25 Best Crime Thriller Authors You Must Read

Ready for a new crime novel? Check out the top crime thriller authors that you must read.

Crime thriller authors dominate much of the market when it comes to popular fiction. Crime novels, whodunnits, mysteries, thrillers, anything that gets our pulse racing and our grey matter working is what sells. Statistics from multiple sources report that this genre remains the second most popular fiction genre year after year.

‘The only writers who survive the ages are those who understand the need for action in a novel.’

Dean Koontz

If only crime writers could incorporate more romance into their novels, they would sweep the floor, as romance is the top-selling fiction genre. It seems the only thing we like better than a mystery is true love, as it should be!

Nevertheless, if you crave the thrill of a great crime novel, then you have come to the right place. Make sure you add these thriller authors to your list of “must-reads,” and if you want a good romance to unwind with after, check out our round-up of the best romance authors. See, I told you you had come to the right place!

The Best Crime Novel Authors

Crime novels deliver action. It’s the thrill of the hunt and the anticipation of solving the case. A quick search on Amazon will bring up numerous crime novel authors, but given the popularity of this genre, where do you start? 

If you are ready to delve into a great mystery, here are the best authors of thrillers and crime novels. They do not appear in order of importance or success; however, we had to start with the Queen of Crime!

1. Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie
Agatha Christie, the Queen of Crime

Agatha Christie is arguably the most famous crime thriller author of all time. According to her website, she is the best-selling novelist of all time, selling over 1 billion books. For that reason and many others, we think she deserves the top slot on our list.

Known for her unique twists and whodunnit style writing, her novels are gripping. And, of course, she gave us the unforgettable Hercule PoirotMiss Marple, and Tommy & Tuppence.

Her bestsellers include And Then There Were None, Murder on the Orient Express, The Body in the Library, The Moving Finger, and Ordeal by Innocence. 

We think it unlikely you will be unfamiliar with this phenomenal author’s name, but if you have yet to sample one of her stories, check out our round-up of the best Agatha Christie books now.

“Crime is terribly revealing. Try and vary your methods as you will, your tastes, your habits, your attitude of mind and your soul is revealed by your actions.”

Agatha Christie
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02/18/2024 06:53 am GMT

2. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is most famous for his leading character, Sherlock Holmes

If all you know of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is his Sherlock Holmes stories, then read on; in addition to establishing himself as a great crime thriller writer, he led a fascinating life as a physician, campaigner, spiritualist, sportsman, and Knight of the Realm.

Conan Doyle also penned numerous fiction across multiple genres, including history, fantasy, adventure, science-fiction, and war. The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia lists his full body of work.

However, to be known solely for Sherlock Holmes is no trivial achievement. The Word UK states that ‘In 2012, Guinness World Records awarded Sherlock Holmes the title for ‘the most portrayed literary human character in film and TV,’ having been depicted on-screen 254 times.’ A fitting tribute to one of the best fictional detectives ever created.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s best sellers include The Captain of the Pole-Star, The White Company, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and The Lost World.

“A man should keep his little brain attic stocked with all the furniture that he is likely to use, and the rest he can put away in the lumber room of his library, where he can get it if he wants it.”

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (From The Five Orange Pips)
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02/18/2024 07:06 am GMT

3. Louise Penny

Louise Penny
Louise Penny found her calling later in life but has made up for lost time!

Louise Penny is a modern crime writer who writes about the adventures of Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. Set in Canada, each novel observes Gamache and his team from the Sûreté du Québecs solving mysteries with well-honed detective skills.

Penny came relatively late to writing novels, her first book, Still Life, being published when she was well into her forties. She has 20 books to her name, is a New York Times bestseller, and has co-authored a novel with Hillary Clinton titled State of Terror.

Her best-sellers include A Fatal Grace, A Great Reckoning, A Better Man, Bury Your Dead, and The Beautiful Mystery. 

