FBI thrillers are pervasive throughout the entertainment landscape. Almost since the FBI was founded during the Teddy Roosevelt presidency in 1908, novelists and filmmakers alike have been cooking up fictional episodes of the legendary G-men. Some of these classic tales are tributes, and many more are conspiracy theories. More often than not in books about the FBI, the feds are positioned as the outsiders that arrive uninvited, at the chagrin of local law enforcement.
The FBI has a rich history and tradition of solving high-profile and complex cases, which makes it an interesting subject for books and movies. From the capture of notorious criminals like John Dillinger and Bonnie and Clyde, to the investigation of major events such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the Watergate scandal, the FBI has played a critical role in shaping American history. The ongoing pursuit of justice and the protection of the American people also makes for compelling storytelling. The FBI’s reputation as one of the most elite law enforcement agencies in the world also adds to the mystique and intrigue surrounding it.
Despite all the cliches, there’s something about a good FBI thriller novel that pulls you in and just won’t let go. The wiretaps, the suits, the bad architecture of its legendary Washington D.C. headquarters. It just works.
With that, here’s our list of 18 incredible FBI Thrillers that are guaranteed to satisfy.
1) Hide and Seek by Mary Burton
A truly enlightened FBI thriller that stands out from the pack.
Hide and Seek = picks up where Cut and Run left off, as Special Agent Macy Crow is recovering from brutal hit and run.
She’s laser-focused on her career, with her sights set on the FBI’s elite profiling team. To get there, she volunteers to investigate the death of a high school girl who had been missing until her bones were recently discovered.
Of course, Crow discovers a critical link between her new case and others.
Is a serial killer at work?
Fans of FBI procedurals will be delighted by Burton’s twisty plot, but it’s the tangible sense of place and characterization that makes this one stand out.
Fans of Netflix’s Mindhunter will appreciate her story of a budding profiler who edges ever closer to solving a case while trying not to become a victim herself.
2) The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchison
Near an isolated mansion lies a beautiful garden.
In this garden grow luscious flowers, shady trees…and a collection of precious “butterflies”—young women who have been kidnapped and intricately tattooed to resemble their namesakes.
Overseeing it all is the Gardener, a brutal, twisted man obsessed with capturing and preserving his lovely specimens.
When the garden is discovered, a survivor is brought in for questioning.
FBI agents Victor Hanoverian and Brandon Eddison are tasked with piecing together one of the most stomach-churning cases of their careers.
But the girl, known only as Maya, proves to be a puzzle herself.
As her story twists and turns, slowly shedding light on life in the Butterfly Garden,
Maya reveals old grudges, new saviors, and horrific tales of a man who’d go to any length to hold beauty captive.
But the more she shares, the more the agents have to wonder what she’s still hiding.
3) The Devil’s Triangle by Catherine Coulter and J.T. Ellison
It should come as no surprise that FBI fiction specialist Catherine Coulter makes multiple appearances on our list of the century’s best thrillers about the FBI.
FBI Special Agents Nicholas Drummond and Michaela Caine are the government’s Covert Eyes—leading a top-notch handpicked team of agents to tackle crimes and criminals both international and deadly. But their first case threatens their fledgling team when the Fox calls from Venice asking for help.
Kitsune has stolen an incredible artifact from the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul, and now the client wants her dead. She has a warning for Nick and Mike: she’s overheard talk that a devastating Gobi desert sandstorm that’s killed thousands in Beijing isn’t a natural phenomenon, rather is produced by man. The Covert Eyes team heads to Venice, Italy, to find out the truth.
From New York to Venice and from Rome to the Bermuda Triangle, Nicholas and Mike and their team are in a race against time, and nature herself, to stop an obsessed family from devastating Washington, DC.
But is it any good? Absolutely. The relationship between Nicolas and Michaela is nearly telepathic, making it fun to read, and the almost-too-out-there plot has just the right amount of crazy. What’s more, you can jump right into this book without having read any previous books in the series without missing a beat, and you won’t be weighed down by hundreds of pages of backstory.
As to whether the credit goes to Coulter or J.T. Ellison or both, that’s for you to decide (Ellison’s name is 5X smaller on the book cover than Coulter’s).
