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Mystery / Thriller

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • A Swarm in May

    by Mark Anthony Powers

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot: The plot here is solid and intriguing, but the author attempts to weave in too many storylines and the focus becomes unclear. From the wide cast of characters to Phineas's home life, bee tending, and gardening, there are too many narratives to keep straight.

    Prose/Style: The author is a strong writer and is able to convey medical diagnoses and terminology not only in a simplified manner, but also in a way to keep the reader interested.

    Originality: The author puts forth an entertaining and original storyline with distinct characters and situations.

    Character Development/Execution: The author does an exceptional job with his protagonist, offering insight into Phineas's thoughts from the first sentence. Peripheral characters are also well-developed.

  • Key Man

    by Allen Huffstutter

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot: Huffstutter’s novel moves fast and furious and is meticulously plotted. Just when the reader thinks that the detectives have it figured out, Huffstutter throws a curveball into the action and ends the book with a surprise that will leave the reader wanting more.

    Prose/Style: Skillfully crafted prose engages the reader, while organic dialogue allows the characters to come alive.

    Originality: A surprise ending and a crime that is financially motivated will leave readers enthusiastically waiting for another installment. 

    Character Development/Execution: Huffstutter balances numerous characters as the novel's mysteries are revealed and pieced together. The characters are true to their roles and grow throughout the story and in tandem with one another. The rookies are idealistic and overly eager, while the experienced ones prove to be more hardened. Readers will cheer for the team of sleuths in this appealing novel.

  • The Angel's Trumpet

    by James Musgrave

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: Musgrave takes a deep dive into 1887 in this extensively researched novel. Taking the issues of the time—race and politics—he has created a probable piece of fiction based on the time period. Historically accurate, the author has written an intriguing mystery that unfolds at an even pace. The strategy the author uses to introduce each of the suspects lures the reader into the mystery. Because these issues still exist today, this multilayered plot feels modern and helps the reader understand how these issues endure.

    Prose/Style: Descriptive vocabulary and meticulously chosen words are true to the time period and lend the characters depth and a distinct image. Describing clothing as “britches” or “frocks” helps pull the reader into the time period and understand the class system of the era.

    Originality: The author has creatively finessed the perfect blend of history and fiction putting the characters in a situation that truly could have taken place. Focusing on a small time period and changing setting by chapter keeps the reader engaged.

    Character Development/Execution: The characters feel relatable and modern yet fit the time period. The common character throughout the series is clever despite her track record for defending her suspects. The variable types of characters are well-developed and grow throughout the story. The reader is not sure who to trust throughout the story, thus making the narrative more engaging.

  • No child of mine

    by Olga Gibbs

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: The author crafts a gripping plot that stays in the reader's mind long after the story is finished.

    Prose/Style: The writing here is mostly effective but would benefit from a heavy edit to eliminate awkward phrasing, run-on sentences, and odd phrasing.

    Originality: The government-dominant world depicted here is heavily reminiscent of the Hunger Games' Capitol, which controls every aspect of how people live. Yet the author is able to expand upon this foundation to create a unique and original setting.

    Character Development/Execution: The author does an excellent job with character development even in the strange and oppressive world depicted. The players are well-defined and their positions on events are evident and well understood.

  • Mantis

    by Steve Zell

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot: Smart and compelling, this second installment in Zell’s series is too good to pass up. Told in multiple perspectives and time periods, the author manages to close all of the gaps.

    Prose/Style: Clear and concise, the words flow together well. The author uses bold headings to cue the reader that the time and place has changed, which helps the reader tune in.

    Originality: An obscure complication involving one of the characters makes this an intriguing story. Most readers will find the premise behind the complication to be well-executed.

    Character Development/Execution: Strong, complex characters keep all of the facets of the story moving forward. The main character’s fast-paced actions and decisions keep the reader on their toes.

  • Double Vision

    by Hamelin Bird

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot: Former detective Mike Lunsmann is an alcoholic on the brink; as his life crashes around him, he is confronted by a mystery in the Harlow Boonies that causes him to question his own reality. Double Vision features an engaging plot that touches on the supernatural, the nature of evil, and the often tenuous relationships of fathers and sons.

