The best thriller books that accurately capture and bring awareness to PTSD

Why am I passionate about this?

My therapeutic journey with PTSD has been a long and bumpy road that I still work through to this day, close to fifteen years now. Given the silent suffering that so many go through, I feel that the more we talk about and advocate for seeking help the more people we can save. The common thread with my picks is resiliency. The characters face their symptoms and don’t give in to them. If a thriller novel can reach someone because they identify with the struggles discussed in the pages, then maybe that book can be the bridge to them finally getting the help they need.


I wrote...

The Instructor

By T. R. Hendricks,

Book cover of The Instructor

What is my book about?

Derek Harrington, retired Marine Force Recon and SERE instructor, is barely scraping by teaching the basics of wilderness survival. When one of his students presents him with an opportunity too good to be true—$20,000 to instruct a private group for 30 days in upstate New York—Derek reluctantly takes the job, despite his reservations about the group's insistence on anonymity. 

Reaching out to an FBI contact, Derek soon finds himself in deep cover, deep in the woods, embroiled with a fringe group led by a charismatic leader who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. Now the teacher must confront his students as Derek races against time to stop what could very well be the first attack of a domestic terrorist cell.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Drifter

T. R. Hendricks Why did I love this book?

Wrapped up in an exceptional thriller with exquisite writing is Petrie’s ability to capture the encompassing and ever-present struggle of dealing with PTSD.

A veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, Peter Ash’s main symptom manifests physically as debilitating claustrophobia, resulting from the house-to-house combat he experienced during the Battle of Fallujah.

Concurrent with this presentation are the many themes plaguing the OEF/OIF community; suicide, unemployment and underemployment, aimlessness, and isolation. 

As a veteran of two deployments to Iraq and having been diagnosed with PTSD, I found Petrie’s descriptions and portrayal of veteran issues so true to life that I was certain he was a veteran as well.

Simply put, while reading The Drifter, I said to myself on more than one occasion, “This guy gets it.”

By Nick Petrie,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The first explosive thriller featuring Peter Ash, a veteran who finds that the demons of war aren’t easily left behind...

“Lots of characters get compared to my own Jack Reacher, but Petrie’s Peter Ash is the real deal.”—Lee Child

Peter Ash came home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with only one souvenir: what he calls his “white static,” the buzzing claustrophobia due to post-traumatic stress that has driven him to spend a year roaming in nature, sleeping under the stars.

But when a friend from the Marines commits suicide, Ash returns to civilization to help the man’s widow…


Book cover of Without Sanction

T. R. Hendricks Why did I love this book?

A former Apache helicopter pilot with multiple deployments under his belt, Don combines his, “been there, done that” with, “write what you know.”

Fans of relentless action and adrenaline should not pass up on Bentley’s Matt Drake series. Or his Jack Ryan Jr. books carrying on the Tom Clancy legacy. Or the next installment of the Mitch Rapp series as he takes over for Vince Flynn’s legacy. Seriously, Don is a busy man. 

In Without Sanction, Bentley’s protagonist experiences both mental and physical manifestations of PTSD, but it’s Don’s description of survivor’s guilt that is truly chilling in its accuracy and moving in its portrayal.

As you read the account of what Drake now has to live with, what he wrestles with on a daily basis, it brings about in the reader a sense of foreboding as close to the real thing as you might imagine.

Only those who have ever had to leave someone behind or look into the eyes of a wounded comrade know the full weight of what Bentley expertly bleeds onto the page.

By Don Bentley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Without Sanction as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

After surviving a clandestine operation that went tragically wrong, Matt Drake escaped Syria with his life, but little else. Now, to save the life of another, he must return to Syria and confront his biggest failure in a debut thriller Lee Child calls "sensationally good."

Defense Intelligence Agency operative Matt Drake broke a promise. A promise that cost three people their lives and crippled his best friend. Three months later, he's paralyzed by survivor's guilt and haunted by the memories of the fallen. Matt may have left Syria, but Syria hasn't left him.

In the midst of his self-imposed exile,…


Book cover of Sleeping Bear

T. R. Hendricks Why did I love this book?

I also said of Sullivan’s Sleeping Bear, “This guy gets it.”

In particular, Connor captures the internal, psychological symptoms of PTSD with his protagonist Cassie Gale, an Army veteran that experiences a soul-shattering trauma.

As a result, Gale withdraws into herself, isolates and seeks solitude away from all her friends and family, and misleads people on her wellbeing, mental state, and readjustment after the event. 

What I found particularly intriguing about Sullivan’s debut novel was the dual aspect of both Cassie’s symptoms, and that of the buried emotions and memories of her dad.

As the plot unfolds and Cassie’s father Jim is pulled into the story, he experiences his own psychological symptoms as events from his service are recollected, all while wrestling with the undeniable panic of a parent worried sick over the fate of their child.

I again was surprised to learn that Connor wasn’t a veteran, as I found his portrayals spot on and incredibly convincing.

By Connor Sullivan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sleeping Bear as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE BARRY AWARD FOR BEST FIRST MYSTERY/CRIME NOVEL

"Sleeping Bear is...one of those rare novels that keeps getting better and better and better. Remember the author's name-Connor Sullivan." -James Patterson

A former Army veteran seeking solitude in the Alaskan wilderness after her husband's death finds herself a pawn in a deadly game with Russia in this white-knuckled and "heart-stopping thrill ride" (Chris Hauty, author of Deep State).

