Bring me to the edge of my seat, and then push me over!
May 25, 2006 2:41 PM   Subscribe

What's the most exciting novel you've ever read? I mean this in the simplest sense: an exciting plot. I'm looking for page-turners. Novels that keep you on the edge of your seat and refuse to let you sleep until you finish them. I'm looking for genre novels -- but I don't care what genres: Mystery, thriller, sci-fi, etc. (though sci-fi/fantasy has been done-to-death here, so I'm really more interested in other genres.) Oh, I care about words. So no matter how exciting, I'll quit reading if the prose is crappy.

I know that any type of novel can be exciting, but I'm looking for purity. For instance, if it's a novel of ideas that happens to also be exciting, go ahead and list it, but that's not really what I'm looking for. I'm looking for BEACH READING. I'm looking for the "24" of novels.
posted by grumblebee to Media & Arts (146 answers total) 180 users marked this as a favorite
I think that Steven King's "Dark Tower" series is captivating. I'm not much of a fan of his other works, but this fantasy epic is full of plot twists and engaging characters.
posted by yogurtisgenocide at 2:46 PM on May 25, 2006

John Grisham novels are page turners for me. The Firm was tough to put down.
Another page turner was The Pilot's Wife by Anita Shreve, but I'm not sure that everyone would feel that way. I read it in one day.
posted by clh at 2:48 PM on May 25, 2006

How about the His Dark Materials trilogy? Yes, it's "young adult fantasy", but who cares? I'd say it's great for the beach.
posted by swordfishtrombones at 2:49 PM on May 25, 2006

I don't think it was a common reaction but I couldn't put down Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer. I'm not sure why but by the end it was utterly compelling.
posted by patricio at 2:53 PM on May 25, 2006

Run, by Douglas E. Winter.

Read the excerpt and you'll know what I mean. The pace is fast, the action is intense, the characters colourful and tough and the twists are completely unpredictable.

I've read it about 4 times, and it's still fantastic. You said it better than I could yourself: the '24 of novels.'
posted by slimepuppy at 2:58 PM on May 25, 2006

Have you read any Patricia Highsmith? I found the Ripley books (The Talented Mr. Ripley, Ripley Under Ground, Ripley's Game) to be highly entertaining page-turners. Also, Daphne Du Marier's Rebecca. Also, Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House.

None of those novels actually have a really intense, action-packed plot, but they are all suspenseful, and they all sucked me in and kept me reading late at night.
posted by agropyron at 2:59 PM on May 25, 2006

Beach reading with good prose? That's a tall order. In my opinion King and Grisham fail on the second part.

My two cents:

A Wild Sheep's Chase- Murakami
Blink- Gladwell
posted by Wayman Tisdale at 3:00 PM on May 25, 2006

Ghosts In The Snow was an excellent page-turner. It's got a sequel, too, that's equally enthralling.

Alas, it is of the 'fantasy/mystery' genre.
posted by myodometer at 3:01 PM on May 25, 2006

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. Completely compelling.
posted by MsMolly at 3:01 PM on May 25, 2006

Carl Hiaasen is what you want. Sick Puppy is a great one to start with. I was on vacation and actually cancelled plans so I could stay in my hotel room to read it.
posted by meerkatty at 3:02 PM on May 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. I was a slave to it.
posted by jesourie at 3:03 PM on May 25, 2006

The "A Song of Ice and Fire" series, if you go for fantasy.
posted by arha at 3:04 PM on May 25, 2006

I recommend Thr3e by Ted Dekker.

It falls under thriller, but alas, I couldn't tell you if it fell under the '24' of novel category since I don't watch 24.
posted by moonshine at 3:05 PM on May 25, 2006

Seconding Grisham's The Firm. I don't read many novels, but I was hooked. "Just one more chapter and I'll go to bed," I'd think ... and then, of course, he'd drop some major development that would make me resort to "just one more chapter" ...
posted by pmurray63 at 3:05 PM on May 25, 2006

Michael Chabon, either "Wonder Boys" or "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay"
posted by vito90 at 3:05 PM on May 25, 2006

If you like thrillers, you can't do better than Eric Ambler. He's aged well.

A few other page turners (for me) across genres:

The Wind Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murukami.

The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead.

Bee Season by Myra Goldberg.

And I know you said novels, but probably the biggest "page turner" for me in the last few years was Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krackauer. But Underground by Haruki Murakami came close.
posted by j-dawg at 3:18 PM on May 25, 2006

My greatest personal page turners are Wiseguy, Underboss, and anything by Simon Singh.
posted by sexymofo at 3:19 PM on May 25, 2006

When I was a kid I got a killer sunburn while reading Cat's Cradle at the beach because I completely forgot about getting up, reapplying sunscreen, or rolling over. It was totally worth it, though.
posted by stefanie at 3:20 PM on May 25, 2006

TOO CHATTY!!!! I kid, I kid.

Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon.
posted by sourwookie at 3:21 PM on May 25, 2006

Not really a genre novel, but The Quincunx, by Charles Palliser. Sat up till 4 a.m. to finish that one.
posted by dilettante at 3:22 PM on May 25, 2006

Matthew Lewis--The Monk. I'm serious.

For something published in the past few years: Robert Littell--The Company.
posted by Prospero at 3:23 PM on May 25, 2006

If I only had to recommend one book, it'd be Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye. Absolutely fabulous prose, fabulous writing, and a long, bizarrely complex, inexorable plot that plays out with the force of - well, I dunno. Myth? Greek tragedy? Anyway, it's the book you're looking for.
posted by ikkyu2 at 3:26 PM on May 25, 2006

Smilla's Sense of Snow, by Peter Hoeg. I read it in two sittings, and would have finished it in one if I hadn't been camping and the sun hadn't gone down and robbed me of my only dependable source of light.
posted by The Card Cheat at 3:27 PM on May 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger. It has a sci-fi-ish feel to it, but at its core, it's just great writing. I couldn't sleep until I finished it.
posted by lewistate at 3:27 PM on May 25, 2006 [2 favorites]

Harry Potter - adults like it too
posted by caddis at 3:28 PM on May 25, 2006

A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore

The summary sounds silly but it was sure a page turner.

Thie Historian which I know has been recommended before.
posted by dpx.mfx at 3:31 PM on May 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

Ack Cryptonomicon is good I think Snow Crash is still Stephenson's best.

Pashazade is first of a great trilogy
posted by bitdamaged at 3:35 PM on May 25, 2006

Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
posted by Mr. Six at 3:37 PM on May 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

Good prose? Raymond Chandler. Absolutely fucking brilliant. Reads like butter.

And yeah, his plots will keep you turning pages, even if they aren't the most spectacularly original works of creative fiction. (They're mystery novels, y'know?) The Big Sleep is generally acknowledged to be his best, but I'll second the recommendation of The Long Goodbye.
posted by cribcage at 3:39 PM on May 25, 2006

Richard Morgan's Altered Carbon hands down. It's unabashed pulp in the tradition of Mickey Spillane but set in a sci fi world. If the idea of a badass protagonist getting into all sorts of violent trouble appeals to you, it's like sci fi crack.
posted by juv3nal at 3:39 PM on May 25, 2006

The only true page-turners I've read, books that I got so absorbed in I read it all in a few days. I tend to read only on the bus and take a few weeks to read a book.

