10 Thrillers That NEED a TV Series Adaptation
Like a lot of people these days, I’m addicted to book-to-television thrillers. Every time I learn that another novel I love has been green-lighted for a series, I devour every detail about its production until it’s finally on-screen. With the recent success of shows like Big Little Lies, The Sinner, and Sharp Objects, the TV series now reigns as the ultimate medium for complex, nail-biting stories. Unlike a film adaptation, which often suffers from having to clock in under two hours, a series provides space for the breadth and depth of its source material, giving its viewers time to live with the characters and watch the nuances of their stories unfold. With that in mind, here’s a list of thrillers I’m desperate to see adapted into Emmy-winning literary sensations.
- All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda
Nic Farrell returns home ten years after the disappearance of her best friend—only to find that another woman has disappeared, too. What makes this great thriller especially ripe for an adaptation is its inventive structure: the events that occur upon Nic’s return home are told backward, counting down from Day 15 to Day 1. In the book, this device acts as a constant reminder that there must be some pivotal truth buried in her past. A TV show would allow for an episodic Memento-style mystery in which the viewer pieces together how Nic ends up in the dangerous situation in which we first encounter her.
2. Providence by Caroline Kepnes
With the popularity of Lifetime’s You, adapted from Kepnes’s debut novel, it’s a no-brainer that more of this author’s work should be brought to TV. Providence is the story of young soulmates Chloe and Jon. After Jon is kidnapped and held captive for four years, he reemerges much bigger and stronger with supernatural powers he must learn to control—or else he could end up killing the person he cares for most. Prior to this book, I had never before read a riveting thriller that was also such a beautiful and moving love story. I could see the TV version being a hit on The CW, which has been home to several immensely popular supernatural-thriller-romances, including The Vampire Diaries and its spinoff, The Originals. Plus, we’d get to see the surely swoon-worthy moment when Jon transforms from an awkward, scrawny boy into a powerful, captivating man.
3. Into the Water by Paula Hawkins
The Drowning Pool is a local legend, a place where several women have met their end over the centuries. When Nel Abbott, the woman writing a book about the Drowning Pool, becomes the latest dead body in the water, long-submerged secrets begin to rise to the surface. Into the Water already has a cast of memorable characters, including the town psychic who claims to know what happened to Nel; the local English teacher, whose connection to the central mystery unravels to chilling effect; and Nel’s sister Julie, who continues to hold a grudge against Nel for a disturbing moment in their past. Add in the atmospheric setting of the river, as well as thrilling flashbacks to the other deaths in the Drowning Pool, and you’ve got the makings of a series that’s as addictive as it is hypnotic.
4. Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell
Ten years ago, Laurel’s daughter, Ellie, went missing, never to be seen again. But when Laurel meets the charismatic Floyd, whose young daughter bears a striking resemblance to her own, she begins a pulse-pounding journey toward uncovering where Ellie went—and with whom. This book has one of the creepiest villains I’ve read in a long time—a person who rivals some of Stephen King’s scariest characters. Captivating and horrifying viewers in equal measure, this show would have scenes viewers could only bear to watch from underneath a blanket. Be sure to keep the lights ON if this stunningly unnerving book comes to TV.
5. All Things Cease to Appear by Elizabeth Brundage
USA’s The Sinner has paved the way for a different kind of series—not the “whodunnit,” but the “whydunnit.” Both murder mystery and ghost story, All Things Cease to Appear offers a compelling addition to this genre. From the very beginning, we know that Catherine Clare gets killed and her husband, George, is the prime suspect, but the story spans decades—both before and after the murder—before we understand the whole disturbing truth. If The Sinner has shown us anything, it’s that the question of “why” can make a viewer even more excited for the next episode than that of “who”—though discovering “who” these characters really are is actually another gripping layer.
6. The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager
When Emma was a teenager at Camp Nightingale, three of her friends went missing. Fifteen years later, she’s invited to return to the newly reopened camp as an art teacher, and with the camp eerily unchanged, Emma quickly gets pulled back into the mystery of her missing bunkmates. Sager creates an alluring setting in Camp Nightingale—one that a TV show could effectively recreate with sweeping shots of the camp’s woods and Lake Midnight. I was constantly torn between wanting it to be a real place and being thankful it wasn’t. But the part of the story that makes me most eager to see it as a series is its ending—both the nightmare-fodder climax and the jolting final reveal. I can imagine the show’s conclusion being just as surprising and impactful to viewers as those blistering last seconds of HBO’s Sharp Objects.
