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Mystery / Thriller

  • Finalist

    Deep Fake Double Down

    by Debbie Burke

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot/Idea: This is a face-paced, action-filled mystery that fans of the genre will find deeply satisfying. The story is well-planned and plausible, with twists and turns that keep readers on the hook until the case is solved.

    Prose: The author is a skilled writer, able to craft believable dialogue, create authentic characters, and keep readers guessing. The prose here is strong and concise, with just the right amount of detail.

    Originality: This is a truly unique work with a distinctive, all-too-plausible premise and memorable characters.

    Character/Execution: The author skillfully builds characterization, with a myriad of characters who come in and out of the story, yet readers are able to gain a good sense of who the cast is and what motivates them.


  • Semi Finalist

    A Measure of Rhyme

    by Lloyd Jeffries

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot/Idea: A Measure of Rhyme transports readers to a version of present-day Israel, where political and personal ambitions are further complicated by the appearance of the Antichrist, along with reincarnations of his friends and foes; heart-pounding and darkly hilarious, readers will not want to put it down, and the fate of the characters rests on the next in the series. 

    Prose: Fast-paced and action-packed, the novel's prose is beautifully written and peppered with stunning lyrical passages, providing a good balance between action, drama, and a surprisingly heavy dose of humor. The novel is mostly told in third person, but Emery's chapters pivot to first-person. 

    Originality: The complexities of the plot make A Measure of Rhyme feel truly unique, especially in the thoughtful and nuanced ways Jeffries depicts Christian, Israeli Jewish, and Muslim political/religious conflicts in Israel, while also injecting total irreverence in a darkly funny way.

    Character/Execution: A Measure of Rhyme features a huge, complex network of characters, many of whom are manifestations of biblical characters (who, in the world of the novel, are essentially immortal and pop up at different points of history). There are times when the sheer scope of characters feels overwhelming, and some readers may find that familiarity with the biblical figures' background will help them grasp the story's nuances. Emery is a standout, with reliable interiority that allows readers to experience firsthand his addictions, emotions, and the levity that his constant running commentary provides, and Vince and Lenny's intrusions are especially delightful.

    Blurb: A sweeping tale of Biblical figures, politicians, and secret agents, A Measure of Rhyme follows Rhyme Carter Emery Merrick, former lovers who team up to combat the Antichrist, who has been meddling in Israeli politics. 

    Blurb: A sweeping tale of biblical figures, politicians, and secret agents, A Measure of Rhyme follows Rhyme Carter and Emery Merrick, former lovers who team up to combat the Antichrist, who has been meddling in Israeli politics. 

  • Semi Finalist

    The One

    by Audrey J. Cole

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot/Idea: Cole skillfully sets the stage in this suspenseful thriller and keeps the action buzzing until the very end—with a gut-wrenching conclusion that will stun readers.

    Prose: The prose drops subtle hints that add to the story’s edginess, with a little heat along the way for romance fans, and the action scenes are bolstered by Cole’s polished style.

    Originality: Cole revitalizes the romantic thriller with surprising depth and unanticipated moves from the main protagonists, married couple Sloane and Ethan. That intricate tension makes this a definite page-turner.

    Character/Execution: Cole’s characters are breathtakingly believable. Sloane’s uncertainty about her marriage—and painful choices that threaten to undo everything she’s worked for—is flawlessly portrayed, as are Ethan’s conflicting emotions of anger, jealousy, and, ultimately, hope. As the two struggle to make sense of their relationship, the aftereffects endanger their careers (and potentially their lives) in very real and terrifying ways.

  • Semi Finalist

    Plot/Idea: It’s clear from the start that no one can be trusted and everyone’s a potential suspect in this breakneck thriller. When an assignment goes south, Detective Miles Jordan and his partner, Vincent Santoro, are tasked with figuring out who the mole is. From the first pages action is key, and Ceron never loses sight of the twists and turns that make this genre so gripping.

    Prose: The author’s sharp prose etches the tension of action scenes onto the page, with knife-edge dialogue and natural clues that build up to the killer ending.

    Originality: The nearly perfect pace of Ceron’s writing blows this thriller out of the water, and just when readers think they’ve figured out the puzzle, Ceron throws in twist after twist, culminating in one wild ride. 

    Character/Execution: Ceron’s characters are both classic and unique, and their backstories instinctively fall into place during the course of the novel. Miles offers readers an organic viewpoint of the plot’s trajectory through his first-person perspective, and readers will feel as if they are putting the pieces together right alongside him and his likable partner.