The List:

The Coyote Kings of the Space Age Bachelor Pad - Minister Faust. This is THE genre book of genre books, it could almost be called a metagenre book. My best friend went into a book store while on his break madly in search of something, anything to read. The cover caught his eye and the title compelled him to read the back which starts off with a character sheet for the protagonist. He was sold and a few days later he handed it to me. I didn't have a choice, I must read. The author is a poetry slam champion from Edmonton and this is his first novel. Upon finishing the book, I almost cried when I discovered that he didn't have any other novels. Get this book now.

Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card (also, Ender's Shadow). Parallel books, with Shadow being written years after Game. This might be an obvious suggestion, but if you haven't read it, give it a shot.

Requiem for a Dream - Hubert Selby Jr. (This might be a bit heavy for beach reading)

Battle Royale - Koushan Takami. Very violent, and clumsy at times because it is translated from Japanese. May not be a beach book, but I couldn't put it down. Very intense.
posted by utsutsu at 3:40 PM on May 25, 2006

Tom Clancy's Red Storm Rising
posted by KneeDeep at 3:41 PM on May 25, 2006

Maybe it's cliché by now, or at least easily-dismissed, especially if you've seen the movie adaptations, but I couldn't put the Thomas Harris "Hannibal Lecter" novels down when I first read them (Red Dragon, The Silence of the Lambs, and Hannibal). Good words there, and much better than Hollywood's interpretations. (Hannibal in particular is wildly different from the movie version, especially the ending; without giving away details, there is no way in hell they could have gotten away with filming it as it was written.)

On a different level, if you're at all interested in Arthurian legend, Bernard Cornwell's "Warlord Trilogy" (The Winter King, Enemy of God, and Excalibur) is a wonderfully well-written, very realistic, sometimes brutal retelling of King Arthur, from the POV of one of his warriors. Sort of a "This is what really happened" memoir. I was browsing the bargain section of the bookstore a few years back and saw the first book on sale, with picture of a helmet on the cover and the subtitle "A Novel of Arthur," so I opened it up and was hooked by the very first line: "Once upon a time, in a land that was called Britain, these things happened."
posted by Gator at 3:42 PM on May 25, 2006

paperbacks I couldn't put down:

Donald Westlake's vastly amusing Dortmunder series, especially "What's the worst that could happen?"
Goldman's Marathon Man. (that one literally kept me up til dawn.)
Harris' Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs (ditto) (on preview DO NOT READ HANNIBAL. JUST DON'T.)
Stephen King's The Stand, Salem's Lot and the Dead Zone.
Le Carre's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
Jack Finney's Time and Again (a must for any fan of old New York and time travel)
Carr's The Alienist (also great on old NY)
Larson's Issac's Storm and Devil in the White City
Martel's Life of Pi.
Forsythe's the Day of the Jackal
Benchley's Jaws
Clavelle's Noble House and Shogun (crap writing, granted, but fascinating history and sweep).
Trevanian's Shibumi (though that was when I was a young teen and it might not hold up - that also goes for my favorite author when I was 10, Jeffery Archer. I remember thinking Kane and Abel was the best book ever and it might hold up as a potboiler)
posted by CunningLinguist at 3:44 PM on May 25, 2006

I'd second Carl Hiaasen, so long as YOU ONLY READ ONE. Seriously, he wrote one really good book, and then he copied it about five times. Very frustrating.

Song of Ice and Fire series also seconded. I read a thousand pages in two days.

Mostly what I know is Sci-Fi:

Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card (Just don't read the sequels)
The Running Man (Short book written by Stephen King under the penname Richard Bachman)

For other genres:

Tom Clancy is hit or miss. Without Remorse is a really great book that completely stays out of politics or the military.

Raymond Chandler wrote some really great detective novels -- He's the reason for the noir detective cliche. Not sure if they're page turners, but they're very fun reads. Start with The Long Kiss Goodnight or Farewell My Lovely.

(On preview, I was beaten in my recommendations for Tom Clancy and Raymond Chandler both. Dammit.)
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 3:45 PM on May 25, 2006

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale.

I don't read fiction regularly and I read this book in a sitting.
posted by trey at 3:48 PM on May 25, 2006

I second the Patricia Highsmith recommendation. I'll add In Cold Blood and The Executioners Song to that list as well.
posted by lilboo at 3:51 PM on May 25, 2006

Gotta second (or third or fourth) A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin I could probably stay up for a week or so straight just reading this series.

Whoever mentioned Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan is outstanding, plus the followups.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 3:54 PM on May 25, 2006

Seconding Bel Canto (a short book) and Cryptonomicon (a long book).
posted by ludwig_van at 4:00 PM on May 25, 2006

How about J.M. Coetzee - Disgrace? One of the few who can write in the present tense.
posted by bright77blue at 4:08 PM on May 25, 2006

A short page-turner list:

Red Harvest/The Maltese Falcon (Hammet)
The Third Man (Greene)
Devil in a Blue Dress (Mosley)
Alias Grace/The Handmaid's Tale (Atwood)
His Dark Materials trilogy (Pullman)
Billy Bathgate (EL Doctorow)
Motherless Brooklyn (Lethem)
The Secret History (Tartt)
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norell (Clarke)
Maus I and II (Spiegleman)
In Cold Blood/Handcarved Coffins (Capote)
posted by melissa may at 4:13 PM on May 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

Here are two very exciting page-turners in the thriller genre:

No Safe Place by Richard North Patterson. It's about the life of a fictional presidential candidate. I remember when I was reading it, I hurried through everything else I was doing to get back to the book.

Paranoia by Joseph Finder. I just finished this one. It's about a unambitious young man who is forced to infiltrate a high-tech company to steal corporate secrets. It was terrific, and I couldn't put it down.
posted by jayder at 4:13 PM on May 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

James Ellroy -- any of the L.A. Quartet (The Big Nowhere is my hands-down favorite), American Tabloid, or My Dark Places.
posted by scody at 4:19 PM on May 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

The Beach by Alex Garland. The movie is terrible, the book is a very fast read.
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, true story about an expedition up Mt. Everest that goes totally wrong.
posted by hooray at 4:22 PM on May 25, 2006

Beach Reading with good prose:
I second Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow by Orson Scott card. Also:
-Daughter of the Empire (and second and third books) by Raymond E. Feist & Janny Wurts;
-The Fey: The Sacrifice (as well as the rest of the series) by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
-Tales of the Otori - Across the Nightingale floor - Lian Hearn, as well as the rest of the trilogy
-The Initiate Brother by Sean Russell
-Eye of The World by Robert Jordan, and rest of series (although I started getting tired after book 4 or 5...)
posted by gt2 at 4:22 PM on May 25, 2006

I read way too many genre novels. I done said it all here. And I agree with most of the above. To which I might add James Ellroy, John Sanford, Michael Connelly, and others whose names escape me cause it's late. But Patricia Highsmith is thirded (fourthed?). Oh, and also, a friend just lent me Tim Severin's 'Viking', which I found surprisingly enjoyable, and is the first in a trilogy I intend to get hold of.
And on preview, beaten to the James Ellroy thing, but the one I really love is Browns Requiem. I've never looked at a golf course the same since I read that.
posted by aisforal at 4:23 PM on May 25, 2006

Spin by Robert Charles Wilson. Bought it on the way up to a snowboard trip, and I spent more time reading in the cabin than I did on the mountain.
posted by RakDaddy at 4:24 PM on May 25, 2006

I'll second Alex Garland's The Beach. Heard the movie's awful, but the book's a great page turner.
posted by justkevin at 4:31 PM on May 25, 2006

I find that Jodi Picoult's courtroom dramas make good beach reading. Try The Pact or Perfect Match for starters.

