The Real Book Spy’s Best Books of 2017

2017 will no doubt go down as a great year for thriller fans.

Nearly all of today’s top thriller authors brought their A-game, churning out a number of blockbusters — including several books fans will be talking about for years to come (we’re looking at you, Don Winslow, Brad Thor, and Kyle Mills!) — to go with multiple surprise hits from a handful of newcomers who flashed world-class talent going toe-to-toe with the biggest names in fiction. 

To recap the year, we’ve compiled a list of our picks for the best books broken down by category. Keep scrolling all the way to the end to see which title we’ve crowned the Best Book of 2017! 

(Note: for more information or to order your copy, click on the book’s title.)


 

Best Debut Thrillers 

Book Spy Best Debuts 2017.jpg

The Red Line by Walt Gragg

The Red Line is a ton of fun, and isn’t just a top debut — it’s also one of the year’s best military thrillers. If Clancy would have ever written a true, full-scale military thriller, it would likely look a lot like this one. 

The Driver by Hart Hanson

Hart Hanson’s The Driver is a gripping, edgy novel that shines brightly among the competition. Hanson is, of course, the creator of the hit television show Bones, and he knows a thing or two about developing characters. . . which is evident early on in Driver.

The Dry by Jane Harper

Jane Harper’s The Dry was hyped up thanks to blurbs from C.J. Box, David Baldacci, and other bestsellers. Still, she managed to stun readers with a chilling plot that grips you hard and doesn’t let go.

The Freedom Broker by K.J. Howe

K.J. Howe, apart from being a talented writer, is the Director of ThrillerFest. After working with some of the genre’s biggest stars, she now stands shoulder-to-shoulder with them as her debut, The Freedom Broker — which introduces a brilliant new heroine in K&R specialist Thea Paris — turned more than a few heads. Howe’s breakout year is just the beginning of what projects to be a hit franchise moving forward.

Target Omega by Peter Kirsanow

Peter Kirsanow’s Target Omega is a perfect fit for fans of Brad Taylor and Mark Greaney. Not only is there plenty of action, but Kirsanow mixes in a couple of solid twists to throw readers off, and he scores extra points for delivering a timely plot that, in some ways, is starting to play out in real life.

 


 

Best Political Thrillers 

Book Spy Best Political Thrillers 2017.jpg

Oath of Honor by Mattew Betley

Matthew Betley is the thriller genre’s brightest new star. After dazzling readers with Overwatch, his hit 2016 debut novel, Betley scores even higher on our rating scale in 2017 with Oath of Honor, a fast-paced, well-written story that reads like a cross between Brad Thor and James Rollins. On top of awesome action sequences, Betley delivers some of the best dialogue in print today. High-flying shootouts and laugh-out-loud banter between his main characters make Oath of Honor a real treat to read.

Trap the Devil by Ben Coes

Nobody is riding a more blazing hot streak than Coes, who has been on an absolute tear the past couple of years. Trap the Devil has the action and humor his fans have come to expect, but Coes takes his game to another level by packing an emotional twist into his unputdownable story. Not only is Trap the Devil one of the best political thrillers of 2017, it’s one of the top three books to come out this year.

Enemy of the State by Kyle Mills 

Kyle Mills has been amazing. Nobody else could have stepped into Vince Flynn’s massive shoes and filled them out the way Mills has, who hit the ground running with his first Mitch Rapp novel, The Survivor, back in 2015. Now, two years later, Mills has proven he’s one of the most talented writers in the game with Enemy of the State, one of the best Rapp books to date and a top five thriller this year. The plot is surprisingly current, thanks to recent headlines, and the action is on point. To top it all off, Mills treats longtime readers by bringing back fan-favorite characters from earlier in the series. 

Without Warning by Joel C. Rosenberg

Without Warning is the final book in Joel C. Rosenberg’s J.B. Collins trilogy, and man, what a way to go out! The plot has the same ripped-from-the-headlines feel that Rosenberg’s fans have come to expect from the man U.S. News & World Report dubbed a “modern Nostradamus,” but Rosenberg stuns with a chilling, jaw-dropping ending that’ll stay with you long after turning the final page.

