The best leading men in thrillers right now

In this trio of suspense novels, a seasoned spy, a clever reward-seeker and a thief extraordinaire take on complicated, dangerous assignments as they race against time and attempt to elude their equally determined enemies. 


At just under 500 pages, Charles Cumming’s JUDAS 62 is a commitment, but those who love immersive espionage thrillers will consider it time well spent.

Fans were first introduced to Lachlan Kite in the 2022 series-opener BOX 88, named for the spy agency to which Kite has been loyal since his college days. As the second book begins, Kite is chagrined to hear that former Russian general Saul Kaszeta, a BOX 88 resource for many years, has been killed at his home in Connecticut. To make matters worse, Kite learns of the existence of the JUDAS list, a log of Russia’s enemies who are targets for assassination. Kaszeta was on that list, and thanks to a mission he completed in 1993, so is Kite. Also on the chopping block? Yuri Aranov, the bioweapons scientist Kite exfiltrated all those years ago. 

Emotionally vivid flashbacks to that mission offer insight into a pivotal time in Kite’s life, when he was transitioning from a newbie uncomfortable with lying to his friends into an accomplished, silver-tongued agent on the rise. It’s a treat to be in on Kite’s elaborate planning, social machinations and on-the-fly pivots as roadblocks literal and figurative pop up in his path, including a violent Russian intelligence agent named Mikhail Gromik.

In the present day, there’s plenty of nail-biting action, too: Kite’s got to keep himself and Aranov from being crossed off the JUDAS list and, to truly ensure their safety, take Gromik off the map. Kite and his team jet off to Dubai, “a playground for spying,” to bring those goals to fruition, and Cumming puts his characters in a variety of creatively precarious situations, layering in paranoia and suspense galore. He also underscores the inner conflict that bedevils his spies both novice and expert, what a young Kite called being “suspended between the two worlds in which he lived.” JUDAS 62 offers an engrossing, highly detailed excursion into spy life that crackles with tension, life-or-death problem-solving and plenty of international intrigue.

Hunting Time

As his millions of fans know, Jeffery Deaver likes a twist, especially in his Colter Shaw series. The rugged reward-seeker (he finds people who have gone missing and collects the reward money) relies on two rules emphasized by his uber-survivalist late father: “never be without a means of escape, and never be without access to a weapon.” 

In his fourth adventure, Hunting Time, Shaw puts those rules to the test on a new sort of project, foiling the theft of a nuclear device called the Pocket Sun. The client is Marty Harmon, the founder of Midwestern startup Harmon Energy Products. Shaw likes the cut of Harmon’s jib, so he agrees when the CEO implores him to do yet another job just days later. The brilliant Allison Parker, Harmon’s best engineer and inventor of the Pocket Sun, and her teenage daughter, Hannah, have gone on the run because Allison’s abusive ex-husband, former police detective Jon Merritt, was released early from prison. Harmon wants Allison and Hannah found, protected and returned, but Allison refuses to resurface until Jon is back behind bars.  

Deaver deftly alternates perspectives throughout Shaw’s suspenseful three-day chase over rough terrain, immersing the reader in Jon’s growing rage, Allison’s efforts to strategize an escape while keeping the argumentative Hannah calm, and the demented determination of two hit men who are, alas, also chasing Allison. As time ticks by and the various players converge, Deaver keeps the anxiety high with short chapters and multiple twists that cast the characters’ motivations in surprising new lights. The vagaries of city politics and complicated family dynamics add depth and context to this timely and tension-filled thriller.

Three-Edged Sword

Incorrigible master thief Riley Wolfe is back for a third escapade in Three-Edged Sword by Jeff Lindsay, author of the Dexter series (and creator of the hit TV adaption). 

The story picks up right after 2020’s Fool Me Twice, and Riley is doing the last thing readers would expect: sitting still. Or at least trying to, as he waits for Monique—master art forger, occasional heist partner, the woman for whom he has unresolved romantic feelings—to emerge from a coma. Riley’s mother has been in a coma for some time, and with the only two people he cares about ill and inaccessible, he’s suffering the kind of antsiness that makes him “really want to . . . light [his] hair on fire and run screaming into the night.”  

He doesn’t do that, but he does take risks that land him in the clutches of Chase Prescott, a rogue CIA agent who decides to force Riley into doing a job for him. He’s to sneak onto a remote island in Lithuania owned by former Soviet intelligence agent Ivo Balodis, who lives in an underground bunker connected to a decommissioned missile silo. Once there, he must steal a flash drive from the (heavily guarded and booby-trapped) silo; as payment, he can swipe a rare Russian icon from Balodis’ prized collection. 

Riley is infuriated to learn that Prescott has kidnapped his mother and Monique to ensure compliance. Can he rescue them from Prescott’s goons while coming up with a way to breach Balodis’ missile silo without coming to great harm, or even death? Readers will be transfixed by Riley’s every move as he engages in astonishing transformations and clever ruses in pursuit of his seemingly impossible goals in this audacious and action-packed thriller.

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