James Patterson began his career writing fast-paced single-title and series suspense novels, but he now publishes multiple series for adults in genres as diverse as crime thrillers/suspense, science fiction, historical fiction, and romance. Not to mention books for teens, younger readers, and a handful of adult nonfiction. Whether writing edge-of-one’s seat novels of hard-edged suspense or heartwarming tales of romance and relationships, he captivates male and female readers alike with sympathetic characters, short chapters, and compelling, labyrinthine plots.
David Baldacci’s suspense stories raise our blood pressure with fast pacing, intricate plots, twists and double crosses. Baldacci’s heroes are honorable, and his villains are always bad, with their evil natures and methods emerging as the story progresses. These heroes face political intrigue and corruption, often featuring the Mafia and government bad guys, as well as financial manipulation and corporate corruption. Readers enjoy knowing that these stories will end satisfactorily, with the good guys rewarded and the bad caught and punished.
Lee Child’s suspense novels feature fine writing; complex, twisted plots; relentless pacing; and an engaging loner hero. The series hero, Jack Reacher, is a fascinating enigma who strives to provide justice for those who can’t get it on their own. Reacher is a man of integrity, but a flawed man: one who makes mistakes and then makes them right. His investigation is meticulously outlined, while these dark, edgy stories build to a violent and fast-paced denouement, with the violence only as a final resort.
Known for creating one of the most popular characters in mystery fiction, Harlan Coben has now turned to suspense. Coben’s characters are ordinary people who find their lives invaded by extraordinary circumstances. Fans of the Myron Bolitar mystery series enjoy the finely plotted puzzles, Myron’s strong moral fiber, and the behind-the-scenes glimpse into the world of sports. Coben’s suspense employs similar strong characters, a rapid-fire plot, and a first person point of view, allowing the readers to experience each plot twist and emotion with the protagonist.
Michael Connelly’s cunningly plotted mysteries blend realistic police procedurals with the forlorn heroism of classic hardboiled fiction. Protagonist Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch — named for a Renaissance painter of hellish scenes — is burdened by his own painful origins. Connelly portrays Bosch as a maverick hero whose vision of justice means that “everybody counts or nobody counts.” Thriller and suspense fans will find that Connelly’s plots hit the ground running: full of shocking twists, climactic build-up, and often violent confrontations, Connelly ultimately allows characters to carve meaning out of darkness — if they live.
Patricia Cornwell changed the Mystery genre with lead character, Kay Scarpetta, whose role as forensic anthropologist pioneered a new perspective on crime and detection while capitalizing on the growing popularity of female detectives. Fans enjoy the wealth of scientific and medical details, and Cornwell’s straightforward descriptions and explanations of the scientific data. Her fiction has complex plots, filled with satisfying twists. Another series character, Judy Hammer, is also a tough, driven professional. Cornwell has recently begun an additional Mystery series and has written a few standalone nonfiction titles.
Jeffery Deaver has a loyal following for the twisting plots, strong characters, and fast-paced action found in his standalone psychological thrillers and Lincoln Rhyme series. These memorable detectives are ordinary, flawed people with instincts that move them through the investigation, though victory is never certain for these heroes. Deaver also explores the villains’ thoughts and motivations. These stories play out in compressed time periods. The violent action and quick dialogue also add to the anxiety that fills these novels.
Atlanta native William Diehl wrote legal thrillers and spy thrillers. His prose is fast-paced, compelling, and suspenseful. Diehl’s legal novels are filled with cops, thugs, crooked pols, vicious murderers, and unsolved crimes. Lawyers, crooked or otherwise, also figure prominently. Diehl throws in plenty of atmosphere, sex, and violence to keep things rolling along. His spy novels, populated with ruthless Nazis, Southeast Asian drug traffickers, and trained assassins, are equally as frenetic and bloody, only with a slightly different accent.
Crime novelist James Ellroy is best known for bringing Los Angeles to vivid life in the L.A. Quartet. He has since turned his attention to the larger criminal underworld, with novels inspired by real life events, such as the Kennedy assassination. Ellroy brings a blunt, visceral style to the page, with compelling prose written in straightforward style.
After a successful career writing Romantic Suspense as Alicia Scott, Lisa Baumgardner turned to the suspense genre and adopted Lisa Gardner as her pseudonym. As Gardner she writes contemporary tales of fast-paced suspense with strong romantic undercurrents and is known for her appealing characters, twisting plots, forensic details, powerful descriptions, and natural dialog. Her protagonists are generally investigators, and she offers an assortment of intriguing series and non-series characters in all her books.
