5 Modern Classic Paperback Thrillers

Calling these classics might be pushing the definition a bit, but they were all written more than 15 years ago and I personally think they all hold up really well and would likely find bestsellers lists again if they were released today. 

If you find yourself in a used bookstore in a beach town this summer, you could do a lot worse than picking up one of these five thrillers to read while soaking up some sun.


The Poet by Michael Connelly

If you were to make a Mt Rushmore for the serial killer crime thriller, after Silence of the Lambs, I think Connelly’s The Poet might get the most votes. Before the smart serial killer genre was saturated, this standalone from Connelly continued to set the bar high from where Harris started.

Admittedly, it starts slowly, almost too slow, with disparate threads and a rather unbelievable reporter teaming up with the FBI scenario, but once the pieces are in the place the story starts moving and doesn’t stop until the head-snapping conclusion.



Darkness Take My Hand by Dennis Lehane

Every few years I get an inch to re-read this book. Seeing where he ended up, it’s interesting to read this second Lehane book. You can see him almost trying out different tacts and voices (the humor feels very odd given how dark his later works become).

Darkness is the second in the Kenzie/Gennaro series and it packs a devastating gut-punch that still makes me shiver. The backstory, the villain, the victims and the protagonists all swirl into the vortex of a surprising but inevitable conclusion. 



LA Requiem by Robert Crais

This is the book that broke Crais out of the PI genre and showed that given the canvas he could write with the best. It also showed up just what a classic character Joe Pike would eventually become.

The eight book in the Elvis Cole PI series, it feels like the one that redefined the series and raised the stakes. This is one of those rare cases where a genre book rises above its station and shows the possibilities of the genre for commenting on broader societal issues. An almost instant classic that still holds up today.



What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman

What happened to the Bethany girls? A famous case of 2 missing kids that was never solved. 30 years later after a traffic accident, a woman with no ID claims to be the younger sister. Is she telling the truth? If she isn’t, what exactly is her motive?

Meg Abbot and Laura Lippman are the two authors that I consider the best at writing realistic and complex female protagonists and this book from Lippman is chock full of examples of that talent. Almost defying genre as it hops from thriller to literary to mystery, it’s not a book that easily forgotten.



Tell No One by Harlan Coben

I don’t remember why or where I got this book. Maybe it was the (now iconic) bright orange cover that caught my eye, but I still remember getting utterly addicted to the story.

I stayed up almost all night at my then girlfriends (now wife) parent’s house seemingly unable to put the book down. Coben’s first standalone bears a lot of the narrative stunts and tricks he’s become well-known for, but back then this book had a killer hook and a narrative drive that just never let up.



No hidden gems here. These five classic thrillers are all early works by now well-established authors, but if you missed them the first time around, they are worth a second look. You won’t regret it.

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