A tense thriller can change our perception of time – your journey doesn’t take as long, the wait for a doctor’s appointment goes faster, you thought it was only 11:00pm so how can it possibly be 1:00am already? For me, thrillers that have a race against the clock are the ones that are most likely to make me forget not only what the time is, but what is going on around me. I call them escape pod books because I can temporarily lose myself in their pages.
Here are five of my favourite race-against-time thrillers.
5 of the best race-against-time thrillers
Room by Emma Donoghue
Room is about the most tense of all situations: not only is a young woman imprisoned with her child, but she fears that soon their captor is going to turn off the electricity and stop feeding them. Before they starve to death or freeze, they have to escape. Nobody, apart from her captor, knows where this young woman is, nor even that she’s still alive. It is a deeply personal and lonely race against the clock, told through the eyes of a five-year-old child. I had to read this novel twice, the first time quickly skimming through the pages, desperate to know if their plan will work, and then the next time more slowly to enjoy the brilliant writing.
I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes
Unlike Room, with the lives of just two people at stake, this novel has the hero, ‘Pilgrim’, racing against the clock to save the whole of America. The writer’s roots as a screenwriter shows – he paces his story like a bullet and effortlessly transports the reader, along with his main protagonist, all over the world, most hauntingly the Hindu Kush, as he hunts for the man who is planning to execute an atrocity. It’s a blockbuster of a book that is perfect for people that love high concept thrillers, mind-blowingly well plotted.
The Last by by Hanna Jameson
In this strikingly original novel the stakes are even higher – it’s not just America’s fate that’s at stake, but the entire world’s. Or has that race against the clock already been lost? Jon Keller doesn’t know if the hotel he’s staying is the only place left with people still alive following nuclear devastation. Added to which, criminals don’t respect the nuclear apocalypse because he finds the murdered body of a girl and is determined to find out what happened to her. There’s an eerie sense reading the book that the race against the clock is actually in the reader’s real world, with geo-politics potentially leading to catastrophe, making for an extremely unsettling as well as gripping read.
Dark Matter by Michelle Paver
This is not a book to read at night. A terrifying ghost-thriller, it is set in the remote wilderness of the far north. 28-year-old Jack is part of an Arctic expedition of five men and eight huskies who camp on a remote, uninhabited bay. But one by one Jack’s companions are forced to leave and winter closes in. Then Jack realises he’s not alone. Something is out there in the dark. Soon, he will reach the point of no return – when the sea will freeze, making escape impossible.
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
Uniquely, this story is told by the victim of rape and murder – a 14-year-old girl called Susie Salmon – who narrates the story from heaven. Susie tells us about that terrible afternoon and the identity of her murderer. The tension of Susie not being able to tell the police and her family is almost unbearable. This is the story of what happens when the race against the clock has been lost, when nobody realised in time. But it’s also about what happens next and that is where the depth and genius of the novel lies.
What are your favourite race-against-time thrillers? Let us know in the comments below!