As I launch my own thriller career with Simon Says, Book 1 in the John Simon thrillers, I thought it would fun to talk about some of my influences. So here are my top 10 favorite mystery-thriller writers to date and the series I read and enjoy most from them. Most of them have multiple series and standalone but these are the ones that have most impacted me. I highly recommend them all.
- John Connolly/Charlie Parker—No one writes more masterful, poetic prose than Irish author John Connolly. Tamara Pearse, no slouch herself, and I have often compared notes on how much we admire this wordsmith. His characters, settings, and plots are rich with nuance and depth and the entire series is so vivid and powerful, it is not to be missed. I eagerly await the newest book’s arrival every Fall. Every Dead Thing is the second best debut novel I ever read, and that includes Andy Weir’s The Martian, which I edited.
- Michael Connelly/Bosch-Lincoln Lawyer—Hands down, the single biggest influence overall on my John Simon books is Bosch (now a TV show on Amazon Prime). This amazing series is so vivid and realistic, written by a journalist who lived there and reported on crime for decades before becoming a novelist. If you want to know what it’s like to be a homicide cop in Los Angeles, these books transport you—good and bad. They are rich and unforgettable reads every single time. The Black Echo is the single best debut novel I ever read, again, including The Martian.
- John Sandford/Lucas Davenport-Virgil Flowers—Also highly influential for me are the amazing works of this prolific Pulitzer Prize winning journalist turned novelist. The Davenport series is concluding at 30 books but Virgil is still going strong at 12, with hopefully many more to come. Compelling, unforgettable, rich characters and plotting, with writing that gets better as it goes along. Another not to be missed series.
- Craig Johnson/Longmire—Another series made into a TV show (6 seasons on Netflix), this is a modern western about a sheriff in small town Wyoming with Indian Reservation politics and many interesting complications. The characters are compelling and fascinating people, and the story gets richer with each book. Also amazing use of setting and strong suspense. Highly recommended. A great example of first person writing.
- Jonathan Maberry/Joe Ledger-Rot and Ruin—No one writes high tech thrillers mixed with horror better than my friend and collaborator Jonathan Maberry. Working with him and even contributing to these universes myself has been a high honor and an amazing learning experience. The Joe Ledger and Rot and Ruin series are both in second phases now and going strong. Amazing use of tech and science in Ledger sets it apart, with politics and so much more. Rot and Ruin is a YA connected universe but focuses more on younger characters. Just as compelling. Highly recommended.
- Dennis Lehane/Kenzie and Gennaro—Lehane writes a lot of standalone thrillers, many of which have become movies, but for me, the Kenzie/Gennaro books of which there are 6? Are his best. I can’t put them down. Rich characters, rich use of the Boston setting, amazing plots and suspense. Just utterly breathtaking work.
- C.J. Box/Joe Pickett—The story of a Wyoming game warden who uncovers and investigates mysteries like a detective, some similarities to Longmire, but different and entirely its own. Compelling, amazing reads. Unique voice.
- Karin Slaughter/Grant County-Will Trent—I’ll admit I am behind on reading female thriller writers mostly just because I have only been reading thrillers almost full time for a few years now and have gotten hooked on binging series. But Karin Slaughter I have tried out and I really like her writing. She writes gritty stories with hard realities, vivid characters, vivid Southern settings, and intricate plots. These are full throttle thrillers in every sense and not for the faint of heart.
- David Baldacci/John Puller-Memory Man—Baldacci writes more books in more series than almost any other author on my list. The man is a machine. His prose and characters are vivid and compelling, his plots suspenseful with nice twists and turns and intrigue. He’s a workhorse as a write but it’s pure pleasure reading his output.
John Grisham—One of the undisputed masters of page turning reads, especially legal thrillers, Grisham is a superstar by sales and advances alone. His prose may be simple but his plots never are and I never fail to be unable to put down his books once I start them until they are done (with only a couple of exceptions). Whether you consider him an artist or not, no one can deny the power of his storytelling and he was my sole thriller read for many years, the one who led to me to thrillers so he has to be on this list. I have read every single one of his adult books.