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Mystery / Thriller

  • Finalist

    A Lady and Gentleman in Black

    by Kelly Jameson

    Rating: 9.75

    Plot: Jameson delivers a sophisticated mystery that includes a titillating breadcrumb trail of clues and doesn’t refrain from horrific crime scene descriptions. There is no “downtime” for Ann Yang and her steadfast team—or for a bloodthirsty and creatively deranged murderer. Past lives and a very creepy ancestral histories are presented through a series of illuminating flashbacks and journal entries that inventively serve to reveal the facts of the case. 

    Prose: Alluring detail and morbidly hilarious moments fill this voice-driven mystery; Jameson’s writing is sharp, witty, and evocative, while the integration of journal entries offers rich narrative texture.

    Originality: Jameson gifts readers with an art history-infused narrative that breaks the mystery genre mold as a mad painter descends into darkness. The riveting novel will appeal to both mystery moguls and history buffs alike.

    Character Development: Jameson fleshes out the novel’s characters with meticulous focus, whether they are agents in the field or behind-the-scenes, corpses on the table or in the history records, or a killer establishing a cryptic legacy.  Readers are exposed to a multitude of unique backstories that contextualize the criminal acts at the heart of the story.

    Blurb: Kelly Jameson’s A Lady and Gentleman in Black is a riveting, blood-curdling mystery, replete with exciting red herrings, that will appeal to both fans of the genre, as well as those intrigued by art history. 

  • Semi Finalist

    8 Seconds to Midnight

    by John Leifer

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: The author crafts a tightly-woven, expansive thriller that offers readers substantial detail, without overwhelming the story’s momentum.

    Prose: The author writes in engaging, rich prose, and demonstrates clear awareness of present day geopolitical conflicts.

    Originality: Leifer’s novel stands out among others that address terrorist attempts to launch nuclear and biological attack weapons on the U.S. Intelligent discourse, verisimilitude, and a full humanization of characters, provide the novel exceptional depth and dimension.

    Character Development: Characters are made distinct through the inclusion of their personal histories, which provide powerful insight into their motivations, behaviors, and roles in the storyline.

  • Semi Finalist

    Vanquish of the Dragon Shroud

    by Gregory E. Seller

    Rating: 9.75

    Plot: Vanquish of the Dragon Shroud starts off at a rigorous pace and continues to prove fast-moving as the plot progresses; the constant usage of foreshadowing keeps the tension levels high and will have readers guessing all the way to the satisfying ending. 

    Prose: Seller's narrative voice is strong and confident, carrying a story about crime, action, and deceit well. The contemporary tone and diction make this novel appealing to a wide range of readers.

    Originality: Seller's book provides excellent twists on a seemingly-typical financial thriller, even implementing unique international players in the mystery at hand. 

    Character Development: The characters are well fleshed out; readers are even provided a substantial idea of who Maxine's husband truly is. The secondary characters are almost as clearly defined as the protagonists.

    Blurb: This suspenseful thriller has it all: misdirection, kidnapping, murder, international intrigue, and a driving force of money, money, money.


  • Semi Finalist

    The Morning Line

    by Tom Kenny

    Rating: 9.75

    Plot: The plot of this book is tight and well constructed. The pacing is fast and the storyline is compelling and interesting.

    Prose: The prose is one of this book’s great strengths. The writing is smooth and clear. There is enough detail to paint vivid scenes, while the pacing is spot-on.

    Originality: Although this book touches on familiar topics, it feels fresh and original. And, the story will resonate with readers because of the current threat of terrorism.

    Character Development: The characters in this novel are vividly drawn. They are developed in such a way that readers will cheer for them, especially Aidan. The dialogue is near perfect.

  • Semi Finalist

    Graffiti Creek

    by Matt Coleman

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot: While the general plot of this novel will be familiar to genre fans, the author makes the storyline feel fresh and intriguing. Readers will be hooked from the very start.

    Prose: The prose is smooth and often downright brilliant in its simplicity. The writing never distracts readers from the story or slows the pace of the book.

    Originality: The mix of graffiti and murder is unique and grabs the reader. The fast pace of this novel is strengthened by original storytelling.

    Character Development: The characters in this novel are well-developed with strong individual voices. They are diverse and believable. The reader will identify with them and cheer them on.

