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It's been a cliffhanger, but now the final page can be turned.
The NPR audience nominated some 600 novels to our "Killer Thrillers" poll and cast more than 17,000 ballots. The final roster of winners is a diverse one to say the least, ranging in style and period from Dracula to The Da Vinci Code, Presumed Innocent to Pet Sematary. What these top 100 titles share, however, is that all of them are fast-moving tales of suspense and adventure.
And menace. Critic Maureen Corrigan, who served on the advisory panel of experts for this project, was surprised by how dark many of your choices are. "Even the [Agatha] Christie pick, And Then There Were None, is one of her creepier novels."
Co-panelist, novelist and critic Patrick Anderson was more impressed with the overall quality of the choices: "The vast majority of these are very good books or classics ... Thomas Harris, Dennis Lehane, Patricia Highsmith — this audience knows good writing."
Of course, there will be arguments about whether some of these books truly count as "thrillers." (You know who you are, Shogun.) The many 19th-century novels, in particular, may raise eyebrows. But David Morrell, novelist and co-editor of the recent anthology Thrillers: 100 Must Reads, defends such choices. "A lot of people see 'thriller' and think 'spy book,' " Morrell says. But a book like The Last of the Mohicans is "unquestionably a thriller — filled with chases and derring-do." Morrell also mentioned Dracula ("take away the supernatural elements and it's a serial-killer novel") and The Count of Monte Cristo. "As long as you have that breathlessness and sense of excitement," Morrell says, "then they're in."
Who is the NPR audience's favorite thriller writer? It's the King, of course — Stephen King, who landed six titles in the top 100. Lee Child comes next, with four winning books. And, at three titles each, Michael Crichton, Dennis Lehane, Dan Brown and Stieg Larsson tie for third.
Polls can help us understand an audience — and even make predictions about it. Based on the some 100,000 votes cast in this survey, the following prediction seems a safe one: Armed with the list below, none of us will need to consult a psychic, supersleuth or Harvard "symbologist" to unearth pulse-quickening vacation reads during the rest of this summer and for many months to come.