Stephen King is also fun - as my dad put it, reading one of his books is like meeting up with an old college friend that you haven't seen in a while, but one that you have a great time with whenever you do. (Or I think it was my dad, anyhow.) His newest book, The Cell is pretty good (who doesn't dig a zombie novel every now and then?) and I'll cop to liking some of his more "serious" books like Hearts of Atlantis or Bag of Bones. Also, if you haven't read Carrie or The Shining, well, you should.

And then there is David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, which every reader in my family (and we have diverse tastes) loved, and which will certainly get you to turn the pages.
posted by anjamu at 4:33 PM on May 25, 2006

I read Bee Season in one night. Completely engrossing. Two of my favorite authors (who no one else seems to have heard of) are Dick Francis and Gillian Bradshaw; the first writes mysteries and the latter, historical fiction. They write books with interesting plots and interesting characters that are easy to read in a sitting.
posted by MadamM at 4:33 PM on May 25, 2006

Tim Dorsey -- his books are centered around an off-his-meds serial killer/history buff named Serge Storms.

War in 2020 by Ralph Peters -- laser-armed helicopters, Pretoria nuked, Islamo-Japanese axis attacks Russia, people torturing artificial intelligences to get information, the 7th Cavalry rides again -- how could it get any better?

Berrybender Narratives by Larry McMurtry -- 4 books about an English family in the 1830's American West. Indian fighting, slaughter, bear attacks, the Alamo, psychopathic scout/hero, sexually awakening heroine, and a plot that doesn't get in the way of the action. For a better read, if somewhat less active, try Lonesome Dove by the same author.
posted by forrest at 4:36 PM on May 25, 2006

All of the Travis McGee books by John D. MacDonald are great beach reads. Classic 60's crime fiction. Read them in order starting with The Deep Blue Goodbye.

There are 21 books in the series, and MacDonald wrote something like 70 books altogether, so if you like them, you'll have plenty of beach reading for the future...

For what it's worth, if MacDonald hadn't written those books, probably neither Carl Hiaasen nor Elmore Leonard would have written any of theirs....
posted by dersins at 4:36 PM on May 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

I second the above recommendation for Stephen King's The Dead Zone.

Also, Postmortem by Patricia Cornwell.
posted by Esther Festers at 4:37 PM on May 25, 2006

Anybody who claims to enjoy a good plot has to read "The Woman in White" by Wilkie Collins at least once. Considered by many to be the first mystery in English, written in 1860. Grips to this day - and grade A atmospherics. Shows the youngsters a thing or two...
posted by Holly at 4:55 PM on May 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

I'm listening to The Dark Tower series and I loooove it. I plan to buy it and start reading it as soon as I finish listening (which will be soon).

One of the only books that I really actually had a hard time putting down is Steinbeck's East of Eden. And it meets the "good prose" requirement, I should hope.

Right now I'm enjoying Alexander McCall Smith's Number One Ladies' Detective Agency series. I'm on the second one, Tears of the Giraffe I think, because I liked the first one a LOT more than I expected to.

Patricia Cornwell is pretty great. She has a Jack the Ripper book, Portrait of a Killer that's awesome, though gory (obviously).

My other standard recommendation is Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. And last summer I totally devoured Kavalier and Clay, mentioned upthread more than once.

The only thing I've read all in one sitting in a long time, except Harry Potters, was Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman. I think it's stronger work than his other recent novel, American Gods, which is also recommended, nonetheless. Anything by him is recommended, really.

Which brings me to comic books. Are they an option? My household's current favorites are the Sandman series (by Gaiman), the Hellboy series, the Fables series, and V for Vendetta. Next on the list is the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series, and I'm interested in Y: The Last Man and whatever Alan Moore I can find.
posted by librarina at 5:04 PM on May 25, 2006

The Da Vinci code, for all the abuse that it gets, is amongst the finest of this genre I've read in years. Not telling you about anything new, but I'd recommend it.
The novels of Ben Elton are brilliant too. Funny, gripping and always with a point.
posted by greytape at 5:12 PM on May 25, 2006

Papillon by Henri Charriere.
A Small Death in Lisbon by Robert Wilson.
The Golden Rendezvous by Alistair MacLean.
Or anything by Ross Thomas.
posted by TheManticore at 5:13 PM on May 25, 2006

At the risk of being shouted down...

Angels and Demons - Dan Brown

I second Life of Pi and add to the list:

The Parsifal Mosaic and The Bourne Identity - Robert Ludlum

And one out of the bag, it's a dark humour/who dunnit/thriller:
Past Mortem - Ben Elton. Very unusual and at times confronting, but unputdownable....
posted by paterg at 5:14 PM on May 25, 2006

"Intensity" by Dean Koontz got my heart pounding at 3 AM, if you really want to go that far...
posted by overanxious ducksqueezer at 5:18 PM on May 25, 2006

Yes! Intensity, absolutely agree!
posted by paterg at 5:20 PM on May 25, 2006

I can't believe I forgot Umberto Eco, Foucault's Pendulum. The first time I read it, I was so engrossed that I totally missed getting off the train and wound up in the wrong state. (Warning: first 100 pages can be a tad hard-going, which was evidently Eco's own way of weeding out readers.)
posted by scody at 5:24 PM on May 25, 2006

I found Frederik Pohl's "Gateway" pretty exciting/nerve-wracking too.
posted by overanxious ducksqueezer at 5:31 PM on May 25, 2006

Some excellent thrillers/mysteries, in my opinion:

1)It Happened in Boston by Russell H. Greenan (recently back in print). Great book. Much more than just your basic mystery. Mr. Greenan is very reclusive. According to a rare newspaper writeup about a year ago, he lives in Rhode Island near Providence, I think.

2)I second Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem. This is one of my all time favorite books.

3)The Emperor of Ocean Park by Stephen L. Carter. it was a best seller a couple of summers ago -- and it derserved it.

4)Twilight at Mac's Place by Ross Thomas. This is another series recently reissued. There are a number of his books with the same characters as here. Great characters.

5) The Butch Karp and Marlene Ciampi series by Robert K. Tanenbaum -- especially the earlier ones where a character named Tran is still around.

6)Patricia Cornwell, as someone said, has written some good books and some lousy books all with the character named Kay Scarpetta. I liked some of the earlier ones with Lucy and her "FBI man" lover (I forget his name) the best.

