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September 7, 2008 / C.T. Henry

Six Thrillers You Shouldn’t Miss

Thrillers today are a dime a dozen.  Most fail to thrill for a variety of reasons:

  • The story takes too long to get moving
  • It’s too predictable
  • It’s all plot and no character development (like The Da Vinci Code)
  • The ending is lousy
  • The action sequences are boring

Today’s best thrillers have a fast pace, a character you really care about, and enough plot twists to keep you relentlessly on edge.  In fact, you can actually observe when a thriller utterly captivates a reader.  I remember watching my wife read Tell No One.  She was constantly exhaling every few pages just to give herself a break from the exhilarating prose.

A truly great thriller is a gem to treasure.  Here is my list of favorites (in order) that are guaranteed to thrill:

1. Tell No One – Harlan Coben – 2001
Book Description: For Dr. David Beck, the loss was shattering. And every day for the past eight years, he has relived the horror of what happened. The gleaming lake. The pale moonlight. The piercing screams. The night his wife was taken. The last night he saw her alive.

Everyone tells him it’s time to move on, to forget the past once and for all. But for David Beck, there can be no closure. A message has appeared on his computer, a phrase only he and his dead wife know. Suddenly Beck is taunted with the impossible — that somewhere, somehow, Elizabeth is alive.

Beck has been warned to tell no one. And he doesn’t. Instead, he runs from the people he trusts the most, plunging headlong into a search for the shadowy figure whose messages hold out a desperate hope.

But already Beck is being hunted down. He’s headed straight into the heart of a dark and deadly secret — and someone intends to stop him before he gets there.

2. Fatal Flaw – William Lashner– 2003
Book Description: “Lust will make a fool of any man, but it is only love that can truly ruin him.” So says Victor Carl, the ethically adventurous Philadelphia lawyer who usually ends up doing the right thing, but, as his law partner says, often for all the wrong reasons.

Late one night Victor gets a panicked phone call from an old law school classmate. Guy Forrest claims he has just found the body of his fiancée lying murdered in the house they shared. The victim is Hailey Prouix, for whose love Guy had abandoned his children, his job, his wife, his life. Hailey had mesmerized every man she ever met — including, unbeknownst to Guy, Victor Carl. Convinced that Guy is Hailey’s killer, Victor agrees to represent him, all the while secretly vowing to see justice done, whatever the cost.

The plan would have to be dirty, base, vile, the plan would have to exhibit a complete lack of moral fiber in the soul of the deranged maniac who dreamed it up. I was just the man for the job.

But when Victor’s certainty begins to crack, he embarks on a quest that will take him from Philadelphia to Las Vegas to the valleys of West Virginia and back again. He digs further and further into Hailey Prouix’s past and discovers that nothing is as simple as it had seemed, especially the woman he thought he loved.

Who was Hailey Prouix? Behind the answer lurks a killer. As Guy’s murder trial heads toward its shattering conclusion, Victor must find the brutal truth before the mechanism of retribution he himself has set into motion falls like a hatchet, smack on his client’s head.

3. Garden of Beasts – Jeffrey Deaver – 2004
Book Description: Paul Schumann, a German American living in New York City in 1936, is a mobster hitman known equally for his brilliant tactics and for taking only “righteous” assignments. But then Paul gets caught. And the arresting officer offers him a stark choice: prison or covert government service. Paul is asked to pose as a journalist covering the summer Olympics taking place in Berlin. He’s to hunt down and kill Reinhardt Ernst — the ruthless architect of Hitler’s clandestine rearmament. If successful, Paul will be pardoned and given the financial means to go legit; if he refuses the job, his fate will be Sing Sing and the electric chair.

Paul travels to Germany, takes a room in a boarding house near the Tiergarten — the huge park in central Berlin but also, literally, the “Garden of Beasts” — and begins his hunt. The next forty-eight hours are a feverish cat-and-mouse chase, as Paul stalks Ernst through Berlin while a dogged Berlin police officer and the entire Third Reich apparatus search frantically for the American.