7. The Innocent Wife by Amy Lloyd
Perfect for fans of docuseries like Making a Murderer and The Staircase, this book follows Samantha, who falls in love with Dennis, a man convicted of the horrific murder of a young girl. After seeing a documentary about his case, Samantha exchanges letters with Dennis, visits him in prison, and eventually marries him, all the while believing he’s innocent. But when Dennis is exonerated, Samantha must learn to navigate her marriage in the real world, surrounded by the mounting pressure of a new documentary. The Dennis who Samantha sees outside of prison is remarkably different from the one she met inside, and she begins to wonder how well she really knows the man she married. If the story’s flawed and intriguing characters weren’t enough to draw a viewer back from week to week, the show-within-a-show element would certainly hook anyone who’s ever spent an entire night bingeing on true crime.
8. The Second Sister by Claire Kendal
Ten years after her older sister Miranda’s disappearance, Ella decides to do everything she can to discover what happened, even if it means speaking to a serial killer who, tabloids now say, had a link to Miranda. It’s those scenes in particular—when Ella confronts Jason Thorne—that have me dying to see this story on TV. In Netflix’s Mindhunter, Cameron Britton gave such an electrifying performance as serial killer Ed Kemper that I couldn’t help but cast him in the role of Jason as I read. Charming and chilling, creepy and cryptic, Jason would be a magnetic and unforgettable character on the screen. This book would also make for a beautiful adaptation because of one of its most intriguing elements: Ella often hears Miranda speaking to her in her head. At times angry and indignant, at others humorous and witty, a Miranda voiceover would set this show apart from other thrillers, allowing viewers to feel invested in a character they never even see.
9. The Color of Bee Larkham’s Murder by Sarah J. Harris
Thirteen-year-old Jasper becomes entranced by his new neighbor, Bee Larkham—and then she’s murdered. Convinced he played a role in what happened, Jasper begins to paint the story of his relationship with Bee, trying to better understand what he’s observed. So much of this book’s power relies on the way in which Jasper sees the world—as someone with both synesthesia (which, for him, means he experiences sounds as colors) and prosopagnosia (face blindness)—and it is exactly these elements that would make for a unique viewing experience. Colors could dance from people’s lips as they speak. The edges of each frame could be softly tinted during background noise. Faces could be made unrecognizable. Ultimately, an aesthetic like this would only heighten the story’s suspense, as Jasper’s way of seeing the world means he—and, by extension, the audience—doesn’t always know the significance of what he’s witnessed.
10. Are You Sleeping by Kathleen Barber
Okay, this one’s cheating because it’s already in development as a TV series, but after a wish list of shows that may only ever exist in my head, I wanted to leave you with something to look forward to. Slated for a 2019 release, Are You Sleeping follows Josie, a woman whose life blew up thirteen years ago after her father was murdered, her mother joined a cult, and her twin sister betrayed her in spectacular fashion. Having finally found a sense of peace with her partner, Caleb, who knows nothing of Josie’s past, she is thrown into turmoil once again when an explosive podcast about her father’s murder dredges up old wounds and threatens to expose her. As if that weren’t enough, Josie’s mother unexpectedly passes away, which sends her back to her hometown, where she must confront the memories that haunt her most. For this one, I’m especially excited to see how the showrunners translate the book’s Serial-esque podcast into propulsive parts of each episode. With Reese Witherspoon and Octavia Spencer named among the show’s executive producers (and the fabulous Spencer starring alongside other powerhouses like Aaron Paul, Mekhi Phifer, and Lizzy Caplan), Are You Sleeping is sure to be a stylish and brilliantly acted series that we’ll all be buzzing about for weeks.
Megan Collins holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Boston University. She has taught creative writing at the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts and Central Connecticut State University, and she is the managing editor of 3Elements Review. Collins is also a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee whose work has appeared in many print and online journals, including Off the Coast, Spillway, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and Rattle. She lives in Connecticut. Her literary debut, The Winter Sister, is available wherever books are sold. For more info visit https://www.megancollins.com/about/