Once again, The Pen Factor takes a look at the literary taste of international best-selling crime thriller novelist, Peter James. This time he shares with us his top 10 favourite US thriller writers – some of whom Peter has encountered in person during his writing career.
My 10 favourite US thrillers
Tell No One – Harlan Coben
"This is a true classic – a sharp dramatic start, and then the steady, relentless unravelling of a truly compelling mystery."
The Silence of the Lambs – Thomas Harris
"When I put this book down, back in 1988, I thought, 'Wow, this is a game changer'. It took the crime thriller to a new level of author research and to a new, dark, but very thrilling level of morality – from good versus evil, to a world of bad versus evil!"
Along Came a Spider – James Patterson
'This utterly compelling book simply explodes with energy. Alex Cross is one of the warmest and most human cops in all of fiction, and Gary Soneji I rank alongside Hannibal Lecter as a brilliant and compelling depiction of evil."
Get Shorty –Elmore Leonard
"I love Elmore Leonard’s writing. He has such vivid characters – sometimes I feel he could have someone reading the phone directory for three hundred pages and still keep me hooked. This is my favourite of his books. I was lucky enough to meet him one time, at a crime festival in Courmayeur in Italy, where we were sat opposite each other at a dinner. Although in his eighties, he was sharp as a tack, and when we went outside for a smoke together, I told him how much I loved Get Shorty but since seeing the movie, I could not get John Travolta out of my head as Chilli Peppers. In his soft, gentle, laconic, voice, Elmore replied. 'You know Peter, I have a different problem each time I meet Travolta. I can never think of anything to say to him!’"
The Lincoln Lawyer – Michael Connelly
"As a great believer – and stickler – for research, Connelly, a former court reporter, ticks so many boxes for me in terms of authenticity. He has a wonderful writing style and his characters are so vivid and credible. This book is a wonderful cat and mouse game between a lawyer and his increasingly dubious client."
The Bone Collector – Jeffery Deaver
"I was alerted by a number of my fans that Jeffery put a villain in one of his novels called Peter James! He graciously permitted me to get my revenge in a future novel by having a sleazebag called Jeffery Deaver – which I have yet to do – saving this up! But I did get a different and very sweet revenge in 2012 when my eighth Roy Grace, Not Dead Yet, beat his James Bond book to No 1 by 93 books! I sent him a t-shirt on which was printed JD 002, PJ, 001 ! He took it in great spirit – he’s huge fun, even if he does look like a cross between an axe-murderer and an undertaker…"
The Con Man – Ed McBain
"Ed McBain and John D MacDonald were the writers that truly changed my horizons about the world of crime novels. Until I discovered this wonderful book, in my late teens, I’d thought to write crime fiction – certainly for a British writer – you had to stick to certain rigid rules and conventions: A dead body in chapter one, preferably in a country house setting … and the rest of the story the puzzle to solve the murder. But in the world of US crime thrillers the victims were more than often still alive at the end of Chapter One – and in deadly peril."
The Onion Field – Joseph Wambaugh
"Strictly this should not be here as it is a non-fiction story, but it ranks alongside In Cold Blood in my view as one of the most gripping non-fiction crime stories ever told. A former LAPD Sergeant, Wambaugh is an amazingly vivid writer. This story about the kidnapping of two plainclothes LAPD officers and the subsequent murder of one was, I think, a really ground-breaking book in its realism."
Dress Her In Indigo – John D. MacDonald
"From the moment I read my first few pages of my John D. MacDonald Travis McGee novel (they all have a colour in the title) I felt a huge sense of excitement as a writer. In his creation of Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle had showed an intriguing and unconventional character, but Travis McGee took quirkiness a whole league further. He’s a private eye, who lives on a houseboat on the Florida Keys, called The Busted Flush, and drives a Rolls Royce converted into a pick-up truck, and he specialises in getting things back for people …"
Red Leaves – Thomas H. Cook
"Every now and then you discover a truly stunning writer and you wonder, how the hell has this guy not made it to the top of every bestseller list on the planet? Maybe because his style is too quiet, but I am mystified. I just loved this book – beautifully written and utterly gripping."
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Peter James has joined The Pen Factor team as a guest judge for our June 2015 competition. Read Peter's review of our winner's story, The Rock Fortress, here.