The best books about characters who overcome adversity

Why am I passionate about this?

One review of my books mentioned that I make heroes out of damaged people, so it’s natural I would read that kind of book. I love to see lost souls, losers, battlers for justice, and the underdogs rise above all the elements that hold them down. I think most people root for the underdogs, whether in life, in sports, or the weaker in any competition. It’s in our nature to do so. I’m a wife, mother, writer, former commercial artist, former store owner, former importer, which makes me ripe to be something new. But I think I’m done. I’ve shot my wad, done my best at whatever, and it’s always been fun.

I wrote...

Murder Deja Vu

By Polly Iyer,

Book cover of Murder Deja Vu

What is my book about?

Reece Daughtry spent fifteen years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. Released on a technicality, he lives in the North Carolina mountains, building beautiful rock fireplaces. When author Dana Minette contracts him to build one in her new house, she becomes more than a client, shattering his twenty-year, self-imposed solitude.

Then a local woman is murdered in the same savage way as the murder that sent Reece to prison. Dana’s ex-husband, the local prosecutor, is intent on convicting Reece of the high-profile crime. But Reece won’t be railroaded into prison again. With the police and FBI on their trail, Reece and Dana go underground to find the real killer. It’s a race against time and a crafty opponent who’ll kill again.

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

The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Bone Collector

Polly Iyer Why did I love this book?

What could be more debilitating than spending your life trapped in a wheelchair, unable to move? That’s the life of Lincoln Rhyme, once a brilliant NYPD police criminologist, crippled in the line of duty. Rhyme, with the aid of a caretaker and protégé, Amelia Sachs, who stands in for his legs, continues to do what he did best, solve crimes using technology.

Deaver, through a fifteen-book series, shows how persistence, brains, and courage overcome an unthinkable disability. Rhyme and Sachs make a formidable team and eventually fall in love while continuing to solve crimes.

The series captured my interest because of a friend, paralyzed at seventeen, who created a business to aid other quadriplegics. He was the most interesting and admirable person I ever knew.

By Jeffery Deaver,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked The Bone Collector as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the Sunday Times bestselling author of The Goodbye Man, discover Jeffery Deaver's chilling thriller that inspired the film starring Angelina Jolie and Denzel Washington and is now a major NBC TV series.

Their first case, their worst killer . . .

New York City has been thrown into chaos by the assaults of the Bone Collector, a serial kidnapper and killer who gives the police a chance to save his victims from death by leaving obscure clues. Baffled, the cops turn to the one man with a chance of solving them - Lincoln Rhyme.

Left paralysed by a debilitating…

Book cover of Triptych

Polly Iyer Why did I love this book?

Will Trent is a most unlikely hero of a series, especially as a GBI (Georgia Bureau of Investigation) agent. Why? Will is severely dyslexic. He can barely read and write. So why is he a top agent? His disability gives him an unusual way of looking at crimes, making his disadvantage an important element in solving those crimes. Raised in a series of orphanages and cruel foster homes, Will is like the injured puppy you want to care for and make his life better. His relationship with women is complicated, including his first-love Angie, who shares some of the same orphanage experiences; Amanda, his demanding boss; Faith, his partner; and Sarah, his true love. Will is naïve and street-smart at the same time, which makes him a fascinating hero.

By Karin Slaughter,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

When Atlanta police detective Michael Ormewood is called out to a murder scene at the notorious Grady Homes, he finds himself faced with one of the most brutal killings of his career: Aleesha Monroe is found in the stairwell in a pool of her own blood, her body horribly mutilated. As a one-off killing it's shocking, but when it becomes clear that it's just the latest in a series of similar attacks, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation are called in, and Ormewood is forced into working with Special Agent Will Trent of the Criminal Apprehension Team - a man he…

Book cover of The Lock Artist

Polly Iyer Why did I love this book?

Traumatized at the age of eight, causing him to be mute for ten years, Michael has a talent. He can pick any lock, no matter how complicated, and that includes safes. You can see where I’m going with this, right? It doesn’t take long to find out where that questionable talent leads him, because he’s just been released from a ten-year stint in prison. Michael is a heartbreaking character who is unwittingly led down the wrong path. The author unfolds the story through Michael’s narrative, slipping back and forth in time to explain how he got where he is, culminating in the tragic moment that sent Michael into his world of silence. The story is original and creative in character delineation and suspense.

By Steve Hamilton,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Steve Hamilton steps away from his Edgar Award-winning Alex McKnight series to introduce a unique new character, unlike anyone you've ever seen in the world of crime fiction.

