With the coronavirus (COVID-19) dominating the news lately, some readers, evidently, went searching for thrillers that featured a similar storyline to the real-life super virus. We know because here at Book Spy headquarters, our inbox was flooded with emails from people asking for book recommendations—which, ultimately, led to the creation of this article.
So, just in case you want or needed one more reason to worry should you suddenly come down with a fever or productive cough, we’ve got you covered. Just back, relax, and spend your 14-day quarantine period plowing through these nine thrillers.
Note: Whereas Stephen King’s The Stand and Max Brooks’ World War Z are classics, along with Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain and I Am Legend by Richard Matheson, we decided to go another route with our list.
More recently, Dan Brown (Inferno) and Joe Hill (The Fireman) have taken on deadly viruses too—but for this write-up, we’re highlighting titles that pack a bit more action into the fray, mixing bullets with science to create an up-all-night reading experience.
So, without further ado, here are nine thrillers to read if you’re looking for a high-powered biothreat to keep your mind off of the coronavirus. And not for nothing, but be prepared the feel your jaw-drop when you see how spot-on one author was with what their storyline.
(If that teaser was too much for you, scroll straight to the bottom to see what I’m talking about . . . but only if you’re ready to have your mind blow!)
#1 New York Times bestselling author Brad Thor presents his greatest thriller ever—an action-packed literary tour de force!
Hidden deep within one of the world’s most powerful organizations is a secret committee with a devastating agenda. Its members are afforded incredible protections—considered elites, untouchables.
But when four seconds of video is captured halfway around the world and anonymously transmitted to DC, covert wheels are set in motion, and counterterrorism operative Scot Harvath is tapped to undertake the deadliest assignment of his career.
What begins as a favor will evolve into a globe-spanning drama of highly personal stakes played out against a backdrop of stunning international intrigue, duplicitous political gamesmanship, and the darkest, most clandestine fears of the espionage world.
With razor-sharp plotting, richly rendered characters, and heart-stopping surprises on every page, Thor isn’t just at the top of his game—he owns the entire genre.
Why you should check it out: Thor’s outstanding 14th Scot Harvath thriller follows the former Navy SEAL turned counterterrorism operative as he works to stop the mastermind behind a deadly virus designed to drastically reduce the earth’s population. This one dropped around the same time as when the Ebola virus was all over the news, making it all the more terrifying. Fast-paced with tons of action and nail-biting suspense, Code of Conduct remains one of Brad Thor’s best books to date.
The Widow’s Strike by Brad Taylor
In the fourth thriller in Brad Taylor’s New York Times bestselling Pike Logan series, the Taskforce must stop a suicide bomber intent on triggering a global epidemic.
Invented by nature but genetically manipulated by man, a mutation of a deadly virus has fallen into the wrong hands. Angered by sanctions placed against its nuclear program, a rogue state is determined to release it. Their chosen method: one of the Black Widows—female suicide terrorists of Chechen descent with a deadly reputation for slaughter that rivals any other group.
The only thing standing in the Black Widow’s way is the Taskforce, an extra-legal counterterrorism unit. Racing against time to prevent a global pandemic, Taskforce operator Pike Logan and his partner Jennifer Cahill follow the trail across Southeast Asia to the United States, only to learn that the enemy they face may not be the enemy they should fear.
The Widow’s Strike ties together government-sanctioned terrorist activities, nefarious multinational conglomerates, and frighteningly plausible science. Infused with authenticity from Brad Taylor’s decades of service as a Delta Force commander, it’s an explosive ride alongside America’s counterterrorism operators that will leave readers breathless.
Why you should check it out: First of all, kudos to whoever wrote the flap copy for this book and thought to end the plot details for a story about terrorists using a virus as a biothreat with, “will leave readers breathless.” That’s some next-level wordplay, considering those are typically upper respiratory-type of viruses. Here, Pike Logan and company race to stop the release of a nasty pathogen—and Taylor holds nothing back, treating readers to the kind of lights-out reading experience his fans have come to expect.
An unprecedented and terrifying bioterrorism plot threatens to kill millions in the midst of a divisive presidential election in this new thriller from the #1 New York Times bestselling Mitch Rapp series.
A toxic presidential election is underway in an America already badly weakened by internal divisions. While politicians focus entirely on maintaining their own power and privilege, ISIS kidnaps a brilliant French microbiologist and forces him to begin manufacturing anthrax. Slickly produced videos chronicling his progress and threatening an imminent attack are posted to the Internet, intensifying the hysteria gripping the US.
ISIS recruits a Mexican drug cartel to smuggle the bioweapon across the border, but it’s really just a diversion. The terrorist organization needs to keep Mitch Rapp and Irene Kennedy distracted long enough to weaponize a deadly virus that they stumbled upon in Yemen. If they succeed, they’ll trigger a pandemic that could rewrite the world order.
