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Top 20 American Crime Writers

We’ve taken a look at the bestselling crime novels since records began in 2001 to wheedle out those authors who are the crème de la crème.

It’s quite a list so first up we’ve we decided to take look at which of our American cousins are riding high at the top of the charts. These are the official top 20 American crime writers.

Let’s countdown…

Top 20 American Crime Writers

The Vanished Man by Jeffrey Deaver

20. Jeffery Deaver
Highest book entry: The Vanished Man

The author of over thirty novels, Deaver has topped the bestseller lists around the world. His most well-known characters are Lincoln Rhyme, a quadriplegic detective, and Amelia Sachs, his protégé.

In The Vanished Man, a killer flees the scene of a homicide at a prestigious Manhattan music school and locks himself in a classroom. Within minutes, the police have him surrounded. Then a scream rings out, followed by a gunshot. The police break down the door. The room is empty. Rhyme and Sachs are called in to investigate.

Keeping the Dead by Tess Gerritsen

19. Tess Gerritsen
Highest book entry: Keeping the Dead

Former physician Tess Gerritsen has the perfect background for writing her forensic crime thrillers featuring homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and her partner forensic pathologist Dr. Maura Isles.

In Keeping the Dead, Dr Maura Isles is asked to attend an examination of an ancient mummy found in a museum basement – but with horror she realises that the body’s not as old as they thought… Detective Jane Rizzoli is called to investigate and soon discovers a second – and then a third – mummified body. Who is this killer and why does he preserve his victims so meticulously?

Click here to see all Tess Gerritsen’s Rizzoli and Isles books in order.

The Shakespeare Secret by J L Carrell

18. J. L. Carrell
Highest book entry: The Shakespeare Secret

Jennifer Lee Carrell is the author of three novels and numerous articles. Her crime thrillers feature Shakespeare scholar and theatre director Kate Stanley.

In Shakepeare’s Secret, on the eve of the Globe’s production of Hamlet, Kate Stanley’s eccentric mentor Rosalind Howard gives her a mysterious golden box, claiming to have made a ground-breaking discovery. Before she can reveal it to Kate, the Globe burns to the ground and Roz is found dead — murdered in the strange manner of Hamlet’s father. Inside the box Kate finds the first piece in a Shakespearean puzzle, setting her on a deadly, high-stakes treasure hunt.

Lost Light by Michael Connelly

17. Michael Connelly
Highest book entry: Lost Light

Michael Connelly has written twenty-nine novels and numerous short stories, notably featuring LAPD Detective Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch and criminal defense attorney Mickey Haller.

The ninth book in the Harry Bosch series, Lost Light, sees the new PI investigating the case of a production assistant murdered four years earlier during a film set robbery. The LAPD thinks the stolen money was used to finance a terrorist training camp. Thoughts of the original murder victim were lost in the federal zeal, and when Bosch decides to reinvestigate, he quickly falls foul of both his old colleagues and the FBI.

Click here to see all Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch books in order.

The Bear and the Dragon by Tom Clancy

16. Tom Clancy
Highest book entry: The Bear and the Dragon

Seventeen of Tom Clancy’s novels were bestsellers, and more than 100 million copies of his books are in print – many featuring series favourite Jack Ryan who worked for the CIA before becoming President of the United States.

In The Bear and the Dragon, newly-elected President Ryan has found life has gotten no easier: in Moscow, someone has tried to take out the chairman of the former KGB with a rocket-propelled grenade. Things are unstable in Russia, but even more disturbing may be the identities of the potential assassins. Were they political enemies, the Russian Mafia, disaffected former KGB? Or, Ryan wonders, is something far more dangerous at work here?

Click here to see Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan books in order.

Want to Play? by P J Tracy

15. P J Tracy
Highest book entry: Want to Play?

P J Tracy is a pseudonym for mother-daughter writing team Patricia and Traci Lambrecht, authors of six novels featuring Detectives Gino and Magozzi.

In Want to Play?, the slaying of an old couple in small town America looks like a one-off act of brutal retribution. But at the same time, in Minneapolis, teams of detectives scramble to stop a sickeningly inventive serial killer striking again in a city paralysed by fear. When the two separate investigations converge on an isolated catholic boarding school, decades old secrets begin to fall away. It seems an old killer has resurfaced…

Click here to see all P J Tracy’s Twin Cities books in order.

Fractured by Karin Slaughter

14. Karin Slaughter
Highest book entry: Fractured

The aptly named Karin Slaughter has penned over twenty novels featuring series favourites Special Agent Will Trent and paediatrician and coroner Sara Linton.

