Bored, eh? Are you? Got the mid-summer sleepies? Need that shot of cola to the brain that only comes from reading a really, really exciting book? I hear you. I’m the same way. I want that rush of adrenaline that comes from a thrilling story. I want that book I can’t put down until it’s over.
What book, you ask? I don’t know you all that well, but I guess I can share.
Thrillers then. Not a single, well-defined beast but a whole species with as many faces (claws, teeth) as there are opinions. So. A lot of beasts. Beasts that are pretty and beasts that are thankfully not so much. You kind of know thrillers when you read them. They are the ones that don’t just find out whodunit (those are mysteries) and they are the ones that don’t just have a lot of conflict (those are action) and don’t just have people trying to find out how to fall in love (those are romance). They may have any or all of these things (that’s good) but they primarily have someone facing that challenge that’s impossible and they have to, at all costs, find a way to “win.”
Win what? Win how? That depends. That’s why you have to read. To find out.
These are all books that I have read. I own them all in the sense that they’re all sitting on my shelf but also in the sense that they belong to me in a more familiar and personal way. They have enriched my authorial DNA and added their valuable parts and pieces to the sum and substance of my life. I look forward to reading them again, even if I’ve read them more than once already. Because you are you and I am me, we won’t necessarily find the same things thrilling. I really hope not. Interesting conversations never happen when everyone thinks the same thing. Thusly, you may find that not all of these books will appeal to you – but some of them will and I envy you the adventures you will have as you go find out.
The following suggestions run through all kinds of variety. For younger readers and (definitely) older readers. Heroes and heroines. Older books and newer. Some you’ve probably heard of. Others will probably be new to you. The only thing they have in common, in bald-faced fact, is that they all thrilled me and they are readily available from your local bookstore.
So here you go, in no particular order, 12 thriller books crammed with excitement that will (with malice and forethought) absolutely kill your boredom.
Best Dystopian Thriller About a Girl Obsessed with a Bird and the Boy from the Bakery
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
This one may be an obvious choice but the fact remains that it’s a thrilling read. The movie was a fantastic adaptation, in part because the author herself was one of the producers, but the novel is even better. It has tension on every page and the plight of Katniss Everdeen, as she begins her journey to become the Mockingjay, is by turns terrifying, heartbreaking, and incredibly exciting.
Best Science-Fiction Thriller That Also Happens to Be a Comedy
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
You might not think that a novel with characters who are overly-reliant on carrying a towel everywhere in the universe would be all that thrilling. You’d be wrong. This novel takes all the best parts of science-fiction, bureaucratic satire, and generally dry-as-a-bone British silliness and creates a mixture of adventure and humor that remains unequaled. You will experience laughter, suspense and a sense of awesome wonder in this most-satisfying “there-and-back-again” space adventure.
Best Supernatural Thriller
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
From its frightening and murderous beginning through to its wistful and hopeful end, this novel is thoroughly thrilling and so beautifully written. It’s about “Bod,” a toddler who finds himself in the care of ghosts in a run-down cemetery – but it’s also about growing up and parenting and learning what it means to live. Based unapologetically on Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, this short novel has deservedly won numerous awards for Gaiman and isn’t boring for a single heartbeat.
Best Desperate People On the Run Thriller
Vanishing Act by Thomas Perry
The Jane Whitefield series gets a thrilling start in this novel featuring a woman with a specific talent: helping people in life-or-death peril disappear. Her attempts to covertly relocate a former cop under suspicion of embezzlement leads her into a trap that could get them both killed. She calls upon her own cunning, and the lessons she’s learned from her Native American ancestors, to try and save her client and herself. The climax of this story left my pulse pounding and my nerves rattled so much that I started reading the next book in the series the following day.
Best Horror at the Traveling Carnival Thriller
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
A classic thriller in all the best ways, this novel creeped me out when I was a kid and still has thrills a-plenty. The palpable dread and terrible suspense I felt when Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show made a fateful stop in a small town in Illinois was delicious. The carnival promises to make every person’s fondest wish come true. But what will be the cost? And what can two young boys do against the assembled evils of Cooger and Dark?
