So many books to read and so little time. We’ve read more great books this year than in any other in recent memory. Increasingly, talented authors seem to be drifting into the thriller genre with new approaches to familiar literary conventions. Here’s our take on the best of the best so far.
Ship Breaker, by Paulo Bacigalupi
It’s rare that a book marketed to the teen market makes a BestThrillers.com list, but Ship Breaker is a solid thriller for all ages. Like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, David Brin’s The Postman and many others before him, Bacigalupi creates a world set in a dangerous and violent post-apocalyptic future. His 17-year-old protagonist, Nailer, scours the American Gulf Coast, looting wrecked ships for copper wiring and other goods. If it’s possible to look past the poverty and danger depicted in Nailer’s daily plight, there’s something undeniably exciting in his daily scavenging routines. When Nailer stumbles upon a survivor trapped in a luxury boat, his entire world is changed. Solid prose, tense plotting and original characters set this book far apart from the pack.
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, by Stieg Larsson
This book, the last in the Millennium series by the late Stieg Larsson, was first published in Sweden in 2007 under the title, The Air Castle That Exploded. It sneaks into our list by virtue of an American Knopf release in 2010. Series characters Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist are back for a final ride in this excellent crime thriller, and it’s clear early on that Larsson saved the best for last. To those unfamiliar with the series, get thee to a bookstore; it would take far too long to explain the premise here. Make no mistake; the series original, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, is an all-time classic, and this book needs some time to earn that elite status. Yet what sets this final chapter apart is the pacing, which is at light speed compared to the first two books.
Line of Succession, by William Tyree
Tyree’s first thriller, Line of Succession, is a shining example of mass market fiction done right. While the book’s vision of a series of coordinated political assassinations brings the country to its knees in alarming fashion, the real story happens a world away in Iran, where a rogue American General brokers an elaborate pact in exchange for the technology for a revolutionary new desalination plant that will both turn Iran into a superpower while solving America’s impending water shortage problems. We begin to see how the two events are connected long before the book’s hero, Blake Carver does, but there are still plenty of surprises along the way. Although Tyree’s prose more closely resembles the gut-punching style of Cormac McCarthy than fellow genre writers such as Vince Flynn, the book’s pace never suffers from literary conceits. This is still a somewhat under-the-rader book, and thriller fans have a chance to get in on the ground floor.
The Moses Expedition, by Juan Gómez-Jurado
In a book that Dan Brown must surely wish he had written, Father Anthony Fowler is a CIA and Vatican Secret Service operative who embarks on a search for the Ark of the Covenant in Jordan. The story certainly covers familiar ground, and even uses familiar characters: archeologists, mercenaries and even Nazis. Somehow, The Moses Expedition manages to be more than just a Raiders of the Lost Ark also-ran. The priest at the center of the story is more than capable hero, and it’s through him and his companions that the story really takes off. Extremist terrorist attacks are used to convincing effect, and the historical back story is fully engrossing, with subject matter that hasn’t been covered before. Tense, rollicking and atmospheric, this is a book not to be missed.
The Passage, by Justin Cronin
Earlier this year, we called The Passage one of the best supernatural thrillers ever written. Upon picking it up for a second read, it seems deserving of much more. New to the genre after winning the PEN/Hemingway prize for a previous literary novel, Cronin knocks it out of the park with a plot that spans more than a full century and a cast of characters a mile long. As the earth is ravaged by an outbreak of a virus that turns humans into bloodsuckers, we read on as America is reduced to small tribes of survivors, each inventing their own ingenious ways to stay alive and procreate while fending off frequent attacks by the “virals.” Somehow, Cronin keeps the book’s narrative gripping throughout a huge saga that could have easily been separated into two or three separate books.