“A good novel is a good novel, pointe finale. And I think what I’m writing is exactly that.”

Louise Penny
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02/18/2024 07:06 am GMT

4. Ann Cleeves

Ann Cleeves
Ann Cleeves is known for her skill in translating the landscape in her narrative

Ann Cleeves is a bestselling author who writes crime novels set in her native home of the United Kingdom. Three of Cleeve’s crime series have been adapted for television. This relates to her main characters, Vera Stanhope, Jimmy Perez, and Matthew Venn, who solve crimes in Northumberland, the Shetland Islands, and Devon, respectively.

Each location serves as an evocative backdrop to the stories. The British Council has called Cleeves’ the best living evoker of landscape.’

Her first book, A Bird in the Hand, was published in 1986, and she now has 41 novels to her name, including Murder in Paradise, High Island Blues, Red Bones [Shetland Island Mysteries], Harbour Street [Vera Stanhope], and Burial of Ghosts, a standalone novel.

“My work is less violent because we tend to write what we want to read … and I’m not that interested in gruesome books. Any violence, to fit in well with a crime novel, has to have compassion.”

Ann Cleeves
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02/18/2024 10:25 pm GMT

5. David Baldacci

David Baldacci
David Baldacci began his career with a hit book, turned into a blockbuster movie starring Clint Eastwood

David Baldacci has been writing since he was a child. That passion has turned into a career as a crime novelist. His first novel, published in 1996, Absolute Power, became a movie produced, directed, and starring Clint Eastwood, and he continues to write crime thrillers and novels for adults and young readers alike.

Baldacci has 48 adult novels to his name and has sold over 150 million copies worldwide. His focus is on suspense novels and legal thrillers, drawing on his previous profession as an attorney.

His best sellers include the A. Shaw Series, Camel Club Series, King and Maxwell Series, and several standalone novels such as Total Control, Lies, and The Winner. 

Read our full list of the best David Baldacci books, or check out our David Baldacci Masterclass review.

“Why can’t people just sit and read books and be nice to each other?”

David Baldacci
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02/18/2024 07:06 am GMT

6. Gillian Flynn

Gillian Flynn
Gillian Flynn is known for her dark, psychological suspense thrillers

Gillian Flynn is an American author and screenwriter. Flynn is a newcomer to this fiction genre compared to our previous entries. However, she has certainly hit the ground running with her psychological thrillers.

Her first novel, Sharp Objects, was published in 2006. It has since been made into an HBO limited series. In 2009, she published Dark Places, followed by Gone Girl in 2012 and The Grownup (a novella) in 2014. Gone Girl is a New York Times bestseller.

“A theme that has always interested me is how women express anger, how women express violence.”

Gillian Flynn
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02/18/2024 04:00 pm GMT

7. Stephen King

Stephen King
Stephen King has proven his prowess across multiple genres

Despite his affiliation with horror, discussing crime thriller authors without mentioning Stephen King is just wrong. Some of the best crime novels were penned by this prolific author. His crime thrillers End of Watch and Mr. Mercedes both earned Goodreads Choice Awards for best mystery and thriller.

And let’s not forget King’s novella, Rita Hayworth, and Shawshank Redemption, certainly a crime thriller.

There is no doubt that King can be the King of Horror, but the versatility of this author cannot be ignored. Other thrillers by King include Finders Keepers, The Outsider, and If It Bleeds. 

If you want to learn more about this author, check out our article Stephen King best-selling books.

“Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.”

Stephen King
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02/18/2024 07:06 am GMT

8. Harlan Coben

Harlan Coben
According to his website, ‘Harlan was the first writer in more than a decade to be invited to write fiction for the New York Times op-ed page.’

Our next writer is a master of mystery novels and thrillers. Harlan Coben has sold in excess of 80 million books and is the author of the renowned Myron Bolitar series. Coben also creates and produces numerous Netflix television dramas.

