It’s that time of the year again. . . but for us, the grueling process started back in January, and, really, even prior to that.
The process of assembling our Top Ten list of the genre’s most lethal characters is long and difficult. There are charts, conference calls, plenty of debates, and, this year, we added a new element to help make it as authentic as possible.
On top of assembling a secret team of industry professionals (one editor, one best-selling author who didn’t have a book come out this year, one reviewer, and two bookstore representatives), we also gave readers a chance to weigh in. Two dozen hardcore readers helped set this year’s list, which features a big shakeup right at the very top.
To join in on the process, these readers were put through the ringer. We asked them why they thought they were qualified to help set this year’s rankings, and then sent them a list of characters (and the corresponding books) under consideration. Each of them stayed busy reading as the year went on, and then they had to file a full report back to us. While this was the first year we involved other readers, it proved beneficial.
Everyone involved was asked to set aside their feelings as to who their personal and all-time favorite characters are. Previous books don’t count. We’re not talking about who has had the most lethal and successful career, that’s a conversation for another day. This list is all about one thing, and it all came down to two questions:
1.) Judging only by this year’s books, if you had to enter a cage fight match to the death with the genre’s top protagonists, who would you most be afraid to take on?
2.) If you found out one of these characters was hunting you down, who would you most be afraid of?
After a whole lot of back and forth between everyone involved in the decision-making process, we finally reached a consensus. What you’ll find below is the product of many hours of conversation and agonizing over getting this list right. . . enjoy!
The Top Ten Baddest Dudes in the Thriller Genre Right Now
1.) Court ‘The Gray Man’ Gentry
2017 Book: Gunmetal Gray by Mark Greaney
2016 Ranking: #5
And we begin our 2017 list with a shakeup right at the top.
It was close–with the vote pretty evenly split between Mitch Rapp, who has been our reigning #1 baddest man for two consecutive years, and Court Gentry. In the end, Gentry, also known as “Sierra Six” and “Violator,” won the top spot here.
Back with the CIA, Gentry heads to China. The book picks up right where Back Blast left off (Court is even still nursing a gnarly injury he got in Back Blast when a bullet grazed his rib cage), and Greaney doesn’t take long to get the action started. From the moment Court walks into his hotel room and is greeted by two Chinese goons, the Gray Man goes on a killing spree as he searches for a highly-valuable computer hacker. He’s a man on a mission, and anyone stupid enough to threaten or try to neutralize Gentry pays with their life.
Gunmetal Gray is another hard-hitting thriller from Mark Greaney. . . Court Gentry, when needed, is one of the coldest killers in the business, and our pick for the baddest man in the thriller genre right now!
2.) Mitch Rapp
2017 Book: Enemy of the State by Kyle Mills
2016 Ranking: #1
It was close, but for the first time since we started publishing this list back in 2015, Rapp’s name isn’t featured in the top spot.
This year, Rapp goes rogue to hunt down a member of the Saudi Royal Family who’s been funding terrorism. Quitting the CIA, Mitch assembles a team of assassins to help him out. It doesn’t take long, though, for Rapp to make international headlines for all the wrong reasons. Disavowed by the American president, Rapp is deemed an enemy of the state, making his job all the more difficult. Never one to quit at anything, Rapp pushes forward with his mission, operating on the run while the rest of the world tries to track him down.
As readers know all too well, when Rapp shows up, bad guys quit breathing. Not only does he get pissed off and literally drive a knife through a man’s skull–crown to chin–but Rapp also puts his breathtaking combat skill set on full display in Mills’ latest novel.
3.) Scot Harvath
2017 Book: Use of Force by Brad Thor
2016 Ranking: #2
While Harvath did slip one spot on this year’s list, that had more to do with the fact that through part of Use of Force, Scot has help from a team of operators who also throw down alongside him. That was the biggest thing readers pointed out when they slotted him here, noting that the other guys Harvath rolls with are plenty lethal themselves–taking away from Scot’s body count. (It’s worth pointing out, however, that after Rapp and Gentry, Harvath was the only other character to receive first-place votes from our panel.)