Best Classic Mystery Thriller with a Twist
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
I went through a six-month period in high school where I devoured most of Agatha Christie’s works because I had a thing for England and they were just a lot of fun. This novel was one of the most perplexing – and most thrilling. Ten people, each with a horrible secret, are lured to an island by a mysterious host, cut off from the rest of the world. Gradually, they begin to confess their crimes and then, not so gradually, they begin to die. The writing style is a little dated, perhaps, but the thrills are as fresh as ever.
Best Space Thriller with a Hero Who Really, Really Deserves to Win
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Young Ender Wiggin really goes through the wringer in this novel and he has to endure so much because so much is expected of him. He’s not just brilliant, the leaders in charge of defeating the aliens that threaten mankind’s very existence think Ender may be the key to victory. No pressure. The integrated physical, emotional, and psychological thrills of this sci-fi story earned Card a number of awards, and for good reason. It’s a nail-biter.
Best Girl-Next-Door Detective Thriller
Down the Rabbit Hole by Peter Abrahams
This novel launched the Echo Falls series, featuring the engaging Ingrid Levin-Hill, accidental student detective. What starts with a pair of misplaced shoes ends with a suspenseful mystery with more than a few connections to Alice in Wonderland and more than a few thrills as soccer games, homework sessions, and theater classes turn into a violent nightmare that threatens to drag Ingrid down the rabbit hole. Permanently.
Best Spy Who Can’t Remember Being a Spy Thriller
The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum
Spy novels are a thriller staple and there are many that excel in cranking up the tension with threats of shadowy organizations, foreign secrets, assassinations, and hair-breadth escapes. This novel has all that and more, but Jason Bourne can’t remember any of it. The movies are good – but the book kept me up all night, leaving me exhausted and flat-out thrilled.
Best Fantasy Thriller with Metal Snacks and Martial Arts
Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson
It’s hard to trust anyone when you’ve been let down and betrayed by everyone, even your own family. Vin hasn’t known anything else and she has no reason to trust Kelsier either, until she finds out that they are both “mistborn.” Vin’s story is unpredictable, magical, and incredibly thrilling as she learns how to use bits of metal to fuel her special powers, allowing her to practically fly off buildings, increase her strength, and fight like a ninja. Kelsier trains her to defeat the despotic, thousand-year-old Lord Ruler in order to free her people. But the plan goes terribly wrong.
Best Epic Thriller That Really is Epic
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
“One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them, one ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.” To truly explore the amazing world of Middle Earth and appreciate the fellowship’s desperate plan to defeat the dark lord Sauron, you must read these books. The journey of Frodo and Sam covers an entire continent and every step brings them closer to possible destruction in the very jaws of evil. The novels are more than 50 years old now, but they are the grandfather works of an entire generation of thrilling fantasy. To understand The Lord of the Rings is to understand thrilling writing.
Best Totally Psychotic Thriller for Grown-Ups
The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
To find a serial killer, sometimes you need another serial killer. This novel sets the standard for adult thrillers, featuring Clarice Starling, a mere trainee at the FBI academy, inexplicably chosen to help track down a murderer whose victims show inconsistent signs of trauma. Only the incarcerated Hannibal Lector, himself a serial murderer with rather specific tastes, can understand the mind of the killer who will soon strike again and Clarice must find out what he knows. The novel is brilliant but violent, horrifying, and not for readers who aren’t accustomed to exploring the darker edges of suspense and the human psyche.
These books always satisfy my desire to be entertained and as a writer of thriller fiction, I am continually returning to the well to refresh my skill and my soul. I’m not shy about sharing with you how I’ve found exquisitely thrilling work coming out now through Future House Publishing too and you’ll find some excellent books to thrill you in their current catalog.
If you are still looking for more thrillers after all that, here’s a bonus list of twelve more authors with at least a few books available that I have read and absolutely enjoyed. They span multiple genres and many of them, if not most of them, have works for younger readers as well as adults. Some will be very familiar but some, I hope, will open new spaces for you to fill on your bookshelf. Their works will invariably give you that rush.
That breathtaking read.
Best List of Authors Not Already Mentioned Who Kill with Thrillers
Edgar Allen Poe
J. Scott Savage
John le Carré