Young woman read book relaxing on sofa in lounge

I read voraciously- you probably do too, and it suddenly struck me this week (after thousands of books) that I have an instinctive 4-tiered rating system.

1) There’s the poorly written story I stop reading when it takes too much effort or I find I’m dreading picking up my Kindle. (Dread should never be associated with reading novels!)

2) There are the stories that entertain me all the way through, but it’s still easy enough to put the book down and perform critical human functions like eating and bathing.

3) Then there are the amazing authors who consistently capture me into their world. You know the kind: the writers who make writing look easy. My impulsive story-craft critic never rears it’s ugly head…not even once. These are the stories you burn your family’s dinner trying to read ‘just one more page.’

4) And finally- the handful of authors (and I mean one hand, folks!) who are SO talented that I only pick up their stories when I’ve ‘earned it.’ Perhaps I finished a manuscript. Or I’m finally on vacation with nothing but that story in front of me. I begin them thinking it’s the 3rd-tier I just described. I say goodbye to my husband, because nothing will pull me from the novel. But the plot is profound, the characters and setting are so real that reading the story becomes an experience. In this 4th tier, the further I read, the more I begin to SLOW DOWN. Weird huh?

CRIMINALLast night I finished CRIMINAL, by Karin Slaughter, one of the top police-procedural thriller writers of our time. If she were in my 3rd tier I’d have finished the book in a day-and-a-half. But her phenomenal skill at story weaving puts her in the 4th tier. CRIMINAL took me a week to finish. Let me explain, because it’s so counter intuitive:

When an author is that enthralling I don’t want to be without the story. Those characters enrich my life. I also know I won’t get another new work for a year or more (all 5 of my top-tier authors rarely publish more than once a year.) Therefore, the more the story progresses and the more my soul has completely drowned in the author’s world, the more I’ll only read a chapter or two in one sitting. Miserly nibbling away, because I’m already sorry I’m this far into it. And maybe during the epic final battle (what we writers call ‘the black moment’) I’ll put that book down for a whole day. It’s masochistic, I know.

Ironically, I don’t tend to enjoy thrillers and I hate scary movies! Let me be frank: the thriller part of Slaughter’s Will Trent series is beyond horrific. Her antagonists’ twisted evil defies my imagination- and probably yours too. It’s airplanes-crashing-into-buildings shocking. It simply never occurred to you that a person could think up something this horrific to harm others. And Slaughter is 8 books in, folks. Will Trent and his female partner, female boss and girlfriend make up the gist of the story, but that’s 8 villains so heinous, so much more evil than Hannibal Lecter, that I guarantee they’ll each blow your mind. Nerd alert: It’s the kind of horror that requires me to watch three Bewitched sitcoms before sleeping, so her villain won’t seep into my dreams. 🙂


Karin Slaughter

Why on earth would I stick her in the 4th tier? Because her hero, Will Trent is so mind-bendingly flawed and so determined to move beyond his disabilities, his past and his faults. His boss has such incredible depth and secrets that in 9 books (I’m including COP TOWN) you aren’t even close to figuring her out- and you know it! His girlfriend is stoic and beautiful and has held up under massive human suffering. It’s the realism of these characters’ lives and their good-trumps-evil spirit that make me slow down and drag the book out.

Initially I did not read her series in order, but I recommend you do. The Will-Trent-experience is far more enriching when you know what happened and what character traits and secrets were revealed in the previous novel. Below is the sequence of the series. And in her brilliant creativity she’s begun weaving the boss, Amanda Wagner’s backstory within the series and as stand-alones, so I’m adding COP TOWN in as a must-read too.  Will Trent isn’t in it, but you need to know this part of Amanda to make CRIMINAL that much more of a 4th tier experience!

Name your top tier authors! One commenter will win a $10 Amazon gift card. (My way of paying for that author’s next book!)


A pic found on Karin’s FB page. Why yes, I am a stalker-fan. SO?


Karin’s Amazon Author Page

WILL TRENT SERIES (links to each book on her website.)

About Sarah Andre

Romantic Suspense That Keeps You Up All Night! I live in sunny FL, love daydreaming, reading and chocolate. I write in the wee hours of the morning before my helpless hubby and 2 male Pomeranian pups awaken with their demands. :) My debut LOCKED, LOADED and LYING is available now.

