Top 10 Political Crime Fiction Thrillers
I required three things of a novel for inclusion as a “Top 10 Political Crime Fiction Thriller.” First, there must be a crime that the reader can attempt to solve. A known suspect and a thrilling chase, à la many espionage thrillers, don’t cut it. Second, the setting or motives must be political, broadly construed. Finally, I had to greatly enjoy the book. Highly subjective, I know, but it is my list. Please note: within the list there is no ranking; the order is alphabetical by title.
Although published nearly a decade ago, this story of a U.S. city torn apart by racial violence could have been pulled from today’s news. Half-black, half-white, Jewish San Francisco homicide chief Abe Glitsky struggles to solve first one killing and then another, handicapped by the ambitions and biases of those in power, inside and out of government. Thought-provoking and dynamic, no one writes the intersection of politics, race, and murder better than John Lescroart. (2006)
According to Lenin, all major crimes—including murder—vanish under communism, as poverty and want disappear. So when the body of a boy is found naked and bloodied in the snow, there is no homicide detective to investigate. Instead, state security officer Leo Demidov is charged with convincing the aggrieved family that this is nothing other than an accident. The story is infused with the inadequacy of adherence to dogma as a political governance tool, while Demidov’s own career and family life are threatened when he veers from unquestioning compliance. Tom Rob Smith gives us a lot of characters to keep up with, but they each have a purpose. A complex and engaging political and philosophical novel. (2008)
Dana Hill is a modern-day, highly accomplished attorney who falls just short of having it all—she’s an associate, not a partner, at a busy law firm, and her marriage is failing. In contrast, wealthy Senator Robert Meyers knows that anything he doesn’t have yet, he will find a way to get. This intense, physical thriller is refreshingly set in Seattle (not DC), where Robert Dugoni plays out violent murder against a backdrop of top corporate and political players. There is also a personal element, as Dugoni honors family members and friends who have or have had cancer by spotlighting the disease in a strong and hopeful subplot. (2007)
The professional assassin called “The Jackal” is many men, his successive identities making him effectively invisible. In this carefully wrought tale of international suspense, Detective Claude Lebel discovers that the killer’s next target is Charles de Gaulle, President of France. A traditional political conspiracy thriller, author Frederick Forsyth also gives the reader a mystery to solve, as we move with Lebel through his desperate quest to uncover the executioner’s unknown identity in time to save the French leader. (1971)
The polar ice caps have melted and New York is underwater, skyscrapers repurposed as the only habitable space in a futuristic Venice-like setting. City government is bound by the rules of the mainland U.S., but similar to other frontiers in eras past, the island morals are looser and guns are easier to get. There’s an irreverent PI, Simone Pierce, and while murders, suicides, and torture abound, none is at close range. Sci-fi meets detective fiction, and politics provides the glue. Lev AC Rosen has crafted an easy, fast-read, vacation-ready thriller. (2015)
Kevin Spacey’s intense portrayal of U.S. politician Francis Urquhart in TV’s “House of Cards” borders on legendary. Adapted from a British TV series, it is based on a trilogy of political novels by Michael Dobbs. Extremely well-written and strongly paced, Dobbs’s insider portrayal of the way in which pettiness in politics can escalate to criminal action has held up over time and “across the pond.” (1989)
Twins always make interesting suspects in a murder mystery, and more so when one is a politician. In Turow’s novel Identical, attorney Paul Kronon campaigns for mayor, while his twin, Cass, will soon be released after 25 years in prison for the murder of his girlfriend, Dita. Dita’s wealthy brother publicly accuses Paul of being Dita’s real killer, and high-stakes lawsuits ensue. Scott Turow’s courtroom-based, character-heavy story does not disappoint, as implications for Paul’s political future lend urgency to the outcome. (2013)
Make no mistake: this is a political crime fiction thriller. It has the essential elements: a crime, murder by poisoning, set against a political backdrop that includes a mayor who is declared prematurely dead by a senate intent on replacing him. The fact that it takes place in the Free State of Dorimare, linked to nearby Fairyland by the river Dapple, is not sufficient reason for exclusion from the genre. Neil Gaiman proclaims Hope Mirrlees’s novella “ a little golden miracle of a book,” and I couldn’t agree more. (1926)
Perhaps most vulnerable to harm from politicians are those who work in the publicly
funded bureaucracy beneath them. John Marquez, head of the California Fish and Game special operations unit, is one such man. In Night Game, Marquez’s investigation into illegal bear hunting intersects with the brutal killing of a camper. Marquez’s pursuit of suspects is constrained by the state system in which he must function. Tightly written with the feel of noir in a modern setting, Kirk Russell’s eco-crime thriller series reminds us that politicians are an active element in any story in which a government salary is involved. (2004)
Deleted & replaced in alpha order as author intended.
The Quiet American
Set during the Indochina conflict in 1950s Saigon, Vietnam, a British journalist past his prime and a young soldier from the U.S.—the title character—both want to possess the same Vietnamese woman. One man professes a higher love, while the other declares only the need for a primal intimacy that goes beyond sex. Orchestrated clandestine political violence, a murder investigation, and a key character who is not what he seems bolster the plot. But it is Graham Greene’s flawless, intelligent, and spare writing that makes this slim work haunting and visceral. One of my favorite books of any kind. (1955)
Kris Calvin is the author of One Murder More, the first novel in the Maren Kane Mystery series. She is a former local elected official who was honored by the State Assembly and the California Governor’s office for her leadership in political advocacy on behalf of children. Educated at Stanford and UC Berkeley, she lives in Sacramento with her family.
Kris Calvin is the author of One Murder More, the first novel in the Maren Kane Mystery series. She is a former local elected official who was honored by the State Assembly and the California Governor’s office for her leadership in political advocacy on behalf of children. Educated at Stanford and UC Berkeley, she lives in Sacramento with her family. For more about Kris Calvin and events where you can meet her go to www.kriscalvin.com