With the coronavirus officially a pandemic and impacting many lives across the world, the interest in pandemics-related literature has been surging. To provide readers with the best thriller books focusing on pandemics, we have compiled a definitive guide to the most noteworthy titles in this sub-genre.
The best pandemic-themed thriller and drama books
Our 26 titles here include a mix of classic and contemporary titles from José Saramago to Stephen King.
- I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
- The Plague by Albert Camus
- The Stand by Stephen King
- Outbreak (Dr. Marissa Blumenthal, #1) by Robin Cook
- The Cobra Event by Richard Preston
- The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio
- The Andromeda Strain (Andromeda, #1) by Michael Crichton.
- Company of Liars by Karen Maitland
- Darwin’s Radio (Darwin’s Radio #1) by Greg Bear
- The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham
- The Abyss by Marguerite Yourcenar
- A Death-Struck Year by Makiia Lucier
- The White Plague by Frank Herbert
- Whiteout by Ken Follett
- The Constant Gardener by John le Carré
- White Horse (White Horse, #1) by Alex Adams
- Heartsick by Caitlin Sinead
- The Year of the Rabid Dragon (Nathan Troy #1) by L.H. Draken
- Light by Torgny Lindgren
- The Romanov Cross by Robert Masello
- Medusa (NUMA Files, #8) by Clive Cussler
- The Suicide Collectors by David Oppegaard
- Fever by Mary Beth Keane
- Blindness by José Saramago
- Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
- Oryx and Crake (MaddAddam, #1) by Margaret Atwood
The best pandemic-themed thriller and drama books: Descriptions
I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. Robert Neville is the last living man on Earth…but he is not alone. Every other man, woman, and child on Earth has become a vampire, and they are all hungry for Neville’s blood.
By day, he is the hunter, stalking the sleeping undead through the abandoned ruins of civilization. By night, he barricades himself in his home and prays for dawn. How long can one man survive in a world of vampires?
The Plague by Albert Camus. In the small coastal city of Oran, Algeria, rats begin rising up from the filth, only to die as bloody heaps in the streets. Shortly after, an outbreak of the bubonic plague erupts and envelops the human population.
Albert Camus’ The Plague is a brilliant and haunting rendering of human perseverance and futility in the face of a relentless terror born of nature.
The Stand by Stephen King. This is the way the world ends: with a nanosecond of computer error in a Defense Department laboratory and a million casual contacts that form the links in a chain letter of death.
And here is the bleak new world of the day after: a world stripped of its institutions and emptied of 99 percent of its people. A world in which a handful of panicky survivors choose sides — or are chosen. A world in which good rides on the frail shoulders of the 108-year-old Mother Abigail — and the worst nightmares of evil are embodied in a man with a lethal smile and unspeakable powers: Randall Flagg, the dark man.
In 1978 Stephen King published The Stand, the novel that is now considered to be one of his finest works. But as it was first published, The Stand was incomplete, since more than 150,000 words had been cut from the original manuscript.
Now Stephen King’s apocalyptic vision of a world blasted by plague and embroiled in an elemental struggle between good and evil has been restored to its entirety. The Stand : The Complete And Uncut Edition includes more than five hundred pages of material previously deleted, along with new material that King added as he reworked the manuscript for a new generation. It gives us new characters and endows familiar ones with new depths. It has a new beginning and a new ending. What emerges is a gripping work with the scope and moral complexity of a true epic.
For hundreds of thousands of fans who read The Stand in its original version and wanted more, this new edition is Stephen King’s gift. And those who are reading The Stand for the first time will discover a triumphant and eerily plausible work of the imagination that takes on the issues that will determine our survival.
Outbreak (Dr. Marissa Blumenthal, #1) by Robin Cook. Murder and intrigue reach epidemic proportions when a devastating plague sweeps the country. Dr. Marissa Blumenthal of the Atlanta Centers for Disease Control investigates—and soon uncovers the medical world’s deadliest secret.
The Cobra Event by Richard Preston. The Cobra Event is set in motion one spring morning in New York City, when a seventeen-year-old student wakes up feeling vaguely ill. Hours later she is having violent seizures, blood is pouring out of her nose, and she has begun a hideous process of self-cannibalization.
Soon, other gruesome deaths of a similar nature have been discovered, and the Centers for Disease Control sends a forensic pathologist to investigate. What she finds precipitates a federal crisis.
The details of this story are fictional, but they are based on a scrupulously thorough inquiry into the history of biological weapons and their use by civilian and military terrorists.
Richard Preston’s sources include members of the FBI and the United States military, public health officials, intelligence officers in foreign governments, and scientists who have been involved in the testing of strategic bioweapons. The accounts of what they have seen and what they expect to happen are chilling.