Rapp embarks on a mission to infiltrate the Mexican cartels and track down the ISIS leader who he failed to kill during their last confrontation. But with Washington’s political elite increasingly lined up against him, he knows he’ll be on his own.
Why you should check it out: Over the course of seventeen previous novels, Mitch Rapp has pretty much seen it all, stopping everything from a nuclear attack on Washington D.C. to saving the president of the United States after terrorists took over the White House. But here, in the eighteenth book of Vince Flynn’s #1 New York Times bestselling series, Kyle Mills gives Rapp a new kind of test in the form of a dangerous bioweapon that ISIS is planning to unleash on the US. As always, Mills brings his A-game, and it sure is fun to see Mitch facing a threat he can’t simply dispose of with his Glock. Of all the books on this list, this one’s my favorite.
The latest in the New York Times and USA Today bestselling Dewey Andreas series.
North Korea, increasingly isolated from most of the rest of the world, is led by an absolute dictator and a madman with a major goal―he’s determined to launch a nuclear attack on the United States. While they have built, and continue to successfully test nuclear bombs, North Korea has yet to develop a ballistic missile with the range necessary to attack America. But their missiles are improving, reaching a point where the U.S. absolutely must respond.
What the U.S. doesn’t know is that North Korea has made a deal with Iran. In exchange for effective missiles from Iran, they will trade nuclear triggers and fissionable material. An exchange, if it goes through, that will create two new nuclear powers, both with dangerous plans.
Dewey Andreas, still reeling from recent revelations about his own past, is ready to retire from the CIA. But he’s the only available agent with the skills to carry out the CIA’s plan to stop North Korea. The plan is to inject a singular designer poison into the head of the North Korean military and in exchange for the nuclear plans, provide him with the one existing dose of the antidote. But it goes awry when Dewey manages to inject a small amount of the poison into himself. Now, to survive, Dewey must get into North Korea and access the antidote and, while there, thwart the nuclear ambitions of both North Korea and Iran. And he has less than 24 hours to do so―in the latest thriller from Ben Coes.
Why you should check it out: Coes’ most recent Dewey Andreas thriller sees the CIA operator desperately try to get to North Korea in order to locate an antidote that can save him from a suped-up virus that he was injected with. The kicker here, though, is that the CIA made the virus to force a North Korean general into working with them, and Dewey—during a fight—accidentally injects himself instead. As a bonus, while in theatre, the CIA would also like Dewey to kill Kim Jung Un, but first he has to find a way to save himself. Coes, who is always a lock to turn in a relentless, fast-paced thriller, has never been better.
The Judas Strain by James Rollins
ju·das strain, n. A scientific term for an organism that drives an entire species to extinction
New York Times bestselling author James Rollins returns with a terrifying story of an ancient menace reborn to plague the modern world . . . and of an impossible hope that lies hidden in the most shocking place imaginable: within the language of angels.
From the depths of the Indian Ocean, a horrific plague has arisen to devastate humankind–a disease that’s unknown, unstoppable . . . and deadly. But it is merely a harbinger of the doom that is to follow. Aboard a cruise liner transformed into a makeshift hospital, Dr. Lisa Cummings and Monk Kokkalis–operatives of SIGMA Force–search for answers to the bizarre affliction. But there are others with far less altruistic intentions. In a savage and sudden coup, terrorists hijack the vessel, turning a mercy ship into a floating bio-weapons lab.
A world away, SIGMA’s Commander Gray Pierce thwarts the murderous schemes of a beautiful would-be killer who holds the first clue to the discovery of a possible cure. Pierce joins forces with the woman who wanted him dead, and together they embark upon an astonishing quest following the trail of the most fabled explorer in history: Marco Polo. But time is an enemy as a worldwide pandemic grows rapidly out of control. As a relentless madman dogs their every step, Gray and his unlikely ally are being pulled into an astonishing mystery buried deep in antiquity and in humanity’s genetic code. And as the seconds tick closer to doomsday, Gray Pierce will realize he can truly trust no one, for any one of them could be . . . a Judas.
Why you should check it out: Rollins, one of the best storytellers in the genre, kicked it up a notch for his fourth Sigma Force book, which follows the secret unit of “scientists with guns” as they attempt to stop an unknown plague. A veterinarian before he was an author, Rollins has always used his background masterfully to present the science in his books in such a way that’s both believable and easy to understand. It’s clear he knows his stuff, and he’s one of the few writers who’s able to teach and entertain readers at the same time.
Dr. James Kegan, a world-renowned scientist specializing in germ warfare, has vanished from his upstate New York home. But this is no ordinary missing-persons case. Kegan has left behind an unidentified dead man with a .22 caliber hole in his skull-and a contact trail that leads to an alleged terrorist cell.