After 11 novels featuring the sports agent/ detective Bolitar, Coben conceived an idea he thought unsuitable for his protagonist and went on to write the New York Times bestseller Tell No One.

Coben has 35 novels available for sale, and one, Think Twice, is available for pre-order. His published works include The Boy From The Woods, Missing You, Stay Close, Drop Shot, and Play Dead.

“Outlining is not writing. Coming up with ideas is not writing. Researching is not writing. Creating characters is not writing. Only writing is writing.”

Harlan Coben

9. Lee Child

Lee Child
Lee Child wrote one Jack Reacher book per year

Lee Child is the author of the famous Jack Reacher series. Jack Reacher often finds himself in the midst of criminal investigations involving the worst kind of villains, such as serial killers, and facing accusations against himself.

He is not your usual hero, but perhaps that’s why readers enjoy him so much. He is no James Bond. Instead, he offers brute strength, determination, and true grit.

Child retired from writing the Jach Reacher series in 2020. According to Sky News, ‘The 65-year-old writer told fans he was getting too old to keep up the demand for Reacher stories.’

Child has passed the baton to his younger brother. A statement from his publisher said, “I chose the best tough-guy writer I have read in years – my brother Andrew Grant. He’s me, 15 years ago, full of energy and ideas.”

The popular series of books include A Wanted Man, Personal, Past Tense, and Running Blind.

“Don’t get it right – get it WRITTEN!”

Lee Child
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02/18/2024 07:31 am GMT

10. James Patterson

James Patterson
James Patterson has turned his attention to books for younger readers, but he is still a prolific crime thriller writer

Many people call James Patterson the world’s bestselling author. And he is certainly prolific. Patterson has written over 170 novels, 8 short stories or novellas, and numerous other works.

According to Wordsrated, he has sold over 425 million books. Patterson is responsible for memorable characters like Alex Cross and Michael Bennett, a character he developed with co-author Michael Ledwidge.

James Patterson’s name is synonymous with the crime novel genre, although he has written historical fiction, romance, non-fiction, and young adult material.

His best sellers include Along Came a Spider, 23 Lies, Now You See Her, Kiss The Girls, The Murder House, and When the Wind Blows.

“Don’t depend on others to give you strength… Find it within yourself.”

James Patterson
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02/18/2024 10:55 pm GMT

11. John Grisham

John Grisham
John Grisham was inspired to write after witnessing a particular trial

John Grisham is a prolific author of crime novels. His books fit in the legal thriller subgenre, and instead of detectives, his main characters are often lawyers, which is his former profession.

Grisham’s first novel, A Time to Kill, did not perform well; however, his second book, The Firm, made the New York Times bestseller list in 1991 and stayed there for 47 weeks. He was 36 years old at the time, and he is still publishing thrillers to this day.

Some of his bestsellers include The Rainmaker, Rogue Lawyer, The Street Lawyer, The Chamber, and Camino Island.

“I seriously doubt I would ever have written the first story had I not been a lawyer. I never dreamed of being a writer. I wrote only after witnessing a trial.”

John Grisham
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02/19/2024 12:27 am GMT

12. John le Carre

John le Carre
John le Carre drew inspiration for his novels from his service with British Intelligence

John le Carre was an author of spy fiction and detective novels. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is one of his best-known stories. He served British Intelligence briefly during the Cold War, and it is thought he took his inspiration from his experiences and true stories from other spies.

During his career, he penned 26 novels translated into 40 languages. Le Carre died in 2020, but his legacy lives on. The FT called him ‘the spy fiction master’ and ‘one of the most perceptive and enduring writers of his age.’

Some of his bestsellers include The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, Smiley’s People, A Most Wanted Man, A Perfect Spy, and The Night Manager.

“A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.”