7)Kathy Reichs' first book called Deja Dead was perfect. It was all downhill after that when she started churning them out hastily, IMHO.

8)All of the Jack Reacher thrillers by Lee Child are great.

9)Never buy them in hardback, but Robert B. Parker's series of "bookettes" with the Spencer and Hawk characters are fabulous. They're short and sweet books, but Mr. Parker has a great ear for dialogue.

10)Greg Iles has writtten some terrific books. I think 24 Hours may have been one of them.

11)Harlan Coben's No Second Chance and The Innocent were both good.

...and yes, the Umberto Eco book was good too. :)
posted by bim at 5:40 PM on May 25, 2006

I absolutely second Angels and Demons by Dan Brown. I think it was far far better than the Da Vinci code.

I also liked
A Day Late and a Dollar Short - Terri McMillan
Pretty much anything by Jeffery Deaver (the Lincoln Rhyme series), Jonathan Kellerman (Alex Delaware series), Faye Kellerman (Peter Decker series), Stuart Woods, Patricia Cornwall, Dean Koontz (My favorite was Odd Thomas), James Patterson, Tess Gerritsen, Stephen White and
The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum (only if you havent watched the crappy movie)
posted by ramix at 5:43 PM on May 25, 2006

I really enjoyed Neil Gaiman's "American Gods," as well as "Stardust." "Neverwhere," and "Good Omens."

Second Richard Morgan's "Altered Carbon," as well as the follow-ups "Broken Angels" and "Woken Furies". Avoid "Market Forces" like the plague.

Generally, I like beach reading large print books, it's much easier on the eyes. Check your local library.
posted by Marky at 5:58 PM on May 25, 2006

Considered by many to be the first mystery in English, written in 1860.

Poe's "Murders in the Rue Morgue" was published in 1841. But I agree that Woman in White is a winner.
posted by redfoxtail at 5:59 PM on May 25, 2006

If you like thick mysteries with lots of character development and emotional problems, Elizabeth George is the way to go. Most of the police characters + their spouses are poorly drawn and irritating, except for the lumpy-grumpy Barbara Havers for whom I have much love, but the suspects tend to be fascinating.
posted by overanxious ducksqueezer at 6:03 PM on May 25, 2006

Response by poster: I am grateful to everyone who has posted so far, but I wasn't clear enough in my initial post. I realize now that "exciting" and "page-turner" could be applied by anyone to any book they really liked.

Let me use some movie/tv references -- just because they should be familiar to more people than specific book reference -- to explain the type of thing I'm looking for:

"The French Connection"
"Raiders of the Lost Ark"

Think adventure tales, thrillers and spy novels. I KNOW I said any genre, and I mean that ("The Queens Gambit", by Walter Tevis, is a page-turner about Chess!). So sci-fi and literary novels are fine, but think to yourself, "Is this the '24' of literary novels?" or "Is this the 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' of sci-fi?"

Think plot! plot! plot! Car -- or spaceship -- chases. Think shootouts, explosions, evil plots, etc.

I loved The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay" and "Life of PI," but they're not page-turners in the traditional sense. (And I say this, even though I couldn't put either of them down.)

Tom Clancy and John Grisham are the right direction. I'm hoping that some people here who love thrillers will be able to recommend rare gems I've never heard of.

I strongly disagree that there aren't well-written "beach" novels. There are many genre writers who are prose masters, some of whom have already been listed here.

Again, I want to say that I'm grateful to all who have contributed, even if some of them are off the mark of what I'm looking for. I will return to this thread multiple times, for multiple purposes.

posted by grumblebee at 6:13 PM on May 25, 2006

No one's mentioned John Burdett. He can get rather grisly at points, but he's otherwise the goods. I can only speak for The Last Six Million Seconds and Bangkok 8.

Donald Westlake of course (wait for it to load), as CunningLinguist mentioned, and not to be overlooked, his alter ego Richard Stark. Stark's Parker is Dortmunder not played for laughs. Short books, but definitely of the salted peanut genre.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:25 PM on May 25, 2006

I couldn't put Chuck Palahniuk's Survivor down until I was done with it - though I suppose it, too, is discounted from the true, classic "thriller" genre because of the fact that the ending is in the first pages.

Other than that, I remember being utterly entranced with Crichton'sJurassic Park when I was about 12 (lame, I know. Hush.). I literally thought it was raining outside in the middle of summer because of how intense it was, and would be shocked awake by someone knocking at my door to find six hours had passed. Don't know how I'd like it nowadays, though.
posted by po at 6:27 PM on May 25, 2006

Missed you on preview. I stand by what I wrote, esp. about Burdett. I block off a full day when I know I'll be reading either him or Westlake. That said, I'll venture outside a bit to suggest Darkly Dreaming Dexter and its sequels. Gruseome page turning light comedy about a serial killer who works as a blood spatter expert for the Miami police. If you like Westlake....
posted by IndigoJones at 6:37 PM on May 25, 2006

What a funny coincidence. I mention Eric Ambler on this thread, and today, Slate has a big write up on him.
posted by j-dawg at 6:37 PM on May 25, 2006

I stand by my suggestion of Coyote Kings of the Space Age Bachelor Pad. It starts off making you love the characters and then sends them off the deep one. Seriously consider picking it up, I think it could be just what you are looking for.
posted by utsutsu at 6:45 PM on May 25, 2006

Alexandre Dumas is, for my money, one of the original masters of the page-turner, infusing pure melodramatic candy in every bite.

Going into sci-fi, the best page-turners I ever read in that genre were Zelazny's first series of Chronicles of Amber books, which are built purely out of wild, setting-twisting plot shifts. This is also a category for which I will wholeheartedly recommend Dune, though it's a little too dense to achieve the sheer velocity of the Amber series. Also the Harry Potter books are extremely effective pageturners, though more charming and less exciting than the others I've mentioned, I suppose.

Carl Hiassen is pretty good at this, too, though he's more humorous.
posted by furiousthought at 6:59 PM on May 25, 2006

believe it or not, 'The Exorcist'.
posted by brandz at 7:00 PM on May 25, 2006

po has reminded me, I also recommend Palahniuk's "Choke."
posted by ludwig_van at 7:01 PM on May 25, 2006

And then there is David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, which every reader in my family (and we have diverse tastes) loved, and which will certainly get you to turn the pages.

Yes! Yes!! YES!!!! (Sorry, I just get really excited about this book.)

Mitchell is a genius. I was blown away by Ghostwritten and soaked up number9dream, but when Cloud Atlas came out...just wow. What does it say for this book that it's seemingly possible even to describe it? Yet even more than a year after reading about it, I still find myself thinking about the characters and the ideas.

Another recommendation: Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield. I never thought I'd be so into a story about ancient Sparta, the way the history books portray it. But what an incredible ride -- after reading it I felt like I'd actually lived in that city and knew the people who lived there.
posted by Alexandros at 7:07 PM on May 25, 2006

Dean Koontz - Lightning
Still going with The Historian and Dirty Job.
Da Vinci Code if you haven't read it, and as others have said, the Firm and Harry Potter.
posted by dpx.mfx at 7:10 PM on May 25, 2006

My taste in thrillers makes me look like an anglophile.