Posted on September 1, 2015, in Author Spotlight, book recommendations, keepers, Sarah Andre and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 25 Comments.

  1. Awesome and thought-provoking post, Sarah. I admit that I’ve never read Karin Slaughter before. Why? Because I’ve seen her reviews that talk about horrible graphic violence and gore. That’s a total turnoff for me and something I try to avoid in my own writing. I’m a wuss. I hate scary movies and all that. But you’ve convinced me to give Karin a real try, so I just bought the book whose name I can’t pronounce (Triptch). But I may come looking for you when nightmares keep me awake! Now I’m curious to know your other four top-tier authors though! I’m not sure I have any at the moment. I used to glom onto anything written by Linda Howard and Julie Garwood. But Prey turned me off of Howard for now. And I’ve been burned by a few of Garwood’s recent ones too. Which makes me wonder if it’s really them or whether I’M the one whose tastes are changing.

    • Ah ha! it’s that knowledge of writing craft that may have ruined you, Lena! It’s very rare I can be swallowed into a plot without the standing-back-judging-word-choice. And my poor husband can’t watch TV or a movie without me ruining it, predicting what happens next. (And I’m almost always right.)

      Triptych (trip-tick.) It’s the art that comes in 3 separate panels on a wall. 🙂
      You’re welcome!

  2. Sarah this post is fabulous. What are some of the character flaws that intrigue you most? One of my top tier authors is Amy Tan. You have to go slowly to read between the lines and understand how screwed up her characters really are. One was so utterly, deliciously flawed — and she was narrating the book as a ghost starting at her own funeral. Lol. Who are your other favs?

    • Will Trent was brought up in foster care and never adopted. The cruelty he encountered has messed with his mind and scarred his body. That’s all I’ll say. 😉

      I asked YOU about YOUR fav authors!
      But 4th tier for me? Not in any particular order: Kristan Higgans, Darynda Jones, Susan Howatch, Karin and John Grisham.

  3. Authors to savor? Pat Conroy, Isabel Allende, and Marian Keyes.

  4. Great topic, Sarah, and just in time for my trip to Europe…I need to download a bunch of books because I’ll finally have time to read instead of edit! I like your tier system and you capture with fine points, the way a great novel will stay with you for a long time…and you don’t want it to end. Diana Gibaldon’s Outlander series does that for me, and I’m not normally a time travel fan. I read The Girl on the Train for my book club and was unimpressed, but I picked up Nora Robert’s Birthright, and realize how skilled she’s become as a writer. (I woke up this morning thinking about her characters…now that’s something!) Stephen King wrote for the NYT the other day about how the prolific writers get dissed sometimes. Sure, not every book they write is a winner, but they’ll show us so many gems among the costume jewelry…Linda Howard an example (along with Roberts and King). So thank you, Sarah for lauding the good work of Slaughter and others. I’ve read one or two of her books and enjoyed them, but now I’ll look at the Will Trent series.

    • Yay, another convert. Trust me, Rolynn, this kind of skill will blow your mind! Enjoy the trip (trying to scrub the green off my face.) 😉

  5. I doubt my wit will thrill you. 🙂 But I, too, don’t usually like thrillers or scary movies. And yet, I love good intrigue and mystery. To date, I’ve usually enjoyed lighter fare in that department, like Sue Grafton’s alphabet books and I’ve even strayed into Turow’s and Grisham’s legal stories and others by Cornwell and Hoag. I’ve avoided serial killer stories like I avoid watching Criminal Minds on TV…because they disturb my sleep. That being said, I’m willing to try anything if it’s written really well. I’m “one of those” that likes to get so wrapped up in a story that it grips my waking moments. So I’m going to start with book 1 of Karin Slaughter’s Will Trent series and see what’s what. I’ve heard so much good about that author’s writing that I can’t deny myself a look-see. Thanks for the review and post, Sarah.