John le Carre
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02/18/2024 08:17 am GMT

13. Michael Connelly

Michael Connelly
Michael Connolly is the executive producer for all of his book series that have been televised

Michael Connelly draws on his knowledge as a former crime-beat news reporter to write thrilling crime novels. He is most famous for his Harry Bosch series and the Lincoln Lawyer series featuring Mickey Hallerand is a man who likes to keep busy!

According to Connelly’s website, he has written 38 novels and sold 85 million copies of his books worldwide.

In addition to writing, he keeps himself busy as the executive producer of Bosch, and Bosch: Legacy, which are both Amazon Studios’ original series based on Harry Bosch, and The Lincoln Lawyer showing on Netflix. Connolly also hosts two podcasts.

His bestselling novels include The Black Echo, The Late Show, The Concrete Blonde, The Last Coyote, and The Brass Verdict.

“When you’re a detective on the midnight shift, you don’t have a specialty; you roll on any time they need a detective, whether it’s big or small.”

Michael Connelly
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02/19/2024 10:36 am GMT

14. Tana French

Dublin-based Tana French crafts psychological thrillers. She only has eight books to her name but, according to her website, has already won many prestigious awards, including ‘the Edgar, Anthony, Macavity, and Barry awards, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Best Mystery/Thriller, and the Irish Book Award for Crime Fiction.’

French has appeared on the New York Times bestseller list and, with book sales in excess of 3 million, seems set to thrive in the crime thriller author genre.

His first novel, In The Woods, was published in 2007. Since then, she has released The Likeness, Faithful Place, The Trespasser, The Secret Place, Broken Harbour, The Witch Elm, and The Searcher. 

“Don’t get discouraged if you’re hammering away at a sentence or a paragraph or a chapter, and it keeps coming out wrong. You’re allowed to get it wrong, as many times as you need to; you only need to get it right once.”

Tana French
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02/19/2024 03:41 am GMT

15. Val McDermid

Val McDermid
Val McDermid: journalist, author, and lead singer of the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers!

Val McDermid is a Scottish author who began her career in journalism. She wrote her first novel at the age of 21, and although rejected by publishers, it won the praise of her actor friend. As a result, McDermid turned it into a play that ran at the Plymouth Theatre Company and was later adapted for BBC Radio.

Shortly after her brief dabble with playwriting, McDermid decided to try her hand at penning a crime novel inspired by New Wave of American women crime writers. The resultant novelReport for Murder, was published in 1987.

McDermid is an interesting character who clearly lives and breathes her genre. According to her website, ‘She is the lead singer of the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers, possibly the only band made up of crime writers ever to play at Glastonbury.’

Her bestseller novels include The Skeleton Road, Trick Of The Dark, The Last Temptation, and The Wire In The Blood, which became the British crime drama television series Wire In The Blood.

“The contemporary crime novel is, at its best, a novel of character. That’s where the suspense comes from.”

Val McDermid
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02/19/2024 05:46 am GMT

16. Dean Koontz

Dean Koontz
Dean Koontz is honest about the hard work required to succeed

With many New York Times bestsellers under his belt, Dean Koontz is well-known in the crime thriller genre. He is a master of suspense for his unique writing style, driven by action and mystery.

Koontz won an Atlantic Monthly fiction competition while at college and has been writing ever since. According to his website, he has sold 500 million copies of his books worldwide. The New York Times has called his writing “psychologically complex, masterly and satisfying.”

His bestsellers include Watchers, Intensity, Strangers, Odd Thomas, Phantoms, and Dragon Fears. Check out our round-up of 19 of the best books by Dean Koontz.

“We have a responsibility to stand watch over one another, we are watchers, all of us, watchers, guarding against the darkness.”

Dean Koontz
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02/19/2024 10:37 am GMT

17. Dan Brown

Dan Brown
Dan Brown is a master of gripping and passionate narrative

The author of The Da Vinci Code and Angels and DemonsDan Brown, combines suspense with history and just a little bit of fantasy to create novels that keep you intrigued until the very last page.