Use of Force by Brad Thor

Brad Thor is the biggest name in the political thriller genre for a reason — everything he writes turns to solid gold. Use of Force is another one-night read that’s impossible to put down, as Thor continues to write some of the best action sequences in print while also mixing in character development and heart-pounding attack scenarios for Scot Harvath to try and stop. It’s crazy to think that such a successful, #1 bestselling author can still be improving after seventeen books, but Thor just keeps getting better. Use of Force is his finest work so far, and one of the year’s best thrillers. 


 

Best Military Thrillers

Book Spy Best Military Thrillers 2017

Crusader One by Andrews & Wilson

Andrews & Wilson have really taken their game to another level over the last two years. Their Tier One series, the way that it’s structured, is really unlike anything else hitting bookstore shelves. The first three books all have different, unique plots, and yet they’re all part of the same story arc, which finally comes to a close with this book — their most action-packed and explosive work so far.

Dead Man Switch by Matthew Quirk

Mathew Quirk is massively underrated. His books rank right up there with other star authors, and his latest novel is just fantastic. The plot to Dead Man Switch moves at the speed of a bullet and features nonstop suspense as John Hayes races to save the day. Fans of Gregg Hurwitz and Mark Greaney will love Quirk’s characters and style…this series has quickly reached must-read status. 

Deep Black by Sean McFate

Sean McFate took a big step up with his second book, Deep Black, which features his compelling new hero, Tom Locke. The action is the main attraction, but a smart, suspense-filled plot help make this one of the best military thrillers of the year. McFate is one of the few authors with first-hand knowledge and experience on the battlefield, having served in the prestigious 82nd Airborne Division before getting into mercenary work. He’s also a professor at Georgetown University, and teaches readers a thing or two about the life of a highly-trained operator. 

Direct Fire by A.J. Tata

A.J. Tata, much like the previous guy on this list, writes with gripping, been-there-done-that authenticity. His series, prior to this book, was very solid. Now, Jake Mahegan has arrived, taking his place at the very top of the genre alongside Brad Taylor and his Pike Logan franchise. Tata pulls out all the stops here, delivering his best book yet. Direct Fire is a nonstop thrill ride and one of the last must-read books coming out in 2017. 

Ring of Fire by Brad Taylor

If only one book could be crowned here, it would, without question, be Brad Taylor’s Ring of Fire. Other writers have burst onto the military thriller scene in recent years, but there’s still a wide gap between Taylor — who absolutely owns this genre — and the rest of the best. Somehow, Taylor manages to keep improving with each book, a trend that continues again in 2017. Nonstop action and a clever, suspenseful plot make this his most electrifying Pike Logan thriller yet.


 

Best Spy Thrillers 

Book Spy Best Spy Thrillers 2017

Gunmetal Gray by Mark Greaney

Over the last two years, Mark Greaney’s Gray Man series has risen to the top of the genre with strong back-to-back thrillers. Gunmetal Gray marks the first book where Court Gentry is back with the CIA — and Greaney doesn’t disappoint, taking readers along for his first action-packed mission. The Gray Man is freaking awesome…if you aren’t reading this series, start! 

The Nowhere Man by Gregg Hurwitz

Now two books in, Gregg Hurwitz’s series is already one of the best things in the genre. The first book, Orphan X, introduced readers to Evan Smoak, a former government assassin turned Punisher-style vigilante for those in need. In The Nowhere Man, Evan finds himself in exactly the type of situation he typically helps others out of. Hurwitz’s writing is brilliant, and he pulls off a kind of twist that’s rarely seen in spy thrillers. 

The Spy Across the Table by Barry Lancet

Barry Lancet crushed it with his latest offering, The Spy Across the Table. Jim Brodie — a PI with a lethal skill set — is back, this time to take on adversaries from the Chinese, North Korean, and American governments. Lancet brings the action, but he also delivers a beautifully written plot that’s right on par with Daniel Silva.

A Legacy of Spies by John le Carre

John le Carre helped create the spy thriller genre when he first introduced readers to George Smiley back in his 1961 debut novel, Call for the Dead. Two years after that, le Carre released The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, which is widely considered one of the greatest novels this genre has ever produced. Now, fifty-four years after Cold was released, le Carre, 84, has penned a direct sequel to his most famous book with A Legacy of Spies. Legacy offers new insight into Operation Windfall, the mission that was the focus of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, as le Carre brings back a plethora of his most beloved characters. Masterfully written, le Carre proves he’s more than just one of the all-time greats…he’s still one of the best writers working today.

