A missing child is every parent’s nightmare. A tidal wave of emotion descends and often the situation can very quickly turn negative with the finger of blame being readily pointed, often specifically at the child’s mother. The missing child may be an overused thriller idea on one hand, but when it’s done well, the resulting story can be fast-paced and rich in psychological depth.

Here are ten of the most nail-biting missing-child thrillers.

  1. Lost Girls, Angela Marsons
    This book is #3 in the 10-volume strong DI Kim Stone series. I’m a massive fan, and Angela Marsons’s legion of readers would agree with me when I say the series just grows stronger with each installment.
    When nine-year-old best friends disappear, two families are plunged into a living hell. It soon becomes apparent the girls are victims of a terrifying kidnapping. Lost Girls is a rollercoaster of emotion. The tension is palpable, and the book moved me to tears.
  2. Close to Home, Cara Hunter
    Eight-year-old Daisy Mason disappears from a family party, and nobody on the quiet suburban street saw anything—or that’s what they’re saying, at least. This book introduces DI Adam Fawley and his team of Oxford detectives. It is a great story for a relentless pace and red herrings. Sure to keep you reading until the early hours.
  3. Missing, C.L. Taylor
    When fifteen-year-old Billy Wilkinson goes missing in the middle of the night, his mother, Claire, blames herself. She isn’t the only one. This is a tale of family secrets and twists and turns. Taylor does a great job in nailing the problems associated with parenting a teenager. The reader ends up suspecting a whole list of characters, and there’s an unexpected ending.
  4. It Only Takes a Moment, Mary Jane Clark
    The host of a top-rated morning news show, accustomed to reporting tragedies, experiences horror of her own when her seven-year-old daughter, Janie, is kidnapped from summer camp. Eliza is forced to endure a mother’s worst nightmare in the media’s glare. Lots of red herrings, well-constructed, and fast-paced.
  5. The Birthday, Carol Wyer
    The first installment in Wyer’s Detective Natalie Ward series shows five-year-old Ava Sawyer who goes to a party on a balmy summer’s afternoon. She never comes home. Soon, a second girl is missing…
    This is a twisty storyline with very well-developed characters and an engaging, believable detective at its heart.Order
  6. The Cry, Helen Fitzgerald
    This is a taut, dark, and emotional story that follows the case of a missing baby and the investigation that thrusts his mother and father into the spotlight and threatens to reveal the unthinkable. The depth and strength of emotions will resonate with every parent, and the reader can’t fail to sympathize and feel annoyed with the characters simultaneously. The Cry was developed into a major BBC1 drama.
  7. Then She Was Gone, Lisa Jewell
    Ellie goes missing at fifteen and still hasn’t been found ten years later. But when her mother is introduced to a stranger’s nine-year-old daughter, the girl is the image of Ellie. The plot of this book is disturbing yet compelling and gives an emotional jolt that stays with the reader long after the last page.
  8. Never Look Away, Linwood Barclay
    A trip to the amusement park ends in pure horror when, first, David’s four-year-old son, Ethan, goes missing and then, his wife, Jan. This is a real “everyman” narrative where the twists and action escalate to almost unbearable levels. Tense, fast-paced, and a page-turner.
  9. Gone, Baby, Gone, Dennis Lehane
    Private investigators Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro are hired to find four-year-old Amanda McCready. Despite extensive news coverage and a dogged investigation into her abduction, the police have uncovered nothing. When a second child disappears, Kenzie and Gennaro face a local media more interested in sensationalizing the abductions than helping solve them. The novel raises some important questions and issues about the role media plays in such crimes.
  10. Home, Harlan Coben
    For ten long years two boys have been missing …
    Coben writes complex characters, and this story explores the strength of friendship amid tragic circumstances. The tension and pace are tempered by the emotional depth of the story, particularly at the end.

K.L. Slater is the bestselling author of psychological crime thrillers BlinkSafe with MeLiarThe Mistake, and The Visitor. For many years, Kim sent her work out to literary agents and collected quite a stack of rejection slips. At the age of 40, she went back to Nottingham Trent University and now has an MA in Creative Writing. Before graduating in 2012, she received five offers of representation from London literary agents and a book deal. Kim is a full-time writer and lives in Nottingham, England, with her husband, Mac. She also writes award-winning Young Adult fiction as Kim Slater.

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