The best action thrillers with rule-breaking heroes

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve written several action thrillers about main characters who defy the rules. In my opinion, the key to these stories is giving your protagonist a good cause to break the rules for. Readers don’t want to get behind someone who wreaks havoc just to entertain himself. However, readers can identify with someone who’s pursuing an admirable goal and will stop at nothing to achieve it. These stories shouldn’t motivate anyone to break the law in real life. They serve as a metaphor for going against convention to overcome obstacles. Hopefully, my books, and those of other authors, encourage people to take on challenges in ways they haven’t yet considered.  


I wrote...

Black Quiet: A Cole Maddox Action Thriller

By Ted Galdi,

Book cover of Black Quiet: A Cole Maddox Action Thriller

What is my book about?

Cole Maddox just moved back to his hometown in Montana after leaving the Army’s most elite unit because his superiors lied to him. But his town has changed. A ruthless gang of bikers has flooded it with fentanyl, and when Cole’s brother defies them, they put him in a coma. Big mistake.

Cole unleashes his arsenal of Special Forces skills to take them down. However, he soon learns the gang is only the bottom layer of a criminal network much larger and deadlier than he imagined. Can Cole get justice for his brother while keeping himself and those closest to him alive? Find out in this fast-paced, adrenaline-surging thrill ride.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Killing Floor

Ted Galdi Why did I love this book?

Jack Reacher is probably the most well-known action protagonist of the century. In Killing Floor, the former military cop is incorrectly arrested for a crime, then winds up helping the local authorities solve it.

I liked this book because it fuses action elements with those from the mystery and thriller genres, with a touch of Western too. Reacher rides into town like a stranger cowboy. Not only can he punch out bad guys’ teeth, but analyze complex clues.

Though he works alongside the police, he isn’t afraid to break the rules. He ruffles feathers, but since he gets results, the cops can’t help but appreciate him. Cool character. 

By Lee Child,

Why should I read it?

12 authors picked Killing Floor as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ex-military policeman Jack Reacher is a drifter. He's just passing through Margrave, Georgia, and in less than an hour, he's arrested for murder. Not much of a welcome. All Reacher knows is that he didn't kill anybody. At least not here. Not lately. But he doesn't stand a chance of convincing anyone. Not in Margrave, Georgia. Not a chance in hell.


Book cover of The Gray Man

Ted Galdi Why did I love this book?

In The Gray Man, a highly skilled, former CIA operative tries to rescue a colleague and his family while various teams of elite assassins try to stop him however they can.

The Gray Man – AKA Court Gentry or Sierra Six – doesn’t follow anybody’s orders, even those of the most powerful institutions on the planet. Though rebellious, he has morals and only applies his skillset for good.

My favorite part of this book were the action scenes. I liked how big they were, but also the variety of arenas, weapons, and opponents. Also, the Gray Man takes a serious beating through the chapters. Because he’s hurt, but still kicking, the fights progressively get more challenging for him, and more dramatic.

By Mark Greaney,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Gray Man as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE FIRST GRAY MAN NOVEL FROM #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR MARK GREANEY - now a Netflix original film starring Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans

'Hard, fast, and unflinching-exactly what a thriller should be.' Lee Child

To those who lurk in the shadows, he's known as the Gray Man. He is a legend in the covert realm, moving silently from job to job, accomplishing the impossible and then fading away. And he always hits his target.

But there are forces more lethal than Gentry in the world. Forces like money. And power. And there are men who hold these…


Book cover of The 6:20 Man

Ted Galdi Why did I love this book?

Like various action thrillers, The 6:20 Man features a former Army Ranger protagonist. However, unlike many action stories, this one is set in the world of Manhattan’s finance sector. Pretty unique.

Travis Devine, a former soldier turned low-level investment employee, becomes wrapped up in the investigation of a coworker’s mysterious death. He’s forced to apply a combo of deductive reasoning and physical maneuvering to get to the truth and keep himself alive, all while resisting the demands of his employer and the local police.

I feel this book has all the suspense of an action thriller, plus gives an interesting look at a dark corner of the finance industry. I really liked how calm and collected Devine stays through the story, regardless of the crazy things that come his way. 

By David Baldacci,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The 6 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A cryptic murder pulls a former soldier turned financial analyst deep into the corruption and menace that prowl beneath the opulent world of finance, in this #1 New York Times bestselling thriller from David Baldacci.

