The best thrillers to educate, illuminate, and escape into guilt-free

Who am I?

I’ve also always been interested in the unexplained, which is why my thrillers usually have a blend of the political and mystical. Perhaps it’s the mixed background Russian/Polish/English, Jewish/Protestant, and being a global citizen I've felt compelled to illuminate these lesser-known corners of history. I find the thriller structure to be the most entertaining and accessible both as a reader and writer. I also write historical fiction and erotica as well as short stories. My original training was as a sculptor and writer for screen and stage, and I like to create as visceral and visual a read as possible for my readers. 


I wrote...

Sphinx

By Tobsha Learner,

Book cover of Sphinx

What is my book about?

A thriller set in Alexandria, Egypt in 1977 against a backdrop of political turmoil – when Oliver Warnock, a self-made English geophysicist working in the oil trade loses his marine archaeologist wife in an unexplained drowning amid the underwater ruins of Cleopatra’s palace he finds himself swept up in a quest for a mysterious ancient astrarium that transforms his life, his world and even the way he thinks about time.

The books I picked & why

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The Constant Gardener

By John Le Carré,

Book cover of The Constant Gardener

Why this book?

Le Carre is one of the greats, for me, he is the perfect blend of great plot choices, dialogue, and brilliantly succinct description. This book is classic Le Carre, set in and around the emotional labyrinth of the British High Commission in 1980s Nairobi, the murder of a promiscuous young wife of a British diplomat leads to corporate corruption involving the Aids pandemic and big Pharma. As an author, Carre has always taught me the importance of in-depth characterisation and solid back-story. No one has written so grippingly about male menopause and the existentially exhausted world of post-colonial British spydom. It was also a political thriller that inspired me to take on lesser-known historical travesties using this genre as a way of telling the ‘silenced’ stories. 


The Talented Mr. Ripley

By Patricia Highsmith,

Book cover of The Talented Mr. Ripley

Why this book?

This book taught me that villains can be compelling protagonists. It is a wonderful portrait of an amoral aspirational underdog who, through the ability to mimic the pretensions and manners of the wealthy, successfully cheats his way into the persona of his obsession, after murdering him. And, despite the fact he lacks empathy, he is fascinating, his motive, even more disturbing, relatable. Highsmith taught me the importance of the back-story of characters to understand them psychologically. Once you have established that, you can take the reader anywhere and this book does. Part of the fascination and tension is reading how he’s getting away with it and the fact that he succeeds is pure genius and, in itself, a statement on society. 


The Spies of Warsaw

By Alan Furst,

Book cover of The Spies of Warsaw

Why this book?

I’ve always felt humanity could avoid wars and repeating itself through the study of historical cycles. And what struck me about this book is how it is the perfect depiction of the run-up to the 2nd world war. Furst creates an amazingly perspective on mid 20th century Europe in this regard. My grandfather was Polish and lost many of his relatives in the Holocaust; The Spies of Warsaw is a look into old Pre-Soviet Poland, its complex nationalism, and the run-up to Hitler’s ‘sudden’ invasion - the trigger to the 2nd WW. But, instead of broad historical troupes, Furst depicts ordinary, fallible people swept up in the machinations of survival and spy-dom. As a European of mixed heritage, this is understandable poignant to me. As an author, I have tried to tackle how people can get swept up into the political and how this ends up shaping their destinies – whether they like it or not. 


The Day of the Jackal

By Frederick Forsyth,

Book cover of The Day of the Jackal

Why this book?

This book was a huge influence on me in terms of plot structure. Meticulously researched, it taught me the importance of priming your canvas – setting up the backdrop and backstory to create incredibly high stakes, so by the time Forsyth unleashes his protagonist it is totally gripping. A portrayal of the real-life assassination attempt on French President Charles de Gaulle instigated by a right-wing paramilitary group furious with the way he finally gave Algiers independence, Forsyth’s genius is the mix of historical fact and fictionalized psychology of the central anti-hero, a hired British mercenary. What I love about the character is his ruthlessness and utterly amoral use of his sexuality to get what he needs for the hit, it also encouraged me to write fictionalized accounts of real historical characters.


Fatherland

By Robert Harris,

Book cover of Fatherland

Why this book?

Fatherland was Robert Harris’s first book and arguably one of his finest. A portrait of functional totalitarian evil, it is a projection of what might have happened if Hitler won the war - the first of this genre. I loved it for both the visceral atmosphere of Berlin under fascism albeit futuristic and also the very fallible moral quandary of the German detective protagonist. Originally recommended by a Dutch boyfriend of mine, I found it both terrifying - I genetically would not have existed under such a regime - and fascinating. The other thing I love about this book is the ironic manner Harris sets the actual real-life world leaders up in the 1960s and how they might have quite likely thrived under Hitler’s world dominance.

5 book lists we think you will like!

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