At the Book Room, we know the importance of a good thriller and especially, the right thriller at the right time, so to help you choose we wrote a short encyclopedia of thriller writers, some background about each one, their writing style and their best-known characters and series. All you have to do is decide which one best suits your mood!
The encyclopedia will be published in installments. The first part focused on American Thriller writers – a surprising number of whom come from New Jersey! The second installment is around British thriller writers including 2 Scottish Tartan noir authors. Future installments will focus on Scandinavian and any others you request in the comment section. Let us know who you think we should include.
To see which of these Thriller writers is currently in stock (we have tons!) at the Book Room you can browse our inventory online here.
John Le Carré
Educated abroad and at the University of Oxford, he taught French and Latin at Eton College from 1956 to 1958. In 1959 he became a member of the British foreign service in West Germany and continued with the agency until 1964. During this time he began writing novels and soon he was able to quit his undercover work to write full-time. According to The New York Times, he is ‘The novelist that transformed moral ambiguity and the lives of Cold War spies into high art.’ His spies are morally ambiguous, genteel, solitary — a marked departure from the suave and high-octane figures like James Bond, who glamorized the practice of espionage. His books feature labyrinthine plots and high stakes; the greatest betrayals and acts of deception are often internal. One of his most enduring characters is Alec Leamas, a tough hard-drinking man of fifty who works as a spy for the British secret service and the main character of The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, ‘the best spy novel of all time’ according to Publishers Weekly.
Born in Oxford and educated at Cambridge High School for Girls. From 1949 to 1968 she worked in the National Health Service and subsequently in the Home Office, first in the Police Department and later in the Criminal Policy Department. She used that experience in her novels and started writing when she was 40 years old. After Agatha Christie’s death, she became the new Queen of Crime. One of her best-known characters is detective-poet Adam Dalgliesh, old-fashioned, intellectual and upper-class, the protagonist of fourteen mystery novels. Her novels are classic, cozy mystery novels that keep the reader guessing. Kingsley Amis called her “Iris Murdoch with murder”.
Lee Child (real name James Dover Grant CBE)
Born in Coventry, in 1954. He studied law and worked in commercial television. He was fired and on the dole when decided to start writing novels, stating they are “the purest form of entertainment.” He doesn’t hide the fact that his intention from the beginning was to write a best-selling book for the American market. His pen name “Lee” comes from a family joke about a heard mispronunciation of the name of Renault’s Le Car, as “Lee Car”. Calling anything “Lee” became a family gag. His daughter, Ruth, was “lee child”. He also chose this pen name because he studied lists of best-selling authors and found that authors with surnames that are short, snappy and appear early in the alphabet, sell better. He is best known for his Jack Reacher novel series. The books follow the adventures of a former American military policeman, Jack Reacher, who wanders the United States. Grant has said that he chose the name Reacher for the central character in his novels because he himself is tall and when they were grocery shopping his wife Jane remarked: “‘Hey, if this writing thing doesn’t pan out, you could always be a reacher in a supermarket.’ … ‘I thought, Reacher – good name.'” He sticks to a meticulous formula in his novels and his style has sometimes been described as commercial. His books have mixed reviews but are usually hugely popular.
Born in Cardenden, Fife (Scotland), in 1960. After high school, Ian decides to study literature, despite his parents’ disapproval. He graduates in 1982 from the University of Edinburgh, where he taught later on. Before becoming a full-time writer, he had odd jobs like grape picker, taxman, swineherd… He was also part of a punk rock band for a while (and music is still very present in the Rebus novels). His first novel was never published, but his second novel, The Flood, was published in 1986, and his first Rebus novel, Knots & Crosses, was published in 1987. The Rebus series, made up of 26 novels, is now translated into twenty-two languages and the books are bestsellers on several continents. Detective Inspector John Rebus solves the mystery of murders, suspicious deaths or disappearances taking place in or around Edinburgh. Rankin’s novels are praised for their elaborate and inventive plots and he has received many honors, including a Grand Prix du Roman Noir (2003), Grand Prix de la Littérature Policière (2005) and being elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature (2016).
