I love mysteries and thrillers. I enjoy all genres, but I find mysteries and thrillers to be some of my all-time favorite reads. I often return to listen to the best mysteries and thrillers again and again. Below are a few of my favorites and the best mysteries and thrillers I have read.
The Tom Ripley Mystery Thriller Novels by Patricia Highsmith
I love the Ripley novels by the talented and endlessly fascinating Patricia Highsmith. Highsmith grew up alienated with a difficult childhood in Texas. She moved to New York where she lived it up, before finding success with her first book, Strangers on the Train, which was made into a film directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
Her life was filled with lovers, drama, and betrayals, but what strikes me the most about Highsmith is her loneliness and alienation. It’s gut-wrenching to me because I really love her as a writer. I’m not surprised. She had a complex personality that oddly reminds me of Raymond Chandler’s prickly personality and stubborn self-respect that is best revealed in The Raymond Chandler Papers: Selected Letters and Nonfiction 1909-1959. Of course, Highsmith was a wild child, while Chandler was more curmudgeon.
Now to the Ripley books. There are five of them: The Talented Mr. Ripley, Ripley Under Ground, Ripley’s Game, The Boy Who Followed Ripley, and Ripley Under Water.
The Talented Mr. Ripley is the best known because of the excellent film filled with star power. All the Ripley books are gripping page turners. What makes them so captivating is, of course, the protagonist Tom Ripley, my favorite sociopath in literature. Ripley is a unique character and so are Highsmith’s compelling plots. One thing we do know: Tom Ripley did it.
Except for Ripley’s first murder, the people he kills aren’t all that loveable, and he does have a good reason for knocking them off, if he doesn’t kill them, he’s going to prison.
Ripley’s razor-sharp mind and ability to win friends makes readers want to root for him.
The backstory of Ripley’s troubled young life, his latent homosexuality and curious marriage add depth to Highsmith’s compelling story lines that add up to some of the best mystery thrillers I ever had the pleasure to read.
Ashenden by W. Somerset Maugham
What strikes me the most about Ashenden is its authenticity. Maugham’s experience as a spy in World War I ooze of his first-hand knowledge of espionage during wartime. He even said there was a lot of truth in these tales.
Ashenden, published in 1928, is the name of an intelligence officer based in Switzerland, who is an insightful and quick-thinking individual who is a not James Bond.
This collection of stories is grounded, including the foibles, incompetence, mix-ups of espionage. The cast of characters in the collection are unforgettable, absurd, frightening, and inspiring.
Maugham is one of the first “realistic” spy novelists.
George Orwell was a huge fan of Maugham. Ashenden is as good a spy fiction as you will ever read.
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
You might have seen the film directed by John Huston that included the amazing cast of Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, etc.
The plot of the film is basically the same as the book. Huston asked his secretary to type Hammett’s novel into screenplay format, and when Huston read it, he didn’t change a thing and presented it to the studios.
I forgot about the film when I read this page-turner mystery filled with sharp dialogue anchored by the hard-boiled detective Sam Spade.
Once you start reading you don’t want to put it down. It’s filled with original and colorful characters, biting dialogue, and a whodunit that keeps you guessing until the end. What makes this one of the best mystery thrillers is it does have some meaning. It’s the “stuff that dreams are made of.”
Dr. No (James Bond, #6) by Ian Fleming
I was surprised how much I enjoyed reading Dr. No by Ian Fleming.
James Bond comes alive in a stripped-down way when you’re reading the source material. Ian Fleming’s Bond is not as dashing as Sean Connery and bears little resemblance to Roger Moore or Pierce Brosnan. Connery is a great Bond, I think Daniel Craig captures the spirit of Fleming’s Bond best. Although the Bond movies starring Connery are the most faithful to Fleming’s books.
The fast-moving action weaves in important themes such as power, friendship, and loyalty. Also, Honeychile Rider is one of several Bond girls who have been scarred by rape. These powerful issues combined with the larger than life characters makes Dr. No timeless and a perfect summer read!
Ian Fleming’s Dr. No is one of the best thrillers of all time.
Angels Flight (Harry Bosch) by Michael Connelly
I discovered Angel’s Flight through my mother watching the Bosch series on Prime Video and now on Freevee. Watching the series led me to reading the books, and I’ve now read the entire Bosch set of books.
I lived in Los Angeles for 14 years, so I love that the books are set in the City of Angels. Many of the locations I’ve visited.
When I think of Bosch or read the books I can’t help but think of and envision Titus Welliver, the Bosch actor in the Prime Video series. They are inseparable for me. That’s how good Welliver’s portrayal of Bosch is in the series.
Bosch is a Vietnam Veteran who was a tunnel rat during the war. This theme returns many times in the books. What really drives and burns in Bosch is his mother had been a hooker who was murdered when he was a boy. Bosch has demons to say the least.
In a stroke of genius, writer Michael Connelly named him, Hieronymus Bosch, a name fitting someone as complex as Bosch.