Ian Rankin: Knots and Crosses, Hide and Seek, Tooth and Nail

Dennis Lehane (The Patrick Kenzie/Angela Gennaro Series): A Drink Before the War, Darkness Take My Hand, Sacred, Gone Baby Gone, Prayers For Rain

Minette Walters: The Echo, The Breaker

Mo Hayer: Birdman

Julian Symons: The Man Who Killed Himself

Mark Billingham: Sleepyhead, Scaredy Cat, Lazybones

Stephen R Donaldson (aka Reed Stephens): The Man Who Risked His Partner, The Man Who Killed His Brother

Denise Mina: Garnethill, Field of Blood

Simon Brett: Singled Out, Dead Romantic
posted by overanxious ducksqueezer at 7:13 PM on May 25, 2006

I"m not surprised to see The Handmaid's Tale turn up. Just the vocabulary used was hypnotic. Others that come to mind—although it's been a few years since I read either of them—
To Kill a Mockingbird and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Yeah, they were probably required reading somewhere along the way, but it's because they're good.
posted by phrits at 7:18 PM on May 25, 2006

anything by Christopher Brookmyre

(new book out this week, plenty of extracts on the site. not I'm not his publicist!)
posted by prettypretty at 7:24 PM on May 25, 2006

Good summer reads should be like Pringles - You munch and crunch as many as you can get your hands on until they're all gone.

Fletch Series (Mcdonald)- You've seen the Chevy Chase movie, right? Yes? No? Regardless, you should read the book. It's part of a series, all of which are page turners up to, say Fletch's Moxie or so.

Song of Ice and Fire Series (Martin)- It's a series by George RR Martin (editor of the Wildcards series, which also fits the bill - virus dropped in New York results in neo-Marvel mutants and superheroes) that's pretty quick to read for the first 2.5 books or so.

Eisenhorn Series (Abnett)- Okay, I picked this omnibus edition of the three Inquisitor Eisenhorn novels, based on the tabletop game Warhammer 40,000, for ten bucks from a Games Workshop store expecting cheesy sci-fi. What I got was a surprisingly taut war story.

Sharpe's Rifles Series (Cornwall)- Tough as nails Richard Sharpe works his way up the ranks of the British Army in the midst of the Naploleonic Wars. Enemies and snots die in satisfactory ways, slim women get taken to bed, and a team of regulars punches and kicks their way throu some of the toughest battles in history.

Temeraire Series (Novik)- New series by an ex-WoW developer places dragons in the midst of the Napoleonic Wars. Sorta like Master and Commander meets Mercedes Lackey, 'cept without all the lesbian overtones.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:24 PM on May 25, 2006

I think you'd want anything by Crichton. His books are the epitome of plot plot plot with little or no character or back story to interfere with the plot.
posted by CrazyJoel at 7:25 PM on May 25, 2006

I second Lee Childs Jack Reacher series. I have yet to take more than one evening (often into the morning) to read one.

C J Cherryh's Foreigner series is pretty good in a reserved way.
posted by leafwoman at 7:27 PM on May 25, 2006

Oh, and...

Val McDermid: The Mermaids Singing, Wire in the Blood, The Last Temptation

Kyril Bonfiglioli (The Mortdecai Trilogy): Don't Point That Thing at Me, Something Nasty in the Woodshed, After You with the Pistol
posted by overanxious ducksqueezer at 7:29 PM on May 25, 2006

Fidelis Morgan: Unnatural Fire, The Rival Queens
posted by overanxious ducksqueezer at 7:32 PM on May 25, 2006

I really enjoyed `Eaters of the dead' by Michael Crichton.
posted by tomble at 7:37 PM on May 25, 2006

It's pretty rare for me to pick up any of the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett and not finish it the same day.
posted by Ritchie at 7:53 PM on May 25, 2006

oh man. ditto on Harry Potter.
posted by radioamy at 7:56 PM on May 25, 2006

Lawrence Block: The Evan Tanner series, or his Mathew Scudder series. He is one of the best mystery writers around

Ken Follett: He is a classic thriller writer, a couple of my favorites of his include Lie Down with Lions, Hornet's Flight, and the Modigliani Scandal

Alexandre Dumas: The Count of Monte Cristo is so awesome it is almost unbelievable to me that everyone hasn't read it. It is the definition of a page turner. It has action, adventure, revenge. It is truly great.
posted by bove at 8:03 PM on May 25, 2006

The Night Manager by John Le Carre. My wife says anything by Alan Furst, and LeCarre's early books. Day of the Jackal by Forsyth. Also Colin Wilson's Mind Parasites and Sex Diary of Gerard Sorme.
posted by madstop1 at 8:04 PM on May 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

grumble -- you've got a large number of well written, page turning book recommendations here. I'm positive. And these books are a lot better written than anything John Grisham or Tom Clancy (or his many subcontracted writers) will ever turn out. Perfect for beach reading...or any other time. Happy reading.

..."Is this the '24' of literary novels?" Oy vey.
posted by bim at 8:11 PM on May 25, 2006

I love many of the suggestions made here and can heartily recommend 'The Handmaids Tale' and 'Alias Grace'. I also have enjoyed many of Iain (M) Banks' books, such as Feersum Endjinn and The Business You can distinguish between his Science Fiction and Contemporary Fiction by the use of his middle initial.

Also a page turner for me at least and in the '24' category of pure story telling is John Barth's Tidewater Tales.
posted by michswiss at 8:14 PM on May 25, 2006

Back to add Into The Wild, which totally engrossed me, though it has no explosions or plot really.

Also: Marathon Man, Marathon Man, Marathon Man.

It has explosions, car crashes, Nazis, spies, assassinations, evil dentistry and the most heart poundingly terrifying bathtub scene ever. Even if you've seen the movie, you will not. be. able. to. put. it. down.

scody, I loved the first 100 pages of Foucault's Pendulum. It wasn't until the end of the second hundred that I threw the book against the wall.
posted by CunningLinguist at 8:16 PM on May 25, 2006

I must note that everyone who has posted to this thread is now my enemy for making me lust after books I cannot at all afford, even used.


That said, I forgot to add The Princess Bride, which will always be classic and great. Get the abridged version, though.
posted by po at 8:20 PM on May 25, 2006

po, get a library card! I drive my little library crazy with interlibrary loans all the time.
posted by overanxious ducksqueezer at 8:46 PM on May 25, 2006

I'm a huge fan of '24.' Patricia Cornwell's "Postmortem" has a thrill factor right up there with that episode when *ahem* Yelena introduces herself.

