16 best Dean Koontz books, ranked by chills and thrills

16 best Dean Koontz books, ranked by chills and thrills

In Reading Lists by Lanie Pemberton

16 best Dean Koontz books, ranked by chills and thrills

Often compared to authors like Stephen King and Robert R. McCammon, suspense master Dean Koontz has written over 100 books (some pseudonymously) across genres like horror, science fiction, fantasy, and thriller, along with memoirs and nonfiction books about the craft of writing. With so many titles to choose from, it’s reasonable to wonder which book to start with in Koontz’s backlist.

No matter your preferred suspense subgenre, Koontz has a masterful work to match your preferences. Want a supernatural mystery? Try Phantoms. Prefer a sci-fi adventure? Read Watchers. Looking for a story tracking real-world evils? Check out Intensity (my personal favorite). Looking for even more genre fiction? This list of the best Dean Koontz audiobooks has you covered.

Even dog lovers have something to look forward to here, as Koontz is known for featuring golden retrievers in many of his books — including the first novel on this list.

Watchers is a common favorite among fans, making it the best Dean Koontz book to start with.

It all begins when a hiker meets a super-smart golden retriever named Einstein (naturally) on a walk in the woods. Sounds like a warm and fuzzy story, right? Not when Koontz puts his terrifyingly talented touch on it. Something is hunting Einstein, and the hiker must help the dog escape. 

This tale of genetic engineering (and a lovable dog) balances sci-fi thrills with a tenderness only understood by those of us with our own four-legged best friends.

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This 1980 thriller is Koontz’s first work to become a New York Times bestseller; it also inspired a 1990 film adaptation by the same name. 

When Bruno Frye attacks screenwriter Hilary Thomas, the police are no help. Why? Because Bruno has a solid alibi. When Bruno strikes again, Hilary kills him while fending him off — but that doesn’t stop the madman from returning for yet another attempt on Hilary’s life. 

Is Hilary losing her mind, or is something more supernaturally sinister at play? This book has one of the most surprising twists I’ve ever read. Suffice to say, don’t miss out on Whispers

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As mentioned, this one is my favorite, and what I consider to be the best Dean Koontz book of all time (so it goes in the top three, regardless of overall popularity and takes from critics). Intensity is aptly named, with tension rising steadily until the final epic showdown between good and evil. 

Chyna Shepherd is the sole survivor of a bloody home invasion. Instead of running for her life, she follows the killer, intent on saving his next victim from a horrible fate. This audiobook is a must-listen — not just for its thrills, but also for its badass final girl.

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When sisters Jenny and Lisa arrive in Snowfield, California (Jenny’s hometown in the Sierra Nevada), the place is eerily silent. Most residents have vanished; the ones who remain have been murdered in grisly and incomprehensible ways.

The mystery deepens as the two sisters, aided by a skeptical sheriff and a renowned professor, uncover an ancient and malevolent force hell-bent on feeding off of humanity. (The novel is less of a whodunnit, and more of a “whatdunnit.”)

Koontz masterfully weaves together elements of horror, suspense, and the supernatural to create a chilling tale of unrelenting fear and unexplained phenomena. 

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Fast-paced is an understatement in this thriller featuring a villain who could out-evil even the most wicked of them all. This novel is perfect for fans of Stephen King’s Misery; instead of a crazed fan, Koontz’s work follows a psychotic literary critic.

When bestselling author Cubby Greenwich gets a bad review on his latest novel, he seeks out the critic — the reclusive Shearman Waxx. This unwise move sparks a terrifying cat-and-mouse game, with the Greenwich family running for their lives as Waxx targets them again, and again, and again. (Relentless indeed.)

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In a metaphysical adventure pitting good against evil, young Bartholomew Lampion’s life has already included many ups and downs. He’s lost his mother, battled cancer, gone blind, and regained his sight — all by the age of 13. 

But somewhere out there, a deranged killer has set his sights on the boy, believing Bartholomewis his fated enemy. If he’s going to survive, Barty must rely on his exceptional intelligence and astonishing spiritual connections that extend outside of our reality and into worlds unknown.

At 23 listening hours, this is one of Koontz’s longest audiobooks, but the time flies thanks to his incredible storytelling and taut pacing. 

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When Jim Ironheart saves a little boy from certain death at the last possible second, it seems like a simple case of right place, right time. But when Holly Thorne, a reporter who witnessed the incident, starts researching Jim, she realizes he’s made many such miraculous saves recently.

Before long, Holly and Jim team up to explore the source of his intuition, which even Jim himself doesn’t understand (turns out, it may be related to ancient mystical powers, aliens, or something equally shocking). Clues abound and sparks fly in this mystery.

