February 28th to March 6th: “What is your favorite thriller sub-genre? Why?”

Do you prefer medical thrillers or science thrillers? Espionage thrillers or romantic suspense thrillers? Join ITW members Susanna Kearsley, LJ Sellers, Matt Hilton, Mark Alpert, J. H. Bográn, CE Lawrence and Aileen Baron as they discuss their favorite thriller sub-genres during this week’s Thriller Roundtable!

All ITW members can sign up for the ITW Roundtable discussions by contacting Dan Levy.  Click the Roundtable link in the members-only section of the ITW website to see the list of upcoming questions, or to learn more. There’s no better way to connect with other ITW authors, readers, and fans!

Mark Alpert is the author of the international bestselling thriller FINAL THEORY and its sequel, THE OMEGA THEORY, which will be published in February. A longtime science journalist and contributing editor at Scientific American, he specializes in demystifying esoteric theories and technologies by weaving them into the plots of his thrillers.

J. H. Bográn, born and raised in Honduras, is the son of a journalist; he ironically prefers to write fiction rather than fact. José is the author of TREASURE HUNT, the first in the series of a professional thief that goes by the handle of The Falcon. Other works include short stories, contributor to The Big Thrill magazine, co-screenwriter for two TV serials and movie reviews for Honduran newspaper La Prensa.

C.E. Lawrence is the byline of a New York-based suspense writer, performer, composer and prize-winning playwright whose previous books have been praised as “lively. . .” (Publishers Weekly); “constantly absorbing. . .” (starred Kirkus Review); and “superbly crafted prose” (Boston Herald). SILENT SCREAMS and SILENT VICTIM are the first two books in her Lee Campbell thriller series. SILENT KILLS  comes out later this year. Her other work is published under the name of Carole Bugge.

LJ Sellers is an award-winning journalist, editor, and novelist based in Eugene, Oregon. She writes the highly praised Detective Jackson series: The Sex Club, Secrets to Die For, Thrilled to Death, and Passions of the Dead. She also has two standalone thrillers, The Baby Thief and The Suicide Effect. When not plotting murders, she enjoys performing stand-up comedy, cycling, gardening, reading crime stories, social networking, attending writers/readers conferences, hanging out with family, and editing fiction manuscripts.

Matt Hilton is the author of the Joe Hunter series, including Dead Man’s Dust and Judgment & Wrath. 
Matt founded the respected Bushidokan Dojo before moving into the Police force. 
He has experienced countless real life fights, arrests and high-tension situations in his role as Police Officer and private sector Security Expert. 
This gives a very real feel to the action sequences in his books and a level of authenticity respected by those in the know.

Aileen Baron is the author of the Lily Sampson archeological mystery series Scorpion’s Bite, The Gold of Thrace, The Torch of Tangiers, and The Fly Has a Hundred Eyes. Aileen taught for twenty years in the Department of Anthropology at California State University, Fullerton. Many years of archaeological fieldwork took her all over the world, especially to the Middle East. It was during writing classes at the University’s distinguished writing program, Aileen was told to stop everything and start writing.

Susanna Kearsley is from Canada and writes romantic suspense with elements of historical mystery. Her first novel, Undertow, was published in 1993. Since then she’s written eight more books, including, Every Secret Thing – written under the name Emma Cole.

