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Thriller Essentials

We know there's an awful lot of seeming overlap between Mysteries and Thrillers, especially when browsing Audible or your local bookstore. So for these lists we've worked with a specific defining distinction: Mysteries are about the solving of a crime. Thrillers are about the prevention of a crime.

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  • Beat the Reaper: A Novel

    • UNABRIDGED (6 hrs and 48 mins)
    • By Josh Bazell
    • Narrated By Robert Petkoff
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (1155)
    Performance
    (447)
    Story
    (446)

    Meet Peter Brown, a young Manhattan emergency room doctor with an unusual past that is just about to catch up with him. His morning begins with the quick disarming of a would-be mugger, followed by a steamy elevator encounter with a sexy young pharmaceutical rep, topped off by a visit with a new patient - and from there Peter's day is going to get a whole lot worse and a whole lot weirder.

    Chuck says: "Great book and great narrator"
    Why we think it's Essential: Every so often a debut novel seems like a warning flare, sent up to let everyone know just how big a talent we have on our hands. I generally tend to think of this phenomenon happening with literary fiction, and maybe that's why Beat the Reaper was such a wonderful surprise. Josh Bazell's debut is one of those fresh new thrillers with a totally unique angle: A former mob hit man goes into the witness protection program and trains to be an ER doctor. When an old associate turns up as a patient, well - you can imagine - all hell breaks loose. Robert Petkoff captures the rugged toughness in the voice of the main character and he handles a variety of ethnic accents with sophisticated deftness. One of our office ..
  • The Broken Window: A Lincoln Rhyme Novel, Book 8

    • UNABRIDGED (14 hrs and 12 mins)
    • By Jeffery Deaver
    • Narrated By Dennis Boutsikaris
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (948)
    Performance
    (209)
    Story
    (212)

    When Lincoln's estranged cousin Arthur Rhyme is arrested on murder charges, the case is perfect - too perfect. Forensic evidence from Arthur's home is found all over the scene of the crime, and it looks like the fate of Lincoln's relative is sealed.

    Audiophile says: "Long, Complex, and Good."
    Why we think it's Essential: Jeffery Deaver is clearly a true master of the thriller genre, and he's at his very best in The Broken Window. This eighth thriller to feature quadriplegic criminalist Lincoln Rhyme finds Lincoln's estranged cousin arrested on murder charges. But the evidence seems too perfect, and Lincoln's team suspects identity theft and manipulation. Dennis Boutsikaris' cold, calculating take on the killer's voice is absolutely chilling. --Diana M.
  • Cross

    • UNABRIDGED (7 hrs and 31 mins)
    • By James Patterson
    • Narrated By Peter J. Fernandez, Jay O. Sanders
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (1060)
    Performance
    (211)
    Story
    (216)

    Alex Cross was a rising star in the Washington, D.C., Police Department when an unknown man gunned down his wife in front of him. His desire for vengeance was placed on hold as he raised his children himself. But when a case triggers a connection to his wife's death, Alex may finally have a chance to catch the killer.

    Terri says: "I'm cross too"
    Why we think it's Essential: One of the most beloved heroes in the thriller genre, African-American psychologist Alex Cross (formerly of the D.C. Police and FBI) confronts his own personal demons when called to investigate a serial rapist who may have murdered his wife years ago. Peter J. Fernandez and Jay O. Sanders prove an excellent pair in drawing out Cross' internal turmoil and the tensions in plot. The use of music created a movie score feel here, adding up to another standout outing from bestseller James Patterson. --Diana M.
  • The Da Vinci Code

    • UNABRIDGED (17 hrs and 4 mins)
    • By Dan Brown
    • Narrated By Paul Michael
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (6973)
    Performance
    (1722)
    Story
    (1764)

    While in Paris on business, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon receives an urgent late-night phone call. The elderly curator of the Louvre has been murdered inside the museum, a baffling cipher found near the body. As Langdon and gifted French cryptologist, Sophie Neveu, sort through the bizarre riddle, they are stunned to discover a trail of clues hidden in the works of Da Vinci, clues visible for all to see and yet ingeniously disguised by the painter.

