During her time in Monte Carlo, the naïve young woman meets a wealthy Englishman, Maxim de Winter, and, against all odds, he asks her to marry him after only two weeks of courtship.
After their honeymoon, an elated Mrs. de Winter accompanies her husband to his mansion on the Manderley estate. Only once she sets foot in the house the new Mrs. de Winter realizes just how much the presence of Rebecca, the first Mrs. de Winter, still pervades. The lingering shadow Rebecca casts is largely enabled by Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper at Manderley. Having passionately adored Rebecca, Mrs. Danvers tells the new Mrs. de Winter how beautiful and talented Rebecca was and how much Maxim loved her.
Feeling increasingly inferior and isolated, the new Mrs. de Winter is eventually driven to a point where she decides to commit suicide. However, just before she jumps out of the window, rockets are set off because a ship has struck a reef in the nearby bay. Consequent events reveal the truth surrounding the relationship between Maxim and Rebecca and what happened the night she drowned in a sailboat accident.
“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. I stood in front of the iron gates at the beginning of the drive. When I had first seen those gates, they had been open wide to welcome me. Now, in my dream, they were closed.” Daphne du Maurier.
5. Never Let Me Go (2005)
Never Let Me Go, a dystopian science fiction novel, is the most popular novel by British author Kazuo Ishiguro. I found this novel gripping and very upsetting because the plot twists don’t provide a satisfactory outcome for the reader. However, this is precisely what Ishiguro intended. The story begins at Hailsham, a boarding school in an alternate reality of England during the 1990s.
Kathy H., the main protagonist, is a student at the school. The students are well looked after and receive a good education, including art and literature. Curiously, however, they aren’t taught anything regarding the outside world, and they seem cut off from it. In an early plot twist, the reader realizes that these students are clones who have been bred to donate their organs once they reach adulthood.
Kathy leaves the school with Ruth and Tommy when they’re 16, as they knew they would. Once the students reach maturity, they can access the normal world for a while until they’re summoned to start making their “donations.” The students start holding on to a rumor they heard that if a clone couple is truly in love, they can have their donations deferred. The truth this novel ultimately exposes, however, is bereft of hope.
“There have been times over the years when I’ve told myself I shouldn’t look back so much. But then there came a point when I just stopped resisting.” Kazuo Ishiguro
6. The Silent Patient (2019)
The Silent Patient, a psychological thriller and debut novel by British-Cypriot author Alex Michaelides, is a page-turner of note. The plot contains shocking twists that will keep you riveted to the end. The narrator and protagonist of the story are Theo Faber; a psychotherapist turned amateur detective. His main obsession in the novel is Alicia Berenson.
A famous painter married to a successful fashion photographer, Alicia seemingly has it all. Until she shoots her husband five times in the face one night when he returns home late from a fashion shoot. Although the crime itself is enough to draw the public’s attention, it is the fact that she goes mute after the killing that captivates everyone’s imagination, including Theo Faber’s.
Theo applies for a position at the Grove, the secure forensic unit where she is kept to gain access to Alicia. Although she remains mute during their sessions, she gives Theo her diary, in which she describes a masked man who had watched her in her home weeks before the murder. After a visit to Alicia’s cousin, in which Theo learns about an episode in her past, Alicia starts to speak. What follows is a series of plot twists that slowly reveal the truth surrounding the murder — a truth that you’re likely not to suspect.
“But I’m going too fast. I’m getting ahead of myself. I must start at the beginning and let events speak for themselves. I mustn’t color them, twist them, or tell any lies. I’ll proceed step by step, slowly and cautiously. But where to begin? I should introduce myself, but perhaps not quite yet; after all, I am not the hero of this tale. It is Alicia Berenson’s story.” Alex Michaelides.
7. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2008)
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is the first trilogy of psychological thriller novels by Swedish author Stieg Larsson. This novel features two interesting detectives. The first is Mikael Blomkvist, a middle-aged journalist who has fallen on hard times at the novel’s beginning. He has been sentenced to three months in prison after losing a libel case against him for disparaging remarks about billionaire Hans-Erik Wennerström.
Since he has some time on his hands before his prison sentence starts, he reluctantly accepts a freelance assignment offered to him by Henrik Vanger. Although Vanger officially asks Blomkvist to write the Vanger family history, his real assignment is to solve a cold case. The mystery surrounding the disappearance of Vanger’s great-niece over 40 years earlier was never solved, and the aging Vanger wants answers.
Vanger also brings in another investigator, Lisbeth Salander, to help Blomkvist in his investigation. Salander, who is probably one of the most interesting detective characters in fictional history, is pierced and tattooed and answers to nobody but herself. Together, the two detectives form an unlikely bond. Their investigation into the disappearance of Harriet Vanger leads them on a dangerous path. Prepare yourself for some shocking plot twists and nail-biting moments.
“Together with Mikael Blomkvist she had taken up the hunt for what they thought was a serial killer from the past. They had found something appallingly different. She could hardly imagine the horrors that must have played out in Martin Vanger’s basement, in the midst of this well-ordered, idyllic spot.” Stieg Larrson.
If you are interested in learning more, check out our round-up of the best sci-fi books!
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