Year In Review: 2016’s Best Of The Best

Now that it’s officially 2017, we figured we’d have a little fun and re-visit some of 2016’s best thrillers. To do that, we’ve broken things down categorically, highlighting some of the year’s best titles, along with a few other surprises!  

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Most Action-Packed Thriller

Ben Coes First Strike

Winner: First Strike by Ben Coes

Honorable Mentions: Foreign Agent (Brad Thor); Order To Kill (Kyle Mills); Ghosts of War (Brad Taylor); Orphan X (Gregg Hurwitz); Overwatch (Matthew Betley); Back Blast (Mark Greaney); Red Right Hand (Chris Holm); A Time To Die (Tom Wood); Three Minutes To Midnight (A.J. Tata); The First Order (Jeff Abbott); A Red Dotted Line (Simon Gervais); Warning Order (Joshua Hood); Tier One (Andrews & Wilson); The Wolves (Alex Berenson)

Comments: From the very first page on, First Strike is nothing but pure adrenaline-pumping, chest-pounding action. Seriously, Ben Coes wrote five hundred pages of thrilling, high-powered action sequences that suck you in and don’t let go. Lots of authors brought the action in 2016 but it’s not even close for this award…Coes tops them all!

Best Start To A New Series

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Winner: Orphan X by Gregg Hurwitz

Honorable Mentions: The Second Life of Nick Mason (Steve Hamilton); Overwatch (Matthew Betley); Nothing Short of Dying (Erik Storey); The House of Secrets (Brad Meltzer); The Hatching (Ezekiel Boone); An Honorable Man (Paul Vidich); Hell’s Gate (Bill Schutt & J.R. Finch); Tier One (Andrews & Wilson); Shadow War (Sean McFate); Killfile (Christopher Farnsworth)

Comments: This one was tough and, to be honest, it came down to a toss-up between Hurwitz’s novel and Steve Hamilton’s The Second Life of Nick Mason. In the end, it’s hard not to recognize the genius of Orphan X, which introduces Evan Smoak–who might just be the most compelling new character since Brad Thor’s Scot Harvath.

Best Debut Novel

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Winner: Overwatch by Matthew Betley

Honorable Mentions: Nothing Short of Dying (Erik Storey); Shadow War (Sean McFate); The Hatching (Ezekiel Boone); Only Daughter (Anna Snoeksra); The Homeplace (Kevin Wolfe); The Lost Girls (Heather Young)

Comments: Another hard one! Last year introduced the genre to two great new authors and two awesome new heroes in Betley’s Logan West and Erik Storey’s Clyde Barr. Both of these guys will go on to have fantastic careers and, in a sense, the real winners here are the readers. Ultimately, Betley edged out the competition due to the originality of Overwatch. On top of that, he was billed right out of the gate as someone who might be the next Vince Flynn or Brad Thor. While we think those comparisons are a little unfair to any new author, Matthew Betley looks to have what it takes to live up to that kind of hype.

Best Fight Scene

Order to Kill

Winner: Mitch Rapp vs. Grisha Azarov (Order To Kill, by Kyle Mills)

Honorable Mentions: Pike Logan’s Superman punch (Ghosts of War, by Brad Taylor); Clyde Barr’s bar brawl (Erik Storey’s Nothing Short of Dying); Evan Smoak’s hotel room takedown (Orphan X by Gregg Hurwitz)

Comments: Lots of really great fight scenes were written in 2016, but one tops them all–and it’s not as close as you might think. For our money, you won’t find a better high-tension, brutal throwdown between two characters than what Kyle Mills created when Mitch Rapp faces off with Grisha Azarov in Order To Kill

Best Plot Twist

Fool me once Harlan Coben

Winner: Fool Me Once by Harlan Coben

Honorable Mentions: Guilty Minds (Joseph Finder); Home (Harlan Coben); The One Man (Andrew Gross); The Wrong Side of Goodbye (Michael Connelly); The House of Secrets (Brad Meltzer)

Comments: All the books listed above had great plot twists, but Coben pulled off something really difficult with Fool Me Once when he nailed the double-twist ending. Furthermore, lots of authors can write in a twist here and there for pure shock value, but what Coben did was nearly impossible…he wrote a twist that you’ll never ever, not in a hundred years, ever see coming. EVER! And yet, once you read it, it’s the only thing that makes sense. Not just one of the best twists of 2016, it’s one of the best twists in recent memory.

Best Villain

The Black Widow

Winner: Saladin (The Black Widow by Daniel Silva)

Honorable Mentions: First Strike (Ben Coes); Order To Kill (Kyle Mills); Foreign Agent (Brad Thor); Three Minutes To Midnight (A.J. Tata); Off The Grid (C.J. Box); Orphan X (Gregg Hurwitz); No Man’s Land (David Baldacci); Friendly Fire (John Gilstrap); Liberty’s Last Stand (Stephen Coonts)

Comments: There were a lot of really good, creepy, dislikable, and violent villains in 2016–but one stood out in particular. They call him Saladin, and he’s the ISIS mastermind in Daniel Silva’s The Black Widow. Not only is Saladin ruthless, but he’s a smart guy with a murderous plan, which he executes perfectly. He’s also the reason Gabriel Allon puts off taking a promotion to become head of the Office, as the aging Israeli spy makes it his personal mission to end Saladin’s life before he retires from field work. 

