Valentine's Day: the spirit of love is in the air. I've never been a big fan of the day myself — I can practically hear the sighs of disappointed lovers in the air, smell the copious amounts of cheap perfumes wafting down the avenue, and taste the low-quality imitation chocolate taped to the inside of the greeting cards in classrooms around the country. However, in the spirit of the day, I thought I'd share with you a few things that I love: five thriller novels so good, so spectacular, and so well-written that they changed my life. These are the books that I love more than anything. Books that, once read, shaped the way I would write, the way I'd think, and the way I'd live my life thereafter. And is there anything more lovely than a good book on a romantic day? I don't think so.
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5. The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
I was exposed to this book long before I was old enough to understand how good it is. Not only is Patricia Highsmith one of the greatest thriller writers to have ever lived, but Tom Ripley is her finest creation. Tom Ripley is the original chameleon antihero. He effortlessly manipulates himself and the people around him so he can get what he wants. The Talented Mr. Ripley shows off this character's skill well, as Ripley takes over the life (and takes the life) of a young prodigal heir in postwar Europe. Ripley is a character worth reading again and again.
4. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
Surprised to see this one on here? Me too, but I can't deny it — The Da Vinci Code was one of those books that made me want to write thrillers. This was the first book I ever encountered that was truly unputdownable. I read it back in 2003 (when I was 16) and sped through the whole thing in a single day. I had never read anything that fast. It made my head spin. The tasty blend of fast-paced action, nail-biting suspense, ancient mysteries, and fantastical science all set against a romantic background of modern-day Europe made for a truly wonderful experience. If somehow you've been living under a rock for 10 years and haven't read it, give it a chance. I highly recommend it.
3. Red Dragon by Thomas Harris
My agent, my editor, and several booksellers agree: this might just be the greatest thriller novel ever written. Before Silence of the Lambs, Thomas Harris (who is one of those guys I could unabashedly call a genius) was thrilling the everliving shit out of readers with Red Dragon, the first and original novel to feature Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Not only is Lecter easily the baddest bad guy ever put to page, but Red Dragon demonstrates a mastery of tone and pacing that is so good, it verges on the supernatural. Did Thomas Harris make a deal with the devil to write this well? Read it and you decide.
2. Junky by William S. Burroughs
This book has the ring of truth to it. Written in the pulp style about Burroughs life as a heroin user, Junky meanders through a hidden world of 20th century disillusionment, displacement, desperation, and addiction. It is loaded with unforgettable details about the drug lifestyle and the spirit of the age, while reading with the effortless pace of a thriller. This is a book that is more noir than noir — it is dark, unrelenting, and occasionally even beautiful. In my opinion, Junky is way better than Naked Lunch.
1. L.A. Requiem by Robert Crais
Perhaps you've heard of Robert Crais. His bestselling series of books about the "World's Greatest Detective" Elvis Cole and the enigmatic tough guy Joe Pike has been rocking the mystery shelves since 1987. In my opinion, each and every book in the series is amazing, but L.A. Requiem is on a whole different level. A whole different plane of existence. It has emotional resonance that goes beyond genre and into the realm of great literature. It might just be the finest detective novel ever written in any language. Want to know what it's about? Read it. You'll thank me later.
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Books mentioned in this post
Roger Hobbs is the author of Vanishing Games