Thursday, October 29, 2009

The TW Thriller List: Just in Time for Those Spooky Nights!

By Martha Nichols for Talking Writing

As promised, here's a list of thrillers recommended by Talking Writing fans and Open Salon commenters to my recent post "A Vaccine for Bad Writing." (It also ran on TW as "Get Your Dan Brown Vaccination: D1B1.")

As "Part One" of the vaccine, I quoted Maureen Dowd's hilarious review of Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol. As "Part Two," I listed great thrillers as an antidote.

I haven't read all the titles and authors below, but I now have a new list for many a winter night to come. I've also added a few myself, especially in the "truth is wilder than fiction" category. Enjoy!

More Thrillers from Discerning Readers
  • Charles Palliser, The Quincunx
  • Philip K. Dick, The Minority Report
  • Iain Banks, The Business (also Whit)
  • Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49
  • Robert Ludlum—"anything by him" (including the Bourne series)
  • Iain Pears, An Instance of the Fingerpost
  • Tana French, In the Woods
  • Robert Stone, Dog Soldiers
  • John Le CarrĂ©, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
  • Richard Wright, Native Son
  • Robert Ward, Red Baker (comment: "nobody's heard of this book; but it's terrific")
  • Richard Price, Clockers
  • Ruth Rendell—"anything by her" (including The Bridesmaid)
  • Martin Cruz Smith, Gorky Park (also Rose)
  • Pat Conroy, Beach Music
  • Scott Turow—"anything by him" (including Ordinary Heroes and more votes for Presumed Innocent: "the best psychological page-turner I've ever read")
  • Kate Atkinson, Case Histories
  • Charles McCarry—"anything by him"
  • Ian Rankin—"anything by him"
  • Robert Littell, Legends
  • Mo Hayder—"anything by her"
  • Carl Hiassen, Native Tongue
  • Robert Daley, Prince of the City ("OK, it's nonfiction...but reads like a novel")
  • Michael Crichton, The Great Train Robbery ("lots of fun facts about Victorian London, and inspired [loosely] by real events")
  • Jonathan Harr, A Civil Action (nonfiction, but a rip-roaring tale)
  • Rebecca Smith and John R. Emshwiller, 24 Days (ditto, Enron)
  • Kurt Eichenwald, The Informant (ditto, a pathological liar)
  • J. Anthony Lukas, Common Ground (ditto, Boston—oh, Boston)

Special Anti-Vaccine Award
for "Worst Prose I've Ever Had The Misfortune To Wade Through championship": Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

Here's my original list of antidotes with the Dan Brown posts:

Part Two of D1B1: The List that Protects Me
  • Scott Turow, Presumed Innocent
  • Dennis Lehane, Mystic River
  • Stieg Larsson, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • Elizabeth George, What Came Before He Shot Her
  • Sara Paretsky, Killing Orders
  • Laurie King, A Darker Place
  • Eliot Pattison, The Skull Mantra
  • Graham Green, The Quiet American
  • Patrick O'Brian, Master and Commander
  • Kerstin Ekman, Blackwater
Any other titles and authors you would like to add?


  1. Thank God. Someone who hates Ayn Rand as much as I do. Business school types especially seem to like her and her 'philosophy.'

  2. Hi Martha,

    Great list here. Now I'll have a great stack of TBRs when my urge to read Dan Brown comes around. :) I *am* interested in the rather mysterious workings of the Freemasons, but I guess I'll find another book to sate that interest!

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  3. You must be feeling better, Elizabeth. Your wit seems to be back to its usual sharpness(!) I'd like to find another book about the Freemasons, too...

  4. I can't stand Dan Brown! The Husband wanted me to read "The DaVinci Code", and I tried for his sake, but couldn't hack it. Those patches on the arm of the protagonist's sports jacket really got to me. And I never did get why everyone was so gung-ho over Ayn Rand either. Now, "Beach Music", I loved that book. Read it over the course of a visit at my sister's house in Canada. But then, you really can't go wrong with Pat Conroy. (His wife is a writer, I bought one of her books and thought it sucked.)

  5. There 's a new book out about Ayn Rand, just saw it pumped in the NY Times--all about what an interesting iconoclast she was. I believe she decided conservatives needed their version of political pop novels, so she embarked on hers.

    But only writers seem to talk about what a terrible writer she was at the sentence level. Why is that? If you follow that reasoning out--writing is thinking--then you'd arrive at the obvious conclusion.

    Oh, well. Elizabeth: Who is Pat Conroy's wife? Also has the last name of Conroy? I'm out of the loop on that one.

  6. I've had a quote from Rand's ATLAS SHRUGGED tacked onto my bulletin board for several years now. It took me months to slog through the text (I think I stuck with it because I was trying to morph into the wise, intellectual being everyone else seemed to be who'd raved over the book. Didn't happen, by the way). Anyway, the quote at least stuck with me, and I often read it whenever I need a little nudge of inspiration: "The statue...held his head as if he faced a challenge and found joy in his capacity to meet it. All that Dagny wanted of life was contained in the desire to hold her head as he did."

    Okay, and one more thriller suggestion: THE SHADOW OF THE WIND by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Simply beautiful prose, and a stunning read for all of us who understand that books have souls.


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