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Mystery / Thriller

  • Finalist

    Face Value: A Wright & Tran Novel

    by Ian Andrew

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot: This novel is superbly structured and skillfully paced. The only flaw is that the motivations for the first killing are almost entirely unexplored.

    Prose: The writing is direct, smooth, and especially good during sequences of violence, car chases, and tactical decision making. The interrogation dialogue is much better than some of the expository dialogue, which gets a little flat at points.

    Originality: This novel features great characters, a great villain, and good supporting characters, all of which make it feel fresh and help it stand out in a crowded market.

    Character Development: Protagonists Kara Wright and Tien Tran are fully realized characters. Readers will want to know more about them and hope for future installments.

    Blurb: Featuring gripping action and tight plotting, this supercharged novel keeps readers on the edge of their seats.

  • Semi Finalist

    The Last Train

    by Michael Pronko

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: This story grips the reader from the very beginning with its creepy and eerie premise, original story line, and rage-filled killer with icy determination.

    Prose: Well written and engaging throughout, the book achieves a perfect balance of action and description. The descriptions of Tokyo and Japanese culture are particularly memorable.

    Originality: The author provides a distinctive and fast-paced plot that holds the reader's attention from beginning to end.

    Character Development: The author does a superb job of developing both his major and minor characters.

    Blurb: Gripping and suspenseful, this fast-paced thriller unfolds on the streets of Tokyo, where a clever and cold-blooded killer exacts revenge.

  • Semi Finalist

    Blood Symbols

    by Izak Botha

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: The author provides a captivating plot that takes the reader deep into the Vatican, revealing secrets that those in power wish to remain buried. The resulting quest will keep readers on their toes until the end.

    Prose: This well-written novel offers the perfect balance of action, description, and character insight. Thanks to great prose, the plot unfolds at a good pace, keeping reader interest but also providing the background necessary to understand the intricate issues at play.

    Originality: Inevitably, all mysteries centering on this topic will be reminiscent of The DaVinci Code. Once the reader digs further, however, the story here is strikingly distinctly different and original.

    Character Development: The author does a superb job creating a likable protagonist in Jennifer Jaine, Other characters are equally well presented and realistic.

    Blurb: This fast-paced and intriguing work will hook readers from the first page to the last, leaving them wanting more.

  • Semi Finalist

    Libya Story

    by J. J. Ward

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: This book is intriguing from the very beginning. As the story unfolds, all is revealed via a fast-paced, clever plot. Superb!

    Prose: Libya Story is beautifully written with concise, effective prose that aptly conveys tension and drama. This novel will entertain and keep readers on the edge of their seats. The author shows an amazing command of language, conveying meaning succinctly and creating a vivid visuals.

    Originality: This superb book is a highly original blend of masterful storytelling with memorable characters and a fast-paced, twisty plot. The quality of writing is top notch, combining action, drama, and bits of humor along the way.

    Character Development: The author does a stellar job with character development. John Mordred comes alive on the page, and is a character readers will not soon forget.

    Blurb: This is a fast-paced novel guaranteed to keep readers on the edge of their seat, from the first page to the last. Brilliant and suspenseful. Fans will be eagerly awaiting the next installment.

  • Semi Finalist

    The Hiding Girl

    by Dorian Box

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot: This dark and gritty novel is an exceptional, heart-pounding story full of raw emotion, deep-seated fear, and an undercurrent of hope and innocence.

    Prose: Deeply atmospheric without extraneous detail, the prose leaves plenty to the imagination. Even though the story featured a young girl placed in very adult situations, she never lost that young freshness of voice.

    Originality: The novel is without peer in contemporary mysteries/thrillers. Oddly—it’s neither of those, and both of them, at the same time. That contradiction is what makes it work so well. It calls back to movies like The Professional and Disney’s The Journey of Natty Gann while being wholly and freshly contemporary.

    Character Development: Watching the the characters evolve (and devolve, in some cases) was absolutely amazing. Subtle nuances were plentiful and guided the reader into horrified admiration and a desire to protect them all.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Revelation and Retribution

    by AK Pittman

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: This novel features an enthralling plot populated with colorful characters from all walks of life. The storyline hooks readers from the get-go and doesn't let go until all is revealed.

    Prose: The author offers up quality writing that grabs readers from the first sentence. This is straight-up, no-nonsense prose that entertains and captivates.

    Originality: A straight-forward mystery so fast-paced that readers will devour it in a single sitting, this story is refreshingly original.

    Character Development: The author does a superb job developing the characters. From the main players to the supporting cast, the character are vivid, real, believable, and compelling.

    Blurb: A brilliant and gripping mystery that has it all—colorful characters, a clever plot, and a killer with a peculiar sense of justice. Readers will devour Revelation and Retribution in a single sitting and will be left wanting more.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Plot: Political novels invariably involve numerous characters but once introductions are made, Beyer's fast paced plot races toward a satisfying conclusion.

    Prose: Beyer’s prose is clean, with a good balance between narrative and dialogue. Descriptive passages are concise yet thorough.

    Originality: Cutthroat politics don't surprise anyone in the age of House of Cards, but Beyer takes it a bit further with lethal consequences.

    Characterization: All main and secondary characters feel true and are adequately limned.

    Blurb: Beyer's suspenseful thriller about political intrigue and duplicity in the White House hits all the right notes. Once readers get caught up in the characters, their political backstabbing, and the thundering tension, the compulsion to read to the last page is irresistible.

