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Mystery / Thriller

  • Uncertain Luck

    by Rea Keech

    Rating: 7.75

    Plot: While at times the plot is episodic, and the underlying romance runs a little too smoothly without significant complications, the story progresses at a satisfying and engaging pace.

    Prose/Style: Keech writes confidently and evocatively, conjuring an authentic setting both rich with detail and a sense of atmosphere.

    Originality: This coming-of-age story set against 1969 Tokyo, which touches both upon Japan post-World War II, and the Vietnam War, proves fertile ground for emotional drama with hints of intrigue and romance.

    Character/Execution: Emiko’s drive to find her missing father fuels her journey, during which she proves to be a resilient, resourceful young woman. Meanwhile, the American soldier Juan provides an intriguing, if sometimes underutilized, look into both the Vietnam War and Japanese society from a unique viewpoint, making for a satisfying read.

  • The Pinebox Vendetta

    by Jeff Bond

    Rating: 7.75

    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.

  • Crip Cyn

    by Toni Pacini

    Rating: 7.50

    Plot: This character-driven novel is emotional, exciting, and well plotted. Pacini maintains and builds tension well throughout the story.

    Prose/Style: Pacini’s prose firmly places the reader amid the southern location and culture, with great authenticity.

    Originality: Crip Cyn is an emotional and entertaining thriller about the importance of chosen family. The oversimplistic themes relating to good versus evil could be bolstered to improve an otherwise intriguing and fresh story.

    Character Development: Pacini’s characters are either wholly good, like survivors of trauma who overcame great odds, generous neighbors who give freely, etc. or wholly bad, like the abusive villains. Although the novel begins with the titular character murdering another child, she is quickly forgiven for the circumstances and for the widely accepted fact that he was a ‘bad’ child. Still, readers will find it easy to root for the many intrinsically good characters, thanks to Pacini’s writing.

  • Requiem for the Dead

    by Victor M. Alvarez

    Rating: 7.50

    Plot: Although Alvarez’s novel is well plotted with a unique premise, it loses steam in the final chapters and would benefit from restructure and revision. Genre fans will likely predict the novel’s inevitable ending.

    Prose/Style: Alvarez’s prose is strong, clear, and direct. The author is particularly skilled at describing the intricacies of close quarters combat. Occasionally clunky dialogue hinders reader engagement.

    Originality: Military thriller fans will enjoy this multi-tiered conspiracy novel. Alvarez skillfully builds this story around the international military community with great authenticity.

    Character Development: The characters in Requiem for the Dead are numerous and diverse. Readers will want to root for protagonist Jacqueline Sinclair, a tough and intelligent CID officer. It’s refreshing to see a strong female lead in the military thriller genre. However, Alvarez strips Sinclair of her agency by having her lesser-trained male partner save her life multiple times, her father routinely guide her investigation, and by frequently referencing her physical appearance.

  • Requiem for the Dead

    by Victor M. Alvarez

    Rating: 7.50

    Plot: Although Alvarez’s novel is well-plotted, it would be better served by focusing on clarity, structure and keeping the energy going in the final chapters. Genre fans may predict the novel’s inevitable ending.

    Prose/Style: Alvarez’s prose is strong, clear, and direct. The author is particularly skilled at describing the intricacies of combat in close quarters. Occasionally clunky dialogue ultimately hinders reader engagement.

    Originality: Military thriller fans will enjoy this multitiered conspiracy novel. Alvarez skillfully builds this story around the international military community with great authenticity.

    Character/Execution: The characters in Requiem for the Dead are numerous and diverse. Readers will want to root for protagonist Jacqueline Sinclair, a tough and intelligent CID officer. It’s refreshing to see a strong female lead in the military thriller genre. However, Alvarez strips Sinclair of her agency by having her lesser-trained male partner save her life multiple times, her father routinely guide her investigation, and by frequently referencing her physical appearance.

  • White Rain

    by Joel Canfield

    Rating: 7.50

    Plot: The idea of a "community" for ex-CIA operatives, where they are drugged and brainwashed, is unusual and certainly memorable. Occasionally, which characters are aligned with which (good versus bad intentions) could be clarified to strengthen the book’s premise.

