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Mystery / Thriller

  • Finalist

    D) Cloister (Charlie Jones) (Volume II)

    by TJ Slee

    Rating: 10.00

    This marvelous story, brilliantly written, chronicles the exploits of Charlie Jones, a former member of Australia’s Security Service and currently a novitiate in Mercy Sisters, where she is slated to soon become a full-fledged nun. When the Pope decides to visit, the Archbishop taps Sr. Jones to oversee security and what follows are highly amusing escapades that put this unorthodox and extremely intuitive nun on the trail of would-be Pope killers. This story has it all – a logical and credible plot, brilliant writing, engaging and well-developed characters, and an appealing heroine. The only (slight) criticism -- without revealing too much about the ending -- is the author’s decision about Charlie’s future endeavors.

  • Semi Finalist

    THE AFTER WAR, Part I: To Alice

    by Brandon Zenner

    Rating: 9.50

    Zenner's engrossing, brilliantly-written work -- which is reminiscent of The Stand -- follows main characters Brian, Steven, and Simon as they travel across the country to reunite with loved ones after a devastating illness wipes out most of the population. Their journeys are long, hard, and absorbing. The central theme of good versus evil permeates the story, as the main characters find themselves having to choose between the right thing to do and what they need to do to survive in this version of civilization. Character development is strong, the prose is top notch, and the plot sucks the reader in up to the last paragraph.

  • Semi Finalist

    It’s 2021, and in this well-written but sometimes convoluted thriller Petra Shirazi, a high-level government employee, takes on a man known as The Ahriman, who is responsible for earlier bomb blasts on the Suez Canal. Like many international thrillers, this novel -- which features strong and extensive historical background about Kuwait -- employs multiple points-of-view, and is a page-turner perfectly set up for a sequel.

  • Semi Finalist

    Blue Fire

    by Joel Canfield

    Rating: 8.75

    In Canfield’s well-paced thriller set in New York City, private detective Max Bowman is hired to track down a troubled and reclusive comic book artist named Ben Mikov. The novel is a compelling read, and the characters—including Bowman’s lady friend, Jules, and his neurotic, obsessive dog, Eydie, are lovingly drawn. Canfield successfully weaves together an Ayn Rand subplot, CIA-backed LSD poisoning, and gay conversion therapy into a heartfelt thriller that will leave readers eager for more.

  • Semi Finalist

    The Big Overnight

    by Libby Kirsch

    Rating: 8.75

    In this uniquely riveting tale, reporter Stella Reynolds works for a Knoxville television station and is surprised when a murder suspect admits his guilt to her. But when his confession is called into question and further murders occur, Stella is determined to discover the truth. The intrigue of the murders is enhanced by the turmoil in Stella’s personal life -- the FBI is asking her questions and her former NASCAR boyfriend wants back into her life -- in this well plotted mystery. 

  • Quarter Finalist

    Home Is Where Your Boots Are

    by Kalan Chapman Lloyd

    Rating: 10.00

    In this winning, humorous, voice-driven novel set in Brooks, Okla., gutsy protagonist Lilly Atkins returns home to cure her cheated heart. She ignores her old, soon-to-be-divorced boyfriend’s hot come-on, while trying to figure out why a body shows up in the local morgue without all its parts. Although the body doesn’t appear until the 11th chapter, the pace is brisk, and the scenes are rich with vivid details: an Elvis car horn, a pool hall/bowling alley named Sticks & Balls, and Dr Pepper ChapStick. Perfect for a series.

  • Quarter Finalist

    BlindSight: Adams Thriller Complete

    by Susan Wisnewski

    Rating: 9.00

    Not only does Tisha Adams see dead people -- she talks to them. In this engaging, entertaining mystery that balances shopping, shoes, and sexy guys with suspense, Tisha witnesses a murder on a commuter train as she is heading to work in Queens. But when the victim’s body disappears, Tisha soon realizes that her own life is in danger and the only way to save herself is to tap into the psychic gift that has always terrified her. Wisnewski's characters are fully realized and the novel skillfully plotted. Fans of the genre will find a lot to like here.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Robert Garcia is a vigilante known as Paladine, and in this well-written and fast-paced thriller, the author demonstrates skill not only with plot, but with character -- and character is what makes this book stand out. An ill-fated love story and an irresistible dog only deepen what could be just another hit-man-killing-jihadists story. Perhaps fewer first-person messages from the author to the reader would allow the story to stand on its own without explanation.

