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Mystery / Thriller

  • Semi Finalist

    The Fourth String

    by Jill Paterson

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: Paterson has created an engaging mystery that keeps readers interested. The story is filled with twists and turns and likable characters who move the narrative along.

    Prose/Style: The story flows smoothly and the language is simple and yet descriptive. The dialogue proves interesting and creates a distinct voice for each character.

    Originality: The story is a bit reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s style and her famed detective hero, Poirot. This story would comfortably fit in the same genre but still felt unique.

    Character Development/Execution: The characters are colorful and detailed. The backstories are not overly deep, but the characters are described in a way that let the reader fully picture them.

  • Semi Finalist

    Death Count

    by SL Beaumont

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: At first thought, a mystery with a forensic accountant as the protagonist might sound like pure drudgery. But in this author's capable hands, the opposite is actually true. Here we have an exciting and well-thought out plot with a unique protagonist that not only holds the reader's interest throughout but leaves them wanting more.

    Prose/Style: The author is a gifted writer who is able to grab the reader's attention from the beginning and not let go. Dialogue, action, description are all perfectly balanced, and the pace of the plot keeps the story moving at a brisk pace. Unexpected touches such as a female protagonist who is also an amputee only heighten the drama.

    Originality: This highly original work achieves the unlikely by making forensic accounting appealing. The author has created an improbable hero with a missing left hand that is completely believable.

    Character Development/Execution: The author does a superb job with characterization particularly with Kat and Adam. The reader gets to know the characters and what makes them tick, becoming invested in their success, a significant factor into the effectiveness of the work as a whole.

    Blurb: Readers looking for an exciting and satisfying new thriller need not look any further. S.L. Beaumont's Death Count will not disappoint.

  • Semi Finalist

    Ghost Daughter

    by Helen Currie Foster

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: An exciting mystery filled with twists and turns, Foster has written an intriguing and complex narrative filled with adventure. The mystery is well thought out and contains plenty of meticulously-placed clues. Newcomers to the series will be able to dive right in.

    Prose/Style: The prose is detailed, painting vivid imagery for the reader. The atmospheric locations are described beautifully, and the characters’ backstories and intentions are pieced together throughout the story. The reader is constantly learning new details about the cast members.

    Originality: This story provides a nice twist to a normal murder mystery by following a unique protagonist, the estate lawyer, through the journey of clues, which provides a refreshing viewpoint on investigations.

    Character Development/Execution: While the characters do not change or grow much here, it is obvious that the main characters have already shown growth from previous books in this series. The characters are consistent in their motives and traits and are all very detailed and entertaining.

  • Semi Finalist

    Without Sin

    by Rachel Ford

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: Ford has created a complex, intriguing, and addicting thriller. The mystery is twisty, the characters are multifaceted, and the murder keeps the reader guessing. 

    Prose: The language used in this story is clear, easy to follow. There is an appropriate amount of description to allow the readers to form a picture of the characters and events. None of the gruesome details are gratuitous, while remaining impactful and appropriate for the story.

    Originality: While the story of former military personnel solving mysteries and catching killers is not novel, Ford integrates a number of unique elements, including the fact that the main character goes about solving the mystery independently. The killer's moniker and modus operandi also add an intriguing twist.

    Character/Execution: While the main character does not show significant development over time, his arc does not feel stagnant. He is consistent in his personality and the references to his past show that he has already undergone personal growth before dealing with this particular serial killer. The characters are complex and consistent, real and raw. 

  • Quarter Finalist

    Cold Wallet

    by Rosy Fenwicke

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: Fenwicke has written an intense thriller that has so many creative twists and turns that the ending comes as a pleasant surprise. Numerous misdirects and layers to this story keeps the reader wanting to learn more. The conclusion provides a great wrap-up to the story and a feeling that justice prevailed.

    Prose: While the timeline is somewhat jumpy, the prose is clear and easy to follow.

    Originality: This story is fresh and unique. Telling the story through the viewpoint of the wife and the best friend adds an unusual perspective.

    Character/Execution: The characters are very detailed and distinctive, with extensive backgrounds and layers of conflict and complexity.

  • Quarter Finalist

    The Arsonist's Handbook

    by L.A. Detwiler

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: At turns gripping and gruesome, this work will haunt readers long after the narrative concludes. Here, the reader will witness firsthand the evil that lives among us thanks to the author's adept handling of the storyline and the chilling conclusion.

