Sidney Sheldon is known for his fantastic crime thriller novels – many of which have become best sellers. Through expert storytelling and master wordplay, Sheldon has launched us into enticing worlds that match other authors with the same stellar talent for writing gripping, exciting novels.
While countless other thriller authors have published books, there are some that stand out more than others when it comes to style, length, tone, plot… The list goes on and on. Although some of these authors you may not immediately know, their work may be much more recognizable.
Among these 20 authors you’ll find the creators of James Bond, Jack Reacher, Jason Bourne, and other iconic characters who have starred in not only thriller books but took up residence on TV and movie screens, as well. So, if you’re a fan of plots and worlds brought to you by author Sidney Sheldon, these other 20 authors may become some of your favorites.
Similar to the premise of Sheldon’s book, The Other Side of Midnight, John Grisham writes thrillers with a focus on the courtroom. With over 40 best-selling novels, Grisham got his start as a lawyer and brought over his prior expertise into his writing career.
The Reckoning – 2018
Pete Banning, a WWII war hero, patriarch, farmer, father, and church member from Mississippi, commits a shocking crime with only one statement given to the authorities. Follow Pete’s journey through the deep south, insane asylums, courtrooms, and more as Grisham tells the tale of war, death, and dark fate. Buy the book here.
James Patterson may be one of the most well-known names in the thriller and crime literary world. With well over 200 novels, Patterson has been bringing readers cliffhangers via both series and standalones. Not only has he published under just his name, but he has also written with celebrities like country star Dolly Parton and former president Bill Clinton.
Along Came a Spider – 1993
Brilliant homicide detective Alex Cross is called in to investigate the in-progress “crime of the century” with the first female supervisor of the Secret Service. Will the two be able to prevent an unspeakable crime while keeping their feelings toward each other at bay? Purchase the book here.
Lee Child is most commonly known for his Jack Reacher book series that was transformed into a popular movie franchise starring Tom Cruise. Child even makes an appearance in the first movie as a sergeant and was able to see his works come to life on the big screen. Much like Sheldon, Child brings crime and thrill to literary lovers all around the world.
Killing Floor (Jack Reacher No. 1) – 1997
Jack Reacher is an innocent, ex-military policeman wrongfully arrested for murder when passing through Margrave, Georgia. Although he knows he didn’t kill anyone, no one else is convinced. Follow Jack’s story by buying the book here (along with the other 26 books in the series).
Frederick Forsyth is not only a British novelist, but a journalist, as well. He has written several novels that have gone on to become best-sellers. Forsyth creates thriller worlds in a journalistic style of writing that seems to mirror what he knows from his career separate from writing.
The Day of the Jackal – 1971
The assassin known as The Jackal has a contract to kill the world’s most heavily armed man. The Jackal is at the top of his profession and unknown to any secret service. Can he complete the mission and take out the person who seems to be invincible? You can buy the book here.
Jeffrey Archer, English author and former Parliament member, has written both fiction and nonfiction books since the start of his writing career in the 1970s. He has become a bestseller over 20 times with both his fiction and nonfiction work and is in the progress of publishing the last four books in his William Warwick series.
Kane and Abel – 1979
William Lowell Kane and Abel Rosnovki were born on opposite sides of the world and into completely different lives. However, as fate takes its course, the two men are found in a power struggle that spans three generations. Who will be the one to come out on top with the empire they’re both fighting for? Purchase the book online here.
Richard North Patterson
Not to be confused with James Patterson, Richard North Patterson is a bestselling novelist and former trial lawyer. He was the SEC (Security and Exchange Commission) liaison to the Watergate special prosecutor as well as a former board member for different Washington advocacy groups. While not in the political world, Patterson has written both series’ and standalones that have topped the charts.
The Final Judgement – 1995
22-year-old Brett Allen is found at her boyfriend’s crime scene covered in blood with the alleged murder weapon in her hand. Her aunt, attorney Caroline Masters, is asked to represent Brett who is claiming innocence. As the case proceeds, Caroline finds herself between her loved ones with chilling secrets and the prosecutor who will do anything to expose the truth. Find out how the story ends by buying the book here.
27-time thriller novelist Robert Ludlum was the creator of the iconic Jason Bourne legacy. His famous series was later turned into an entire movie franchise starring Matt Damon. Before writing, Ludlum served in the United States Marines and also wrote under the pseudonyms Johnathan Ryder and Michael Shepherd.
The Bourne Identity – 1980
A mystery man is fished out of the Mediterranean Sea riddled with bullets. Microfilm had been implanted into his hip and he had undergone face-changing plastic surgeries. People say his name is Jason Bourne, but he can’t remember who he really is. Can this man, hunted by killers, figure out his real identity and what he’s being chased for before it’s too late? Purchase the book here.