  • Quarter Finalist

    The Mad Hatter's Son an Annie Collins Mystery

    by Helen Starbuck

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: The plot unfolds steadily, at a purposeful pace that provides the perfect balance of background, detail, and action.

    Prose: Artfully written with polished prose, this story flows beautifully. Starbuck is a gifted writer with a strong knack for storytelling.

    Originality: While mysteries can be fairly formulaic by nature, Starbuck does an admirable job of making her work distinctive. Her heroine is not connected with any law enforcement group but is instead a nurse, a regular person who is drawn into what becomes a dangerous situation as she learns the truth about her friend's illness.

    Character Development: Starbuck does an excellent job of character development. Her heroine, Annie Collins, is sharp, likable, and rational. Readers will find her believable as a nurse turned medical detective, and she is sure to develop a league of faithful followers.

    Blurb: Suspenseful and entertaining, this absorbing mystery captivates readers from the very beginning. An outstanding debut!

  • Quarter Finalist

    Three Days at Wrigley Field

    by K.P. Gresham

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot: This novel is expertly plotted and engaging. The author does a fantastic job keeping readers on the edge of their seats, including those who may not baseball fans.

    Prose: Gresham seamlessly uses multiple points of view, combining each story into a perfect timeline replete with well-placed mini-cliffhangers.

    Originality: The combination of love, passion, illness, and the business of baseball makes this an original tale that will appeal to readers of all stripes.

    Character Development: Each character—both primary and secondeary—in this story stands out as a clear individual. Readers will strongly relate to each character, including the antagonists.

    Blurb: This is a fast-paced story of love, hardship, fear, trust, and shady business decisions. It's also a love letter to baseball and a powerful page-turner.


    by Rosa Fedele

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot: Fedele’s book spans the fast-paced and quickly deteriorating events surrounding the mysterious circumstances and happenings at The Seminary and its surrounding community. The well-planned plot reveals the universe the author has created and will keep readers turning pages.

    Prose: Fedele’s book is written in a comforting, informal narrative voice that lends readers a false sense of security as eerie happenings begin to surface at The Seminary during the construction project that seeks to transform it. The author pays attention to small details that reveal a lot about the characters and their motives, desires, and fears.

    Originality: The storyline focuses on a different character’s perspective in each chapter, bringing to life their individual dilemmas and goals. This formatting is enhanced by the overall story arc continuing without a hitch and the interspersed illustrations and quotes that flesh out the characters and their backstories.

    Character Development: Fedele’s characters are developed in extreme, intricate detail, from their memories and backstories to their current issues and adventures. Special focus is placed on the interwoven story arcs between characters and the strong relationships they hold, both positive and negative.

  • The Moving Blade

    by Michael Pronko

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot: Pronko has written a fast-paced, highly entertaining tale steeped in elements of Japanese culture to follow his first book in the Detective Hiroshi series. The book is just the right length for readers to enjoy in a few suspense-filled sittings, and the storyline is creative and wraps up nicely.

    Prose: Pronko's prose flows well and his knowledgeable and respectful use of Japanese and other Asian phrases and cultural references are perfectly inserted into the story at appropriate times. Pronko's dialogue is cleverly crafted and never feels stilted.

    Originality: The Moving Blade is fresh and original. The contemporary issues that the Japanese face with American military bases may prove to be a novel topic for many mystery/thriller readers. 

    Character Development: The characters are drafted realistically and feel authentic. Pronko clearly strives to present characters from various cultures, such as Detective Hiroshi and sumo wrestler Sakaguchi, accurately and fairly.

    Blurb: A stellar novel with a unique storyline and setting.

  • Slashing Mona Lisa

    by D.M. Barr

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot: An unusual and entertaining mystery, Barr's narrative is built like a hedge maze, with every twist and turn suggesting additional possible outcomes. Lost in this intriguing maze, the reader is as eager to find the answers as investigative reporter Camarin Torres.

    Prose: Barr's writing is packed with dry wit and tongue-in-cheek humor that adds levity and serves to balance the seriousness of the murder case. The dialogue is generally a treat to read although it can occasionally feel as if the character is performing a monologue rather than speaking naturally.

    Originality: Unlike many modern mystery-thrillers, Barr ensures that her story moves beyond cliched dialogue and cheap plot devices. The strength of Barr's narrative resides in its exploration of what it means to be a modern North American woman—to grapple with the socially-conditioned pressures they face to have a "perfect body." It is this angle that gives her story such immense power.