    Prose/Style: Bird's prose is clever, well-written, and elegiac at times as his characters often ponder their own broken lives and inner demons. It is only near the end of the story that the supernatural comes fully into view, awakening the reader to the clever duality throughout the story.

    Originality: While stories about broken-down alcoholic cops are a dime a dozen, what makes this story stand apart is its well-developed and likable, albeit flawed, characters. Fathers and sons, "scars that never heal," and the insidiousness of the past cleverly combine to form an enjoyable tale where a man hell-bent on revenge lives in a house on the threshold of worlds.

    Character Development/Execution: Bird paints a vivid picture of all his characters, from the main characters like Dougie, Mike, and Saul Jessup, to the one's on the periphery like Ryan Mills and Natalie Hollister. The characters are definitely the backbone of the story; their flaws and introspections make them both realistic and sympathetic, while also making this story a joy to read.

  • Plot: This story is fast-paced, very detailed, and packed with action. Saleh offers a fine blend of science and mystery to deliver an entertaining and smart narrative. The resolution is somewhat rushed, but this will only make readers eager for future installments. 

    Prose/Style: Saleh's writing style is clear, immediate, and cinematic. Readers will feel immediately immersed in the events as they unfold.

    Originality: This story's science elements allow the work to stand apart. Though Leigh falling for one of her bodyguards is not surprising, the romantic choice she ultimately makes offers an intriguing twist.

    Character Development/Execution: The characters are consistent throughout the story, and are provided with backstories that provide them depth and dimension. 

  • A Spy in Quarantine

    by Thomas Eglise

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot: This conspiracy-laden book sometimes bites off more than it can chew. The plot is suspenseful but confusing, a postmodern espionage story that is as frustrating as it is exciting. It’s perfect for fans of thrillers who can appreciate a dose of heady philosophy.

    Prose/Style: The prose would benefit from consistency — at times verbose, other times short, curt, and to-the-point. But there’s a certain appeal to Eglise’s style: despairing, artful, and precise.

    Originality: The story follows a professional plagiarist unraveling a conspiracy while researching the spread of COVID-19 for two grad students. A novel concept — and a great blend of current events and suspense.

    Character Development/Execution: Takis is a wholly original character, with an original profession and outlook. Because the plot is confusing, it can be difficult to keep track of if (and how) he changes throughout, but he’s likable and interesting enough to keep readers along for the ride.

  • Requiem For Noah

    by Douglas Cockell

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot: Cockell's plot is electrifying and riveting. It clips along at high speed, with plenty of buildup and escalating tensions until the end. The conclusion is full of surprises that readers will not anticipate.

    Prose/Style: Cockell's articulate prose adds appeal to the storyline, with crisp and effective dialogue. Eilert Weiss's voice is palpable and precise.

    Originality: Readers will appreciate the classical thriller elements in Requiem for Noah, but the preternatural components are distinctive and remarkable in their novelty.

    Character Development/Execution: Cockell's characters will appeal to readers through their dual representation of cruelty and beneficence. Eilert Weiss will draw readers in with his dogged insistence on justice, even in the midst of intense fear, and Noah Goodwyn is a paradox of good and evil paired with understandable angst.

    Blurb: A creepy thriller that will jettison readers from one tense moment to the next, with satisfying shocks around every corner.

  • City of Stones (Detective Matt Jones 4)

    by Robert Ellis

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot: This fourth installment in the Detective Matt Jones series moves quickly and never slows down until a satisfying ending surprises the reader. The mystery is methodically solved, which makes it believable. The plot climaxes and unfolds at a steady rate that allows the reader to keep guessing about how it will end.

    Prose/Style: With the implementation of the dialogue, the author maintains tension throughout the story by keeping the main character in situations where he is alone or meeting others in uncertain circumstances. Using an appropriate and relevant setting, the author has created a suspenseful tone throughout the book. The dialogue is fluid and intriguing.

    Originality: Even though the book is the fourth in the series, it did not feel as though the reader needed to have read the other three in order to appreciate the book. As the story unfolds at an even pace, readers will appreciate the ending.

    Character Development/Execution: A concerned main character is reliable in his decisions; strong and likable, the reader wants him to successfully solve the crime. The characters that surround him are well-rounded and intriguing.

    Blurb: Fans of the first three books will not be disappointed in this skillfully plotted novel.

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