  1. When first I read the subject heading for this weeks roundtable, I thought, ‘Oh, this is an easy one.’ But to be honest I’ve given it more thought and it’s actually a little more difficult to decide on a favourite thriller sub-genre. The reason being, I like a number of them, for different reasons and believe it’s more down to my frame of mind at the time than the particular sub-genre itself.
    I love the action thriller – and in this category I include Lee Child (Jack reacher), Robert Crais (Elvis Cole and Joe Pike) , Harlan Coben (Myron Bolitar and Win) etc – because it is also the sub-genre that I myself write in. I write action thrillers because that’s also what I like to read.
    But then I also love supernatural thrillers (where the emphasis is on thriller and the supernatural leaves you with an ‘is it or isn’t it?’ feeling afterwards). John Connolly epitomises this sub-genre for me with his Charlie Parker books, but other authors I love are Michael Marshall (The Straw Men trilogy), Stephen Leather (Nightingale books) and Dean Koontz. In this genre I tend to look for stories that are exciting, driven by a sense of suspense, but also have equal dollops of action thrown in. I’m not fond of overtly supernatural books themselves, but those primarily based in reality.
    Another sub-genre I read with equal passion is the action-oriented spy thriller, and owe much to David Morrell’s Brotherhood of the Rose trilogy, Robert Ludlum’s Bourne trilogy etc and – largely forgotten now – the Mack Bolan/Executioner series of books by Don Pendleton.
    When I look at my three main choices – there are others of course – I guess I love a thriller driven by action and adventure, and it is the visceral thrill that I require to satisfy my jones. When I require a little more stimulation of the nerves or feel the need for something more cerebral then that’s when I go for the darker supernatural sub-genre, or if intrigue is my drug then I go for the espionage books instead.
    Do others read to satisfy their mood, or is it more a case of picking up any book that catches your imagination, and let it dictate your mood for you?

  2. Science thrillers are my favorite. That’s what I write and that’s what I like to read the most. Which makes sense, I guess. I’d have a lot of trouble writing a novel that isn’t my favorite kind of book.

    For me, it all started with Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain. I read it at a ridiculously young age, maybe eleven or twelve. To be honest, I didn’t understand half ot it, but the confusion only increased my enjoyment of the book. It was all so horribly mysterious — the crash landing of the satellite, the deadly plague that kills everyone in the small desert town, the underground laboratory complex with its various levels and locking barriers, the wildly mutating germ itself. (Forgive me if I get some of the plot details wrong; I’m trying to convey my reactions to the book rather than the novel itself.) I was so taken with the book that I immediately decided to write a similar novel, which I called The Skeptical Chronicles, or something like that. I didn’t know what the word “skeptical” meant when I was eleven, but it sounded cool. I think I wrote only one paragraph, a long description of the technical backgrounds of my main characters. I wanted to make it clear that these characters were the smartest people in the world. But I couldn’t think of a plot, couldn’t decide what these brilliant characters were going to do. So I abandoned the book and went back to doing whatever I did back then — homework, bicycle riding, whatever.

    But 35 years later I actually wrote a science thriller, and now I’ve written two more. And I still have that same sense of excitement about this kind of book. It’s a visceral reaction — “Oh my God, the deadly germs are coming! AHHHHHH!!!!”

    1. Count me in as an Andromeda Strain fan. I read a GREAT many books when I was young, but if I had to pick a single title as the one that inspired me to write, that would be the one. No wonder I write science thrillers!

  3. Coincidentally I’ve just watched ‘The Andromeda Strain’ mini-series starring Benjamin Bratt on DVD. It’s still a great story, and makes me want to search out a copy of the book now.

  4. I enjoy science and medical thrillers too. For me, they’re more personal than spy thrillers. I love the medical dramas on TV as well. I wrote The Baby Thief, which has a strong fertility science component, before I started working for a pharmaceutical magazine. After working for the magazine for a few years, I wrote The Suicide Effect, about a struggle within a pharmaceutical company.

    I’ll probably write another medical/science-based thriller someday, but right now I’m working on a futuristic thriller, a genre I love to read, but haven’t tackled yet as a writer. The Tomorrow File, by Lawrence Sanders, is my favorite futuristic thriller because it’s not a bleak dystopian story, but instead, a story of changed society, better in some ways, worse in others. The social/political aspects of futuristic thrillers are what intrigue me.

  5. I tried starting a new genre years ago: Techno-myth. Mixing technology and mythology in a thriller. Started with getting interested in Area 51 and writing 9 books in a series about it; then I wrote a 6 book series about Atlantis with the premise that Atlantis had been a real place and was destroyed. So what destroyed it? Those were fun books to write, but now I’m focusing on military historicals, using my background. Of course, the abductions helped me research the aliens in Area 51.

  6. I like just about every kind of thriller except romantic suspense, which I guess isn’t really a “thriller” genre anyway. My favorite sub-genre is the conspiracy thriller, a la Robert Ludlum. But that conspiracy feel extends into things like puzzle thrillers (Dan Brown, Steve Berry) and classic espionage thrillers like those by Frederick Forsyth, as well as action thrillers with high stakes, like Clive Cussler. My favorite thriller has to be “The Eight,” by Katherine Neville.