Oh, and just in case your eyes need a rest from all this reading, I highly recommend the series "Prison Break." It's just as exciting as "24", if not more.
posted by invisible ink at 8:49 PM on May 25, 2006

Many good ones have already been mentioned, but I'll add three :
Vertical Run, by Joseph Garber (like a much better Die Hard),
American Hero, by Larry Beinhart (a great political thriller with hilarious footnotes, that was turned into the craptacular Wag The Dog), and
Dunn's Conundrum, by Stan Lee (my favorite Cold War artifact).
posted by rfs at 8:50 PM on May 25, 2006

Okay, I'm so going to have to go back and read this thread but a quick page search lets me know that the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon hasn't been mentioned. Time travel/romance/historical fiction all in one.
posted by sugarfish at 8:52 PM on May 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

I wish I knew more obscure fiction, but I'd vote for Congo (Crichton) and Cryptonomicon.
posted by gsteff at 9:25 PM on May 25, 2006

Try some of the Bond books -- the earlier ones are better, the later ones are dull. Casino Royale is great.
posted by bonaldi at 9:34 PM on May 25, 2006

This one is a biography and will probably be pretty hit or miss, but I haven't been able to stop reading it since I picked it up:

The Path to Power by Robert Caro.

It's the first volume of a four volume biography of the life of Lyndon Baines Johnson. LBJ's life had no shortage of plot and intrigue, and Caro is a masterful storyteller who manages to simultaneously provide a very detailed biography with the pacing and narrative of a Grisham or a Rowling. (On Preview: seriously, I knew little about Johnson before I started reading this but Caro vividly describes a man who is incredibly driven to succeed. Johnson is the character who makes this compelling and each time he succeeds in some political maneuver you don't know whether to be awed by his brilliance or disgusted by his opportunism. That's what makes this biography so compelling.)

As for fiction, everyone else beat me to the punch. I'll just second two of my favorites:

Haruki Murakami: Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

Orson Scott Card: Ender's Game, Ender's Shadow, Speaker of the Dead, though not so much his other stuff.
posted by meditative_zebra at 10:06 PM on May 25, 2006

He may have been mentioned, but I like Tony Hillerman. Action and mystery in Navajo territory. "Coyote Waits" is good for sure, but he has written quite a few.
posted by meringue at 10:51 PM on May 25, 2006

I would suggest both The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross and Declare by Tim Powers if you like espionage thrillers. They're very different books, but both are excellent reads.
posted by Kikkoman at 10:57 PM on May 25, 2006

Peter F. Hamilton's sci-fi sagas are up there.
posted by zadcat at 10:57 PM on May 25, 2006

Woah. This made it onto
posted by myodometer at 11:00 PM on May 25, 2006

The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril by Paul Malmont.
posted by judith at 11:43 PM on May 25, 2006

Another poster recommended Iain M Banks -- I found his The Wasp Factory 100% compelling and totally unique. His other books actually aren't all page-turners, and some are more thought pieces. But if you're like me, you will want to read everything of his once you're done with The Wasp Factory.
posted by allterrainbrain at 11:52 PM on May 25, 2006

I'm focusing on the "needs to be fairly well written" bit, and not seeing Clancy meet that requirement! Potboiler or not, its all about the weapon specs.... Alistair McLean is a better writer (and that's saying something) in the hairy-chested section.
The Thomas Harris reccomendations -- the first two Lecter books, are well written and entertaining.
2nd the Ken Follett - pretty good writing for the thriller genre.
Len Deighton -- a poor man's Le Carre'. SS-GB is pretty good, so is "Bomber".
The first two books by Kathy Reichs, Deja Dead and Death du Jour, are decent Patricia Cornwell ripoffs -- but absolutely AVOID anything after that as she loses the plot in a morass of cannibalism and aircrashes.
The Jasper Fforde sci-fi/mysteries (such as 'The Eyre Affair' are good reads.
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood is very amusing yet readable sci/fi concoction.
And you can't go wrong with P.D. James' mysteries.
posted by Rumple at 12:04 AM on May 26, 2006

Orson Scott Card has already been mentioned, but I didn't see any mention of Lost Boys. That was a TOTAL page turner for me.

Also, Jeff Lindsay's Darkly Dreaming Dexter. Fun little book.

Labyrinth, by Kate Mosse, was a good one.

I hated Ludlum's Bourne books - he was such a whiny pissant, when I really just wanted ass kicking.

Thirding Angels & Demons. Actually, all of Dan Brown's books are pretty decent page turners, if you're not looking for high literature. But they all pretty much follow the same pattern, so I wouldn't recommend reading two in a row.
posted by antifuse at 12:51 AM on May 26, 2006

OH! And Vernon God Little, by DBC Pierre, is a FANTASTICALLY fun book.
posted by antifuse at 12:52 AM on May 26, 2006

George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman books are very entertaining & quite well-written.
posted by misteraitch at 2:02 AM on May 26, 2006

Matthew Reilly is the very definition of the guy you're looking for. His novels read like Hollywood movies (improbabilities and all). Think Michael Crichton with less technical veracity and more exclamation points! I remember rolling my eyes at a passage that had the hero fighting for control of a helicopter, crash landing in a river but managing to scramble to saftey using a propellor blade as a makeshift bridge over the heads of the snapping alligators, just before the whole thing was swept over a waterfall, but I finished the damn book and at breakneck speed. His stuff is typically techno-thrillers (light on the tech) with a little bit of Indiana Jones or James Bond mixed in. Sample page here.

Others have mentioned Crichton, I'll second that. Congo best fits your description though it's not his best book. Airframe, Jurassic Park and Timeline will probably work for you as well.

If you like Stephenson (Snow Crash), try Zodiac, an "eco-thriller." Very much under-appreciated. Short, fast and fun.
posted by zanni at 2:18 AM on May 26, 2006

Plot junkie here. I'm so addicted to good, juicy, delicious plots that I'm afraid they'll go extinct one day if I keep consuming them at this pace.

I third Alexandre Dumas, and especially 'The Count of Monte Cristo'. Best plot ever.

If you want the lite version (and a fine adaptation of 'Monte Cristo' at the same time), go for Stephen Fry's "Revenge". Anything by Fry will be well plotted, by the way.

His buddy Hugh Laurie has written a spy thriller that isn't bad either, although a bit much on the pastiche side.

Fry and Laurie are both P.G. Wodehouse fans, who is great at plotting. He's the W.A. Mozart of plotting, using a variation on the same plot over and over again, without ever boring you. Anything with Jeeves and Bertie Wooster will entertain you. It's comedy, by the way, a genre that is seldom done well.

In the detective genre: Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch series has what you're looking for.

I have fond memories of the early John Grishams (The Partner, The Runaway Jury, The Firm, The Client, anything before he started taking himself seriously. I blame the "he can't write crowd" for his need to prove himself the new Faulkner, by the way, so kindly shut up about his writing and let the man concentrate on his plots).

If you've never read Arthur Conan Doyle, you should of course go ahead and buy the collected 'Sherlock Holmes' stories.

In the spy thriller genre: David Wolstencroft (writer of bbc drama series 'Spooks' - is that '24' enough for you ;)?) has written two excellent thrillers: 'Good News, Bad News' and 'Contact Zero'.

The original gangster of thrillers is of course Robert Ludlum - the Jason Bourne trilogy would be a good start.

More great plots: 'The Bonfire of the Vanities' (and to a lesser extent 'A Man in Full') by Tom Wolfe.

