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June 18, 2009


Ronnie James Dio

Why no Connelly?

I'd choose him.

From your list, I'd choose Eisler when he's writing Rain books.

Sandford is my historical favorite, but is fading a bit.

I would have chosen Child until Nothing to Lose. I t know the feauture character of that book was named Reacher, but that was a far different Jack than we came to know in the previous 11 books.

Karen Terry

Robin Cook, Tess Gerritsen and Michael Palmer are good medical thriller writers. Their books are edge of your seat reads.


Le Carre is great, but I am not sure that his current output counts as "on edge of seat" thrillers.
Stieg Larsson is one obvious one missing from the list.

Val McDermid, surely as good as some on your list.

Karin Alvtegen is a recent discovery for me - brilliantly exciting (Missing). But not in the "special effects" sense.

The Coroner by M. R. Hall, Burial by Neil Cross (both UK) are well worth a look. I loved them both.


Sticking to your list and the criteria of at least five (5) books, I have to say I recommend Coben, Child and Finder to people looking for a good read. My favorite, however, and the one I think is best would be Barry Eisler. (Does that surprise you, David?)
I, too, prefer the Rain books, but I am willing to give Ben Treven a chance.
Why Barry? There is simply something about the writing style that I enjoy. His books are the only ones that I have read more than once, and each time I read them, I find something new.


The outstanding European thriller writers are the late Stieg Larsson whose work is translated by the American Steven Murray. The third and possibly sadly last book will published in October in the UK.

The superb Norwegian writer Jo Nesbo [translator Don Bartlett] has a fantastic series going with his thrillers.
Also Robert Wilson and Philip Kerr continue to produce top quality well written books.
Le Carre is not the only thriller writer in Europe.


Hate to break it to you folks but Stieg Larson is dead. hardly qualifies as a writer working today.

Patti Abbott

Big Furst fans here.

Cory H

In order, Child, Coben, Silva, Eisler, and Finder in my top 5.


The full body of Stieg Larsson's work has not yet been published in English so his translator Steven Murray, who is very much alive, might be considered as a proxy working today. I am being pedantic but then the list is hardly representative with only Le Carre and Child [who lives in and writes about the US] as the only Europeans.
We just don't want you guys to miss out on some great books being written by European writers. Larsson's character of Lisbeth Salander is one of the great inventions in modern thriller writing.

David J. Montgomery

Good suggestions, folks. I like this.

Please note that, as originally stated, this list was NOT meant to be all-inclusive. (I threw out the names that I could think of and that I'd read in the last year or so.) That's why I invited suggestions and discussion.

Connelly and Crais are both writers whom I enjoy and admire. I suppose I still think of both of them as being mystery writers, although they've certainly been edging into the thriller realm in recent years. (A common trend.)

As I've mentioned before, I was not enamored of Stieg Larsson's work. Even if he met the criteria I set out, I would not include him. I found Dragon Tattoo to be an awful bore.

That's a problem I encounter with a lot of books that aspire to be thrillers -- they're just too slow. I think in order to be a successful thriller a book has to have a certain minimum level of narrative velocity. And I find a lot of books that try for that fall short.

That's one of the reasons that writers like Joe Finder and Daniel Silva rank so highly in my estimation. In addition to good plots, interesting characters and solid writing, they have the kind of pacing that one really wants in a thriller -- and I think that may be the hardest trick of all.

David J. Montgomery

Speaking of Europeans... Two of my favorite up-and-coming thriller writers are Brits. Nick Stone and Charles Cumming are highly recommended. (Just got a galley of the new Cumming book today. Looking forward to that.)

Tom Rob Smith is also very promising, although Secret Speech paled in comparison to Child 44. Also Mark Billingham's In the Dark was wonderful, although I didn't care for his earlier books as much. I think Simon Kernick is another promising British writer -- his book Deadline reminded me a lot of Harlan Coben -- although he's not quite there yet for me.

For American newcomers, I'm high on both Alex Berenson and Brent Ghelfi. I think they're keepers. Jesse Kellerman is really good, too.