    Alexandra says: "Incredibly entertaining"
    Why we think it's Essential: The fact that The Da Vinci Code is Audible's best-selling book of all time, might be reason enough to include it on this list. But we can do better than that. This hugely popular novel continues the story of Robert Langdon who races to outwit a faceless killer with a bizarre religious motive that sent shockwaves out here in the real world as well. Narrator Paul Michael keeps the listener strung along with his varied pacing, which highlights the academic details of the story. I can't wait to dive into the sequel, The Lost Symbol. --Diana M.
  • Daemon

    • UNABRIDGED (15 hrs and 57 mins)
    • By Daniel Suarez
    • Narrated By Jeff Gurner
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (7153)
    Performance
    (4173)
    Story
    (4204)

    Thousands of autonomous computer programs, or daemons, make our networked world possible, running constantly in the background of our lives, trafficking e-mail, transferring money, and monitoring power grids. For the most part, daemons are benign, but the same can't always be said for the people who design them.

    Charles Atkinson says: "Really Fast Paced Sci Fi!"
    Why we think it's Essential: The unseen enemy is always the most terrifying, because extraordinary insight is required just to identify the invisible. Suarez's enemy is a rogue computer with a demonic bent that touches every computer in the world, and every human being is threatened. Narrator Jeff Gurner delivers a brilliant turn as a computer whiz. His performance is marvelously deliberate with subtle turns of phrase just to give the character the right depth. Hard to believe this excellent technothriller was penned by a first-time author, who's already drawing comparisons to Michael Crichton.--Corey
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: The Millennium Trilogy, Book 1

    • UNABRIDGED (16 hrs and 19 mins)
    • By Stieg Larsson
    • Narrated By Simon Vance
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (23328)
    Performance
    (9945)
    Story
    (10017)

    Why we think it’s a great listen: How do you one-up a book that’s already a global literary phenomenon? Hire Simon Vance to (flawlessly) interpret the loves, lives, and murders of Sweden’s cold and secret-filled world. A spellbinding amalgam of murder mystery, family saga, love story, and financial intrigue. It's about the disappearance 40 years ago of Harriet Vanger, a young scion of one of the wealthiest families in Sweden.

    Pamela Murphy says: "COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN"
    Why we think it's Essential: Where do we even begin? Not many books have earned the kind of fans that The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and its two follow up novels, The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, have. Obsessive and evangelistic in their zeal, people who love the Millennium Trilogy only have one complaint - that there aren’t any more novels coming since Stieg Larsson tragically passed away shortly after completing the manuscripts. Simon Vance, an Audible favorite, narrates this series that appeals to listeners of all types. Whether you like highbrow literature or lighter fare, mysteries, or straight fiction, there’s a good chance you’ll be sucked in. —Emily
  • Dark Places: A Novel

    • UNABRIDGED (13 hrs and 43 mins)
    • By Gillian Flynn
    • Narrated By Rebecca Lowman, Cassandra Campbell, Mark Deakins, and others
    Overall
    (4093)
    Performance
    (3357)
    Story
    (3380)

    Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered in "The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas". As her family lay dying, little Libby fled their tiny farmhouse into the freezing January snow. She lost some fingers and toes, but she survived, and famously testified that her 15-year-old brother, Ben, was the killer. Twenty-five years later, Ben sits in prison, and troubled Libby lives off the dregs of a trust created by well-wishers who've long forgotten her.

    Glenda Jeffers says: "Riveting but brutal"
    Why we think it's Essential: Gillian Flynn's debut, Sharp Objects, came complete with an endorsement from Stephen King, and her follow-up thriller, Dark Places, got even more praise for its twisted, riveting plot and well-developed characters. Though a dark, tragic tale, the full cast of narrators made this a tremendously enjoyable performance. --Diana D.
  • Dr. No

    • UNABRIDGED (7 hrs and 13 mins)
    • By Ian Fleming
    • Narrated By Simon Vance
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (974)
    Performance
    (641)
    Story
    (642)

    M calls this case a "soft option". He sends Bond to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of the head of the Kingston station. Jamaica is luxurious, and the seductive Honey Rider is beautiful and willing, but they are both part of the empire of Dr. No.

