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Mystery / Thriller

  • 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. 

     

  • Death No Stranger

    by J.J. Green

    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. 

  • 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.

  • 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. 

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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. 

  • Grind Slowly, Grind Small

    by Thomas Holland

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: In the second installment of Holland's Big Ray Elmore series, the titular sleuth investigates the remains of a young girl discovered at a construction site. Holland creates a page-turner of a story with equal parts Southern charm, grit, and tenderness.

    Prose: Holland has a clear handle on storytelling and firmly establishes a vivid sense of place and character. Big Ray's narration no-nonsense narration will pull readers into the mystery.

    Originality: Holland's distinctive protagonist with deep roots in his community and no false conceptions about human nature uplifts the more standard mystery elements.

    Character/Execution: No characters are wasted in Holland's storytelling; rather, each feels organic to the setting and circumstances, with Big Ray being the most endearing and vivid of them all.

  • Broken: A Josh Ingram Novel

    by t.g. brown

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: Brown's third novel in the Josh Ingram series features a complex, twisty storyline with sinister circumstances that are not as they appear. The author does a fine job keeping the reader on their toes and maintaining a fast-paced narrative.

    Prose: Brown is a skilled writer, able to balance action, dialogue, and vivid description to keep readers turning pages. 

    Originality: This is a highly original work with an atmospheric setting, well-developed tension, and memorable characters that will stay in readers' minds long after they finish reading.

    Character/Execution: There are numerous characters in this work, and the author does a fine job of establishing and differentiating between the key figures.

  • DMZ

    by FX Holden

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: DMZ is a finely crafted, believable, and fast-paced thriller set in the near future. Holden maintains an engaging plot throughout the book.

    Prose: Holden's straightforward writing style aids the excellent pacing and steady flow of the story's plot. With a steady-hand and clear-eyed descriptions, Holden delivers another winner.

    Originality: In the large realm of combat-based thrillers, Holden's DMZ uses varying perspectives to add depth and substance to the story.

    Character/Execution: The sheer number of characters can occasionally be overwhelming for readers, but Holden takes the time to explore the main players, making each feel essential to the circumstances.

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  • The Chameleon

    by Ron McManus

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot: The author has crafted an engaging storyline filled with intrigue, espionage, and danger. With verisimilitude and a clipped pace, the work explores the chilling circumstance involving a stolen nuclear weapon.

    Prose: The author is clearly a professional-level writer and has crafted a ready-to-publish work. The prose flows smoothly with evocative descriptions and sound work choice.

    Originality: The Chameleon is an original and distinctive work with memorable characters and believable, high-stakes circumstances.

    Character/Execution: The author has a clear handle on character development, particularly with Jake and Fiona. Both are relatable and fully-formed individuals who humanize the more procedural aspects of this thriller. 

  • The Gershwin Cutter

    by Paul Damien

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot/Idea: Damien's novel is expeditious and intricately detailed. The storyline is impeccably and effortlessly crafted, including the several twists and turns along the way.

    Prose: Damien's adeptly composed prose speaks to his extensive research on the content of the book. The writing is a perfect concoction of mystery, romance, drama, and adventure.

    Originality: Despite containing all elements of a classic murder mystery and the vivid descriptions of unimaginable crimes, the light shed upon unchartered territories and insight into the life of rural America makes the novel stand out.

    Character Development/Execution: ‚ÄčThe characters in Damien's The Gershwin Cutter are memorable and endearing. The seamlessly inserted backstories for the characters add to the novel's intensity. The shocking atrocities on the titular character are sure to move the readers to tears and the brief yet effective background on the villainous Wright siblings provides a better understanding of their convoluted mentality.

    Blurb: A suspenseful and thought-provoking thriller, Damien's The Gershwin Cutter is sure to keep readers engaged with its surprising content and admirable composition.

  • Dark Was the Night

    by Tania Lorena Rivera

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot: Full of drama, intrigue, and intense emotion, Dark Was the Night grips readers from the first page and doesn't let up until the hard-hitting conclusion. 

    Prose: The author is clearly a gifted writer, able to convey debilitating fear, create tension, and to elicit a visceral response from readers. There's a fine balance of detail, dialogue, and action as the chilling story unfolds.

    Originality: This is a highly original work with memorable characters and a distinctive plot line.

    Character/Execution: The author does an excellent job with characterization, particularly with Lucie, whose paranoia and fear dominate the book.

    Blurb: Gripping and suspenseful, Dark Was the Night will keep readers on the edge of their seats.

  • The Potrero Complex

    by Amy L. Bernstein

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot: In this wholly engaging, quasi-post-apocalyptic mystery/thriller, after surviving a bloody pandemic, journalist Rags Goldner and her partner Flint decide to leave the big city for small-town life in the struggling Canary. However, what Rags discovers about Canary is a network of secrets and conspiracies--including the largest of all, about what truths lie behind the disappearance of teenagers in both the small town and across the country.

    Prose: Bernstein's prose is engaging, entertaining, and hooks the reader almost immediately with a desire to know more about the eerie and disturbing (even by a post-pandemic metric) of Canary. Overall, a very well-told story that unfolds to the beat of thoughtful, plot-driven prose that rarely veers off track and keeps the reader wanting more.

    Originality: Post pandemic and set in the near future (2030), Bernstein's world is just high-tech enough to be novel, yet still retains many of the disturbing (real life) threads of a society living on the edge of paranoia, uncertainty, and fear--aided and abetted by petty despots trying to seize power over an unwitting and apathetic public traumatized by a devastating global tragedy. 

    Character/Execution: Rags, as the central character, is given the most attention, although her primary purpose is quickly established as a woman hell-bent on finding the truth--both for herself, and for the larger "story" (a very hungry journalist trope). Overall, the townspeople (miserable Merry, downtrodden Piers, Rags's partner Flint, mysterious artist Louisa, et al.) are well-portrayed, even as they ultimately serve as set dressing to aid Rags in her quest for finding answers.

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