Chris Allen is an action-adventure author who has himself experienced huge amounts of action and adventure in his previous life as a paratrooper with the Australian Army (among other things) – so he is well-placed to tell us who he thinks the best thriller writers of all time are. Here are his picks.
This collection of works by my favourite thriller writers is the equivalent of my literary lifeblood. I continue to enjoy them equally as much today as at my first read, and it’s heartening to reflect on the fact that they’ve kept me entertained and out of trouble since growing up as a teenager in Perth in the 1970’s, and even while I was deployed in the various jungles and deserts of my past, wondering what the normal people were doing for a day job. I’ve grown up on many of these books, and continue to be inspired by these top thriller writers, all of them leaders in the action & espionage arena. Henceforth, and also inspired by a recent post on my favourite action movies that has been a hit, I humbly offer my list of top thriller authors alongside some of what I think is their best work!
1. IAN FLEMING – CASINO ROYALE
The first James Bond novel and iconic turning point in popular culture, penned by Ian Fleming, my literary hero. This wasn’t the first Bond I ever read – I first found The Man with the Golden Gun in the school library – but it gives great insight into the author himself, what he was feeling at the time and his plans for his protagonist. It’s full of all the classic heroics we expect of Bond but there is a fair amount of fear and uncertainty as well. I’ve read everything he’s written over a dozen times each.
2. ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE – THE COMPLETE SHERLOCK HOLMES SERIES
Having enjoyed these stories as a boy, I rediscovered them in my forties and only truly realised then, with the benefit of some considerable years and life experience under my belt, just how good they were. So much of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is embedded within the character of Dr John Watson, trusted biographer and loyal friend of the great detective, that the perspective of his adventures alongside Sherlock Holmes becomes a very personal one for the reader. The language and style of writing is particular to a time while being also uniquely timeless. I devour these stories regularly.
3. CLIVE CUSSLER – SAHARA
I’ve enjoyed Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt books for over 20 years, discovering them on the recommendation of a friend in the early 1990’s. These are all rip-roaring adventures and they just got better and better as Cussler became more familiar and comfortable with his protagonist. Sahara is classic Dirk Pitt and epitomizes, in my view, the style of narrative Cussler aspired to when he first created the character. Clive Cussler continues to produce great work, including one of his most recent stories, The Chase, which has become a new favourite for me. And, for the record, I prefer it when he writes alone!
4. ALISTAIR MACLEAN – WHERE EAGLES DARE
Alistair MacLean wrote some now legendary action thrillers in his time, this one among the most famous, featuring one of my favourite characters, Major Smith.
I actually first discovered Alistair MacLean as a result of watching the film of the novel, starring Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood. So intrigued was I by the complexity of the story that I had to find the book and was pleased to discover that the writing and the subterfuge from the novel had been expertly replicated by the filmmakers.
MacLean is a master in the action genre in that the characters are relentless but flawed, the stakes are always high and the storytelling is supreme.
5. TOM CLANCY – WITHOUT REMORSE
Tom Clancy came to prominence during the 90’s with a now-huge backlist of thrillers. A favourite of mine being Without Remorse, which focuses on one of Clancy’s best characters, John Clarke.
While the popular view is that Jack Ryan is Clancy’s best character, I can’t help but feel that’s a result of the films starring Alec Baldwin in one and Harrison Ford in two others. But the Clarke character seems to me a much more real and accessible hero who does not enjoy the prestige or accolade of the Ryan character. I really like that about Clancy’s ability to write such different heroes.
6. JOHN LE CARRE – THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD
Fantastic book, this one, and I thought that Richard Burton did a great job as Leamus in the movie of the same name.
Le Carre had a way of conveying much more of the rawness and darkness of Cold War Europe and the complexity of personal human relationships that became intertwined in the professional intelligence environment on both sides of the Iron Curtain.
7. JON CLEARY – THE HIGH COMMISSIONER
One Aussie writer I’ve always enjoyed is Jon Cleary, though he’s unfortunately no longer with us. He had a unique Australian take within an international setting in some of his work. He was equally adept at focusing on Australian domestic issues and his characters were very real and believable.
I loved this book particularly the earthy Australian detective Scobie Malone. Mr Cleary is a legend amongst crime authors.
8. MATTHEW REILLY – ICE STATION
Matthew Reilly is another incredibly talented Australian author who has legions of fans in the sci-fi / action genre. This book made Reilly internationally and features his most enduring character, Scarecrow.
I was thrilled to chat to Matthew at a recent movie screening in Canberra for a mutual friend. Not only can he write ripping yarns but he’s a genuinely great person who had lots of insights to exchange about the Australian publishing industry.
9. PATRICIA CORNWALL – RED MIST
Patricia Cornwall is such a strong contemporary force to be reckoned with, who has – I think – perfectly captured the relationship between her own history and that of the protagonist she’s created, Kay Scarpetta. Her characters are real and believable, not neccessarily superhuman, and I like that!
A strong point about Cornwall’s writing is how she manages to incorporate complex family relationship issues within the darkness of her subject matter.
10. JACK HIGGINS – SOLO
Another great English writer, Higgins wrote many stories which I enjoyed throughout my military years. His book,Solo, features a parachute regiment Colonel named Asa Morgan, which is not that dissimilar to the name I chose for my own protagonist. Must be something in that!
I still have literally dozens of Jack Higgins novels which I would carry in my pack at various times over the years. They were perfect material when you only had time for short, sharp bursts of reading as they were intense and fast-paced. This one was all about revenge, family loyalties and ultimately being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Who are your top writers and their most treasured novels of yours? Leave me a comment.