The best books that are perfect examples of great thriller writing

Why am I passionate about this?

I've been writing since I learned how to write, first poems, then short stories. I spent a decade in the rock music business, writing about and becoming friends with Elton John, John Lennon, Bryan Ferry, among others. But I grew up reading thrillers and wanting to write novels but seemed hesitant to start. One day, I ran into an old high school friend who was writing westerns for Avon Books. I thought if he can, so can I. So I did. I majored in Sociology in college, so the intricacies of individuals within society always fascinated me. After reading The Outsider, I realized I really wanted to write about the people outside of society.


I wrote...

The Quantum Solution

By Eric Van Lustbader,

Book cover of The Quantum Solution

What is my book about?

Evan Ryder is an extraordinary intelligence field agent now working for the security arm of Parachute, a private company and the world’s leader in the application of quantum technology. In the past, Ryder has done lethal battle in the modern global wars of power politics, extremist ideology, corrosive disinformation, and outrageous greed. But now she finds herself in a battle arena whose dangers, while less obvious, are greater than anything the world has seen before – the present and future war of weaponized quantum technology.

When an elite Russian scientist and the American Secretary of Defense die, at the same time half a world apart, of inexplicable sudden catastrophic brain damage, the world’s intelligence services realize that the quantum war has truly begun.
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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Eric Van Lustbader Why did I love this book?

For as long as I can remember, John Le Carre has been one of my literary heroes.

His novels are prime examples of the three pillars on which superior thrillers are built: 1. Plots that are engaging from the first sentence. 2. Complex, unforgettable characters. 3. A sense of authenticity.

This particular book is one of my favorites because it begins a trilogy pitting Le Carre’s most indelible character, George Smiley with his opposite number at Moscow Central.

This iconic model was the inspiration for the two sisters, Evan and Bobbi, who are also pitted against each other on the clandestine American and Russian sides.

There is in both my and Le Carre’s series a sense of a family struggle that creates a unique tension between hero and villain.

By John le Carré,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the New York Times bestselling author of A Legacy of Spies.

The man he knew as "Control" is dead, and the young Turks who forced him out now run the Circus. But George Smiley isn't quite ready for retirement-especially when a pretty, would-be defector surfaces with a shocking accusation: a Soviet mole has penetrated the highest level of British Intelligence. Relying only on his wits and a small, loyal cadre, Smiley recognizes the hand of Karla-his Moscow Centre nemesis-and sets a trap to catch the traitor.

The Oscar-nominated feature film adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is directed by…


Book cover of The Outsider

Eric Van Lustbader Why did I love this book?

I discovered Wilson’s seminal book when I was in college.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that The Outsider changed my life. Before I read it I had no idea who I was or where I belonged. I was not a joiner. I wasn’t affected by peer pressure. As a consequence I felt alone and at sea.

At once, I recognized myself in The Outsider.

Wilson could have been writing about me. Suddenly, I understood who I was, why I reacted to certain things the way I did, and what my place in the world was and would be. There is no more desolate feeling of being alone and misunderstood in the world.

Wilson’s book gave me a sense of belonging. Who could ask for anything more?

By Colin Wilson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The classic study of alienation, creativity and the modern mind
'Excitingly written, with a sense of revelation' GUARDIAN

THE OUTSIDER was an instant literary sensation when it was first published in 1956, thrusting its youthful author into the front rank of contemporary writers and thinkers. Wilson rationalised the psychological dislocation so characteristic of Western creative thinking into a coherent theory of alienation, and defined those affected by it as a type: the outsider. Through the works and lives of various artists, including Kafka, Camus, Hemingway, Hesse, Lawrence, Van Gogh, Shaw, Nietzsche and Dostoevsky, Wilson explored the psyche of the outsider,…


Book cover of The Ninth Directive

Eric Van Lustbader Why did I love this book?

Along with Le Carre Adam Hall was my magical touchstone to understanding what being an exceptional thriller writer meant.

This book, the second in a long distinguished series, continued the crises dealt with by the British spy named Quiller. Hall had an idiosyncratic way of writing that taught me that style was as important as plot in a thriller – perhaps even more. For me, style is what grabs my attention as a reader.

Today, style is what draws me along, both as a reader and as a writer of thrillers. Style is the thread on which is built both plot and characters. It is also imperative when setting scenes in faraway places.