Bosch lives on a hilltop in a precarious house perched on the edge. He, of course, loves to break the rules. He’s a rogue cop who knows how to solve murders due to his experience and willingness to risk his own life to find the culprit. Being in trouble with the higher ups is part of his charm.
Michael Connelly, a former LA Times crime beat writer, brings that experience to the Bosch stories. I could have picked three or four of Connelly’s books to be one the best mysteries or thrillers of all time. You hear echoes of Raymond Chandler and Philip Marlow’s Los Angeles in his books.
The opening of Angel’s Flight is the murder of a famed anti-police attorney, Howard Elias, on the funicular railway know as Angel’s Flight that takes you from The Grand Central Market to the MOCA in downtown LA.
Immediately someone on the Los Angeles police force is suspected. Elias was universally hated by the police, and it is Bosch who is assigned to uncover the murderer and potential corruption in the LAPD.
There’s a lot to unpack in the suspenseful top-notch thriller.
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (George Smiley, #3) by John Le Carré
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is the cold-war thriller that sets the standards for spy novels. Its grey exterior fits the secrets, subterfuge, and goals that everyone is maneuvering to protect or accomplish. A poverty of outward spirit in omnipresent. No one trusts anyone. The plot is rich with espionage expertise, betrayal, and double betrayal.
Le Carré worked in British Intelligence. According to the Guardian he was both MI5 (Britain’s domestic-focused Security Service) and MI6 (foreign intelligence). Le Carré changed spy literature forever. He’s prolific, and I could have easily chosen several of his other books for this list, especially Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
I’ve read The Spy Who Came in from the Cold four of five times to remind of what a great spy novel should be.
Although the story sprang entirely from Le Carré’s imagination, real-life spies and intelligence officers believed it rang true to their experiences.
It’s certainly one of the top cold war mysteries ever written. Read more about rereading The Spy Who Came in from the Cold on The Guardian.
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
As good as the 1974 film was with an all-star cast that included Albert Finney, Ingrid Bergman, Lauren Bacall, Sean Connery, and more, the book is better. The book’s intricate plot forces the films to mirror the book.
Hercule Piorot and his little grey cells is a compelling literary figure as he sizes up a colorful mix of nationalities and personalities for him to investigate.
I’m not sure if Christie is the first to write about a murder on a train, but this book was inspired by the real-life kidnapping of the Lindberg baby as well as Christie’s recent travels on the Orient Express. She wrote the first draft in Istanbul.
I’ve read or listened to most of Christie’s books. It’s a fantastic listen on Audible books with Kenneth Branagh as the narrator.
Murder on the Orient Express is perfect listen on long drive or when laying on the couch on a rainy day. It’s a mystery that I’ve listened to multiple times. You’ve probably seen or read it, as it continues to reinvent itself for new generations like The Great Gatsby.
The Voyeur by Alain Robbie-Grillet
Alain Robbe-Grillet is associated with the Nouveau Roman (new novel) style of the 1960s that is non-linear, avant-garde, and disregards the traditional elements of storytelling.
This might be the most literary and disturbing book on the list. You are inside the mind of an awkward traveling salesperson names Mathias. He’s not a charming criminal like Tom Ripley; he contains a more twisted mind who suggests or sees the murder of a 13-year-old girl around him.
Why the figure eight symbols through the book? Who is this solitary salesperson. The undercurrent of evil is just below the surface throughout the read.
I read this in college and the power of the style resembles how someone’s mind actually perceives life and those around him.
It’s not the easiest read on this list, but like his fellow Frenchman Marcel Proust, Alain Robbe-Grillet’s The Voyeur resonates long after it’s been read. Read more about Alain Robbie-Grillet on The Paris Review.
The Pyramid: And Four Other Kurt Wallander Mysteries by Henning Mankell
The Pyramid offer a peek into the early cases of Swedish detective, Kurt Wallander.
A gripping quality pervades the Wallander mysteries, and I think it comes from the humanness of Wallander himself. We’re inside his head. He depressed. He’s troubled. He’s angry. He’s broken. He returns. He’s sensitive. He solves an impossible case. He navigates the complexity of life with tenacity.
Like Bosch he cares deeply about justice. He’s no superman or Hercule Poirot. He’s a grinder, who keeps working cases, finding clues because he never lets up, thinking and exploring all aspects of each case over and over. He is a smart, good detective, and easy to admire despite his faults.
Wallander’s estranged from his father and daughter, but love is there too. He seems estranged from himself as well. These crimes aren’t those of the super-rich for the most part, although a few are bit fantastical. Wallander often goes it alone like Bosch. I find it annoying that a detective won’t wait for backup, but Wallander and Bosch do this often.
The Wallander books are the opposite of Agatha Christie books that focus on the wealthy and “upper classes.” Wallander is based on people from all aspects of life.
The Pyramid by Henning Mankell is a smart thriller that will pull you in and never let go.
You might also want to read Quicksand, Henning Mankell’s wonderful and profound collection of essays.
That’s it for now. Noovella will keep adding some of the best mysteries and thrillers as we discover them.
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