The best thrillers with complex lead characters and philosophical undercurrents

John Casey Author Of Devolution: Book One of The Devolution Trilogy
By John Casey

The Books I Picked & Why

Patriot Games

By Tom Clancy

Book cover of Patriot Games

Why this book?

Fans of stories like Tom Clancy’s Patriot Games—those who savor a page-turner about an unlikely spy thrust into adversity (only to emerge the strongest and most capable of them all)—understand the draw and value of a main character who succeeds through wit and sheer perseverance in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Jack Ryan is known worldwide as the personification of this, and is one of two spy thriller characters I used as inspiration for my development of Michael Dolan, the main character in my trilogy.

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

The Bourne Identity

By Robert Ludlum

Book cover of The Bourne Identity

Why this book?

Jason Bourne is the second spy thriller character that inspired my creation of Michael Dolan. Though there are some similarities, Jack Ryan and Bourne are actually quite different. Unlike Ryan, Bourne possesses all the field skills necessary to succeed and again, unlike Ryan, he is challenged with considerable deficits in understanding himself—where he is from, how he became who he is, and the reasons behind it all. It is through this acute, internecine struggle, the cryptic complexity of the protagonist, that Ludlum succeeded with a character that was and remains wildly popular within the spy thriller world. My shaping of Michael Dolan’s persona and psyche was influenced heavily by those of Jason Bourne.

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Searching for Eden

By Keith Madsen

Book cover of Searching for Eden

Why this book?

I highly recommend Keith Madsen’s Searching for Eden. It is not a spy thriller, but it is a thrilling story with deep characters, moral, philosophical, and theological undertones, and a level of adventure that far exceeds that of the vast majority of similar titles.

In the book, three Americans are thrown into the turbulent chaos and political turmoil surrounding Iran’s nuclear program. Evan and his friends travel through Iran, Iraq, and Bahrain looking for clues to the Garden's reality. They dig in ancient cemeteries, climb ziggurats, race through war zones, and examine bizarre art carved into human skulls, all the time seeking the original Garden of Eden and therein the secrets to humanity's foundational story.

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation

By Daniel J. Siegel

Book cover of Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation

Why this book?

Mindsight is an amazing book that explains how one can actively train their brain to recover from mental and other problems. In some cases, this means living medication free and being able to live a normal life.

But why recommend Mindsight alongside spy thrillers? It has to do with the complex and atypical intellect of Michael Dolan, the lead character of my trilogy. Dolan’s past tragedies, the strange method he uses for compartmentalizing his thoughts and the things that bother him, his ability to wall those things up so they cannot bother him—this eventually catalyzes other problems that are far more significant and negative. Siegel’s Mindsight was instrumental for me in creating a psyche for Dolan that was singular, captivating, and problematic—but it also provided my main character an escape route—a way to overcome and heal.

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Transfer of Power

By Vince Flynn

Book cover of Transfer of Power

Why this book?

It was Vince Flynn’s Mitch Rapp series that, for me, was the most fun to read. As I described the action and adventure of Madsen’s Searching for Eden, so would I describe the same for Transfer of Power and subsequent Rapp stories. This #1 New York Times bestselling series was #1 for a reason—uncompromised action and edge-of-your-seat writing throughout. It was Flynn’s style of writing that gave me the best ideas about how to write my own thrillers. If you love spy novels, do not pass this one up.

When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Closely Related Book Lists

Distantly Related Book Lists