The Real Book Spy’s Best Thrillers of 2018

2018 has been a special year for thriller fans. With so many really great books released this year, we’re looking back at some of our highest-rated thrillers before we officially turn the page and move on to 2019. 

This year, we’re doing things a little differently. Like before, everything is still broken down by sub-categories of the thriller genre, including: Suspense, Historical Fiction, Crime/Mystery, Military, Action, Political, and Spy thrillers. We’ve also included a category for best debut thrillers and crowned our highest-rated thriller of 2018 (though you’ll have to scroll all the way down to the bottom to see that one). 

Each category features the highest rated book of that sub-genre, plus five additional titles beneath it. To learn more about any of the novels mentioned here, or to order your copy today, just click on the book’s title for more details. 


Debut Thrillers

The Terminal List by Jack Carr

The Terminal List

Warning Light by David Ricciardi, Need to Know by Karen Cleveland, Liar’s Candle by August Thomas, The Book of M by Peng Shepherd, Killer Choice by Tom Hunt 

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Analysis: What a year for debut thrillers! In the political thriller genre, Jack Carr and David Ricciardi sure look like they’re headed for superstardom. Ricciardi has already drawn comparisons to Tom Clancy, while Carr’s (more on him below) first thriller has been mentioned alongside Vince Flynn’s iconic debut, Term Limits. Karen Cleveland burst onto the scene and the New York Times bestsellers list, while August Thomas, Peng Shepherd, and Tom Hunt all dazzled with their books as well. Overall, this is the best crop of new authors I’ve had the pleasure of covering since launching The Real Book Spy in 2015.

Suspense Thrillers

Tear Me Apart by J.T. Ellison

Tear me apart

After Anna by Lisa Scottoline, The Perfect Mother by Aimee Malloy, Leave No Trace by Mindy Mejia, The Other Woman by Sandie Jones, The Three Beths by Jeff Abbott

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Analysis: J.T. Ellison is a force to be reckoned with. She gets better and better each time out, and her latest, Tear Me Apart, is just phenomenal. Aimee Malloy, for her part, stunned readers with her adrenaline-pumping story about a group of mothers who rally behind one of their own under tragic circumstances. Mindy Mejia, as good as her debut (Everything You Want Me to Be, 2017) was, topped herself with another nail-biter, and Jeff Abbott continued to show he’s one of the best suspense thriller authors in the genre with another Harlan Coben-like plot that lands a huge twist. Speaking of twists, Sandie Jones topped everyone in that department, delivering two wicked twists at the end of her brilliant debut novel.

Historical Fiction

November Road by Lou Berney

November Road

Munich by Robert Harris, The Bishop’s Pawn by Steve Berry, Greeks Bearing Gifts by Phillip Kerr, Button Man by Andrew Gross, The Hellfire Club by Jake Tapper

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Analysis: Lou Berney’s November Road–which is both beautifully written and full of nonstop, white-knuckle suspense–is as good as any historical fiction novel that’s come out in the last decade. Steve Berry went back to tell Cotton Malone’s origin story this year, mixing in a conspiracy involving Martin Luther King Jr. and a thought-provoking ending that’ll make readers wonder whether or not Berry’s theory just might be correct. The great Phillip Kerr, may he rest in peace, treated readers to another spectacular Bernie Gunther novel that further proved him to be one of the most talented writers in the genre. Jake Tapper took readers back sixty years to Washington D.C., where he introduced a young congressman who finds out the hard way that draining the swamp ain’t as easy at it seems. To top it all off,  Andrew Gross reminded readers that he’s quietly become the king of his new genre with another first-rate thriller in Button Man. If you go back and count the titles from last year, it’s not even close . . . 2018 was a really great year for fans of historical fiction. 

Mystery/Crime Thrillers

The Disappeared by C.J. Box

The Disappeared

The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz, Wrecked by Joe Ide, Dark Sacred Night by Michael Connelly, Into the Black Nowhere by Meg Gardiner, Robicheaux by James Lee Burke

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Analysis: It’s amazing to think that, now 18 books into his #1 New York Times bestselling series, C.J. Box is still finding ways to get better. All feels right in the world when Joe Pickett is back in bookstores, and The Disappeared is Box at his very best. After bursting onto the scene just a couple of years ago, Joe Ide has quickly captivated readers with his urban take on Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, introducing readers to an all-new detective known as IQ. While each of his books has a distinct feel, Wrecked is his most action-packed story yet. Meg Gardiner continued her scary-good series (after last year’s UNSUB), a must-read for those craving nail-biting suspense, and Michael Connelly continues to show why he’s one of the greatest mystery writers of his time with Dark Sacred Night. Harry Bosch is a legendary character, and so is Robicheaux, who returned for his most personal case yet in James Lee Burke’s latest novel. Other genres are deep with rich talent, but none more so than this one.

Military Thrillers

Operator Down by Brad Taylor

Operator Down

Dark Winter by Anthony J. Tata, American Operator by Andrews & Wilson, Deep War by David Poyer, Arctic Gambit by Larry Bond, Man of War by Sean Parnell

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Analysis: Over the last few years, a number of really solid writers have come up and delivered great books. but make no mistake, Brad Taylor still owns the military thriller genre . . . and it’s not close. Operator Down is some of Taylor’s finest work yet and highlights two female operatives that kick major ass–something Taylor has been writing about longer than just about everyone else. Andrews & Wilson kicked off the next trilogy within their series this year, and, judging by American Operator, this new story arc looks to be their most powerful and daring scenario yet. Those guys can really write! David Poyer and Larry Bond both scored big with readers for their respective naval thrillers, and Tony Tata upped his game to new levels with Dark Winter, which is the best thing he’s written so far. Sean Parnell represents the new blood of the genre, making his fiction debut with Man of War, which, apart from being timely and packed with action, introduces a really great new character in Eric Steele. 