"I was the Miracle Boy, once upon a time. Later on, the Milford Mute. The Golden Boy. The Young Ghost. The Kid. The Boxman. The Lock Artist. That was all me.

But you can call me Mike."

Marked by tragedy, traumatized at the age of eight, Michael, now eighteen, is no ordinary young man. Besides not uttering a single word in ten years, he discovers the one thing he can somehow do…

Book cover of Iron House

Polly Iyer Why did I love this book?

Iron House, short for the Iron Mountain Home for Boys, is a thriller that features orphaned brothers: weakling Julian, and his strong and fiercely protective brother, Michael. After being bullied to the point of cracking, Julian kills his abuser. Michael escapes Iron House and takes the blame as he leaves.

This leads the brothers on two very different paths. Julian is adopted and, though mentally unbalanced, becomes a writer of dark children’s stories. Michael is also adopted off the streets by the head of a crime syndicate who teaches him how to kill. Iron House is a complicated story of abuse, torment, and love. The book is not for the faint of heart.

By John Hart,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

An old man is dying.

When the old man is dead they will come for him.

And they will come for her, to make him hurt.

John Hart has written three New York Times bestsellers and won an unprecedented two back-to-back Edgar Awards. His books have been called "masterful" (Jeffery Deaver) and "gripping" (People) with "Grisham-style intrigue and Turow-style brooding" (The New York Times). Now he delivers his fourth novel—a gut-wrenching, heart-stopping thriller no reader will soon forget.


At the Iron Mountain Home for Boys, there was nothing but time. Time to burn and time…

Book cover of The Suspect

Polly Iyer Why did I love this book?

London-based Joe O’Loughlin is a renowned psychologist who often consults on crime cases. One of Joe’s ongoing problems is he’s been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, which puts his exceptional mind at war with his deteriorating body. In book one, Joe has been called in to consult on a high-profile murder investigation, but he has a conflict of interest when the suspect is a former patient. Throughout the nine-book series, we follow Joe as he deals with his debilitating disease, his sometimes-rocky marriage, and his children, along with the crime cases he’s involved in, which at times include his loved ones. 

I find this series personally interesting because my husband has Parkinson’s Disease, and I can relate to the slow loss of control, which is a hallmark of the disease.

By Michael Robotham,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Suspect as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The psychological thriller that marked the debut of one of contemporary suspense fiction's most compelling heroes: "A gripping first novel...taut and fast-moving" (Washington Post).

Renowned psychologist Joseph O'Loughlin has it all -- a thriving practice, a devoted, beautiful, fiercely intelligent wife, and a lovely young daughter. But when he's diagnosed with Parkinson's, O'Loughlin begins to dread the way his exceptional mind has been shackled to a failing body, and the cracks in his perfect existence start to show.

At first, O'Loughlin is delighted to be called in to a high-profile murder investigation, hoping his extraordinary abilities at perception will help…

You might also like...

Lightning Strike Blues

By Gayleen Froese,

Book cover of Lightning Strike Blues

Gayleen Froese Author Of Lightning Strike Blues

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Communications officer Singer-songwriter Fan of all animals Role-playing geek Nature photographer

Gayleen's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

One summer night in a small prairie city, 18-year-old Gabriel Reece accidentally outs himself to his redneck brother Colin, flees on his motorcycle, and gets struck by lightning on his way out of town.

He’s strangely fine, walking away from his melted pile of bike without a scratch. There’s no time to consider his new inhuman durability before his brother disappears and his childhood home burns down. He’s become popular, too—local cops and a weird private eye are after him, wanting to know if his brother is behind a recent murder.

Answers might be in the ashes of the house where Gabe and Colin grew up, if Gabe and his friends can stay alive and out of jail long enough to find them.

Lightning Strike Blues

By Gayleen Froese,

What is this book about?

On Friday, Gabriel Reece gets struck by lightning while riding his motorcycle.

It's not the worst thing that happens to him that week.

Gabe walks away from a smoldering pile of metal without a scratch-or any clothes, which seem to have been vaporized. And that's weird, but he's more worried about the sudden disappearance of his brother, Colin, who ditched town the second Gabe accidentally outed himself as gay.

Gabe tries to sift through fragmented memories of his crummy childhood for clues to his sudden invincibility, but he barely has time to think before people around town start turning up…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in brothers, criminals, and Atlanta?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about brothers, criminals, and Atlanta.

Brothers Explore 108 books about brothers
Criminals Explore 76 books about criminals
Atlanta Explore 51 books about Atlanta