Thomas Harris’s edge-of-the-seat thrillers blend mystery, suspense, and psychological fiction. He introduced readers to an unforgettably twisted, murderous secondary character: Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter, who assists federal agents hunting other serial killers. As his well-plotted, investigation-focused stories unfold, Harris allows gripping character studies of human monsters to emerge. The abnormal psychology of evil is the most common narrative theme. Readers become front-and-center witnesses to mayhem, whether by a terrorist attack on SuperBowl Sunday or the plans of a brilliant serial killer. Although there is little explicit violence, be prepared for heart-poundingly gruesome images.
Tami Hoag writes tightly-woven, fast-paced suspenseful stories of women in danger. Characters are appealing, but do not dominate the story. Her plot-driven books provide plenty of tension, a high level of violence, and twists and turns to keep readers on edge until the very end. As with most suspense novels, readers get a first hand view of the crime from both the hero’s and the villain’s perspectives. Hoag skillfully creates truly frightening and edgy atmospheres.
Jonathan Kellerman’s best-selling mystery series features Alex Delaware, a psychologist and consultant to the L.A. Police Department who uses his understanding of the psychological motivations of the villains to solve the cases. These complex, suspenseful stories are not particularly fast-paced and the mysteries are more investigative than action-oriented. Kellerman’s bleak and threatening L.A. plays an important role, as do the psychological details of mental illnesses and their treatment. Kellerman has written other mysteries, stand-alone and series, as well as nonfiction titles on psychology.
An author of fast-paced mystery/suspense novels for adults that are fast-paced and darkly humorous, Klavan has also published a young adult thriller series.
Retired criminal defense attorney Phillip Margolin draws on his experience in the courtroom to create gripping, high-octane Legal Thrillers. With a keen sense of pacing and suspense, he draws in readers from the first page and keeps them racing through the chapters. Populated by a variety of characters including police, lawyers, criminals, and victims, the stories center on a violent crime and the ensuing police investigations and legal work. Margolin’s use of realistic details makes for a believable read; be warned that the descriptions of violence are not for the faint of heart.
Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series set the standard for gritty, realistic police procedurals. Set in a fictional precinct in a very real New York City and starring an entire police squad working as a team, these novels followed the same characters for more than 50 years. The hallmark of the series is its authentic feel, evidenced in the use of police procedures and tools, streetwise jargon, multiple cases unfolding concurrently, and a POV that shifts from cops to robbers and back again. (McBain also wrote a second, grislier series starring amateur sleuth and attorney Matthew Hope.)
Attorney Richard North Patterson moves in and out of the courtroom with his mysteries, creating tales with well-realized characters that are compelling to readers. Inspired by the work of Ross Macdonald, Patterson’s novels bring believable characters, plots, and circumstances together in an engaging way.
Ridley Pearson keeps his readers enthralled with titles that blend elements of the mystery, thriller and suspense genres. He is known for his tightly plotted, fast-paced stories, filled with extensive forensic and technical details; sympathetic series characters; psychological insights into crimes, criminals, and police; and surprising plot twists. Pearson’s characters are well-developed, and in his Lou Boldt series he often examines the effect of police work on the character’s personal relationships. These are serious, dark stories that are filled with dialog and suspense that keep the pages turning.
John Sandford stands out for his consistent delivery of riveting characters and intense, richly-layered plots in his Prey series, Kidd series, and his stand-alone novels. Crime drives his stories, whether his heroes are the ones solving or the ones committing the crime. Intricate details and graphic violence lend a gritty realism to the tone of these books, while maintaining a fast, suspenseful pace. Quirky characters and witty dialogue relieve the tension. Sandford’s good guys and bad guys alike are intriguing, complex, and realistically flawed.
Stuart Woods’ best-selling cinematic thrillers are engrossing page-turners that capture readers immediately, so they are excellent escapist reading. Woods’ novels feature investigations, often political or legal, and his storylines are complex, featuring twists, betrayals, non-stop action, and lots of dialogue. In addition to the fast pacing, frame also plays an important role. These books are primarily set in the South and often feature the rich and famous lifestyle. Currently focusing on three series, Woods’ more recent novels have become more character-driven.