January 21 – 27: “What’s your favorite thriller sub genre? Why?”

This week we ask ITW Members Ashok Banker, Vincent Zandri, Diane Kelly, Chris Allen, Amy Lignor, Michael Sims and Catherine Jordan what’s their favorite thriller sub genre, and why? You won’t want to miss it!


Ashok Banker’s books have sold over 1.4 million copies in twelve languages and fifty seven countries. He is currently best known for his multi-volume retellings of epics. But long before he became India’s favourite epic storyteller, he was the author of the first Indian crime novels in English. With Blood Red Sari, Ashok reinvents the action thriller in a new global all-female avatar.

Catherine Jordan is a Pennsylvania author of paranormal thrillers. She is a wife and mother of five children. Born in Indiana, she was raised in Northeastern PA. She is a graduate of Penn State University with a BS in Finance. Catherine has been writing stories since learning to hold a pencil. She loves family, travel, good food, great stories, and writing. “I do what I love.”

As the daughter of a career librarian Amy Lignor grew up loving books; ‘Patience & Fortitude’ at the NYPL were her heroes. Beginning with Amy’s first book of historical romance, her career flourished when her YA series THE ANGEL CHRONICLES arrived on the scene. She began developing the storyline for this new seven-book series which moved her into the world of action, adventure and romantic suspense. Working as an editor in the publishing industry for decades, Amy is now the Owner/Operator of The Write Companion, as well as a contributor to various literary publications and websites.

Len & Mick writing as Maynard Sims have had numerous novels, novellas and stories published over the past thirty five years. They have run a small press, been editors, essayists and reviewers. Currently they are writing novels, screenplays and stories.

Chris Allen writes escapist action thrillers for realists. A former paratrooper, Chris retired from the Army as a Major in 1996, transitioned into humanitarian aid work during the East Timorese emergency, served with three major law enforcement agencies in Australia, protected the iconic Sydney Opera House in the wake of 9-11 and between 2008 & 2012 was the Sheriff of New South Wales. His novels DEFENDER and HUNTER feature Alex Morgan of INTREPID.”

A former CPA/tax attorney, Diane Kelly spent several years at an accounting firm where she had the pleasure of working with a partner later charged with tax fraud. She also served a stint as an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Texas under an AG who pled guilty to criminal charges related to the tobacco company lawsuits. Given this work history, Diane decided self-employment might be a good idea. She also realized her experiences with white-collar crime made excellent fodder for a novel. Her fingers hit the keyboard and thus began her humorous “Death and Taxes” romantic mystery series.

Vincent Zandri is the author of THE INNOCENT, GODCHILD, THE REMAINS, MOONLIGHT RISES, and more. An adventurer and freelance photo-journalist, he lives in Albany, New York.



  1. What’s my favorite thriller subgenre and why?

    My favorite thriller subgenre is the humorous thriller. I’s what I like to read, and it’s what I like to write.


    I have an admission to make. I’m a wimp. Yep, despite the fact that I write some fairly violent characters and scenes in my books, I type them with my head turned and eyes squinched tightly closed. Books with high stakes and lots of scary action are fun reads, but I find them most palatable when offset with comic relief. I love Carl Hiaasen’s books, for instance, and even the darkly humorous Elmore Leonard. Finding the humor in stressful and dangerous situations is a coping mechanism, both for the characters and the readers, and broadens the emotional experience of a book.

    What are your thoughts? Do you like books that are frightening and funny? Or are you more of a purist?

    1. I love it when there is humor in thrillers. My own character is a truly sarcastic librarian and some of the scenes are hysterical. So, wheras I’m all for the thrills and chills – I need an ‘ice-breaker’ in there 🙂

      1. You,re right, Amy. Humor can act as a great ice breaker. I’m going to have to check out this saracastic librarian of yours. She sounds like a unique character!

  2. My favorite thriller sub genre is horror. Not to be confused with goror. I like a spooky supernatural element without the gore, thank you. Nothing too in-your-face or over the top. Make me a believer. Suspend my disbelief without me saying, “Yeah, right, like that could happen”.
    I was raised Catholic, went to Catholic grade school and high school, and teach religious education. We Catholics have the supernatural ingrained in us from the time we are baptized as infants. Turning water into wine, sticks into snakes, exorcising demons into swine, walking on water, placing severed ears back onto the head, raising the dead… I could fill an entire book with this stuff and call it—The Bible!
    I don’t like to be scared in real life. I watch scary movies from between the fingers covering my eyes. So why do I call horror my favorite? It’s the supernatural’s scary aspect that fascinates me the most. Everybody likes a ghost story around the camp fire; the unexplained, the mysterious, seducing the imagination and arousing the intellect while defying all rational explanation.
    Ninety-nine percent of us will never be famous, and yet we want to believe that we are all important in some way. We want to believe that there is more to our anonymous life than our five senses tell us.

