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These Chase Crime Novels Will Make Your Heart Race

Run like you stole something…especially if you did. 

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  • Photo Credit: toine G / Unsplash

Whether they are a wanted felon, a falsely accused victim, or simply on the lam from the past in search of a better life, the fictional fugitive is sure of one thing—people are going to be coming after them—and not just to return a hat they left in a restaurant either. 

When people go on the run, thrills are guaranteed as these great chase thrillers prove. Here are eight of the best crime thrillers featuring classic chases.

The Thirty-Nine Steps

The Thirty-Nine Steps

By John Buchan

Arguably the first great chase thriller, British writer Buchan’s patriotic 1915 tale of derring-do sees his regular hero Richard Hannay pursued across the Scottish Highlands by sinister agents eager to get their hands on a codebook palmed to him by a U.S. agent.

The code book holds the secret to a black-hearted attempt to derail the British war effort.

Luckily Hannay is a man with an upper lip so stiff you could crack rocks with it and after a series of exciting leaps, bounds, and fist fights he’s soon saved the Empire. 

Rogue Male

Rogue Male

By Geoffrey Household

Geoffrey Household’s piano-wire taut 1939 chase thriller begins with the unnamed narrator—a big game hunter—stalking the brutal fascist leader of an unnamed country (It’s fairly obviously Nazi Germany) simply for the hell of it.

However,  when he finally gets the dictator in the crosshairs of his rifle, he’s discovered, captured, and beaten by the secret police. 

Escaping the clutches of his captors, he manages to get back to England only to find that enemy agents and the British police are pursuing him. His only choice is to go to ground in the English countryside—quite literally.

Household’s novel brilliantly combines Buchan-style breath-taking boys’ adventure with the savage politics of the time.  

The Night of the Hunter

The Night of the Hunter

By Davis Grubb

Set in West Virginia during the Great Depression, Grubb’s sweaty slab of Southern Gothic features one of fictions most memorable villains, the psychotic preacher Harry Powell (memorably portrayed by Robert Mitchum in the 1955 movie).

In search of the $10,000 his prison cellmate stole and hid, Powell latches onto the widow and her young son and daughter, one of whom knows where the money is stashed. 

After killing their mother, Powell (based on a real-life killer) pursues the children as they flee down the Ohio River on a rowing boat. 

It’s a journey filled with darkness and menace and few readers will ever forget the slickly evil Powell. 

The Getaway

The Getaway

By Jim Thompson

The title of Jim Thompson’s typically pared-back and violent 1958 novel says it all.

Following a ruthlessly executed bank robbery and a whole series of savage double-crosses, career criminal Doc McCoy and his glamorous, amoral wife Carol escape across the U.S. by car and train trailed by the cops and an array of violent and angry crooks.

A memorable slice of acidly bitter pulp fiction, filled with the sort of sleazy and corrupt people to whom money and survival are all that matters, the novel (shorn of its oddly surreal ending) was brilliantly filmed by Sam Peckinpah, with Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw as the fugitive couple. 

No Country for Old Men

No Country for Old Men

By Cormac McCarthy

Anybody who reads crime thrillers knows that if you come across a suitcase filled with cash, then the worst possible thing you can do is take it home with you and hide it in a cupboard.

Unfortunately, Llewelyn Moss isn’t a mystery fan, so when he discovers a pile of money left over from a drug deal gone sideways, he does just that. Soon he’s being pursued across Texas by kindly sheriff Ed Tom Bell and, far more worryingly, the implacable sociopathic contract killer Anton Chigurh.

Filled with dark humor and set against an arid landscape that seems to breed violence, No Country for Old Men is a genuine classic. 

Witch Hunt: A Novel

Witch Hunt: A Novel

By Ian Rankin

Celebrated Scots detective writer Ian Rankin is best known for his Rebus series, but in the 1990s he also wrote a memorable trilogy of spy novels under the pen name of Jack Harvey.

In this cracking tale of pursuit, former MI5 operative Dominic Elder comes out of retirement to continue his hunt for a female terrorist assassin known only as “Witch”. Teaming up with a couple of young agents from England and France—there’ plenty of Anglo-Gallic friction—he’s soon trailing the killer across Europe.

Complex, tense, and authentic, The Witch Hunt will leave you wondering why Rankin doesn’t write more espionage novels

the passenger book cover

The Passenger

By Lisa Lutz

When Tanya Dubois finds her husband dead at the bottom of the stairs, she doesn’t call 911 like the rest of us would. Instead, she changes her name, dyes her hair, and runs for it.

This is because Tanya (or whatever her real name might be) is a woman with more secrets than the CIA. Soon our fugitive has teamed up with a female bartender named Blue and the mismatched pair are hopping across the US from Nebraska to Texas, Wyoming to New York.

It’s a breakneck journey filled with thrills and suspense, all leavened by Lutz's trademark humor. 

November Road: A Novel

November Road: A Novel

By Lou Berney

The assassination of John F Kennedy looms large in Berney’s beautifully written tale of New Orleans mobster Frank Guidry and his attempts to escape the former colleagues who have put out a contract on him.

Driving across the U.S. in the hope that a Mafia fixer in Las Vegas can resolve his problems, Frank picks up a young Oklahoma housewife, Charlotte, and her daughter whose car has broken down. He thinks that posing as a typical 1960s American family will be the perfect disguise.

Unbeknownst to Frank, however, his new charges are on the run too, from a boring suburban life and a drunken man. Sharp, smart, and poignant, it’s a tale not just of pursuit but of redemption. 

Featured image: toine G / Unsplash