Unraveling the mystery is a job for Kegan’s best friend, NSA operative Charlie Dean. His mission is to infiltrate the scientist’s circle of associates and decipher Kegan’s confidential research. Dispatched to cover Charlie is Delta Force trooper Lia Francesca. The trail leads them to the core of a widespread killer fever that’s been dormant for centuries-and its link to a virus that’s quickly spreading victim by victim. With time running out Charlie and Lia must find Kegan, uncover his secrets, cut a terrorist threat to the quick, and stop the unimaginable outbreak of a new biological nightmare.
Why you should check it out: A dormant virus that is suddenly unleashed on the world? Yup, that’s the setup here, and Coonts knows a thing or two about suspense—once again pulling readers in and holding their attention until the final page. With enough science to make things seem believable enough to keep you up at night and plenty of action to go along with it, this one’s a no-brainer for this type of a list.
National Security by Marc Cameron
New York Times Bestselling Author of Field of Fire and Tom Clancy Power and Empire and Tom Clancy Oath of Office
Warning: The next terrorist attack on American soil is coming . . . sooner than you think.
They can strike anytime, anywhere. A public landmark. A suburban shopping mall. And now, the human body itself. Three Middle Eastern terrorists have been injected with a biological weapon, human time bombs unleashed on American soil. They are prepared to die. To spread their disease. To annihilate millions. If America hopes to fight this enemy from within, we need a new kind of weapon. Meet Special Agent Jericho Quinn. Air Force veteran. Champion boxer. Trained assassin. Hand-picked for a new global task force that, officially, does not exist. Quinn answers only to the Director of National Intelligence and the U.S. President himself.
Under the radar. Brutal. Without limits.
America’s answer to terrorism.
Why you should check it out: I dare you to read the first chapter. Seriously. Because, trust me, once you’re inside the pressurized cabin of the commercial flight returning to America when all hell breaks loose—which is exactly where Cameron starts this one—you won’t soon forget it. Here, it all goes down when a passenger suddenly falls ill on the flight and the mysterious virus quickly makes its way around the plane, infection one person after another until . . . well, just get the book and find out. It’s mind-blowing, but also a bit terrifying.
Zero Option by P.T. Deutermann
They call it “Wet Eye,” a biological weapon that literally eats out the eyes of its victims. Now, deep within the belly of the U.S. military establishment, one small silver canister of Wet Eye is missing-lost because a career pencil-pusher has cut a million-dollar deal and signed it in blood.
For David Stafford, a Defense Department investigator, finding the missing canister means ripping through layers of cover-ups, bureaucracy, and one man’s murderous determination to sell Wet Eye to an international arms dealer. But the military would rather silence Stafford than admit to a security breach. And now, the only person who can stop a biological conflagration is an innocent child-who has looked into the face of evil, and seen it with her own two eyes…
Why you should check it out: If you’re reading this article, chances are that you like your eyeballs right where they’re at. Now imagine a virus called “Wet Eye” which literally eats the eyes out of its victims’ heads. Uh, hard pass, right? Well, hold up, because as awful as it sounds, Deutermann wrote the heck out of this book!
And lastly . . .
The Eyes of Darkness by Dean Koontz
Read the highlighted text (see the images below) very carefully, and prepare to be stunned.
Full disclosure, I pulled these images from the web.
And, yes, you read that correctly—Dean Koontz’s The Eye of Darkness does actually contain a passage that mentions a nasty virus called . . . wait for it . . . “Wuhan-400,” as in Wuhan, China, where COVID-19 originally started.
Mind. Blown. Right?
(Note: We pulled the image of a third photo that suggests Koontz’s book also predicted such a virus being unleashed in 2020 because there’s some debate about whether or not it’s accurate. There are more than a dozen versions or editions of the book, and I’m personally trying to collect as many as possible in hopes of finding the answer here myself.)
Okay, so I know New York Times bestselling author Brad Meltzer famously said that “a thriller writer’s job is to beat the headlines,” but this one is almost hard to believe. It’s stunningly accurate for sure, but there are a few things to point out. First, the virus in the book, Wuhan-400, is not completely the same thing as the real-life COVID-19. For starters, Koontz’s virus is far more lethal, with a near-100% fatality rate.
Secondly, there is some debate among readers about when the book began using the name “Wuhan-400,” because in the original release, way back in 1981, “Wuhan-400” was actually called “Gorki-400,” named after a Russian city—not China.
The earliest edition that I’ve personally been able to confirm “Wuhan-400” making its way into the book was the e-book that released sometime between 2008-2009. Others claim the change happened in previous paperback and mass-market paperback versions, possibly as early as the late 80s or early 90s, but I’ve not seen it myself. Either way, wow! What the heck did Dean Koontz know that the rest of us didn’t?
Want to know more? Buy your copy of the book here.
Praised as “One of the hardest working, most thoughtful, and fairest reviewers out there” by #1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa Scottoline, Ryan Steck has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). Steck also works full-time as a freelance editor and pens a monthly thriller column for CrimeReads. For more information, be sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook. He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.