Recommended Thriller Authors who are entertaining and also give you the feel of what excellent writing can bring to the page!
General Adventure (the first few are not usually tagged as "Thriller" authors since this is a modern day definition - but they certainly meet my definition, even if their styles are dated):
Robert Louis Stevenson - The Black Arrow, Treasure Island, et al.; the root of all adventure, unless you count Homer.
Edgar Rice Burrows - Tarzan, John Carter, et al.; the beginnings of modern adventure (OK, so this dates me, but that's life!). And if you think Tarzan and Boy are sweet guys as portrayed in the old TV shows and movies, you need to go back and read the originals (FREE on Kindle). Bloodthirsty does not begin to describe them.
Louis L'Amour - A jack of all trades - stevedore, cowboy, seaman, prize fighter, miner, hobo, soldier - and through all this a prolific reader who published his first short story in 1937. His early efforts were adventure fiction set primarily in the South Pacific before and after WWII, where he served as a Lieutenant after completing OCS. Later in life he discovered the western genre for which he is most well known by today's readers and movie/TV viewers (from Hopalong Cassidy to How the West Was Won through The Sacketts, et al.). His last, and best in my mind, military novel is Last of the Breed, where a Native American Air Force pilot is shot down over Siberia. The story of his survival is the definition of action and adventure.
Nevil Shute- On the Beach, Trustee of the Toolroom, et al. Nevil Shute Norway, born in London, worked as an aeronautical engineer at Vickers before setting up his own aeronautical firm. Worried that his reputation as a fiction writer would damage his engineering career, he wrote without using his surname, "Norway," hence the "Shute" on his books. He served in both world wars and was a commander in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve in World War II working on secret projects. Another author who knows of what he writes!
Pat Frank (the pen name of Harry Hart Frank) - Alas, Babylon; The original nuclear doomsday novel, Alas, Babylon, is set principally in rural Florida in a fictitious town reportedly modeled after Mount Dora, just north of what is now the Disney complex, after a catastrophic exchange of nuclear weapons. At the time I read this I was the Army's Strategic Nuclear Plans and Programs Staff Officer in the Pentagon. Talk about striking home! Where Shute's On the Beach is a tragic aftermath story, Alas, Babylon tells of the tensions leading up to nuclear war and how survivors coped.
James Michener - Caravans, et al. One of many authors I really regret not meeting. While in Saudi, I read an article in the Riyadh English language newspaper about his workshops in the Tampa Bay area, but he left us before I was able to get back in country. If you read only one book about Afghanistan, Caravans should be the one. Written in the early Sixties to portray Afghanistan of the late Forties, the place and the people remain as Michener described, the vicious and unforgiving Afghanistan exactly as seen by our military in the 21st century.
Donald Hamilton - A prolific paperback author of westerns and techno thrillers (Hamilton was a Navy officer during WWII working as a research chemist), Hamilton perfected the Everyman in a manner reminiscent of Shute. He also wrote one of the most successful popular "counterspy" series featuring the Matt Helm character, not to be confused with the very shallow movies using the same titles and character names, but with none of the gritty intrigue typified by his Line of Fire. The only thing the books and the movies share is a lot of sex. Matt Helm and Jack Reacher would work well together, if they didn't kill each other.
Robert Ludlum is one of my all-time favorites, especially with his Jason Bourne series, pitting the minor operative against vast conspiracies, much like - but different from - Hamilton' Matt Helm. Some of the new novels commissioned in his name are good, some not.
Thomas Perry - In The Butcher's Boy, Perry creates a unique style where the antagonist, a truly mean guy, is also the main character who gains the reader's support, if not sympathy - but even better are Perry's Jane Whitefield series - a personal witness protection program that often goes awry, with a significant Native American influence. And the main character is a woman - strong, tough, but caring enough to risk her own life for others. He recently published a sequel to The Butcher's Boy that is as good as the original.
Nevada Barr - Anna Pigeon is a National Park Service Enforcement Ranger with a propensity for trouble. A unique character, another adventurous woman succeeding in what is often considered a man's world in a series set in National Parks from out west to down south to the Statue of Liberty. Perry and Barr prove that adventure and action aren't just a man's thing. Some of her recent books are a little too touchy-feely for me, but still good reading, especially The Rope.