House of Spies by Daniel Silva 

John le Carre and Robert Ludlum often get credit for helping to make the spy thriller genre what it is today. And while that’s true, the next generation produced writers like Vince Flynn and Daniel Silva, who will no doubt go down as two of the very best. Silva, now seventeen books into this series, continues to raise the stakes, even with his protagonist, Gabriel Allon, getting up there in age. Now head of the Office, Allon gives a whole new meaning to the term “operational chief” as he personally attempts to hunt down the leader of ISIS in Silva’s most heart-pounding thriller yet.


Best Mystery/Crime Novels

Book Spy Best Crime Thrillers 2017.jpg

Vicious Circle by C.J. Box

C.J. Box is always one of the best reads of the year. For Vicious Circle, Box brought back one of his most popular and hated antagonists, rodeo cowboy Dallas Cates. The storyline that started in 2015’s Endangered finally comes full circle here, as Box holds nothing back on his way to giving readers another thrilling adventure with Joe Pickett, America’s favorite game warden. Nobody has done a finer job developing their characters over the course of a series than Box, the undisputed king of cowboy noir. 

Two Kinds of Truth by Michael Connelly

How is it possible that Connelly keeps delivering hits now that Harry Bosch is aging, no longer with the LAPD, and working with the much, much smaller San Fernando Police Department? Some way, somehow, Connelly manages to keep improving, taking Bosch to new heights with his latest nail-biter, Two Kinds of Truth.

UNSUB by Meg Gardiner

Meg Gardiner’s UNSUB, the first book in a new series, is scary-good. By modeling the serial killer in this book after the real-life Zodiac Killer, Gardiner makes her entire plot even more terrifying, then pulls off a cunning, well-timed twist that takes things to a whole new level. UNSUB is crime fiction at its finest!

Exit Strategy by Steve Hamilton

Steve Hamilton stunned readers in 2016 with The Second Life of Nick Mason, one of last year’s most surprising novels. This year, he follows that up with Exit Strategy, continuing Nick Mason’s story in dark and gritty fashion. With a plot that reads like it was made for the big screen, Hamilton brought his A-game, showing why he’s one of the most talented writers in the game today.

The Force by Don Winslow

You won’t find a better book this year than Don Winslow’s The Force, a once-in-a-generation type of book that absolutely must be read. No review or endorsement can do this book justice. Seriously, buy it and read it, you will be so glad you did. (Keep scrolling for more on The Force.)


 

Best Historical Fiction Thrillers 

Book Spy Best Historical Fiction Thrillers 2017

Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton

Crichton is one of this generation’s most beloved storytellers. The fact that an old manuscript he was working on was discovered and published is exciting, but that excitement means nothing if the book isn’t good. While Dragon Teeth definitely isn’t Jurassic Park, it’s still a first-rate thriller that’s well-written and entertaining.

The Saboteur by Andrew Gross

While not quite as good as last year’s The One Man (one of the highest ratings we’ve ever scored), Andrew Gross treats readers to a compelling, exciting, and action-packed story. The Saboteur is just Gross’ second historical fiction novel, and already he’s dominating his new genre.

The Painted Queen by Elizabeth Peters and Joan Hess

This book is sneaky good. Elizabeth Peters was a phenomenal talent, as is Joan Hess–so expectations were high leading up to the release of The Painted Queen. Even so, this book dazzles, hitting on all cylinders from beginning to end, surpassing expectations on its way to becoming one of the year’s top historical fiction thrillers. 

The Himalayan Codex by Bill Schutt and J.R. Finch

The writing duo of Schutt and Finch have struck gold with their new series starring zoologist and adventurer Captain R. J. MacCready. If you tossed Indiana Jones and Painter Crow, the leader of James Rollins’ Sigma Force team, into a blender, you’d get MacCready. The Himalayan Codex is a fun, engaging story that asks some tantalizing questions that’ll get readers thinking about important life questions. Think Dan Brown, if his Robert Langdon was set in the 1940s.

War Cry by Wilbur Smith

The Courtney family is back in Wilbur Smith’s latest thriller, War Cry. After a down year last year, the veteran author bounced back in a big way, giving fans a thrilling tale of espionage, adventure, and danger — proving yet again that Smith is still one of the premier historical fiction novelists in the genre right now.


