My top 5: Mysteries and thrillers

Late posting tonight. I had to usher for Advent services.

Dale requested in Comments my list of the best mysteries/thrillers written in the past twenty years.

I’m reluctant to produce such a list, for a couple reasons.

One, my knowledge of the field is highly limited. I read authors I like and trust, and there are dozens (at least) I’ve never even tried. The mystery field in particular is dominated by female writers, many of whom have feminist agendas, and I just don’t cruise that side of the street. And there are a number of very popular writers whom I avoid either because I simply haven’t tried them yet, or I’ve tried one book and didn’t care to read any more. There’s a good chance there are several out there whom, once I discover them, I’ll be tugging at your (metaphorical) sleeve and boring you about. It’s also possible that an author I’ve weighed and found wanting in the past may surprise me with his/her growth and win me over (this has already happened with Dean Koontz).

But having said that, I’ll list my favorite books of the last twenty years. They’re all from two authors whom I consider preeminent in the field. They are books that not only entertain, but educate the heart, making the reader want to live more generously and courageously.

1. The Weiss/Bishop Trilogy (Dynamite Road, Shotgun Alley and Damnation Street) by Andrew Klavan. As I said in a recent appreciation, I consider these books a detective epic, an apotheosis of the genre. If there were justice in the world, these books would have been major bestsellers. Someday they’ll be appreciated as the classics they are.

2. Hunting Down Amanda by Andrew Klavan. A thriller with a science fictional premise, this book examines questions of love and faith and sacrifice, all underpinned by a rich mythological and theological subtext. A beautiful and heartbreaking book.

3. Point of Impact, by Stephen Hunter. This is the book where Hunter, already a master prose craftsman, found his voice as a storyteller, inventing in Bob Lee Swagger the kind of hero every man wants to be, one whom the reader must follow with breathless, almost painful fascination.

4. Empire of Lies by Andrew Klavan. This book wasn’t quite as good as I hoped it would be, being Klavan’s “coming out” work, the one in which he tells the world, “I’m a Christian and a conservative and I won’t pander to you anymore.” But less good than Numbers One and Two in this list is still a level most authors can only dream of. Complex and earthy and compassionate and funny.

5. Pale Horse Coming by Stephen Hunter. A “Magnificent Seven” sort of story starring Earl Swagger, Bob Lee’s ill-fated father. Epic in scale, passionate in motivation, and satisfying in every possible way.

What these two authors have in common are:

a) Flawless mastery of English composition. Most anyone can learn to write efficient English prose, but very few bother to try anymore.

b) Profound human understanding that enables them to create memorable and relatable characters.

c) A moral sense that doesn’t cheat on the things that matter most.

How would your list read?

7 thoughts on “My top 5: Mysteries and thrillers”

  1. Thank you. This is one for me to print.

    By the way, I had just asked, “Sometime blog (rather than just comment in response to my email) about five books that you personally like the most” — which isn’t the same as “the best.” But I think you delivered basically what I was looking for. Again, thanks!

  2. I haven’t read any of those books Lars; but I was disappointed you only mentioned two authors. How about a top ten some time.

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