4) The Fisherman’s Daughter by Robin Barefield
A mesmerizing FBI thriller set in the Alaskan wilderness.
After the bodies of four murdered women are found on Alaska’s Kodiak Island, FBI Special Agent Nick Morgan flies to Kodiak to aid in the investigation. Morgan’s local contact, Alaska State Trooper Dan Patterson, fears a serial killer is at work. But finding the perpetrator won’t be easy. The victims have very little in common with each other, and inclimate weather has left few pieces of forensic evidence for investigators.
Author Robin Barefield, herself a resident of the Alaskan wilderness, is fast becoming as synonymous with Alaska as Dennis Lehane is to New England. As in her first novel, Murder Over Kodiak, the island culture she channels provides an atmosphere that renders The Fisherman’s Daughter completely unlike anything else on the bestseller list.
More than just the weather — driving rain, snow, ice and high wind — it’s the people that inhabit Barefield’s world that set The Fisherman’s Daughter apart from most crime thrillers. The islanders are fishermen, boat motor repairmen, hunters, prostitutes, cannery workers. Real estate agents close during the summer salmon-fishing season. And pilots, who make rapid transportation around the state possible despite relatively high crash rates, are everyday heroes. The overarching effect is a palpable, almost sensory literary experience that is nothing short of mesmerizing.
As for the investigation, Barefield’s characters execute deliciously old-fashioned detective work. The pair interview witnesses who can identify a truck, a person in a child’s drawing, a subtle change in hairstyle. They gather whatever evidence the weather hasn’t erased. And simmering underneath it all is the threat that the perp may strike again. Highly recommended.
5) A Wanted Man: A Jack Reacher Novel by Lee Child
Four people in a car, hoping to make Chicago by morning.
One man driving, another telling stories that don’t add up.
A woman in the back, silent and worried.
And a hitchhiker with a broken nose.
An hour behind them, the FBI descends on an old pumping station where a man was stabbed to death—the knife work professional, the killers nowhere to be seen.
All he did was stick out his thumb. But he soon discovers he has hitched more than a ride. He has tied himself to a massive conspiracy, in which nothing is what it seems, and nobody is telling the truth.
6) Along Came a Spider, an Alex Cross Novel by James Patterson
A missing little girl named Maggie Rose.
A family of three brutally murdered in the projects of Washington, D.C.
The thrill-killing of a beautiful elementary school teacher.
A psychopathic serial kidnapper/murderer who calls himself the Son of Lindbergh.
He is so terrifying that the FBI, the Secret Service, and the police cannot outsmart him – even after he’s been captured.
Alex Cross is a homicide detective with a Ph.D. in psychology.
He looks like Muhammad Ali in his prime. Cross works and lives in the ghettos of D.C. He’s a tough guy from a tough part of town who wears Harris Tweed jackets and likes to relax by banging out Gershwin tunes on his baby grand piano.
Alex Cross must face the ultimate test as a psychologist: how do you outmaneuver a brilliant psychopath? Especially one who appears to have a split personality – one who won’t let the other half remember those horrific acts?
7) Hannibal by Thomas Harris
You’ve seen The Silence of the Lambs, and perhaps even the TV show inspired by the books.
But odds are that you missed the sequel to one of the world’s greatest serial killer yarns.
Thomas Harris takes us once again into the mind of a killer, crafting a chilling portrait of insidiously evolving evil – a tour de force of psychological suspense.
Seven years have passed since Dr. Hannibal Lecter escaped from custody, seven years since FBI Special Agent Clarice Starling interviewed him in a maximum security hospital for the criminally insane.
The doctor is still at large, pursuing his own ineffable interests, savoring the scents, the essences of an unguarded world.
But Starling has never forgotten her encounters with Dr. Lecter, and the metallic rasp of his seldom-used voice still sounds in her dreams.
Mason Verger remembers Dr. Lecter, too, and is obsessed with revenge. He was Dr. Lecter’s sixth victim, and he has survived to rule his own butcher’s empire.
From his respirator, Verger monitors every twitch in his worldwide web. Soon he sees that to draw the doctor, he must have the most exquisite and innocent-appearing bait; he must have what Dr. Lecter likes best.