The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio. In the summer of 1348, as the Black Death ravages their city, ten young Florentines take refuge in the countryside. They amuse themselves by each telling a story a day for the ten days they are destined to remain there—a hundred stories of love, adventure and surprising twists of fate.
Less preoccupied with abstract concepts of morality or religion than with earthly values, the tales range from the bawdy Peronella hiding her lover in a tub to Ser Cepperello, who, despite his unholy effrontery, becomes a Saint. The result is a towering monument of European literature and a masterpiece of imaginative narrative.
The Andromeda Strain (Andromeda, #1) by Michael Crichton. Five prominent biophysicists have warned the United States government that sterilization procedures for returning space probes may be inadequate to guarantee uncontaminated re-entry to the atmosphere. Two years later, a probe satellite falls to the earth and lands in a desolate region of northeastern Arizona.
Nearby, in the town of Piedmont, bodies lie heaped and flung across the ground, faces locked in frozen surprise. What could cause such shock and fear? The terror has begun, and there is no telling where it will end.
Company of Liars by Karen Maitland. The year is 1348. The Black Plague grips the country. In a world ruled by faith and fear, nine desperate strangers, brought together by chance, attempt to outrun the certain death that is running inexorably toward them.
Each member of this motley company has a story to tell. From Camelot, the relic-seller who will become the group’s leader, to Cygnus, the one-armed storyteller . . . from the strange, silent child called Narigorm to a painter and his pregnant wife, each has a secret. None is what they seem. And one among them conceals the darkest secret of all—propelling these liars to a destiny they never saw coming.
Darwin’s Radio (Darwin’s Radio #1) by Greg Bear. “Virus hunter” Christopher Dicken is a man on a mission, following a trail of rumors, government cover-ups, and dead bodies around the globe in search of a mysterious disease that strikes only pregnant women and invariably results in miscarriage.
But when Dicken finds what he’s looking for, the answer proves to be stranger—and far deadlier—than he ever could have imagined. Something that has slept in human DNA for millions of years is waking up.
Molecular biologist Kaye Lang has spent her career tracing ancient retroviruses in the human genome. She believes these microscopic fossils can come to life again. But when Dicken’s discovery becomes public, Lang’s theory suddenly turns to chilling fact.
As the outbreak of this terrifying disease threatens to become a deadly epidemic, Dicken and Lang must race against time to assemble the pieces of a puzzle only they are equipped to solve—an evolutionary puzzle that will determine the future of the human race…if a future exists at all.
The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham. Set in England and Hong Kong in the 1920s, The Painted Veil is the story of the beautiful but love-starved Kitty Fane. When her husband discovers her adulterous affair, he forces her to accompany him to the heart of a cholera epidemic.
Stripped of the British society of her youth and the small but effective society she fought so hard to attain in Hong Kong, she is compelled by her awakening conscience to reassess her life and learn how to love.
The Abyss by Marguerite Yourcenar. Marguerite Yourcenar instantly assumes command of our imagination in her novel The Abyss. Almost before we know it the author establishes a scene and time, and engages us in the fate of two cousins.
A Death-Struck Year by Makiia Lucier. In the grip of the deadly 1918 flu pandemic, not even the strong survive.
The Spanish influenza is devastating the East Coast–but Cleo Berry knows it is a world away from the safety of her home in Portland, Oregon. Then the flu moves into the Pacific Northwest. Schools, churches, and theaters are shut down. The entire city is thrust into survival mode–and into a panic.
Seventeen-year-old Cleo is told to stay put in her quarantined boarding school, but when the Red Cross pleads for volunteers, she cannot ignore the call for help. In the grueling days that follow her headstrong decision, she risks everything for near-strangers.
Strangers like Edmund, a handsome medical student. Strangers who could be gone tomorrow. And as the bodies pile up, Cleo can’t help but wonder: when will her own luck run out?
The White Plague by Frank Herbert. What if women were an endangered species?
It begins in Ireland, but soon spreads throughout the entire world: a virulent new disease expressly designed to target only women. As fully half of the human race dies off at a frightening pace and life on Earth faces extinction, panicked people and governments struggle to cope with the global crisis. Infected areas are quarantined or burned to the ground.
The few surviving women are locked away in hidden reserves, while frantic doctors and scientists race to find a cure. Anarchy and violence consume the planet.
The plague is the work of a solitary individual who calls himself the Madman. As government security forces feverishly hunt for the renegade scientist, he wanders incognito through a world that will never be the same. Society, religion, and morality are all irrevocably transformed by the White Plague.
