Reading lists

Heart-stopping thrillers to liven up your summer

Get into the spirit of adventure with this cast of spies, detectives and shady characters.

Jake Kerridge
A woman in a coffee shop reading a book with someone serving a coffee with a Penguin logo on top

During a record-breakingly hot summer, we’re surely all excused from going for a run or heading to the gym until further notice. If you want to get your heart thumping without keeling over, in this weather you’re better off finding a sun-lounger, a large drink, a larger hat and a very exciting book.

Here’s a selection of thrillers to get your blood pumping even while you’re totally horizontal…

The Cry by Helen FitzGerald (2013)

One of the finest psychological thrillers of recent years sees a couple visiting Australia from Britain, only for their baby son to disappear when they stop their car at a remote petrol station. As you follow every nuance of the disintegration of the pair’s relationship under an unforgiving media spotlight, your nerves will be in shreds by the time the truth about baby Noah’s fate is revealed. 

State of Terror by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny (2021)

Like her husband before her, Hillary Clinton has penned a Washington-based thriller that offers juicy insights into life as a senior politician while being probably rather more exciting than the mundane reality. As Ellen Adams, doing the author’s old job as Secretary of State, battles to keep a series of worldwide terrorism outrages from escalating into nuclear war, there’s a real sense of what it’s actually like to be tasked with saving the world. 

American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson (2020)

A welcome ringing of the changes in the espionage genre, with an African-American woman as protagonist rather than the usual Establishment chinless wonders. Marie Mitchell goes undercover for the CIA in 1980s Burkina Faso, tasked with undermining Thomas Sankara’s Marxist regime, but starts to question her loyalties in a book that is both a moving account of a woman’s moral education and a pulse-pounder of a thriller. 

Razorblade Tears by S A Cosby (2021)

Two homophobic ex-cons whose sons are married to each other team up on a guilt-fuelled quest for revenge after their boys are murdered. The two old rogues learn to rub along even though one is Black and the other a lifelong racist, and prove they can still handle themselves when it comes to dishing out violence. This will satisfy the bloodthirstiest fan of revenge thrillers, and yet it’s full of heart. 

I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes (2013)

An American superspy known only as Pilgrim, and “The Saracen”, a brilliant but bitter Saudi doctor who plans to unleash a lethal new strain of smallpox on to the US, head towards each other as inexorably as the Titanic and the iceberg in screenwriter Hayes’s debut novel. But before that epic final confrontation there are several hundred pages of globetrotting action in one of the longest but also most relentlessly suspenseful thrillers I’ve ever read. 

The Hunter by Tom Wood (2011)

This is the first of several novels featuring the mysterious Victor, a ruthless international assassin who makes James Bond look like Jacob Rees-Mogg. Double-crossed during a job in Paris, Victor makes his way through Europe pursued by enemies and pursuing his betrayer. Nasty piece of work he may be, but you can’t help rooting for him through every nerve-racking hairsbreadth escape. 

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