By Adam Hall,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Quiller, known only by his codename, is the British government's #1 intelligence agent. Darkly exotic Bangkok is center stage for a master assassin's plan. The target: a visitor so important he is only called "The Person". As the clock ticks away in the final hours, Quiller becomes the bait to stop the killer.


Book cover of Prussian Blue

Eric Van Lustbader Why did I love this book?

I came upon the novels of Philip Kerr later in life.

They were unique in as much as his main character, Bernie Gunther, was a German before, during, and after the Nazi party came to power. The tightrope Gunther had to tread between being a good German cop and having to deal with Nazi higher-ups without himself ever becoming a Nazi is what makes the series thrum with tension.

I had the great good fortune to meet Philip at the L.A. Times Book Fair to which we were both invited some years ago. Spending time with him was for me to meeting a rock star. I was privileged to make his acquaintance.

The time I subsequently spent reading his new novels gave me the distinct sense of standing beside Gunther wherever Philip chose to send him.

When, several years later, I learned that Kerr had died suddenly I was devastated. Prussian Blue is his crowning masterpiece.

By Philip Kerr,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The twelfth book in the Sunday Times and New York Times bestselling series, perfect for fans of John le Carre and Robert Harris. 'One of the greatest anti-heroes ever written' Lee Child

France, 1956. Bernie Gunther is on the run. If there's one thing he's learned, it's never to refuse a job from a high-ranking secret policeman. But this is exactly what he's just done. Now he's a marked man, with the East German Stasi on his tail.

Fleeing across Europe, he remembers the last time he worked with his pursuer: in 1939, to solve a murder at the Berghof,…


Book cover of The Bourne Identity

Eric Van Lustbader Why did I love this book?

This is the book that started me on a new path so how could I not recommend it?

I met Ludlum in 1980 through our shared agent. We hit it off immediately. Both The Bourne Identity and my book were on the NY Times Bestseller list together. He wanted to meet me. He’d read The Ninja and loved it.

We spent an entire evening discussing the traits our respective protagonists shared, how much of ourselves we’d put into them. We also discussed our ideas of how to write thrillers that thrilled as many readers as possible.

Years later, after Ludlum passed, I was asked to continue writing the Bourne novels. I decided I’d write one, maybe two. I ended up writing 11.

It was while I was finishing the last of those that I got the idea for a female agent whose sister would become her mortal enemy. That’s how my series began.

By Robert Ludlum,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Jason Bourne is back in the forthcoming major motion picture starring Matt Damon and Alicia Vikander. Go back to where it all began for Bourne in his first adventure - The Bourne Identity

He was dragged from the sea, his body riddled with bullets. There are a few clues: a frame of microfilm surgically implanted beneath the skin of his hip; evidence that plastic surgery has altered his face; strange things he says in his delirium, which could be code words. And a number on the film negative that leads to a bank account in Zurich, four million dollars, and…


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A Beggar's Bargain

By Jan Sikes,

Book cover of A Beggar's Bargain

Jan Sikes Author Of The Edge of Too Late

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Avid reader Lover of Music Astral Traveler Tarot Reader Grandmother

Jan's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Historical Fiction Post WW2.

A shocking proposal that changes everything.

Desperate to honor his father’s dying wish, Layken Martin vows to do whatever it takes to save the family farm.
Once the Army discharges him following World War II, Layken returns to Missouri to find his legacy in shambles and in jeopardy. A foreclosure notice from the bank doubles the threat. He appeals to the local banker for more time—a chance to rebuild, plant, and harvest crops and time to heal far away from the noise of bombs and gunfire.

But the banker firmly denies his request. Now what?

Then, the banker makes an alternative proposition—marry his unwanted daughter, Sara Beth, in exchange for a two-year extension. Out of options, money, and time, Layken agrees to the bargain.

Now, he has two years to make a living off the land while he shares his life with a stranger. If he fails at either, he’ll lose it all.

A Beggar's Bargain

By Jan Sikes,

What is this book about?

A shocking proposal that changes everything.

Desperate to honor his father's dying wish, Layken Martin vows to do whatever it takes to save the family farm.

Once the Army discharges him following World War II, Layken returns to Missouri to find his legacy in shambles and in jeopardy. A foreclosure notice from the bank doubles the threat. He appeals to the local banker for more time-a chance to rebuild, plant, and harvest crops and time to heal far away from the noise of bombs and gunfire.

But the banker firmly denies his request. Now what?

Then, the banker makes an…


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