    Prose/Style: The text is fairly light and amusing, with witty and irreverent dialogue, chapter titles, and scenes. The title refers to white supremacy, an idea that the ultra-conservative characters in this book espouse.

    Originality: This project feels original, except for the presence of Russian enemies, which is a well-worn trope in many contemporary mystery/thrillers. Although this is billed as a mystery/thriller, it's also a humorous book filled with quirky people. It is set in contemporary times and, with Trump as president, we meet characters like a ‘bad guy’ lobbyist, and a talking dog puppet attached to a man’s arm.  

    Character Development: Max is a multi-faceted character, odd and somewhat charismatic, the most completely developed here. He has an adorable, if opinionated, dog. Jeremy, as Max's girlfriend's son and Max's protégé, is quite effectively fleshed out, too.

  • The Passage of Anne Donovan

    by S. Mandel Joseph

    Rating: 7.50

    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.

  • Thieves' Castle (The Tyburn Folios Book 2)

    by Dean Hamilton

    Rating: 7.25

    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.

  • Renegades

    by Y S Pascal/Linda Reid

    Rating: 7.25

    Plot: Y.S. Pascal's busily plotted science fiction/time-travel thriller zips right along from the set of a Hollywood science fiction TV show to a secret base at the Earth's center and then to the planet Zyga, ancient Phoenica, Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947, and a quest to find the Golden Fleece of the Argonautica. The story is fast, wild, inventive, and somewhat episodic, as Pascal introduces many intriguing concepts, such as "Level 3," the mysterious place that the aliens called Zygans choose to go to at the end of their thousands of years of life or the neural discipline of Tlyp’ath, and a series of betrayals and moles in the Zygan empire that has recruited protagonist Shiloh Rush and the brother, now missing-in-action, who she's spent years searching for. "Renegades" kicks off a trilogy and has lots of story to set up, but the density of twists and wonders comes at the expense of character and narrative clarity. So much happens so fast that events' emotional impact and narrative significance aren't always clear. The opening chapter's abrupt leaps in time and litany of proper nouns can prove an uninviting way to start the book and will likely deter readers.

    Prose/Style: Pascal keeps the story moving, and the prose is often crisply exciting in moments of action or as the author reveals each of the surprising new concepts. Some satirical moments, especially concerning Hollywood TV shows, are notably funny, and the author is shrewd enough a stylist to spring amusing traps on readers, such as the revelation that one exciting space battle is actually happening on a TV set, or, later, that what sounds like a TV space battle is actually the cast escaping the paparazzi. One of the book's strengths is the down-to-Earth dialogue, but many of the characters' wisecracks feel curiously dated, as they joke about the old Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game or the long-gone TV show "Rescue 911" or resort to "No duh."

    Originality: Like the "Bulwark" TV series that made Shiloh a star, Pascal's novel borrows liberally from many popular science fiction narratives. But the author is daring and innovative in mashing together ideas from different genres, and they imbue the material with fresh excitement.

    Character Development: Shiloh's quest to find her lost brother is introduced with power and clarity in early chapters, but for much of the rest of the book she's fighting on behalf of an intergalactic federation that whose specific principles seem vague -- it's not clear what values motivated her brother or her to sign up with the Zygans, especially when the Federation's Omega Archon is quick to torture its adherents, including Shiloh. Still, Shiloh and her pal Spud are engaging and exciting heroes, capable of surprising action and hard choices. Some of their bantering humor might be dated, but the camaraderie here is winning enough to power a series.

  • Once Is Never ENough

    by Haris Orkin

    Rating: 7.25

    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.

  • Fatal Deception

    by Audrey J. Cole

    Rating: 7.00

    Plot: Cole‘s sound thriller focuses on the machinations of a dubious self-help organization. There are more contrivances than many readers will have an appetite for, but the timely concept is abundantly intriguing.

    Prose: While the prose is not entirely memorable, the author is a capable writer who integrates clear descriptions with solid dialogue and dynamic action.

    Originality: The opening section throws the reader in the deep end, as a woman desperately flees a castle. This immediately establishes a sense of uncertainty and suspense, albeit one that is not fully sustained throughout the book.

    Character/Execution: The lead is authentic, likable, and carries enough baggage to intrigue readers and lend gravity to her encounters with Everchange and its deceptions. The charismatic cult leader is less established, while the celebrities aren't well-defined enough to make their drinking of the koolaid entirely plausible.