Born in Kirkcaldy, Scotland, in 1955. She graduated in English from St Hilda’s College, Oxford – the first from a Scottish state school to do so. After graduating, she became a journalist, knowing that she wanted to write and feeling that she wouldn’t be happy in a proper nine to five job. She had a successful career as a journalist for sixteen years. While working as a journalist, she was still trying to become a writer, but her first novel, written at 21, was rejected by all the publishing houses she went to. A friend suggested turning the novel into a script and the play was soon afterwards performed. Despite this, her agent fired her. She then decided to write a crime novel, as she always enjoyed reading the genre. Report for Murder was published in 1987, it was hugely successful and introduced the UK’s first lesbian detective, Lindsay Gordon. There are six novels in the Lindsay Gordon series and there are four other series, plus stand-alone titles. Her novels are considered of the Tartan noir sub-genre, a form of crime fiction particular to Scottish writers. Her work is praised for being shrewd and deeply enjoyable.
Born in Philadelphia in 1956, majored in journalism and after graduating in 1980, worked at newspapers in Daytona Beach and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, primarily specializing in the crime beat. In Fort Lauderdale he wrote about police and crime during the height of the murder and violence wave that rolled over South Florida during the so-called cocaine wars. He is the bestselling author of thirty-six novels. Best known series: featuring Los Angeles Police Department detective Hieronymus ‘Harry’ Bosch and criminal defense attorney Mickey Haller. Harry Bosch is his most well-known character, he is a tenacious investigator with a strong personal code that drives him to seek justice for murder victims.
Born in 1953 in Louisiana. After years of amateur film-making and writing short fiction, he journeyed to Hollywood in 1976 where he quickly found work writing scripts for such major television series as Hill Street Blues, Cagney & Lacey, and Miami Vice. In the mid-eighties, Crais resigned from a lucrative position as a contract writer and television producer in order to pursue his lifelong dream of becoming a novelist. He is the creator of Elvis Cole, private investigator who together with this partner, Joe Pike, solves crimes in Los Angeles. (Funnily enough, both Robert Crais and M. Connelly say that Raymond Chandler was a major influence and inspired them to write crime novels).
Born in New Jersey in 1942, has worked as a travel guide in Rome and as a copywriter in London. She taught literature in universities in Iran, China, and Saudi Arabia. Leon lived in Venice for over 30 years and now resides in Switzerland. Leon wrote a crime novel after seeing a scene she thought belonged in such a novel. She wrote it in 8 months and stuck it in a drawer until a friend persuaded her to submit to a writing contest, which she won. Guido Brunetti, Commissario of Police in Venice, Italy, is the star of Donna Leon’s hugely successful Commissatio Brunetti mystery series. Since his debut almost thirty years ago in Death at La Fenice, Brunetti has investigated a new crime in Venice each year, from corruption to mafia, real estate to trade art, collecting millions of fans around the world in that time. Donna Leon was named by The Times as one of the 50 Greatest Crime Writers. The Times also called the Brunetti series ‘an epic achievement’.
Born in 1962, in New Jersey. He studied political science at at Amherst college and joined the same fraternity as writer Dan Brown. After college, he worked in the travel industry. Coben was in his senior year at college when he realized he wanted to write. He published two thrillers in his twenties and then started writing the series featuring Myron Bolitar, a former basketball player turned sports agent, who often finds himself investigating murders involving his clients. In 2001 he released his first stand-alone thriller since the creation of the Myron Bolitar series in 1995,Tell No One, which went on to be his best selling novel to date. He is the creator and executive producer of several Netflix television dramas including The Stranger, Safe, The Five and The Woods. Harlan was also showrunner and executive producer for two French TV mini-series, Une chance de trop (No second chance) and Juste un regard (Just one Look). His novels have consecutively debuted at #1 on the New York Times Besteseller list and his books have been published in 43 languages. He creates realistic and three-dimensional characters at the heart of his stories, slowly revealing layers behind his mysteries that often involve unresolved issues from the past, old secrets and the need for redemption. Harlan Coben on writing page-turners: “I want to be the one that keeps you up all night, I want you to curse me in the morning because you had to know what was going to happen to Maya and Shane and Lily and all the rest.”
