Mystery / Thriller
by Steve Zell
Plot: Reading this book is as entertaining and riveting watching a film. However, the author should consider fewer POV characters so that readers can focus on the plot, especially at the beginning of the story.
Prose/Style: The prose flows well, and word choice is exquisite.
Originality: Again, the prose elevates this novel. Deanne and Sara are strong characters, but the book would benefit from less points of view so that readers can focus.
Character Development: The characters are believable, and this book is worthy of a wide readership. Focusing on a few main characters would keep the plot and perspectives structured.
Powerful prose and strong characters make this supernatural mystery a satisfying read and a page-turner.
by Jeff Wade
Plot:“Mentally disturbed man kidnaps girls” may be a basic plot, but what livened this take on the well-used premise are the conflict and the action scenes. The antagonist is memorably and realistically scary, and the tension in these scenes is well done, suggesting a style that draws the reader into the story on the front page.
Prose/Style:The writing is technically sound and well executed when crafting the setting and action scenes. The vivid details add to the story in an engaging way. The scenes containing the abduction itself are riveting and will remain with the reader long after the last page is turned.
Originality:The premise of the abduction and crimes committed are not wholly original and are used often in novels, TV, and movies. However, the author’s handling of these details and the antagonist is unique, intense and captivating. The antagonist’s collection of ponytails is truly chilling.
Character Development:While the characters are strong in description and allow the reader to easily visualize them, the dialogue misses the mark at times and the voices often sound similar. If the author focuses on remedying this aspect, there is huge promise in this work.
by Libby Sternberg
Plot: The question of who killed the cruel scoundrel Ivan Roustakoff is especially intriguing because protagonist Gregory Silensky may be the murderer, but with his drink-fogged mind, he can't be quite sure. Gregory also suspects the beautiful, childlike vocal student Laura, but they soon fall in love and he can't imagine her going to jail. This book features excellent foreshadowing and teasers keep the pace quick.
Prose/Style: This book’s lovely cadence and phrasing help to move the story along, and descriptions are verbal visualizations of scenes and characters. Gregory's passion for music is deliciously described. The 1940s references are accurate and engaging.
Originality: The blend of murder, music and musicians is not fully fresh, but it's interesting as told from the perspective of a pianist with damaged hands and uncertainty about his own guilt. The finely honed prose adds to the originality of this novel.
Character Development: The characters are dynamic individuals with fascinating neuroses and captivating quirks. The author displays an impressive technique of descriptions that dig deeper into traits than physical appearances.
Blurb: Superior prose carries this story of a brooding pianist alcoholic who worries that he might be guilty of killing a loathsome conductor. Musicians and murder make for an especially neurotic entanglement of suspects. Bravo!
by L. A. Starks
Plot:The plot of sabotage of oil refineries is intriguing and drives the action, setting the pace of this thriller. The plot engages the reader from the first page.
Prose/Style:The prose is descriptive without providing too much detail, allowing the reader to use his or her imagination at will. Emotion is evoked often, and the tension drives the reader forward.
Originality:The use of the oil industry in California helps make this thriller original. The author provides just enough history without overwhelming the reader with too much information.
Character Development:The characters are well developed, with their own memorable voices. The names provide a diversity that is demanded when using the oil industry and technology as a background. The dialogue is natural and believable and brings the reader easily into the story.
by Karen S. Gordon
Plot: “The Mutiny Girl” offers a complex and rich plot, both solving a decades-old murder and a current treasure hunt of illicit drug money, with an equal amount of well-drawn details that meld within the story rather than acting as their own parts. Though the story unfolds slowly, once it finds its momentum it doesn’t let up until the very end.
Prose/Style: Gordon clearly has a way with words, and these skills are on full display in action-packed and, at times, grotesque, descriptions. The heat, tension, and emotions are vividly captured, and the erotic and death-related scenes are very memorable.
Originality: Based on a true story from the author’s life at the real Hotel Mutiny, there will be some familiar aspects of the story to readers of drug/crime fiction set in Miami (drug runners, crooked cops, clandestine meetings, etc.). However, Gordon infuses the reality with a clever murder/mystery alongside a story of reckoning—both familial and monetary.
Character Development: All of the characters, from the primary ones (Vance, Lauren, Ray, and Tony) to the secondary cast (Jake, Daniel, and Davis) are well-fleshed out and given just the right amount of background story to engage readers without bogging down the plot. Especially well done was the figure of Ray Dinero, who served as El Cerebro, “the brains,” behind the drug operations.
Blurb: An outstanding debut thriller that has it all: misdirection, intrigue, murder, and family. Captivating and engrossing.
by Carmen Amato
Plot: The sixth novel in the Detective Emilia Cruz series weaves together her interesting backstory, a fictional criminal, and the true crime story of forty-three missing Mexican students. That crime remains unsolved to this day, but Amato creates a very possible solution to it in this book.
Prose/Style: A fast-paced procedural, the novel is written in a no-nonsense style. This book is a real page-turner with just a touch of Spanish vocabulary and descriptions thrown in.