  • With Dark Understandings: A Novel

    by Fazle Chowdhury

    Rating: 7.00

    Plot: Chowdhury delivers a complex, sometimes challenging novel centered on trauma, political tensions, and revolution.

    Prose: The prose is somewhat uneven in its execution, with sections devoted to political circumstances reading stiffly and dryly. Conversely, the novel’s focus on Orca’s personal struggles, growth, and tragedies, are dynamic, lyrical, and vivid.

    Originality: The integration of the sociopolitical and personal is intriguing and novel in execution, as is the novel's approach to storytelling.

    Character/Execution: The protagonist is undoubtedly engaging, particularly when his development is allowed to be front and center in the narrative. Additional characters have a tendency to become lost in the novel’s many threads and in the policy-focused sections of the work.

  • DEAD THEATER

    by Keith L. White

    Rating: 7.00

    Plot: The plot behind Dead Theater is entertaining, if at times predictable. Despite somewhat sluggish pacing, an eventful second half, a high body count, and the bizarre and gory climax in an underground San Francisco museum, ultimately enrich the story.

    Prose: The prose is clear and structured thoughtfully. While not overly memorable, intriguing  metaphors and apt descriptions serve the plotline well. The numerous characters converse through quick-paced, witty banter that keeps the case progressing nicely and the readers guessing at the mystery's many twists. 

    Originality: The idea of incorporating a theater into this mystery is fresh and exciting, and lends an aura of suspense and eeriness to the setting. Additionally, the inclusion of a Black private investigator protagonist is an appreciated and intentional move toward diversifying this often-homogenous genre. 

    Character Development: Michael Talent, a Black private detective also known as "a corpse magnet",  is quite well drawn, and readers will find him likable as the main character and narrator. He is often funny and sarcastic, even in the face of great danger. Beyond Talent, the many characters can be difficult to track and differentiate, and do not experience significant growth within their individual story arcs.

  • Dishonor Thy Father

    by Mike Robinson and M. J. Richards

    Rating: 7.00

    Plot: Richards and Robinson deliver a compelling and well-plotted thriller that kicks off with an Iranian girl fleeing from her father and soon transitions to the investigation of a doctor's murder.

    Prose: The authors have a clear and even prose style that gradually builds tension and delivers an unexpected reveal.

    Originality: Dishonor Thy Father provides a unique premise and a novel exploration of cultural expectations, professional feuds, and the lengths taken to ensure survival.

    Character/Execution: Detective Michael Tucci is an appealingly vulnerable hero who becomes deeply embroiled in the case of a murdered doctor. Dr. Tara White, meanwhile, is an enigmatic and layered central character.

  • DELL'S DILEMMA

    by ML Biddison

    Rating: 6.75

    Plot: Biddison’s novel is well-plotted and fast paced. Genre fans will predict where this mystery is headed, long before it arrives at its conclusion, but will enjoy the journey to get there. More suspense and mystery would go a long way here. 

    Prose/Style: Biddison’s stiff dialogue is a hindrance to reader engagement. The book’s prose works best when setting the scene for Deputy Dell and her exploits.

    Originality: Readers will indulge in the exciting, engaging premise of Dell’s Dilemma. It’s an entertaining addition to this series featuring a young professional finding her footing in law enforcement.

    Character Development: The characters in Dell’s Dilemma are likable yet superficial. Many characters, including the protagonist, lack a distinct voice. Readers may find Deputy Dell unbelievable as a teenaged law enforcement official who regularly outsmarts her more seasoned officers.

  • Quick Read

    by Bill Thesken

    Rating: 6.75

    Plot: This action-filled thriller takes readers on a globe-spanning adventure as a capable protagonist attempts to recover a dangerous device that threatens all of humanity.

    Prose/Style: Thesken’s prose is taut and even, with effective dialogue and solid description.

    Originality: While Quick Read follows many conventions of the thriller genre, Thesken offers a cinematic and eminently readable story that provides a gradual unspooling of information and reveal.

    Character Development: Badger is a stalwart hero. While readers may never fear for his safety, Thesken envisions a high-stakes circumstance that maintains tension through the end.

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