by | Dec 9, 2022 | Jenny Milchman | 6 comments

By Jenny Milchman

Five Triumphant Thrillers

As a five-foot, zero-inch woman, I can’t exactly kill a bad guy with my bare hands like Reacher. So I right wrongs in my books, and love authors who do as well. Here’s five triumphant thrillers I’d highly recommend.

The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan
The School For Good Mothers - Five Triumphant Thrillers

A fascinating peek at our own potential near-future, this book presents Frida, whose emotionally arid childhood drives her into needy, combustible relationships. When she has a child, someone who needs her even more than vice versa, Frida winds up leaving the little girl alone in the house one day, entombed in an exersaucer. She either ignores or is unwitting to how the vaguely totalitarian—at least in terms of child-rearing—culture will mete out punishment, which comes in the form of a sentence at a school designed to retrain moms, immersing them in the fires of penitence along with horrifyingly creative object lessons until they emerge reborn as the mothers of a 1950’s (forbidden) wet dream. The question of whether Frida does in fact triumph at the end, versus the state, or the patriarchy, could fuel many a book club discussion.

Don’t Turn Around by Jessica Barry
Don't Turn Around - Five Triumphant Thrillers

This is the second-scariest book I have read in a while (and the first-scariest doesn’t belong on this list as the lead can’t exactly be said to triumph; she is dead for the whole thing). In this story, Cait Monaghan is in charge of squiring women safely to an abortion clinic, driving under cover of night through the darkness to avoid detection by abusive biological fathers, red state protestors—and one unseen, shadowy threat. The novel proceeds in a cat-chases-mouse-mouse-turns-on-cat series of twists and turns through the wilderness of an endless Texas highway, taking places as seemingly banal as a diner and transforming them into scenes you’ll read with the light on and one hand on your phone.

The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz

The Plot - Five Triumphant Thrillers

It’s inarguable that a woman triumphs at the end of this sly, sneaky inside look at the publishing industry and the life of an all-but-failed writer. What’s delicious and debatable is whether the woman in question—whom I won’t name to avoid spoilers—should triumph. Jacob Finch Bonner has penned a book that is about to take the world by storm. From the dust of a promising debut novel published years ago—an eternity in author terms—he is going to rise phoenix-like to the heights of literary fame and success. How did he get there? Through an act that torments him at night, gives his artist’s soul unrest—and which the rest of the world has no idea ever took place. At least, they have no idea…so far.

Survival Instincts by Jen Waite

Survival Instincts - Five Triumphant Thrillers

Three generations of women act victoriously throughout this white-knuckle tale. Anne, who met the man of her dreams—slash-the man of her nightmares—right out of college; her daughter, Thea; and the tough matriarch to them all. When these women thread their way through the winter woods to hole up in a cabin, they don’t know the identity of the man who has chased them there, or the threat they will face. They only know their fierce love for each other, a bond too strong for any man to break. Told in the voices of these women, with interlocking timelines, there is an ageless, fairy tale quality to this thriller. It will raise your heart rate even as it tugs at your heartstrings.

Eyeshot by Taylor Adams

Eyeshot - Five Triumphant Thrillers

In case you thought a male author wouldn’t be included on this list, I raise you Taylor Adams, whose entire backlist is worth reading. (That scariest book I referred to above? Another of his). This one is described as “the most gripping suspense thriller you will ever read,” and as overblown as that sounds, I have to agree. Elle and James Eversman—whose surname is apt—break down on a lonesome stretch of desert rubble, led there by a highway detour. What follows underneath the broiling desert sun is an encounter with one sick and highly skilled antagonist. That this every-couple proves equal to outmaneuvering him, mostly by power of their wits, although with a few badass moves as well, makes for one of the most stunning showdowns ever seen on the page—one in which you’ll be cheering every inch of Elle’s crawl toward victory.

Is there a justice tale you’d like to recommend? Please share it in the comments!


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  1. Rogue Women Writers

    What a great list of books to check out!!! As for other “justice tales,” I would recommend the thrillers by Nelson DeMille, especially those featuring clever detective John Corey who figures out pretty unique ways to take down the bad guys!!! ….Karna Small Bodman

    • Jenny Milchman

      Ooh yes no justice round-up is complete without John Corey! Thanks, Karna. Good add.

  2. Lisa Black

    I have not read any of these!! I will have to remedy that post haste.

  3. Gayle Lynds

    You’ve just added to my reading pile, Jenny. Each of them sounds particularly special. You bring them to life! Thanks for a terrific blog!

  4. Alex Kava

    Thanks for this great list, Jenny! “The Plot” is the only one I know, so I’m anxious to check out the others. Also, ever since Karna’s blog about covers I’ve been extra observant, and these are all so different and interesting.

  5. Tracy Clark

    Love the recs. Adding them to my TBR pile.