The best thought-provoking thrillers

The Books I Picked & Why

Red Dragon

By Thomas Harris

Red Dragon

Why this book?

There are only a handful of stories, whether page, screen, or stage, that I can definitively say changed my life. Reading Red Dragon at way too young an age (or maybe exactly the right age) was beyond formative for me, one of those thrilling moments of realising what fiction is capable of. Red Dragon is not only the first appearance of Hannibal Lecter (and a cracking thriller in its own right) but a troubling exploration of the capacity for darkness within us all, that never loses sight of its deep sense of empathy and humanity. It’s easily the best Lecter book and maybe the best crime thriller ever written.


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Only Killers and Thieves

By Paul Howarth

Only Killers and Thieves

Why this book?

In interviews, Paul Howarth has discussed the ways in which colonial Australia was essentially a second Wild West, albeit one scarcely explored in fiction. Only Killers and Thieves leans into that understanding and in doing so creates a vivid, blood-soaked, Biblical saga about revenge, redemption, and the lies upon which nations are built, full of unforgettable characters and passages of writing that will make your breath catch. That it is followed by an even better sequel is the icing on a magnificent cake.


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In the Woods

By Tana French

In the Woods

Why this book?

Many thrillers go down like fast food – enjoyable in the moment, but instantly forgettable. Tana French’s novels are more like rich feasts, none more so than her debut, a novel that starts out with a compelling mystery and slowly descends into the psychological hell of a particularly clever horror movie. Uncompromising in its bold choices but always tender in how it treats its wounded, fractured but all-too-human characters. There are many reasons Tana French has gained such a fervent cult following, and all of them can be found in this book.


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The Talented Mr. Ripley

By Patricia Highsmith

The Talented Mr. Ripley

Why this book?

I read The Talented Mr. Ripley in two days, even though I’d seen the movie and knew how it would end. The film is good but it doesn’t come close to capturing the chillier, darker depths of Highsmith’s imagination. Tom Ripley is a soulless void – fascinating because he can’t be explained even though glimmers of his history and his own idiosyncrasies make it tempting to try. We root for him even as his actions horrify us, maybe more so because Highsmith makes it all too easy to imagine doing the same. This is a book best enjoyed by just surrendering to its unique darkness and letting go of it at the end – the sequels all have something to recommend them, but too much time spent in Tom Ripley’s company can do strange things to your head.


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Misery

By Stephen King

Misery

Why this book?

On the surface Misery is a clever thriller, something the film adaptation captured. But what makes the book brilliant is how it engages head on with the act of writing itself and the challenges of trying to satisfy yourself and your audience simultaneously. It is ultimately a portrait of an artist slowly learning he can’t escape his own limitations and slowly discovering a kind of acceptance and even exultance in that. That it takes some of King’s most personal writing and wraps in up in the trappings of an unpredictable one-sitting page turner might be the novel’s true genius.


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