Discover our list of the best authors like Robert Ludlum. Find political, adventure, mystery, crime, and sci-fi thrillers that keep you on your toes.
Robert Ludlum is an American Author who wrote 27 thriller books. Born in 1927, he brought the famous character Jason Bourne to life. Ludlum was born in New York City and attended Wesleyan University, where he studied Drama. After graduation, he served in the Marines and worked as a theater actor, even producing his own shows.
His experience in the theater caused him to think he knew what people would want to read in a novel, and he decided to start writing. The Scarlatti Inheritance was his first book, published in 1971, followed by The Osterman Weekend in 1972. Because of rules about publishing more than one book in the same year, in the 1970s, he wrote under the pen names Jonathan Ryder and Michael Shepherd. He continued writing until his death, often publishing at least one book per year.
While most of Ludlum’s books had a good readership, the Jason Bourne books made him a household name. The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, and The Bourne Ultimatum were all bestsellers, and they were made into movies starring Matt Damon, with The Bourne Ultimatum winning three Academy Awards. In addition to these books, Ludlum created the Covert-One thriller novel series. Because he died before he could finish them, several authors took up the mantle and wrote additional novels based on his ideas.
Ludlum died of a heart attack in 2001 with several unfinished manuscripts in the works. Several of those were published posthumously, including The Paris Option, The Sigma Protocol, The Bancroft Strategy, and The Tristan Betrayal. Today, there are 225 million Ludlum’s books in print translated into 32 languages, and every one of his works was a New York Times bestseller. If you are a fan of the fast-paced style of Ludlum’s thriller books, consider adding these similar authors to your reading list to keep yourself guessing with every page turn.
- Legal Thriller Authors Like Robert Ludlum
- 1. John Grisham, 1955 –
- 2. David Baldacci, 1960 –
- 3. Patrick Hoffman
- Crime Thriller Authors
- 4. Frederick Forsyth, 1938 –
- 5. Kyle Mills, 1966 –
- 6. Vince Flynn, 1966 – 2013
- 7. Michael Connelly, 1956 –
- 8. Lee Child, 1954 –
- Science-Fiction and Supernatural Thriller Authors
- 9. Stephen King, 1947 –
- 10. William Gibson, 1948 –
- 11. Dean Koontz, 1945 –
- Spy Thriller Authors
- 12. Tom Clancy, 1947 – 2013
- 13. Jack Higgins, 1929 – 2022
- 14. Gayle Lynds, 1945 –
- 15. John Le Carre, 1931 – 2020
- 16. Eric Van Lustbader, 1946 –
- 17. Ken Follett, 1949 –
- 18. Ian Fleming, 1908 – 1964
- Adventure and Mystery Thriller Authors
- 19. Dan Brown, 1964 –
- 20. James Patterson, 1947 –
- 21. Clive Cussler, 1931 – 2020
- 22. Michael Crichton, 1942 – 2008
Legal Thriller Authors Like Robert Ludlum
1. John Grisham, 1955 –
With 28 consecutive number-one New York Times bestsellers, John Grisham is not a new name in the world of thriller authors. As one of only three authors to sell two million books in the first printing, Grisham is quite successful. In 1989, he published his first book, A Time to Kill, and gained fame with his 1991 book The Firm. These two books and eight others were made into feature films. Grisham has several awards to his name, including the 2007 Galaxy British Lifetime achievement award, the 2011 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction for his book The Confession, and the 2014 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction for Sycamore Row.
“Prisons are hate factories, Pastor, and society wants more and more of them.”John Grisham, The Confession
2. David Baldacci, 1960 –
All of David Baldacci’s 47 novels have been national and international bestsellers. Writing primarily legal thrillers, Baldacci hails from Virginia, where he studied political science and law at the University of Virginia. This knowledge gained in his education allowed him to write legal thrillers. Absolute Power was his first novel, and he published it in 1996. Since then, he has continued writing, creating the Amos Decker, Atlee Pine, Will Robie, and John Puller series. He also has several books for young readers and contributed to the famous 39 Clues series. The Christmas Train, a 2003 standalone holiday novel, became a Hallmark Hall of Fame Christmas Movie in 2017.
“It’s not the beginning or the destination that counts. It’s the ride in between.”David Baldacci, The Christmas Train
3. Patrick Hoffman
Patrick Hoffman did not start out his career to be a writer but instead worked for nearly 20 years as a private investigator and investigator for a public defender’s office. This experience gave him the knowledge he needed to write legal thrillers. The White Van, published in 2014, was his first book and was shortlisted for the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award. The Wall Street Journal named it one of the year’s ten best mysteries. He has two additional books to his name and shows promise to be one of the best legal thriller writers of the 21st century.
