I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with crime thrillers. Sometimes I can find them predictable, homogeneous and lacking any intrigue in their characters. However, nothing beats the feeling of stumbling upon ‘that’ crime thriller. The one with a stand-out story that has you breathlessly addicted – when you’re not reading it you’re talking about it, or thinking about it, until you can get back to those alluring pages. The crime junkies among you will, I’m sure, be familiar with this elusive feeling. Below is my chosen favourite crime thriller of all time, plus three honourable mentions, so you can experience that coveted high once more.
My Favourite Crime Thriller Is…
I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes
Scott Murdoch is a retired secret agent. He is called upon to investigate the perfect crime – a murder in a seedy hotel room with a faceless victim and all traces of the killer’s fingerprints removed. This murder is connected to a dangerously intelligent, untraceable terrorist dedicated to America’s destruction. Scott is pitted against a ghost with no identity and no history who always seems to be one step ahead. A battle of wits and of wills commences as he races to stop the terrorist’s plot before anyone even knows it exists.
7 Reasons Why I Love This Book
A stand-out premise isn’t necessarily everything for a thriller, but it certainly helps. The unusual plot combines with ambition, realism and complexity to make I Am Pilgrim feel like something different from the start.
This is not a cold-hearted spy novel; there are moments of genuine emotion, particularly in the story of the modestly heroic character Ben. I was also intrigued by Hayes’ exploration of loneliness through his protagonist Scott. Although, as is typical of the genre, I Am Pilgrim is definitely a plot-centric novel, I found it had a great deal more humanity than many thrillers I have previously read.
Should you sacrifice one innocent life to save many? Even if you, as I did, think the logical answer is yes, could you be the one who pulls the trigger? Does being able to make such a choice change the nature of who we are? These are just some of the contentious questions raised by I Am Pilgrim, which demanded that I challenge my previous habits of thought.
The impressive plot spans decades and continents, taking readers from New York to the deserts of Saudi Arabia. However, the connections that form between all these regions and time periods prevent it from ever feeling uncontrolled. Instead, I found that such variety throughout the novel helped to keep me utterly engaged.
Personally, unpredictability is one of my biggest demands from a crime thriller. I want to feel insecure and uncertain, constantly guessing then second-guessing what is going to happen. I Am Pilgrim certainly provided this – no spoilers I promise, but the twist in the final chapters had me completely blindsided.
There is something very unsettling about the novel, which I think is due to the new form of modern and intelligent terrorist threat that Hayes creates. This threat is chilling for its plausibility, heightening the edgy suspense.
Sometimes I finish a book and get a feeling of combined admiration and jealousy at the skill required to write it. I Am Pilgrim is one of those books. Its complexity and the way in which the numerous sub-plots all become intricately connected make the novel an impressive piece of writer’s craftsmanship.
Intrigued? You can read my full review of I Am Pilgrim here.
The Dry by Jane Harper
Aaron Falk is heading back to his hometown for the funeral of his childhood friend Luke. Everyone believes Luke’s death was suicide, but something doesn’t seem to quite add up. As Falk is drawn deeper into the investigation, he threatens to unearth secrets that have been all but forgotten. Meanwhile, the suspicion that is rife throughout the town starts to point towards him – because all those years ago, Luke was Falk’s alibi for murder…
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
Mikael Blomkvist is a journalist investigating the suspicious disappearance of a young woman belonging to a wealthy Swedish family. Amidst the deep layers of lies and deceit, he finds help from hacker Lisbeth Salander. Young, tough and unfathomable, she has become one of the genre’s most captivating characters. The combination of these intriguing personalities and Larson’s tantalisingly elusive plot make this a thriller not to be missed.
Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith
Child 44 takes place in the claustrophobic, oppressive atmosphere of the Soviet Union under Stalin. Leo is a state security officer who toes the line and obeys the Party’s regime…until he begins to investigate the killings of children which all bear a sinister resemblance. The Party dismisses these deaths as unfortunate accidents – after all, there is no murder in the “perfect” Communist state. How do you investigate a crime when its very existence is denied? If Leo wants to uncover the truth, he will have to shatter the foundations of his beliefs and loyalties forever.
Cover images courtesy of Goodreads.
Have you got a favourite crime thriller that you would add to this list? Let me know in the comments, I would love to hear from you!