    Character development: Barr gives character and dimension to both her heroes and villains. However, Barr's abilities are most brilliantly showcased in her depiction of Camarin Torres—the protagonist's "broken beauty" giving her a depth that makes her relatable to readers.

  • Plot: Brown successfully plots a well-crafted and engrossing thriller. From the opening sequence to the last jaw-dropping moment, readers are kept in suspense. Brown also successfully weaves a romantic storyline throughout the novel.

    Prose: The narrative is believable and consistent. Atmospheric descriptions are smooth with palpable eeriness and will prove enjoyable for any thriller fan.

    Originality: Traditional elements of a thriller are at play. However, Brown gives them new twists to create a fresh take on the genre.

    Character Development: There are many fascinating characters in this book. Josh Ingram is given a full backstory, and readers are treated to colorful and meaningful descriptions of smaller characters.

    Blurb: Thriller fans rejoice, Josh Ingram is back in this fast-paced mystery that will have readers guessing until the very end.

  • Plot: The fast-moving plot consists of many twists, turns, and red herrings that will keep readers invested and surprised. The use of real locations lends an air of authenticity to this work of historical fiction.

    Prose: Musgrave’s novel brings to light very relevant social issues of the time while also using language infused with feelings of eerie foreboding that will both thrill and chill readers.

    Originality: In some ways, this book will remind readers of classic thrillers like those of Agatha Christie. The simultaneously overlapping and clashing subplots of the suffragette movement and spiritualism make this book even more intriguing.

    Character Development: The stand-out element of this novel is the meticulously detailed, intricately crafted cast list. Musgrave’s protagonist is an admirable, intelligent, determined female attorney. Each of the characters in the novel has a distinct and memorable personality

    Blurb: A thrilling adventure, perfect for whodunit fans and historical fiction buffs.

  • Awakening

    by Jackie Goldman

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: After a somewhat slow start, the narrative picks up speed as Tess's life begins to unravel. With the promise of new love and a fresh start, Tess and the reader hopefully look to the future, only to realize that the truth is satisfyingly more twisted than it seems.

    Prose: Goldman’s prose is an eclectic and successful mix of dialects and eloquent emotions—baby-talk in Tess’s realm of single mother-dom, French at her work and school; love-struck stumbling as her infatuation grows, and alternating pessimism and positivity as she struggles to find her place in the world.

    Originality: This is an intellectually stimulating mixed-media adventure that feels completely original. A protagonist that relies on art as catharsis and as an escape isn't new, but the incorporation of the graphic elements elevates the text and feels fresh. 

    Character: Goldman effectively depicts the effects of a deterioration of family dynamics and broken relationships on her characters. She also shows how Tess’s journey is eventually one of healing thanks to the support of her allies.

  • A Special Breed of Warrior

    by Joseph Mujwit

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot: This charming novel is skillfully plotted and wholly enjoyable. The story moves along smoothly and the narrative will have readers turning pages until the very end.

    Prose: The prose is one of this book's great strengths. The writing is effective, clean, and engaging.

    Originality: This novel is original, fresh, and very appealing, especially to animal lovers.

    Character Development: Both Todd and Zip are well-developed, realistic characters with whom readers will identify. Supporting players are also skillfully crafted.

  • A Printer's Choice

    by W. L. Patenaude

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot: This novel is well plotted and moves along at a good pace. The use of a priest as the protagonist adds an original element of spirituality to the text.

    Prose: The sentences flow well and the language is simple and to the point. There is no overwritten prose to distract readers from the intense story.

    Originality: From casting a priest as the protagonist to the intelligent printers, this novel feels fresh and original.

    Character Development: Father John Francis McClellan is a well rendered, multi-dimensional character. His development is near perfect and his flaws feel real and make him more human.

  • Green Zone Jack

    by I. James Bertolina

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot: This suspenseful and tightly plotted thriller follows a special agent’s quest to locate the missing nephew of a U.S. senator in Baghdad’s Red Zone.

    Prose: Writing in clear, confident prose, the author also integrates engaging and dynamic dialogue. Frequent repetition of key points and concepts distract from the novel's otherwise smooth storytelling.

    Originality: The author takes care to develop a distinct sense of place, relying on particular historical and geopolitical details to achieve verisimilitude.

    Character Development: Bertolina deftly builds key characters as they individually face heightened professional and emotional conflict, as well as threats of physical violence.