Before we jump right into the list itself, let me preface this article by saying that for me, compiling this list each year is a double-edged sword.
One one hand, this is by far our most popular post each year, with last year’s list racking up more than 700,000 views and counting. On the other hand, I absolutely agonize over the entire selection process, and then the actual order of those characters. The fact is, the action thriller genre is better than ever and flush with tons of really great, totally lethal characters. In a lot of ways, you could do no wrong with this list, and yet I still stress over it every year once summer rolls around–because it’s by then that I usually have all the year’s top thrillers (including those coming out between July and December) read.
This year, I took a new approach. We had a lot of success involving readers in 2017, so I reached back out to more than three dozen thriller fans and a handful of other industry people to ask them for their personal top ten rankings. First, though, I sent them my personal rankings, along with instructions to use that only as a reference, to make sure we were all on the same page. (I noted that I reserved veto power, but am proud to say that I never used it here.) Then I asked for their honesty, followed-up by listing the criteria for which everyone was to vote.
To simply things this year, the baseline question for which all characters were ranked was simple: Based on this year’s books only, who would you most be afraid to find out is hunting you down right now? And with that, ballots were cast and totals were tallied. Below, you’ll find the results, making up our 2019 Top Ten Most Lethal Characters in the Thriller Genre Right Now list. Enjoy!
10.) Gabriel Allon
2018 Book: The Other Woman by Daniel Silva
2017 Ranking: #9
The consensus among voters was simple: Gabriel Allon is too legendary a character and Daniel Silva’s The Other Woman was just too good a thriller to not include him on this list. There’s no question that Allon is older now, has probably lost a step, and isn’t even technically still active in the field (though he is an “operational” chief), yet he’s as lethal as ever for one important reason: he’s now the one calling the shots for the Mossad, which puts every terrorist around the world on high alert. Whereas before, when Gabriel was at the mercy of his superiors, he’s now handing out orders, and over the last two books since his promotion, he’s proven to be wildly effective in his new position.
Not for nothing, but The Other Woman was also my highest-rated book of the year.
9.) Alex Hawke
2018 Book: Overkill by Ted Bell
2017 Ranking: Wasn’t listed (There was no Alex Hawke book in 2017)
At the bottom of last year’s list, I noted that Hawke was due to return in 2018 and that in all likelihood that meant someone was going to have to give up their spot in the top ten. Well, that day is finally here. After Russian President Vladimir Putin has Hawke’s son kidnapped in order to distract him from a much bigger plan in the works, Alex proves rather quickly that there is nothing he won’t do to get his boy back, setting the stage for him to show just what he’s capable of. As one of our voters put it, “Hawke is basically a better version of Dirk Pitt. He’s so much cooler, richer, and man can he kill bad guys!” Amen to that.
8.) Victor the Assassin
2018 Book: Kill For Me by Tom Wood
2017 Ranking: #8
I personally wrestled with where to put Victor on this list, and ultimately thought he might move up a spot this year. Obviously, he’s deserving of cracking the top ten for sure, and our group of voters all agreed he’s a shoo-in, but ultimately he ended up staying in the same spot as last year. One voter wrote that “of all characters in the genre today, Victor is the coldest killer of them all,” and I couldn’t agree more. Victor is absolutely ruthless, and that makes following him as he takes on a drug cartel in Tom Wood’s latest novel a ton of fun.
7.) Dewey Andreas
2018 Book: Bloody Sunday by Ben Coes
2017 Ranking: #4
In the spirit of honesty, I would have personally ranked Dewey much higher on this year’s list. I thought there was a real case to be made for him coming in at number one, but only one voter listed him in the top spot. While I promised ahead of time that I would let the voting process play out, I almost vetoed this one. I mean, Andreas goes after freaking Kim Jong-un on his own, without any backup, with a lethal dose of poison coursing through his veins . . . and still leaves a bloody trail of dead bodies in his wake. Ben Coes is a madman, churning out top-notch thrillers like it’s nobody’s business. I fully expect Dewey to be placed much, much higher on this list in 2019.
6.) Evan Smoak
2018 Book: Hellbent by Gregg Hurwitz
2017 Ranking: #5
When will the bad guys learn not to mess with Evan Smoak? I mean, seriously, Orphan X has proven how incredibly lethal he is time and time again, and that was certainly the case once more in Hellbent. Moral of the story: don’t go after someone Smoak cares about unless you’re prepared to deal with a legendary assassin coming after you with everything he’s got. Also, while Evan slid back a spot this year, look for him to make a big jump up in 2019. Hurwitz’s fourth Orphan X book, Out of the Dark, comes out in January and is the best thing he’s ever written. No spoilers here, the ending is going to leave readers absolutely stunned. In fact, I’m not sure Hurwitz will ever top himself, but that’s a discussion for another day.
5.) James Reece
2018 Book: The Terminal List by Jack Carr
2017 Ranking: Not Rated (The Terminal List is Jack Carr’s debut novel)
Jack Carr makes Book Spy history in 2018 as the only debut author to ever crack the top five on this list and, frankly, he could have come in a spot or two higher and it wouldn’t have surprised me a bit. Reece is a former Navy SEAL with nothing to live for and every reason to seek revenge–which is exactly what he does when he goes after those who killed his men and loved ones. Not only did Carr think up some of the coolest action sequences in print this year, but he definitely scored points from our voters for one of his more colorful death scenes. As one second-year voter put it, “that might be the most savage killing I’ve ever read. And it was awesome!”
For my money, The Terminal List is the best debut thriller since Vince Flynn’s Term Limits, and while a lot of new writers are prematurely compared to Flynn, Jack Carr is the only one actually deserving of being mentioned in the same breath as the legendary author.