Garden of Beasts features a cast of perfectly realized locals, Olympic athletes and senior Nazi officials — some real, some fictional. With hairpin plot twists, the reigning “master of ticking-bomb suspense” (People) plumbs the nerve-jangling paranoia of prewar Berlin and steers the story to a breathtaking and wholly unpredictable ending.

4. Shutter Island – Dennis Lehane– 2003
Book Description: Summer, 1954. U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels has come to Shutter Island, home of Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Along with his partner, Chuck Aule, he sets out to find an escaped patient, a murderess named Rachel Solando, as a hurricane bears down upon them.

But nothing at Ashecliffe Hospital is what it seems. And neither is Teddy Daniels. Is he there to find a missing patient? Or has he been sent to look into rumors of Ashecliffe’s radical approach to psychiatry? An approach that may include drug experimentation, hideous surgical trials, and lethal countermoves in the shadow war against Soviet brainwashing. . . . Or is there another, more personal reason why he has come there?

As the investigation deepens, the questions only mount:

  • How has a barefoot woman escaped the island from a locked room?
  • Who is leaving clues in the form of cryptic codes?
  • Why is there no record of a patient committed there just one year before?
  • What really goes on in Ward C?
  • Why is an empty lighthouse surrounded by an electrified fence and armed guards?

The closer Teddy and Chuck get to the truth, the more elusive it becomes, and the more they begin to believe that they may never leave Shutter Island. Because someone is trying to drive them insane. . . .

5. Running Blind – Lee Child – 2000
Book Description: People say that knowledge is power. The more knowledge, the more power. Suppose you knew the winning numbers for the lottery. What would you do? You would run to the store. You would mark the numbers on the play card. And you would win. Same for the stock market. Same for basketball or the horses or anything. Same for killing people…

So begins Running Blind, the electrifying new novel in the acclaimed series featuring ex-military policeman Jack Reacher.

Women are dying. Women who have nothing in common except the fact they once worked for the military. And they knew Jack Reacher. How and why these women are in danger completely baffles the elite FBI team working the case. There is no trace evidence. There are no links between the victims. Their bodies have no fatal wounds. And the killer has entered their homes and exited again like a summer breeze. Are these the perfect crimes? There is only one certainty: there is a new kind of killer out there, one so calm, cautious, and careful that even the brilliant Reacher is left running blind.

6. The Watchman – Robert Crais – 2007
Book Description: Larkin Conner Barkley lives like the City of Angels is hers for the taking. Young and staggeringly rich, she speeds through the city during its loneliest hours, blowing through red after red in her Aston Martin as if running for her life. Until out of nowhere a car appears, and with it the metal-on-metal explosion of a terrible accident. Dazed, Larkin attempts to help the other victims. And finds herself the sole witness in a secret federal investigation.

For maybe the first time in her life, Larkin wants to do the right thing. But by agreeing to cooperate with the authorities, she becomes the target for a relentless team of killers. And when the U.S. Marshals and the finest security money can buy can’t protect her, Larkin’s wealthy family turns to the one man money can’t buy — Joe Pike.

Pike lives a world away from the palaces of Beverly Hills. He’s an ex-cop, ex-Marine, ex-mercenary who owes a bad man a favor, and that favor is to keep Larkin alive. The one upside of the job is reuniting with Bud Flynn, Pike’s LAPD training officer, and a man Pike reveres as a father. The downside is Larkin Barkley, who is the uncontrollable cover girl for self-destruction — and as deeply alone as Pike.

