Mary Higgins Clark wrote 56 best-selling books during her (almost) 40-year writing career. She was known predominantly for her gripping suspense novels but also wrote four collections of short stories, a historical novel, a memoir, and two children’s books.
She wrote many stand-alone novels, but a lot of her suspense writings can be categorized by series: Where Are the Children, Alvirah and Willy, Regan Reilly, and Under Suspicion.
She sold her first novel for only $3,000 but for her second publication, she collected more than $1.5 million, demonstrating how quickly her popularity grew. Her novels continue to be read, even after her death, and she has inspired many writers to delve into suspense writing, although many have not produced the same quality of thriller writing as she did.
Her stories are known for being clean, well-structured, engaging, and featuring complex characters. Although she’s one of the top thriller writers out there and few can come close, let’s take a look at the 20 best thriller authors in the same genre.
The ‘thriller’ genre encompasses a spectrum of sub-genres, such as crime thriller, detective thriller, action thriller, psychological thriller, political thriller, science fiction thriller, etc. This list will cover most of these, giving you plenty of choices, regardless of your literary preferences.
James Dover Grant, more commonly known by his pen name, Lee Child, is a British author primarily famous for his thriller novels .
His Jack Reacher novel series has been widely read and recommended. It follows the former American military policeman, Jack Reacher, who is arrested for a murder he did not commit. He is forced to find an escape from conviction, dealing with corrupt police, scheming politicians, and a bad reputation along the way.
The novel series is made up of 26 books and a short story collection.
Well-known for her fantastically suspenseful Gone Girl novel, Gillian Flynn is one of the most high-rated thriller authors out there.
She brilliantly blends mystery, complex relationships, psychology, and murder to create the enthralling story that, in 2014, was made into a film adaptation starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike.
If you’re a fan of thrillers and you haven’t yet read this modern classic, pop this on your reading list!
Cleverly, Brown intertwines science, historical fact, religion, and psychology to create these suspenseful thriller novels. The novels have been made into high-grossing films with the same names, featuring famous names such as Tom Hanks, Ian McKellen, Ewan McGregor, and Stellan Skarsgård.
If you have Netflix, you may have watched the two highly popular television series The Stranger. This was highly praised and gripped viewers right until the very end. It is based on a book of the same name, written by American writer Harlan Coben.
The two stories, though different in setting, plot, and characters, both follow storylines riddled with secrecy. You won’t know which characters to trust and the revelations are guaranteed to take you off guard.
This American-Irish writer is best known for her psychological thriller In the Woods, which is part of her Dublin Murder Squad series. The story follows the events after the murder of a 12-year-old girl.
Tana French has won numerous awards for her contribution to thriller and mystery novels and frequently interpolates psychology within her stories.
Pieces of Her has recently been adapted into a Netflix television series, which has encouraged a whole new readership. In total, she has written 21 novels, which have sold more than 120 million copies worldwide.
Slaughter is a well-decorated writer, having received the Goodreads Choice Award, the Edgar Award twice, and the Barry Award.
No doubt you’ve heard of this big name – the ‘King’ of thrillers himself. He often merges horror, psychology, suspense, crime, and fantasy to create almighty stories that have taken over the literary scene.
Classics such as It, The Shining, Misery, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, Carrie, and Cujo were all written by King, most of which have been transformed into high-grossing movies that are favorites across the world.
Her novels often flirt with the supernatural and routinely dig deep into psychology and crime, all with creepy, but gripping, undertones.
She is worth the hype she’s received over the years, hence Rebecca selling over 2.8 million copies just between 1938 and 1965.
Another great name dominating the thriller genre is Patricia Highsmith. Her best-sellers Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley are both psychological dramas that feature secrecy, exposure, and murder.
Highsmith’s writing will engross you so deeply, you’ll think you’re there. Another fantastic author with a plethora of must-reads.
This best-selling British-Cypriot writer is well-known for his psychological thriller The Silent Patient, which follows Alicia who is forced to receive psychological treatment after killing her husband.
This highly-awarded novel will have you second-guessing everything you thought you knew. Gripping, suspenseful, and definitely worth the hype. Go and give it a read.
This author who famously brought to life the story of Hannibal Lecter in his best-seller The Silence of the Lambs is not one to miss.
This creepy, suspenseful, psychological thriller will have you on the edge of your seat right until the end. The genius but equally dangerous Hannibal Lecter is being investigated by Clarice Starling, who has been warned to tread carefully around Mr. Lecter. He is a known psychopath and no one knows what he is capable of.