    Prose/Style: The creep factor is high here. Very high. All owing to the author's astutely chosen prose and revolving first-person/third-person narrative, the reader feels the cold void in the killer where empathy and humanity should live. This story is eerily and brilliantly told.

    Originality: Highly original and hopefully entirely fictionalized, this is a haunting and unique work.

    Character Development/Execution: The first-person narrative here provides great insight into the twisted, driven mind of a killer. The approach is an extremely effective way of learning about the arsonist. 

  • Quarter Finalist

    Dashiell Hammett and the Hearst Castle Mystery

    by Gregory Urbach

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: The author offers up an intriguing plot that ensnares the reader from the first sentence. Fast-paced, full of colorful characters from the past, and a real true-blue, old-style mystery, the book entertains and keeps the reader guessing.

    Prose/Style: The author is a gifted writer whose command of language, dialogue, action and setting is evident. This work was truly a pleasure to read from beginning to end.

    Originality: A fictionalized account full of real but long-dead notables earns this work an A+ in originality. The author offers a creative scenario that offers an extra layer of fun for savvy readers but still holds appeal for those who aren't familiar with the long-gone players.

    Character Development/Execution: Characterization here is superb, offering a fictionalized whodunnit featuring the late Dashiell Hammett. Along the way, the story is punctuated with old-time actors and references including Bill Powell, The Thin Man, Jean Harlow, and more.

    Blurb: Engaging and fun, Dashiell Hammett and the Hearst Castle Mystery is a mystery lover's dream. Full of colorful characters from a bygone era, readers will be hard pressed to put this book down until the very last page.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Barking for Business

    by E.N. Crane

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: This excellent new work has it all: an engaging plot, an extremely likable hero with a crime-solving canine partner, and a generous amount of humor. It's a light-hearted mystery in the style of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum novels. The plot is clever and fast-paced.

    Prose/Style: The author is a superb writer who balances action, humor, and dialogue perfectly. The writing here is engaging and familiar, so the reader feels like they're connecting with an old friend.

    Originality: This is a highly original work with distinctive characters and an inventive storyline.

    Character Development/Execution: There are many, many things to love about this work, but the one crucial component that makes this story work so well is its first-person perspective. This allows the reader to enter Cyn's self-deprecating, quirky mind which will cause the reader fall in love with her.

    Blurb: Delightfully clever and decidedly fun, readers will fall in love with Cynthia Sharp and her canine partner, Sgt. Winnifred Pupperson - the best crime-fighting duo since Batman and Robin.

  • Quarter Finalist

    D-Notice

    by Bill Walker

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: This is an incredibly exciting, fast-paced story, flowing smoothly between the 1940s and the 1980s. D-Notice is an exciting mystery that is sprinkled with some threads of history and romance, providing entry points for a wide array of readers.

    Prose/Style: The language is clear and smooth. There are several parts in German and Russian that are not directly translated but are easily understood through context.

    Originality: While books about WWII are not uncommon, this story covers an interesting perspective of the families of spies and the mixed web of loyalties.

    Character Development/Execution: The protagonist shows growth during his journey to find out the truth about his father. While he does not find out exactly how he died, he learns many secrets about his family and readers witness see growth, maturity and, eventually, joy in a family of his own.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Burnt to a Crisp

    by Michael O'Keefe

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: This is a mystery readers can sink their teeth into, full of intriguing layers and the perfect amount of complexity. The storyline is fast-paced and effectively holds the reader's interest throughout.

    Prose/Style: The author is a skilled writer who is able to craft not only a great narrative but also organic and believable dialogue, strong action scenes, and overall an enjoyable reading experience.

    Originality: This is an original work with distinctive characters and situations.

    Character Development/Execution: The author has done an impressive job with character development not only with Paddy, the main character, but also with second-tier players including Paddy's wife and fellow police officers.

  • Quarter Finalist

    KOBANI

    by FX Holden

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: Holden has created a multifaceted, action-packed war thriller in Kobani. This story follows several characters’ perspectives and lives, each with a different role in the war and different backgrounds. Holden carefully weaves these storylines together to create a detailed and complex portrayal of war.

    Prose/Style: This story implements a high level of military jargon, explained in a glossary to help readers unfamiliar with military language and future military technologies. Helpful maps are also included. Along with clear prose and dialogue, this story is easy to follow and navigate, and enjoyable to follow.

    Originality: While there are numerous futuristic, military thrillers, Holden adds a unique element by weaving together several storylines to provide a full view of the war and events that occur.