8) Fava by John Hazen
This book may just change the way you view the lottery.
Francine Vega is an aspiring broadcast journalist who is paying her dues with puff pieces for New York’s Action News. While covering a seemingly benign story about the PowerMax lottery, with the jackpot up to $750 million, Francine thinks it will it will be a fun but forgettable assignment.
That all changes when she meets the winner, Alan Starbuck Westbrook. When asked what he plans to do with his winnings, Westbrook coldly mentions that he will get revenge for his brother’s death on 9/11. It seems that Westbrook’s plan is to use his newfound fortune to fund an all-out war, with the help of a rogue army colonel, to destroy Islam.
It’s up to Francine to stop him. Using her investigative skills as a journalist, aided by FBI Special Agent Will Allen, she tracks Westbrook across three continents. Throughout, Hazen fuses relatable characters with a plot of high drama that brilliantly takes the simple joy of the lottery fantasy and flipping on its head. Taking one of the landmarks of the American dream, Hazen poses the terrifying possibility of turning the wrong man into a world changing force.
For fans of terrorist thrillers, Fava is a unique story that will grab readers with its big ideas, while grounding them in the detail orientated world of journalistic reporting. For anyone who is tired of garden variety conspiracy thrillers, Fava is the novel for you.
9) The Last Mile by David Baldacci
Convicted murderer Melvin Mars is counting down the last hours before his execution–for the violent killing of his parents twenty years earlier–when he’s granted an unexpected reprieve..
Another man has confessed to the crime.
Amos Decker, newly hired on an FBI special task force, takes an interest in Mars’s case after discovering the striking similarities to his own life: Both men were talented football players with promising careers cut short by tragedy. Both men’s families were brutally murdered. And in both cases, another suspect came forward, years after the killing, to confess to the crime. A suspect who may or may not have been telling the truth.
The confession has the potential to make Melvin Mars–guilty or not–a free man.
Who wants Mars out of prison? And why now?
But when a member of Decker’s team disappears, it becomes clear that something much larger–and more sinister–than just one convicted criminal’s life hangs in the balance.
Decker will need all of his extraordinary brainpower to stop an innocent man from being executed.
10) Bombshell, an FBI Thriller by Catherine Coulter
FBI Special Agent Griffin Hammersmith, last seen in Backfire, has been recruited by Dillon Savich to join his unit in Washington, D.C. Savich sees something special in Hammersmith, an almost preternatural instinct for tracking criminals.
While on his way to D.C., Hammersmith plans to visit his sister, Delsey, a student at Stanislaus School of Music in Maestro, Virginia.
Before he arrives, he gets a phone call that Delsey was found naked, unconscious, and covered with blood after a wild party. The blood isn’t hers—so who does it belong to?
Meanwhile, back in D.C., Savich and Sherlock have their hands full when the grandson of former chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank is found murdered, every bone in his body broken, and frozen at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial.
Was Savich right—is Griffin gifted with a unique ability to “see” how criminals think?
And will he figure out who was behind the attempt on Delsey’s life—before it’s too late?
11) Season of the Harvest by Michael R. Hicks
At a genetics lab where a revolutionary strain of corn is being developed, FBI Special Agent Jack Dawson’s best friend and fellow agent is brutally murdered, his body torn apart.
Jack is convinced that Naomi Perrault, a beautiful geneticist and suspected terrorist, is behind the murder.
But when Jack is framed for setting off a bomb that devastates the FBI lab in Quantico, Naomi becomes Jack’s only hope of survival.
Confronted by the terrifying truth of what the genetically engineered seeds stolen by his friend are truly for and who is really behind them, Jack joins Naomi in a desperate fight across half the globe to save humanity from extermination…
12) It Ends With Her by Brianna Labuskes
Redheaded readers may be looking for a dye job after finishing Brianna Labuskes’ terrifying FBI thriller.
Troubled FBI special agent Clarke Sinclair knows that serial killer Simon Cross preys on redheads. She also knows that Cross likes to play mind games. The one he’s playing right now has taken Sinclair all over the United States. Sadly, no good deed goes unpunished. The moment Sinclair discovers a victim, Cross preys on a new one.
