From on-screen thrillers to page-turning novels, stories about serial killers have a habit of rendering us unable to look away — or stop turning the pages — even as we’re hiding behind the sofa.
Whether that’s due to the macabre allure of witnessing dark human impulses enacted as unspeakable crimes, or comes as a result of being intrigued by those who investigate gruesome murders (Clarice Starling being a prime example), there’s no getting away from the fact that many of us can’t get enough of stories about serial killers.
As a result, here we present 30+ top novels on that very subject. From classic cat-and-mouse murder whodunnits, to darkly funny riffs on the genre, read on to discover a feast of fictional chills.
At the time of writing, Christmas is on the horizon, so we’ll kick off with a recently published serial killer thriller that’ll have you seeing office Christmas dos in an entirely different light — it’ll come as no surprise that this light is less the glow of log fires, and more the glint of a weapon in a darkened room! The book in question is SJI Holliday’s The Party Season — a riveting, twisty revenge story that sees a woman dubbed the “party girl killer” seduce her victims in the countdown to Christmas.
Staying on the theme of female serial killers, we’ve recently read a stack of sensational serial killer novels that use the genre to subvert societal norms and expose misogyny in cutting style.
Take Julie Mae Cohen’s Bad Men, for example — an edge-of-your-seat, feminist serial killer thriller that kicks off with a calculated meet-cute romance and winds up with its wealthy young protagonist discovering she has a unique calling: “Killing bad men is my private hobby, the thing that makes me tick. It’s my own humble attempt at smashing the patriarchy.”
Intrigued? You should also check out Katy Brent’s How to Kill Men and Get Away with It and How To Kill Your Family. The former was a personal favourite of 2023 — a darkly twisted, devilishly funny page-turner that engages with the #MeToo movement.
Staying with another personal fave, My Sister the Serial Killer — one of our Debuts of the Month — sees an older sister pulled into her sibling’s boyfriend-murdering habit. Wickedly funny, this brilliantly observed book explores sisterhood and the boundaries and ethics of loyalty.
Related, one of the assets of fiction is being confronted by contexts that have you questioning black-and-white ethics. For example, while reading Darkly Dreaming Dexter, you may find yourself wondering if it’s OK to root for the serial killer to not get found out! In this case, Dexter is a Miami Police analyst who’s killed 30+ people — all of them serious bad guys.
For an un-put-down-able psychological ride of a read, Alex North’s The Whisper Man — a LoveReading Book of the Month — was given a massive thumbs-up from one of our Editorial Experts. How’s this for high praise? “Clever, beautifully compassionate writing…While the tension reaches almost unbearable levels, there’s a heartfelt balance of empathy and thoughtfulness that packs huge punch and has left a lingering ache. An emotionally beautiful and terrifying read.”
One of the LoveReading team's "favourite" serial killers has got to be CJ Skuse's Rhiannon, who first appears in Sweetpea. It's a dark, twisted read about a female serial killer Rhiannon with dollops of humour, sarcasm and a lightweight approach to a serious subject that shouldn't work but does! Skuse follows it up with three more in the series, the third of which hits the bookshelves in January 2024, so plenty to get your teeth stuck into, if you love Rhiannon as much as we do.
To end, before leaving you to browse the serial killer thrillers showcased below, mention must be made of Patrick Suskind’s Perfume. If you haven’t already experienced the dark pleasure of this surprise global blockbuster (it was originally published in the eighties), prepare to be intoxicated by a murder story like nothing else. In 18th-century Paris, an abandoned baby grows up to have an extraordinary sense of smell that sees him become a master perfumier. An obsession to concoct the one scent that keeps evading him leads to a series of bloody murders, and a rich story of desire and death.