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Six of the Best Loner Characters from Thrillers

Guest Post by James Byrne,

author of The Gatekeeper

This is so tough, because from Sam Spade on, we’ve been trained to love the loners!

Which brings me to a definition of “loner.” For me, it’s not a single-character book. There are other people in the loner’s life, but at the end of the day, it’s on the loner, alone, to right a great wrong. So with that in mind, here are five (alphabetical by protagonist) loners I’ve come to love:


Peter Ash — Nick Petrie

Peter Ash (“The Drifter”) is a nice juxtaposition with Evan Smoak. In the same way that (major nerd alert here) the “Star Trek” characters of Spock and Data were similar, prima facia, but actually polar opposites; one has the full spectrum of emotions and ignores them; one has no emotions and longs for them. Ash would be pleased to have friends and family but his PTSD, after serving in America’s “forever wars,” has left him with serious mental scarring. Much of the drama in this great series is in watching Ash push himself to overcome his PTSD, in order to do right for the people around him. I love this character.


Charlie Fox — Zoë Sharpe

Jack Reacher is the male version of Charlie Fox. (I must have read a dozen blogs that say the same thing but the other way around; wording it like this is my attempt at a little equity for two great writers.) Zoë fought for queen and country (“Killer Instinct”) and was picked for special forces training before her world went pear-shaped. In the early books, she’s a drifter, moving from job to job, trying to outrun her past. In the later works (which I prefer), she’s in the bodyguard business and action moves from the U.K. to the States. If you’re a fan of badass women who are the engines of their own destiny, Charlie Fox is for you.


Aaron Gunner — Gar Anthony Heywood

Aaron Gunner (“Fear in the Dark”) is an unusual detective, in that he was pretty bad at the job and quit, and then got forced back into it. I love that notion. Gunner doesn’t succeed because he’s the biggest guy or fastest draw or most intuitive detective, but because he doesn’t give up and understands the streets. The books also work because they show the sides of Los Angeles that we don’t usually get to visit in other series based there. It should be noted that Heywood is a great series writer but he’s had real success with stand-alone novels as well; a difficult needle to thread.


Kinsey Millhone — Sue Grafton

Fans of the late, great Sue Grafton will always know what other fans mean when they say, “For me, the alphabet ends in Y.” The long-running Kinsey Millhone series was the quintessential solo, female, PI series of the 1980s … and ’90s and oughts and 2010s. Kinsey, again, goes to my definition of “loner” — she was part of a community in the fictional Santa Teresa (and in the 1980s, where the books stayed through their run), but she was all by herself when shots were fired. The books also were funny as hell. (“I love being single. It's almost like being rich.”) The last book before Grafton passed away was “Y is for Yesterday.”


Jack Reacher — Lee Child

It’s important to realize that the Reacher books (“The Killing Floor”) are classic American westerns: A stranger rides into town, finds a bad situation, rights it, and rides alone into the sunset. He’s riding a bus, not a horse, but don’t let that fool you. These are modern-day American westerns. Reacher not only has few longtime friends, he’s part of none of the communities he saves (except in some of the short stories that flash back to his youth and military career). The schtick wouldn’t work if Lee Child didn’t rely on the wry and humorous internal thoughts of the stoic Reacher. Child’s taut prose works so well in these books. They’re amazing.


Evan Smoak — Gregg Hurwitz

This runway success of a series — both here and abroad — plays into my definition of the “loner” mystique. Smoak (“Orphan X”) works really hard not to have any friends in his life. When we first meet him, as the title implies, he has no family, either. But during the course of these wildly popular action stories, the concepts of “friend” and “family” get thrust upon him, no matter how much he strives to avoid them. Besides being exciting, these are cutting-edge, technically proficient novels, too. And the espionage world he’s created is fascinating and deeply entangled. These are must-read.



"JAMES BYRNE is the pseudonym for an author who has worked for more than twenty years as a journalist and in politics. A native of the Pacific Northwest, he lives in Portland, Oregon."


His ‘The Gatekeeper’ is out now!


The gatekeeper of the title is Desmond Aloysius Limerick—aka Dez—a retired mercenary. When the California hotel Dez is staying in is attacked with ruthless precision by a team of highly-skilled mercenaries—out to kidnap the legal counsel of a military contractor—Dez is a one-man spanner in the works, foiling the attempt. Having saved Petra Alexandris from the kidnappers, he sticks around to help her with another corporate problem and the two fall down a rabbit hole so full of adventure (think military coups), intrigue, and nonstop action it’s worthy of Bourne, Reacher, or Orphan X.

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