The twisted game changes when a blonde woman is kidnapped in upstate New York. As you might imagine from the title, Sinclair’s own life may soon be on the line.
Is It Ends with Her as predictable as its title might indicate? Sadly, yes. But fortunately, Labuskes is excellent at building suspense. She also does an excellent job of developing her protagonist, Clarke, who has more layers than an onion. Some readers may not be ready to embrace such an emotionally disturbed protagonist, but that was the x-factor for this reader.
13) AFTERLIFE by Markus Sakey
Even after closing out his superb Brilliance trilogy, Markus Sakey returned to the idea of a federal agent wrestling with both terrorism and an existence that stretches the notion of reality. In Afterlife, the last thing FBI agent Will Brody remembers is the explosion—a thousand shards of glass surfing a lethal shock wave. He wakes without a scratch.
The building is in ruins. His team is gone. Outside, Chicago is dark. Cars lie abandoned. No planes cross the sky. He’s relieved to spot other people—until he sees they’re carrying machetes.
Say what? Welcome to the afterlife, apparently. Claire McCoy stands over the body of Will Brody. As head of an FBI task force, she hasn’t had a decent night’s sleep in weeks. A terrorist has claimed eighteen lives and thrown the nation into panic.
It turns out that the line between life and death is narrower than any of us suspect—and all that matters to Will and Claire is getting back to each other.
The question Sakey asks – what if death is just the beginning? – is hardly original. And yet Afterlife feels completely fresh. Despite Sakey’s revisitation of familiar character archetypes and themes, Afterlife is unlike anything you’ve ever read, and the audiobook narration soulfully delivered by Finty Williams.
14) Insidious by Catherine Coulter
Another rock-solid outing in Coulter’s FBI series, Insidious is reliable comfort food for thriller fans everywhere.
FBI agents Savich and Sherlock must discover who is trying to murder Venus Rasmussen, a powerful, wealthy society icon.
They soon find out that the danger may be closer than expected.
Venus Rasmussen, a powerful woman who runs the international conglomerate Rasmussen Industries, believes someone is poisoning her. After Savich and Sherlock visit with her, someone attempts to shoot her in broad daylight.
Who’s trying to kill her and why? A member of her rapacious family, or her grandson who’s been missing for ten years and suddenly reappears? Savich and Sherlock must peel away the layers to uncover the incredible truth about who would target Venus.
Meanwhile, Special Agent Cam Wittier leaves Washington for Los Angeles to work with local Detective Daniel Montoya to lead the hunt for the Starlet Slasher, a serial killer who has cut the throats of five young actresses.
When a sixth young actress is murdered, Cam comes to realize the truth might be closer than she’d ever want to believe.
15) The Woods by Amanda McKinney
While the FBI is only a peripheral subject in this excellent small town murder mystery, it’s too good to leave off the list.
The rustic charm of Berry Spring, Arkansas’s dense forests, mountains and small town living is a powerful draw. But like all tiny Ozark towns, it can also be suffocating and secretive, and that’s precisely what makes it a perfect setting for Amanda McKinney’s debut erotic thriller.
When local reporter Amy Duncan needs information, she turns to police officer Carl Winters for an illicit news briefing and a sweaty shag. But when Amy turns up dead with a mysterious symbol branded on her flesh, the sleepy town becomes awash in gossip and accusations.
Enter McKinney’s heroine, archeologist Dr. Katie Somers, who flies back home to sell her childhood home a year after her sister’s death. While there, the New Yorker has a chance encounter with local stud Jake Thomas, who just relocated from Montana. Katie’s attraction to the former Army Ranger who’s angling for an FBI career is immediate and intense. But when they stumble on a body during a hike in the woods, their lives change forever.
McKinney’s debut Berry Springs novel is an impressive one. Within the requisite small town tropes (the rugged, handsome stranger; the small town psycho; the single out-of-towner that’s just passing through), McKinney has accomplished something that is easier said than done – created an alluring sense of place in Berry Springs that crackles with energy. Adding to the intrigue are titillating sex scenes that may make some J.D. Robb fans blush, but ultimately serve to distinguish her on bookshelves.