  • Quarter Finalist

    The Ossuary's Paladin

    by Daniela Bronzy

    Rating: 9.75

    Plot: The author crafts an excellent, multilayered, and timely mystery surrounding a Syrian refugee whose path to assimilation is thrown into disarray after an uncle's murder—an event that will lead into riveting territory that defies reader expectations.

    Prose: The author writes in polished and commanding prose that seamlessly balances the story's many thematic elements.

    Originality: The author offers a highly original premise that incorporates themes of xenophobia, religion, and personal identity, while also playfully challenging readers' assumptions.

    Character Development: Bronzy excels at crafting the well-rounded characters that populate her story.

    Blurb: This novel is a daringly original and complex study of cultural identity and xenophobia, as well as a far-reaching thriller concerning a long-held family secret.

  • Quarter Finalist


    by Stewart Raffill

    Rating: 9.50

    PLOT: Raffill offers a story that is both innovative, timely, and frightening, and which demonstrates the author's integrity as a political thriller writer.

    PROSE: Occasional overwriting interferes with an otherwise taut and tense narrative.

    ORIGINALITY: While the story is of the moment and offers a striking degree of verisimilitude, the concept is one that readers are unlikely to have encountered before.

    CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT: The author introduces a broad assortment of strong, damaged characters who must navigate their professional and personal roles under unprecedented circumstances.


  • Quarter Finalist

    Full Slab Dead

    by EM Kaplan

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot: The fourth title in Kaplan's Josie Tucker series is a stylish and gutsy mystery that offers humor, ghosts, and Texas BBQ. Kaplan's story flows seamlessly between eccentric characters and atmospheric Austin haunts.

    Prose: Kaplan writes in polished prose with a note of bluesy lyricism, striking a sure-footed balance between humor and poignancy.

    Originality: Through smart writing and an excellent command of character development, Kaplan delivers a story that is fresh, surprising, and suspenseful.

    Character Development: The author excels at creating a cast of immediately compelling characters that, however amusing or unconventional, never slip into caricatures.

  • Plot: The plot of this winning novel is complex and detailed, but always tracks well. The author maintains the suspense and tension throughout.

    Prose: The prose here is excellent. The author's style reinforces the tension and increasing desperation on the part of the investigators, as well as the arrogance of the killer.

    Originality: The many interesting facets of this story are skillfully developed and original.

    Character Development: Tess is well developed and evolves over the course of the book. The portrait of the serial killer seems exceedingly accurate, while the change in attitude toward Tess on the part of the investigators strikes the right chords.

    Blurb: This powerful mystery is a riveting police procedural that probes the mind of the psychopath in a unique and fascinating way.

  • Plot: This novel is well plotted and moves along at a good clip. Readers will keep turning pages!

    Prose: The writing is crisp, clear, and well suited to the material.

    Originality: Though the book deals with a familiar topic, the author has created a new and original story. Fans of the genre will find a lot to like here.

    Character Development: The characters are well developed and vivid. They are engaging and readers will be drawn into the story.

  • Can I Be Frank?

    by Rob Wyatt

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: This charming novel is full of humorously preposterous events and mishaps that will delight readers. And while the pacing is slow at times, readers will enjoy the adventures of the often confused Father Francis.

    Prose: The dialogue is excellent, light and fast paced. The internal monologues are both funny and poignant.

    Originality: While the novel will remind some readers of television's The Vicar of Dibley and culture clash stories are common, this one manages to feel fresh thanks to its winning protagonist.

    Character Development: The characters are well developed and fun, with unexpected twists. Father Francis develops from a consummate blunderer into a more confident man over the course of the novel. Martha and Ginny also grow and evolve, while even minor characters have strong personalities.

  • Trevega House

    by Will North

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: Though there is frequent and unnecessary repetition of some plot points, it's not enough to slow down this fast-paced mystery. And though some events are telegraphed, the plot is perfectly paced. North knows how to dole out information at the right time and keep readers turning pages.

    Prose: The prose is expertly crafted. North takes full advantage of his setting, and is an expert at vivid descriptions of the landscape and surroundings.

    Originality: North knows his genre well, and crafts a fresh and compelling mystery. The plot is fast-paced, keeping readers engaged—and guessing-—until the very end.

    Character Development: Although some characters are burdened with excess backstory, the entire cast is well rounded and richly developed. Even minor characters display traits that become important as the story unfolds.

    Blurb: This winning third book in North's Davies & West Mystery series will make readers revisit the first two volumes and look forward to future installments.

  • Angels in the Moonlight

    by Caimh McDonnell

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: This Dublin-based police procedural has an intriguing, multi-pronged plot that flows smoothly without getting bogged down by details. Mystery fans will enjoy the roller-coaster ride.

    Prose: The prose is clean, sharp, and lively. This mystery, deftly seasoned with humor and Irish slang, is memorable and powerful.

    Originality: This novel expands on the police procedural with compelling characters and a twisty plot.

    Character Development: The characters are compelling and well-developed. From protagonist Detective Bunny McGarry and his fellow coppers to peripheral characters like the streetwise nuns, this book is full of memorable characters.

  • The Fog Seller: A San Francisco Mystery

    by Don Daglow

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: The intricate plot is ingeniously executed so that all pieces of the puzzle fit together in the end. Twists and turns that at first appear questionable, end up working perfectly. The flashbacks blend easily into the story.

    Prose: The prose is top notch. The use of the present tense is effective and reveals the narrator's psychological situation.

    Originality: The book's distinctively original structure moves the story along briskly. Even what seems like extraneous material contributes to the backbone of the novel.

    Character Development: All the characters are fully developed. The revelation about the lead character is unexpected but effective.