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Mystery / Thriller

  • Whiskey Devils

    by Brandon Zenner

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot: The plot moves resolutely along and readers answer the book's many questions at the same pace as the narrator, which makes for an engaging read. The fast paced conclusion resolves the book in a satisfying way.

    Prose: The author's style is polished, fits the genre well, and serves the book.

    Originality: The surprises that come at the end lift the whole above expectations for a conventional thriller.

    Character Development: Evan's gradual understanding of what he's gotten into is well developed, while the truth about Nick is slowly and deftly revealed.

    Blurb: What appears at first to be an engaging but fairly conventional thriller -- involving a large marijuana growing operation, Russian mobsters, undercover drug agents, and a biker gang -- wraps up with a series of unexpected and shocking plot reversals that brings the book to a violent, surprising, and powerful end.

  • Demaris Protocol

    by Brian Randall

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot: This novel is thrilling and action-packed. And just when the story begins to ebb and the characters' involvement with the protocol has concluded, the author continues the storyline and further enhances the suspense.

    Prose: The writing is crisp and concise throughout, and the story is told at a such a thrilling pace that it's certain to keep the reader interested until the very end. Working against the novel is its length: at close to 500 pages, the baggy story should be shortened and the plot tightened.

    Originality: The plot structure is unique, and the novel has an alluring premise. The inclusion of gay characters, government schemes, and international locales add to the book's originality.

    Character Development: From the very beginning the characters are well developed and believable. Both protagonist Trey and Special Officer Rick Morgan are particularly well drawn.

  • The Girl Who Lived

    by Paul Dale Anderson

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot: This dark thriller that approaches horror terrain, carefully weaves multiple side stories into the central narrative; the result is a cohesive tale of abuse and revenge, but also of love, respect, and healing.

    Prose: The author’s use of first-person narrative for Megan Williams, and third-person for all other characters, is hauntingly effective. Anderson is unflinching in her descriptions of her character's ordeal and of her lasting scars, both physical and psychological.

    Originality: Anderson delivers on many of the satisfying conventions of the revenge story, while integrating an inspired level of psychological nuance.

    Character Development: Anderson excels at crafting complex characterizations in both the central protagonist and the villainous figures throughout. No character is beyond reproach; many are deserving of contempt and comeuppance, yet each reads as fundamentally human.


  • A Fine Line (A Sebastian Drake Novel)

    by Dan Burns

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot: The plot is complicated, which is appropriate for the genre, but well controlled and well handled.

    Prose: The author's style is straightforward and suspenseful. Perhaps the subtext of overcoming writer's block is a bit too pat, but otherwise this is a solid performance.

    Originality: The main character's side business is a clever touch, but this book's strength lies not in breaking new ground but in the way the mystery unfolds and deepens.

    Character Development: Most characters are developed clearly, while others remain mysterious. Both keep the manuscript moving at a good pace.

    Blurb: In this suspenseful page turner, bodies pile up, bourbon flows, cigarettes burn down, suspects multiply, and Sebastian Drake finds himself working a case that threatens everything he holds dear. 

  • Androcide (INTEL 1, Book 5)

    by Erec Stebbins

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot: Readers new to Stebbins’s series will have no problem jumping into this novel, with its plot that flows smoothly and is well structured.

    Prose: The prose here is alternatively spare, vivid, and compelling. A pleasure to read.

    Originality: Though this novel contains some elements that will be familiar to readers, the book excels at making both the predictable and the improbable seem plausible.

    Character Development: The INTEL I characters are sufficiently well-drawn in a cinematic way; the scene stealers are the flawed, brilliant, sympathetic, and likable Sacker and Grace Gone.

    Blurb: Integrating police procedural, Holmesian puzzle-solving, bio-thriller, and political commentary, Androcide's style and substance will prove irresistible for readers.

  • The Piper

    by Ben Miller

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot: This novel is clearly plotted, keeps readers engaged, moves swiftly forward, and provides plenty of thrills.

    Prose: The writing here is very good. The prose is smooth and unencumbered by errors. The author provides realistic dialogue and descriptive details.

    Originality: While the subject matter will be familiar to readers, the author offers up some highly original twists and turns. Readers will be surprised in the end.

    Character Development: The primary characters are all well developed, complex, and believable. If anything, there are perhaps a few minor characters that feel superfluous and could be eliminated.

  • The Han Agent (Microes)

    by Amy Rogers

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot: This novel is plotted well, flows smoothly, and contains many surprises. Readers will certainly be engaged throughout.

    Prose: The writing is clear and effective, while the pacing keeps readers turning pages.

    Originality: This novel—about Japanese-Chinese relations and biological weapons in the 1930s—is original and engaging. Additionally, there are several twists and turns that are handled admirably.

    Character Development: Amika is well developed and feels real and relatable. The other main characters, while not as vivid, are also solidly developed.

  • Preordained

    by David L Wallace

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot: The author deftly handles a multifaceted plot with plenty of surprises and plot twists. Blending police procedure with an underlying theme of religion/superstition shows skill.

    Prose: The book's prose is solid and skillfully handled.

    Originality: Wallace has executed an idea that, while not brand new, is quite original given current trends in the mystery/thriller genres.

    Character Development: The main characters are skillfully and fully developed. However, secondary characters are left more two dimensional for purposes not revealed until the story's climax.

    Blurb: Wallace’s original and engaging novel is full of plot twists, surprises, and a substantial dash of the supernatural thrown in for good measure.

