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 is published in installments. The first part focused on American Thriller writers – a surprising number of whom come from New Jersey! The second part is around British thriller writers including 2 Scottish Tartan noir authors. Third part focuses on Scandinavian. Please feel free to request other author profiles 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. PS: Until 31 January Thrillers (and romances) are 3 for the price of 2! Don’t miss out!
American Thriller writers
Born in Chicago, 1948. She majored in anthropology at a university in Washington and later earned a Ph.D. In physical anthropology from Northwestern University. Since then, she has taught in several universities and consulted for for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in North Carolina. She is one of only fifty forensic anthropologists certified by the American Board of Forensic Anthropology. Her first novel, Déjà Dead, was published in 1997 (she was 49 when she published this novel) and she has since written 20 other novels. These inspired the long-running television series Bones. She is quite frank about why she started writing, saying that she needed to put her kids through college. The fictional heroine in her novels, Temperance « Tempe » Brennan, is also a forensic anthropologist. Her lifestyle closely mimics that of her creator, with Reichs stating that Brennan and she « have the same CV » and that « Some of Tempe’s personality traits are also mine », but there are differences in their personal lives such as the character’s alcoholism. A good portion of the novels are based on real life science, and Reichs has stated that she is « fastidiously conscientious about getting the science right ». She has used experience from her career in her novels, and said about Déjà Dead that « Everything I describe in the book, I actually did ». Kathyreichs.com
Mary Higgins Clark
1927-2020, born in New York. She attended a school run by the nuns of the Congregation de Notre Dame de Montreal, where she was encouraged to pursue writing, which she did, as she continued to write short stories to support her family, while she also worked odd jobs like switchboard operator, flight attendant or writing four-minute radio scripts. This experience of fitting an entire sketch into four minutes taught Higgins Clark how to write cleanly and succinctly, traits that are incredibly important to a suspense novel, which must advance the plot with every paragraph. Her agent persuaded her to try writing novels, but her debut novel, a fictionalized account of the life of George Washington, did not sell well, and she decided to exploit her love of mystery and suspense novels. Her suspense novels became very popular, and have sold more than 100 million copies in the United States alone. She wanted to create stories that would make a reader say: “This could be me. That could be my daughter. This could happen to us,” she told Marilyn Stasio in a 1997 interview in The New York Times. Her heroes were most often female, her villains male, and she said that she wrote about “nice people whose lives are invaded.” Ms. Stasio wrote that “Mary Higgins Clark writes to a simple formula that entails putting a woman in peril and letting her figure her own way out.” Though that formula is “repetitive and predictable,” she added, it works because Ms. Higgins Clark “is a natural-born storyteller.”
1956, Miami, a descendant of abolitionist and writer Harriet Beecher Stowe. She attended King College in Bristol, Tennessee briefly before transferring to another college on a tennis scholarship (which she later rejected), from where she graduated in 1979 with a B.A. in English. She was a bright student, a capable cartoonist, and a talented athlete on the tennis court. She began working for The Charlotte Observer in 1979, covering crime. She wrote a biography of author Ruth Bell Grahamn which was well received. She sold her first novel, Postmortem, while working as a computer analyst at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Richmond, Virginia. Postmortem, was the first bona fide forensic thriller. Patricia’s novels center primarily on spunky and thoughtful medical examiner Kay Scarpetta along with her tech-savvy niece Lucy and fellow investigator Pete Marino. Celebrating 25 years, these characters have grown into an international phenomenon, winning Cornwell, among other awards, the Sherlock Award for best detective created by American Thriller writers. Her writing has been described as taut and the mounting tension, the forensic jargon and escalating murders all make for a good read.
