If you are anything like me, you love to curl up with a good thriller to pass the time.
But, if you read a lot of thrillers, you might be thinking, are there any good ones left?
I’m going to give you my five best thrillers to add to your reading list a little later in this post, but for now, let’s take a short detour and talk about an important topic: What’s the difference between a mystery and a thriller?
Mystery Versus Thriller
If you read or write in the mystery or thriller genre regularly, you’ve probably come across these terms. While there is certainly some overlap—and a lot of confusion—around which one is which, let’s see if we can straighten that out before we get into book recommendations.
A mystery is a story in which the protagonist is busy solving a puzzle. Think Sherlock Holmes. A crime is committed, and usually a detective, police officer, or amateur sleuth is somehow brought into the case to solve it. Puzzle pieces drop here and there throughout the story, and at the end, the mystery is solved.
A thriller is a story that features the tension between the protagonist and the antagonist from page one. Frequently, thrillers will start with the antagonist taking a swing, followed by the entry of the protagonist. In other words, the criminal may appear on page one, before we ever know who might come in to solve the crime.
Even with this definition, you may see thrillers that have components of mystery and vice versa. No problem! Just enjoy . . .
What Makes a Great Thriller?
Now that we know the difference between a mystery and a thriller, what makes a GREAT thriller? Here are the things that I look for:
- A fast-moving plot. Thrillers are all about the action. When you think of iconic movies like, “The Hunt for the Red October,” you think more about the plot than the people. That’s the goal of a thriller—to push the reader forward into the story.
- Interesting characters. I love quirky characters. While thrillers are typically plot-driven, it doesn’t mean that’s all that happens. In fact, what helps us to connect with characters are their past mistakes, issues and foibles. A thriller with interesting characters is a winner in my book.
- Environment that complicates things. The setting of a book can make things easier or harder. Picture this: a hero in a gun fight. Okay, fine, but boring. A hero who is in a gun fight in an abandoned warehouse during a hurricane? That’s interesting.
Now that you know what I’m looking for in thrillers, let me share five of my current favorites:
- The Kill Artist by Daniel Silva. What I love about Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon series is the way that he balances the contrast between Gabriel’s public-facing persona and his darker side. This is a series that will transport you to some of the most beautiful parts of Europe, remind you of some of humanity’s most poignant history, and leave you breathless with tension. Overall, the character development, pacing and setting are beautiful. Silva leaves you wanting more. Good thing it is a long series!
- Code Name Camelot by Daniel Archer. The fascinating part of this story is the characterization or lack thereof. Noah Wolf, the protagonist, has no emotions after a unique form of PTSD. What some people might find to be a deficit, Noah ends up using for good in this fast-paced thriller. If you love the balance of action and quirky characters, this one is for you.
- In the Heart of the Fire by Dean Koontz. The main character of this series of short reads is “Nameless,” literally. Koontz doesn’t give us much of a background on the main character, other than there is someone in the background of his life who provides him with a target, a gun, and money for travel. Mystery and suspense surround this series of thrillers with a quick paced plot and a healthy dose of vigilante justice.
- The Atlantis Gene by A. G. Riddle. Agent David Vale gets pulled into the hunt to understand a mysterious structure that appears in the Antarctic. By the look of it, it has been there for thousands of years. He’s not the only one looking. This thriller takes the reader to several locations throughout the globe with a high-stakes conflict—without Vale’s actions, humanity may perish.
- Foreign Deceit by Jeff Carson. David Wolf’s brother is dead. When David doesn’t believe the circumstances around what is being called a suicide, he leaves his almost nearly completed promotion to sherriff to travel to Italy. While there, he tracks down the real reason for his brother’s death.
These are just a few of my current favorites in the thriller genre. Although there is certainly some overlap between mystery and thriller, I think you’ll find the fast pace of these books to keep you glued to the page wherever you are.