    I also like political thrillers, especially those that blend real events with imagined ones – these usually have conspiracy as well of course. When I set about writing novels, this is the sub-genre I chose to pursue.

    I’m definitely a sucker for really well done science thrillers, but only if the science is all directly in support of the plot and characters. Crichton was of course the master of this. I have enjoyed medical thrillers in the past, including medical examiner thrillers like Gerritsen, Cornwell, Reichs. However, in recent years I have found a bit too much “sameness” in this genre, and a book where the primary conflict revolves around either a disease or a medical examiner seeking clues and being threatened doesn’t hold my attention the way it used to. I’ve found plenty of sameness in conspiracy thrillers as well.

    And that is the biggest challenge of writing thrillers: putting in enough cliche, but not too much. Either extreme will reduce the appeal. I want the hero facing a villain who’s intent on doing damage that will affect a large number of people, but I don’t want the villains to all be megalomaniac Blofeld types. I like having main characters of both genders, but I’m sick of substantial subplots of characters falling in love while trying to save the world. I do want the hero to mostly come out on top, but I also want the hero to have failed in at least one significant piece of resolving the conflict – not just be scarred or changed by the incident, but actually have failed in some meaningful way.

    Finding an author who has managed a new variation on the basic cliche of the thriller is always exciting.

  7. I love all thrillers with the exception of futuristic and/or military thrillers. For me to enjoy any genre, it has to be believable. I have read a couple of futuristic thrillers, and I was unable to relate to them. Thrillers involving the military, have to be accurate. If the military lifestyle is not portrayed accurately, I have difficulty enjoying it.

  8. I guess I should have mentioned the ‘ordinary-person-caught-in-extraordinary-circumstances-type-thriller’ as well. I’m a sucker for those. Have been for as long as I remember.

    There seems to have been a re-emergence of this type of thriller in the last few years, possibly off the back of the success of Harlan Coben’s Tell No One. Or maybe I’ve just happened to come a cross a lot more of them lately, I’m not sure. Linwood Barclay, Grant McKenzie, CJ Box, Simon Kernick and Jeff Abbott all have this genre down to a fine art, and when I’m perusing the bookshops I’m regularly drawn to their books.

    I write about a character who knows his way around guns and a bar room brawl, but because of his combat skills it’s sometimes difficult placing him in a situation he might struggle to overcome: this is where the ‘ordinary Joe’ books work best for me, because you can ramp up the danger stakes, and therefore the suspense if there’s a good chance they aren’t going to reach the end of the book alive. I think – on a subliminal level – I can empathise with the ordinary Joe and think ‘what if that happened to me? How would I handle things? I often wonder if I’d have the necessary wit and luck to get through to the other side. I guess that’s why they are so frightening and suspenseful for me.

    1. Oh yes – I love these really intimate, yet thrilling stories. My absolute favorite of this kind is Joseph Finder’s Killer Instinct. Joe and I were seated next to each other during the group booksigning at Love is Murder last month, and several of his fans went back to the bookroom for a copy of Killer Instinct after I raved about it. I think I’ve handsold several hundred copies of that book!

      1. Yeah, Joseph’s a fine writer indeed. Really enjoyed Power Play which is definitely in this category.

        Years ago, I also read a number of books by various authors in a similar vein (Most of which coincidentally turned out to be Dean Koontz writing under different pseudonym’s). I got into this sub-genre for that reason, and then picked up Harlan Coben who writes this genre so masterfully now and haven’t looked back.

  9. I see that a lot of people are already on the same track! I too love anything about science – I don’t write them, but am a devoted reader of science and medical thrillers. I was very interested in everyone’s response to this, and there are so many good points y’all made that I can’t list them all, only to say I agree with virtually everything. Like everyone else, I agree Crichton set the bar for the science thriller.

    Mark’s comment about “putting in enough cliche, but not too much” hits it right on the head, I think. It’s something I try to convey to my students, and try to practice, but it’s quite the challenge.

