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Mystery / Thriller

  • Digging Up Buck

    by Robert Rhode

    Rating: 7.25

    Plot: When a graduate student studying archaeology discovers a human bone, a murder investigation--and a romance--ensues. Rhode delivers a light mystery with an archaeological spin.

    Prose: Rhode's prose is solid, effective, and inviting. Elegant and smooth narrative pacing allow readers to become fully immersed in the mystery and the budding romantic connection between the protagonists.

    Originality: The pairing up of a detective and an intrepid graduate student who knows her way around an excavation site, brings a quality of freshness to the mystery.

    Character Development: The central characters share undeniable chemistry. Rhode's capable, quick witted heroine is one readers will hope to hear more from in future books.

  • Before the Snow Flies

    by John Wemlinger

    Rating: 7.25

    Plot: This riveting novel's romantic storyline is finely interwoven into a weightier and thought-provoking exploration of post-traumatic stress and a veteran's experience of returning home.

    Prose/Style: An excellent balance of introspection and action, dialogue, and narrative, lends to this novel's sophistication. A tendency toward overwriting and a caricature-like depictions of a villainous character can detract from the otherwise credible and sensitive story.

    Originality: Stories that explore the impacts of PTSD have increased in number, a fact noted in the book. While these accounts have rendered such portrayals commonplace, Wemlinger delivers an honest and affecting portrayal of one veteran's pain.

    Character Development: An outstanding protagonist--a double-amputee coming to terms with his altered existence--commands attention. Major David Keller’s inner battle reveals the depths of his character, particularly as he makes amends with those he sidestepped during his military career. Readers gain a heartbreaking glimpse into the dramatically different worlds that await veterans returning to estranged families and friends.

  • Malthus Revisited: The Cup of Wrath

    by Lin Wilder

    Rating: 7.25

    Plot: In the fourth of Wilder's mystery series, the author offers another riveting medical thriller, with dependable and multidimensional characters.

    Prose: Wilder consistently integrates simmering tension and intricate plot developments, with a quality of warmth that is nearly cozy in tone.

    Originality: This installment in the series, as inventive as ever, ratchets up the threat level with the possibility of global annihilation.

    Character Development: Dr. Lindsey McCall is the heart of this richly entertaining series. Additional characters are rendered with equal care and compassion. 

  • Life Force Preserve

    by Courtney Leigh Pahlke

    Rating: 7.25

    Plot: Pahlke’s plotting is well-laid out, leaving readers with enough questions to keep them engaged, and providing answers at just the right pace to not let them get bored, yet continue to reel them in. The ending is creatively comprised of wrapping up of the current story to set up the next segment of the plot arc, while creating a cliffhanger that is just shocking enough to keep readers holding on, but not leaving them frustrated.

    Prose/Style: Although some points lag with description or extra information that detracts from the excitement of the story or is sometimes confusing, such as the beginning when Anna slips and falls on the ice, the overall prose is smooth, understandable, and captivating.

    Originality: Even with plenty of stories out there regarding alien races trying to covertly take over our planet and the secret government agencies designed to fight them, this story adds an interesting scientific twist with the attempt to wipe humans out being from real diseases, and the cure coming from everyday humans that have a special blood type from another alien ancestor. The somewhat simplistic root and resulting hunting of these humans makes the plot almost believable and therefore more original than other similar stories.

    Character Development: All of the characters have a great start to individuality and personalities with the words they said, but most conversations and banter lose personality with too much “she/he said” or “she/he asked” instead of adding more descriptive dialogue, more strongly conveying their feelings and personalities. With already well-written characters, the addition of descriptive dialogue would be a great benefit to the story as a whole.

  • 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.

  • Into the Unknown

    by Jasper T. Scott

    Rating: 7.00

    Plot: The plot behind Into the Unknown is exciting and well-thought out, but overly long and more complicated than necessary. Numerous twists and red herrings will keep readers hooked; nothing is as it seems in this book.

    Prose/Style: This novel is beautifully written with vivid, captivating descriptions, imaginative ideas, and notable gore.

    Originality: Scott offers a highly unique premise, while ultimately combining familiar common science fiction concepts in an arresting, if but not completely cohesive way. Overall, in order to better enhance the work's unusual elements, the author may wish to tighten and better clarify the structure.

    Character Development: This story is filled with complex characters from differing backgrounds and motivations who find themselves pushed to their limits.

  • St. Francis of Dogtown

    by Wm. Stage

    Rating: 7.00

    Plot: The closest this novel comes to having a plot—the murder of Elizabeth Schurzinger, the ensuing police investigation, and the fates of the criminals involved in it—is very diffuse and attenuated. It comes across as an afterthought, and is more of a convenient peg on which the author hangs his greater ambitions: that is his colorful, panoramic depiction of the Irish community of Dogtown through the escapades and encounters of process server Francis Lenihan.

    Prose/Style: Stage’s prose style is clear and direct and it serves his characters well. He shows a particularly sure hand with the smart-alecky banter his characters dish on one another, be it Francis’s laconic descriptions of his job, the tough talk of the criminal heavies, and the equally tough talk of the proud Irish regulars at the local bars.

    Originality: The originality of this novel is measured by the way its character studies and incidents combine to form a portrait of a particular time and place: the mostly Irish neighborhood of Dogtown in the 1980s. Stage’s personal affection for his characters and their environs shines through his story and makes it seem unique.

    Character Development: The characters are the strong point of this novel. Francis is a likeable slacker type and Rose, the daughter of the murder victim, a no-nonsense independent who is nearly the match of the criminals she and Francis are pursuing. The large cast of villains and regular Dogtown residents are well developed, with colorful backstories whose lengthy elaboration, however, slows the pacing of the story considerably.

  • No Place

    by Sam Swicegood

    Rating: 7.00

    Plot: The speed of the plot leaves little time for crucial moments of development, such as world building and character backstory. However, the reader can easily forget about the missing pieces, as there are enough twists and turns to keep things interesting.

    Prose/Style: Occasional moments of humor stood out in Swicegood’s otherwise-straightforward prose. Descriptors such as “the redhead” and “the witch” quickly became overused. 

    Originality: Swicegood’s decision to incorporate Irish mythology into the plot and his unconventionally naïve main character make this take on an alien invasion unlike any other.

    Character Development: Characters Gail and Crow exhibit plenty of emotional growth throughout the story. A robot’s development from hunk of metal to husband, father, and friend was a pleasant—and touching—surprise.

  • Scourge

    by Charley Pearson

    Rating: 7.00

    Plot: Pearson integrates many intriguing narrative threads into this sci-fi medical thriller. The novel explores the potentially catastrophic impact of a doomsday plague, both raising real-world implications and infusing the story with ethical questions.

    Prose: Despite moments of overwrought description, Pearson brings a unique sensibility to the storytelling, with lyricism uncommon to the genre.

    Originality: While stories of humanity facing the threat of a plague are familiar, Pearson's writing style--poetic, pensive, and laced with humor--set this novel apart.

    Character Development: The long time-scale of the story is noteworthy, as readers follow the central protagonist's development from childhood to adulthood. Central characters are primarily authentic, though villainous figures are somewhat lacking in subtlety.

  • Traffic: Kingman & Reed Novel #5

    by Bill Zahren

    Rating: 7.00

    Plot: The story holds the readers’ interest as it proceeds sequentially. The characters are, for the most part, adequately introduced. There may be too much detail of clothing and looks, and some of the “steamy” sex scenes seem gratuitous. More inner thoughts would have been useful. The fate of Isiah, the religious boy who absconds with the female teenager's corpse, is somewhat unclear, leaving readers wondering.

    Prose/Style: The prose is smooth, with few omissions, errors or unclear sentences.

    Originality: This mystery is original in two aspects: it is quite religiously-themed; and the mystery is studied and solved by a reporter and a lawyer, with a few cops helping out. No private detective is involved.

    Character Development: Although the two main characters, Tom and Hillary, are well developed, they also seem somewhat shallow. The meticulous descriptions of clothing and looks, as well as the couple's steamy sex life, detract from the seriousness of the characters. Conversely, Shaw, the drunken murderer, is believably creepy and estranged from the world at large.

  • Frost: A Novel

    by Sam Neumann

    Rating: 6.75

    Plot: Neumann’s novel is a balanced combination of mystery and personal growth. The story will keep readers turning the pages eagerly, and will provide them with enough twists to keep them interested.

    Prose/Style: The prose verges on the sometimes-crude, but Neumann’s use of language fits the story and adds a layer to the characters.

    Originality: The combination of a character's journey out of the helpless situation she finds herself in, combined with a tale of mystery and self-reflection, is a story worth reading.

    Character Development: The characters here are fully developed and believable. Readers will feel for Amy and support her on her quest for the truth.

  • The Gordon Place

    by Isaac Thorne

    Rating: 6.75

    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.

  • Novum Orbis Regium

    by W. A. Holdsworth

    Rating: 6.75

    Plot: As much mythical as mystery, and as much polemic as thriller, the author's take on America lurching toward a Trumpian theocracy is engaging in itself, though references to the first book in an apparent series are opaque at times.

    Prose/Style: The author's prose style, when it comes to action scenes or inter-character dialogue, is for the most part clean and crisp, if occasionally didactic, but the initial descriptions of major players are overly detailed. That being said, the author's litany of how his brave new democratic world would function is breathtakingly long-winded.

    Originality: Though barely grounded in reality -- it's unlikely a would-be assassin could perch unseen in a General Assembly translation booth -- Holdsworth's blend of the legend of Camelot, a hidden Nazi village and the world's increasingly illiberal tendencies is compelling.

    Character Development: Characters central to the narrative are fully dimensional, despite a couple of back-from-the-dead implausibilities, but too many of the hero's numerous sidekicks are ciphers.

  • Plot: The great historical sweep of the entire book, and the account of Siddrah's quest for the talismanic Archon, are richly imagined and lavishly depicted.

    Prose/Style: There is a classical historian's tone to this fantasy epic, with echoes of Tolkien and other fantasy greats.

    Originality: The singular construction of an imaginary world, culture and even a literary heritage is impressive, but the hero's journey and the corruption that power offers are themes that have been pretty thoroughly explored already. If George R.R. Martin and Herodotus held a writing seminar, this dense account of an imaginary land might be the result. 

    Character Development: Siddrah is really the only character that receives some depth, and that's reasonable in an imagined history, but it does render other characters as flat and set up to serve the heroine's quest.

  • Material Things

    by Larry Spencer

    Rating: 6.50

    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. 

  • The Court-Martial of Benedict Arnold

    by Richard McMahon

    Rating: 6.50

    Plot: The pace is a bit slow; the minute details of the trial can overwhelm the descriptions of the era, various locations, and personalities. Even the battle descriptions are lacking in a degree of excitement and immediacy.

    Prose/Style: The prose is somewhat dry and repetitive, and the stilted language of military officers, lawyers, and the overall courtroom sounds as though it could be placed in any era.

    Originality: There are a fair number of books associated with the Revolutionary War and its heroes/villains, particularly Benedict Arnold. However, this take on the capture of Arnold, rather than his escape, and the ensuing trial, is more unique than other stories.

    Character Development: Because the characters are in formal situations, their speaking styles feel too similar and their behaviors feel predictable. Two of the most successful characters are Joshua, the lawyer, and Amy, his lover, who possess far more dimension than the other players.

    Blurb: Revolutionary war buffs who appreciate finely detailed trial proceedings will find this to be an intriguing angle on history's most infamous traitor.