Whiteout by Ken Follett. This is one of our favorite pandemic-themed novels. A missing canister of a deadly virus. A lab technician bleeding from the eyes. Toni Gallo, the security director of a Scottish medical research firm, knows she has problems, but she has no idea of the nightmare to come.
As a Christmas Eve blizzard whips out of the north, several people, Toni among them, converge on a remote family house. All have something to gain or lose from the drug developed to fight the virus.
As the storm worsens, the emotional sparks—jealousies, distrust, sexual attraction, rivalries—crackle; desperate secrets are revealed; hidden traitors and unexpected heroes emerge.
The Constant Gardener by John le Carré. Frightening, heartbreaking, and exquisitely calibrated, John le Carré’s new novel opens with the gruesome murder of the young and beautiful Tessa Quayle near northern Kenya’s Lake Turkana, the birthplace of mankind.
Her putative African lover and traveling companion, a doctor with one of the aid agencies, has vanished from the scene of the crime. Tessa’s much older husband, Justin, a career diplomat at the British High Commission in Nairobi, sets out on a personal odyssey in pursuit of the killers and their motive.
A master chronicler of the deceptions and betrayals of ordinary people caught in political conflict, le Carré portrays, in The Constant Gardener, the dark side of unbridled capitalism. His eighteenth novel is also the profoundly moving story of a man whom tragedy elevates.
Justin Quayle, amateur gardener and ineffectual bureaucrat, seemingly oblivious to his wife’s cause, discovers his own resources and the extraordinary courage of the woman he barely had time to love.
White Horse (White Horse, #1) by Alex Adams. The world has ended, but her journey has just begun. Thirty-year-old Zoe leads an ordinary life until the end of the world arrives. She is cleaning cages and floors at Pope Pharmaceuticals when the president of the United States announces that human beings are no longer a viable species.
When Zoe realizes that everyone she loves is disappearing, she starts running. Scared and alone in a shockingly changed world, she embarks on a remarkable journey of survival and redemption.
Along the way, Zoe comes to see that humans are defined not by their genetic code, but rather by their actions and choices. White Horse offers hope for a broken world, where love can lead to the most unexpected places.
Heartsick by Caitlin Sinead. Quinn is looking forward to her senior year at Poe University. She has big plans to hang out with her best friend, flirt with a certain boy genius, party at her favorite dive bar and figure out what she’s going to do after graduation with her not-so-useful art major.
But that’s before she meets Luke, a hot townie who’s moved back home to help take care of his dying sister. And it’s before a weird epidemic sweeps across campus, mysteriously turning people’s eyes purple.
Is it an odd side effect from a new party drug? Is it a rogue virus developed in a campus lab? Is it the mark of the devil?
Soon the town starts blaming the university and the student religious group becomes frighteningly aggressive in their on-campus accusations. Quinn and Luke are caught in the middle—until a tragic accident forces Luke to reveal the one part of himself he’s kept carefully hidden. That he’s so much more than the happy-go-lucky boy next door Quinn had believed him to be isn’t a surprise…but this truth might be too dangerous for her to handle.
The Year of the Rabid Dragon (Nathan Troy #1) by L.H. Draken. A fast-paced pandemic-themed thriller. A deadly virus is on the loose in Beijing, the government is covering it up and no one is asking why.
Nathan Troy, an American freelance journalist, realizes he’s the only person willing to confront the dark side of the epidemic. He discovers a conspiracy of mad scientists, a plot to ‘deal’ with China’s problem minorities, and a diabolical scheme that will change the face of humanity as we know it. Will Nathan reveal the truth before the Chinese government catches up to him?
Light by Torgny Lindgren. This is a hard to find book due to being out of print but it’s a fantastic pandemic-themed novel. In medieval Sweden, a small community shares its meagre subsistence with its domestic livestock. When an imported rabbit introduces the plague the population is annihilated, all except a few villagers and the odd pig. By the author of Bathsheba and The Way of the Serpent.
The Romanov Cross by Robert Masello. Army epidemiologist Frank Slater is facing a court-martial, but after his punishment is mysteriously lifted, Slater is offered a job no one else wants—to travel to a small island off the coast of Alaska and investigate a potentially lethal phenomenon: The permafrost has begun to melt, exposing bodies from a colony that was wiped out by the dreaded Spanish flu of 1918. Frank must determine if the thawed remains still carry the deadly virus in their frozen flesh and, if so, ensure that it doesn’t come back to life.
Frank and his handpicked team arrive by helicopter, loaded down with high-tech tools, prepared to exhume history. The colony, it transpires, was once settled by a sect devoted to the mad Russian monk Rasputin, but there is even more hiding in the past than Frank’s team is aware of.