    1. I was raised Catholic, too, and have the same feeling toward the supernatural. I’d like to believe there is more to the universe than meets the eye (or ear, etc.). I sometimes have trouble shaking things that feel too real, though. I went through a big Stephen King phase back in high school and read everything he had out at the time. Some of it still haunts me!

    2. Catherine,

      I love thrillers with a touch of the supernatural as well. I don’t think it’s necessary to show explicit gore to get the feelings across. In fact, leaving more to the imagination can be scarier. Think of the shower scene in Hitchcock’s “Psycho.”

      As for the supernatural, it can be scary (demons, etc.) but I think that the whole point is that good wins over evil, even supernatural evil. And that is what gives me peace.

    With Mick Sims (as Maynard Sims) I write thriller novels – supernatural, crime and action, and also ghost stories.

    Crime, horror, adventure, spy… the list goes on and on. So the sub-genre for me is a sub-genre within a sub-genre. I was first exposed to the “Reluctant Hero” sub-genre as a child. I’d never read any Hemmingway, but was exposed to the “RH” in a film called To Have and Have Not. Hemmingway filtered through Hollywood (and significantly altered). Bogart playing Harry Morgan, a man determined to keep himself to himself and stay out of the war the Vichy regime has brought to his doorstep on the idyllic island of Martinique. Circumstances gradually lead to him giving up his preferred neutrality and siding with the resistance; drawing him into the conflict with great reluctance.

    It was powerful, making me ask the question of myself, what would I have done?
    Since then I have encountered it again and again, in the works of authors as diverse as Jack Higgins, Lee Child, Dick Francis, Robert Ludlam and others, far to many to list. It appeals to writers because it allows for great deal of character development. The “RH” appeals to readers because it asks the question that occurred to me all those years ago: “What would I have done?”

  4. I might make my living as a full-time writer of hard-boiled novels like Moonlight Rises and Godchild, but I never consciously chose this thriller sub-genre, so much as it chose me.

    Early on, and I’m talking twenty or more years ago now, I became a student of Hemingway and Mailer. Like the aforementioned Pulitzer Prize winning authors and self-described tough guys, I starting out the traditional way of writing newspaper articles, then moving on to short stories and climaxing with the novel as an art form. With an MFA in Writing behind me (Vermont College ’97) I prepared for a life of the literary writer who pens a novel once every five years or so and teaches writing at some university or writing school. That kind of thing.

    But then I found myself being very attracted to books like To Have and Have Not and stories like The Killers, which is clearly an attempt on Hemingway’s part to write in a hard-boiled manner reminiscent of some of his favorite authors of the day like Dash Hammett and Gordon Young. It’s interesting to note that a man so widely associated with the more “literary” writing game would devour hard-boiled mysteries by the dozens. My guess is their black and whiteness, their snappy tough dialogue and pile driving plotting very much attracted Hemingway. Certainly they influenced his style as much as Henry James, Tolstoy, and even Mark Twain.

    Later on when I studied Mailer, I found myself gravitating toward works like Tough Guys Don’t Dance and Barbary Shore. When I read The Executioner’s Song and realized it was based on the true story of Gary Gilmore I became fascinated with writing hard-boiled novels based in part on true events. I carried this method through in my biggest seller to date, The Innocent, and my newest novel from Thomas & Mercer, Murder by Moonlight which is based on the Albany area axe murderer, Chris Porco who whacked his parents with a fireman’s axe late one night while they were asleep in their suburban home. .

    As time went on I was turned on to Jim Crumley and I believe I read his entire library, which wasn’t very much at the time, in a single weekend. The same kind of spark lit inside me when I read my first Spenser novel. More recently, after having cruised through noir great Charlie Huston’s anti-heroic Hank Thompson series, I was inspired to begin my own series series about an anti-hero named Dick Moonlight who goes through life with a piece of 22 caliber bullet lodged inside his brain. Problem for Dick is that the bullet can shift at any time rendering him comatose or even dead. For me, Moonlight is a quintessential existential American hard-boiled detective. He lives his life within a hairs breath of his own death, and yet, he carries on trying to find the truth behind the cases he takes on, and often he will break the law and on occasion, kill in order to find it.

    Anyway, the hard-boiled novel has worked for me, because I don’t have to teach and even after 13 novels in print I am still so fascinated with the genre and its never ending potential, that I don’t write a novel every five years but instead, two or three novels per year (one or two short stories also).