16) Diablo by Douglas Misquita
Misquita’s prologue begins with a fable about the rise of ocean pirates seen through the experiences of a Somali fisherman named Eid.
Detailed and grounded in reality, the narrative is thoughtful, cinematic and fast-paced. It’s here that we’re first introduced to The Council, a shadowy, sociopathic group of men and women intent on solving the migration crisis through a bio-weapon code-named Diablo. Seemingly omniscient and all-powerful, they council agrees to move forward with a plan that could unleash global genocide.
Enter FBI agent Kirk Ingram, black-and-white thinker solely devoted to the administration of justice.
Shockingly, Ingram’s accidental involvement – and an unfortunate turn of events – lead him to create an alliance with the Council itself. Along the way, Misquita fills his book with similarly complex characters, including Senator Rowe, a powerful Council member who traces his family’s origins to America’s first colonial settlers.
The result is novel that is both entertaining and informative.
Sophisticated and believable, Misquita has created a world where there are no easy answers. Although Diablo is indeed action-packed, those with a significant understanding of contemporary geopolitics will get the most out of it.
17) Death & Taxes by Richard V. Rupp
A smart, morally complex and quintessentially American crime thriller.
In this under-the-radar gem of a book, an IRS auditor is found dead at work from a gunshot wound with a small-caliber pistol.
Was it suicide, or murder? That’s the question posed to FBI agent Dick Hartmann, head of San Francisco’s Violent Crime Squad. Readers know far more from the outset than Hartmann does (it was murder, of course), but Hartmann’s journey is riveting nonetheless. The case leads him to the IRS mailroom, to a local street gang and eventually, to Los Angeles.
Author Richard Rupp’s gift for strong characterization make Death & Taxes a riveting read from page one, when the Disney characters adorning the IRS walls seem to agitate the killer (“Were the powers that be simply implying that the IRS tax rules were akin to Alice in Wonderland?”). Later, our introduction to Hartmann comes as he’s reading a copy cup intended to, ahem, stroke the ego of anyone named “Dick” (“Meaning: Powerful; mighty and great…”).
Within the context of a smart police procedural, Rupp makes sure we’re firmly inside the characters rather than merely watching from a distance. That brings immediacy to every scene, whether the perp is ditching a getaway car, or Hartmann is meeting celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck.
Throughout, the divide between white and Latino society in California is a recurring theme. Rupp holds a mirror up to contemporary society’s socio-economic divides and succeeds wildly, managing to both illuminate and entertain while never letting up on the tension established in the opening chapter.
18) Dry Bones, a Walt Longmore Book by Craig Johnson
Sometimes, the best FBI thrillers are the ones where FBI agents aren’t the main characters, but ratchet up the tension when they come to town.
Fans of Craig John’s Longmire series know that the FBI is no stronger to small town investigations.
When Jen, the largest, most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton ever found surfaces in Sherriff Walt Longmire’s jurisdiction, it appears to be a windfall for the High Plains Dinosaur Museum—until Danny Lone Elk, the Cheyenne rancher on whose property the remains were discovered, turns up dead, floating face down in a turtle pond.
With millions of dollars at stake, a number of groups step forward to claim her, including Danny’s family, the tribe, and the federal government.
As Wyoming’s Acting Deputy Attorney and a cadre of FBI officers descend on the town, Walt is determined to find out who would benefit from Danny’s death, enlisting old friends Lucian Connolly and Omar Rhoades, along with Dog and best friend Henry Standing Bear, to trawl the vast Lone Elk ranch looking for answers to a sixty-five million year old cold case that’s heating up fast.
19) A Girl Named Digit by Annabel Monaghan
Among FBI thriller recommendations, this book is definitely lighter fare. However, look no further than the legion of five-star reader reviews to make its case on this list.
Farrah Higgins started high school with one thing on her mind: ditching the math geek image that earned her the name Digit in middle school.
By her senior year she’d figured out how to fake normal and fit in with the It Girls of Samohi.
And it was all good, if exhausting, until she noticed some faint numbers in the corner of her TV screen and cracked the communications system of a murderous eco-terror organization.
Kidnapped by the FBI for her own protection, half in love with her captor and running for her life… can she end world terror and get life back to normal before the prom?