4.) Pike Logan
2018 Book: Operator Down by Brad Taylor
2017 Ranking: #6
Pike Logan jumps up two spots on this year’s list, and man, did he earn it. One of our voters pointed out that in some ways Shoshana, the Israeli operative who has now crossed paths with Pike on more than one occasion, is the more crazed killer of the two. While I understand the argument, when push comes to shove, Pike is the man, and even Shoshana respects his ability to throw down and take out bad guys when the crap hits the fan. We see plenty of that again here as Brad Taylor continues to show everyone why he’s the undisputed king of the military thriller genre.
3.) Scot Harvath
2018 Book: Spymaster by Brad Thor
2017 Ranking: #3
While I thought Harvath had a great chance of moving back into the top two in 2018, feedback from our voters indicated that Scot was starting to show signs of slowing down in Spymaster, and several of them pointed to a few lines towards the end of Thor’s book (which I won’t list here in order to avoid spoilers) to state their case. I’m not sure I agree, because we still see the apex predator in him come out as Harvath continues to lay it all on the line to protect his country, but I will make a bold prediction for 2019 . . .
I think Harvath, because of how Spymaster ends, will take the top spot on next year’s list. Brad Thor isn’t just the best political thriller novelist alive today, he’s one of the very best to ever do it, and I fully believe he’s set things up to show readers a new side to Scot Harvath in next year’s book. In fact, I think the title of Thor’s next thriller, Backlash (due out June 11th), might even be a nod to Harvath going off in 2019, as those who crossed him in Spymaster learn the hard way that Scot hasn’t lost a step at all.
2.) Courtland Gentry
2018 Book: Agent in Place by Mark Greaney
2017 Ranking: #1
Last year, the Gray Man came in at number one on our list. This year, he nearly repeated. Only two votes separated Court Gentry and the top dog in 2019, with nearly every voter showing tons of support for Mark Greaney’s beloved character. This time around, the Gray Man heads to Syria without any backup to rescue the lovechild of Ahmed Azzam, the Syrian dictator, and his mistress, in order to help a group of Syrian expats who’ve developed an elaborate plan to destabilize Ahmed’s regime. As usual, things don’t go according to plan, and soon Court is forced to run and gun around a hostile territory with ISIS breathing down his neck–giving Greaney the perfect opportunity to show readers what Gentry can do with his back against the wall.
Mission Critical, Greaney’s next novel, comes out in February and, for what it’s worth, might be my favorite Gray Man book yet. Back Blast is one of my all-time favorite thrillers, so it’s hard to say which is “better,” but there’s definitely more action in Mission Critical, and it starts faster than any of Greaney’s other books.
1.) Mitch Rapp
2018 Book: Red War by Kyle Mills
2017 Ranking: #2
When all the votes were tallied, Vince Flynn’s iconic hero edged out Court Gentry by two votes to reclaim the number one spot (which he held in 2016) on our 2018 list. Really, there’s no surprise here. In Kyle Mill’s latest bestseller, Rapp goes after the Russian president, making this the most high-profile mission of the American assassin’s storied career with the CIA. Withing giving away the whole book, Rapp logs some impressive kills while constantly projecting what a badass he is from start to finish. Heck, there’s even a scene where he eats a Twinkie like a boss, staying so calm and effortlessly cool that another highly lethal character becomes paranoid. Bottom line: when Mitch Rapp shows up, bad guys tend to stop breathing in bunches, and with Kyle Mills now at the helm, Rapp has a whole lot of doors left to kick in . . . and tons of bad guys to kill.
Mitch Rapp is the most lethal character in the thriller genre this year, and I fully expect him to continue his dominant run well into 2019 and beyond.
For those wondering, had the list been expanded to 15 names this year, the next five characters (according to voting) would have been: James Bond (Forever and a Day by Anthony Horowitz), Vick Harwood (Reaper: Ghost Target by Nicholas Irving and A.J. Tata), Logan West (Field of Valor by Matthew Betley), Eric Steele (Man of War by Sean Parnell), and Jack Reacher (Past Tense by Lee Child).
Both Reacher and West cracked our 2017 list, and I was genuinely surprised to see them come up a tad short this year. According to the feedback from voters, Logan lost points due to John Quick, his BFF and partner, doing a lot of the killing in Betley’s Field of Valor. For Reacher, several voters noted that there was less action in Past Tense than past books.
Another character who nearly cracked the list was John Dempsey, the hero of Andrews and Wilson’s action-packed Tier One series. I actually had Dempsey on my top ten list that went out to voters, and if there was anyone at a disadvantage because of when their book came out, it was him. American Operator came out in November, right around the time that some voters were sending me their picks via email. That snafu is enough to have me considering new rules for next year–including moving the annual publication of this list from December to the following January.
Other characters up for consideration who deserve an honorable mention here are: Jake Mahegan (Dark Winter by A.J. Tata) Peter Ash (Light it Up by Nick Petrie), John Wells (The Deceivers by Alex Berenson), Jonathan Grave (Scorpion Strike by John Gilstrap), Zac Miller (Warning Light by David Ricciardi), David Slaton (Assassin’s Run by Ward Larsen), Cotton Malone (The Bishop’s Pawn by Steve Berry), and Pierce Hunt (Hunt Them Down by Simon Gervais).
Also, for those noting that no female characters are listed here, be on the lookout for an all-female list in January breaking down the Top Ten Most Lethal Ladies in the Thriller Genre Right Now. We’ve been working on that article for a while and felt the genre’s top female heroes deserve their own list to highlight them in 2019. Check back for an update on that front soon!
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.