“The apartment was tiny, but neat: the bed was made; a few books (business books and a self-help book, all in English and all from the library) were stacked on a nightstand.”Patrick Hoffman, The White Van
Crime Thriller Authors
4. Frederick Forsyth, 1938 –
Frederick Forsyth was born in England in 1938. Educated at the University of Granada in Spain, he joined the National Service in the Royal Air Force before starting his journalism career. In 1961, he joined Reuters and then went to work for the BBC. When he was not allowed to report on the Nigerian Civil War like he wanted, Forsyth started writing his first book, The Biafra Story, to discuss it.
He published it in 1969, and this launched his fiction writing career. In 1971, he published The Day of the Jackal, his first full-length novel, which became an international bestseller and won the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Novel. The Odessa File followed in 1972; to date, 12 of his novels have been international bestsellers. You might also be interested in our round-up of authors like Tana French.
“Yessir. A crutch, like one-legged men always have.”Frederick Forsyth, The Day of the Jackal
5. Kyle Mills, 1966 –
Kyle Mills is the author of multiple books following FBI special agent Mark Beamon. Mills was born in Oregon and is the son of an FBI agent, which plays heavily into his writing. Moving often as a child, he saw the FBI lifestyle. He stumbled on writing by accident, starting his first book, Rising Phoenix, in 1997 at the encouragement of his wife. It sold well, and he continued writing. While most of his books are crime thrillers, he also has a medical thriller, The Immortalists, in the mix. In addition, Mills was brought into the Mitch Rapp series after Vince Flynn’s death, carrying on the series his colleague started.
“It’s interesting how a random event can change our lives in ways that would be impossible to imagine, isn’t it?”Kyle Mills, The Immortalists
6. Vince Flynn, 1966 – 2013
Vince Flynn was born in Minnesota and attended the University of St. Thomas, where he studied economics. After graduation, he worked as a sales market specialist for Kraft Foods before joining the Marines. As someone who struggled with dyslexia, he wrote daily to overcome this challenge. This daily writing habit eventually allowed him to write his first book, Term Limits, which he self-published in 1998.
The book landed on the New York Times bestseller’s list, and he continued writing. In 1999 he published Transfer of Power, the first Mitch Rapp book, and his series was born. When he died in 2013, Kyle Mills took over the Mitch Rapp series to continue the stories of the CIA counterterrorism agent.
“Instead of fighting the system, it was often better to say yes and then go off and do whatever you thought was best.”Vince Flynn, Transfer of Power
7. Michael Connelly, 1956 –
Bestselling author Michael Connelly has 37 books to his name, with over 80 million copies in print. A writer of detective fiction and crime thrillers, Connelley writes about detective Harry Bosch. In 1992, he published his first novel, The Black Echo, which won an Edgar Award. Blood Work, his 1997 novel, became a movie starring and directed by Clint Eastwood. Connelly attended the University of Florida and started his career as a reporter. Today he works as a full-time novelist, continuing to produce books about Bosch while dabbling in acting and screenwriting.
“Out of the blue and into the black is what they called going into a tunnel. Each one was a black echo. Nothing but death in there. But, still, they went.”Michael Connelly, The Black Echo
8. Lee Child, 1954 –
Lee Child is the pen name of James Dover Grant, a British author of crime thriller novels. Though he has other works, he is best known for his Jack Reacher series. Lee attended the University of Sheffield, where he studied law and worked in a theater. After graduation, he started working in television, but a job loss turned him to writing novels. Killing Floor, his 1997 novel, was a great success. Each year he celebrates his success by starting a new book of the series on the anniversary of starting Killing Floor.
Interestingly, some Jack Reacher books are written in the first person, while others are written in the third person. There are 28 Jack Reacher books, including the 2023 book The Secret. However, he stopped writing the Jack Reacher books in 2020. His brother, Andrew Grant, took up the mantle to continue the popular series.
“Like when people say they slept like a baby. Do they mean they slept well? Or do they mean they woke up every ten minutes, screaming?”Lee Child, The Killing Floor
Science-Fiction and Supernatural Thriller Authors
9. Stephen King, 1947 –
Stephen King, an award-winning and prolific American author, has sold over 350 million copies of his 64 novels, many of which have been made into television shows or films. In addition, he has around 200 short stories to his name. King is known for his horror and supernatural thrillers, and his books are famously suspenseful.
In 2007, he won the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America, and in 2004 he won the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement from the same organization. The U.S. National Endowment for the Arts awarded him the National Medal of Arts in 2015. Some of his most famous works include the 1982 book Cujo, the 1987 book It, and the 2015 book Mr. Mercedes, which won an Edgar Award.