Born in 1947 in an Irish-American family, in Maryland, US and died in 2013. He went to a private Catholic secondary school and then attended Loyola College and obtained a degree in English literature. He joined the Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps; however, he was ineligible to serve due to his myopia, which required him to wear thick glasses. After graduating, he worked for an insurance company. He started writing his first novel in 1980, in his spare time. The Hunt for Red October sold over 45,000 copies. President Reagan praised the book, which led to it becoming a national bestseller. The novel was praised for it technical accuracy and led to Clancy meeting several high-ranking officers in the U.S. military and to inspiration for reoccurring characters in his works. The main characters in his novels are Jack Ryand and John Clark, highly skilled, honest and professional. Publishers Weekly on Clancy novels: “But what makes this, like all Clancy novels, so much fun are the details from the quasi-military technobabble to the settings to the gadgets –evidence of the authors’ excellent grasp of both world politics and modern technology. Fans have yet another treat.” Since Clancy’s death in 2013, four other authors have continued the franchise and its other connecting series with the approval of the Clancy family estate: Mark Greaney, Grant Blackwood, Mike Maden, and Marc Cameron.
Born in 1931, in Illinois, USA and grew up in California. He attended college for two years but enlisted in the Air Force during the Korean War where he served as an aircraft mechanic and flight engineer. It was there that he discovered a passion for snorkeling. Upon his discharge, he became a copywriter and later creative director for two leading ad agencies. At that time, he wrote and produced radio and television commercials that won numerous international awards including one at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. He began writing novels in 1965, when his wife started working nights and after putting the children to sleep he had no one to talk to and nothing to do. He published his first book, The Mediterranean Caper, featuring his continuous series hero, the marine engineer, government agent and adventurer Dirk Pitt, in 1973. Dirk is an undersea explorer who cheats death and saves the world as he foils the diabolical plots of megalomaniac villains. He went on to publish other maritime thrillers and founded in 1979 the National Underwater and Marine Agency, a non-profit dedicated to « preserving our maritime heritage through the discovery, archaeological survey and conservation of shipwreck artifacts” which was actually the name of the fictional organization that Dirk Pitt worked for in his first novel. In 1996 he published The Sea Hunters, his first non-fiction work and he was awarded he was awarded a Doctor of Letters degree in 1997 by the Board of Governors of the State University of New York Maritime College who accepted the work in lieu of a Ph.D. thesis. This was the first time in the college’s 123-year history that such a degree had been awarded. Cussler and his crew of marine experts and NUMA volunteers have discovered over 60 historically significant underwater wreck sites. After verifying their finds, NUMA turns the rights to the artifacts over to non-profits, universities, or government entities all over the world. He has sold over 100 million copies of his 85 books worldwide. Critics have called his dialogue leaden and his prose cliché but he has been praised for his descriptions of marine hardware, underwater struggles and salvage operations.
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 or Thriller 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 writers. Since first publishing A Time to Kill in 1988, Grisham has written one novel a year and all of them have become international bestsellers.
Scandinavian Thriller writers
Born in 1948 in Stockholm, Sweden, died in 2015, his father was a judge and Henning and his sister lived with him after he divorced their mother. When he was 16, he dropped out of school and left for Paris. He then joined the merchant marine. A few years later, he returned to Sweden to become a writer. At 19, a play he had written was produced in Stockholm, he then became an assistant theater director. He published his first novel, The Stone Blaster, about the Swedish labour movement, in 1973 and he used the proceeds to travel to Guinea-Bissau. He became very attached to Africa and even founded and ran a theater in Mozambique later in his life, when he would split his time between Sweden and Africa. It was in 1991 that his first Wallander novel, Faceless Killers, was published. It featured Inspector Kurt Wallander, a self-doubting, gruff, alcoholic detective. The novel was very successful and Mankell went on to write 9 others featuring Wallander. He is known as the dean of the Scandinavian noir genre, which is usually set in bleak landscapes and blends intense suspense with flawed protagonists and strong social themes. He was a left-wing political activist and held some controversial views. He wrote a total of 40 novels and 40 plays, but he is best-known for his Wallander series.
Before becoming a crime writer, Nesbo played football for Norway’s premier league team Molde, but his dream of playing professionally for Spurs was dashed when he tore ligaments in his knee at the age of eighteen. After three years military service he attended business school and formed the band Di derre (‘Them There’). They topped the charts in Norway, but Nesbo continued working as a financial analyst, crunching numbers during the day and gigging at night. When commissioned by a publisher to write a memoir about life on the road with his band, he instead came up with the plot for his first Harry Hole crime novel, The Bat. His novels take place mostly in Oslo and his very popular character is Harry Hole, a brilliant and obsessively driven detective who uses unorthodox and sometimes illegal methods in his investigations. The Harry Hole novels are multi-layered, violent and often feature women in peril. Jo Nesbo is a mainstay of contemporary Scandinavian noir. Stephen King about Jo Nesbo’s The Kingdom: ‘I read The Kingdom and couldn’t put it down … Suspenseful … Original … This one is special in every way.’
