5 Exciting Suspense Books to Read in 2021

by Savanna Cordova
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Despite many delayed launches, 2020 was a great year for books — and 2021 is shaping up nicely as well. I’ve tried to control the exponential growth of my TBR list, but nothing gets my fingers itching quite like new suspense novels.

If you’re like me and can’t get enough of novels like Do No Harm and If I Disappear, here’s a list of five books that are scheduled to be released between March and August this year. Let’s dive into these delightfully escapist suspense titles together.

The End of Men by Christina Sweeney-Baird (April 29th)

If Sweeney-Baird doesn’t ring a bell, that’s because this highly anticipated novel — set to be published in 15 languages! — is actually a debut. The film rights have already been sold to a major Hollywood studio and none other than Paula Hawkins has given it her seal of approval. Suffice to say, this is another must-read to accompany Heather’s book club picks for 2021.

The book is set in 2025, after a virus has broken out in Scotland. When Dr. Amanda MacLean tries to warn people, she’s ignored and dismissed as hysterical. Needless to say, the virus morphs into a global and political pandemic. (If this is hitting a bit too close to home, you may be comforted to know that Sweeney-Bairs started writing this novel in 2019 and it has nothing to do with COVID.) As the mysterious virus only affects men, the world is now being run by women. 

Through shifting first-person narration, we follow four women who are dealing with the fallout of the virus in very different ways. Reckoning with how the sudden absence of men affects the world, this suspenseful piece of speculative fiction thoughtfully examines gender dynamics and the emotional repercussions of a reshaped society. I suspect there will be layers galore for any and all book clubs to peel back, one by one.


Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala (May 4th)

Or if cozy suspense is more your jam, here’s another debut author who might cater to your taste buds. With a healthy dose of humor, Manasala explores the Filipino diaspora experience through the kitchen and a cast of characters that’s equal parts infuriating and heartwarming.

The novel follows a young Filipina woman named Lila Macapagal, who moves back home after a terrible breakup. Her life is following all the worst rom-com tropes, until a nasty food critic (who just happens to be her ex-boyfriend) drops dead in the failing family restaurant that Lila has been tasked with saving. Suddenly, she’s drawn into a police investigation — and as the main suspect, no less. As if that weren’t enough, Lila and her family also have to deal with a landlord who has been chomping at the bit to evict them and finally has a “good” reason. 

With people failing to do their jobs on all sides, Lila takes the investigation into her own hands. She may not be Sherlock Holmes, but she has a solid network of aunties, her trusted barista bestie, and a charming Dachshund to assist her. The result looks like the perfect delight to sink your teeth into, equal parts bitter and sweet.


The Secret Talker by Geling Yan (May 4th)

One way I expand my own TBR is by reading suspense novels in translation. It shows me that the art of writing thrillers is pretty universal and that most parts of the world enjoy reading them just as much as I do. Geling Yan is a prolific Chinese author whose novel The Secret Talker (first published in 2004) is said to combine the atmosphere of The Silent Patient and The Vegetarian. Sign me up!

The story: Hongmei lives in Northern California and is the wife of a college professor. Her quiet life is disturbed when she starts receiving steamy emails from a stranger who seems to know everything about her. Pushed to the point of desperation, she begins to stalk her own stalker back in a game of cat-and-mouse, and is forced to confront her dark past. Her investigation threatens to bring chaos upon her and her marriage — but it’s the only way for her to take back control.

This short psychological thriller is bound to pack a punch as the reader observes Hongmei go from quiet passivity to frantic activity. I look forward to dissecting what goes on beneath the surface — and between the lines — in this late spring release.


The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris (June 1st)

With the arrival of summer comes another debut by an author proving how creative writing classes can pay off. (Dalila Harris holds an MFA in nonfiction creative writing — but clearly she can pull off fiction, too.) Described as Get Out combined with The Devil Wears PradaThe Other Black Girl will surely be on everyone’s bookshelf before the end of the year. Not only does it offer page-turning suspense, but is it not a truth universally acknowledged that book lovers adore books about fellow book lovers?

Nella Rogers is a young editorial assistant who is tired of being the only Black employee at Wagner Books. When Hazel joins the company, she is thrilled to have someone in the next cubicle over to talk to about natural hair care and microaggressions. However, the situation takes a turn as Hazel is elevated to office darling under uncomfortable circumstances, and threatening notes begin to appear on Nella’s desk. With claustrophobic, paranoid tension, Nella begins to spiral and obsess over things that seem out of her control.

The Other Black Girl is sure to provide plenty of content to dig into with your book circle, as this thriller hides much deeper social commentary. Taking a giant leap away from mindless chatting by the water cooler, Harris describes a world where manipulation, gaslighting and workplace oversights are just the tip of the iceberg.


Survive the Night by Riley Sager (July 6th)

Last but not least, if you can’t get enough of true crime and serial killer documentaries, Riley Sager’s Survive the Night is set for a July release and promises a thrilling ride (literally).

Set in 1991, during the George H.W. Bush administration and with Nirvana blaring in the background, Charlie Jordan — a college movie buff — finds herself in a car with a total stranger. Wanting to escape the guilt and grief over the murder of her best friend, she connects with Josh Baxter on a campus ride board. Great idea, right? But in this era without smartphones, a sense of complete vulnerability soon sets in, as Josh’s story has one too many holes and he won’t show Charlie what’s in his trunk.

With plenty of classic horror movie references and a heroine named after Hitchcock’s own, this tense novel is sure to be a perfect nostalgia read. Are there any clues in the references — and can we trust Charlie’s cinematic imagination?

I hope some of these suspense titles have piqued your interest and that you’ve found some inspiration for the coming months in this list. Happy reading!

Savannah Cordova is a Book Club Chat guest writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects self-publishing authors with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers.

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1 comment

Deirdre MJ April 7, 2021 - 8:37 am

Great list! I am all about suspense/thrillers/crime fiction this Spring! I am happy I came across this post. Arsenic and Adobo sounds really unique and interesting. I am going to check that out first. I have to recommend a book that I think should definitely make a future list called “Girl with the Rose Tattoo” by Larry Weiss (https://street-fiction-writer.com/). This book has layers of romance, touching moments, twists & turns, nail-biting scenes and even some humor. The story is about Tina, your typical rebellious teenager, who is trying to get her act together but is stuck with an abusive loser boyfriend who continuously squashes her dreams and makes her feel like nothing. It takes her getting pregnant to finally stand up for herself and her baby and she’s kicked out onto the streets to figure things out alone. That doesn’t mean her ex won’t be back to make her life a living nightmare though…. Luckily, she meets a new friend and mentor, Jenny who will help her face her problems head-on. Once again, a thriller for sure, but it’s got a lot of heart and hope and I can’t recommend it enough.

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