Whether he’s taking down a suicide bomber or single-handedly destroying technicals mounted with antiaircraft guns, Harvath proves once again that the bad guys are better off just quitting while they’re ahead and not showing up to work once Scot’s name is brought into the fold.
Use of Force is one of Brad Thor’s best novels yet. And while it’s clear that Harvath is considering moving into more of a management position within the Carlton Group, it’s even more clear that he’s got a lot of doors left to kick in before he ever considers sitting behind a desk.
4.) Dewey Andreas
2017 Book: Trap the Devil by Ben Coes
2016 Ranking: #3
When a powerful shadow government kills the Speaker of the House and then the Secretary of State, they turn their attention to the Vice President and President of the United States of America. Standing in their way, though, is former Tier One operator turned counterterrorism expert Dewey Andreas.
As Dewey races to stop the bad guys, he encounters multiple issues. From being confined to a prison cell to confronting past demons, Dewey runs through each problem with all the subtlety of Juggernaut running through brick walls. Proficient in hand-to-hand combat and every weapon imaginable, Dewey is without question one of the most lethal protagonists in the genre today. As Coes continues to get better and better with each book, so does Dewey, who is a fan-favorite that seems destined to take the #1 spot on this list sooner rather than later.
5.) Evan Smoak
2017 Book: The Nowhere Man by Gregg Hurwitz
2016 Ranking: #6
Over the last two years, Evan Smoak has taken the thriller genre by storm. The Nowhere Man is one of our highest-rated thrillers of the year, and for good reason. Hurwitz mixes hard-hitting action with a unique plot. If you boil it all down, Evan essentially finds himself in the very situation people would typically call him for help with. He’s imprisoned in a secluded mansion crawling with armed guards, with no way out. Just when it looks like there’s no hope, Hurwitz changes the name of the game. Readers realize that Evan isn’t just trapped inside with armed guards. . . those armed guards are trapped inside with Evan.
Fast-paced, well-written and a ton of fun to read, The Nowhere Man is an awesome thriller that proves once again that Evan Smoak is one of the hottest new heroes the thriller genre has seen since Jason Bourne.
6.) Pike Logan
2017 Book: Ring of Fire by Brad Taylor
2016 Ranking: #4
Pike Logan is back in Brad Taylor’s Ring of Fire, along with other members of the Taskforce. After learning that an attack to commemorate the anniversary of 9/11 is in the works, it’s up to Pike, Jennifer, and Taylor’s other fan-favorite characters to save the day.
Coming off the very strong Ghosts of War, Taylor tops himself once again by delivering a high-stakes, timely plot. There’s tons of action, which nobody does better than Taylor–one of the few bestselling authors in the genre who writes with been-there-done-that experience and realism. While he could have easily been slotted higher, several members of our panel noted that Pike works with a team, which means he shares the load, thus reducing his own body count. Even still, Pike is the main attraction in this book, and he’s one of the best franchise-leading characters in print right now.
7.) Logan West
2017 Book: Oath of Honor by Matthew Betley
2016 Ranking: #10
Last year, Betley and Logan West made Book Spy history when Logan cracked our list as a rookie. Overwatch, Betley’s debut, turned heads and flashed world-class potential, creating high expectations for book two.
Even with expectations set almost unfairly high, Betley delivered by putting out one of 2017’s best books. Oath of Honor is a high-octane thriller that can stand toe-to-toe with anyone else in the genre, and is a must-read for fans of Ludlum, Clancy, and Flynn. When he’s not engaging bad guys in gunfights on solid ground, Logan West is spraying and dodging bullets on huge ships, which tend to sink when he and his buddy, John Quick, are around. Bottom line: Logan West is sarcastic, funny, and has plenty of love for his family and friends — but when terrorists threaten him, his country, or his loved ones. . . he turns into a bad, bad man.
8.) Victor The Assassin
2017 Book: The Final Hour by Tom Wood
2016 Ranking: Wasn’t listed.
Victor was on our list in 2015, but just barely missed last year’s top ten. He’s back now, though, thanks to Tom Wood–who unleashed his fan-favorite anti-hero in The Final Hour, which might just be his best thriller yet.