    Character Development/Execution: Holden effectively juggles several different characters with their own storylines. Characters are carefully thought out with individually strong background stories.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Whipped Cream & Piano Wire

    by Winnie Simpson

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: Simpson has crafted an exciting mystery filled with entertaining characters and great plot twists. The mystery and characters are complex and leave the reader guessing until all is revealed. This was a delight to read and a great start to an interesting series.

    Prose/Style: The language is clear and easy to understand, and the story follows a logical progression.

    Originality: This book has a creative mystery that still adheres to the standard mystery plot progression. The characters are unique and have well-developed backgrounds, and the storyline fits well in the cozy mystery subgenre.

    Character Development/Execution: Anne demonstrates growth from being a recluse due to traumatic incidents in her past to helping her friend and breaking out of her shell. She is set up to be an interesting protagonist for this series.

    Blurb: Simpson's exciting mystery follows Anne Audrey on her quest to clear her best friend's name and solve the death of her friend's lover.  Set in the charming South, this mystery will draw the reader in and leave them wanting more.

  • Outsourced

    by Eric J. Gates

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot: Gates’s novel starts off with a bang, literally and figuratively, with unexpected, intriguing circumstances and a turn of events with the acquittal of an assassin guilty of mass murder. The action-packed, suspense-filled, fast pace is carried throughout the novel that will keep readers engaged and on tenterhooks for what happens next.

    Prose: Gates’s prose is well crafted overall and matches the pace and tone of the book and its storyline. He employs sentence structure and word choice well to convey the atmosphere, mood, and emotion of each scene and to truly transport the reader into the story and into the shoes of the characters. The language is biting, emanates suspense, and is sometimes staggering.

    Originality: Readers will find all the elements of a classic suspense thriller but with a twist of mystery and, with its elements of the supernatural and science fiction as well as its unique premise, is even more original.

    Character/Execution: The antagonist, Polanski, is cunning, intelligent, sociopathic, and narcissistic and is reminiscent of other serial killers with his charming and seemingly friendly demeanor. When Nic and Phil become connected by the mysterious pen, the rival authors become allies against the dangerous reality in which they have been thrust. Both prove to be more capable and daring than expected to the readers and of themselves and, unlike Polanski, want to use the pen for good. All characters, even those occupying very little of the book, are believable and convincing in their roles and move the story along.

    Blurb: A unique, nail biter of a novel and an excellent recipe to whet the appetites of readers who enjoy classic suspense thrillers, science fiction, and the supernatural.

  • Twenty-Twenty Hindsight

    by Tim Hind

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot: Hind’s novel is intensely paced with a deliciously subversive plot. The storyline never tapers off, intensifying right up until the cliffhanger ending.

    Prose/Style: Hind’s prose is precise and crisp, rivaling the energy of the novel. Luke Frankland’s voice is striking, dynamic, and meaningful.

    Originality: Twenty-Twenty Hindsight sticks closely to its thriller makeup, but the characters’ flawed vulnerabilities add a new level.

    Character Development/Execution: Hind’s multidimensional characters steal the show and add intricacy to the plot. Daniel Stückl’s haunting voice will captivate readers, and Stuart Campbell MacLellan plays the perfect egocentric, hollow villain.

    Blurb: A suspenseful thriller chock full of sabotage, destruction, and staggering bombshells.

  • The Source

    by Ari Magnusson

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot: This story has a little bit of everything: adventure, history, romance, and humor. The plot moves quickly, showcases intriguing characters, and shares enough history to give it depth.

    Prose/Style: The language used in this story is clear and easy to understand. The story flows smoothly, even with the switches between narrators.

    Originality: The story itself is original, but the tropes here are reminiscent of and feel inspired by The Da Vinci Code.

    Character Development/Execution: The main characters develop throughout the story by bonding through their adventures. The protagonist demonstrates personal growth that manifests through his increased courage and independence.

  • Plot: Buckley has created an entertaining science fiction mystery that keeps the reader laughing. The relationship between Leafy and Beefy is humorous and lighthearted and makes for a very dynamic  read.

    Prose/Style: The language is very descriptive, assisting with the elaborate worldbuilding. The dialogue is colorful, funny, and clever.

    Originality: The combination of police procedural with science fiction elements is very enjoyable and results in a highly original tale.

    Character Development/Execution: The characters do not develop much over the course of the story, but they remain consistent, unusual, and intriguing.

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