Every day without fail, Travis Devine puts on a cheap suit, grabs his faux-leather briefcase, and boards the 6:20 commuter train to Manhattan, where he works as an entry-level analyst at the city’s most prestigious investment firm. In the mornings, he gazes out the train window at the lavish homes of the uberwealthy, dreaming about joining their ranks. In the evenings, he listens to the…


Book cover of The Black Echo

Ted Galdi Why did I love this book?

The Black Echo is the first novel in the bestselling Harry Bosch series. Bosch is a great detective who isn’t afraid to go against the people around him in pursuit of justice, including his coworkers in the LAPD, and agents in the FBI. 

In this book, his old war buddy is found dead. Bosch hunts for the truth, and revenge. 

I really liked the cool, back-alley, neo-noir vibe. The book is set in Los Angeles, but not the glitzy parts often seen in the media. Bosch follows a maze of clues through gritty, shadowy parts of the city. Good stuff.

By Michael Connelly,

Why should I read it?

13 authors picked The Black Echo as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


An LAPD homicide detective must choose between justice and vengeance as he teams up with the FBI in this "thrilling" novel filled with mystery and adventure (New York Times Book Review).

For maverick LAPD homicide detective Harry Bosch, the body in the drainpipe at Mulholland Dam is more than another anonymous statistic. This one is personal . . . because the murdered man was a fellow Vietnam "tunnel rat" who had fought side by side with him in a hellish underground war. Now Bosch is about to relive the horror of Nam. From a dangerous maze of blind alleys…


Book cover of Open Season

Ted Galdi Why did I love this book?

While many action heroes are soldiers or cops, Joe Pickett is in charge of animals. He’s a game warden in Wyoming. A cool twist on the genre. 

He lacks the combat skillset of many other action heroes, also unique. But he has a rugged determination that makes him a great lead. And he cares a lot about protecting his family, which makes you root for him. 

In Open Season, a dead body ends up in Joe’s backyard. He unravels a web involving a large gas company and an endangered species. It eventually jeopardizes his family. Joe doesn’t hesitate to rebel against authority to get things done.

Also, the dialogue and descriptions are really on point. A lot of detail in not a lot of words.

By C. J. Box, C. J. Box,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Open Season as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of 2009's highly coveted Edgar Award for Best Novel
Winner of the Anthony Award for Best First Novel
Winner of the Gumshoe Award for Best First Novel
Winner of the Barry Award for Best First Novel
Winner of the Macavity Award for Best First Novel

There's nothing unusual about the sound of a gunshot in Twelve Sleep. Here in remotest Wyoming, where elk roam the pine forests and cougars prowl the mountains, everyone owns a gun. But when Joe Pickett hears two sharp cracks ring out months before hunting season, it's his job to investigate.

As game warden in…


You might also like...

Feral Maril & Her Little Brother Carol

By Leslie Tall Manning,

Book cover of Feral Maril & Her Little Brother Carol

Leslie Tall Manning Author Of Maggie's Dream

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Mentor Laugher Research nut Avid reader

Leslie's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Winner of the Literary Titan Book Award

Bright but unassuming Marilyn Jones has some grown-up decisions to make, especially after Mama goes to prison for drugs and larceny. With no one to take care of them, Marilyn and her younger, mentally challenged brother, Carol, get tossed into the foster care system. While shuffling from one home to another, Marilyn makes it her mission to find the Tan Man, a mysterious man from her babyhood she believes holds the key to her family’s happiness.

But Marilyn’s quest is halted when her daddy, an ex-con she has never met, is chosen by…

Feral Maril & Her Little Brother Carol

By Leslie Tall Manning,

What is this book about?

Bright but unassuming Marilyn Jones has some grown-up decisions to make, especially after Mama goes to prison for drugs and larceny. With no one to take care of them, Marilyn and her younger, mentally challenged brother, Carol, get tossed into the foster care system. While shuffling from one home to another, Marilyn makes it her mission to find the Tan Man, a mysterious man from her babyhood she believes holds the key to her family's happiness.

But Marilyn's quest is halted when her daddy, an ex-con she has never met, is chosen by the courts as the new guardian. Caleb…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in murder, murder mystery, and private investigators?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about murder, murder mystery, and private investigators.

Murder Explore 959 books about murder
Murder Mystery Explore 503 books about murder mystery
Private Investigators Explore 299 books about private investigators