  • After and Before: The Story of Hatley Chambers

    by Glenn Seerup

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot: The overall arch of the plot is intriguing and well-developed. It keeps the reader guessing until nearly the end. Certain minor plot points, e.g. the unlikely house photography job that pays $500 a week or Hat's flight at a pivotal moment in his career, are a stretch. The story ends abruptly in the past, providing answers to the questions raised in the opening chapter. However, the story feels unfinished. The author should consider ending with an "after" that shows Hat's future direction rather than leaving him bitter and rudderless.

    Prose: The author's clever narrative, which switches between the present and the past, keeps the reader engaged, eager to learn how Hatley could have gone from a carefree young man to a convicted felon. The story flows smoothly, and the prose is solid.

    Originality: An intriguing story with strong, unique characters, this book scores high on the originality scale.

    Character Development: Hatley Chambers. the story's tragic hero, is a well-developed, likable character despite the stigma that surrounds him. Even though he is a convicted felon, the reader likes him, most of the time anyway, and because of that stays invested in his story. Secondary characters are also well-developed, particularly Vicki. 

    Blurb: An engaging and well-written story that entertains and keeps the reader guessing.

  • Rita Just Wants to Be Thin

    by Mary W. Walters

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot: The plot is well constructed and flows from crisis to crisis smoothly and believably.

    Prose: The author's writing is strong and her style is equal to the subject, at times resigned, desperate, and even humorous.

    Originality: The subject, though a familiar one, is handled cleverly, making it seem fresh and unique.

    Character Development: The characters here are very well constructed. Rita seems very real in the way she confronts her demons and the excuses she makes herself. The other characters are strong and evolve in a realistic manner.

  • the Burnt Man

    by Ryan Dietzen

    Rating: 8.25

    PLOT: This enjoyable and wry detective story is set against the backdrop of Burning Man. Red herrings are cleverly employed, although the actual detective work is more the result of serendipity than skillful sleuthing.

    PROSE: Dietzen writes with pithy humor and visceral descriptions.

    ORIGINALITY: While Dietzen's descriptions of Burning Man do not entirely capture the rawness or transcendence of the event, the setting does uniquely amplify the story.

    CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT: Full of interesting characters, including the Burning Man festival itself, this mystery blends the quirky experience of the festival with the difficulty of solving a murder in a place where everyone is living a fantasy life.


  • The Cossack

    by KJ Lawrence

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot: This book is a page turner with an outstanding plot that comes to fruition after well-crafted twists and turns.

    Prose: The writing boasts vivid descriptions, but at times suffers from overwriting and repetition, both of which slow the narrative and take readers out of the story.

    Originality: Lawrence has written an original novel that will keep readers engaged until the very end.

    Character Development: The characters are true to life, relatable, and vivid. Daniel Brooking is the perfect protagonist.

    Blurb: An exciting novel with well developed characters and plenty of suspense.

  • Paper Trail: A Kingman & Reed Novel

    by Bill Zahren

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot: The author juggles the many angles and elements of the plot with both control and finesse.

    Prose: The writing style is effective and the prose moves along at a good clip, maintaining the reader's interest.

    Originality: Although the plot is engaging, it doesn't seem to break much new ground. What is original, however, is the religious theme and the attendant sexual tension.

    Character Development: The characters here are developed well and believable. However, some of the minor characters feel more like types than fully realized people.

    Blurb: Chock full of suspects, surprises, violence, and—unexpectedly for the genre—religion, this novel is thoroughly engaging and suspenseful.

  • Sanction

    by William Hunter

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot: This is a fast-paced, skillfully constructed international thriller. The novel is amazingly complex and often riveting.

    Prose: The writer is highly skilled. The prose is clear, crisp, and moves along at a good pace.

    Originality: While some aspects of the plot may be familiar to readers, the book's complexity and the author's attention to detail will make it stand out in a crowded market.

    Character Development: The characters here are solidly developed, especially Sean Garrett—in whom readers will become invested. However, the book suffers from too many minor characters, many of which seem interchangeable.

  • Echo Valley

    by Jennifer Vaughn

    Rating: 8.00

    PLOT: Vaughn sets up a dramatic central conflict that tests the strength and resilience of her protagonist. As Bo falls into an outrageous and cruel circumstance that threatens both her and her child, some plot elements strain plausibility--but are no less gripping.

    PROSE: The narrative voice is clear, smart, and swiftly engaging.

    ORIGINALITY: The events of the story are highly original and are made more meaningful due to the specific life circumstances and psychological dimension of the main character. 

    CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT: Side characters are unevenly developed and the story's primary antagonist is somewhat overly villainous. The rich and immensely sympathetic protagonist, however, ably carries the narrative.



  • Terminal Rage

    by A.M. Khalifa

    Rating: 8.00

    PLOT: Khalifa's novel is authoritative, lively, and intriguing--an undeniable page-turner. Action-filled sequences and meticulous plotting result in a fun and well-rounded thriller.

    PROSE: The prose is descriptive and acute, and it is clear that Khalifa acts on seasoned authorial impulses. Potentially dry information is delivered dynamically, and as the scenes race by, the imagery lingers—sometimes hauntingly.

    ORIGINALITY: This fast paced mystery is set apart from other politically minded mystery-thrillers by its specificity and its fully inhabited characters. Khalifa's work delivers a fresh and multifaceted take on the genre.

    CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT: Rooted in their past traumas, the characters are empathetic, well-developed, and believable. While the forces for good and evil are apparent, Khalifa renders villains and heroes with nuance.