C. J. Box has a great series about Joe Pickett, a Game Warden in Wyoming and his family - wonderful outdoors adventure and reminder of how difficult it is to raise a household of teenage daughters, horses, and dogs, partnered with a wife smarter than he is.
Lee Child has an ex-military tough guy, John Reacher - MP, Special Ops, sniper - who will crush you with his fist if required - and does to the bad guys routinely in the books. Don't let the actor Tom Cruise (who does a great job in the movies) define Jack Reacher for you - read the books to discover the real Reacher. (and more recently a pretty good Amazon Prime series, with, in my opinion, a better casting of Reacher)
John Stanford has moved the police procedural to a new level with the Davenport character in the Prey series with a Bible-quoting supporting character - Virgil Flowers - so good he gets to star in his own novels.
Ward Larsen, an ex-fighter pilot, has several international thrillers including The Perfect Assassin that matches up with the greats.
Robert Crais has several great series, but my favorite Crais novel is SUSPECT, simply because one of the main supporting characters is Maggie the dog, who gets to drive the plot with her own Point of View internal conversations. Reads so good, I was prompted to mimic the dog's POV with Max in my own STICKS series (Trilogy plus a new draft), and now with a work in progress set in the Ukraine.
Great new authors appear every day, including Baldacci (some of his books are great like Split Second, some not so), and Stieg Larsson's Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, with additional pretty good continuation of the series by other authors after Larsson's death. Every few days I discover another author like Greg Rucka and his Aticus Kodiak series. Rucka is probably better known for his many efforts in the comic book world where he is a prolific author for the Marvel and other comic lines.
General Sir John Hackett; et al. - The Third World War - a fictional account of how many of the senior generals in NATO in the late '70's believed a NATO vs. Soviet Union conflict in Europe would play out - maybe a little dry, but for those of us stationed in Europe at the time, a sobering challenge;
Harold Coyle - Team Yankee, et al. - his first book was a small unit slice of the Third World War based on the overall battle portrayed in Hackett's The Third World War. In a more recent book, They are Soldiers, Coyle's platoon leader of twenty years ago in the Fulda Gap, now the Army Chief of Staff, sends his son off to serve with the National Guard on "Peacekeeping" duties in the Middle East. A great reflection of the contrasts between Active and Reserve/NG mindset, many of the prejudices described in the novels have been faced and disposed of by our current deployed forces with their reserve component unit and individual current combat achievements.
Dale Brown - Flight of the Old Dog, et al. - Heavy Bomber quasi science fiction that spans a number of years and characters.
Tom Clancy - Hunt for Red October, et al. Even the later Clancy novels, huge tomes with evidence of "writing by committee," are excellent war stories with engaging characters. Still toward the top of my personal list. The latest series that continue with his name are a mixed bag, however the Jack Ryan Jr series by Grant Blackwood are as good as the originals.
Steven Coonts - Flight of the Intruder, et al. - Navy Air, Vietnam to tomorrow, with a lot of Middle Eastern action in the newer books and now, real Sci-Fi with Saucer: The conquest. The series continues with the Navy LT now a retired admiral, still involved with the CIA.
W. E. B. Griffin - Brotherhood of War series presents an insider's view of what it was like to be a soldier from 1944 to 1970 - WWII to Vietnam, along with his Men at War series with the fledgling OSS in WWII. He has also written highly acclaimed police and Marine series that I have yet to read. Oh, to be so prolific - and GOOD! And he has continued the tradition with a new series starting with By Order of the President, a counter-terrorism novel co-authored with his son, William E. Butterworth IV.
Ken Follett - Follett adds Hornet Flight, a WWII tale, to his long list of espionage thrillers that will keep you up far past your bedtime. Newer novels, Never is a contemporary spy thriller, and The Evening and the Morning, a continuation of a historical series, are examples of Follet's span.