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Frank Pollard is terrified to sleep, because every time he awakens, he’s either covered in blood or holding some strange object — with no memory of what happened. Desperate, Frank recruits Bobby and Julie Dakota, a married couple and private detective duo, to figure out what’s going on. As you might imagine, their investigation takes a startling and horrifying turn.

The Bad Place is a gripping blend of psychological suspense and paranormal intrigue, led by characters you’ll find easy to root for (especially Julie’s semi-psychic brother, Thomas, who has Down syndrome and is instrumental in solving Frank’s mysterious dilemma).

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A terrible tragedy may lead to proof that the afterlife exists in this supernatural (and super tense) thriller.

After Joe Carpenter’s entire family is killed in a plane crash, his grief becomes all-consuming. Then, Joe discovers a strange woman photographing his wife and daughters’ graves. Turns out she’s ominously linked to a string of suicides and a scientific plot funded by an uber-wealthy benefactor. 

Prepare for this plot to get twistier and murkier chapter after chapter until all the threads converge — and astonish.

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Twenty years ago, serial killer Alton Turner Blackwood’s reign of terror ended when 14-year-old John Calvino shot him dead (but only after Alton had slain the boy’s family). In the present day, John has overcome his traumatic past to become a husband, father, and homicide detective.

But history seems to be repeating itself, forcing John to consider the unthinkable: has his family’s killer returned from the grave to wreak havoc once again?

Koontz repeatedly proves he’s a skilled creator of antagonists worthy of our worst nightmares. For lovers of horror like myself, this makes books like What the Night Knows all the more engrossing.

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Lightning combines speculative fiction with romance and espionage. The novel follows Laura Shane, a woman with an extraordinary destiny that’s shaped by a stranger who appears during lightning strikes at each pivotal moment in Laura’s life, beginning with her birth.

After several encounters during her childhood, Laura learns the identity of her mysterious friend (a jaw-dropping revelation indeed) and the pair team up to defeat a mutual enemy.

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Years ago, the Pendleton was a Gilded Age mansion representing the height of wealth, even though people connected to the home tended to die. Today, it’s an apartment building filled with tenants who give little thought to the structure’s dark past.

That is, until they begin seeing strange — even downright terrifying — creatures, accidents, and other gruesome visions. Turns out the Pendleton has secrets that refuse to stay buried, and something is hunting the residents down, one by one.

Koontz puts his unique spin on the haunted house trope in this spine-tingling horror novel.

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Hatch Harrison was officially dead for over an hour, until medical intervention miraculously revived him. But Hatch isn’t who he once was. Besides a fresh appreciation for life, Hatch also has a new psychic connection to another person who narrowly escaped death. 

Unfortunately, that man is a killer — and now his sights are set on Hatch’s adopted daughter, Regina.

You may have seen this novel’s 1995 movie adaptation starring Jeff Goldblum and Alicia Silverstone, but I recommend reading the source text — especially since Koontz himself found the movie to be a total departure from his story and repeatedly asked for his name to be removed from the project. 

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In this 1981 thriller, Koontz writes about a fictional virus with a name that now seems eerily prescient: “Wuhan-400.” Nearly 40 years later, in 2020, the internet exploded with conspiracy theories claiming (incorrectly) that Koontz predicted the coronavirus crisis. While the name of the fictional disease does reference Wuhan, the city in China where the COVID-19 outbreak first emerged, that’s where the similarities end. 

In The Eyes of Darkness, Tina Evans’ young son dies in a bus crash — or so she thinks. When strange occurrences hint that Danny is still alive, Tina is drawn into a complex conspiracy involving secret government agendas and underground labs.

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As if we didn’t have enough reasons to distrust rich tech bros: The tech millionaire at the center of Midnight transforms normal people into mindless — or even murderous — animals.

The residents of Midnight Cove aren’t who they used to be. Some can no longer feel emotions. Others act on their most base instincts and kill their neighbors. One victim of this gruesome reality is Tessa Lockland’s sister, leading Tessa to team up with an FBI agent, a knowledgeable disabled veteran, and a young girl fleeing her beastly parents. 

When this rag-tag group of protagonists realize a biotech implant is responsible for all the violence and mayhem, they set out to kill the man behind the experiment. But he’s growing more obsessive and deranged by the hour. 

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After experiencing a devastating and traumatic tragedy, Katie becomes a reclusive artist on a remote island. A secretive government facility lies on a neighboring island, raising Katie’s suspicions about the regime’s agenda. 

When a young girl arrives out of nowhere — supposedly after escaping said facility — Katie’s solitude transforms into an all-out battle for survival. And if either of them are going to survive, Katie will have to confront the demons of her past head-on.

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About the Author: Lanie Pemberton

Lanie is a San Diego-based freelance writer who loves reading crime thrillers and nonfiction about animals and the natural world. When not writing and reading (or writing about what to read), Lanie spends as much time as possible at the beach with her husband and pampered pittie, Peach.