New York Times and internationally best-selling author Gregg Hurwitz's gives us his top mystery, thriller, and suspense page turning must reads.
For me it all started with Stephen King. I remember reading Salem’s Lotlate at night when I was in fifth grade, hiding under my bed, flashlight tucked between my cheek and shoulder. To this day, I swear I heard the crunch of gravel outside my window, coming ever nearer. It was my first realization that books could do that. The effect that book had on me was terrible and exciting and magical and I found myself dreaming about one day corralling that magic for myself, putting particular words on a page in a particular order in a way that made other people feel things as if they were actually real.
My parents kept their most delicious books on the top shelf of a floor-to-ceiling cabinet so I had to risk life and limb to reach them. Scaling the shelves while trying to hug my weight forward so the whole thing didn’t topple down on top of me—it was a precarious venture. The books with the best covers were up there. And the ones with the best sex scenes, like Clan of the Cave Bear, eagerly circulated around Mr. Burns’s junior high Spanish class with key passages underlined. But I digress. Jaws. Maybe the best cover ever. That naked swimmer. The phallic rise of the monster from the depths of the murky unconscious, coming not just for her, but for anyone who dared crack the pages. I read it in a breathless gulp. Then I plowed through the rest of Peter Benchley’s works. I wrote him letters too, always proudly penning my age beneath the signature: Gregg Hurwitz, age 11. I told him that one day I wanted to be a writer just like him. And I thanked him for Jawsand Jaws 2, The Island and The Deep and The Girl of the Sea of the Cortez. In one of the more embarrassing moments of my young life, he wrote back claiming that as much as he’d like to, he couldn’t take credit for Jaws 2, as he didn’t write it.
My high school in San Jose—Bellarmine College Prep—had an extraordinary English department. I was fortunate to take seminars on Faulkner and Joyce, Dostoyevsky and Dante, and to dive headlong into Shakespeare’s tragedies. From Grendel’s arm hung from the rafters to Gatsby’s green light at the end of the dock, the images and themes we discussed were abundant, as many as our growing brains could gobble up. This built the foundation I brought to reading what I consider the finest thriller ever written.
Red Dragon. It exists on a different level for me. Impeccably paced, sumptuously written, and check-all-your-closets scary. It felt like riding a roller coaster with one eye on the loose cog in the cart in front of you. I never knew when it was gonna veer, loop upside down, or simply leave the prescribed tracks and send me plummeting into a whole new order of terror. For all the professorial psychological insight Thomas Harris brings to the characters, he never once loses sight of the story or indulges in the superfluous. Dolarhyde’s backstory is downright Faulknerian. It’s not simply that it rings with emotional truth; it’s that you feel it in your bones. In Red Dragon, Harris fused the two aspects of story I love most—the kind of plotting that makes your heart claw up your throat, and the sort of resonant emotional depth that pulses in your gut—a fictional heartbeat beneath the one knock-knock-knocking against your ribs.
I suppose that’s the ultimate goal for me, my own green light across the water. To write something that achieves that perfect seesaw balance between plot and character, pacing and depth. There is no such thing as “perfect” in literature but there are those beacons that make me want to keep swimming toward the light.