  6. Excellent post, Sarah, and excellent ranking system. I think my system is a little more basic with only three tiers: No, Yes, and God Yes. I haven’t read Karin because I usually stay away from the truly dark, but I do love a good suspense thriller so I will give her a try. Besides the names you mentioned, Tami Hoag, Karen Rose, and Lisa Gardner are big faves. Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jennifer Crusie, Lori Foster and Toni Blake consistently entertain in contemporary. And don’t even get me started on historicals.

    • Yes, yes, yes! I knew I was leaving out authors. For sure Jenny Crusie- up to Tier 4. May have to bump Grisham to 3 now…
      Thanks so much for commenting, Jacie!

  7. Excellent post, Sarah! I, too, am a huge Karin Slaughter fan. She’s just so good and creating nuanced characters who come alive on the page. Will Trent seems so real to me that I half expect to run into him on the street when I’m in Atlanta! Or at least his little dog;)

    Unfortunately I’m not nearly disciplined enough to read my favorite authors slowly. I just can’t do it. I want to. But they get me turning the pages because I want to know what happens next. What I do for KS though is re-read, which I hardly ever do with mysteries. I like to listen to the books I’ve already read on audiobook which doesn’t let me skim, and lets me focus on every word.

    I don’t know that I can name three favorites. There are just too many authors I appreciate for different reasons. But if I did have a list KS would definitely be on it.

    • 🙂 I’ve been waiting for you, Manda, my stalking-sister. 😉

      I’m tempted to begin rereading KS, because there are parts of newer books that make reference to things that happened in very early books and my curiosity is getting the better of me. Then I look through my TBR pile!

      I haven’t listened to audio books in years, I really should try that again. Thanks for commenting and HAPPY FREEDOM DAY!

  8. Count me in as a Will Trent fan! Excellent rating system, Sarah. My tier 4 author list includes Ian McEwan (my fav: Saturday), Tana French (my fav: Faithful Place), and Mary Doria Russell (my fav: Doc). What I particularly like about McEwan and Russell is that every book they write explores different ideas, time periods, settings–it’s always a delicious adventure to read their newest books 🙂

    • Cool! I never expected to collect such a great reading list by asking this question today, but thanks for your top level too. I’ll check them out.

  9. I envy you your ability to savor. I just can’t do it. I devour. Books I love, I will sometimes go back and reread parts of later. Like Suzanne Brockmann’s.

    I just saw that Grafton’s X finally came out. Yay! I’ve been reading her since I was in high school, and she just gets better. I think W might have been my favorite, probably because there was a romance element to it. Plus, after having lived near Santa Barbara for several years, I enjoy knowing the area where the books take place.

    Interesting that many of your Tier 4 authors only publish once a year. That might say something about WHY they’re top tier… Now if only I could use that as my excuse. 😉

    • I’m pretty sure, based on the 7 (?) pages of acknowledgements at the end of CRIMINAL, that KS spends a majority of the year researching!

      Part of the novel sweeps back to ’75 and being a female on the Georgia police force, and it sounds incredibly authentic. Then you get to the acknowledgements and realize all the different ways she went about making sure the details were genuine. Reading her acknowledgements was humbling and as interesting as the story.

      Thanks for commenting, Gwen! Enjoy X. I bought it.

  10. Marvelous list of authors here. Thanks for your rating system and the authors you brought to the table. Every other year I read over Deborah Smith’s When Venus Fell. Piercingly wrought characters. I want to write like these women (listed above) when I grow up…time’s a wasting!

  11. I really enjoyed and completely agree with your article. I have more than five must read authors though because I read so many different genres. My tops (off the top of my head) are J.D. Robb’s In Death series, Marie Force’s Fatal series, Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark Hunters series, Jayne Castle’s Harmony series, J.M. Madden’s Lost and Found series. See the trend. I like stand alones, but I get immersed for years in series.

    • You know, Avonna, you were my ‘ah ha’ moment today. I’ve been toying with the idea of switching this work-in-progress from a stand alone to a series, (which I’ve never tried) and you’re right. People do get more invested when they can ‘visit’ the characters book after book. I should have seen it in my own blog!


  12. Sarah this is very timely. Since I just finished (the first round) of Notorious on Tuesday (why I’m late posting) I plan to reward myself by reading a book over the weekend. I haven’t picked it yet, but this just made the eeny meeny minnie moe list.

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