The Most Terrifying Serial Killers in Fiction to Read Right Now
From classic fairytales like Bluebeard to more modern horrors like Hannibal Lecter, murderous monsters of the more human variety have long held a firm grip on readers’ imaginations. Perhaps it’s the escapist thrill of seeing a terrifying killer outsmarted—a macabre fascination with the deepest recesses of our collective imagination. Or, it could simply be the love of a good thriller. Whatever the case, serial killers and the novels about them very often make for terrifyingly enjoyable reads.
Jo Nesbo might be just be the current king of Nordic Noir, and this bleak, tightly constructed thriller is one of his best. The seventh novel in the Nesbo’s Harry Hole Series sees the tortured detective land a missing persons case that soon sets him on the hunt for methodical serial killer whose fascination with a deeply disturbing snowman fascination.
Jeff Lindsay took us deep into the mind of a serial killer when he introduced to the world to Dexter Morgan and Morgan’s Dark Passenger with his 2004 novel Darkly Dreaming Dexter. Lindsay put a fascinating spin on the serial killer trope by introducing a sociopath who channels his homicidal urges toward those who have escaped justice. It’s an intriguing twist, and it makes Dexter Morgan one of the more intriguing entries on this list.
Patricia Highsmith was among the most influential crime fiction writers of the latter twentieth century, and Tom Ripley is her greatest creation. Beginning as a small-time con man, Ripley works his way up the social ladder to a life of opulence. Completely without remorse and absolutely amoral, Ripley does literally whatever it takes to maintain the life he has built for himself. Ripley is a charming monster, which makes him all the more fearsome, and one of the greatest characters of contemporary literature.
What would this list be without Bret Easton Ellis and Patrick Bateman? With American Psycho, Ellis took a deep dive into the darkest reaches of what the American dream could mean. The portrait of this unhinged serial killer and the searing satirical indictment of consumer greed fueled culture of 1980’s Wall Street. American Psycho is an American classic — just a grisly and unforgettably disturbing one.
This page-turning thriller from Lisa Gardner is the sort of novel that demands to be read in a single sitting. When she discovers her perfect husband is a brutal serial killer, Tess Beckett’s life is torn to pieces. And when her husband escapes from prison five years later, Tess knows the monster she once loved will be on the hunt for not only her, but their young daughter. The Perfect Husband is a taut, white knuckle thriller.
With TNT’s eight episode adaptation of Caleb Carr’s bestseller set to premiere on January 22nd, now is the perfect time to pick up a copy of The Alienist. Set against the backdrop of corruption and scandal in 1896 New York City, the novel follows renowned and controversial “alienist” (an archaic term for a psychiatrist or psychologist) Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, who at the behest of then-Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt puts together a team to track down a particularly violent and dangerous serial killer stalking the Lower East Side. Inspired by real-life serial killer Albert Fish, the very human monster of The Alienist is one of the most unsettling in recent memory.