“Any system created by the mind of man can be hacked by the mind of man.”Stephen King, Mr. Mercedes
10. William Gibson, 1948 –
Largely credited with pioneering the cyberpunk genre of books, William Gibson writes sci-fi thrillers. Neuromancer, his 1984 novel, is one of his most famous. Gibson grew up in South Carolina in the Appalachian mountains. During the Vietnam war, he moved to Canada to avoid the draft, where he was homeless for a time before getting a job in a drug paraphernalia store. He eventually moved to Vancouver with his new wife, and there he enrolled at the University of British Columbia to earn a degree in literature.
Gibson started writing in the 1980s, starting with short fiction and eventually moving into writing his first novel. It became a hit through word-of-mouth and won the Nebula and Hugo Awards. After this success, he continued writing, publishing two sequels to Neuromancer and three other trilogies.
“His ugliness was the stuff of legend. In an age of affordable beauty, there was something heraldic about his lack of it.”William Gibson, Neuromancer
11. Dean Koontz, 1945 –
Dean Koontz is known for his suspense thrillers, but they often incorporate the supernatural into their pages. This prolific author attended Shippensburg State College, where he graduated with an English degree. Koontz wrote his first novel, Star Quest, in 1968 and has continued since. Today, he has books in 38 languages with over 500 million copies in print. The author also publishes essays and writing instruction books. Odd Thomas, published in 2003, is one of his most famous works.
“Given my heritage and the ordeal of my childhood, I sometimes wonder why I myself am not insane. Maybe I am.”Dean Koontz, Odd Thomas
Spy Thriller Authors
12. Tom Clancy, 1947 – 2013
With over 100 million books sold, Tom Clancy is a successful author. The bestselling American author is known for his spy novels, which have heavy military-inspired storylines that center on the Cold War period. The Hunt for Red October was his first and is one of his most famous, and it introduced his Jack Ryan character in 1984. When President Ronald Reagan gave the book his accolades, it became a New York Times bestseller. Though Clancy died in 2013, the Jack Ryan books continue to be produced by additional authors.
“Danger confronted properly is not something a man must fear.”Tom Clancy, The Hunt for Red October
13. Jack Higgins, 1929 – 2022
Jack Higgins is the pen name for Henry Patterson, a bestselling British author of spy novels and thrillers. The Eagle Has Landed, his 1975 book, sold over 50 million copies and became a movie a year after publication. Higgins grew up in Belfast when religious and political upheaval was a severe problem. He learned to read very early in life. After spending some time in the army, he studied sociology. He published multiple books a year under various pen names when he started writing.
In the late 1960s, he took the name Jack Higgins and started publishing books that would become bestsellers. Eye of the Storm, his 1992 book, introduced Sean Dillon, a main character he would bring back in 22 of the 43 novels he published between 1992 and 2017. He wrote 77 novels, and 11 of those were made into films or television productions.
“I will never to the end of my days ever begin to understand my fellow human beings.”Jack Higgins, The Eagle Has Landed
14. Gayle Lynds, 1945 –
Known as the “Queen of Espionage Fiction,” Gayle Lynds is a prolific author who writes spy fiction and thriller books. Born in Nebraska, she holds a degree in journalism from the University of Iowa. After graduating, she started writing for the Arizona Republic and edited for a government think tank. Masquerade, which she wrote in 1996, was her first novel and was named one of the top 10 spy books of all time by Publishers Weekly.
The Assassins, her 2015 novel, won the Military Writers Society of America Founder’s Award. She and David Morrell co-founded the International Thriller Writers, Inc., an organization dedicated to the genre. She also co-wrote a book, The Hades Factor, with Robert Ludlum.
“You’re in danger. Real danger. Get the hell out of town, fast. Don’t go back to your lab. Get on the plane.”Gayle Lynds, The Hades Factor
15. John Le Carre, 1931 – 2020
David John Moore Cornwell wrote under the pen name John le Carre. This British author wrote spy thrillers, many of which became television shows or movies. He grew up in England and had a difficult childhood with a father who was in jail, and his father eventually became the subject of A Perfect Spy, his 1986 book. Some of his most famous books were The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, published in 1963, and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, published in 1974. Many of his books feature retired spy George Smiley. In addition to writing, Le Carre worked for MI6, drawing from his intelligence experience heavily in his books.
“You could be the perfect spy. All you need is a cause.”John Le Carre, A Perfect Spy
16. Eric Van Lustbader, 1946 –
Eric Van Lustbader is responsible for introducing the term “ninja” to the Western world. His book The Ninja, published in 1980, spent five months on the New York Times bestseller list. Lustbader is also well-known for taking on the Jason Bourne saga when Robert Ludlum passed away. In addition to his thrillers, he has a well-regarded fantasy series, The Pearl, which includes his 2001 book The Ring of Five Dragons. Lustbader was born in New York City in 1946, and he continues to write, putting his sociology and Reiki degrees to work to help him with his novels.