    Doug says: "A classic James Bond thriller"
    Why we think it's Essential: You might know Bond from the movies, but Fleming's Bond is not exactly as flashy or superhuman as Sean Connery or Roger Moore (or George Lazenby, for that matter). These slim listens are more measured and subtle, but equally as entertaining. And fascinating to compare to what you see on screen with what happens in print. The price of admission, however, is Simon Vance, whose smooth, controlled performance is delightful set against the author's exotic locales. Fans are encouraged to contrast Fleming's Bond with John Le Carre's tortured spies. What a difference, and an ear-opening education into this powerful thriller genre!—Corey
  • The Faithful Spy

    • UNABRIDGED (12 hrs and 4 mins)
    • By Alex Berenson
    • Narrated By Robertson Dean
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (2251)
    Performance
    (886)
    Story
    (879)

    John Wells is the only American CIA agent ever to penetrate al Qaeda. Since before the attacks in 2001, Wells has been hiding in the mountains of Pakistan, biding his time, building his cover.

    Margaret says: "Faithful Spy"
    Why we think it's Essential: The Faithful Spy is an Audible Essential, but we just couldn't leave it off our thriller list. Thanks to Robertson Dean's menacing narration, this gripping, thinking-person's thriller about a CIA operative deep undercover in al Qaeda is frighteningly real. Once you start listening, you'll find yourself sitting in the driveway with the engine still running. --Steve
  • First to Kill

    • UNABRIDGED (12 hrs and 42 mins)
    • By Andrew Peterson
    • Narrated By Dick Hill
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (3057)
    Performance
    (2146)
    Story
    (2144)

    When you're the best at what you do, it's not always easy to walk away. Nathan McBride was retired. The trained Marine sniper and covert CIA operative had put the violence of his former life behind him. But not anymore. A deep-cover FBI agent has disappeared along with one ton of powerful Semtex explosive, enough to unleash a disaster of international proportions. The U.S. government has no choice but to coax Nathan out of retirement.

    Ed says: "Sniper thriller par excellence"
    Why we think it's Essential: First to Kill was one of those books that our audio editors were raving about-Dick Hill captures the smooth, cool voice of former Marine sniper and cover CIA operative Nathan McBride brilliantly. Full of thrills and unforgettable characters revolving around the disappearance of a deep-cover FBI agent - and one ton of powerful Semtex explosive - it's no wonder that this stellar debut shot up our bestseller lists, even nearly a year after its print publication. --Diana M.
  • The Hundredth Man: Carson Ryder/Harry Nautilus #1

    • UNABRIDGED (9 hrs and 58 mins)
    • By Jack Kerley
    • Narrated By Dick Hill
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (35)
    Performance
    (20)
    Story
    (19)

    When bizarre and cryptic messages are found on a pair of corpses in Mobile, Alabama, junior police detective Carson Ryder and veteran cop Harry Nautilus find themselves in a mysterious public-relations quagmire pitting public safety against office politics. With the body count growing, Ryder must confront his family's terrifying past by seeking advice from his brother, a violent psychopath convicted of similarly heinous crimes.

    Cheryl says: "Definitely a case for Matthew McConnaghey"
    Why we think it's Essential: When we choose our Essentials, our team relies heavily upon our listeners' reviews, and since there are not any for this book we know it's an unusual pick. ButThe Hundredth Man is such a fascinating take on the police procedural that we just couldn't leave off our list. In this stellar debut, junior police detective Carson Ryder has landed on a special projects force where he must seek his brother's help to solve a baffling new murder. But his brother is criminally psychotic-think Hannibal Lecter-and Ryder must allow his brother to hurt him to receive help. Dick Hill's authentic Southern drawl brings the Mobile, Alabama setting here wonderfully alive. Tightly plotted, this one should win Kerley new
  • Killing Floor

    • UNABRIDGED (15 hrs and 23 mins)
    • By Lee Child
    • Narrated By Dick Hill
    Overall
    (6680)
    Performance
    (4644)
    Story
    (4624)

    All is not well in Margrave, Georgia. The sleepy, forgotten town hasn't seen a crime in decades, but within the span of three days it witnesses events that leave everyone stunned. An unidentified man is found beaten and shot to death on a lonely country road.

    Ed says: "Comic book tough guy"
    Why we think it's Essential: Some heroes take some development, but Jack Reacher proved immediately compelling to our listeners. The first in Lee Child's best-selling thriller series featuring the ex-military policeman, Killing Floor won the Barry and Anthony Awards for Best First Novel. Veteran mystery/thriller narrator Dick Hill keeps the action taut through a heightened pace during unfolding action. Paired with measured pauses to paint the scene or shed insight into character observations, this top-notch narration will have you at the end of your seat and eager for more Jack Reacher novels. --Diana M.
  • The Lion's Game

    • UNABRIDGED (24 hrs and 45 mins)
    • By Nelson DeMille
    • Narrated By Scott Brick
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (4542)
    Performance
    (1835)
    Story
    (1836)

    To survive in a game with no rules at all, John Corey must invent a strategy that includes no luck at all. He and the Anti-Terrorist Task Force must stop "The Lion," an alleged Libyan terrorist with the instincts of a wild animal, the bloodlust of a carnivore, and the boldness and speed of a cat of prey.