Born in 1962, in New Hampshire, US. He grew up on the campus of Phillips Exeter Academy, where his father, Richard G. Brown, was a teacher of mathematics. His mother, Constance,trained as a church organist and student of sacred music. Brown’s interest in secrets and puzzles stems from their presence in his household as a child, where codes and ciphers were the linchpin tying together the mathematics, music, and languages in which his parents worked. The young Brown spent hours working out anagrams and crossword puzzles, and he and his siblings participated in elaborate treasure hunts devised by their father on birthdays and holidays. On Christmas, for example, Brown and his siblings did not find gifts under the tree, but followed a treasure map with codes and clues throughout their house and even around town to find the gifts. After graduating from Amherst College, he started a musical career and self-produced a children’s cassette, formed his own record company and went on to release several CDs, while teaching Spanish. He was inspired to become a thriller writer after reading Sidney Sheldon’s The Doomsday Conspiracy. In 1997, Dan Brown came out with his first thriller, Digital Fortress. He went on to write Angels and Demons and Deception Point. His masterpiece, The Da Vinci Code was published in March 2003 and sold nearly 6000 copies on its very first day and reached the New York Times’ Best Seller List in its very first week. All that despite his style has being criticised as clumsy and and his research inaccurate.
Born in 1953 in California. She had always wanted to be a writer, but worried about the sustainability of a writing career, so she studied medicine and anthropology and after finishing her medical studies at the University of California, in San Francisco, went on to work as a physician. While on maternity leave, she submitted a short story to a fiction contest in a magazine and won first prize. Her first novel, published in 1987, was a romantic thriller, followed by eight more romantic suspense novels. Her first medical thriller, Harvest, marked her debut on the New York Times bestseller list. Her best-known characters are homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles, paired together in nine novels. The books inspired the Rizzoli& Isles TNT show.
The third of the Thriller writers born (1943) in New Jersey. She studied art in college and after having children, decided to become a housewife. She began writing novels in her thirties and took lessons in improv acting to learn the art of writing dialogue. She began by writing romance novels and her first novel was published under the pseudonym Steffie Hall. However, she discovered she was more interested in writing action scences than romance and started a series featuring Stephanie Plum, a barely competent bounty hunter. Other popular series by Janet Evanovich are the Knight and Moon series (also a mystery series), the Wicked series and the Fox and O’Hare series.
Born in 1955 in Arkansas. After graduating from law school at Ole Miss in 1981, he went on to practice law for nearly a decade in Southaven, specializing in criminal defense and personal injury litigation. In 1983, he was elected to the state House of Representatives and served until 1990. One day at the DeSoto County courthouse, Grisham overheard the harrowing testimony of a twelve-year-old rape victim and was inspired to start a novel exploring what would have happened if the girl’s father had murdered her assailants. The book wasn’t a huge success, but right after publishing it, Grisham began work on another novel, the story of a hotshot young attorney lured to an apparently perfect law firm that was not what it appeared. When he sold the film rights toThe Firm to Paramount Pictures for $600,000, Grisham suddenly became a hot property among publishers, and book rights were bought by Doubleday. Spending 47 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list,The Firm became the bestselling novel of 1991. The successes of The Pelican Brief, which hit number one on the New York Times bestseller list, andThe Client, which debuted at number one, confirmed Grisham’s reputation as the master of the legal thriller. Since first publishing A Time to Kill in 1988, Grisham has written one novel a year and all of them have become international bestsellers.
Stay tuned for British thriller writers ans Scandinavian Thriller writers in a couple weeks.