The original romantic comedy plot - and a very modern one and well executed at that - would be 'Emma' by Jane Austen. Or maybe 'Pride and Prejudice' or 'Sense and Sensibility' by Austen, which are as good or better than Emma. There are, of course, no explosions in these books.

Wilkie Collins' 'A Woman in White' or 'The Moonstone' have good plots.

'The Captain's Daughter' by Pushkin is exciting (pistol duels! treason! forbidden love!).

Have fun!
posted by NekulturnY at 4:45 AM on May 26, 2006

Ditto on Dick Francis - thrillers with interesting settings, often including horses in some way or airplane pilots ('Enquiry', 'Bonecrack', 'For Kicks', but later with wide settings, from the semi-precious stones business, ('Straight') to survival in the wild ('Longshot') to liquor fraud ('Proof') to art fraud ('In the Frame'). I think they are well written. And I know I can't put them down once I start. Lucky you, there are LOTS to read, and they are all new for you.

I also second Lawrence Block, the Matt Scudder series. wonderful street view of crime and dogged detection in New York City.
these two authors are two I collect so I can go back to them.
posted by judybxxx at 5:47 AM on May 26, 2006

I am going to have to agree with Zanni, Matthew Reilly is EXACTLY what your looking for. Ice Station is the start of a series of 3 books featuring Scarecrow, a US Marine leading a Force Recon Team. His latest book Seven Deadly Wonders reads just like Indiana Jones. All of his books are very quick reads, some can probably finished in one or two sittings. I definitely think these are worth a look.
posted by HoldFast at 6:03 AM on May 26, 2006

Great well-written thrillers:

All of Le Carre's early books, especially including Tinker, Tailor, The Little Drummer Girl, and the Spy Who Came in From the Cold. The best place to start is probably Drummer Girl, as it is much more plot-driven and accessible than the others. If you like Tinker Tailor, you have two more George Smiley books to read: The Honorable Schoolboy and Smiley's People. There are all fantastic reads -- page turners, but very intelligently written with a hefty dose of psychology/character development balanced by great suspense/action. In my opinion, his later books are not as good, so stick with the early ones.

A Secret History, by Donna Tartt. Can't believe nobody has mentioned this one. Think fancy New England liberal arts college, super intelligent and wealthy students in a weird Roman classics course, bizarre ancient rituals, murder, coverup, investigation, etc. Great page turner, well written, and "literary" enough that you don't feel guilty about the trashiness of the plot.

Nearly anything that Elmore Leonard has written.
He is less literary than my other picks, and thus a much faster and lighter read, but his plotting and dialogue cannot be beat. Most of his books are about criminal plots gone spectacularly wrong. He has at least 10 fantastic books, but the ones that spring to mind are: Stick, Glitz, Riding the Rap, and Pagan Babies. Ones that I did not enjoy as much are Tishimingo Blues and Freaky Deaky.
posted by Mid at 7:01 AM on May 26, 2006

I'll put in my vote for Neal Stephenson as well. Cryptonomicon, Snow Crash, and Zodiac were all books that I just couldn't put down. Quicksilver felt like a much more measured pace, though.
I also liked Life of Pi by Yann Martel, although I understand that its quality is often debated (and as such have little desire to debate it.)
I think that J.K. Rowling started out writing childrens' books and that she was pleasantly surprised when her characters started to mature. This wasn't until about the third book, IMHO, but I still liked the first two even though they were a bit fluffy. She does have a tendency to leave loose ends, though.
posted by leapfrog at 7:20 AM on May 26, 2006

Willam Goldman's Magic. I'll quote the story I told at LibraryThing:

Many years ago I was teaching college in Taiwan. One day, when I got off the bus from the college town in downtown Taipei, it was pouring rain, so I ducked into a little bookstore to wait for the bus to my apartment. To pass the time, I picked up a copy of Magic that was sitting on a pile of paperbacks, intending to leaf through it for a minute or two. I read the epigraphs, the italicized prologue page ("The screams started coming from the cabin..."), and the first line of the novel proper: "Trust me for a while." I was hooked. Because imported paperbacks were ridiculously expensive, I couldn't afford to buy it, and I literally could not put the book down. So I spent the next couple of hours mooching around the store, trying to hide from the gaze of the annoyed proprietor as best I could while I sped feverishly through one of the most fiendishly constructed suspense novels I'd ever read. When I got home, late for dinner, I had to apologize abjectly to my girlfriend, but it was worth it. I now have two copies of the book so I can lend one out without having to worry about getting it back.
posted by languagehat at 7:27 AM on May 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

OK, now that the list is fleshed out I think it is time to add a couple of books that might not fit your criteria of "exciting" but which nevertheless are so interesting that they are hard to put down, true page turners. Probably the most fun reading I have had in the past ten years was Jonathan Franzen's "The Corrections." He dissects a dysfunctional family with wit and grace, and the plot moves extremely well. His earlier work about St. Louis, "The Twenty Seventh City" has perhaps a more exciting plot but is not as satisfying overall. Second to "The Corrections" would probably be Thomas Pynchon's "Vineland." I know what you may be thinking, Pynchon, is he nuts? True, his most celebrated book, "Gravity's Rainbow" was considered so difficult to wade through that at least one of the Pulitzer Prize reviewers that they failed to even finish it, but "Vineland" is different. The plot, while complex, moves with amazing deftness, even if its movement is anything but linear. It is an easy enough read for summer vacation, yet maintains interest on so many levels. Interestingly, it deals with issues like COINTELPRO and REX84 which have a scary relevance to the current Bush government.
posted by caddis at 7:35 AM on May 26, 2006

Several people have mentioned Dumas; for a sci-fi retelling of The Man in the Iron Mask, The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester absolutely rocks.
posted by Bron at 8:01 AM on May 26, 2006

These have been mentioned, but I absolutely second The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and Ender's Game.

Also, I haven't read Vineland by Pynchon, but The Crying of Lot 49 is fun.

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett.

On the "It's good for adults too" front, Coraline by Neil Gaiman.

Typee by Herman Melville was very popular travel literature in its day. (To his death, Melville was "that Typee guy")
posted by dagnyscott at 8:10 AM on May 26, 2006

I agree with whoever recommended John D. McDonald's Travis McGee novels. They're great - a little dated now, but great.

The following are some intricately plotted, well written, hard to put down books I've liked - they all fall into the SF arena.

Jeff Noon, Vurt

Elizabeth Hand, Waking the Moon
Iain Banks, Against a Dark Background (this is the perfect starter Banks, I think - it has double crosses, life or death races, torture, dueling spaceships - it has it all, and it's really well written as well.)
And, for pure plot twists and turns, try Sean McMullen, Eyes of the Calculor and Souls in the Great Machine.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:21 AM on May 26, 2006

In Cold Blood
The Executioner's Song
Rosemary's Baby
The Exorcist
All Le Carre
Charles McCarry's Paul Christopher series:
posted by thinkpiece at 8:31 AM on May 26, 2006

Ooooh.... mygothlaundry: THANK you for reminding me of those Sean McMullen books... Somebody bought me Souls in the Great Machine years ago, and when I went looking for the follow-up, I realized that it hadn't yet been published in North America. I then promptly forgot about it. But why did you only list books 1 and 3 of the Greatwinter trilogy? Is Miocene Arrow a piece of crap?
posted by antifuse at 8:31 AM on May 26, 2006

I read it several years ago, but I remember Katherine Neville's The Eight being a real page turning but intellectual thriller.

