Mystery / Thriller
by Kevin J Simington
Plot: Someone Else’s Life is an enjoyable, character-driven novel. The plotting takes a backseat to exploring the life of the protagonist, John Targett. John is such a winning lead, though, that readers won’t mind this focus.
Prose/Style: Simington’s prose is spot-on for this fun, witty thriller. The writing is clear and engaging, with humor woven throughout the novel. Targett’s distinct and sarcastic voice elevates the story.
Originality: Someone Else’s Life is at its core an entertaining novel. Though the cases belonging to the PI don’t feel wholly original, the novel’s characters do.
Character Development: The characters of Someone Else’s Life make the novel. John Targett is a winning lead, as an intelligent and capable PI. His hacker assistant, Quinn, steals every scene she is in. The novel is rounded out with a large cast of memorable supporting characters, making for a balanced novel.
by Ben Rogers
Plot: The narrative provides ample conflict and plot twists to keep readers enthralled while maintaining a fast thriller-like pace. There are no glaring plot holes, and readers are left satiated in the end. However, some improvements could be made by eliminating the occasional and needless over-exposition of scenes.
Prose/Style: The author masterfully guides readers through the more complex industry-insider concepts without leaving them overwhelmed; however, the text may benefit from eliminating situational hyper-detailing, which does not add to the setting and development of the narrative and only distracts the readers. Additionally, as the story progresses, the writing becomes less diverse and occasionally clumsy.
Originality: The plot is original, modern and refreshing, without over-relying on common tropes and clichés. Characters are equally unique and break through the stereotypes.
Character/Execution: The characters here are presented in a tangible way without over-relying on early expositions of their motives and intrinsic drivers. The characters are thought out and continually evolve throughout the novel, making them and the story engaging and somewhat relatable.
by Richard Van Anderson
Plot: This alarmingly timely novel surrounds the emergence of Covid-23. The author crafts a high stakes thriller that raises new doubts and terrifying theories about coronavirus.
Prose: The prose is highly detailed and tense, at times leading to a claustrophobic reading experience. Biomedical terminology provides notable verisimilitude.
Originality: While, with its focus on bioweaponry, this novel offers a distinct twist on coronavirus-focused fiction, the territory is becoming a well tread one. Regardless of familiar events and themes, Van Anderson is an immensely capable and knowledgeable writer.
Character/Execution: The protagonist is a layered and engaging lead, while the broad cast of characters are also vivid and well characterized. With its convincing depiction of a global health crisis, readers looking for escapism will want to look elsewhere.
by Chris Reynolds
Plot: Reynolds sends his characters bouncing from one clue to the next in a frenetic, globetrotting, millennia-spanning treasure hunt which raises just as many questions as it answers. On one hand, this is about as bonkers as it gets; on the other, it will appeal to readers who enjoy radical and alternative takes on history, religion, and reality.
Prose: Reynold’s style is engaging and charming, welcoming readers as he encourages them to accompany him on a mindboggling journey through fringe beliefs and unusual insights. Action-faced and fast-paced, this tale proves to be a wild ride.
Originality: In this often captivating thriller, Reynolds ties together a laundry list of conspiracy theories, religious apocrypha, and esoterica to construct an all-encompassing conceit which entertains even as it challenges preconceptions and raises eyebrows.
Character/Execution: While Reynolds’ characters are memorable and interesting, they aren't provided a great deal of actual internal exploration or development outside of the plot’s religious and metaphysical demands.
by Steve Dimodica
Plot: Accidental Evils is a fast-paced thriller that readers will eagerly devour. Dimodica’s short, action-packed chapters easily advance the narrative.
Prose/Style: Dimodica’s prose is clear and direct, allowing the novel to progress quickly. He writes about military life and tactics with ease and authenticity.
Originality: Dimodica weaves an exciting story around real-life events, like the assassination of Orlando Letelier and Augusto Pinochet’s brutal dictatorship in Chile. Dimodica’s modern story feels original and believable. However, the novel favors common tropes regarding violence against women and may be better served to reevaluate these.
