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The California Thriller Authors You’ll Obsess Over

The California Thriller Authors You’ll Obsess Over

Add a bit of excitement to your bookshelf and pick up a gripping novel by one of California's best thriller and mystery authors. Team


6 min read

October 20, 2020

With Halloween right around the corner, you may be in need of extra suspense, and there's no better way to satisfy your craving for all things eerie and mysterious than by reading a thrilling book. So, when heading to the best used bookstores, don't just pick up classic California-based books—grab suspenseful works by some of the state's top thriller writers and mystery authors. They sure know how to keep your attention and drive you to the edge of your seat, providing an outstanding read. Get ready to add a bit of excitement to your bookshelf and pick up a gripping novel by one of the Golden State's best suspense authors

California's Best Mystery and Thriller Authors 

Diversify your reading repertoire during the spooky season by picking up suspenseful novels.

Max Byrd

Max Byrd is a mystery writer and an Atlanta native who currently lives in Northern California. He was educated at Harvard University and at King’s College in England, then went on to teach English at Yale University and the University of California, Davis. While he has tackled all areas of creative literature—from historic fiction to scholarly books—his thriller and crime novels stand out. Byrd's award-winning California Thriller set the stage for a series of mystery novels featuring the fictional character P.I. Mike Haller.

Notable works include:

California Thriller

The action-packed book follows Haller as he's on the hunt for a newsman who went missing in the Sacramento Valley. The novel depicts quite an exhilarating journey as the investigator races to save thousands of lives.

Finders Weepers

Investigator Haller has been hired to find Muriel Contreras, who's inherited nearly $1 million. However, as Haller draws closer to Contreras, he realizes he's been sabotaged and winds up on a chase that quickly turns deadly.

Target of Opportunity

While on a vacation in Lake Tahoe, Gilman's brother-in-law is shot to death in a convenience store—a seemingly random murder that actually has roots dating back to 40 years prior. Gilman's sister-in-law embarks on a vicious hunt for revenge, and he follows to try and stop her.

Whether you head to the park or cozy up on the couch with a thrilling read, California's authors will have you hooked.

Dean Koontz

Born in Everett, Pennsylvania, Dean Koontz writes horror, fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and satirical novels in his Southern California home. He's written and published over 105 books, many of which are found on The New York Times Best Seller List. While novels are his most reputed works, Koontz also puts pen to paper to produce short stories, poems, and screenplays.

Notable works include:


The 1987 suspense novel follows former Delta Force operative Travis Cornell who stumbles upon two genetically engineered creatures while hiking in the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains. Upon discovering a dog of alarming intelligence, he is quickly thrown into a storm of man's darkest creation—a brutally violent hybrid monster that's also on the loose. This dramatically terrifying novel will give you goosebumps.

Odd Thomas

Short-order cook Odd Thomas can communicate with the dead. Perhaps it's a gift, perhaps a curse, but one day, he realizes he must rely on his supernatural abilities to save the California desert town he calls home. This gripping, acclaimed novel paved the way for six more sequels following the complex protagonist.


This thriller takes readers on a restless journey in Napa Valley. Chyna Shepard is spending her first night at her best friend's family's home when a sociopath serial killer named Edgler Foreman Vess breaks into the house, intending to murder everyone inside. Shepard becomes trapped in a fight for survival and races to save an endangered girl.

One is never enough. Stock up on books so you can enjoy a fall season full of mystery and excitement.

Tess Gerritsen

The child of Chinese immigrants, Tess Gerritsen grew up in San Diego. Definitely considered one of California's fiercest female authors, her novels are absolute must-reads. As a child, she was a major Nancy Drew fan (who doesn't love the female counterpart to The Hardy Boys?), but instead of pursuing a writing career, she chose to study medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, where she was awarded her M.D. Despite her medical career, Gerritsen couldn't put the pen down; while on maternity leave, she began writing fiction. Her first novel, a romantic thriller titled Call After Midnight, was published in 1987—the rest is history. She's since written numerous best-selling books and now writes full time. 

Notable works include:

The Surgeon

A serial killer is on the loose and targeting the streets of Boston, on a violent mission to torture and murder young lone women. The killer, nicknamed “The Surgeon,” is hunted down by homicide detectives Jane Rizzoli and Thomas Moore.

The Apprentice

Rizzoli makes a comeback in The Apprentice. Although a year has passed since The Surgeon was put behind bars, a chilling new killer is committing horrifyingly similar crimes to his predecessor. Things take a turn for the worst when The Surgeon escapes prison, and both killers join forces in an attempt to murder the woman who's currently hunting them down.

The Shape Of Night

A woman attempting to escape her past settles in a small coastal village in Maine. But this quiet town is much more than meets the eye. A series of unsolved murders leaves Ava Collette determined to uncover the truth before the killer strikes again. Gerritson's readers will be engulfed in a haunting tale of romantic suspense.

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James Ellroy

One of California's best thriller authors is James Ellroy. Born in Los Angeles, the writer and essayist had a troubled youth due to the unsolved murder of his mother, but he got his life back on track and became inspired to write and sell his first novel, Brown’s Requiem, at age 30. Now, he is most famous for his L.A. Quartet novels—The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential, and White Jazz—which have won numerous awards and are international best sellers. Ellroy channeled the emotions surrounding his mother's murder to Elizabeth Short, the murder victim of The Black Dahlia.

Notable works include:

The Black Dahlia

This crime fiction novel follows the 1947 murder of the stunning actress Elizabeth Short. The grisly murder makes headlines, thus starting the largest manhunt in California history. Los Angeles Police Department (L.A.P.D.) officers Dwight Bleichert and Lee Blanchard investigate the case yet soon find themselves spiraling out of control as they try to hunt down the killer.

L.A. Confidential

Set in the 1950s, this neo-noir crime novel follows several violent and corrupt L.A.P.D. officers who are involved in the beating of six prisoners. In the aftermath, the three detectives' lives are turned upside down as their guilty secrets revolving around brutal violence and corruption are exposed.


Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, a Japanese family is found dead. The investigation unites a Japanese L.A.P.D. chemist, a young woman looking for a thrill, an alcoholic police captain, and an Irish L.A.P.D. officer. This detailed homicide investigation is intertwined with romance and takes place against the backdrop of World War II. 

Follow the literary success of famous thriller authors whose works have been adapted into acclaimed films.

Dennis Lehane

Dennis Lehane is among the most famous mystery writers in California. He was born in Boston, Massachusetts, but currently resides in SoCal. He graduated from Eckerd College in Florida before teaching at several acclaimed universities and becoming a literary success. 

Notable works include:

Shutter Island

Yes, that’s right—the legendary Leo DiCaprio film Shutter Island was based on this epic novel. U.S. Marshal Edward Daniels and his partner Chuck Aule hop on a ferry ride to Shutter Island, which was home to Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane, to investigate the disappearance of patient Rachel Solando, who was kept in a locked cell. But they soon find that nothing is as it seems.

Gone, Baby, Gone

This story follows Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro, lovers and private investigators who are looking into the disappearance of four-year-old Amanda McCready. They soon find themselves in a world of drug dealers, child molesters, and merciless executioners. Shortly after McCready's disappearance, another child disappears and the hunt continues… 

Mystic River

Another renowned book to make it on the big screen, Mystic River was adapted into a film starring Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, and Kevin Bacon. The book tells the story of three boys who grew up together in Boston—and the grisly incident that changed their lives forever. Fast-forward 25 years to discover what has become of the three boys.

If you're looking for something to entertain you during your next road trip or commute, check out these binge-worthy California podcasts to satisfy your desire for thrills and mystery.

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