 

Best Suspense Thrillers 

Book Spy Best Suspense Thrillers 2017

Blame by Jeff Abbott

Jeff Abbott’s Blame is our highest-rated suspense thriller since Harlan Coben’s Fool Me Once, our top-ranked book of 2016. Nonstop twists and turns will keep readers guessing, but Abbott doesn’t rely on shock and awe. He develops his cast of characters well, giving his readers people to care about as the plot unfolds. It’s a nice touch that elevates the entire story, which is told with breakneck pacing and packs enough humor to balance the chilling plot. Not even veteran readers of this genre will see the final twist coming, as Abbott delivers a knockout blow that eviscerates the competition in 2017. 

Don’t Let Go by Harlan Coben

While Coben’s 2017 thriller falls a tad short of his 2016 releases (Fool Me Once and Home), it’s still one of the year’s best suspense thrillers. Lots of twists and a fast-moving plot make this a white-knuckle read that’s nearly impossible to put down, but it’s Coben’s attention to detail that sets his books apart from the rest. Anyone can write in plot twists, but making them fit in a plausible way that doesn’t feel forced is hard to pull off…That’s where Coben’s made his living, and nobody makes readers’ jaws drop more often than him. 

Lie to Me by J.T. Ellison

J.T. Ellison’s Lie to Me is, perhaps, the most Gone Girl-like novel since Gillian Flynn’s mega-popular hit bookstores in 2012. While some readers will figure out a couple of twists ahead of time, there are enough surprises along the way to keep even the most seasoned readers off-balance and racing to the end.

Fatal by John Lescroart

John Lescroart packs a little of everything into this one. The writing is very solid, the dialogue is on point, and the plot sizzles early — then sustains the energy over three hundred pages. You might have a bad, regrettable one-night stand in your past, but you’ve never had one turn out this badly. With a plot that many can relate to in one way or another, Lescroart’s latest is a phenomenal, hair-raising read.

Say Nothing by Brad Parks

With one book, Brad Parks has gone from a solid writer to one of the best in this genre. Say Nothing is that good. The chilling opening chapters set the tone for what turns into a breathless, lightning-quick plot that takes readers on a high speed, twisting and turning ride that, in many ways, brilliantly chronicles a parent’s worst nightmare. Contrary to what the title says, you’ll want to tell everyone you know about this book.


 

Best Legal Thrillers 

Book Spy Best Legal Thrillers 2017

The Rooster Bar by John Grisham

It’d be tough to have a list like this without Grisham’s name featured prominently. And while The Rooster Bar is far from the author’s best work, he manages to take a somewhat silly premise (law school students dropping out of school so they can practice law illegally) and makes it work. In the end, readers will find themselves engrossed in Grisham’s story, which details the Great Law School Scam and his cast of relatable characters.

The Extraditionist by Todd Merer 

This book might not be on everyone’s radar, but if you like legal thrillers, it should be. Merer’s The Extraditionist is well-written and moves quickly. It reads, at least in the beginning, a little like John Grisham’s The Firm, though the author has a few of his own tricks up his sleeve. Having spent thirty years as an attorney for cartel chiefs, Merer knows his stuff…and that authenticity shines through and takes this book up a notch, making it one of the year’s best legal thrillers.

Rule of Law by Randy Singer

Randy Singer’s Rule of Law starts out like an action thriller, which sets the stage for the legal drama. When a whole team of Tier One operators is ambushed and killed on a critical mission that was greenlit by the president, some of the fallen soldiers’ families want answers. Further digging opens a can of worms, as questions quickly surface about what, exactly, the president knew…and when she knew it. The timely plot mirrors a number of recent headlines, and Singer tackles some tough real-life questions by writing them into his story. 

Without Fear or Favor by Robert K. Tanenbaum

Tanenbaum’s twenty-ninth Butch Karp thriller is, perhaps, his most controversial novel to date. With a plot revolving around police shootings in New York City — an attack on a civilian and an attack on a cop — Tanenbaum goes where few other authors dared. While the message might be politically incorrect, that’s exactly the point the author was making: the dangers of political correctness. It’s a bold move, but Tanenbaum makes it work. If you like the hit television show Blue Bloods, you’ve got to read this book. 