Although they're not writing pure thrillers, I think Alafair Burke and Allison Gaylin are doing interesting things.

There are a lot of really good writers coming along.

(Again, these are not meant to be comprehensive recommendations. These are just the ones I'm thinking of and I always miss some people.)


David, The Girl Who Played With Fire is a much more exciting book and the third in the series is even better I am told by the translator.


Yes, interesting list indeed, plenty of great names on it as well as few missing -

Keep up the good work


David J. Montgomery

Someone else who's great, although he doesn't write much anymore: Frederich Forsyth.

Hey Ali! Thanks for stopping by.

David J. Montgomery

A friend wrote in and suggested Dean Koontz and Robert Harris...

I love Koontz' books. I guess I don't really think of him as a thriller writer, but I don't know why.

I've only read one of Harris' books -- The Ghost -- but I liked it a lot. Definitely recommended.

Cameron Hughes

Agree on most of those, I'd say Eisler is the best these days.

I'd add David Morrell, Stephen Hunter, and James Grady.

Cameron Hughes

Oh, and Joe R. Lansdale and John Connolly. Don Winslow.

David J. Montgomery

I tried one of Stephen Hunter's books -- one of the most recent ones -- and didn't care for it at all. But I've always heard good stuff about his early work.

Roddy Reta

Greg Iles is essentially a thriller writer, and a very good one indeed. He's very eclectic in what he writes, so he doesn't get as much attention as he should. BLACK CROSS is one of my favorite books of all time.

Joy Fielding divides people, but SEE JANE RUN is one of the best thrillers I've ever read.


Thriller as a genre may be a subjective term.
My favorties are

Dennis Lehane
Lincoln Child & Douglas Preston
Greg Isles
John Burdett
Val McDermid


You've forgotten a couple of Chicago writers in Marcus Sakey and Sean Chercover. I think they are both excellent. My favorites include Lehane, Connelly, Crais, Perry.

David J. Montgomery

Me, forget Sean Chercover? Never! He's a terrific writer. But with only 2 published books, he doesn't meet the criteria. Plus he's writing mysteries at this point, although I wouldn't be surprised if that changed in the future.

I've enjoyed some of Lehane's stuff, but he's not in the pantheon for me. He also don't write thrillers...I'm not even sure he writes crime novels anymore.

R. Baird

Second the comment as to Don Winslow; he is superb. Dennis Lehane has a significant body of work, most recently more literature than thriller. Same for George Pellicanos, who wrote episodes of the Wire. Robert Littell writes first rate espionage. John Shannon and Michael Nava both cover LA from very different perspectives.


I'm new here and reading you guys make ask my self if a thriller is the same as a mystery.
The list David(Hi David, great work) wrote at the beginning contains, in my knowledge, thriller writers, whether authors such as Nesbo, Connolly, Lehane(K&G series…), Robert Wilson are essentially mystery writers that throws some action at some point in the book(mostly at the end) giving the book an edge of thriller-ish.

Wrong? Probably!

Anyway, cheers

David J. Montgomery

Mysteries and thrillers have, I think, different goals and they use different tools to achieve those goals.

Mysteries are about -- big surprise -- solving a mystery. Something happens in the beginning and the rest of the book is geared towards figuring it out. They tend to be more contemplative and are usually mono-paced.

Thrillers are more free-form, but generally attempt to provoke an emotional response in the reader -- i.e., they try to thrill. They often use variable pacing, shifting POVs and other tools to keep the reader in suspense and keep them turning the pages quickly. (That's why thrillers are often called "pageturners.")

Obviously we're dealing with shades of grade -- something that should be familiar to readers of crime fiction. Books can share elements of both. And it's usually easier to definitively say that a book is a mystery rather than a thriller. (It also doesn't help that most crime/suspense novels are billed as "thrillers" these days because they tend to be more commercially successful.)

It's a distinction that is usually only interesting to critics and other people who tend to overthink things.

