Young Guns: Why the Political Thriller Genre is Set for Years to Come

Joshua Hood color photo.jpg
Author Joshua Hood

For one quick second, imagine a world with no Mitch Rapp, Jack Ryan, Gabriel Allon, or Cotton Malone. Now that I’ve got you good and depressed, let me give you a few reasons to feel cheerful again…

There’s a shift taking place right now in the world of thrillers. Gabriel Allon, the wayward son of Israeli intelligence, is getting old. So old in fact, that he’ll soon exit the field and take over running the Office. In the last Mitch Rapp novel, The Survivor, there were real concerns that Irene Kennedy may lose her position as director of the CIA. Likewise, the Jack Ryan series seems to be running on fumes–as Ryan can only stay in office for so long. In Steve Berry’s new book, The 14th Colony, Magellan Billet–the secret intelligence agency that Cotton Malone works for–is closing up shop. Things are changing all over the place!

I’m not suggesting that these series are going anywhere–actually, I know for a fact that several of them aren’t. Kyle Mills is on board for at least two more Rapp novels, and to that point Rapp’s character arc is on an upswing. I have zero concerns about him moving forward, my point is simply that things are changing across the board in multiple best-selling franchises.

How long can Kennedy continue on as the CIA director? Hopefully for a while, but it’s inevitable that at some point her run will end. Then what? Personally, I’d like to see her run for president. Can you imagine the operational latitude Rapp, Coleman, and Nash would have in that scenario?!

Daniel Silva is a terrific writer, but Gabriel Allon isn’t getting any younger. Silva’s last three novels (The English Girl, The Heist, and The English Spy) have run very close together, and it’s possible his new book (The Black Widow, due out in July) will follow suit. That’s a nifty tactic for Silva, who I’d imagine is in no hurry to see his beloved hero completely out of the field, but it won’t last forever.

Allon and his wife are pregnant with twins, and there are plenty of stories about Gabriel left to tell. However, they probably won’t be the type of stories we’re used to– if they are, it’s very likely that a new character will be the one doing the dangerous work while Allon oversees it from the safety of the Office.

With a new president taking office and Magellan Billet dissolving, what will Cotton Malone do? That, I’m sure, is something that author Steve Berry has been thinking about for a while. There’s virtually no chance that he’d write this story line without knowing where it’s headed and what’s next for Cotton, but things are without a doubt changing.

Jack Ryan won’t be president forever, and while Mark Greaney has done a wonderful job taking over the reigns for the late Tom Clancy, what the heck will Ryan do with his life after office? There may be a few good books left, but the franchise, as least as we’ve always known it, will soon have to transition into the next phase–as it’s already done several times–whatever that may be.

Now, I’m not trying to be negative. The reason so much is changing in these franchises is because they are all very successful and very long-running series. Kyle Mills will release the fifteenth Mitch Rapp book (his second novel in the series since taking over for the late Vince Flynn) this fall. Silva’s The Black Widow is the sixteenth title in the Gabriel Allon saga, and Jack Ryan and Cotton Malone have starred in eleven novels each. Lots of things change in ten or fifteen years, that’s as obvious as it is inevitable.

There are several other long-running series that seem to be hitting their stride, even after undergoing transitional phases themselves.

Brad Thor’s Scot Harvath series is better than ever, and Thor remains the gold standard in the political thriller genre. Harvath started as an ex-SEAL who was working with the Secret Service. Then, he was an operative for a top secret program designed to take the fight to the terrorists, rather than just sitting back and playing defense and trying to avoid another attack. Eventually that job came to an end, and Harvath joined the Carlton Group, a private black-ops group that freelances for various government agencies.

Nobody has nailed transitioning and growing with their character better than Brad Thor. Now Harvath is settled in with the Carlton Group and his future isn’t just bright, it’s blazing. Foreign Agent, the fifteenth novel in the series, comes out on June 14th, and is one of the most anticipated novels of the year.

Other authors like Brad Taylor (the Pike Logan series), Alex Berenson (the John Wells series) and Ben Coes (the Dewey Andreas series) have proven to have staying power as well. Their respective series will be around for many, many years to come. So too will C.J. Box’s Joe Pickett who, even at sixteen books and counting, is still running strong with Off The Grid.

So while the genre is dominated by established, long-running characters and franchises, some of which are beginning a potential decline, the good news is that there has been an infusion of youth the past two years.

Matthew Betley’s Overwatch, which comes out March 1st, is one of the best debut novels I’ve ever read. His protagonist, Logan West, is a compelling character who is stunningly realistic and believable, full of flaws and other human elements.  Don’t just take my word for it though; The Providence Journal recently had this to say about him:

“Betley proves himself an able heir to the throne currently held by the likes of Brad Thor and the late, great Vince Flynn. But Betley also incorporates a quest for a historical artifact reminiscent of James Rollins and Steve Berry, resulting in a structurally flawless read, unafraid to tackle difficult issues like PTSD as well. Not to be missed.”

That quote has more merit than some might initially realize, as Betley is signed to the same publisher (Emily Bestler Books, an imprint of Atria Books at Simon & Schuster) as Thor and the late Vince Flynn–and he currently shares the same editor  (Emily Bestler) as well.

Matthew Betley
Author Matthew Betley

Overwatch, by the way, is just the tip of the iceberg. Betley’s second novel is already finished and he claims to have story arcs for at least five more novels already planned out. It’s been a long time since someone with this much promise has burst onto the scene, and his emergence couldn’t have come at a better time.

Joshua Hood made fans of the genre take note when his explosive debut novel Clear by Fire hit shelves last August. Hood, a decorated combat veteran, was a member of the prestigious 82nd Airborne during his time in the United States Army. Now, Hood spends his days protecting the citizens of Tennessee as a full-time SWAT team member and his evenings writing Mason Kane thrillers.

Hood’s second book, Warning Order, comes out on June 7th. I’ve had the privilege of reading it already, and I am amazed at how much Hood has grown as an author in such a short time.

Another author to keep your eye on who recently took the genre by storm is Terry Hayes. His novel I Am Pilgrim is the first in a new series, though no confirmed date has been set for his second novel.

Hayes, 64, isn’t as young as Betley or Hood, but his series has a tremendous amount of potential. If his second book can somehow match the level of excellence he established with I Am Pilgrim, the sky is the limit for this series.

While I’ve yet to read his book, I’ve heard nothing but good things about Eric Storey and his debut novel Nothing Short of Dyingwhich features a protagonist who has been called a Jack Reacher-like drifter. I’m chomping at the bit for this one and am excited to see if this becomes a new series or if it’s just a standalone novel.

Gregg Hurwitz is a veteran novelist, but he has a new series beginning with his latest novel Orphan X. While I wasn’t overly impressed, mostly because it felt like a Hitman ripoff, Orphan X did make Publisher Weekly’s bestselling list.

Other authors with relatively new series include Mark E. Henshaw, Scott McEwen, Jason Matthews, and Tom Wood.

So while guys like Gabriel Allon and Jack Ryan are beginning to slow down, Logan West, Mason Kane, and others are just getting started, offering readers the chance to be a fan from the very beginning.

Like the San Francisco 49ers–who went from Joe Montana quarterbacking their team to Steve Young–so too does the thriller genre have star potential ready to replace some of the biggest legends when their playing days come to an end… whenever that may be.

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