“To abandon duty is to destroy that which makes any individual unique and capable of prodigious feats.”Eric Van Lustbader, The Ninja
17. Ken Follett, 1949 –
Born in Wales, Ken Follett has had a successful writing career publishing spy thrillers and historical fiction novels. Originally a reporter, he published his first book, Eye of the Needle, in 1978. It quickly became an international bestseller with over 10 million copies sold, and he started writing full-time. This novel also earned the 1979 Edgar Award for Best Novel. Each of the 36 novels he has published since also became New York Times bestsellers, and over 188 million Follet novels are currently in print. Pillars of the Earth, his 1989 novel, was another of his most famous works, and it became a television show in 2010.
“She loved him because he had brought her back to life. She had been like a caterpillar in a cocoon, and he had drawn her out and shown her that she was a butterfly.”Ken Follett, The Pillars of the Earth
18. Ian Fleming, 1908 – 1964
British author Ian Fleming was born to a wealthy family in London. During World War II, he worked for the Naval Intelligence Division, giving him an insider’s look at what life in the spy world was like. When he wrote his famous James Bond novels, he pulled from that experience. Casino Royale was his first James Bond novel, published in 1952. It was in such demand that it required three print runs, and he continued publishing 11 more Bond novels.
These are some of the world’s best-selling fictional books, with over 100 million sales. He also wrote two nonfiction books and the children’s tale Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang. The Times named him among the top 50 greatest British writers since 1945.
“History is moving pretty quickly these days and the heroes and villains keep on changing parts.”Ian Fleming, Casino Royale
Adventure and Mystery Thriller Authors
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19. Dan Brown, 1964 –
The Da Vinci Code author, Dan Brown, has a knack for writing books that make people stop and think. He is a successful author with over 200 million copies of his books in print, including numerous number-one New York Times bestsellers. As a child, he developed a fascination with the interplay between science and religion, and those themes often appear in his books.
He graduated from Amherst College and spent some time teaching English there before writing full-time. In his books, Brown frequently takes readers behind the scenes to explore top-secret government offices or on thrilling treasure hunts to look at pieces of art or history. In his 2001 novel, Deception Point considered what would happen if the treasure hunt went to the arctic circle.
“When multiple explanations exist, the simplest is usually correct.”Dan Brown, Deception Point
20. James Patterson, 1947 –
James Patterson is a mystery and thriller author responsible for several popular series. The Alex Cross, Women’s Murder Club, and Maximum Ride series are some of his most famous. Patterson writes quickly and publishes multiple books a year, and he holds the Guinness Book of World Records record for the number one New York Times bestsellers. In 2019, he earned the National Humanities Medal.
The National Book Foundation also gave him the Literarian award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community. He has won an Edgar award and nine Emmy awards as well. Patterson has written many interesting collaborative works with well-known celebrities, including The President Is Missing in 2018, which he wrote with Bill Clinton.
“Gerald Ford once said that an impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives says it is.”James Patterson, The President Is Missing
21. Clive Cussler, 1931 – 2020
American author Clive Cussler is the writer of the Dirk Pitt adventure novels. These books have been on the New York Times bestseller list over 20 times. Cussler was born in Illinois to a family of servicemembers, and he followed suit by enlisting in the Air Force to serve in the Korean War. After his discharge, Cussler started writing for advertising agencies before publishing The Sea Hunters, a nonfiction book, in 1996. His first novel, The Mediterranean Caper, introduced the world to underwater adventurer Dirk Pitt in 1973.
He continued writing until his death, and 17 consecutive titles were bestsellers. His 1976 novel Raise the Titanic! became a major motion picture. In addition to writing, Cussler founded the National Underwater and Marine Agency (NUMA). He discovered over 60 shipwrecked sites through the organization, including the RMS Carpathia and the CSS Manassas. His love of diving is clearly seen in his books. You might also be interested in these authors like Ruth Ware.
“Americans have an annoying habit of accomplishing what they set out to do.”Clive Cussler, Raise the Titanic!
22. Michael Crichton, 1942 – 2008
The author of the Jurassic Park franchise, Michael Crichton, is known for his techno-thrillers that rely heavily on science and some science fiction. Many of his works are major motion pictures, and he uses his medical degree from Harvard to make them entirely believable. The Andromeda Strain, his 1969 book, The Terminal Man, his 1972 book; and Congo, his 1980 book, are all popular options.
When he died in 2008, he had several books left unfinished, and they were published posthumously. Crichton was born in Chicago but was raised on Long Island, showing an interest in writing as a child and publishing an article in the New York Times at 14. That early success fueled a lifetime of interest in writing. Looking for more? Check out our round-up of the best 16th century authors!
“The rock, for its part, is not even aware of our existence because we are alive for only a brief instant of its lifespan. To it, we are like flashes in the dark.”Michael Crichton, The Andromeda Strain
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