Pike commits himself to protecting the girl, but when they immediately come under fire, he realizes someone is selling them out. In defiance of Bud and the authorities, Pike drops off the grid with the girl and follows his own rules of survival: strike fast, hit hard, hunt down the hunters. With the help of private investigator Elvis Cole, Pike uncovers a web of lies and betrayals, and the stunning revelation that even the cops are not who they seem. As the body count rises, Pike’s biggest threat might come from the girl herself, a lost soul in the City of Angels, determined to destroy herself unless Joe Pike can teach her the value of life…and love.

What’s your favorite thriller?  Have you read any of these books?  Do you agree or disagree with any one of them?  Please comment below.

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6 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. MysteryLover / Sep 13 2008 8:48 am

    Hi, great blog btw!

    My favorite thrillers:

    + Blindsighted, Kisscut, A Faint Cold Fear, Indelible, Fractured by Karin Slaughter… AMAZING AUTHOR!

    + Some Patricia Cornwell books.

    + Vanish, The Mephisto Club by Tess Gerritsen

    + The Messenger by Daniel Silva

    + Violet’s are Blue by James Patterson

  2. henryct / Sep 13 2008 10:59 am

    Have you read Silva’s The Confessor yet? I was going to start with that book, since I’ve never read Daniel Silva yet. Or do you recommend The Messenger?

    I’ve heard Vanish by Tess Gerritsen is excellent. I’ll put it on my TBR list.

  3. MysteryLover / Sep 18 2008 3:43 pm

    Nope, haven’t read THE CONFESSOR yet. The Messenger was excellent, really good read.

    You should really give Tess Gerritsen, Karin Slaughter and Patricia Cornwell a try… Patricia Cornwell’s From Potter’s Field made me fall in love with mysteries and books in general. That book is my favourite read to date.

  4. henryct / Sep 19 2008 2:51 pm

    I just bought Gerritsen’s Vanish. Thanks for the recommendation.

  5. Mike ONeill / Sep 28 2008 12:54 am

    Hello,

    My favorite books:
    THE COFFIN DANCER – Jeffery Deaver
    THE EMPTY CHAIR – Jeffery Deaver
    THE CONCRETE BLONDE – Michael Connelly
    STALKED – Brian Freeman
    THE DEVIL’S TEARDROP – Jeffery Deaver

    As you can see, I love JD novels mainly because he keeps me on my toes guessing until the very end and he is great at twists throughout. I think some authors like Michael Connelly write novels which might be considered a great mystery instead of a fast-paced ‘thriller’.

    Of your list above, I’ve read TELL NO ONE, GARDEN OF BEASTS, SHUTTER ISLAND – enjoyed them all. I have FATAL FLAW in my ‘to read’ stack; read one Lashner book. I am on hiatus of finishing Lee Child’s DIE TRYING right now – 2nd for me in his Reacher series but Dennis Lehane’s THE GIVEN DAY is my current read. Lastly, I’ve read one Crais book, THE MONKEY’S RAINCOAT. I agree with all of your thriller authors for quality and look forward to getting to these other books.

    THE COFFIN DANCER is the book that hooked me into reading. The first chapter and ending really amazed me – not knowing the twist of Deaver novels. I can say that no book has topped it yet for me…it is my #1 thriller.

    Great website – I found it off of Val McDermid’s website. I will be a frequent visitor.

    Thanks,
    Mike O.

  6. henryct / Sep 28 2008 7:19 pm

    Mike –

    I’m glad you found my site. Jeffrey Deaver is an excellent writer, but for some reason most forensic thrillers don’t appeal to me. I love his non-Lincoln Rhyme novels more, partly because I have a hard time buying the Rhyme/Sachs relationship. With that said, I’ve only read The Bone Collector. Perhaps in the future, I’ll return to the series for one more try and take your advice to read The Coffin Dancer.

    After reading Immoral by Brain Freeman, I’m also looking forward to reading Stalked. Thanks for the suggestion.

    You can skip around in the Jack Reacher series. Having read all of Lee Child’s books, he has a tendency to write in a cycle, where one year his book is exceptional and another year, it’s lukewarm.

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