Brown has taken great risks with his subject matter in the past, making what were shocking statements about religion that, while within a work of fiction, made many people consider the possibility of truth.

His research and background knowledge are exemplary and lend credibility to his work. Brown creates one page-turner after another.

His body of work includes The Lost Symbol, Origin, Inferno, Deception Point, and Digital Fortress. We discuss the best Dan Brown books in our round-up article.

“We have plenty of technologies we could use to destroy the planet, and we don’t. There’s more love on this planet than hate; there’s more creativity than destructive power.”

Dan Brown
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02/18/2024 03:51 pm GMT

18. Dennis Lehane

Dennis Lehane
Lehane’s first novel, A Drink Before the War, won the Shamus Award

Dennis Lehane’s novels are best described as thrillers and mysteries with many twists and turns that keep the reader guessing.

Lehane originally worked as a writer on the HBO series, The Wire, and has also written for HBO’s Boardwalk Empire and Netflix’s Bloodline.

The accomplished author has 14 books to his name, 4 of which have been made into films. His works include A Drink Before the War (his first novel), Sacred, Prayers For Rain, Live By Night, and Small Mercies. 

“Narrative becomes the way you make sense of chaos. That’s how you focus the world. It’s the only reason you should ever try this writing job.”

Dennis Lehane
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02/19/2024 04:36 am GMT

19. Dorothy L. Sayers

Dorothy Sayers was a crime writer who published several novels set between the First and Second World Wars. Her main character is the ‘English aristocrat and amateur sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey,’ who many consider similar in character and skill to Sherlock Holmes.

Sayers is best known for her mysteries, but according to her website‘Sayers herself considered her translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy to be her best work.’

Dorothy Sayers passed away in 1957 at the age of 64. Her body of work includes Clouds of Witness, The Nine Tailors, Murder Must Advertise, The Five Red Herrings, and Strong Poison.

“Time and trouble will tame an advanced young woman, but an advanced old woman is uncontrollable by any earthly force.”

Dorothy L. Sayers
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02/19/2024 02:50 am GMT

20. Karin Slaughter

Karin Slaughter
Karin’s Pieces of Her has been televised and stars Toni Colette

With 40 million books sold across 120 countries, Karin Slaughter deserves a spot on this list. Slaughter writes across crime fiction, mystery, and thriller genres and has two book series and several standalone novels to her name.

Her popular standalone novels include False WitnessThe Good Daughter, and Pieces of Her. Several of her novels are being televised at present, and her Will Trent series is currently showing on ABC.

“People forget that writers start off being readers. We all love it when we find a terrific read, and we want to let people know about it.”

Karin Slaughter
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02/18/2024 07:20 pm GMT

21. Martin Cruz Smith

Martin Cruz Smith
According to his website, Cruz Smith has been dubbed the ‘Master of the Intellectual Thriller’ by the New York Times

Martin Cruz-Smith has a string of awards to his name, including the Hammett Prize from the International Association of Crime Writers. He is well-known for his Arkady Renko novels. According to the authorsAmazon page, Chief homicide investigator’ Arkady Renko is brilliant, sensitive, honest, and cynical about everything except his profession.’

There are ten books in the series, including Gorky Park, Res Square, Havana Bay, and Stalin’s Ghost. His other works include Nightwing, Stallion Gate, Canto for a Gypsy, and The Girl From Venice.

“The great thing about being a writer is that you are always recreating yourself.”

Martin Cruz Smith
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02/19/2024 08:37 am GMT

22. Stieg Larsson

Stieg Larsson is described as a classic workaholic on his website. He was clearly politically motivated and worked for much of his adult life for ‘the British anti-fascist magazine Searchlight’ and ‘the similar Swedish magazine Expo.’

However, in literary circles, he is famous for his posthumously published Millenium Trilogy comprising The Girl With Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked The Horbets’ Nest. 

Larsson sadly died in 2004 at the age of 50. All three books have been made into films, and the trilogy of books has been continued by David Lagercrantz, a Swedish journalist.