    In the spirit of adding something new to the discussion, there’s a wonderful Canadian TV series called Regenesis which is essentially a weekly science thriller. They filmed three seasons of it, and a friend and I got addicted to it last summer. It stars Peter Outerbridge, Sarah Strange, and Wendy Crewson, and features a very young, pre-Juno Ellen Page.

    The science is cutting edge, but I suspect some of the scenarios will be commonplace in about ten years. You can watch it online on Hulu.

  10. Coming late to the discussion, with apologies (my kids were both sick at home yesterday, which muddled up my sense of time…)

    I have a soft spot for the sort of thrillers I first read and loved: spy thrillers, preferably with a realistic romantic sub-thread woven in there somewhere. I cut my teeth on the novels of Helen MacInnes and Evelyn Anthony, whose razor-sharp heroines were often civilians drawn into a dangerous world where they had to survive by their wits and their courage, putting them into the ‘ordinary-person-caught-in-extraordinary-circumstances-type-thriller’ that Matt mentions, above.

    The spy thriller always works best for me, still, when the hero or heroine isn’t a spy. Think the movie ‘Three Days of the Condor’, or Ken Follett’s Eye of the Needle.

    One of the best of this genre, in my opinion, remains Evelyn Anthony’ s The Tamarind Seed, where the love story is in almost perfect balance to the thriller elements, which is an incredibly tricky thing to do.

    Not that I mourn the loss of Cold War tensions in our modern world, but they did fuel some marvellous fiction.

  11. Like many before me, I am at odds to decide what sub-genre is my favorite.

    I can’t even toss a coin as there are more than two options, darn!

    Okay, focus…

    Since I can’t make up my mind scientifically, let’s tackle this chronologically.

    My first thrill, so many years ago, came with Deep Six by Clive Cussler. So that’s it. I solve it!

    Yeah! Breath…

    But wait!

    A close second is Tom Clancy’s techno-thrillers.

    The gap between second and third is even smaller, and it is for legal thrillers.

    So that’s it: action/adventures, techno-thrillers and legal thrillers.

    Phew, that was easy…

    yeah, right!


  12. Susana,
    Good point – I have to agree with you about that sub-genre of spy thriller. Eye of the Needle – what a great, great story that was! And Day of the Condor, ditto. The movie of Eye must be one of the best book-to-film movies ever – so perfectly cast, so suspenseful and visually stunning.

    Matt and Karen,
    Now you’ve made me want to read that book too, curse you! My shelf is groaning with Must Read Soon books…..

    Seriously, Matt, that’s a really good sub-genre that I too find compelling, because the hero of the story is more like most of us, I suspect, whether male or female. Easy for the average reader to put him/herself into the story.

  13. How do people feel about the ‘conspiracy theory thriller’ – and by this I’m referring more to the Dan Brown school of thought than ‘Who shot JFK?’. Is this a sub-genre of a sub-genre? I think of them as ‘religious conspiracy theory thrillers’

    I don’t read widely in this sub-genre, but when I do I tend to enjoy them. Authors who I have read and throughly enjoyed in the past few years are Glenn Cooper and Steven Saville, both of whom are fellow ITW authors. I’m sure there are many others writing in this area, and wouldn’t mind a heads up if anyone’s read anything particularly good lately. One of the first books I recall reading that would slot into this sub-genre is ‘The Covenant of the Flame’ by David Morrell, and mixes religious conspiracy with a cracking ‘ordinary-person-caught-in-extraordinary-circumstances-type thriller’. If you haven’t read it, it’s well worth picking up if this is to your taste.

  14. Matt,
    I really like conspiracy thrillers of any kind – if they’re well done. The thing is, you have to pull a pretty big rabbit out of the hat for the payoff to really work, and imo Brown wimped out when he chose the crazy English dude as being behind everything. Yawn. I wanted the whole church to be implicated – or at least a radical splinter faction. But I guess he didn’t want the Vatican to unleash its rage on him.

    Thanks for the tip – I’ll look into the books you mentioned! ( :

  15. By Glenn Cooper, I was referring to ‘Secret of the Seventh Son’, and by Steven Savile, ‘Silver’. I loved both of these books.

MATCH UP: In stores now!


ThrillerFest XVI: Register Today!



One of the most successful anthologies in the history of publishing!