The best character-driven thrillers

Why am I passionate about this?

I write character-driven thrillers, including my latest novel: Rough Justice. How did I come to write psychological character-driven thrillers? It began years ago when I went to Hollywood in 1977. This was the New Hollywood (1967 -1980), and I worked with writers whose work grabbed viewers viscerally, not with explosions but with multi-dimensional characters that would draw you into a deeply moving story. I spent countless hours working out the stories and shaping the people in them. Working closely with these great screenwriters was a rare opportunity to learn how to create complicated characters and to see how these complex people enriched storytelling.


I wrote...

Rough Justice

By Burt Weissbourd,

Book cover of Rough Justice

What is my book about?

Callie and Cash are back, and their world is about to explode! It’s been a year since they had to take on lethal adversaries. Now, against all odds, their feelings for each other have evolved startlingly—they’re very much in love, thriving.

So, imagine their surprise when they get an unexpected, half-Algerian female guest, twenty-five-year-old Sara, showing up at the restaurant and insisting on telling them her shocking, unbelievable story. Someone is trying to kill her, and they’ve stolen her identity. She needs their help now, and she has a stunning, life-changing secret to tell. Yet, again, Cash and Callie assemble their unconventional ragtag family. Together, they go to war with formidable adversaries. The fierce battle leads them to Cuba where their audacious offensive will take your breath away.

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

The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Instant Enemy

Burt Weissbourd Why did I love this book?

I not only loved this book (and all of Ross Macdonald’s writing) but he wrote his only screenplay for me as a producer in Hollywood, based on this book, The Instant Enemy. Working with him closely on this book taught me a great deal about writing complicated character-driven thrillers. He was a master at that, and it was an extraordinary education for me.

By Ross Macdonald,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Generations of murder, greed and deception come home to roost in time for the most shocking conclusion ever in a Lew Archer novel. At first glance, it's an open-and-shut missing persons case: a headstrong daughter has run off to be with her hothead juvenile delinquent boyfriend. That is until this bush-league Bonnie & Clyde kidnap Stephen Hackett, a local millionaire industrialist. Now, Archer is offered a cool 100 Gs for his safe return by his coquettish heiress mother who has her own mysterious ties to this disturbed duo. But the deeper Archer digs, the more he realizes that nothing is…


Book cover of Ghost Story

Burt Weissbourd Why did I love this book?

As a movie producer, I developed the screenplay and produced the movie, Ghost Story, at Universal. The movie featured Fred Astaire, John Houseman, Melvyn Douglas, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Universal bought the rights to the book and asked me to develop the screenplay and produce it. Larry Cohen, who’d written Carrie, wrote the screenplay. What a thrilling experience to adapt a wonderful, complicated book into a movie. I worked very closely with Larry and came to know the book very well. There was too much material in the book for even a long feature film, so we had to find a way to preserve the richness, the complexity of the book, to tell the story in a movie that would have to be in less than two and a half hours. In the process, I developed a great respect for the book, for Peter Straub’s ambition, his skill, and his ability to tie together complex elements of the plot.

By Peter Straub,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Ghost Story as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

#1 New York Times bestselling author Peter Straub’s classic tale of horror, secrets, and the dangerous ghosts of the past...
 
What was the worst thing you’ve ever done?
 
In the sleepy town of Milburn, New York, four old men gather to tell each other stories—some true, some made-up, all of them frightening. A simple pastime to divert themselves from their quiet lives.
 
But one story is coming back to haunt them and their small town. A tale of something they did long ago. A wicked mistake. A horrifying accident. And they are about to learn that no one can bury…


Book cover of The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide

Burt Weissbourd Why did I love this book?