“In ordinary detective novels, you never see the consequences of what happens in a story in the next book. That you do in mine.”

Stieg Larsson
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02/19/2024 04:50 pm GMT

23. Sara Paretsky

Sara Paretsky
Paretsky completed her first three novels, writing at night while working full-time in the day

Sara Paretsky created the V.I. Warshawshki detective novels. Her books were first published in the 1980s, and Paretsky broke convention by introducing a female investigator to the genre, which until that time consisted almost entirely of male protagonists.

Although most famous for the Warshawski series, Paretsky has also published several non-fiction works and short stories.

Sara Paretsky is passionate about women’s rights. Her website records that, ‘in 1986 she created Sisters in Crime, a worldwide organization to advocate for women crime writers.’

Her bestsellers include Guardian Angel, Indemnity Only, Overboard, Dead Land, and Pay Dirt.

“I thought it was time for a tough, smart, likable female private investigator, and that’s how VI came to life.”

Sara Paretsky
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02/18/2024 07:25 pm GMT

24. Ian Rankin

Ian Rankin
Rankin’s first novel, Summer Rites, has never been published and, according to his website, remains in his bottom drawer

Ian Rankin is probably most famous for his protagonist, Detective Inspector John Rebus. In addition to this and the Malcolm Fox series, Scottish author Rankin has written standalone books, plays, and short stories.

There are 24 books in the John Rebus series. On Rankin’s website, the character is described as ‘a maverick whose daily grind involves tackling Edinburgh’s grim underbelly.’

Rankins’ bestsellers include Knots and Crosses (the first book in the Rebus series), Strip Jack, The Black Book, The Naming of the Dead, and Exit Music. Rebus was made into a television series shown on the BBC and starring Ken Stott. It is scheduled to return with a new cast in 2024. 

“You need a great idea, but then you’ve got to carry it through. If you get it right, you’re going to be a critical success. But not everyone who works hard gets it right, or has the success they deserve: there’s an element of luck.”

Ian Rankin
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02/18/2024 07:36 am GMT

25. Ruth Rendell

Ruth Rendell
Ruth Rendell created classic crime thrillers for fifty years

We are ending our round-up as we started, with a female legend of crime writing, Ruth Rendell. During her distinguished career, she published over 60 books. She is, of course, best known for the protagonist Inspector Wexford. The Wexford stories were televised as The Ruth Rendell Mysteries during the 80s and 90s.

However, Rendell has many standalone novels to her name and also wrote a different style of thriller under the nom de plume Barbara Vine.

Her publisher’s page notes that Rendell ‘won three Edgar Awards, the highest accolade from Mystery Writers of America, as well as four Gold Daggers and a Diamond Dagger for outstanding contribution to the genre from England’s prestigious Crime Writ­ers’ Association.’

Rendells’ bestsellers include The Best Man To Die, Put On By Cunning, From Doon With Death, A Sleeping Life, and One Across, Two Down. Rendell passed away in 2015.

“I don’t think there is a fictional character who resembles me because fictional characters are not real!”

Ruth Rendell
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02/18/2024 07:37 am GMT

FAQs About Crime Thriller Authors

Who is the most famous crime thriller author in literary history?

Historically, Agatha Christie topped the list of best crime writers, but the top modern writers would include James Patterson and Stephen King.

What is a crime thriller book?

A crime thriller is a subgenre that combines crime books with thriller books to create page-turning action that leaves the reader guessing “whodunnit” until the final pages reveal all.

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  • Nicole Harms has been writing professionally since 2006. She specializes in education content and real estate writing but enjoys a wide gamut of topics. Her goal is to connect with the reader in an engaging, but informative way. Her work has been featured on USA Today, and she ghostwrites for many high-profile companies. As a former teacher, she is passionate about both research and grammar, giving her clients the quality they demand in today's online marketing world.