More than anything, Victor is just plain ruthless. Yeah, he’s proficient with a variety of weapons and hand-to-hand combat, but it’s his mean streak that sets him apart from the other names on this list. While every other character on our Top Ten list has redeeming qualities, Victor is a true anti-hero who is exceptionally good at one thing: killing people. And he’s done a whole lot of that!
9.) Gabriel Allon
2017 Book: House of Spies by Daniel Silva
2016 Ranking: #8
Gabriel Allon’s ranking is a perfect example of voters putting aside career accomplishments and only focusing on this year’s books. If this was an all-time list, Gabriel would be in the top three for sure. . . but presently, Silva’s hero is aging. From field operator to chief of the Office, Gabriel isn’t the same quick, spry assassin he once was. That’s not to say, however, that he isn’t downright lethal when he needs to be, and he proved that in House of Spies when he re-defined the term “operational chief” by going on the hunt for ISIS’s leader, Saladin, himself.
He might be a step slower, but Gabriel Allon is still one of the baddest characters in the genre. . . and Daniel Silva continues to use his protagonist brilliantly, now seventeen books into his #1 New York Times bestselling series.
10.) Jack Reacher
2017 Book: The Midnight Line by Lee Child
2016 Ranking: #9
This one was close, but Jack Reacher was able to fend off two other characters (A.J. Tata’s Jake Mahegan and Alex Berenson’s John Wells) to fill the last spot on this year’s list. The general consensus among our voters was that Reacher was back to being his old bad self after Lee Child went back in time for 2016’s prequel, Night School. Not only was this year’s The Midnight Line a better book, but Reacher throws down early and often, proving with another four-on-one fight that the giant nomad is a force to be reckoned with.
Honorable mentions (in no particular order): Jake Mahegan (A.J. Tata), John Wells (Alex Berenson), Jason Bourne (Eric Van Lustbader), Michael Garin (Peter Kirsanow), Cotton Malone (Steve Berry), Nick Mason (Steve Hamilton), Jim Brodie (Barry Lancet), John Hayes (Matthew Quirk), John Dempsey (Andrews & Wilson), David Slaton (Ward Larsen), Clyde Barr (Erik Storey), Jonathan Grave (John Gilstrap), Peter Ash (Nick Petrie), John Rain (Barry Eisler), Will Robie (David Baldacci), Kolt Raynor (Dalton Fury).
Of the honorable mentions, there were three characters who just missed placing in the Top Ten: Jake Mahegan (A.J. Tata), John Wells (Alex Berenson), and John Rain (Barry Eisler). Each received votes, but not quite enough to knock off one of the other Top Ten characters.
Looking Ahead to 2018
Next year is going to be fun, and we’re already thinking about how our list might look next December. . .
For starters, Alex Hawke, Ted Bell’s millionaire MI6 agent, is back in action in Overkill. Hawke was one of the original Top Ten characters we named back when we started the list in 2015, and there’s a strong chance he reclaims a spot in 2018.
I’ve already filed reviews for Mark Greaney, Brad Taylor, and Gregg Hurwitz’s 2018 titles, along with new books from Alex Berenson and one of the year’s most-anticipated debuts: Jack Carr’s The Terminal List. It’s early, but there’s a very good chance that Carr’s protagonist, James Reece, becomes just the second character from a debut novel to crack the list after Matthew Betley did it in 2016.
While we don’t yet know much about Kyle Mills’ next Mitch Rapp book, Rapp was literally a vote away from overtaking Court Gentry this year. He’s definitely a character to watch next year, and it’ll be fun to see if he can take back his crown in 2018.
Scot Harvath slipped a spot because he had so much help in Brad Thor’s Use of Force, but we don’t know what will happen in Thor’s next book, Spymaster. Details are still under wraps, but Harvath has been in the top three every year. . . maybe 2018 will be his year to finally take the number one spot.
Another early favorite is Vic Harwood, nicknamed “The Reaper,” who is the star of Reaper: Ghost Target, co-authored by Nicholas Irving (one of the most deadly snipers in the history of the United States’ military) and A.J. Tata. I’ve read it, and it’s awesome. I don’t want to spoil my review, which will go up in another week or so, but Irving and Tata are a lethal combination, and Harwood is a phenomenal new character.
Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.