The best debut mystery-thrillers of all time

The Books I Picked & Why

Absolute Power

By David Baldacci

Book cover of Absolute Power

Why this book?

An incredible premise (the President of the United States is involved with the death of his mistress and a cat burglar hiding in a closet is an unseen witness) is the salient feature of this book. That alone made for an exceptional story. Then Baldacci takes us on a tense, suspenseful ride into the President’s inner circle as his chief of staff attempts damage control in order to guarantee his re-election as well as keep him out of jail. To have the book turned into a blockbuster Hollywood movie confirms the greatness of this novel.

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Killing Floor

By Lee Child

Book cover of Killing Floor

Why this book?

The book that introduced the world to the iconic Jack Reacher has it all: a one-of-a-kind protagonist who’s larger than life; incredible tension from page one; an outstanding hook—Reacher getting arrested while minding his own business one hour after arriving in a small Georgia town and being charged with murder; lean prose (ala Hemingway) that fits the main character; and something that few reviewers mention—the incredible rhythm Child infuses into his prose. Because I have a music background, the rhythmic cadence that appears in so many scenes added great depth to my reading experience.

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The Black Echo

By Michael Connelly

Book cover of The Black Echo

Why this book?

Connelly hits the ground running with his MC, Harry Bosch, the rogue LAPD detective who barely stays in the good graces of his superiors while using his unique skills and insight to solve crimes that other cops won't or can't solve. Bosch has just enough flaws to make him real and believable while at the same time imbuing him with qualities that lift him above the average detective. Connelly's plotting is superb as he ties Bosch to a former Army buddy in Viet Nam who is found dead and no one but Bosch suspects he was murdered. As the players move like pieces in a master chess game, Bosch deciphers the truth by synthesizing a collection of random facts and observations into coherent motives for conspiracy, burglary, and murder.

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The Big Sleep

By Raymond Chandler

Book cover of The Big Sleep

Why this book?

I can't praise this highly enough for a first novel. From page one, I was immersed in Depression-Era Los Angeles and the life of a private eye who was tough and cynical, yet honorable and talented. Yes, Chandler wrote in a different era with a singular style that probably wouldn’t sell today. But I can't remember highlighting nearly as many beautiful, wonderful, pithy, gritty, evocative passages in any other book I've read as I highlighted in The Big Sleep. Passages that make me jealous of Chandler's skill and talent. Passages that I wish I had written or passages that I may write that will cause readers to "swoon" as I did over Chandler's prose. A classic example of timeless genre fiction.

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A Drink Before the War: The First Kenzie and Gennaro Novel

By Dennis Lehane

Book cover of A Drink Before the War: The First Kenzie and Gennaro Novel

Why this book?

Wow. One of the best first novels I've ever read. All I can say is, “Read the damn book if you're a fan of thrillers.” Kenzie and Gennaro complement each other well as a husband-and-wife detective team. Lehane’s prose is as lyrical as it is dark, and his plot is superbly constructed. Finally, Bubba Rogowski is one of the all-time great supporting characters. He might be the only literary character who could beat Jack Reacher in a fight. Plus he’s more loyal to Kenzie and Gennaro than a thousand dogs.

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