Mystery / Thriller
by Seth Thomas Pietras
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.
by Siobhan Finkielman
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.
by Bill LeFurgy
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.
by Leonard Krishtalka
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.
by Kevin G. Chapman
Plot: This latest installment of the Mike Stoneman thriller series proves as exciting and gripping as previous plots in the bigger picture. The idea of revolving the story around injured, and even murdered, policemen is a fresh twist on the typical mystery scenario. The narrative feels mature and proves engrossing.
Prose/Style: This fine mystery/thriller contains level pacing, diverse vocabulary, and a storyline complicated enough to hold one's interest. This will be a page-turner for any fans of the genre.
Originality: The fact that at least two cops are killed in this book, and another is badly hurt, is quite an original spin on these types of mysteries. New partnerships form and roles change, but the action continues.
Character Development: The primary police officers, Mike and Jason, prove likable, and are showcased as quite human in their motivations, achievements, and flaws, as does the character of Michelle. After Mike has been badly hurt and finds himself in long-term rehab, and is dating a doctor, he begins to get in touch with his feelings, a contradiction to the stereotype of cold, overly violent cops.
by Liese Sherwood-Fabre
Plot: Sherwood-Fabre’s novel is a well-plotted, exciting introduction to a young Sherlock Holmes. This multi-layered murder mystery will keep readers engaged and guessing.
Prose/Style: Sherwood-Fabre’s prose serves the period novel well. She skillfully places readers in the English countryside in the 1800’s with accessible and exciting dialogue.
Originality: The Adventure of the Murdered Midwife feels authentic to the source material and yet surprisingly fresh. Sherwood-Fabre takes a new approach to Sherlock Holmes by examining his formative years and family relationships.
Character Development: Sherwood-Fabre takes one of the most recognizable literary characters in the world and manages to make him feel novel and accessible, while staying true to the original detective with thoughtful callback details. Readers will enjoy watching a young Sherlock evolve. Every character is memorable and serves the story well.
Blurb: Sherwood-Fabre’s attention to detail and vivid prose are on full display in this delightful look at the evolution of a young Sherlock Holmes.
by BRITT LIND
Plot: The plot opens up with an immediate hook, drawing the readers in, and provides plenty of obstacles, twists, and development throughout the story. The story has a clearly defined climax and a satisfying resolution without over-relying on expositions, but rather character-structured events. There are only small instances of tangential plot-telling which did not provide value to the broader story.
Prose/Style: Generally, the work is well written, showcasing excellent command of language and literary tools. The writing neither feels stuffy, nor fluffs itself up with unnecessary words. The writing style does not over-rely on a single tool or technique and provides a balanced and suspenseful read. However, there are minor instances where the author's command of writing technique noticeably slips up, creating unnecessary wordiness, that, if eliminated, would improve the storytelling.
Originality: Although many other authors have exhaustively explored the topic around Hollywood mysteries and culture, this writer delivers this narrative in a fresh perspective, making the read thoroughly original. The story is compelling and does not fall victim to predictability.
Character/Execution: The characters are well written, exampling clearly defined motivations, character growth, and personality frameworks. While some echo and may first appear to fall into one of the many literary stereotypes, there is still enough complexity and individuality written into their development that creates authenticity and relatability. The author also does an excellent job of avoiding over-description of stock background characters.
by Steve Leshin
Plot: This lively and atmospheric detective novel features significant figures from the past. The author effectively and convincingly establishes the historical setting of 1919. Although the novel’s underlying theme of Russian-U.S. conflict is rather well-worn, the unique central concept shines.
Prose/Style: The prose is crisp, straightforward, and rendered in a hard boiled/noir style. Though solid, Leshin’s writing may benefit from additional detail, idiosyncrasy, as well as attention paid to establishing clarity and flow.
Originality: Having Marie Curie meet and befriend Harry Houdini is highly original and fresh. Bat Masterson also plays a fairly large role, while earlier in his career, protagonist Joshua is instrumental in bringing down Jack the Ripper. The ingredients for a unique and satisfying mystery are all here.
Character Development: Joshua Oates is a flawed and endearing protagonist who is drawn somewhat from detective genre tropes. There are a great many other characters, and Leshin does an admirable job of organizing them. While Houdini is charismatic and Curie enigmatic, additional characters require and deserve more detail, distinction, and development.
by C.L. Brees
Plot: No Place is Safe is a fast-paced and well-plotted thriller. Brees deftly balances multiple mysteries, suspects, and motives in an enjoyable read.
Prose/Style: Brees’s prose is clear and direct. The characters are gifted with distinct and compelling voices.
Originality: This fresh take on a police officer’s unofficial investigation into the disappearance of a personal friend is elevated by the main character’s tumultuous relationship with his dilapidated and crime-ridden hometown.
Character Development: The characters in No Place is Safe are convincing, flawed, and memorable. The romance between protagonist Christian Anderson and his boyfriend, Adam, is believable and refreshing for the thriller genre.
by Tom Gabbay
Plot: Gabbay’s novel is a quickly-paced psychological thriller. Gabbay shifts between protagonist Ula Mishkin’s quest to solve her housemate Mia’s murder and Ula’s interpretations of Mia’s memories to keep the plot moving. This fractured way of storytelling heightens the tension and allows readers to experience Ula’s confusion and fear.
Prose/Style: Gabbay’s prose is clear, direct, and moves the plot along nicely. Each character, including the secondary cast, has a distinct voice and personality.