Ken Follett is a 36-time published English novelist. In addition to his books being in print, Follett’s works have also been adapted for TV, stage, video games, and board games. Through gripping writing, Follett has been able to bring the thriller genre to a whole new level.
Eye of the Needle – 1978
The Needle, a German aristocrat and master spy, is suddenly a part of one of the most desperate manhunts in history. He finds that his fate lies with an English woman who has his life and freedom in her hands, as well as the possibility for the Nazis to win the war. You can buy the book here.
Dan Brown, author of the widely known Robert Langdon series, is a best-seller with most of his books having plotlines that take place over just 24 hours. Brown is the author of the book The Da Vinci Code which was made into a motion picture, along with other novels that were adapted for the big screen.
The Da Vinci Code – 2003
Robert Langford, a Harvard Symbologist, is woken up by a phone call with the news that the curator for the Louvre was murdered. With the dead man’s body covered in different symbols, Robert and French cryptologist, Sophie Neveu, find clues hidden in the works of Leonardo da Vinci that may uncover not only the murderer but hidden historic secrets. Buy a copy here.
Writing since he was a child, David Baldacci is a famed novelist with over 50 books for both adults and children. All 47 books written for adults became international best sellers with several adapted to the movie and TV screen. In addition to writing, Baldacci is a philanthropist; his efforts dedicated to his family’s Wish You Well Foundation which supports adult and family literacy programs in the U.S.
The Winner – 1998
20-year-old LuAnn Tyler is hoping for a better life for herself and her daughter when she’s offered a $100 million lottery jackpot. The only catch is, she has to change her identity and leave the United States forever. Will she take the chance for a shot at a better life or will she risk her future to fight off the mastermind who offered her the way out? You can purchase the book here.
Robin Cook is known for his “medical” focus on thriller novel plots. He was drafted into the Navy after graduating from the Colombia College of Physicians and Surgeons. After Cook was discharged from the service, he jumped back into the medical field before his literary career took off, eventually launching him into the best-sellers list 37 times.
Pandemic – 2018
When a seemingly healthy young woman dies on a New York City subway, medical examiner Jack Stapleton examines the woman’s body and finds striking anomalies surrounding her heart. After two more victims are brought in with the same symptoms, Jack works against the clock to determine the deadly connection as well as gene-editing biotechnology that may be behind it. Buy the book here.
Thriller author Wilbur Smith was expected to be brain-damaged after coming down with cerebral malaria at just 18 months old. After miraculously surviving, writing became a major part of his life. After his first successful book publication in 1964, he continued to write many more novels – over 30 in total – some of which have gone on to top the best-sellers chart.
The Tiger’s Prey – 2017
Tom Courtney, one of four sons to master mariner Sir Hal Courtney, is setting sail across the ocean on a treacherous journey. The sea has other plans, however, and suddenly Tom has found himself sailing toward the unknown against dangerous enemies in exotic locations. What he doesn’t know is that his trip will lay the future for the Courtney family. Purchase Smith’s book here.
Tom Clancy is a well-known name in the thriller literary world due to his famous Jack Ryan novels. Clancy got his start as an insurance broker with a passion for naval history but had a dream of writing a novel. While his works were recently made into a TV show starring John Krasinski, you can read the multiple-book series that started it all.
Patriot Games (A Jack Ryan Novel) – 1987
Jack Ryan, an American on vacation with his family in London, never thought his quick thinking would prevent an assassination attempt on the British royal family. Now terrorist Sean Miller and his followers are after Jack to make sure he pays for interfering. To protect his wife and children, Jack becomes a CIA analyst to shut down Sean and protect his family at any cost. Purchase the first book in the Jack Ryan series here.
Did you know that James Bond, the famous spy we’ve all come to know and love, was created by none other than author Ian Fleming? He also wrote the well-known children’s book, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and most of his works were adapted to make a splash on the big screen. Since Fleming’s 007 character was created, there have been remakes and remakes of remakes starring the spy that started as just a character on a piece of paper.
Casino Royale – 1953
Superspy James Bond has been sent to a French casino in Royale-les-Eaux on a mission to bankrupt a Russian agent who’s on a bad streak at the baccarat table. After a bad night at the tables, Bond finds himself dodging assassins and torturers who are trying to take him out, all while attempting to save his female counterpart, Vesper Lynd. Buy the book here.
Harlan Coben is the author of 34 thriller novels that have dominated the literary world. In addition to writing, Coben is also a creator and executive producer of several Netflix dramas including The Stranger, Stay Close, and The Woods. His novel, Tell No One, was made into a French film and Coben has been awarded many honors for his world-renowned works.