Character/Execution: Readers will find it easy to root for protagonist Calixto Lozen, a Special Forces warrant officer who is determined to save his sister and her friend. Patsy Bellocco makes for a believable yet brutal villain.
by Geri Dreiling
Plot: Eminently readable, and largely unpredictable, this alluring, character-driven mystery solidly entertains readers.
Prose/Style: The author crafts evenly flowing prose. Like the protagonist, Dreiling displays a penchant for clarity and succinctness of style.
Originality: The unconventional casting of a reporter protagonist rather than a detective or P.I. is refreshing.
Character Development: The book’s heroine is exceptionally appealing, compassionate, and gratifyingly independent. Detective D. Flannery is also a well-rounded character with convincing struggles and honest depth.
by Stephen E. Murphy
Plot: Murphy’s novel is a well-plotted look at life in modern-day Cuba. Readers will breeze through the short chapters to eagerly discover out if protagonist Luke Shannon is able to stay safe.
Prose/Style: Murphy’s writing excels when describing life in Cuba. Overly formal dialogue occasionally hinders reader engagement.
Originality: Readers will find long-lost and newly discovered loves, brutal police tactics, and a vivid look at life in modern-day Cuba, set against the nation’s true history. Murphy’s novel feels authentic and original.
Character Development: Havana Odyssey features a large cast of diverse characters. Luke Shannon is believable as a professor hoping to find his lost love and learn more about the nation's history.
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 Enoch Enns
Plot: This inventive sci-fi thriller maintains and builds tension well throughout the novel. However, there’s little closure for the protagonist by the end of the novel and readers will be left with more questions than answers when it comes to the plot. This reads more as a prequel or an installment in a series, rather than a standalone novel.
Prose: Enns’s prose is well-rendered, especially as it shifts easily from poetic observations to describing the horrors of this confusing world.
Originality: Enns’s worldbuilding is strong and the backbone of the novel. Readers will enjoy following along as the protagonist, Carls Locke, navigates new rooms, realms, and possible dimensions in this story.
Character/Execution: The characters of The Grand Attraction are numerous and carry great potential. Carls Locke is believable as a father searching for his young daughter in a confusing new reality. The ever-changing setting within the titular Grand Attraction is arguably the strongest, most-developed character. Secondary characters are numerous, diverse, and interesting, even if they only appear briefly.
by Alexander Rigby
Plot: Rigby’s novel is well plotted and fast-paced - until the killer’s final reveal of their motives. In the book, Rigby writes that the murderer's narrative takes several hours and that even the characters being held hostage think the reveal is too long. The novel would benefit from a tightening of pacing.
Prose/Style: Rigby’s prose is clear, direct, and advances the story well. Each character has a distinct and believable voice, especially Theodore Price.
Originality: Readers will enjoy this cold case murder mystery that unfolds in a unique and distinctive setting. Rigby’s use of multiple civilian sleuths to solve the decades-old crimes makes the work feel original and organic.
Character/Execution: The characters of Point Roberts are diverse and memorable. The five sleuths who solve the crime are well drawn and likable. The villains however, particularly the Mayor, feel more like caricatures and would benefit from more development and growth.
by Brooke Skipstone
Plot: Skipstone tells a tense, layered story about a girl capable of rapidly visiting alternate realities. While grappling with family betrayals, guilt, and unraveling a mystery, Laney explores the impact of life choices and how they shape who we become.
Prose/Style: The prose is rich, polished, and effectively serves the complex nature of the narrative.
Originality: Perplexing and often ambiguous, Skipstone's integration of themes relating to family, morality, and deception, affords emotional weight to what might be a simple story of exceptional abilities.
Character/Execution: Laney is a distinctive, complex, and layered character living extraordinary circumstances. Side characters are equally well-established and multidimensional.
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 Ian Andrew
Plot: Fall Guys is a fast-paced, well plotted thriller. The novel eases into the storyline, partly to reintroduce characters from previous books. Once the main conflict is revealed, the novel’s pace picks up nicely and offers its audience a light, enjoyable read.