  • Quarter Finalist

    A highly original premise swiftly draws readers into Hadden's novel, the first in a trilogy. Seventeen-year-old Ryan Webster has been entrusted with an unusual responsibility by his beloved, dying grandfather—a renowned primatologist. Ryan learns that his great-grandfather once discovered a new species of monkey, which he chose to keep hidden from the world. Now that the monkeys’ jungle habitat is being threatened, Ryan has inherited the task of protecting them. Hadden's prose can waver between a more mature, stylistic tone and one more in-line with a title geared toward young adults; the question of intended audience may be worth exploring, especially considering the youth of the protagonist. Regardless, Hadden’s work is a thrilling adventure with substance and memorably eccentric characters that cleverly integrates conflicts between creationism and evolution.

  • Quarter Finalist

    3 Tales of Vengeance

    by Shahid Insaf

    Rating: 8.75

    Fans of simple but effective prose and carefully-constructed plotting will relish these three superior stories of revenge, told from very different perspectives; one features a quest to avenge a best friend’s death, and a second, a desperate attempt by a winning gambler to protect a friend being held hostage. The tour de force is a sophisticated account of the deepening relationship between a man thinking of ending his life and his psychologist, which makes their therapy sessions as suspenseful as an action thriller. Well-developed characters and a talent for misdirection are other pluses.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Deadly Conviction

    by Peter McPhie

    Rating: 8.75

    A master pickpocket, while trying to make a score, recognizes a dangerous man and is killed for it. As he lies dying, Detective Paul Locke asks him to identify his killer. But Paul is soon taken by gunmen -- as his young son Andrew watches. After a slow but intriguing beginning, the book takes off. Among the carefully crafted characters, Andrew Locke -- years later a married father and FBI agent -- takes on a secret assignment that leads to a confrontation with a trusted friend and those who harmed his father.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Cluster of Lies

    by Samuel Marquis

    Rating: 8.75

    In this second installment in Marquis's Joe Higheagle Environmental Sleuth series, when children start dying from brain cancer at a ranch in Colorado, Cheyenne geologist Joe Higheagle is called in to investigate. This is a  well written, complex, thoughtful mystery with well drawn characters. The story hums along smoothly, is full of action, and contains great character details.

  • Cold Hollow

    by Emilie J. Howard

    Rating: 8.50

    This absorbing, fast-paced story grabs readers from the very first pages, zeroing in on characters embroiled in engrossing situations including a battered wife determined to end the cycle of abuse, an overtired trucker pushing his limits to earn a much-needed bonus, and an unemployed ranger who is about to be taught a painful lesson. Most of the story centers on the Barner family and their arrival in Cold Hollow, an idyllic town in Vermont that quickly shows it has a dangerous, sinister side. The novel is well written, moves along at a good pace, and holds the reader’s interest throughout. However, there are a few inconsistencies with characterization, and the author clearly wants to end the book on a happy note -- but in doing so wraps up the story too quickly and a bit too happily. But while the ending may be too neat, by the time the imperfections in the storytelling materialize, the reader is too invested in the characters to do anything but overlook these flaws to learn how it all ends.

  • Trojan

    by David L Wallace

    Rating: 8.50

    Wallace's novel is a timely, fast-paced thriller that follows Victor Walker, senior manager of White House defense armament systems, as he faces down a terrible defense calamity -- the shutdown of all armament servers -- and searches to find the cause of the crisis. Fans of the genre will be delighted with the book's well crafted characters, excellent pacing, and plot twists.

  • Bond Hunter

    by Kia McInerny

    Rating: 8.25

    In McInerny's bold, historical thriller, the year is 1994 and young lawyer Kenna Rand is plunged into a web of international mystery and deceit when she takes over efforts from her late grandfather to redeem a portfolio of bonds worth billions of dollars issued during Hitler’s rise to power. This wholly original idea -- which explores Wall Street’s role in financing Germany's war on Europe -- is propelled by a taut narrative of narrow escapes, unexpected bloodshed, and historical insight. The story however is marred by formal dialogue and an unsympathetic main character.

  • Kirsch’s knowledge of television news journalism shines through in her characterization of Stella Reynolds, a young reporter changing jobs from the small market of Bozeman, Montana, to Bristol, Virginia. Stella’s quick introduction to NASCAR is in the form of sexy racing hero Lucky Haskins, a NASCAR star who leases her an apartment. The captivating cast of characters along with the suspense and romance propels the novel swiftly forward as Lucky and Stella work in close proximity together to find out who wanted to kill him.