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Mystery / Thriller

  • Finalist

    Death No Stranger

    by Regan Barry

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot: The author expertly weaves together multiple plots and sub-plots that strike a perfect balance between creating excitement and leaving the reader wanting more.

    Prose: On par with high-profile mystery writers (like Anthony Horowitz or Richard Osman), the prose here is clear, engaging, and highly readable, and the dialogue between characters is especially strong.

    Originality: Death No Stranger strikes a fine balance between the conventions of the genre that readers want in a detective novel (red herrings, a cop with a secret, conspiring spouse, well-intentioned citizen detective) and fresh twists that keep readers guessing.

    Character/Execution: The characters were so believable and had so much depth to them, especially via their internal monologues and dialogue.

    Blurb: Death No Stranger is fast-paced and engaging. Readers will be mesmerized by the mysteries that DI Shauna Holt encounters when trying to solve the murder of a respectable Cambridge attorney. 

  • Semi Finalist

    Face the Night

    by Alan Lastufka

    Rating: 9.75

    Plot/Idea: Lastufka has composed a gripping book that is so compelling that the reader, much like the protagonist, may have trouble falling asleep until they've finished the read. Lastufka has intertwined a complex mix of stories, featuring perspectives from a wide range of diverse characters, and touching upon important topics, including racism, corruption in politics, single mothers, disability, and police violence. He does so subtly; each piece of the story is woven together expertly, hauntingly. 

    Prose: Despite the large cast of the novel, the reader will not find themselves lost, even when the story jumps around to different perspectives. The author does a fantastic job of reminding the reader about past events, character nuances, or specific locations, without having it interrupt the prose or storytelling.

    Originality: Face the Night has some traditional horror tropes to it: the rookie cop who just wants to do a good job but is finding himself pulled into something bigger than himself; the suffering single mother who really wants to do her best but just can't seem to catch a break; the power-hungry politician who is a confusing mix of kindhearted, selfish, and oblivious. These tropes continue throughout the novel, but they work well and give it a delicious taste of nostalgia, a callback to previous stories of fear that have tickled the imagination for decades. Lastufka has taken these tropes and added his own unique spin.

    Character Development/Execution: The book flows impeccably. It is storytelling at its best: a mixture of romance, addiction, fear, and mystery. 

     

  • Semi Finalist

    The Website: Child crime and the dark net

    by Miriam Verbeek

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot: In this stellar addition to the Songs of Si’Empra saga, readers come to know detective Saskia van Essen as she investigates a dark web operation marketing images of abused children.

    Prose: Verbeek's prose is deeply immersive and reads very much like a well-plotted police procedural. The more unique elements will spellbind readers and expand their expectations for the genre.

    Originality: Verbeek's The Website is strikingly original in concept and scope. While the topic of sex-trafficked children is a familiar one, the author integrates fantasy elements into the story, beginning with the fictional island of Si'Empra, which is featured in her other titles.

    Character/Execution: Essen's characterizations are vivid and immediately intriguing. Saskia more than carries the story, but side characters and the stirring setting also allow the work to shine.

  • Semi Finalist

    Goldhammer

    by Haris Orkin

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot: Goldhammer is an exhilarating, action-packed thriller with a dash of Hollywood and a smidge of Vegas painted in the dazzling sheen of a James Bond adventure.

    Prose: Action scenes are crafted with a deft hand, perfectly balancing suspense and momentum from start to finish. 

    Originality: Goldhammer unexpectedly mixes mental health facilities, elderly Hollywood stars, siblings with an unbreakable bond, dastardly evildoers, and a man convinced he’s part of Her Majesty’s Secret Service into an unforgettable story that James Bond fans will devour.

    Character/Execution: James Flynn is an immediately likable main character, the sort of heroic figure readers can’t help but root for. Longstanding bonds between Flynn and Sancho Perez are very believable and evident through their interactions.

    Blurb: Goldhammer is a fresh and thrilling adventure perfect for fans of James Bond.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Azabu Getaway (Detective Hiroshi Series Book 5)

    by Michael Pronko

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot/Idea: Pronko weaves a complex and engrossing plot with riveting twists and turns to keep readers on their toes. This is a high-energy story, focused on several unforgettable characters, and each divergent plot line is gripping.

    Prose: Pronko is clearly a talented writer able to paint vivid pictures for readers. The story flows at a clipped but measured pace, with the perfect balance of detail and action—a critical component given its foreign setting and different cultural nuances. 

    Originality: From beginning to end, Azabu Getaway is an engaging and satisfying read, built from an intriguing premise and inundated with exceptional characters. 

    Character Development/Execution: Pronko is particularly skilled with the characterizations of Patrick and Hiroshi. Readers will be able to understand their motivations and weigh the various scenes in the book through each character's unique viewpoint.

