Book clinic: Which thrillers and crime fiction will keep my teenager hooked?

From Agatha Christie to Anthony Horowitz, writer Peter Swanson recommends the best of classic and modern

Q: My son is 17 and loves thrillers and crime novels. Can you recommend some classics that might appeal to him and some new titles, too?
Anonymous mother, Leicestershire

A: Peter Swanson is a thriller writer, whose latest novel, Rules for Perfect Murders, is published by Faber (£12.99). He writes:

Nothing makes me happier than hearing about a young reader who loves crime novels. I was once that 17-year-old, obsessed with books and mostly drawn to tales of suspense. And while these days I have trouble remembering what I watched on television last night, I do remember the books I read when I was a teenager, at least the ones that made a big impression. My favourites from that time were, in no particular order, the supremely chilling Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin, the nonstop action thriller First Blood by David Morrell (better than the movie), and anything by Agatha Christie, but especially her masterpiece And Then There Were None.

My favourite series character was the Boston-based private investigator Spenser, written by Robert Parker. I particularly recommend the seventh book in the series, Early Autumn. Spenser is drawn into an ugly divorce case, and bonds with the teenage boy caught in the middle of it all. It’s a great example of how a detective story can also be an emotional journey. I loved it as a teenager and read it many times.

Other classics? Can’t go wrong with Dick Francis; I just reread Bonecrack and it was one of his best. And your son might enjoy Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, about freshmen at a New England college who kill one of their classmates. It’s wintry, sinister and romantic, and if it had existed when I was 17 years old, I would have been obsessed.

There are plenty of terrific modern thrillers out there, too. He might know Anthony Horowitz as the creator of the Alex Rider books, but Horowitz writes brilliant adult thrillers as well. I can recommend both Moriarty and The Word Is Murder. If he’d like something a little edgier, The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes is about a serial killer who travels through time. And there’s always Stephen King, if your son hasn’t dipped his toe in those waters yet. His book about the JFK assassination, 11.22.63, was a suspense masterpiece.

Submit your question for bookclinic below or email


Peter Swanson

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The best recent thrillers – review roundup
Paula Hawkins, Stephen King, Laura Lippman and Joanne Harris return with sublime tales of the unexpected

Alison Flood

09, Aug, 2021 @7:30 AM

Article image
The best recent thrillers – review roundup
Mystery unravels layer by layer in intricate tales of trafficking, abduction and a New Yorker with a sixth sense – plus, a 27th outing for Alan Banks

Alison Flood

22, Mar, 2021 @9:30 AM

Article image
Book clinic: can you recommend novels and nonfiction books about cats?
There are so many literary felines to savour

Jessie Burton

10, Aug, 2019 @5:00 PM

Article image
Books to Die For review – passionate advocacy for gems of crime fiction
This compendium of essays by crime writers of their favourite books in the genre is often personal and always fascinating, writes Stephanie Merritt

Stephanie Merritt

12, Oct, 2014 @10:00 AM

Article image
The best thrillers of 2014
A murder mystery in a girls’ boarding school, the welcome return of Hercule Poirot and Philip Marlowe, and Lauren Beukes’s truly disturbing crime chiller. By Alison Flood

Alison Flood

15, Dec, 2014 @1:30 PM

Article image
Book clinic: can you recommend middle-class American authors?
Yes, but go further… there are richly rewarding literary tales from Africa and South America too

Alex Preston

30, Nov, 2019 @6:00 PM

Article image
Book clinic: what contemporary literary fiction is uplifting?
From tales of older people achieving extraordinary things to a redemptive quest, our expert picks titles that offer hope

Alex Preston

19, Jan, 2019 @6:00 PM

Article image
Book clinic: which fiction best depicts therapy and therapists?
Incisive novels from the psychiatrist’s chair and beyond

Bijal Shah

20, Jul, 2019 @5:00 PM

Article image
Book clinic: who are the best alternatives to Agatha Christie?
The alternative Agatha Christies – Rendell, Tey and Millar

Alex Michaelides

31, Aug, 2019 @4:59 PM

Article image
The best recent thrillers – review roundup
This month’s crop of crime and suspense fiction includes an engaging tale of government secrets by Robert Peston and a nail-biting new series from Val McDermid

Alison Flood

07, Sep, 2021 @8:00 AM