Best Mystery Novel

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Winner: The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly

Honorable Mentions: Home (Harlan Coben); Manitou Canyon (William Kent Krueger); Guilty Minds (Joseph Finder); The House of Secrets (Brad Meltzer); Killer Look (Linda Fairstein); The Innocents (Ace Atkins); An Obvious Fact (Craig Johnson); Shoot ‘Em Up (Janey Mack); DownFall (J.A. Jance) 

Comments: Michael Connelly has never been better than he was last year when he released The Wrong Side of Goodbye, his latest Harry Bosch novel. Several things made this such a fun book to read. Not only is this the first book where we see Bosch working with the small SFPD, as opposed to the LAPD, but he’s also hired out his detective skills as a private investigator. In addition, there are more twists and turns than Connelly usually writes into his books and legitimate page-turning suspense from the very beginning. 

Best Historical Fiction Novel

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Winner: The One Man by Andrew Gross

Honorable Mentions: The 14th Colony (Steve Berry); Ruler of the Night (David Morrell); Pharaoh (Wilbur Smith); The Gangster (Clive Cussler) 

Comments: Andrew Gross wrote a truly phenomenal, emotionally-charged thriller that is as good as anything published in the past several years. The One Man will make you laugh, cry, cheer, give you goosebumps, and leave you speechless. Everyone, regardless of which genre you normally enjoy, should read this book! 

Best Political Thriller

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Winner: Foreign Agent by Brad Thor

Honorable Mentions: Order To Kill (Kyle Mills); First Strike (Ben Coes); The Black Widow (Daniel Silva); Overwatch (Matthew Betley); The Wolves (Alex Berenson); Night School (Lee Child); True Faith and Allegiance (Mark Greaney); Ghosts of War (Brad Taylor); Extreme Prey (John Sandford) 

Comments: Coes and Mills were definitely in the running, and so was Greaney’s latest Clancy novel, but at the end of the day, nobody outdid Brad Thor in 2016. Here’s the thing–lots of authors are really good at different stuff, and everyone has their strengths. Thor, though, is the most well-rounded of them all; he literally has no weaknesses and seems incapable of writing a bad book. Foreign Agent is a blistering, fast-paced thriller that felt all too real considering some of the recent headlines. If you read one political thriller from 2016, it should be this one. 

Best Spy Thriller

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Winner: Orphan X by Gregg Hurwitz

Honorable Mentions: Back Blast (Mark Greaney); The First Order (Jeff Abbott); Assassin’s Silence (Ward Larsen); A Time To Die (Tom Wood); Red Right Hand (Chris Holm); A Soldier’s Revenge (Matthew Dunn)

Comments: This book is a nonstop thrill ride from beginning to end. Evan Smoak, like we said above, is one of the genre’s best new characters in a very long time. Hurwitz’s layered, original plot kept a lot of readers wide awake all night in 2016. There were lots of great spy books in ’16, but Orphan X stood above the rest. 

Best Legal Thriller

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Winner: The Whistler by John Grisham

Honorable Mentions: Infamy (Robert K. Tanenbaum); The 7th Canon (Robert Dugoni) 

Comments: If we’re all being honest, 2015 was an uncharacteristically low point for Grisham, one of the world’s most famous authors. Rogue Lawyer, his 2015 novel, was a dud–and read more like a collection of short stories than a book. He came back with a vengeance last year, putting out one of his best books of the decade with The Whistler. In a time when whistleblowers are getting lots of play on the news, Grisham developed a brilliant concept that mirrors several recent headlines. The end result was, as readers have come to expect from Grisham, absolutely fantastic. 

Best Psychological Thriller

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Winner: Find Her by Lisa Gardner

Honorable Mentions: Don’t You Cry (Mary Kubica); The Last Good Girl (Allison Leotta); Only Daughter (Anna Snoekstra); Close Your Eyes (Michael Robotham)

Comments: Everyone is looking for the next Gone Girl or Girl On The Trainin fact, it’s one of the top questions we receive from readers via email and messages on social media. It’s hard for any book to live up to those expectations, but Gardner can hold her own with anyone in the genre right now–and Find Her is every bit as good as those other books written by Gillian Flynn and Paula Hawkins. 

Best Military Thriller

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Winner: Ghosts of War by Brad Taylor

Honorable Mentions: Warning Order (Joshua Hood); Onslaught (David Poyer); Shadow War (Sean McFate); Ghost Sniper (Scott McEwen); Tier One (Brian Andrews and Jeffrey Wilson); Drone Threat (Mike Madden)

Comments: Brad Taylor is the best military thriller alive, and number two isn’t close. Nobody understands the inner workings and intricacies of the special ops world better than him, and he’s churned out numerous high-voltage plot lines since he burst on the literary scene with One Rough Man in 2011. Last year, though, Taylor got out of his comfort zone with Ghosts of War and found a new antagonist to take on Pike Logan and the rest of the Taskforce. The end result was a blockbuster hit, and one of 2016’s best thrillers.  

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