    Blurb: A superb combination of suspense, murder, and finance, Azabu Getaway will keep readers up way past their bedtimes.

  • Quarter Finalist

    The Mirror Man

    by J.B. Manas

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot/Idea: The Mirror Man is a sophisticated and high-energy book that ticks all the right boxes—suspenseful, engaging, and full of memorable characters. The action is nail-biting at times, and the storyline does not disappoint.

    Prose: Manas is clearly a skillful writer and equally talented at crafting action, description, and dialogue. The pacing is perfect, and the story flows seamlessly, evoking the dirty secrets of politics that often underlie deadly crimes. 

    Originality: This high-speed novel won't disappoint, and the tension goes hand in hand with expert plotting.

    Character Development/Execution: Manas drops riveting clues that strengthen characterization for Blaine and Julian, and minor characters are both supportive to the plot and appealing in their own right.

    Blurb: Brace yourself for a riveting ride that will keep you the edge of your seat.

  • Quarter Finalist

    the detail

    by Dana Wayne

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot/Idea: The Detail is an engaging read with solid characters and an intense story line. Although Wayne incorporates multiple elements into the book, a strong undercurrent of attraction between the two main characters runs throughout, lending the story more of a romance feel than a classic thriller.

    Prose: Wayne is a skillful writer and achieves the perfect tone for the storyline. Dialogue, action, romance, and descriptions are well-balanced, conveying the right information at an ideal pace.

    Originality: The combination of a memorable cast and compelling plot elevates the creativity, and Wayne's delivery of fierce action alongside explosive intimacy is spot-on.

    Character Development/Execution: Wayne excels at characterization, producing two perceptive main players who will immediately draw readers in. Jessica and Seth—equally aware of their own desires and never hesitant to pursue them—become gradually more transparent, and Wayne subtly unwraps their transformation as the story advances.

     

  • Quarter Finalist

    Catch .22

    by Diane L. Kowalyshyn

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot/Idea: Catch .22 opens with a murder that sets the stage for gripping scenes to follow. Kowalyshyn presents a complex storyline, enhanced with several well-developed characters, that traverses multiple locations and settings. 

    Prose: Kowalyshyn is a clear and concise writer, able to craft suspenseful scenes that will garner reader attention. Catch .22 is a promising thriller, although some contradictory plot points and structure could use fine-tuning.

    Originality: The highlight of Catch .22 is the engaging plot and noteworthy characters, alongside a healthy dose of action that keeps the story moving.

    Character Development/Execution: The two main players, Sloan and Julia, are well-defined and memorable, although lesser players, such as Renee—whose death is a catalyst for the novel's blistering action—hold their own. Kowalyshyn is clearly skilled at characterization, a strong point for the novel across the board.

     

  • Quarter Finalist

    Sick as our Secrets

    by Jim Christopher

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot: In a follow-up to Season of Waiting, Christopher weaves an elaborate but engaging fantasy-infused mystery. Twisty with a sense of ominous foreboding, the story takes readers on a wild adventure unlike any other.

    Prose: The author is a fine writer and skilled storyteller. Action, dialogue, and description are all well balanced and keep the storyline moving at a steady clip. The author introduces a complex, dark, and fully realized world. 

    Originality: Sick as Our Secrets offers a distinctive and imaginative plot with seamless worldbuilding and a sense of urgency on the page.

    Character/Execution: Christopher excels at subtle character development and brings the highly distinctive setting of a Texas marijuana farm to life. 

  • Quarter Finalist

    A Day for Bones

    by Dale E. Lehman

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot/Idea: The author does a commendable job of crafting a refreshingly traditional-style mystery that will captivate the reader. The plot is smart, twisty, and complex, which keeps the reader engaged. 

    Prose: The author is a strong writer, demonstrating clear command of language and the ability to pace the story with a fine balance of action, dialogue, and description.

    Originality: Lehman has created a rich, complex setting populated with well-defined and varied characters. This is a wholly original and very enjoyable read.

    Character Development/Execution: The author has created numerous characters that are each distinctive. Due to the scope of the storyline, characters are numerous yet still richly developed and authentic.

  • NOWHERE TO LAND

    by Teretha G. Houston

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot/Idea: Houston's novel is a thriller running on all four cylinders—a nonstop, action-packed story where desperate measures are the only chances for survival.

    Prose: Houston's meticulously detailed prose launches at a pace as intense as the danger her characters find themselves in. She builds intrigue and anticipation from start to finish without being overly verbose. 

    Originality: This is truly a one-of-a-kind story. Thrillers centered on planes usually use conflict amongst the passengers or a malfunction of the plane to drive the plot, but Houston has created a story in which the danger is as multi-layered as the protagonists being used to save the day.