Originality: This book has a very original plot, as the author weaves the true crime with her own inventions. Readers will enjoy the clever use of other aspects of the crime scene elements in Mexico as well.
Character Development: Detective Cruz is a fully fleshed out character. Tough, but not above shedding a few tears, she bears the scars of a violent past while handling being the first and only female detective in Acapulco.
by Amy Rivers
Plot:The plot is very well structured in this novel. If there are a few weak points, such as a need for more detail about Alice's backstory, and a bit more color required for Beth Simms' motivations, the storytelling and prose keeps the storyline moving along quite well.
Prose/Style:The prose is polished, crisp, straightforward and highly readable. The author’s writing shows a real maturity in the editing process.
Originality:The dual storyline of Alice's slowly escalating predicament and the long-ago murder she's researching makes this story arc stand out a bit more than other plots of this type.
Character Development:Alice is a well-rounded, fully developed character (though her curiosity as a journalist and some aspects of her troubled marriage need a little polishing). Secondary characters, particularly Larry Lee Simms, have depth and strength, and are written with compassion and insight.
Blurb:As Alice Bennett navigates the complexities of small-town life and personal histories, her own included, the suspense ratchets up and every instance of violence gets a little more intense. This is an enjoyable small-town psychological thriller with vivid characters and excellent pacing and plotting.
by Keith Yocum
Plot:Yocum presents a believable plot with plenty of twists and turns that will keep readers flipping the pages until they reach a conclusion that ties all of the loose ends together.
Prose/Style:Tightly written, with a smooth flow that keeps readers glued to the page, this is a compelling story by a writer who knows his craft.
Originality:Yocum's story is creative and believable; he takes readers from Perth to New Zealand with a couple of stops in the United States, adding variety and intrigue through the different settings.
Character Development:These characters are authentic and seemingly effortlessly created. The author avoids creating sex-based stereotypes - a temptation many writers would accommodate, especially when dealing with military-based characters.
by Steven Ramirez
Plot: The Girl in the Mirror is a well-paced paranormal mystery that delivers chills, laughs, and romance all in one go, and gives the reader a heroine to root for.
Prose: Ramirez delivers highly readable prose that is both funny and unnerving when it intends to be. The prose would benefit greatly from keeping the diverse POVs distinct, rather than blending them into one omniscient narrator.
Originality: This paranormal mystery series stands out by tying in the main character's religion (Catholicism) in ways that develop her character’s origins and motives and drive the story forward.
Character Development: The character of Sarah begins as a woman unsure if her choices in life are the right ones, but through her trials she becomes stronger and more confident in herself and her abilities.
by Isaac Thorne
Plot:Readers are pulled into a horror mystery very early on in the text, with ominous clues provided in the beginning of the story. There is a cohesive conclusion where interchanging characters coincide to reveal the text's full story.
Prose/Style:This book holds great descriptions of the physical environment and of the characters themselves, particularly given the amount of violence in the text.
Originality:In an attempt to subvert a simplified story with “good” and “bad” guys, the author uses science fiction to create a metaphor for the ways in which generational racism carries on into the present, by putting Lee Gordon into the body of his son, Graham.
Character Development:This novel is well thought-out, with intriguing character arcs that readers will want to learn more about. There are apt descriptions of gritty individuals in the small town.
by Larry Spencer
Plot:Spencer’s tale about friendship, drugs, crime and betrayal is energetically paced. Focusing on fewer twists and turns could enhance the novel – the current storyline might confuse readers at times, but they will never become bored.
Prose/Style:Spencer’s use of prose is solid, but sometimes a bit blunt. However, it is fitting to the genre and does justice to the narrative.
Originality:The story of suicide, murder and betrayal is a narrative that is told many times, but the fact that it is based on true events lends to the plot’s credibility. The introduction of so many characters results in a somewhat chaotic tale, but the reader that perseveres will enjoy seeing the story develop.
Character Development:The characters are believable, but could use a bit more development in their origins and motives.
by D. F. Hart
Plot:Hart gracefully integrates threads of romance and relationship dynamics with elements of mystery and crime into her second novel in this series.
Prose/Style:Hart writes in a clear, forward style that can, at times, benefit from a variation in tone.
Originality:By blending romance with the suspenseful hunt for a serial killer, Hart offers a unique fusion of genres in this book.
Characterization:Readers familiar with the first book will be invested in the central characters and the ways in which their professional roles impact their personal lives. The romantic relationships Hart depicts provide a heartwarming core to the story.
by Sidney Frost
Plot:The combination of the theft of religious objects, a fractured family and the issues raised by memory loss and PTSD make for a lively, though not always coherent story, especially toward the end of the book.
Prose/Style:This author provides solid, clear language, a steady tone and nice asides that give the main character depth and personality.
Originality:The reliance on the stereotypically traumatized Vietnam veteran as a figure of limitless violence offsets some of the clever uses of fake identities and memory loss that make this book memorable.
Character Development:Liz Helmsley is an appealing, occasionally wordy "old-lady detective" and a cheerful narrator. Many of the secondary characters, particularly Kim and the deranged vet James Johnson, would benefit from the same depth and charm.