Testimony by Scott Turow

You’d be hard-pressed to find another author better at detailing the drama that takes place inside the courtroom than Scott Turow. With his latest legal thriller, Turow introduces a former prosecutor named Bill ten Boom, who takes a job with the  International Criminal Court prosecuting crimes against humanity. When a witness comes forward claiming that an entire Roma refugee camp was buried alive, Bill goes looking for answers. Testimony is an emotionally-charged, well-written thriller from one of the genre’s best authors. 


 

Best Plot Twists

Book Spy Best Twist 2017

Blame by Jeff Abbott

The whole book leads up to a final reveal — you can feel it while flipping through the pages. In the end, Abbott pulls off the rare never-seen-it-coming, earth-shattering twist that’s as satisfying as it is stunning. 

Don’t Let Go by Harlan Coben

Coben’s books rely on twists and turns, and fans have come to expect nothing but the best from him. The key is dropping a bomb on readers that catches them off guard, but one you can look back on and see how it all makes sense. If you reverse the breadcrumbs and smack yourself in the forehead because you can’t believe you didn’t see it coming, that’s a good twist. Coben’s latest will have plenty of people face-palming themselves by the end of this one. 

UNSUB by Meg Gardiner

Gardiner pulls off a daring twist that nobody will see coming. Even better, the twist isn’t expected, so there’s’ really no way to see it coming before she yanks the rug out from under you. Obviously, we’re not going to give anything away, but this twist in particular is one that fans have been raving about ever since UNSUB hit stores earlier this summer. 

Say Nothing by Brad Parks

What’s better than one well-timed twist? Two! Parks pulls off the rare double-twist, giving readers a whole lot to talk about once they turn the final page. 

Without Warning by Joel C. Rosenberg

The best twists are always the ones you don’t see coming. Without spoiling anything, Rosenberg made more readers’ jaws hit the floor than just about anyone else this year. 


 

Best Book of 2017

Don Winslow The Force

The Force by Don Winslow

Books like this come around maybe once in a generation or so. It’s also the only book we’ve ever scored a perfect 10/10 on our rating scale. Winslow’s gritty, spellbinding look into the life of a corrupt NYPD police officer is unlike anything else in circulation right now. It’s raw, it’s honest, and its the type of book that only Don Winslow could pull off. If you read one book this year, it has to be The Force.

 

Advertisements
  • Thanks, dude! Thrilled to see LIE TO ME in such great company—what a compliment.

  • Clif D Bradley

    Josef Black’s ‘The Blades’ trilogy is an extremely engaging book about the SAS and some of their most famous missions. Written by an Englishman it contains the language and slang we don’t hear every day and the action is top notch too.
    Rob Sinclair’s ‘The Red Cobra’ was great too. I was halfway through the book and ordered the other two without even reading the descriptions or reviews.
    Steven Konkoly’s Hot Zone series is also another great read. A mix of medical crisis, prepping and military action are hallmarks of his books. The writing on these books is very immersive. You feel like you are there living the story and not reading it.
    Dalton Fury’s last book was left out of the group. I feel he would have been a strong contender. I hope somebody will maybe ressurect the series. Sean Parnell maybe? And Joshua Hood also should be on here somewhere.

  • Liza Gusarova

    Hesitated whether to buy The Force or not – not particularly fond of crime novels, now decided that I will.
    Thanks for recommendations!

  • Beth Soles

    I don’t know what I’d do without The Real Book Spy. Ryan’s never been wrong when recommending a book I’d like. He turned me on to Joshua Hood, Harlan Coben and Gregg Hurwitz and now I’m going to give Jane Harper and JT Ellison a read. There will be others, I’m sure.

  • Pig Farmer Bill

    James Lee Burke is one of my favorite writers.

  • Diana Tsingopoulos

    Ryan,
    I totally agree that The Force was the best book of the year.
    I just wish that Dalton Fury’s last book “All Lines Black” had been
    included in this group of distinguished books.

  • Dean_Der

    I’d go Meg Gardiner’s Unsub as the best book of 2017.
    I didnt care for the ending of The Force.

  • Your Own Petard

    Great picks–and great categories! Has anyone else done a “Best Plot Twists of 2017” list? There’s an idea to take to the patent office!