What makes a thriller thrilling? Nonstop action, precarious situations, hair-raising suspense, and heroic characters all exemplify the best thrillers on the market. But how can you be sure the book you choose is electrifying, not exasperating? Just consult the book editors at Reader’s Digest Select Editions who’ve spent 50 years finding the best, most satisfying stories that will race your heart and grip your imagination while you turn the pages. “People always ask us what are really the best books out there,” says Laura Kelly, editor-in-chief of Select Editions. “They know we’re simply looking for well-told stories and won’t be fooled by all the hype around certain books and authors.”
For your reading pleasure, Kelly’s team has compiled a list of real double-trouble: the world’s best thrillers, featuring both recent and timeless stories. They’re organized by 10 popular thriller categories.
1. The Spy Thriller
The Spy Who Came In from the Cold by John le Carré (1963) is the quintessential espionage thriller. Set during the Cold War, this rich tale still captivates with its spellbinding portrayal of the world of secret agents. And don’t miss The Avenger by Frederick Forsyth (2003) the 21st century’s top spy pulse-pounder, by the author of The Day of the Jackal.
2. The Techno Thriller
Gadgets, gadgets and more gadgets. Ian Fleming started it all with James Bond and his arsenal of clever, useful gadgets, some not so far-fetched anymore. The best Bond book? From Russia with Love (1957). Get to know the real Bond, not Sean, Roger, Timothy or Pierce, by imbibing him on the printed page. For a more recent techno thriller, The Blue Nowhere by Jeffery Deaver (2001) stimulates the imagination with its truly surprising twists and turns, and a fascinating computer-based plot.
3. The Classic Thriller
The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells (1898) was one of the world’s pioneering thrillers, introducing this genre, unknown at the time, to worldwide acclaim. And the story is still alive and well today. We agree: Tom Cruise is cute, but treat yourself to the real deal and snatch up the book. For a more recent classic thriller, try Whiteout by Ken Follett (2004), the latest gem by the author of Eye of the Needle. It’s the chilling story of what happens when biological weapons fall into the wrong hands, and the blizzard that builds over the course of the book will cool you right off at the beach. Visit www.selecteditions.com for excerpts from Whiteout and info on Ken Follett.
4. The Psychological Suspense Thriller
If you get your adrenaline rush from mind games rather than chase scenes, psychological suspense is for you. For sheer creepiness and terror, nothing beats The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris (1988). More recently, Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane (2003), will not only scare you silly but fool you as well. Just try to guess the ending. Our one admonition: Don’t read these books home alone at night!
5. The Legal Thriller
Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow (1987) features terrific characters, a deftly executed plot, and fascinating legal insight, making it the definitive legal thriller. And for an exciting new author, don’t miss In the Shadow of the Law by Kermit Roosevelt (2005), a firecracker of a debut by a former clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter.
6. The Medical Thriller
Medical paperwork these days is pretty terrifying, but you can get true terror in these two great medical thrillers. Read Coma by Robin Cook (1977), the unforgettable saga of patients who check into the hospital for “minor” surgery and never wake up. For the strong of stomach, The Surgeon by Tess Gerritsen (2001) is gruesomely chilling and addictively page-turning.
7. The Sci-Fi Thriller
Sure he’s done dinosaurs and television emergency rooms, but Michael Crichton’s first novel, The Andromeda Strain (1969), still ranks as one of the top science fiction thrillers of all time. What could be scarier than microscopic killer germs run amok? Representing the larger end of the weird-creature spectrum, Mammoth by John Varley (2005) imaginatively spins a yarn starring a billionaire, a brilliant nerd, and a gifted animal wrangler whose newest charge happens to be a woolly mammoth.
8. The Military Thriller
You’ve seen the movie, but don’t miss the book. The Great EscapeKilling Floor (1997) or Child’s latest bestseller, One Shot (2005). Or, for that matter, pick up any riveting Reacher book in between.
9. The True-Crime Thriller
Yes, real life can be stranger than fiction, and true-crime thrillers prove this. The most famous book in this nonfiction genre is Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood (1966). The author spent months in the Midwest painstakingly retracing the steps of two young rural killers — and then wrote about it chillingly. Another excellent and more recent true-crime book is Green River, Running Red by Ann Rule (2004), the true story of the notorious Green River serial killer who terrorized the Seattle area for decades.
10. The Action / Adventure Thriller
Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors by Piers Paul Read (1974) set the gold standard for heroic survival stories, with this true tale of a Uruguayan rugby team whose plane crashes, resulting in an incredible 10-week physical and emotional ordeal. Changing altitudes from mountains to the ocean floor, Shadow Divers, the hit 2005 book by Robert Kurson, re-enacts the story of an extraordinary deep-sea discovery and adventure.
You can see why thrillers have always been one of the most popular modern reading genres, with dozens of them dominating the bestseller lists each year. “Thrillers stand alone for their sheer page-turning quotient,” says editor Kelly. “Once you’ve been in the grip of a good thriller you can’t wait for your next thriller fix.”