10 Great Thrillers That Feature Compelling Anti-Heroes

Fans of thrillers know that sometimes, when the stakes are high, people who are up against dangerous adversaries have to make tough decisions. While some protagonists stick to a strict moral code, others are willing to get their hands dirty. If you love complex characters who can't be easily defined as good or evil, check out these ten thrilling novels. This video was made with Ezvid Wikimaker.

Anti-Hero Stories: Our 10 Picks

Title Author(s)
1. The Cleaner Mark Dawson
2. This is How M.J. Hyland
3. The Burglar Thomas Perry
4. Three Minutes Anders Roslund & Börge Hellström
5. Go Home, Afton Brent Jones
6. Murder Takes Patience Giacomo Giammatteo
7. That Darkness Lisa Black
8. Killing Katie Brian Spangler
9. Hunting Annabelle Wendy Heard
10. Spin Move David Lender

8 Great Films That Feature Anti-Heroes

  1. Taxi Driver (1976)
  2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
  3. Deadpool (2016)
  4. Scarface (1983)
  5. Heathers (1988)
  6. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
  7. Fight Club (1999)
  8. American Psycho (2000)

The Evolution of Fictional Heroes

In Depth

There's nothing more compelling than a story about a brooding, cynical hero fighting for good while working against their own inner demons. For fans of complex characterization and dark, deeply human portrayals of life, here, in no particular order, are some brilliantly-written works about complicated protagonists.

In the #1 slot is "The Cleaner" by Mark Dawson. How do you walk away from a career in government-sanctioned killing? That's what John Milton wants to know. He's been an assassin for so long that he doesn't know how to be normal anymore. When he meets the distressed mother of a teen boy who's deep into London gang culture, he tries to get the kid out clean. The gang, of course, has other plans. If Milton can solve the problem without resorting to violence, he'll be taking his first step toward an honest life.

For #2, we find M.J. Hyland's "This Is How." Reeling from a sudden broken engagement, Patrick needs to find somewhere to unwind. He moves to a small seaside town and tries to live a normal, quiet life. Unfortunately, Patrick is far from normal. He's a sociopath dealing with crippling mental illness and is unable to find the help he needs. One desperate event is all it takes for him to become eclipsed by his dark side.

He moves to a small seaside town and tries to live a normal, quiet life.

At #3 is "The Burglar" by Thomas Perry. Being a professional thief has its perks, especially if you're the talented Elle Stowell. When a crime spree suddenly turns violent, however, Elle finds herself caught up in a murderous scheme that's much bigger than anything she's encountered before. Now, she's being hunted by a killer who's determined not to leave any loose ends unchecked. If she wants to survive, she'll have to figure out who's behind the triple murder before she's silenced for good.

Coming in at #4 is Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom's "Three Minutes." Refugee, informant, and criminal extraordinaire Piet Hoffmann is a man of many talents, and his next feat will be his most daring yet. Living under an assumed name with his family in Colombia, he has to work for one of the most infamous coke cartels in the country while secretly collaborating with the DEA to bring the whole operation to its knees. When a prominent political figure is kidnapped by the cartel, however, Piet has to resort to desperate measures to keep his family safe.

#5 is "Go Home, Afton" by Brent Jones. Twenty-six-year-old Afton may look like a small-town librarian, but make no mistake: beneath that mild and gentle facade beats the heart of a killer. Determined to use her dark urges responsibly, Afton tracks down a sexual predator. But during the hunt, a shadowy presence stops her in her tracks. Who is this man, and what does he want? More importantly, how does he know about her dark, deadly secret?

Who is this man, and what does he want?

At #6 is Giacomo Giammatteo's "Murder Takes Patience." Nicky Fusco used to enjoy violence, but that was in another life. Now, the former hitman tries to honor his promise to God and his wife by staying on the straight and narrow. But one day, he gets a call from the ten-year-old son of his best friend, who is terrified that he'll never see his father alive again. Fusco is sure that the mob is behind the attack, and he knows what he needs to do to get even. That is, if he's willing to get his hands dirty in the name of justice.

#7 is "That Darkness" by Lisa Black. Cleveland forensic investigator Maggie thinks she has seen just about everything since joining the force. A new Jane Doe is about to change all that. The unidentified woman was brutally murdered, and no one seems to even know she was missing. If Maggie wants to get to the bottom of this, she'll have to trust the one person she knows she shouldn't: Jack Renner, a cop who's just as interested in the case as she is. The only problem is that Jack doesn't play by the rules, and if he needs to kill to get answers, that's fine by him.

For #8 we find Brian Spangler's "Killing Katie." On the surface, Amy Sholes looks like any other happily-married woman. Underneath, however, she's concealing a dark secret. She has a taste for blood, and only murder can satisfy it. Hunting wrongdoers and serving them up a dose of hot justice feels intoxicating, and the craving eventually leads Amy to the dark web and its world of desperate figures who aren't equipped with her moral code. She might be playing with fire, but so far, she's loving the ride.

Underneath, however, she's concealing a dark secret.

#9 is "Hunting Annabelle" by Wendy Heard. Sean Suh has paid for the crimes of his past, and he doesn't ever want to give into his dark side again. But when Annabelle, the one person who can see him for who he truly is, goes missing, Sean doesn't know if he can hold himself together. He has to find Annabelle and whoever took her. Unfortunately, as far as the cops are concerned, Sean is suspect number one in the case. Can he find a way to protect his beloved without spilling blood?

Finally, at #10, is David Lender's "Spin Move." For more than ten years, John Rudiger has been hiding out undercover in Antigua. Now, he's running low on cash thanks to a con run by his ex-girlfriend Katie, who stole thirty million dollars from him before heading to the safe zone of Cape Verde. Now, with a foreign government waiting for him to slip up and Katie on the brink of being conned by a shady banker, it's up to Rudiger to get his life back.