    CoCo says: "Excellent and engaging"
    Why we think it's Essential: Also tapped as an Audible Essential in 2008, The Lion's Game is DeMille at the peak of his writing powers. This one has it all: action, suspense, humor, romance, captivating characters, a seriously bad bad-guy, and an endearingly bad good-guy. Scott Brick's perfect narration raises the stakes to a higher level. A master of pacing, Brick's measured delivery makes the suspense behind the surpentine plot come alive. My stomach was tied in knots and I loved every minute of it. --Corey
  • The Messenger

    • UNABRIDGED (10 hrs and 54 mins)
    • By Daniel Silva
    • Narrated By Christopher Lane
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (756)
    Performance
    (354)
    Story
    (359)

    Allon is recovering from his grueling showdown with a Palestinian master terrorist, when terrorism comes to find him once again. An al-Qaeda suspect is killed in London, and photographs are found on his computer - photographs that lead Israeli intelligence to suspect that al-Qaeda is planning one of its most audacious attacks ever, straight at the heart of the Vatican.

    Dan says: "Well worth the time"
    Why we think it's Essential: A #1 national best seller with comparisons to John le Carré, The Messenger establishes Daniel Silva as a master of the international espionage genre. Israeli art restorer and spymaster Gabriel Allon is on the trail of a deadly al-Qaeda operative with sights set on the Vatican. Expertly navigating several languages and accents in English, Christopher Lane whisks the listener along Allon's chase across Europe to the Caribbean and back. Exhilarating-Silva's double and triple plot twists will keep you guessing. --Diana M.
  • A Most Wanted Man

    • UNABRIDGED (11 hrs and 26 mins)
    • By John le Carre
    • Narrated By Roger Rees
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (270)
    Performance
    (82)
    Story
    (82)

    New spies with new loyalties, old spies with old ones; terror as the new mantra; decent people wanting to do good but caught in the moral maze; all the sound, rational reasons for doing the inhuman thing; the recognition that we cannot safely love or pity and remain good "patriots" -- this is the fabric of John le Carré's fiercely compelling and current novel A Most Wanted Man.

    S. Lev-Ami says: "Le Carre's Back!"
    Why we think it's Essential: John le Carre spent a few formative years in British Intelligence, which clearly influenced his fiction. Though many think his best works of espionage feature George Smiley, we had to go with A Most Wanted Man as our Thriller Essential because of narrator Robert Rees' performance. Rees delivers all the drama of Le Carre's prose - with both German and British accents - flawlessly. It's no surprise AudioFile calls Le Carre and Rees a mesmerizing pair. We can't help but agree. --Diana D.
  • The Neighbor: A Detective D. D. Warren Novel

    • UNABRIDGED (13 hrs and 28 mins)
    • By Lisa Gardner
    • Narrated By Emily Janice Card, Kirby Heyborne, Kirsten Potter
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (1382)
    Performance
    (718)
    Story
    (721)

    It was a case guaranteed to spark a media feeding frenzy: a young mother, blond and pretty, disappears without a trace from her South Boston home, leaving behind her four-year-old daughter as the only witness and her handsome, secretive husband as the prime suspect. But from the moment Detective Sergeant D. D. Warren arrives at the Joneses - a snug little bungalow, she senses something off about the picture of wholesome normality the couple worked so hard to create.

    KSK says: "Listen to "Say Goodbye" first"
    Why we think it's Essential: The Neighbor was my first suspense listen from bestseller Lisa Gardner, and what a listen it was-enthralling, electrifying, and full of shocking twists and turns. Three narrators compellingly capture the voice and emotion of the young wife gone missing, the sole four-year-old daughter witness, and the handsome husband with secrets to hide. You won't want to miss the explosive conclusion. --Diana M.
  • Nineteen Minutes

    • UNABRIDGED (21 hrs and 9 mins)
    • By Jodi Picoult
    • Narrated By Carol Monda
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (2248)
    Performance
    (866)
    Story
    (882)

    Jodi Picoult delivers the riveting tale of one small town's entanglement with high-school violence.

