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List of the Best Old School Serial Killer Thriller Series

Written when the digital age was dawning, and forensic science and serial-killer profiling was making remarkable strides these classic serial killer thriller books paved the way for the psychological thrillers and police procedural novels we devour today.

I’m opting to shine a spotlight on the opening books of their iconic series. These initial novels give you the best entry points to discover these authors and hopefully some new (to you) favourites. As ever let me know what you think in the comments.

I should probably note that some of these novels could be described as…. “of their time”… so duly warned read on.

Serial Killer Thriller First in Series

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Birdman by Mo Hayder

Birdman by Mo Hayder is a bone-chilling foray into the depths of the criminal psyche that will grip you from the very first page. This novel introduces us to Detective Inspector Jack Caffery, a complex and haunted investigator (most recently seen in the BBC adaptation of a later novel in the same series Wolf). Caffery finds himself immersed in a gruesome case involving a series of horrifying murders (we’re talking Dahmer levels of ick here).

Hayder’s writing is atmospheric and unflinching, immersing you in a world where every turn reveals a new layer of depravity and darkness. Warning: Birdman is not for the faint of heart!

Blindsighted by Karin Slaughter

Blindsighted by Karin Slaughter introduces readers to Dr. Sara Linton, a pediatrician and part-time coroner in the small town of Heartsdale, Georgia. The story takes a dark turn when Sara stumbles upon a horrifying crime scene in the local diner’s restroom – the brutal murder of a local college professor. The gruesome murder sends shockwaves through the tight-knit community, but it’s only the beginning as more grisly murders follow, plunging the town into a state of fear and paranoia.

As the investigation unfolds, Sara is reluctantly drawn into the case, working alongside her ex-husband, Police Chief Jeffrey Tolliver. They must unravel the twisted secrets hidden within their seemingly peaceful town and hunt down a sadistic killer who shows no mercy.

Deja Dead by Kathy Reichs

Deja Dead by Kathy Reichs is the classic forensic thriller that introduced us to Dr. Temperance Brennan, a brilliant forensic anthropologist (and inspiration for the hit TV series Bones). Reichs, herself a renowned forensic anthropologist, brings authenticity and chilling detail to the narrative.

In Deja Dead, Dr. Temperance Brennan is called to investigate the gruesome discovery of a dismembered body discovered in the grounds of an abandoned monastery. As she delves deeper into the case, it becomes clear that a serial killer is on the loose, leaving a trail of macabre clues that only Brennan can decipher. Reichs’ meticulous attention to detail and her compelling protagonist make this novel a must-read for fans of forensic mysteries.

Don’t Tell by Karen Rose

If you fancy a bit of smut with your drama I recommend Karen Rose. Karen Rose has written many books usually series featuring the same cast of characters set in different cities and states in which each character gets their own story. Don’t Tell by Karen Rose is the first set in Chicago and a good place to start.

In Don’t Tell, Karen Rose introduces us to Mary Grace Winters, a woman living under a false identity to protect herself and her son from her abusive and sadistic ex-husband. Now Mary Grace believes she has finally found safety and a chance at a new life. But her past is about to collide with the present when her husband uncovers her trail and threatens her hard-won peace.

Step by step, he’s closing in on her- and everything and everyone she loves. Now she must decide whether to flee again or whether the time has come to stay and fight! If you’re a fan of romantic suspense novels, Karen Rose is a must-read and Don’t Tell a great place to start.

Postmortem by Patricia Cornwall

Postmortem by Patricia Cornwell is a groundbreaking thriller that marked a significant turning point in the genre. This novel introduces us to the iconic character Dr. Kay Scarpetta, a brilliant and tough forensic pathologist working for the Virginia Chief Medical Examiner’s office.

The story revolves around Dr. Scarpetta as she is called to investigate a series of brutal murders in Richmond, Virginia. With meticulous attention to detail and cutting-edge forensic techniques, she races against time to catch a sadistic killer who leaves no trace behind.

Postmortem not only introduced readers to Dr. Kay Scarpetta but is also one of the pioneers of the modern forensic thriller. Patricia Cornwell’s meticulous research and realistic portrayal of forensic science added a new layer of authenticity to crime fiction, influencing countless authors and series in the thriller genre.

