Action thrillers are a very broad genre of novels that encompasses a variety of different themes. It can include psychological, political, crime, mystery, spy, legal, science fiction, military, and disaster subgenres, making for one of the most wide-ranging genres in the literary spectrum.
This means that even though the following books belong to the action genre, they will almost certainly be completely different from each other and offer different themes, characters, subplots, and complexities to create a whole new reading experience.
However, regardless of whatever niche you’re interested in, or what subgenres you experiment with, you’re guaranteed an action-packed, gripping story that will transport you far away from your mundane day-to-day routine.
Stuart Woods is an American writer who spent several months in Berlin while the wall was still up. He worked for the U.S. Air Force before moving to London and starting his writing career. He then competed in the 1976 Observer Single-handed Trans-Atlantic Race (OSTAR), a huge challenge that consisted of 6 weeks at sea in isolation, facing extreme weather conditions and physical tasks along the way.
Woods’s Stone Barrington series was an excellent action-packed set of novels that captivated the attention of readers worldwide. Near Miss and Distant Thunder are two of the best-selling novels included in this series.
If you’ve enjoyed Stuart Woods’s action thrillers, you may also enjoy his non-fiction works and autobiography that dive into his personal experiences in the Air Force and at sea. However, if you’re strictly looking for action-packed, fast-paced, gripping thrillers, here is a list of 20 authors, whose repertoires will provide you with plenty of options to add to your reading list.
This is one of the most well-known names within the action genre. James Patterson has a brilliant reputation for immediately captivating readers and engrossing them in drama, action, and thrill. He has written more than 114 New York Times best-selling novels, an achievement he now holds the Guinness World Record for.
Russell Andrews is the pen name used by Peter Gethers. He has written a variety of books spanning numerous genres, the most famous of which are Icarus, Midas, and Aphrodite. These books tackle some intense issues such as emotional turmoil, psychology, identification, danger, and death.
Russell Andrews frequently incorporates psychology and emotional strain into his novels which makes for intriguing narratives but his books primarily belong to action and suspense genres.
One of the giants of the action thriller literary world is David Baldacci. With a wide range of novels that cover crime, mystery, and legal subgenres.
With a background in law, working as an attorney, Baldacci frequently incorporates legal accuracy and realistic criminal cases within his stories which increases the reputability of his novels and makes for a more enjoyable reading experience.
Vince Flynn is another extremely popular writer within the action thriller genre. He created the iconic Mitch Rapp series that follows an undercover CIA agent attempting to minimize the risk of a U.S. terrorist attack.
Following Flynn’s early death, the series was taken over by Kyle Mills, who continues to write the adventures and missions of Mitch Rapp, the most recent of which came out in 2022.
Merging crime, psychology, and suspense, Harlan Coben has created some of the most well-loved books, captivating millions of readers across the world. He wrote The Stranger, a thought-provoking, unpredictable masterpiece that was soon lapped up by Netflix to create a television series.
The same happened with Stay Close, another of Coben’s publications. Both of these adaptations have encouraged new readers to explore Coben’s repertoire and have engaged a whole new generation in action thrillers.
John Grisham is one of the most famous thriller writers of his generation. He was the former Mississippi State Representative and worked as a lawyer, so frequently incorporates politics and law into his stories, which make for brilliantly realistic and engaging narratives.
As a former soldier in the British Army, who served in the intense SAS Regiment, Steven Mitchell has heaps of interesting, wild, and fast-paced stories to tell. Using the pen name Andy McNab, he has written a plethora of novels, such as Bravo Two Zero, Immediate Action, and Seven Troop, which all follow international conflicts such as the Troubles and the Iraq war.
All of McNab’s books are based on real missions that he participated in during his service. These books are gripping and adventurous and offer a real insight into the life of a soldier.
On a very similar note, Chris Ryan is the pseudonym used by Colin Armstrong, who, alongside Steven Mitchell, served with the British SAS and was awarded the Military Medal, after escaping Iraq during the Gulf War. He was the only member of his team to escape, three were killed and four were captured by enemy forces.
Colin has a fantastic story that he uses to inspire his fictional writing. Although fictional, his novels are realistic and draw upon real events that occurred during his service. His best-sellers include The One That Got Away and Survival.
James Grant, who uses the pen name Lee Child to publish his novels, is known for his Jack Reacher series. This novel set follows the experiences and missions of American military policeman Jack Reacher.
This series has become one of the most popular within the action thriller book genre and Lee Child has become one of the most well-recognized action-writing authors as a result. Some of the books in this series have been made into popular films starring Tom Cruise, which has increased the popularity of the originals.