From the Amazon editorial review: "The Eight is a non-stop ride that recalls the swashbuckling adventures of Indiana Jones as well as the historical puzzles of Umberto Eco which, since its first publication in 1988, has gone on to acquire a substantial cult following."
posted by geeky at 8:41 AM on May 26, 2006

Oh, and I forgot, I recently read Michael Crichton's Prey. When I finished it, I thought, "Wow, that would make a great movie", which seems to fit what you're looking for :)
posted by geeky at 8:44 AM on May 26, 2006

Dies the Fire by S.M. Stirling and his follow up The Protector's War. There's a third (and final) novel in the series to be released later this year.

And I'm going to agree with Gabaldon (Outlander series) and Crichton.
posted by deborah at 9:47 AM on May 26, 2006

I'm late to the party, but have not seen Stephen Hunter's Dirty White Boys get a mention. Three not-so-nice guys break out of prison and are pursued across the country. It's fantastically plotted, with great characters and dialogue, with plenty of black humor. Hunter may be more well-known for his Bob Lee & Earl Swagger books, but Dirty White Boys is his masterpiece.

I was surprised to find that The Da Vinci Code made excellent airplane reading -- mindless entertainment that would probably work well on the beach. And this comes from someone who thinks that Angels and Demons is one of the worst books ever.

There are so many good recommendations above, but I'll second the ones for Elmore Leonard's books. They're consistently good. And I loved Tim Powers' Declare -- it's a spy novel with demons. What's not to like about that?
posted by steadystate at 9:59 AM on May 26, 2006

OK. A few more obscure recommendations but all pretty much in the suspense thriller category. I read these authors heavily in my teens and young adulthood.

Desmond Bagley - british, superbly suspenseful, N.B. The Golden Keel
Hammond Innes - also british
Alistair Maclean - famous for The Guns of Navarrone (good movie version with Gregory Peck) HMS Ulysses and Ice Station Zebra (was also made into a decent movie with Rock Hudson and Patrick McGoohan).
Nevil Shute - not quite but almost thrillers, fantastically compelling plots. He wrote On the Beach in the early 60s about the final weeks at the end of the world in Australia after a global nuclear holocaust.
posted by kaymac at 10:27 AM on May 26, 2006

OK I'm back.

how about Nevada Barr's Anne Pigeon series. Each is set in a different National Park and the intrepid Anne has to solve a mystery and deal with her own shortcomings as well. Very engrossing and even beter if you have visited the park. (Kind of like Tony Hillerman is better if you have driven the three mesas or across the Defiance plateau.
posted by leafwoman at 10:43 AM on May 26, 2006

I had a really hard time putting Eva Luna by Isabel Allende down.
posted by hootch at 11:44 AM on May 26, 2006

I'll second Gator's suggestion of the Warlord Trilogy by Bernard Cornwell. That series kept me reading way past my bedtime for weeks on end.

Heck, everything I've read by Bernard Cornwell, including the Sharpe series and the one I'm reading now, Stonehenge, have been page turners.

I'll second (or whatever) Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan and the Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin as well.
posted by gemmy at 12:33 PM on May 26, 2006

The Modesty Blaise books by Peter O'Donnell are just what you're looking for.
Modesty Blaise is sort of like a female, freelance James Bond, and she and her friend Willie Garvin, who are both ex-criminal masterminds, travel the globe righting wrongs and fighting other criminal masterminds.

O'Donnell also wrote semi-gothic novels
[of the type where a young girl runs away to join the circus or something, and falls in love with a lion tamer who turns out to be a duke in disguise!]
under the pseudonym Madeleine Brent, and they are equally page-turning and fabulous.
posted by exceptinsects at 12:48 PM on May 26, 2006

Oh, and also this thread gave me some good ideas.
posted by exceptinsects at 12:52 PM on May 26, 2006

great short, & sophistical, however, plots are largely emotional/psychological
Milan Kundera: Identity
Peter Schaeffer: Equus (note: modern drama)

Robertson Davies triologies are great, if you like plot occuring in academic institutions, with spiritual/drama themes.
posted by ejaned8 at 1:09 PM on May 26, 2006

Classics don't get to be classics for no reason.

War and Peace only seems long when you lift the book. Once you get started, it's hundreds of small and large stories, all woven together. You can't put it down. (Avoid the pedestrian Constance Garnet translation. Get a modern one.)

Anthony Trollope wrote one novel after another that you can't stop reading. Begin with The Warden (it starts slow -- give it 100 pages) and then Barchester Towers.

IMHO, The Iliad is the greatest novel ever written. It's a great story, full of battles and temper tantrums.
posted by KRS at 1:18 PM on May 26, 2006

Rider Haggard, of course.
posted by IndigoJones at 3:06 PM on May 26, 2006

Hunter may be more well-known for his Bob Lee & Earl Swagger books...

These are terrific books. I second the motion to read these. :)
posted by bim at 3:14 PM on May 26, 2006

A little late to the party, but...I could not put down the Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver. It is (in my opinion) really well-written, and has the perfect blend of drama and humor.
posted by saucy at 6:07 AM on May 27, 2006

I recommend a teenage page-turner: John Marsden's Tomorrow When the War Began series. There are 7 in the series, and very much in the action genre. Even reluctant Australian teenage readers find themselves racing through these books. I read the series once a year.

(gosh, how many times have I recommended this series on Metafilter? I should get kickbacks for this)
posted by chronic sublime at 8:17 AM on May 27, 2006

Lolita by Nabokav
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Electric Kool Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe
posted by Packy_1962 at 9:45 AM on May 27, 2006

Not sure if already mentioned but The Kite Runner was probably one of the best novels I read last year.

Also wildly entertaining and not yet mentioned, although may be not the '24' your looking for is Perdido Street Station.
posted by savagecorp at 6:21 PM on May 27, 2006

Honestly, I found Pynchon's Mason & Dixon a page-turner. It's Pynch, so it's complex, but it's also hilarious. A gem on every page. Not really a thriller, tho'.
posted by scarylarry at 8:27 PM on May 29, 2006

My list of must read page turners:
It by Stephen King (it's massive, but you can't put it down)
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (please disregard any of the movie adaptations of this book)
She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb
And as others have mentioned, the Harry Potter series is awesome. Adults are usually skeptical, as was I, but I gave it a chance and I loved it (I'm 27).
posted by katyggls at 12:44 AM on May 30, 2006

So late to the party…

I sixth Cryptonomicon, and add:
Platform, Michel Houellebecq
American Psycho, Bret Eason Ellis
The Tasmanian Babes Fiasco, John Birmingham
posted by ads at 1:02 AM on August 11, 2006

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