Born in 1974, in a small fishing community on Sweden’s west coast. She wrote her first story when she was only five, a bloodthirsty tale that showed her fascination with the darker sides of humanity. However, she went on to study economics and work as a product manager. She got back into writing after her husband, mother and brother offered her a subscription to a writing course about writing crime fiction and she started writing the story that would become her debut novel, The Ice Princess , during the course. It was published in 2003. During her early years as a writer she visited virtually every bookshop in the country to do signings and to talk about her books. In 2006, she became Sweden’s bestselling author. She also wrote two cookbooks in collaboration with celeberity chef Christian Hellberg and several children’s books. Her books are described as having all the atmosphere of a Scandinavian noir, the rich character development and compelling investigations, but without the dark violence. Where other Scandinavian authors dwell on the details of the crime, Lackberg focuses instead on how her charcters react to the violence. Läckberg’s books are light enough in tone and content to suit the genre newcomer, but still deliver the chills and suspense we all love from Nordic Thriller writers.
Jussi Adler Olsen
Born in 1950, in Copenhagen, Denmark. Son of a successful psychiatrist, he spent his childhood with his family in doctors’ official residences at several mental hospitals across Denmark. In his late teens, he played in a couple of pop groups as lead guitarist. He studied medicine, sociology (passed History of Modern Politics), and film making until 1978. After a managerial career, he began to write full-time in 1995. His best-kown series is Department Q, featuring Detective Carl Mørck of Department Q, Copenhagen’s cold cases division. Carl Mørck is a brilliant detective, disheveled and unhealthy in body and mind, who wanders around police headquarters grunting and with a perpetual hangover. But don’t let appearances fool you. Carl has razor-sharp investigative instincts, despite being plagued by a range of personal issues. When asked about being frequently compared to Stieg Larsson and Jo Nesbo, Olsen replied: ‘This is not mainstream Scandinavian thriller or crime story if you like. This is perhaps a little more filled with humor, special plots and not the usual melodramatic, depressing ray of Scandinavia as you used to read. So, please don’t compare me to anyone. Just read it for my own sake and your own sake, please. ‘
Stieg Larsson (1954-2004)
A Swedish journalist and writer. He had lived a part of his early childhood with his grandparents in a small wooden house in the countryside. He attended the village school and used cross-country skis to get to and from school during the long, snowy winters in northern Sweden. Larsson earned a secondary diploma in social sciences in 1972. He then applied to the Joint Colleges of Journalism in Stockholm, Sweden but failed the entrance examination. In 1974, Larsson was drafted into the Swedish Army, under the conscription law, and spent 16 months in compulsory military service, training as a mortarman. After his military service, Stieg travelled in Africa and has been described as “an early backpacker”. He first started writing science-fiction and became active in the Swedish science-fiction fandom and co-edited a fanzine, in which he published a handful of his early short stories. As a journalist and editor of the magazine Expo, Larsson was active in documenting and exposing Swedish extreme right and racist organisations and received multiple death threats because of his work. He died at the age of 50 and left three unpublished thrillers and unfinished manuscripts for more. The first three books ( The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo , The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest ) have since been printed as the Millenium series. These books are all bestsellers in Sweden and in several other countries, including the United States and Canada. They’re crime thrillers about a journalist named Mikael Blomkvist, who works for the magazine Millennium, and his sometime partner Lisbeth Salander, a startling and character who is a tattooed and pierced, bisexual computer hacker. Together this improbable pair solve mysteries involving spectacularly corrupt businessmen and politicians, sex traffickers, bent cops, spineless journalists, biker gangs and meth heads.
British Thriller writers
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”. Thriller writers
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 Thriller writers. Her work is praised for being shrewd and deeply enjoyable.