This is an unsettling, deeply disturbing book. I put it on my list because I worked with Bob Lifton (Robert Jay Lifton) in a tutorial for 2 years at Yale. He was a student of unthinkable disasters, atrocities (Hiroshima, Thought Reform and the psychology of Totalism, Nazi Doctors to name a few). For over two years, we met together regularly to discuss and try to understand what was happening in contemporary American culture, and how it was changing during the late 1960s, particularly among young people. We talked about political unrest, the Vietnam war and the Bobby Seale Black Panther trial in New Haven, the student strike and the May Day, 1970 rally, including memorable appearances by the Chicago Seven, thousands of Panther supporters, and observed by the 82nd Airborne Division. He, and his book, helped me sort out how unthinkable things could happen, and he helped me come to an internal understanding, helped me evolve a more complex sense of myself to navigate in the world I was living in. 

By Robert Jay Lifton,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In his most powerful and important book, renowned psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton presents a brilliant analysis of the crucial role that German doctors played in the Nazi genocide. Now updated with a new preface, The Nazi Doctors remains the definitive work on the Nazi medical atrocities, a chilling expose of the banality of evil at its epitome, and a sobering reminder of the darkest side of human nature.


Book cover of Violence: Our Deadly Epidemic and Its Causes

Burt Weissbourd Why did I love this book?

When I was thinking about the second book I wrote in my trilogy, I knew I had to learn about violence, particularly violence in prison. What causes it, its impact, and why some people hurt themselves in prison. My brother recommended James Gilligan, a prison psychiatrist, and his insights and understanding of it shaped the central character in my book. It’s troubling but fascinating reading for anyone who’s interested in understanding this.

By James Gilligan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

An eye-opening, revisionist analysis of the social and psychological roots of violence argues that violence should be approached as a problem in public health and preventative medicine, rather than one of biological or moral origins, and that shame is the common denominator that links violent perpetrators.


Book cover of Presumed Innocent

Burt Weissbourd Why did I love this book?

I’ve read most of his work and as I’m a writer who tries to write complex psychological, character-driven thrillers, Turow is my touchstone. He consistently sets a very high standard. He’s not only an excellent writer, he crafts complicated storylines skillfully, without deceiving you or tricking you. You’re often fooled, but never disappointed. His characters are carefully conceived and multifaceted. Without drawing attention to it, he successfully elevated middlebrow legal mystery thrillers into high-quality literature.

By Scott Turow,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Presumed Innocent as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Rusty Sabich is a prosecuting lawyer in Chicago who enters a nightmare world when Carolyn, a beautiful attorney with whom he has been having an affair, is found raped and strangled. He stands accused of the crime.

This 'insider' book by a Chicago lawyer was one of the great novels of the 1980s, selling more than nine million copies, and was made into a famous film starring Harrison Ford. It's a supremely suspenseful and compelling courtroom drama about ambition, weakness, hypocrisy and American justice.


You might also like...

Price of Vengeance

By Kurt D. Springs,

Book cover of Price of Vengeance

Kurt D. Springs

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Teacher Cook Barista Guardian

Kurt's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Liam was orphaned at the age of two by a group of giant carnivorous insects called the chitin. Taken in by High Councilor Marcus and his wife, Lidia, Liam was raised with their older son, Randolf in New Olympia, the last remaining city on the planet Etrusci.

As an adult, Liam becomes a soldier. After being cut off from the city, Liam finds that there is an alien intelligence behind the chitin. To defeat it, he must discover who he is and how to use his powers. Then, Liam discovers that a traitor, responsible for his birth parents' deaths, had…

Price of Vengeance

By Kurt D. Springs,

What is this book about?

"From the cover to the opening pages, Price of Vengeance grabs the reader and takes them on a wild ride. Fasten your seat belts for this book." -S. J. Francis, author of Shattered Lies

What is the Price of Vengeance? One could understand why Liam was angry. He was orphaned at the age of two by a group of giant carnivorous insects called the chitin. Taken in by High Councilor Marcus and his wife, Lidia, Liam was raised with their older son, Randolf in New Olympia, the last remaining city on the planet Etrusci.

As an adult, Liam becomes a…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in private investigators, violence, and human subject research?

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

Private Investigators Explore 299 books about private investigators
Violence Explore 93 books about violence
Human Subject Research Explore 24 books about human subject research