Tell No One – 2001
Dr. David Beck has tried to live with the grief of his wife’s passing, but the flashbacks and horror of what happened still plague him. One day, a phrase that only his wife knew shows up on his computer and he believes that his wife is actually still alive. Can he find out the truth once and for all? You can purchase the book here.
Raymond Harold Sawkins (Colin Forbes)
Raymond Harold Sawkins, who mainly published under the pseudonym Colin Forbes, is the British novelist of over 40 books. Although only the first three were published under his real name, Sawkins also used the pen names Richard Raine, Jay Bernard, and Harold English for publication.
The Main Chance – 2003
Tweed, a detective-turned-deputy chief, and his assistant, Paula Grey, visit a matriarch controlling Europe’s most powerful private bank to hear that she turned down an offer from the most villainous men in Europe. Days later, the matriarch is murdered, and two more deaths follow. Tweed and Paula find that there is more than just one suspect, and it’s a race against the clock to stop more killings from happening. Find out how the story ends by buying it here.
Martin Cruz Smith
Martin Cruz Smith began his career as a journalist in the 1960s and officially jumped into the literary world in the early 1970s, writing two novels under the name Jake Logan. One of Smith’s books, Gorky Park, introduced the character Arkady Renkno who would go on to star in eight more books. Gorky Park was dubbed the “first thriller of the 80s” by Time and became a known bestseller.
Gorky Park – 1981
A triple murder in Moscow means Chief homicide investigator Arkady Ranko is on the scene. To uncover the truth, Arkady must not only battle time, but the KGB, FBI, and New York City police, as well, all while pursuing a ruthless American fur dealer. At the same time, Arkady finds himself falling for the wrong person who might jeopardize everything. Purchase the book here.
Jonathan Kellerman, an author with a Ph.D. in Psychology, published his first book in 1980 – a medical text titled Psychological Aspects of Childhood Cancer. However, his fiction career took off in 1985 with the release of his first novel. Kellerman didn’t stop there with his writing and continued to publish both fiction and nonfiction pieces – most fiction books climbing the best-seller list.
When the Bough Breaks – 1985
When an unconventional and strange psychiatrist is found murdered in his apartment, the only witness is a seven-year-old girl. Dr. Alex Delaware is the psychiatrist who is trying to unlock the terrible secret in the girl’s mind. Instead, he finds a link to his own past – one that could claim the young girl as its next victim. Buy the book for yourself here.
John Roswell Camp (John Sandford)
John Roswell Camp (known to his readers as John Sandford) was a prize-winning journalist before making the transition to a fiction author. His over 50 published novels have all made it on the best-sellers list in one format or another. In addition to adult fiction books, Camp has also authored children’s books and nonfiction books.
Rules of Prey – 2005
A murderer has been on the loose, slaying innocent victims. The only help are clues he’s left with every woman he’s murdered. However, officer Lucas Davenport is not one to play the killer’s games. Can Lucas find the murderer before it’s too late and the killings continue? Purchase the book here.
The thriller genre is not for every reader. But, for those who love jumping into worlds that keep them on the edge of their seat, these 20 authors have the perfect books for that.
Although these authors have created both standalones and series that will keep you occupied for the foreseeable future, there are other novelists out there, as well, that have more thrill to vicariously live through.
Even if your TBR (to-be-read) list is a mile long, check out these authors and books. If it isn’t already, you might just find that thriller is your new favorite genre. Happy reading!
Who is Sidney Sheldon?
Sidney Sheldon was born in Chicago in 1917 and passed away in 2007 from Pneumonia. His very first writing sale was when he sold a poem at just 10 years old. In his life, Sheldon not only authored many books but served as a pilot in the Army Air Corps. He wrote TV scripts, broadway plays, and 18 novels – many of which became hit best sellers.
How is a thriller book different from a horror book?
A thriller book is not the same as a horror book, although there may be some similarities. When picking up a thriller book, you’re most likely to find some kind of crime, passion, death, etc. Most times in horror books, you’ll find supernatural elements, spirits, gore, suspense, etc. Thriller books tend to shy away from spooky things you may find in, say, Stephen King books, and stick more to psychological scares.
Are thriller novels scary?
That depends on your definition of scary! Although thriller novels may not be “spooky,” there will most likely be some level of on-the-edge-of-your-seat tension to them.
What is a standalone?
A standalone is a book that is not tied to a series. You can read standalones without needing certain context or backstories from other books.
Many people have ranked Lee Child (author of the Jack Reacher book series) as one of the best thriller authors along with James Patterson, Wilbur Smith, and Ian Fleming. However, the 20 authors listed above, as well as Sidney Sheldon, have made their well-deserved mark in the thriller literary realm.
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