    The hard-boiled mystery tag is not just about assigning a genre to the books we write (In France for instance, genres don’t mean much at all. All books live and die based upon their literary merit no matter what the subject or style). It’s more a philosophy of one man or woman up against it all. They often times find themselves the victim of horrendous physical and emotional torture, some of which can be self-induced, yet they persevere and survive. To be hard-boiled is to be tough. It’s about enduring. It’s about not caving in to the shit others will pile onto your doorstep (plenty of publishers and agents have become expert shovelers….You know who you are!)

    If The Old Man and The Sea served as a metaphor for an aging Hemingway who needed to sail way beyond the boundaries of what he once considered safe in order to come up with one last story of brilliance, then the hard-boiled detective is a metaphor for those writers who persevere and survive no matter what is thrown at them. Failure, rejection, angry wives, sick kids, fair weather friends, past-due rents, empty bank accounts…none of it matters, so long as the writer is writing his books, one paragraph at a time, one sentence, one letter…One man or woman alone, against the world.


  5. I love historical thrillers. Taking that ride through the past is absolutely amazing. Whether it be set in ancient times, or even modern times with characters that have a ‘gift’ or the power to see the past (such as, the talented author, M.J. Rose, utilizes), these are the stories I cannot get out of my mind even after the last page is read. When an author is able to actually ‘place’ their readers into everything from an Egyptian temple to a Civil War battlefield – it is a real joy. You not only have that thrill and excitement, but you also gain new knowledge which, for a girl who is all about libraries, is a dream come true!

    Just wondering…if you could pick the perfect historical locale and/or time period for a story, what would it be? I have to go with Russia and Rasputin.

  6. My favorites are archeological thrillers which have a undercurrent of biblical history. Amy Lignor nod Chris Kuznesky would be authors in the sub-genre.

    1. Thanks for the shout-out 🙂 I have always loved archaeology. I fall a great deal into the UNESCO site and all the digs and data they’re finding. They have a very cool job!

  7. My favorite is the humor thriller. I love being able to laugh at or with the character. But then I guess that is why I am a fan of The Killer Fiction Club. But I love Dorsey and Hiaasen’s books as well because I am now living in Fl but they still have a humor element to them just not so much the fall in the floor laughing I get from Kelly, Halliday, Evanovich, DeLeon and others.

  8. Funny you should say that JM LeDuc…I am presently writing one my first archaeological thriller that combines elements of hard-boiled mystery with action/adventure…This is a book I’m not sure I had the skills to write ten years ago, but not can confidently attack. I made a journey to Egypt in mid October despite the trouble there and even entered into the Third Pyramid totally on my own. Laying myself in the empty sarcophogus was a chilling if not life changing experience…one I hope to relay in the book. It’s called CHASE by the way….

  9. It’s a tough call, but I think my favorite thrillers have a touch of science fiction in them. Nothing immersive is necessary, just a hint of sci-fi can be enough. Even some sort of sub plot can be enough to tickle the imagination. It could be anything: cutting edge technology, a mutated monster, an alien, or a mysterious artifact. I suppose its a rather open-ended sub-genre. But ideally I like a story that makes me wonder “what if?” Something where I don’t necessarily have to suspend disbelief in order to feel engaged. And, ideally, something that seems almost plausible in the end.

  10. Steve, interesting that you mention that touch of sci-fi. I like that, too, though I prefer sticking with cutting-edge technology, which to me is more believable than monsters or aliens. When I think about what I write, my thrillers tend to be a mash-up of several sub-genres including mystery thriller, tech thriller, action thriller and conspiracy thriller.

  11. For me the ultimate subgenre is action, with espionage the sub-subgenre! I grew up reading some fantastic adventure thrillers and Clive Cussler was the master. I love the idea of specialists from a mysterious agency being sent off to track down bad guys within an action setting. I love the pace and the opportunity to take the reader on an adventure while their trying to work everything out. I agree with Diane that humour is very important for releasing a bit of pressure when the reader is immersed in the action, especially if violence is prominent throughout the story. So, Cussler’s Dirk Pitt character and the NUMA agency have been standouts, particularly once the character matured and evolved with the times. There are many other great writers who, in my view, have made the action thriller their own. So, to coin an old military term, I’ve purposely set out to make the action thriller subgenre my ‘area of operations’. All the best, Chris

  12. Apologies for the obvious spelling mistake: “…adventure while their trying to work everything out.” Please ignore ‘their’ and insert ‘they’re’ 🙂

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