This fantastic author incorporates her medical expertise into crime plots, creating refreshing and insightful narratives that are still action-packed and fast-paced but are grounded in medical accuracy.
Her most famous works are held within her Scarpetta series that follows intriguing medical examiner Kay Scarpetta as she helps uncover the truths behind intense criminal cases.
This American author has used a broad range of pseudonyms under which to publish his work, so any books written by Ellen Kay, Brad Matthews, Jack Cannon, or Kurt Ladner belong to this adventure and suspense writer’s repertoire.
DeMille has captivated readers through brilliant novels like Plum Island and The Lion’s Game, which have made him an award-winning and internationally recognized author. Both of these novels are part of his famous John Corey series, which has significantly encouraged the growth of DeMille’s fanbase.
Tom Rob Smith
Award-winning author Tom Rob Smith is best known for writing Child 44, a detective/crime/historical thriller that features former Russian MGB (Military of State Security) agent, Leo Demidov, who is challenged with uncovering the mysteries behind the horrific child murders committed during the Stalinist era of the Soviet Union.
This book was a global phenomenon following its publication and remains a favorite among action, political, and mystery lovers alike.
This American author has a massive repertoire of novels all written between the 1950s and ‘90s. He had a history in journalism and even joined the United States Marine Corps for 3 years but is predominantly famous for his contribution to fiction.
This author is a Conservative politician and Member of the House of Lords in the UK. With an in-depth history and experience in British politics, the author has used his expertise to create brilliantly engaging and accurate thrillers, the most notable of which was his House of Cards series.
Dobbs has also written novels about historical figures and political regimes, contributing to some of the best historical novels written.
His novels frequently interpolate history, international relations, and politics which add to the realistic and mysterious plot lines.
This iconic American writer started in the film and theater business, working with major productions on Broadway during the 1930s and famously writing the comedy film The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer.
However, Sheldon soon turned his attention to fiction writing. His intense criminal stories differed significantly from his light-hearted work in the film and theater industries but nevertheless, novels such as If Tomorrow Comes and Bloodline made him a hugely successful writer, whose work is still enjoyed decades after their publications.
Robert B. Parker
Robert B. Parker primarily blends mystery and detective genres and is frequently claimed as the Dean of crime writing.
He wrote 40 novels in his The Spenser series that followed a private detective – tackling crimes, chasing criminals, and uncovering secrets. Parker’s work is some of the most widely renowned literary works in the genre and is well worth a read.
This author is well-known for incorporating crime, law, and suspense in his best-sellers. With over 80 million copies sold across his 37-book repertoire, Michael Connelly’s work is not one to miss.
His Harry Bosch series follows an LAPD detective who explores a plethora of murder mysteries and other criminal conundrums and his Lincoln Lawyer series follows a criminal defense attorney, Mickey Haller, who deals with the harrowing legal side of similar cases.
Dorothy L. Sayers
This English crime writer is among one of the oldest on this list but she’s a legend in her field and carries a fantastic reputation for a reason.
She has written a series of novels based around Lord Peter Wimsey starting with Whose Body? Her stories often center around murder mysteries and are some of the first novels that follow the whodunit trope.
Best known for his Prey series, Kidd series, and Virgil Flowers series, John Sandford is a well-recognized writer of mystery thrillers. Some of his works incorporate science fiction and are appropriate for YA audiences, so Sandford could be the perfect author to use if you want to ease a younger reader into the action genre.
He provides gripping and thought-provoking narratives that are fast-paced and guaranteed to keep even the most uninterested readers engaged.
These are some of the best authors within the action genre, guaranteed to provide you with a pulse-pounding reading experience. Hopefully, this has provided you with some new book recommendations and perhaps a whole new author to explore.
Frequently Asked Questions
What should I expect from an action thriller?
Action thrillers frequently provide fast-paced action scenes and an interesting leading character. Some of the books in this genre may interpolate criminal activity, political intrigue, or international conflict.
What is the difference between an action thriller and a war thriller?
War thrillers are strictly set in periods of international or national conflict, the protagonist is often attached to military service, and the scenes are intense, gory, and battle-driven. However, action thrillers can follow private mysteries or national criminal damage, rather than following an extreme conflict-driven narrative.
David Baldacci is one of the most famous action thriller writers.
What is the best action thriller book ever written?
Because the genre is so broad, this is a difficult question to answer because everyone’s preferences are different. However, the best-selling action thrillers include Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series and Robert Ludlum’s Bourne Identity series.
How many books are in Stuart Woods’s Stone Barrington series?
There are 65 books in this series, so plenty to get through if you’re looking for a new action series to sink your teeth into!