This story is character-driven but equally has a dark and twisted plot, bound to take you off guard. This psychological horror novel has been made into a high-grossing film, starring Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster, which is a brilliant watch when you’ve finished the book.
David Baldacci is a very well-known name across the literary board. Originally training as an attorney, Baldacci has experience in the criminal world, dealing with criminal minds. This is evident through his writing and character portrayals, which are not only meticulously constructed but also fantastically accurate, making the reading experience that much more thrilling.
His legal thrillers leave plenty of room for questioning, making it all the more suspenseful until revelations are made at the end. If you’re looking for something to keep you engaged, Baldacci’s Long Shadows, Dream Town, and Memory Man are all good choices.
This American author is perhaps best known for writing Shutter Island, the fantastic psychological thriller that will keep you questioning the protagonist, U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels.
Sent to a mental asylum on a deserted island, Daniels is challenged with finding murderer Rachel Solando, who has escaped. As secrets begin to unravel, the reader will be faced with more questions than they began with.
The ultimate untrustworthy narrator story, Shutter Island is a fantastic read and has since been created into a gripping film adaptation starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
Known for the highly popular The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo novel and its subsequent publications, Stieg Larsson is a brilliant writer with a knack for writing complex characters and gripping investigation stories.
The film adaptation starring Daniel Craig and Christopher Plummer helped the novel gain further success. The story follows reporter Mikael Blomkvist who is tasked with finding a murderer.
This brilliant Swedish writer deserves all the commendation he can get. If you haven’t already read this novel and the ones that follow, it must go on your list!
Former Mississippi State Representative John Grisham has written 47 consecutive best-sellers. If that’s not enough to draw you in, I don’t know what will!
Using his experience in high-profile law, Grisham writes realistic, gripping, and politically charged legal thrillers. If you love crime thrillers but aren’t bothered about the fantastical or horror elements that come with many thriller novels, Grisham could be the author for you.
This British author is the recipient of the Gold Dagger award and the Cartier Diamond Dagger award, both for contributions to the thriller genre.
Canadian author Louise Penny has written a range of mystery novels set in Quebec, most of which center around Inspector Armand Gamache.
She has won 8 Agatha Awards for contributions to crime and detective thrillers. Her novels frequently detail the events following a murder.
British author Paula Hawkins is best known for her award-winning novel The Girl on the Train, which unlike many thriller novels mentioned on this list, deals with domestic violence issues as well as drug and alcohol abuse.
The novel was made into a successful film adaptation starring Emily Blunt, which attracted even more readers to the original written story.
Australian crime fiction writer, Michael Robotham is a well-decorated author, winning the CWA Gold Dagger award twice.
His notable works include Good Girl, Bad Girl, The Suspect, and When She Was Good. His novels have been translated into 25 different languages and published in over 50 countries, so he’s a widely read author around the world.
Lisa Gardener’s work is brilliantly engaging and she continues writing crime thrillers to the satisfaction of her large fan base.
If you’re a frequent thriller reader, regardless of sub-genre, you may have heard of many of the authors mentioned. We hope that this list has provided you with some new recommendations and potentially some inspiration to sink your teeth into a new thriller novel.
Frequently Asked Questions
What makes a book a thriller?
Suspense is key to a thriller. Thrillers are often action-packed and fast-paced and should make the reader feel anxious or afraid for the characters to keep them reading.
What is so good about a thriller?
Because of their fast-paced nature, thrillers can help people who are in reading slumps or those who don’t like reading at all. Their quick and gripping nature will help readers finish the books quicker and encourage them to read other similar books.
Are thrillers scary?
It depends on the storyline and the subject matter. If you read horror thrillers, they’re likely to be scarier but typical detective thrillers, crime thrillers, and political thrillers should just be fast-paced and suspenseful without being scary.
What is the best thriller ever written?
According to reviews and awards won, Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train is the best thriller out there. This is, however, down to preference, so do some reading and find your favorite!
What are the best psychological thrillers to read?
Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, Thomas Harris’ The Silence of the Lambs, and Alex Michaelides’ The Silent Patient are all recommended choices if you’re looking for a good thriller with a strong psychological emphasis.
What are the most popular thriller books?
1. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
2. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
3. The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
4. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
5. Misery by Stephen King
6. The Shining by Stephen King
7. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
8. The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
9. The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
10. Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane