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Mystery / Thriller

  • Finalist

    The Jade Tiger

    by E.W. Cooper

    Rating: 9.75

    Plot: This evocative, 1920s-set mystery engages readers from the get-go. Prohibition, opera, and a Shanghai and New York City setting, result in a dynamic reading experience.

    Prose: Cooper’s descriptive prose quickly develops tension and atmosphere. The novel provides a delightful blend of historical details, mystery, and action.

    Originality: From the alluring settings to the unfolding mystery and glittering high life, Cooper delivers a truly unique mystery.

    Character/Execution: As a former opera singer, nightclub owner, and sleuth, Penelope Harris is a dazzling and capable heroine. The larger cast of characters offers no shortage of potential suspects.

  • Semi Finalist

    Bond Hunter

    by Kia McInerny

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: In this tense and exceptionally well-developed international thriller, the author effectively embroils a young lawyer in an investigation into Hitler’s association with Wall Street following the sudden death of her grandfather.

    Prose:  The narrative clearly establishes the complex circumstances while demonstrating a near seamless balance of exposition, dialogue, and evocative description.

    Originality: Mclnerny’s unique novel rivetingly blends world and economic history with a globe-spanning adventure.

    Character Development: Kenna Rand is a dynamic, fiercely intelligent character thrown into perilous circumstances and facing villainous characters both veiled and overt. The author’s knowledge of the factual events behind the story is made abundantly clear through her capable heroine and the unexpected events that unfold.

  • Semi Finalist


    by Mark Braykovich

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: This cogent, tense thriller offers a timely—and alarmingly plausible—focus on threats to civil liberties and the free press by centering on the covert efforts of a former newsman on the run from a tyrant.

    Prose: Braykovich’s prose is descriptive, fine-tuned, and expertly balances exposition with in-scene development. The author’s knowledge and investment in the topic of journalistic suppression is abundantly evident.

    Originality: The near-dystopian novel takes a pertinent premise to its ultimate chilling conclusion. The author’s original storyline is anchored by a strong narrative structure and clear sense of urgency.

    Character/Execution: Braykovich creates a memorable character in Spire, surrounding him with a near mythic air of enigma. Gray, meanwhile, is a more knowable, stalwart character grappling with his own role within the flailing American democracy. The additional journalists in the story convincingly carry the weight of the calamitous circumstances.

  • Semi Finalist

    Requiem For Thursday

    by Douglas Cockell

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: Cockell’s literary powers are expertly exercised in this page turner, a riveting mosaic of horror. As the reader progresses through this suspenseful narrative, it is clearly evident that the worst monsters are those least expected.

    Prose: Cockell's prose is tense, polished, and develops a burgeoning sense of dread. Dialogue is dynamic, convincing, and serves the progression of plot, while storytelling unfolds with barely noticed exposition.

    Originality: Literary in its approach, while maintaining a tightly woven and entertaining supernatural mystery, Cockell's novel is highly original in its execution.

    Character/Execution: Readers will quickly become invested in the engagingly flawed characters portrayed. Each introduced has weight, distinctive traits, and possesses internal agency. 




  • Quarter Finalist

    Bishop's Law

    by Rafael Amadeus Hines

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: The plot is a thrilling read that transcends the clichés of the war-fiction genre. There are several plotlines in this book that, at times, seem excessive and overwhelming. However, the author manages to synergetically braid them for a final crescendo that leaves readers wanting more.

    Prose/Style: The author delivers an exciting page-turner with clear and purposeful writing, masterfully avoiding over-complication and jargon. The wording is often blunt and works well for this type of narrative.

    Originality: The plot is certainly original and fine-tuned, giving a hint to the author's research efforts. The subplots mirror real-world events without becoming predictable and formulaic.

    Character/Execution: The book does not subscribe to a black-and-white definition of good and evil character traits, and this shows in how the characters are written. They exhibit a complex spectrum of personalities that lend further credibility to the development of the plot.

  • Quarter Finalist

    The Ultra Betrayal

    by Glenn Dyer

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: The Ultra Betrayal is well-structured and delivers its contents in a masterfully executed manner without over-relying on a single component of the plot mechanics.

    Prose/Style: This is an exceptionally well-told story that captivates the readers. The author's use of language and flow is refreshing, making for a truly engrossing read.

    Originality: The story and its writing showcase Dyer’s diligent research into the era, allowing  the author to paint a gripping and mesmerizing World War II thriller vividly and convincingly.

    Character Development: The characters are realistic, relatable, and memorable to the readers. There is a believable progression of development, action, and behaviors, and the use of real historic figures bolsters the storytelling and the invented characters.

  • Quarter Finalist

    The Fourth Rising (Peter Brandt Thrillers Book 3)

    by Martin Roy Hill

    Rating: 9.75

    Plot: Hill’s novel is energetically paced and well-plotted. The author seamlessly weaves in decades of relevant history with the exciting storyline.

    Prose/Style: This novel is skillfully written: every character has a distinct, believable voice and, as a result, the dialogue is authentic and appealing.

    Originality: Readers will plunge headfirst into this original, engaging, deadly conspiracy thriller. Well-drawn characters and a high stakes-yet-believable plot elevate the novel.

    Character Development: The characters in this exciting thriller are engaging, diverse, and deeply memorable. Protagonist Peter Brandt is a likable, competent journalist who uncovers a wide-ranging Nazi plot. The secondary characters are distinct, interesting, and serve the plot well.

  • Quarter Finalist

    In This Delicious Garden; Or, Les Enfants du Paradis

    by Seth Thomas Pietras

    Rating: 9.75

    Plot: At first glance, this series of vignettes set in the French region of Chamonix may seem loosely connected. However, Pietras’s novel blends surrealism and fact masterfully, for a superbly plotted, fast-paced work that readers will undoubtedly enjoy.

    Prose/Style: Pietras’s masterful prose transports readers to the magical, maddening setting of Chamonix. Every detail, from the ethereal setting to the memorable cast of characters, is elevated by  Pietras’s engaging, skillful writing.

    Originality: Despite the wealth of historical research Pietras put into this novel, readers will be hard-pressed to find another work like In This Delicious Garden. It blends myth, fantasy, history, and fact into an exciting novel that feels wholly original.

    Character Development: In This Delicious Garden boasts a memorable cast of characters that includes carnivorous horses, ageless monkeys, an elderly mushroom hunter, an ecoterrorist pornographer, and a family of refugees. Still, the protagonist of the novel should be considered the region of Chamonix itself: alluring and dangerous, wicked and generous.

    Blurb: A beautifully crafted and hypnotic feast of myths and captivating characters, set amid the dangerous French mountains.

  • Wrong Man Down

    by Jerry Masinton

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot: Masinton’s whip smart, dynamic heroine is the driving force behind Wrong Man Down, the first book in the Millie Henshawe series. The compellingly twisty, nicely measured storyline ultimately reads more like a detective story than one of a hired gun, effectively delivering a high energy, character-driven work of crime fiction.

    Prose: Masinton’s prose is top-notch, with succinct, polished descriptions, a balanced approach to exposition, and page-popping dialogue. 

    Originality: The morally ambiguous nature of the heroine’s profession is a stand-out quality in Masinton’s novel, while the cat-and-mouse dynamics of the story lead to unexpected developments.

    Character/Execution: Millie Henshawe—gay, self-assured, and with a crackling wit she never hesitates to assert—is an immediate draw for readers, while additional characters like Mary Mike, are esoteric and eminently enjoyable.

  • Starving Men

    by Siobhan Finkielman

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot: Finkielman’s novel is fast paced and meticulously plotted. A wealth of historical research supports the plot and makes the book’s events feel fresh and believable.

    Prose/Style: The prose here is haunting and poetic. Told from several perspectives, Finkielman’s story skillfully alternates narrators and time periods while delivering a captivating narrative.

    Originality: Readers will enjoy this psychological thriller set against the horrors and aftermath of the Irish Famine. Finkielman’s haunting prose and excellent use of tension set the novel apart.

    Character Development: The characters in Starving Men are diverse and well-drawn. Readers will be fascinated by protagonist Michael Gleeson, a respected psychiatrist who masterminds several murders, as retribution for historical atrocities committed against the Irish. The secondary characters are distinct and serve the story well.

    Blurb: A masterfully written, complex thriller about one man’s obsession with righting the wrongs of the past.

  • Maximum Rossi

    by Paul W. Papa

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot: This excellent work of crime fiction offers a rich setup and an even richer setting. 1950s Las Vegas hums on the page as Massimo “Max” Rossi (the reluctant son of a mobster) finds himself embroiled in—and a suspect in—the murder of a Chicago hitman.

    Prose: Papa writes in a clipped, polished prose that perfectly captures the spirit of the hardboiled genre. Descriptions are crisply matter-of-fact, while simultaneously cinematic in effect.

    Originality: This rollicking crime novel pays clear homage to such writers as Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett (as the author acknowledges), without coming across as derivative. While the notion of a PI with a shady past is familiar, Papa’s approach is wholly fresh and eminently readable.

    Character/Execution: As the son of a mob boss eager to leave the family business, Rossi is a layered character with rough edges and a conscience. A host of colorfully monikered side characters populate the narrative, and Papa humanizes even the most archetypal of players.

  • Into the Suffering City: A Novel of Baltimore

    by Bill LeFurgy

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot: Into the Suffering City is impeccably plotted and well-paced. LeFurgy’s novel touches on racism, sexism, classism, mental health, autism, the emerging sciences, psychology, and dirty politics, all while remaining relevant and interwoven. LeFurgy expertly blends all these topics and more into a seamless, intriguing narrative.

    Prose/Style: LeFurgy’s prose is intelligent, authentic, and immediately places readers in realistic turn of the century Baltimore neighborhoods. His knowledge and command of the time period and location are on full display. The writing only slows during extensive descriptions of the city.

    Originality: Fans of the murder mystery genre will recognize all the elements of a great whodunit - and still won’t be able to predict all of the novel’s twists and turns. The story is enhanced by the original and authentic leads.

    Character Development: LeFurgy’s novel gets so many things right - but truly shines through the protagonists, Dr. Sarah Kennicott and Private Detective Jack Harden. Dr. Kennicott is intelligent, determined, and on the autism spectrum. Harden is a war veteran who lives with PTSD. Kennicott’s neurodiversity and Harden’s mental health aren’t used as props; LeFurgy’s care in presenting and describing their experiences is evident and it greatly enhances the plot and the reader experience.

  • Ex Libris

    by John Oehler

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot: Oehler’s book is a fast-paced, thoroughly plotted espionage thriller. The author is skilled at building tension and conflict between characters, and readers will be unable to put the book down until the final page.

    Prose/Style: Oehler’s prose is strong, clear, and direct. Each character has a distinct and inviting voice. Protagonists Dan Lovel and Martine Desmarais engage in delightful, witty banter that readers will enjoy.

    Originality: Given that the novel revolves around a long-forgotten text that could cause a religious war, comparisons to The Da Vinci Code are inevitable. However, Ex Libris shines because of its stellar cast of characters and Oehler’s many twists.

    Character Development: The characters of Ex Libris truly make the novel. Protagonists Dan and Martine are intelligent, strong leads with great chemistry. Secondary characters who are indispensable to the plot include Paulette, a blind painter, and Jade, an assassin for hire.

  • Sirens of Memory

    by Puja Guha

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: Sirens of Memory is a fast-paced, well plotted novel about trauma, recovery, and identity. The storyline spans decades and continents, but is ultimately seamless.

    Prose/Style: Guha’s prose is clear and direct, while also maintaining a poetic streak. The novel details multiple POVs, all of which are distinct and emotional.

    Originality: Guha sets Mariam’s escape from her abusive husband against her escape from her war-torn homeland. The two journeys complement each other well, especially when Mariam realizes her past has caught up with her in America.

    Character/Execution: The heart of this novel lies with protagonist Mariam, a woman who finds a way to survive her abusive spouse, and then a war, when she finds out she’s pregnant. There’s an honesty to Mariam’s strengths and weaknesses that will resonate with readers. Mariam’s husbands, Tareq and Raj, are both vividly painted and well-rounded characters as well.

  • Death Spoke: A Harry Przewalski Novel

    by Leonard Krishtalka

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: An archaeology professor’s theory about prehistoric cave art is the catalyst for this intriguing and treacherous murder mystery. The story propels questionable players into a longstanding conflict that dates back to 1944 in the French Vichy Free Zone during World War II. While the present-day plotline competes with the historical one--and some circumstances border on implausible--Krishtalka does a fine job of balancing story elements, all the while defying expectations. 

    Prose/Style: While the prose is rather overloaded with information, Krishtalka delivers evocative details and multiple thread-lines that readers of twisty thrillers will devour.

    Originality: Offbeat and byzantine, this book's innovative plot, academic setting, and historical timeline provide a richly unique mystery.  

    Character/Execution: Arguably encumbered by too many players, this dual contemporary and historical novel hosts a cast of morally ambiguous characters. Attention-grabbing, a definite page-turner that succinctly presents an ensnaring hook, the story focuses on nefarious intentions, lengths gone to protect guarded ideas and reputations, and how the past invariably haunts the present. 

    Blurb: A prehistoric cave and a pedantic professor set the backdrop for murder.

  • Venganza: The Fuentes Legacy

    by Greta Cribbs

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: The delivery of the plot is tactful, thoughtful, and at times, witty. The author provides a stellar example of a balanced approach to delivering plot elements without over-relying on a single literary component. This type of writing provides for a satisfying and immersive read.

    Prose/Style: The sentence structure and writing style at times are unnecessarily choppy and abridged, creating a turbulent reading experience; however, for the most part, the writing is well-executed.

    Originality: Both the delivery of the narrative and the plot itself are original in their presentation. The book is an immersive read that, while discussing a topic on the fringes of believability, is still relatable and convincing.

    Character Development: The character development reels in the audiences without revealing too much all at once. Overall, the introduction to the characters is creative, unique, and enhances the storyline.