In Fractured, Atlanta housewife Abigail Campano comes home to find a broken window and the horrifying sight of her teenage daughter lying dead on the landing, a man standing over her with a bloody knife. When the local police make a misjudgement which threatens the investigation, the case is handed over to Special Agent Will Trent and Detective Faith Mitchell. They must work together to find the brutal killer who has targeted one of Atlanta’s most privileged communities before it’s too late…

Click here for Karin Slaughter’s Will Trent books in order.

Play Dead by Harlan Coben

13. Harlan Coben
Highest book entry: Play Dead

Harlan Coben has over 60 million books in print. His series kicked off featuring former basketball player turned sports agent Myron Bolitar.

Play Dead finds ex fashion model and successful business woman Laura Ayars’s perfect world shattered on her honeymoon as her sports superstar husband goes for a swim and never returns. But what has happened to David – can he really be dead? Laura begins to uncover a conspiracy which reaches deep into the past, and is now slowly beginning to destroy everyone involved. Someone will do anything to keep Laura away from the awful truth – and she has no idea who she can trust…

Click here to see all Harlan Coben’s Myron Bolitar books in order.

Cross Bones by Kathy Reichs

12. Kathy Reichs
Highest book entry: Cross Bones

Practising forensic anthropologist and author Kathy Reichs has penned over fifteen novels featuring her much-loved lead Temperance Brennan.

In Cross Bones, a barely recognisable body is discovered in a closet. ‘Death by self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head’ is the initial assessment, but the victim’s relatives are adamant that this was not suicide. Just as Tempe is attempting to make sense of the evidence, an unknown man slips her a photograph of a skeleton. Could this hold the answer to the victim’s death?

Click here to see all Kathy Reichs’ Temperance Brennan books in order.

Panic by Jeff Abbott

11. Jeff Abbott
Highest book entry: Panic

Jeff Abbott has also penned over fifteen novels and a myriad of short stories, many featuring CIA Agent Sam Capra.

In Panic, one of Abbott’s standalone novels, Evan Casher had a perfect life: great parents, his first girlfriend and a huge online following for his films. But when he comes home from school to find his father missing and his mother dead, Evan’s going to learn the hard way that the people he trusted most were the people he knew least.

State of Fear by Michael Crichton

10. Michael Crichton
Highest book entry: State of Fear

Michael Crichton was a writer and filmmaker, best known as the author of Jurassic Park and the creator of ER.

In State of Fear, a physicist dies in Paris after performing a laboratory experiment for a beautiful visitor. In the jungles of Malaysia, a mysterious buyer purchases deadly cavitation technology, built to his specifications. In Vancouver, a small research submarine is leased for use in the waters of New Guinea. And in Tokyo, an intelligence agent tries to understand what it all means. A fast-paced techno-thriller.

Violets are Blue by James Patterson

9. James Patterson
Highest book entry: Violets are Blue

James Patterson is a writing machine and we’ve lost track of how many amazing thrillers he’s penned. Notable characters (of many) include Alex Cross and Michael Bennett.

In Violets are Blue Alex Cross must face the Mastermind. Two joggers have been found dead in San Francisco – bitten and hung by their feet to drain the blood. Further murders in California, and then on the East Coast as well, completely baffle Alex and the FBI. Alex has never been closer to defeat, or in greater danger. He must survive a deadly confrontation – only to learn at last the awful secret of the Mastermind.

Click here for James Patterson’s Alex Cross books in order.

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

8. Joseph Heller
Highest book entry: Catch-22

An American satirical novelist, short story writer, and playwright, Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22 has become part of the English lexicon.

Set in the closing months of World War II, this is the story of a bombardier named Yossarian who is frantic and furious because thousands of people he has never met are trying to kill him. His real problem is not the enemy – it is his own army which keeps increasing the number of missions the men must fly to complete their service. If Yossarian makes any attempt to excuse himself from the perilous missions then he is caught in Catch-22: if he flies he must be is crazy and therefore doesn’t have to – but if he doesn’t want to, it follows that he must be sane and so must fly. That’s some catch…

Blow Fly by Patricia Cornwell

7. Patricia Cornwell
Highest book entry: Blow Fly

Patricia Cornwell has sold over 100 million books and it’s easy to see why. They mainly feature medical examiner Kay Scarpetta.

In Blow Fly, Kay Scarpetta is quietly living in Florida, beginning to establish herself as a private forensic consultant. But her past won’t let her rest, and her grief for Benton Wesley continues to grow. Then the architect of her changed fortunes contacts her from his cell on death row, and Jean-Baptiste Chardonne still has the ability to terrify. But, unknown to Scarpetta, there are other forces at work that threaten them all.

