The best political thriller books that dared to be different

Andrew Raymond Author Of Official Secrets
By Andrew Raymond

The Books I Picked & Why

All the President's Men

By Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward

Book cover of All the President's Men

Why this book?

I know, I know...non-fiction. But as far as I’m concerned, definitely still a thriller, and to this day, the quintessential political scandal. There are so many iconic facets to the story: the anonymous whistleblower Deep Throat’s invocation to follow the money; Woodward and Bernstein’s dogged refusal to drop the story, even when all appeared to be lost; the slow burn of revelation upon revelation.

This wasn’t about car chases and guns. It was about paper trails and getting sources on the record. 

The bravery of that never left me, and was always in my mind while writing my book.

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House of Cards

By Michael Dobbs

Book cover of House of Cards

Why this book?

We all know the Netflix adaptation that brought Dobbs’ story to Washington, D.C. But the original novel set in Westminster is the real deal. Where its cynicism once looked unrealistically dark, it now couldn’t be more relevant in a world of power-hungry politicos.

It pulled back the curtain on a world that a few of us suspected but were too afraid to believe could be real. Do we really still think that a politician has never been behind a murder or two? Dobbs will make you a believer.

What could have been overblown and fanciful ended up being chilling and scarily possible.

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The Constant Gardener

By John Le Carré

Book cover of The Constant Gardener

Why this book?

This is a thriller that took me somewhere I never expected (Kenya) and highlighted an enemy I hadn’t encountered before (Big Pharma). Until then, I had grown used to individuals and assassins being the antagonists in political thrillers when I first picked this up. Le Carré makes the Three Bees corporation at the heart of the corruption and cover-up and murder truly chilling.

One needn’t require a gun to prove menacing. Le Carré showed me that all you need is money and power. 

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The Ghost Writer

By Robert Harris

Book cover of The Ghost Writer

Why this book?

This one was a game-changer for me, taking thinly-disguised characters and events from real life – an obvious Tony Blair-type, fleeing prosecution for war crimes in a clear nod to the Iraq War – Harris wisely ushers us into the world of high-stakes politics via the innocent and unnamed Ghost Writer, hired to write a disgraced Prime Minister’s memoirs.

It’s a brilliant and clever mechanism that makes the reader feel at home. And when murder appears, puts you squarely in the shoes of a terrified man on the run.

As a technical piece of thriller writing, it’s stunning stuff. Harris’s decision to base a fantastical conspiracy around real-life events and characters was inspiring – and it’s something I use in every book.

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The Pelican Brief

By John Grisham

Book cover of The Pelican Brief

Why this book?

In many ways, this was the thriller that started it all for me.

Perhaps technically a legal thriller, the political dimension shines through in the shadowy forces tailing the fearless and unlikely heroine of legal student Darby Shaw as she uncovers a huge political scandal involving the US Supreme Court.

Its conspiracies may seem tame by modern standards, but for a fledgling writer trying to figure out what kind of stories he wanted to tell, this was thrilling and addictive stuff.

Grisham’s easy style appears effortless, but there’s true craft behind each chase, each plot twist, and each conversation. This book taught me how you really do it.

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