Ralph Peters - Red Army, et al. Retired US Army Intelligence Officer and author of several other outstanding novels and scholarly works on modern warfare. Different from most novels, but with the protagonist twist I first saw in Perry's Butcher's Boy, Peter's Red Army is written entirely from the perspective of Soviet military - enlisted and officer ranks. Intellectually capable of analyzing Clausewitz - and as entertaining as Clancy - Peters' Beyond Terror helps explain the mess the world is in from both geopolitical and military strategic perspectives. Contemplative issues for those interested in serious discussions.
Especially if you are a Vietnam vet, do NOT pass up the opportunity to read Nelson DeMille'sUp Country. DeMille (a LT in the 1st Cavalry Division in 1968's Vietnam) takes you back to Khe Sanh and drags you through the current day jungles of Vietnam, the cities of Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, the battlefields many of us experienced in the raw. DeMille's other novels are all very realistic, often forecasting the political realities of today - unfortunately. The Lion and The Panther have the NYPD cop John Corey and his FBI wife tangle with the worst terrorism has to offer.
Alex Berenson's John Wells is the ultimate defender of freedom. Ex- Ranger and CIA operative, Wells takes on terrorists in their own 'hoods, at the expense of his own family and friends. Like most of these authors' books, start at the beginning of the series (The Faithful Spy) to grow with the characters. Another in the Jack Reacher style of no holds barred.
Michael Connelly 's novels are primarily set in LA, but his Bosch and Lincoln Lawyer characters could live anywhere - great stuff.
I have devoured all of the old British naval novels I could find, starting with Patrick O'Brien's MASTER AND COMMANDER and the 16 others in the series I am aware of, all in tradition of C. S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower series. Pure ADVENTURE - shouted from the top of the main mast. Many others include Julian Stcokwell.
L. A. Meyer offers a very different take in his Bloody Jack series. Mary Faber, a orphan from the London gutters, becomes a ship's "boy" and through the series captain of her own ship with adventures all over the world. Strange, but intriguing. Written as a YA series, the books definitely move toward an adult theme.
I love all the old greats from Jules Verne to Edgar Rice Burroughs to Heinlein, on and on; but I have discovered a new MASTER of the genre: BLAZE WARD. So far as I can tell, that is his real name, but his novels are so great I don't really care, starting with The Science Officer to The Jessica Keller Chronicles series, and many more. If you are a reader of action/adventure/thrillers, and maybe thought you weren't a fan of Science Fiction, reading his work will convert you.
Florida (I have met each of these authors, except John D, whom I knew through the wisdom of Dr. Ed Hirsberg. Each is committed to tell their version of what Florida is really about). The order follows the way their books are stacked on my shelves - haphazardly:
John D. MacDonald - Travis McGee series - the classic series that uses a tough guy to expose environmental disasters set in Lauderdale and environs - I feel an affinity for JDM - he also finished his military career as a Lieutenant Colonel, his after service in India with the OSS, and only then began his writing career - oh, if only I shared a bit of his talent.... McGee, like many of my other favorite tough characters, has a "no-holds-barred approach to the bad guys - and a way with the women in the "Mike Hammer" style.
Les Standiford - his Deal series features a Miami building contractor - contemporary, but reminds you of the old time (maybe also contemporary) crime scene in Miami with excursions to the Bahamas and other exotic spots like South Beach and Key West.
Barbara Parker is an ex-Miami area lawyer who also writes about - guess what - another Miami lawyer in her Suspicion series. But the best of the batch, in my opinion, is The Perfect Fake, about a fake masterpiece, set in Italy - a far cry from Miami, but strangely similar. [We lost Barbara to cancer - a great lady, good friend, mentor and teacher who is greatly missed.]
James Hall - writes the eloquent and rough Thorn series set in Miami and the Keys.
Randy Wayne White - his Doc Ford series is set on the Florida Suncoast, with travels to Cuba and other exotic spots. In Tampa Burns, Doc Ford, the mysterious ex-some-kind-of-unnamed-government-agent, stops by some of my favorite Suncoast restaurants while solving grand mysteries.
Diane Vogt - Willa Carter series set in Tampa tells about the judicial system in a different way and now writes a series based on the Lee Child's Reacher character.
Tim Dorsey - writes about the outrageous Florida that really exists.
