Audience Picks: Top 100 'Killer Thrillers'

Silence Of The Lambs

The Winner: The Silence Of The Lambs by Thomas Harris beat out two other serial killer books -- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson and Kiss the Girls by James Patterson -- for the No. 1 spot. hide caption

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It's been a cliffhanger, but now the final page can be turned.

The NPR audience nominated some 600 novels to our "Killer Thrillers" poll and cast more than 17,000 ballots. The final roster of winners is a diverse one to say the least, ranging in style and period from Dracula to The Da Vinci Code, Presumed Innocent to Pet Sematary. What these top 100 titles share, however, is that all of them are fast-moving tales of suspense and adventure.

And menace. Critic Maureen Corrigan, who served on the advisory panel of experts for this project, was surprised by how dark many of your choices are. "Even the [Agatha] Christie pick, And Then There Were None, is one of her creepier novels."

Co-panelist, novelist and critic Patrick Anderson was more impressed with the overall quality of the choices: "The vast majority of these are very good books or classics ... Thomas Harris, Dennis Lehane, Patricia Highsmith — this audience knows good writing."

Of course, there will be arguments about whether some of these books truly count as "thrillers." (You know who you are, Shogun.) The many 19th-century novels, in particular, may raise eyebrows. But David Morrell, novelist and co-editor of the recent anthology Thrillers: 100 Must Reads, defends such choices. "A lot of people see 'thriller' and think 'spy book,' " Morrell says. But a book like The Last of the Mohicans is "unquestionably a thriller — filled with chases and derring-do." Morrell also mentioned Dracula ("take away the supernatural elements and it's a serial-killer novel") and The Count of Monte Cristo. "As long as you have that breathlessness and sense of excitement," Morrell says, "then they're in."

Who is the NPR audience's favorite thriller writer? It's the King, of course — Stephen King, who landed six titles in the top 100. Lee Child comes next, with four winning books. And, at three titles each, Michael Crichton, Dennis Lehane, Dan Brown and Stieg Larsson tie for third.

Polls can help us understand an audience — and even make predictions about it. Based on the some 100,000 votes cast in this survey, the following prediction seems a safe one: Armed with the list below, none of us will need to consult a psychic, supersleuth or Harvard "symbologist" to unearth pulse-quickening vacation reads during the rest of this summer and for many months to come.


Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
  • 1. The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
  • 2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
  • 3. Kiss the Girls, by James Patterson
  • 4. The Bourne Identity, by Robert Ludlum
  • 5. In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote
  • 6. The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown
  • 7. The Shining, by Stephen King
  • 8. And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie
  • 9. The Hunt tor Red October, by Tom Clancy
  • 10. The Hound of the Baskervilles, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Jurassic Park
  • 11. Dracula, by Bram Stoker
  • 12. The Stand, by Stephen King
  • 13. The Bone Collector, by Jeffery Deaver
  • 14. Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton
  • 15. Angels & Demons, by Dan Brown
  • 16. A Time to Kill, by John Grisham
  • 17. The Andromeda Strain, by Michael Crichton
  • 18. Mystic River, by Dennis Lehane
  • 19. The Day of the Jackal, by Frederick Forsyth
  • 20. Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier

Girl Who Played With Fire
  • 21. Eye of the Needle, by Ken Follett
  • 22. It, by Stephen King
  • 23. The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas
  • 24. The Girl Who Played with Fire, by Stieg Larsson
  • 25. Jaws, by Peter Benchley
  • 26. The Alienist, by Caleb Carr
  • 27. Red Dragon, by Thomas Harris
  • 28. Presumed Innocent, by Scott Turow
  • 29. The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett
  • 30. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, by Stieg Larsson

Rosemary's Baby
  • 31. No Country For Old Men, by Cormac McCarthy
  • 32. Gone Baby Gone, by Dennis Lehane
  • 33. Gorky Park, by Martin Cruz Smith
  • 34. Rosemary's Baby, by Ira Levin
  • 35. Subterranean, by James Rollins
  • 36. Clear and Present Danger, by Tom Clancy
  • 37. Salem's Lot, by Stephen King
  • 38. Shutter Island, by Dennis Lehane
  • 39. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, by John Le Carre
  • 40. The Poet, by Michael Connelly

Pet Sematary
  • 41. The Boys from Brazil, by Ira Levin
  • 42. Cape Fear, by John MacDonald
  • 43. The Bride Collector, by Ted Dekker
  • 44. Pet Sematary, by Stephen King
  • 45. Dead Zone, by Stephen King
  • 46. The Manchurian Candidate, by Richard Condon
  • 47. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, by John Le Carre
  • 48. The Talented Mr. Ripley, by Patricia Highsmith
  • 49. Tell No One, by Harlan Coben
  • 50. Consent to Kill, by Vince Flynn

61 Hours
  • 51. The 39 Steps, by John Buchan
  • 52. Blowback, by Brad Thor
  • 53. The Children of Men, by P.D. James
  • 54. 61 Hours, by Lee Child
  • 55. Marathon Man, by William Goldman
  • 56. The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins
  • 57. 206 Bones, by Kathy Reichs
  • 58. Psycho, by Robert Bloch
  • 59. The Killing Floor, by Lee Child
  • 60. Rules of Prey, by John Sandford

The Hunger Games
  • 61. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
  • 62. In the Woods, by Tana French
  • 63. Shogun, by James Clavell
  • 64. The Relic, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
  • 65. Intensity, by Dean Koontz
  • 66. Casino Royale, by Ian Fleming
  • 67. Metzger's Dog, by Thomas Perry
  • 68. Timeline, by Michael Crichton
  • 69. Contact, by Carl Sagan
  • 70. What the Dead Know, by Laura Lippman

Secret History
  • 71. The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  • 72. The Cabinet of Curiosities, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
  • 73. Charm School, by Nelson DeMille
  • 74. Feed, by Mira Grant
  • 75. Gone Tomorrow, by Lee Child
  • 76. Darkly Dreaming Dexter, by Jeff Lindsay
  • 77. The Secret History, by Donna Tartt
  • 78. The First Deadly Sin, by Lawrence Sanders
  • 79. Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson
  • 80. The Brotherhood of the Rose, by David Morrell

Goldfinger
  • 81. Primal Fear, by William Diehl
  • 82. The Templar Legacy, by Steve Berry
  • 82. The Hard Way, by Lee Child [tie]
  • 84. The Last of the Mohicans, by James Fenimore Cooper
  • 85. Six Days of the Condor, by James Grady
  • 86. Fail-Safe, by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler
  • 87. Strangers on a Train, by Patricia Highsmith
  • 88. The Eight, by Katherine Neville
  • 89. The Lost Symbol, by Dan Brown
  • 90. Goldfinger, by Ian Fleming

Bangkok 8
  • 91. Bangkok 8, by John Burdett
  • 92. The Kill Artist, by Daniel Silva
  • 93. Hardball, by Sara Paretsky
  • 94. The Club Dumas, by Arturo Perez-Reverte
  • 95. The Deep Blue Good-by, by John MacDonald
  • 96. The Monkey's Raincoat, by Robert Crais
  • 96. Berlin Game, by Len Deighton [tie]
  • 98. A Simple Plan, by Scott Smith
  • 99. Child 44, by Tom Rob Smith
  • 100. Heartsick, by Chelsea Cain

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