Cameron Hughes

I have more trouble explaining the difference between thrillers and suspense novels. Thats largely why I think most novels that are actually suspense are marketed as thrillers.

Westlake's The Ax, for example, is suspense.

Randy Frank

My favorite mystery/crime thriller authors, who are still writing, are George Pellecanos and Elmore Leonard. Can't believe no one has mentioned them yet! (except for one comment!) They both create very real characters and paint scenes that ring true. Both authors rise above the genre and make keen observations about race, urban life and politics.

Don Gorman

What no Vince Flynn? He's an "edge of your seat" kind of read. Like reading 24 on the page.

David J. Montgomery

Adore Pelecanos, but he's solidly in the realm of mystery/crime. He's certainly one of the best out there, though.

I tried a Vince Flynn book or two. Not for me.

Barry Eisler

David, I'm honored to be included in a list of so many terrific writers. Thanks. Congratulations again on the Beast gig -- great writing there. And holy shiite, didn't realize CFD was back! Nice to see it.

-- Barry

David J. Montgomery

I wouldn't necessarily say that CFD is back.... I still plan to use it mainly as a tool to keep people up to date on my work. But if an occasional thought strikes me, I might share it.


As I'm reading John Hart's Last Child, add him to the list. From the excellent King of Lies, followed by Down River, Hart is an author to watch. Though the subject genre states mystery, all 3 books are fast paced, heart-pounding reads and qualify as thrillers for me.

David J. Montgomery

I loved Hart's first two books. A very talented writer.

Allen Appel

I use a short definition to explain the differences between thrillers and mysteries.
Mystery: A crime has occurred and must be solved.
Thriller: A crime is going to occur and must be stopped.
Doesn't work 100% but is a pretty good indicator.


Connelly is my favorite author, but I don't think he writes thrillers. Vince Flynn, Brad Thor, and Ted Bell do. Memorial Day, Path of the Assassin, and Tsar are tough to beat in my estimation.


I would say Stieg Larsson but unfortunately he passed away in 2004. I am a huge fan of the Millenium Series and am dying in anticipation for the release of the english translation of the third book. I also agree with the previous poster that Lisbeth Salander is one of the best literary characters in this genre. As a mother of someone with Asperger's Syndrome, I can quite relate to her characterization.


what about john sandford ??
i read 2 prey books and i am reading the third , i found them really good , but i didn't try anyone else , so what's ur advice ??

H. Kolodkin

my choices are (in no particular order)
Lee Child, Jeffery Deaver, Thomas Perry, Frederick Forsyth, and David Hagberg. I always look for books by these writers.


bill osmo

With regard to medical thrillers, Bill Clem has a significant body of work in that genre and is not as well known as Crichton or Cook, but his books are just as enjoyable.

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I reckon I'm the best. I may have messed up with MERCY (trying to be "fair" to the solutionist) but I reckon I'll get 'em with NO WAY OUT.


I have to give it to Barry Eisler at this moment… I just read his first four John Rain stories and found for the most part good solid writing that flowed and sparked when needed and also made sense that it could happen just the way he wrote it. I’m hopeful he doesn’t start bloviating as some writers do when they run out of steam (creative ideas).
He has a good solid protagonist in John Rain and could use plastic surgery to bring him back to his original look of Caucasian and Japanese and continue John’s stories all over the world for all sorts of the good, bad and the ugly people that hire him.

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I am a huge fan of the Millenium Series and am dying in anticipation for the release of the english translation of the third book. I also agree with the previous poster that Lisbeth Salander is one of the best literary characters in this genre.


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mike harr

thanx for this site---helpful!

i am 69

from age 20 to 67 i read zippo thrillers

past 3 years - about 150 ?
(go figure)

(i started with grisham & read his all & still like his style) (stays on topic!)


Thanks for the list. I was looking for some new authors to read. I can't believe Steven James is not on that list!

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David J. Montgomery is a writer and critic specializing in books and publishing. He is an emeritus columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and The Daily Beast, and has also written for USA Today, the Washington Post, and other fine publications. A former professor of History, he lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and two daughters.

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