Old friend Terry Griffin makes you want to prop up on a beach chair and read on the beach with his series about the Longboat Key-based Matt Royal. Great guy to sit around the bar with and exchange tall tales of when we were enlisted Army guys searching for trouble. Terry is also no longer with us; his wonderful heart finally gave out.
Sterling Watson - a mentor who writes both "literary" and down-and-dirty Florida crime novels.
James O. Born, a former Florida Department of Law Enforcement agent, has a gritty series set in south Florida, all too parallel to the real crimes and criminals he deals with everyday. He has expanded to science fiction, and co-authored with James Patterson.
Jonathon King, a transplanted Yankee, took roots in the Everglades and environs, with characters straight from his beat as a police reported.
My old friend, Tom Corcoran, parlayed his experience and skills as a photographer and member of the Conch Republic to develop a fresh series set in the Florida Keys that will make you yearn for a tall cold one. Just saw Tom has passed. Drives me to get back writing before my time comes up.
Christine Kling sailed much of the world, but based her current series about a salvage operator in the waters around Lauderdale.
James Swain is a magician who will amaze you with his slight of hand and his tales of how crooks rob casinos and casinos rob - everyone. He captures all this in his stories about an investigator-for-hire ex-cop who works the gambling world.
Ann Turner Cook: With a smile, Ann endured the notoriety of being the model for the famous "Gerber Baby" sketch on the baby food labels and ads, while among other accomplishments she authored a number of mystery novels. But I remember her best as the Tampa Writers Association Critique Group chair as she tried to explain to me the craft of writing fiction. RIP, Ann passed in 2022.
Stuart Kaminsky's list of works and awards fill a book all by themselves. Too much to select from - over fifty novels, many movie and TV scripts, short stories. The Master! Unfortunately, he also has passed on.
Bernard Cornwell - Sharpe series - begins with Richard Sharpe as a British Private in the British colony of India, takes you through the Indiacampaignsand the Napoleonic wars in Spain and France, with Sharpe finally as a Regimental Commander at the battle of Waterloo, and ends with the exile of Napoleon. New Sharpe books continue to appear, along with other Cornwell historical classics such as Stonehenge, which explains how and why all those big rocks ended up on a British plain. All wonderful action adventures, with characters who are as real as Clancy's Jack Ryan. And, lo and behold, I discovered his Starbuck series set in the American Civil War, more great historical fiction so realistic and well researched that you can learn history by reading the books. And more recently a contemporary series of men and women sailing the high seas.
George McDonald Fraser - Flashman series - A scoundrel who participated in many historical events including the Charge of the Light Brigade and Custer’s defeat by Sitting Bull at the battles of the Little Horn and Big Horn Rivers. Lots of good old gratuitous sex, and extraordinarily accurate historical settings. Flashman is a bit bigger than real, but always good for a history lesson and a humorous escapade. The latest excerpt from the "Flashman Papers," Flashman on the March, covers Flashman's 1868 Campaign to Abyssinia. Fraser also wrote an engaging memoir about his own combat service in the Burma campaign during World War II.
Non-fiction (part of my Middle East research):
T. E. Lawrence - Seven Pillars of Wisdom, the source of much cultural wisdom about the Middle East people and factual descriptions of the geography and climate. The book was admired and scorned during Lawrence's life, cut short too quickly by a mysterious accident. The book is also the basis for the the movie "Lawrence of Arabia." Read my take on Lawrence here. Lawrence also wrote The Mint, a shocking exposé about the abuses of the British military system that was so shocking Lawrence agreed that it would only be published after his death.
Lowell Thomas - the famous newspaper journalist, radio commentator and newscaster, accompanied Lawrence on some of his Arabian adventures, confirming in Thomas' book With Lawrence in Arabia that Lawrence really did did what many people thought were only figments of Lawrence's imagination. Thomas shot dramatic movie footage of Lawrence, then returned to America and began giving public lectures there and in England, showing movies of veiled women. Arabs in robes, camels and dashing Bedouin cavalry, very much a novelty in the West.
I GIVE UP! - Every day I find a new author - or re-discover an old one - the list keeps growing.
Click the Amazon link to buy books by these authors!