Originality: In the hands of a lesser writer, the concept of downloading a victim’s memory to solve her murder would be hard to swallow. Gabbay offers just enough science to make the premise plausible and spends the rest of his novel focusing on the interpersonal dynamics that really drive the story. Fans of the thriller genre may spot the twist ending coming, but will still enjoy the ride.
Character Development: The characters are distinct, memorable, and convincing. Ula Mishkin is believable as an awkward but brilliant recluse. Although Mia does not undergo significant character growth, given that readers only meet her through Ula’s interpretation of the co-ed’s downloaded memory, this is understandable.
by C.L.R. Draeco
Plot: A Ghost for a Clue is a fast-paced and well plotted novel. The action-filled storyline is entertaining and easy to follow, despite the convincing scientific and paranormal intricacies of the plot.
Prose/Style: Draeco’s prose is smoothly crafted and does a great service to the material at hand. Each character’s voice is unique and authentic, lending to relatability and memorability. Draeco’s writing shines while describing occurrences of the paranormal and the team charged with investigating them.
Originality: The concept of a team of scientists trying to mathematically prove not only the existence of ghosts, but also how to save lost souls, feels wholly original.
Character Development: The characters are a mixed bag. While the majority are interesting, funny, and relevant to the plot, the relationship between protagonists Bram and Torula feels somewhat thin and rushed, and may prevent readers from becoming fully engaged with their conflicts.
by Jeff Bond
Plot: Exposure, revenge, and control, along with a familial history of fighting, propel this shocking mystery to an unexpected conclusion. Steeped in madness, this tipsy tale exposes the dark side to human nature, and the danger that lurks in uncovered secrets.
Prose: Sophisticated though sometimes repetitive use of language brings into sharp focus a bizarre tale of rancor, a vendetta with roots embedded within three centuries. Engrossing, yet somewhat baffling, this story proceeds in evocative detail, just enough to satisfy while strategically paced for maximum impact.
Originality: Ancestral feuds set the foundation for endless plots, and this novel explores yet another event-filled catastrophe buried beneath years of clandestine behavior. A fresh approach sets this book apart from the mundane, a meticulously planned page-turner.
Character Development: Strong-willed protagonists face the consequences of past deeds, emerging as distinctive individuals with memorable personalities. Fine-tuned, crafted with precision, these lifelike characters leave an indelible mark on a story filled with supporting players, such as an inquisitive woman intent on revealing the truth.
by S. Mandel Joseph
Plot: This time travel thriller incorporates elements of the supernatural into a high-impact crime story that delves into psychological anguish. Post-traumatic stress disorder threatens a woman’s existence until she finds a dangerous hypnotic pathway to the past, a tempting opportunity for revenge—farfetched but riveting.
Prose/Style: Reminiscent of the Twilight Zone television series—a perplexing mixture of mainstream drama and cheesy horror—the tension-fraught novel is an expedition into a warped time zone with bizarre explanatory passages. Teetering precariously on the science fiction genre line, yet tipping into the mystery and thriller marketing niche, the tone fluctuates between prose appropriate for both, never placing a firm foot in either.
Originality: Action-oriented with a street gang attitude, this cynical narrative plummets to the depths of murderous terror, exposing the worst side of human nature in shocking descriptions and dialogue. Gripping scenes succeed in ensnaring the distant past, molding it against a preconceived plan in an attempt to reshape a heartbreaking reality.
Character Development: The disturbed yet sympathetic portrayal of this novel’s determined heroine remains cloaked in a multicolored coat of contradictory motivations, a heroine seeking peace, yet simultaneously pursuing vengeance. A treacherous edge to her character manifests itself throughout the book.
by Dean Hamilton
Plot: With a detailed plot, dramatic setting, and exciting premise, this novel doesn’t disappoint. Hamilton’s text is well-plotted, fast-paced, and marvelously adventurous.
Prose/Style: Aside from the many historic and vintage British terms (for which there is a glossary), the writing is fluid, complex, and highly engaging.
Originality: There are dozens of books set in Tudor England, but many of them focus large on nobility rather than “commoners.” There is a plentitude of exciting action, a bit of romance, much killing, and finely executed colorful language.
Character Development: Kit is a strong man of action, determined to work for what he sees as a greater good. His character is consistent, alluring, and layered. London itself—filthy, seedy, and teeming with people alive and dead—becomes a character in itself.
by Haris Orkin
Plot: Orkin’s novel is entertaining and well-paced. Despite the clear structure, genre tropes are plentiful and readers will easily predict many of the novel’s fun but expected twists.
Prose/Style: Orkin’s prose is clear and engaging. Protagonist James Flynn’s voice is distinct and authentic to his character, and remains a strong element throughout the novel.
Originality: Once is Never Enough is entertaining, but relies heavily on genre and film tropes to carry the storyline.
Character Development: James Flynn is memorable as a mental patient who believes he’s a world-class spy. Many of the characters, including Jimmy Flynn, James Flynn’s real identity, feel superficial. Additionally, villain Francisco Goolardo’s sudden forgiveness of Flynn doesn’t ring true with his character.
by C. P. Serret
Plot: Serret’s unique thriller effectively blends a story of cyber espionage with one of self-discovery set against an electric, bling-dripping social scene.
Prose/Style: The rhythm and tone of Serret's prose effectively echoes the noirish atmosphere of the novel, though dialogue sometimes sacrifices authenticity and depth for style.
Originality: Although Die the Villain often struggles to find firm footing within its far-reaching landscape, Serret offers an intriguing premise and an alluring mise-en-scene.
Character Development: The novel’s uncommon protagonist, Cris Finn, is a gender-fluid, intelligent hacker Many of the secondary characters are insubstantial, threads within the broader narrative that don't always individually enhance the story.