Red Dragon by Thomas Harris

Will Graham was a brilliant profiler of criminals for the FBI – until he suffered terrible injuries in the process of capturing Dr Hannibal ‘the Cannibal’ Lecter. Years later, a serial killer nicknamed ‘the Tooth Fairy’ is massacring entire families each full moon.

With the FBI desperate for progress, Will reluctantly agrees to consult. But he soon realises that he alone can’t crack the case; he needs the help of the only mind even better than his own at understanding the mentalities of psychopaths. The mind of Hannibal Lecter. But Hannibal is playing his own twisted game from the asylum for the criminally insane. Will isn’t alone in getting advice from the cannibal. So is the Tooth Fairy – the man haunted by visions of the murderous Red Dragon.

If you’re going to pick one and you haven’t already read it – start here!

The Mermaids Singing by Val Mcdermid

The Mermaids Singing by Val McDermid introduces readers to Tony Hill, a brilliant profiler, and his complex partnership with Detective Inspector Carol Jordan. McDermid weaves a dark and chilling narrative as they pursue a sadistic serial killer with a penchant for grotesque, ritualistic murders featuring some very grim torture devices. With intricate character development and a plot filled with unexpected twists, The Mermaids Singing is a brilliant start to an exceptional series.

At the outset, Tony Hill is introduced as a brilliant yet somewhat socially awkward profiler with a deep understanding of the criminal mind. Detective Inspector Carol Jordan is a strong, no-nonsense investigator who values results above all else. As they collaborate to solve gruesome crimes and track down sadistic killers, their dynamic is a complex interplay of intellect, intuition, and a growing sense of mutual respect.

Watching Tony Hill and Carol Jordan grow and change together is a compelling reason to start with the first book and follow their journey through the entire series. Their evolving relationship adds a rich layer of emotional depth to the already gripping crime mysteries, making it a truly satisfying and immersive reading experience.

The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris

The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris is a stone cold classic that has left an indelible mark on the world of serial killer novels, t.v and cinema (hence it’s inclusion even though it is book 2 in the series after red dragon). Introducing us to FBI trainee Clarice Starling, who is tasked with consulting the brilliant yet deranged serial killer, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, to help capture another ruthless murderer known as Buffalo Bill.

The relationship between Clarice Starling and Dr. Hannibal Lecter is a key element that makes The Silence of the Lambs such a compelling read. Clarice Starling is a young and determined but naive FBI trainee, while Dr. Hannibal Lecter is a brilliant but utterly deranged serial killer and psychiatrist. Their relationship is a chilling game of wits and manipulation leading to a cat-and-mouse game of psychological warfare between them.

The story’s enduring impact on both literature and cinema is a testament to its timeless and harrowing narrative. If you haven’t yet delved into the world of Clarice Starling and Dr. Lecter I suggest you do so at once! And be prepared for a ahem “tasty” treat, best served with a nice glass of Chianti.

The Surgeon by Tess Gerritsen

Tess Gerritsen’s The Surgeon kicks off the Rizzoli & Isles series (also a t.v show but with a very different feel). This gripping novel introduces us to the brilliant Detective Jane Rizzoli and the poised and enigmatic medical examiner, Dr. Maura Isles. As they join forces to track down a sadistic serial killer targeting lone women, torturing and murdering them, the precision of his methods leads Detective Jane Rizzoli to suspect he is medically trained.

With a relentless pace and authentic forensic details, the story delves into the minds of both the investigators and the murderer. Rizzoli and Isles are complex and compelling characters who navigate the dark and gritty world of homicide investigations, and their evolving dynamic adds depth to the narrative, setting the stage for a great series that explores the lives and careers of these two formidable women. The narrative is propelled by a relentless pace, and the author’s medical background adds a layer of authenticity to the forensic aspects of the story.

Want to Play by PJ Tracy

Monkeewrench, later released in the United Kingdom under the title “Want to Play?,” marks the thrilling debut by the mother-daughter author duo, P. J. Tracy. This gripping novel ventures into the dark and murky realm where the lines between reality and the virtual world bkur

The narrative unfurls in a tense battle against the clock as a malevolent copycat killer surfaces, meticulously recreating the murders portrayed in an innovative computer game. This fast-paced and intricately layered storyline seamlessly melds elements of police procedural with intricate techno-lingo, an ensemble of finely crafted characters, and, notably, sharp and witty banter.

List of Serial Killer Thriller First in Series Books

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