James Siegel is a thriller writer and vice chairman and senior executive creative director of advertising agency BBDO New York. His latest book, Derailed (Time Warner), is set in the world of advertising.
1. Red Dragon by Thomas Harris
The first appearance of the infamous Hannibal Lector and, in my opinion, a better book than Silence of the Lambs. Taut, brutal, and truly creepy.
2. Marathon Man by William Goldman
A Nazi from the past. A CIA killer. A history student tortured by his father’s persecution and suicide. A hell of a ride.
3. Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin
A kind of occult thriller which feeds into everyone’s urban paranoia. After all, who knows who’s living in the apartment next to you?
4. The Firm by John Grisham
The story of an innocent hot shot lawyer and a prestigious and – as it turns out – nefarious law firm that tries to buy his soul. They don’t manage it.
5. American Tabloid by James Ellroy
A poisonous stew of FBI, CIA, mafia and Cuban conspiracies. Electric, fascinating and stylish. Don’t blink.
6. Act of Darkness by Francis King
Not so much a thriller as a mystery concerning an act of evil in colonial India, and the consequences which reverberate in the years ahead.
7. The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
The original supernatural thriller, it somehow makes demons and exorcism seem perfectly real, plausible, and terrifying. Do not read in the dark.
8. Anything by Elmore Leonard
No one has a better ear for the low life American idiom than Mr Leonard. His novels are replete with loan sharks, thieves, hit men, and various flawed and soiled lawmen. Take your pick.
9. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John Le Carré
No better than Smiley’s People or Tinker, Tailor, but every bit as brilliant. And with its lean, twisty, double-crossing story, it’s more deserving of the ‘thriller’ tag. This is the first ‘spy’ book that showed the ugly reality of espionage rather than the fluff of a bed-hopping Bond.
10. Ministry of Fear by Graham Greene
A man trying to forget his past, and a wartime London conspiracy that keeps him suspensefully embroiled in the present. One of Greene’s ‘entertainments’ – with his flair for character, story and drama shining through.