Any hope of success hinges on their willingness to accept the fact that even their cutting-edge science has its limits—and that the ancient wisdom of the Inuit people who once inhabited this eerie land is as essential as any serum. By the time Frank discovers that his mission has been compromised—crashed by a gang of reckless treasure hunters—he will be in a brutal race against time. With a young, strong-willed Inuit woman by his side, Frank must put a deadly genie back in the bottle before all of humanity pays the price.
Medusa (NUMA Files, #8) by Clive Cussler. In the Micronesian islands, a top-secret U.S. government-sponsored undersea lab conducting vital biomedical research on a rare jellyfish known as the Blue Medusa suddenly disappears.
At the same time, off Bermuda, a bathysphere is attacked by an underwater vehicle and left helpless a half-mile below the surface, its passengers—including Zavala—left to die. Only Kurt Austin’s heroic measures save them from a watery grave, but suspecting a connection, Austin puts the NUMA team on the case.
Austin’s team has no way to prepare for what comes next: a hideous series of medical experiments, an extraordinarily ambitious Chinese criminal organization, and a secret new virus that threatens to set off a worldwide pandemic. Austin and Zavala have been in tight spots before, but this time it’s not just their own skins they’re trying to save—it’s the lives of millions.
The Suicide Collectors by David Oppegaard. The Despair has plagued the earth for five years. Most of the world’s population has inexplicably died by its own hand, and the few survivors struggle to remain alive. A mysterious, shadowy group called the Collectors has emerged, inevitably appearing to remove the bodies of the dead.
But in the crumbling state of Florida, a man named Norman takes an unprecedented stand against the Collectors, propelling him on a journey across North America. It’s rumored a scientist in Seattle is working on a cure for the Despair, but in a world ruled by death, it won’t be easy to get there.
Fever by Mary Beth Keane. On the eve of the twentieth century, Mary Mallon emigrated from Ireland at age fifteen to make her way in New York City. Brave, headstrong, and dreaming of being a cook, she fought to climb up from the lowest rung of the domestic-service ladder.
Canny and enterprising, she worked her way to the kitchen, and discovered in herself the true talent of a chef. Sought after by New York aristocracy, and with an independence rare for a woman of the time, she seemed to have achieved the life she’d aimed for when she arrived in Castle Garden.
Then one determined “medical engineer” noticed that she left a trail of disease wherever she cooked, and identified her as an “asymptomatic carrier” of Typhoid Fever. With this seemingly preposterous theory, he made Mallon a hunted woman.
The Department of Health sent Mallon to North Brother Island, where she was kept in isolation from 1907 to 1910, then released under the condition that she never work as a cook again. Yet for Mary—proud of her former status and passionate about cooking—the alternatives were abhorrent. She defied the edict.
Blindness by José Saramago. A city is hit by an epidemic of “white blindness” which spares no one. Authorities confine the blind to an empty mental hospital, but there the criminal element holds everyone captive, stealing food rations and raping women.
There is one eyewitness to this nightmare who guides seven strangers—among them a boy with no mother, a girl with dark glasses, a dog of tears—through the barren streets, and the procession becomes as uncanny as the surroundings are harrowing.
A magnificent parable of loss and disorientation, Blindness has swept the reading public with its powerful portrayal of our worst appetites and weaknesses—and humanity’s ultimately exhilarating spirit.
Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson. An epidemic of fever sweeps through the streets of 1793 Philadelphia in this novel from Laurie Halse Anderson where “the plot rages like the epidemic itself” (The New York Times Book Review).
During the summer of 1793, Mattie Cook lives above the family coffee shop with her widowed mother and grandfather. Mattie spends her days avoiding chores and making plans to turn the family business into the finest Philadelphia has ever seen. But then the fever breaks out.
Disease sweeps the streets, destroying everything in its path and turning Mattie’s world upside down. At her feverish mother’s insistence, Mattie flees the city with her grandfather. But she soon discovers that the sickness is everywhere, and Mattie must learn quickly how to survive in a city turned frantic with disease.
Oryx and Crake (MaddAddam, #1) by Margaret Atwood. This is at once an unforgettable love story and a compelling vision of the future. Snowman, known as Jimmy before mankind was overwhelmed by a plague, is struggling to survive in a world where he may be the last human, and mourning the loss of his best friend, Crake, and the beautiful and elusive Oryx whom they both loved.
In search of answers, Snowman embarks on a journey–with the help of the green-eyed Children of Crake–through the lush wilderness that was so recently a great city, until powerful corporations took mankind on an uncontrolled genetic engineering ride. Margaret Atwood projects us into a near future that is both all too familiar and beyond our imagining.
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