TTo celebrate the upcoming launch of Going Dark, by Neil Lancaster, we’ve been back through our bookshelves to rekindle (as if it had ever gone away!) our love affair with thriller novels.
Stupidly, we set ourselves the challenge of listing our favourite five thrillers of all time, something which has proven incredibly controversial here in the Burning Chair offices. It’s been quite a task: there have been debates leading to arguments, leading to endless indicative votes (well, we are British, and that seems to be the done thing at the moment…). All was finally settled in all-night rock-paper-scissors knock-out challenges, and some good old-fashioned compromising.
We’ve been strict with ourselves and stuck to a top five, and there’s still some healthy debate in our offices as to the final outcome. We certainly know that, in the process, we’ve excluded dozens upon dozens of outstanding books.
But, in the interests of office harmony and enabling us to move on to some actual work, below is our list of top 5 thrillers (in no particular order!).
Let us know what you think in the comments below. If you think we’ve missed out some corkers, there’s every chance we’ll agree with you…!
No one who’s seen the movie could forget the mesmerising performances of Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling, and of course Anthony Hopkins’ scene-stealing turn as the most famous cannibal we love to hate: Hannibal Lecter. And of course, the immortal line: “I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti…”
Whether or not you’ve seen the film, the book is well worth a read: creepy, gripping and stomach-turning all at the same time. The tension ratchets up all the way through, and I dare you to be able to read it in one sitting and not have to put it down to recover at least once.
But it’s not just about the horrifying imagery, although Harris is a master at painting a gruesome scene in your mind. No, at its heart, The Silence of the Lambs is a gripping thriller which pulls you along every step of the way. Truly unputdownable.
Released in 1977 by an author who had previously been known for his Whitbread Prize-winning historical family novel, Docherty, it is fair to say that this book was a ground-breaking departure in pretty much every sense of the word.
The story follows the detective, Laidlaw, in his hunt for a brutal murderer in 1970s Glasgow. Far from the more refined and metropolitan city we know and love today, Laidlaw’s Glasgow is a brutal and violent place, a theme which is reflected in the detective himself and his methods.
Laidlaw is generally considered to be the novel which kickstarted the hugely successful and influential “Tartan Noir” genre of crime fiction, one of the first popular crime thrillers to have, as its main protagonist, a fundamentally flawed cop, and has been cited as being the inspiration for a multitude of stories, series and characters, including Taggart and Ian Rankin’s Rebus.
In the mid- to late-Noughties, you couldn’t help but hear about this publishing phenomenon, since turned into a number of movies which don’t really hold a candle to the book itself (but then which films ever do…? Now there’s a theme for a blog post if ever I saw one…!)
This psychological thriller throws together a unique, strong-but-flawed, female lead character, with cyberpunk overtones all set in a unusual and disturbing landscape which flows into all aspects of the story. Lisbeth Salander goes against the grain of so many thriller heroes and the story is so much stronger for it. TGWTDT was the first in Larsson’s highly successful Millennium series and was instrumental in bringing Scandi-Noir to a global audience.
(Fun fact: the original Swedish title, Män som hatar kvinnor, translates into English as Men Who Hate Women.)
If there’s one thing we love in thrillers it’s an unreliable narrator, and this one has a real classic. Complicity at first seems to be just another standard whodunnit but, with the way it riffs off classic procedural investigation and distorts the genre, it grows into so much more than that.
As the story develops, it introduces traumas and tensions around family and the oppression of Scottish politics. The main character, Colley, is a “Gonzo journalist” with an amphetamine habit, who thinks he has a huge scoop on his hands when he is contacted about a series of mysterious deaths. However, he soon finds himself thrust into the centre of events.
The novel’s perspective veers between first person (Colley) and second person (the mysterious murderer), something which is so easy to do badly. Banks, as you’d expect, pulls this off masterfully to create a compelling story. A must-read for those who want to really hone their craft, while at the same time read a superb (if sometimes pretty gory) thriller.
No self-respecting list of thrillers could be complete without mention of Le Carre.
Tinker Tailor is a classic spy thriller which combines another unconventional hero, in the taciturn George Smiley, with skulduggery, moles and Cold War tension.
Shying away from the flash-bang sensationalism of many other novels of this type, Le Carre instead presents a compelling, gritty realism with superbly drawn characters. The end result is, quite rightly, still considered a classic – and with messages which unfortunately are as relevant as ever.
So there you have it. Controversial? Yes, but we reckon more for the books not included above rather than the ones we’ve listed.
But now it’s over to you: what do you think? Which ones have we missed? What would be your top 5 thrillers?
As always, stay lucky
Pete and Simon