After her young husband's untimely death, Army veteran Cassie Gale decides to take a few days of solitude in the Alaskan wilderness before she starts her new job. But when she…


Book cover of The Guilty One

T. R. Hendricks Why did I love this book?

The one book on my list that doesn’t involve a military veteran, The Guilty One isn’t that much of an outlier as the protagonist is a law enforcement officer.

I thought it important to include amongst my picks not only for the PTSD symptoms present and expertly portrayed by Schweigart, but also for the reminder that a PTSD diagnosis is not relegated to veterans alone.

Military, first responders, and civilians alike that are exposed to and suffer from experiencing trauma are all susceptible to symptoms. PTSD doesn’t discriminate in who it affects. 

What I really liked about Bill’s take was how he incorporated the well-documented physiological effect of the brain’s ability to protect the host in response to trauma.

In the case of his protagonist Cal Farrell, who is the first officer to respond to an active shooter event, he comes upon a scene so horrible that his mind closes off and leaves Cal with no recollection of what occurred after his arrival.

On top of trying to process the day and reconstruct his memory, Cal is also burdened by insomnia, a propensity to isolate, and survivor’s guilt for those he couldn’t save.

All of this is expertly woven into the story. Cal wrestles with these internal symptoms while at the same time trying to stop a serial killer, making for an incredible read. 

By Bill Schweigart,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A hero cop thwarts a brutal murder and can’t remember a thing about it. But memories return—and so do the nightmares in this breathlessly paced thriller for fans of David Ricciardi and Michael Connelly.

Every town needs a hero—and Detective Cal Farrell fits the bill. He stopped an active shooter six months earlier, and now he’s become the darling of the Alexandria press. The problem is that Cal remembers nothing from that day. He’s working with a psychiatrist to recover his memories, but hasn’t had much luck.

Then, on one of his morning runs, he is once again the first…


Book cover of First Blood

T. R. Hendricks Why did I love this book?

The one that started it all.

Prior to being officially recognized, PTSD went by many names. Shell shock for World War I. Combat fatigue/exhaustion in World War II. Vietnam Veterans suffering after returning home were diagnosed with Vietnam syndrome or Post-Vietnam syndrome.

Morrell’s story and the subsequent film adaptation are the earliest recollections I have of a thriller novel and action movie incorporating, and accurately portraying, PTSD in veterans. 

As a boy I loved the story of Rambo and the movie franchise. It’s what fueled my desire to become a Green Beret, and although I never made it into Special Forces, I still proudly served my country. It wasn’t until coming back from Iraq that First Blood really resonated with me on a whole new level.

Morrell paints acute and gripping depictions of what so many Vietnam Veterans experienced; homelessness, aimlessness, joblessness, the inability to reintegrate, flashbacks, anger, resentment, and hyper-aggression.

In my opinion, Morrell’s First Blood stands alone, was ahead of its time, and in many ways was the catalyst for characters created by this current generation of OEF/OIF veteran authors. 

By David Morrell,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?



From New York Times bestselling author, David Morrell, comes a classic thriller that introduced the character of Rambo, one of the most iconic action heroes of the twentieth century.

Called “the father of the modern action novel,” FIRST BLOOD changed the genre. Although the book and the film adaptation have similarities, they are very different, especially its unexpected ending and its greater intensity.If you’ve only experienced the film, you’re in for a surprise.

Once they were soldiers. Rambo, the ragged kid whose presence in town is considered a threat. And Teasle, the Chief of Police of Madison, Kentucky. Both have…


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The Circus Infinite

By Khan Wong,

Book cover of The Circus Infinite

Khan Wong Author Of The Circus Infinite

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Creative expression has been one of my most cherished values since childhood. I've always had a creative hobby of some kind since I was a kid. Not sure how that happened – my parents were tolerant of my interests at best. I made my day job career in the arts, fostering the creativity of community members and supporting the work of artists. Art (in the general sense of all forms of creative expression) is, to me, a defining characteristic of humanity, it makes life worth living, and the way it’s devalued under Capitalism both saddens and inspires me as a creator myself. I’m a writer of speculative fiction and I write about creative people.

Khan's book list on how art is more than art

What is my book about?

Hunted by those who want to study his gravity powers, Jes makes his way to the best place for a mixed-species fugitive to blend in: the pleasure moon where everyone just wants to be lost in the party. It doesn’t take long for him to catch the attention of the crime boss who owns the resort-casino where he lands a circus job, and when the boss gets wind of the bounty on Jes’ head, he makes an offer: do anything and everything asked of him or face vivisection.

With no other options, Jes fulfills the requests: espionage, torture, demolition. But when the boss sets the circus up to take the fall for his about-to-get-busted narcotics operation, Jes and his friends decide to bring the mobster down. And if Jes can also avoid going back to being the prize subject of a scientist who can’t wait to dissect him? Even better.

The Circus Infinite

By Khan Wong,

What is this book about?

Hunted by those who want to study his gravity powers, Jes makes his way to the best place for a mixed-species fugitive to blend in: the pleasure moon where everyone just wants to be lost in the party. It doesn't take long for him to catch the attention of the crime boss who owns the resort-casino where he lands a circus job, and when the boss gets wind of the bounty on Jes' head, he makes an offer: do anything and everything asked of him or face vivisection.

With no other options, Jes fulfills the requests: espionage, torture, demolition. But…


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