Action Thrillers

Agent in Place by Mark Greaney

Agent in place hd

Field of Valor by Matthew Betley, The Terminal List by Jack Carr, Skyjack by K.J. Howe, Hellbent by Gregg Hurwitz, Light it Up by Nick Petrie.

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Analysis: Greaney is the clear winner here, building on a dominant run that began with his 2016 novel, Back Blast. The Gray Man gets better each time out, and so does Greaney–who scored additional points for creativity by offering up an original plotline with so many other writers focused exclusively on Russia. Few writers have made a name for themselves faster than Matthew Betley, who delivered another action-packed thriller. Likewise, fellow Atria/Emily Bestler Books author Jack Carr gave readers one heck of an introduction to his new series with The Terminal List, which introduces former Navy SEAL James Reece, one of the most exciting new characters since Robert Ludlum created Jason Bourne. Hurwitz and Petrie both brought their A-games, treating readers to the kind of hard-hitting stories that their fans have come to expect, and Kimberley Howe (one of the most underrated writers in the genre) added a high-flying thriller to the mix with Skyjack, the second book in her Thea Paris series. All in all, 2018 was special, and it’s hard to imagine another year with this many must-read novels coming out anytime soon. Then again, all these writers–plus dozens more–are all slated to put out new offerings in 2019. 

Political Thrillers

Red War by Kyle Mills 

Red War

Spymaster by Brad Thor, Bloody Sunday by Ben Coes, Overkill by Ted Bell, Tom Clancy Oath of Office by Marc Cameron, Tom Clancy Line of Sight by Mike Maden

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Analysis: What. A. Year! Out of all the writers who’ve ever stepped in to continue a major New York Times bestselling series after the original author passed away, none have done it better than Kyle Mills. Thanks to Mills, Mitch Rapp continues to thrive, and Red War features his most high-stakes mission yet, which is saying a lot when you consider just how much Rapp has accomplished over the course of his career with the CIA. If we were handing out an award for the best cliff-hanger, it would definitely go to Brad Thor, who again delivered one of his classic up-all-night thrillers with Spymaster, one of my highest-rated books of the year. Ben Coes took on a daring plot in Bloody Sunday, as did Ted Bell with Overkill (his first Alex Hawke novel since 2015), and both absolutely crushed it. In the Ryanverse, Marc Cameron and Mike Maden each put out top-notch Jack Ryan books as they continue to leave their mark on Tom Clancy’s iconic franchise. There’s a whole lot of heavyweights in this genre, and they put on a heck of a show in 2018. 

Spy Thrillers

The Other Woman by Daniel Silva

The Other Woman Silva

The Kremlin Conspiracy by Joel C. Rosenberg, The Kremlin’s Candidate by Jason Matthews, The Escape Artist by Brad Meltzer, Forever and a Day by Anthony Horowitz, The Fox by Frederick Forsyth.

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Analysis: Following a slightly down year in 2017, this was a really strong year for spy thrillers. Jason Matthews provided a serious boost with The Kremlin’s Candidate, the final book in his Red Sparrow trilogy, as did Joel Rosenberg, who kicked off a brand-new series with The Kremlin Conspiracy. Anthony Horowitz went back in time to give readers a true origin for 007, releasing an authentic-feeling James Bond novel that channeled Ian Fleming while honoring his legacy. Brad Meltzer also kicked off a new series featuring his best character yet, mixing suspense, historical fiction, and action in the way that only he can. One year after John le Carre surprised readers with a new novel, another legendary author, Forsyth, did as well. The Fox is a nail-biter of the highest order. The best book of ’em all, though, was Daniel Silva’s latest Gabriel Allon novel . . . more on that below. 

*Highest Rated book of 2018*

The Other Woman by Daniel Silva

Score: 9.95/10 (Second highest rating in Real Book Spy history)

The Other Woman Silva

Analysis: Of all the great, must-read new thrillers that hit bookstores in 2018, nobody delivered more than Daniel Silva. Whereas most writers start to lose steam this deep into their careers, Silva is getting stronger. It’s an incredible accomplishment that’s even more mind-boggling when you consider that Gabriel Allon is now in his 60s and no longer working in the field. It’s not uncommon to see beloved heroes age. Even Jack Ryan made the move to sit behind a desk and leave the action to someone else. But in this case, Silva hasn’t started any sort of transition to a younger, more action-oriented character the way Clancy and so many others have done. Instead, Gabriel Allon is still the face of the series, and while Silva has developed a deep cast of supporting characters, the story still moves through Gabriel. 

Written by one of the most gifted authors still currently working, The Other Woman proves once and for all that Daniel Silva is more than just the best spy novelist alive today . . . he’s one of the greatest spy novelists of all-time.

Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck (“The Godfather of the thriller genre” — Ben Coes) 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.

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3 comments

  1. Thank you. Though I have read quite a few titles on these lists, there are some that are new to me and I can’t wait to check them out. This was also a reminder of how many great books were published this years.

  2. I’ve been disappointed by the Gray Man novels (well novel… I couldn’t make it through the first one – it wasn’t good). The first Orphan X book was decent. The second one was not – again, I couldn’t make it through the book. And I’m not a casual reader. I’ve read at least 30 books every year over the past 5 years.

    • Rob, I concur totally with your assessment of book two in the orphan x series. It was a huge disappointment to me after I all but devoured every word of book one. But don’t give up on the series! Book three is excellent, and I’m chomping at the bit for book four in January!

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