    Character Development/Execution: Houston expertly executes the development of the protagonists' background stories as insight into their current state of mind in dealing with extraordinary challenges. Her cast of passengers is not treated as extras; instead, each person is given a clear voice and persona that shines through in the face of imminent death.

  • Plot/Idea: The author has created a witty and endearing mystery in the backdrop of wedding plans. The two sisters seem to always land in the midst of mystery as they embark on adventures around the world. Carefully plotted and paced, this story does not disappoint as it unravels.

    Prose: Witty and well-written, the story includes enough information from previous volumes to help the reader understand who the sleuths are and the details of their relationship. The plot is carefully thought out and executed.

    Originality: Travel and mystery is always a good combination and the author does not disappoint the reader. Fans of Murder, She Wrote will reminisce.

    Character Development/Execution: The characters are wise and charming, and the deep conversations among them help them develop. 

  • The Adventure of the Purloined Portrait

    by Liese Sherwood-Fabre

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot/Idea: The Adventure of the Purloined Portrait perfectly combines a young Sherlock Holmes, mystery, and historical fiction in a very convincing addition to Sherlockian lore, which fans are sure to love.

    Prose: Vividly crafted prose evokes the time period with easy-to-read yet setting-appropriate dialogue that adds to the tension of climactic moments.

    Originality: Classic mystery staples such as codes and mystifying poems, combined with deeply buried family secrets and the ghost of the French Revolution create a truly unique, atmospheric tale that is Sherlockian through and through. 

    Character Development/Execution: The craftiness of teenaged Sherlock Holmes evokes a true sense of literature’s famed detective, and readers will enjoy watching him grow. Sherlock’s mother is inherently clever and exudes inner strength that clearly has inspired her son.

  • An Embarrassment of Itches

    by M.K. Dean

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot/Idea: Dean delivers a clean, cohesive plot with a gratifying ending that will please mystery lovers. The story’s pace is on point and maintains its rhythm until the very end, although there are plenty of surprises that will keep readers’ attention riveted on the final outcome. Dean offers engaging twists while hinting at revelations that are satisfyingly distracting.

    Prose: Dean’s prose sparkles with intensity, naturally balancing the plot and exposition in a way that leaves readers with inklings of what’s to come alongside subtle injections of humor and effortless dialogue.

    Originality: Dean checks all the boxes for a compelling mystery, and instinctively sets the stage for more in the series, but the real gems in this novel are the gripping prose and engrossing storyline.

    Character Development/Execution: Character development is nearly flawless in this nimble mystery, between the relatable Dr. Ginny Reese, an appealing and lively protagonist with a flair for adventure, and her steadfast ex-boyfriend turned loyal protector, Sheriff Joe Donegan, who advances the plot in his endeavors to get to the bottom of his case. The pair’s slow burn romance adds depth while upping the ante on future installments.

  • To Pay Paul

    by Michael Scott Curnes

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot/Idea: The author does an admirable job of crafting an entertaining and complex storyline that will keep the reader engaged. The plot simultaneously juggles heavy topics such as cancer, death, and corporate irresponsibility without being maudlin and morose.

    Prose: Curnes is a gifted writer, able to engage, provide detail and context, and move the story along at the same time. This is quality writing, succinct yet rich and meaningful.

    Originality: This is a highly unique work that offers an original and plausible scenario in a setting not usually explored in mystery/thriller works.

    Character Development/Execution: The main character here, Seamus, is a likable, highly intelligent geophysicist, an atypical hero that readers will still find relatable. The author does a fine job laying out Seamus's family history and motives which allow the reader to really get to know and understand the character.

  • Girls, Crimes, and the Ruling Body

    by Barry R. Ziman

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot/Idea: Ziman's novel is well-paced, engaging, and captivating. The transition from one scene to another is seamless, and the storyline is highly coherent despite the perplexing criminal and political intricacies introduced along the way.

    Prose: Ziman's political thriller is adorned with a plethora of impressive adages. The novel seems to hit all the right notes with the prose at times being lovely, and at times brusque and sinister.

    Originality: Despite all elements of a classic political thriller being present, the lack of a definitive protagonist, and the candid depictions of the flawed leading characters, paired with the ruthless portrayals of deception, set this novel apart.

    Character Development/Execution: The characters in Ziman's Girls, Crimes, and the Ruling Body are fascinating and potent. The representation of the foremost characters as morally ambiguous adds to the intrigue of the novel. The supporting characters are crucial in ushering the novel forward.

    Blurb: A high-octane, relentless thriller that will keep readers enamored while offering adequate political insights and bittersweet elucidations of human relations. 

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