C J Daugherty knows a thing or two about crime stories. A former crime reporter and adviser to the Home Office, she is the author of the Night School series, part political crime thriller, part YA romance, about a secret society at the heart of an English boarding school. The third book in the series, Fracture is out now. Here she recommends her favourite YA thrillers.
There was a time when, if in the mood for a thriller, I headed straight to the latest Scandinavian writer. They were writing the most interesting stories, building the most believable characters. There are still lots of excellent books by such writers but, these days, when I want a thriller I head to the young adult section of my local bookstore. Because I believe the best thriller writers in the business can be found there right now.
The YA thriller market is red hot right now. Kicked off by the Twilight series then propelled further into the stratosphere by the popularity of The Hunger Games, this segment of the publishing industry seems to have boundless energy.
Lately even established writers of adult thrillers, such as James Patterson and David Baldacci, have begun writing books with teen characters, hoping to get a piece of that pie. For me, it was all an accident. When I first sat down to write the novel that became Night School, I didn’t intend to write a teen thriller. I just wanted to write a thriller with a compelling heroine who grew and changed as the book progressed. The story that came to me happened to involve teenagers. Now, three books into the Night School series I’m definitely a YA writer. And I’m happy to be in such stellar company.
If you’re looking for the best thrillers out there right now and, assuming that you’ve already read Twilight and The Hunger Games, here’s my guide to what to read now.
I believe in starting with the best, and the very best romantic thriller writer in the business right now is Cassandra Clare. Her Mortal Instruments series is tearing up the charts and will go nuclear in 3… 2… 1… You get the picture.
Your starting point should be City of Bones, her first and best book. It’s about Clary Fray, an ordinary girl whose life spins out of control when she discovers she can see Shadowhunters, the half-angels who fight demons in a constant war that rages just out of our sight. These books are exciting, unpredictable, and incredibly romantic. Clare is the best in the business.
From there I suggest you move to Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor. This is a lovely, dream-like novel about monsters and Karou, a girl with technicolour hair, who grew up with them. The book follows Karou around the exquisitely described streets of Prague as her life falls apart and war breaks out between the monsters, called chimaera, and angels. Now everyone must choose a side.
Jump from Taylor’s dream world to the nightmare land of This is Not a Test, by the Canadian writer Courtney Summers. This is a smart, pacey, emotionally wrenching thriller. It was my favourite book of 2012 and I cannot recommend it highly enough. In it Sloane, an abused girl whose life is constant torment, wakes up in the middle of a zombie apocalypse and her world is actually BETTER. Because now her dad isn’t around to torture her anymore. As she struggles to survive you never stop believing in her. This dark, funny, twisted adrenaline rush of a book turns all your expectations upside down. I genuinely believe Summers is a genius.
My last recommendation is a book that came out this year and shot up the charts. The 5th Wave, by Rick Yancey, starts in the middle of an alien invasion of Earth. It’s essentially an apocalypse, just not as we expected. Told from multiple perspectives in clear and terrifying prose, it gradually reveals how the planet was taken over, how many people died, how a few are struggling to survive. It is epic, intense, feverish and non-stop. Buy this book.