Hannibal by Thomas Harris

6. Thomas Harris
Highest book entry: Hannibal

A crime reporter and editor for the Associated Press, Thomas Harris is the genius behind the chilling cannibal Dr Hannibal Lecter.

Seven years have passed since Dr Hannibal Lecter escaped from custody… Seven years since FBI Special Agent Clarice Starling interviewed him in a maximum security hospital for the criminally insane. The doctor is still at large, but Starling has never forgotten her encounters with Dr Lecter, and the metallic rasp of his seldom-used voice still sounds in her dreams…

Click here for Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter books in order.

No Time For Goodbye by Linwood Barclay

5. Linwood Barclay
Highest book entry: No Time for Goodbye

Linwood Barclay is the bestselling author of thirteen novels, four of which feature father Zack Walker.

In No Time for Goodbye, Cynthia Archer awakes with a nasty hangover and a feeling she is going to have an even nastier confrontation with her mom and dad. But then she discovers the house is empty, with no sign of her parents or younger brother Todd. In the blink of an eye, without any explanation, her family has simply disappeared. Twenty-five years later Cynthia is still haunted by unanswered questions until a letter arrives that chills Cynthia to the core…

The Broker by John Grisham

4. John Grisham
Highest book entry: The Broker

Attorney, politician and activist, John Grisham is one of only three authors to sell 2 million copies on a first printing; the others are Tom Clancy and J.K. Rowling.

The Broker sees the outgoing President of the US granting a full pardon to Joel Backman, a notorious Washington power broker who has spent the last six years hidden away in a federal prison. It’s a controversial move, but what no one else knows is that the presidential pardon comes as a result of enormous pressure from the CIA. Why do the CIA want Backman free?

Click here for John Grisham’s books in order.

The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld

3. Jed Rubenfeld
Highest book entry: The Interpretation of Murder

The author of two novels, Jed Rubenfeld is an expert on constitutional law, privacy, and the First Amendment.

The Interpretation of Murder is inspired by Sigmund Freud’s 1909 visit to America, accompanied by protégé Carl Jung. When a young debutante is discovered bound, whipped and strangled in a luxurious apartment overlooking the city, the mayor of New York calls upon Freud to use his revolutionary new ideas to help the surviving victim recover her memory of the attack, and solve the crime. But there are those in very high places determined to stop the truth coming out and Freud’s startling theories taking root on American soil.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

2. Gillian Flynn
Highest book entry: Gone Girl

A former television critic for Entertainment Weekly, Gillian Flynn’s novels are all standalone psychological thrillers.

In Gone Girl Amy Dunne mysteriously disappears her husband Nick is left wondering what he really knew about her. The police suspect Nick. Amy’s friends reveal that she was afraid of him, that she kept secrets from him. He swears it isn’t true. A police examination of his computer shows strange searches. He says they weren’t made by him. And then there are the persistent calls on his mobile phone. So what really did happen to Nick’s beautiful wife?

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

1.Dan Brown
Highest book entry: The Da Vinci Code

Credited with “keeping the publishing industry afloat” it’s no wonder that we find publishing behemoth Dan Brown at the number one spot!

The Da Vinci Code sees Harvard professor Robert Langdon receive an urgent late-night phone call while on business in Paris: the elderly curator of the Louvre has been brutally murdered inside the museum. Alongside the body, police have found a series of baffling codes. Unless Langdon and gifted French cryptologist, Sophie Neveu, can decipher the labyrinthine code and quickly assemble the pieces of the puzzle, a stunning historical truth will be lost forever…

Click here for Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon books in order.

Any surprises in the list? How many of the top 20 American crime writers have you read? Let us know in the comments below…

7 Comments

    Lee Child, John Sandford, Vince Flynn, Robert Crais, Gregg Hurwitz, Sandra Brown, David Baldacci…those are some of the best

    Sorry, but any list with Dan Brown as No1 is fatally flawed.
    In Harlen Coben’s entry it also picks out Play Dead, probably the worst book he has written.
    Ah well, it’s sales figures, so what do I know?
    Oh, that Raymond Chandler should be at No 1. Patricia Highsmith at No 2, and James M Cain somewhere on the list. But I guess they don’t sell so much these days.

    Elmore leonard, James Ellroy and Walter Mosley! Why are they not on the list each is way better then the ones listed.

    Hello! This list was compiled according to official UK sales figures rather than our own reading tastes. Completely agree there are loads of other authors we’d love to see up there! 🙂

    Mark Geminez, Daniel Judson, just two great writers….not outselling those above, but watch for them, better still, READ them…they are terrific!

    I am very surprised that James Grippando and Joseph Finder aren’t on the list. Their books really hold my interest.

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