    New York Superior Court Judge Alex Cormier is assigned to preside over the case of the alleged Sterling High School shooter. Lawyer Jordan McAffee represents Peter, the boy who, on the day of the shooting, was found in the corner of the gymnasium holding a gun to his head with a shaky hand. Detective Patrick DuCharme has one star witness, but her story keeps changing. And then there's the biggest problem of all: the star witness happens to be Judge Cormier's daughter.

    Suze says: "Mesmerizing"
    Why we think it's Essential: Obviously not a traditional thriller, Jodi Picoult's Nineteen Minutes is just as compelling with its shocking twists and turns. In her thoughtful performance, Carol Monda takes on the school shooter, the victims, and their parents, offering a fascinating behind-the-scenes insight that we don't get to hear often enough.--Diana D.
  • Paranoia: A Novel

    • UNABRIDGED (12 hrs and 56 mins)
    • By Joseph Finder
    • Narrated By Scott Brick
    Overall
    (1566)
    Performance
    (409)
    Story
    (407)

    Adam Cassidy is twenty-six and a low level employee at a high-tech corporation who hates his job. When he manipulates the system to do something nice for a friend, he finds himself charged with a crime. Corporate Security gives him a choice: prison or become a spy in the headquarters of their chief competitor, Trion Systems.

    Karen says: "Clever and interesting."
    Why we think it's Essential: Paranoia packs in all the great ingredients of a winning thriller: corporate espionage, a "big brother is watching spookiness," and the ability to keep you up late at night listening. But it's the one element that Finder leaves to the side that may be what makes this a thriller essential. There's not much in the way of traditional weapons-blaring action; this is a thinking man's thriller for the technology age. The story of the rise and fall of a corporate drone turned industry spy highlights just how frightening, dangerous, and creepy our everyday lives could suddenly become, if given the Finder treatment. --Emily
  • The Poet

    • UNABRIDGED (15 hrs and 21 mins)
    • By Michael Connelly
    • Narrated By Buck Schirner
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (3566)
    Performance
    (2199)
    Story
    (2190)

    Our hero is Jack McEvoy, a Rocky Mountain News crime-beat reporter. As the story opens, Jack's twin brother, a Denver homicide detective, has just killed himself. Or so it seems. But when Jack begins to investigate the phenomenon of police suicides, a disturbing pattern emerges, and soon suspects that a serial murderer is at work.

    Tom says: "Is Connelly the Best Crime Writer Or What?"
    Why we think it's Essential: Harry Bosch made an appearance on the Mystery Essentials list, but as one of the most celebrated thriller writers as well, we couldn't leave Michael Connelly off this list. "The Poet" was Connelly's first non-Bosch novel and won comparisons to Thomas Harris of Silence of the Lambs fame (see below). Buck Shirner gives distinct voice to Connelly's winning protagonist, crime beat reporter Jack McEvoy, and will keep even the most seasoned of thriller fans guessing as to the Poet behind McEvoy's brother's murder. --Diana M.
  • A Prisoner of Birth

    • UNABRIDGED (16 hrs and 24 mins)
    • By Jeffrey Archer
    • Narrated By Roger Allam
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (2464)
    Performance
    (487)
    Story
    (496)

    One evening, Danny, an East End cockney who works as a garage mechanic, takes his girlfriend up to the West End to celebrate their engagement. He crosses the path of Spencer Craig, a West End barrister tipped to be the youngest Queen's Counsel of his generation. A few hours later Danny is arrested for murder and later is sentenced to 22 years in prison.

    Debbie McKelvey says: "Very Entertaining"
    Why we think it's Essential: A Prisoner of Birth was the surprise Audible best seller of 2008 and took our listeners so completely in that we had to include it on this list. Jeffrey Archer has long been in the category of writers whose works are difficult to put down and the same is true for this novel. You could listen with rapt attention for hours and only then realize how much time has past. Knowing his way around the courtroom in fiction (and nonfiction, wink-wink), the author is dextrous at capturing the momentum shifts between defense and prosecution during trial. Veteran actor Roger Allam (V for Vendetta) adds immeasurably to the authenticity with his spot-on cockney accent. --Corey
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