Prose/Style: Andrew’s prose is clear, direct, and serves his story well. Each character’s distinct voice contributes to the building tension.
Originality: Andrew’s novel about private investigators, political intrigue, and arms dealers is exciting and fresh. Andrew’s military background contributes to the authenticity of the dialogue and the story.
Character Development: Readers will enjoy the two strong female leads of Fall Guys. Kara Wright and Tien Tran are combat veterans turned private investigators. They’re intelligent, capable detectives and easy to root for. They’re both also dealing with trauma and loss. It’s refreshing to find authentic, multifaceted leads in this genre.
by Y S Pascal/Linda Reid
Plot: The sprawling first novel in Y.S. Pascal's The Zygan Emprise Trilogy saw the stars of a TV science-fiction series launching off for intergalactic adventure as catascopes for aliens called Zygans, and also traveling in time and visiting Area 51. Redemption, the second volume, simultaneously narrows the trilogy's focus with its emphasis on teen protagonist Shiloh's search for her missing brother, John, while expanding the story's wildness, by incorporating cross-dimensional travel, worlds inspired by L. Frank Baum, fantastic creatures who speak in rhyme, an alternate Earth of airships and North American city states, and the crucifixion of a prophet here only identified as Yeshua. The hero's mission in 33 A.D.: to give that prophet back the Golden Fleece of Greek myth. The novel's selling points are Pascal's audacious plotting and the camaraderie between Shiloh and her co-star/co-catascope Spud. The bold, fast-paced storytelling comes at the expense of emotional engagement, as even momentous revelations get dashed through as the characters race off to the next crisis. The combination of time travel, intergalactic technology, alternate dimensions, and mythic/religious resurrections might be unpalatable for some readers, and it works against the possibility of suspense -- no matter what dangers they face, these characters have a bounty of possibilities to draw upon when crafting fantastical solutions.
Prose/Style: Pascal's sentences move quickly, with clarity and purpose. Action and description are all colored by the perspective of Shiloh. Some figurative language is awkward or overwrought, especially when describing emotional responses. It's an achievement that a novel that so audaciously mixes timelines and genres never skirts toward incomprehensibility, but the prose doesn't always guide readers toward feeling the significance of the story's dangers and revelations.
Originality: No other science fiction novel has ever dared suggest that the resurrection from the Gospels came about because space-traveling clone siblings from the 21st century left the golden fleece of the Argonautica in Jesus' tomb.
Character Development: Shiloh remains a strong, capable, driven protagonist who makes bold choices that drive the story. The novel doesn't often examine how audacious events and revelations throughout the story resonate with her, her belief system, or her conception of what life is about. Other characters come and go without much development, save for John and Skid.
by Neal Eric Yeomans
Plot: The Hidden Place is fast-paced and well plotted, though genre fans may anticipate many of the novel’s twists before they arrive.
Prose/Style: Yeoman’s prose elevates this thriller. The author skillfully alternates between haunting passages of loss and fear and powerful dialogue that advances the story.
Originality: Genre fans will recognize many callbacks to Gillian Flynn’s work, especially Dark Places. The Hidden Place is set apart from genre contemporaries by a tender teenage romance between the protagonist and his best friend.
Character Development: The characters of The Hidden Place are well-rounded and believable. Readers will sympathize with protagonist Miles Decker, who is still haunted by what he survived and doesn’t understand. The most engaging characters are the victims of the novel’s massacre.
by Derik Cavignano
Plot: The Art of Dying is fast-paced and well-plotted. Readers will enjoy uncovering new clues in the grisly, action-packed police investigation.
Prose/Style: Cavignano’s prose is clear and direct. The numerous male characters have distinct, authentic voices.
Originality: Readers will find all the elements of a police thriller in The Art of Dying. The serial murder case is interesting and feels original. Subplots involving feuding mobsters and mayoral corruption rely heavily on tropes.
Character/Execution: Protagonist Ray Hanley is a multifaceted character who experiences growth throughout the novel. More care could have been put into the development of the female characters, who feel underdeveloped and forgettable.