  • Semi Finalist

    Funeral Daze

    by Dorian Box

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot/Idea: This amusing plot, following surfer Danny as he navigates the death of his wife, is punctuated with humor as well as intrigue. The story unfolds at a crisp and steady pace, with plenty of thought-provoking moments once 12-year-old Jessica enters the scene, offering Danny surprisingly mature reflections on tragedy and a knockout mystery to occupy his time.

    Prose: The author is obviously capable and entertaining, with a relaxed style that readers will find inviting. The prose flows naturally and never seems forced, and the author capably balances description and narrative throughout.

    Originality: Funeral Daze delivers an appealing spin on the mystery genre through rich characterization and an abundance of insight throughout. 

    Character/Execution: The author excels at character development, particularly with Danny, the delightful Jessica, and rough-around-the edges Fink. All are well-defined, memorable, and easy to like.


  • Quarter Finalist

    The Empty Calling

    by Maren Cliff

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot/Idea:  The Empty Calling is a fast-paced mystery that will hook readers from the start. Though the relationship between Rivien and Justin feels accelerated in places, the story has plenty of twists and turns—and an ending that is both thought-provoking and satisfying.

    Prose: The novel's prose is clear and engaging, quickly moving readers through the narrative. There are moments of dense medical terminology, with physician insight that adds intrigue, but Rivien's discourse on moral issues in the medical field is too overt at times.

    Originality: The mystery that unfolds is intriguing—and one that will keep readers guessing. The story's resolution is morally ambiguous in a way that will spark reflection long after the last page.

    Character/Execution: The Empty Calling has a manageable cast of characters, most of whom have layers of complexity and motivation that steadily unfold throughout the narrative.

    Blurb: A page-turning mystery of shocking deaths, remote locales, and riveting twists and turns.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Loden's Children

    by Paul Chandler

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot/Idea: Chandler's mystery/thriller is a fast paced novel that will likely have readers racing to the finish line as private investigator Riley Callen tracks down the missing Loden children and unravels what led to their kidnapping. 

    Prose: Chandler's prose is clear, immersive, and detailed, providing a cinematic reading experience. 

    Originality: Loden's Children is uplifted through its unique characters and unexpected developments. The introduction of Molly, a brilliant AI assisting Riley Callen in her investigation, provides a wholly engaging element. This, combined with the reasons behind the kidnapping at the heart of the narrative, make for an incredibly fascinating story.

    Character/Execution: Chandler has created a main character that readers will have no problem rooting for. Not only does Riley have impressive skills, she has morals that withstand even the hairiest of situations. Additionally, readers will be excited to see how AI Molly grows beyond what her creator thought was possible.

    Blurb: Chandler's cinematic novel will thrill and fascinate readers as main character Riley unravels the Loden Children cold case.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Plot/Idea: Paine doesn't shy from shock value, and the story’s twists deliver several jolts that will stun readers. The action is non-stop, but the author weaves character development throughout that adds surprising depth.

    Prose: The prose is rock-solid and props up the tense scenes with cliffhanger sentence structure, electrifying the story’s action-heavy later pages. Flashbacks are smooth and natural, doling out the backstory in taut pieces. 

    Originality: The plot is sensational, and the story’s thrills are organic and terrifying at the same time. Paine’s ending is the perfect fit for this page-turner.

    Character/Execution: Paine deftly balances savagery and courage in his characters. Charly is a strong and relatable female lead, while Randall is passionately evil. The built-up tension between Charly and her family from past events culminates in an explosive, jaw-dropping ending

  • Quarter Finalist

    The Jerusalem Scrolls

    by Gary McAvoy

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot/Idea: This is an engaging adventure story that follows, plot-wise, in the footsteps of The Da Vinci Code. Fast-paced and well thought out, there is much here for readers to savor as the story unfolds.

    Prose: McAvoy is a skilled writer, offering the perfect balance of action and description interwoven with the narrative. The work is rich in detail and captivates readers' imagination.

    Originality: The Jerusalem Scrolls is strengthened by its distinctive characters and multiple settings, making it a truly memorable read. 

    Character/Execution: Despite the many characters who drift in and out of the story, McAvoy is able to clearly define the primary ones, and readers will find the cast appealing.

  • Quarter Finalist

    The Night of the Burning Car

    by Rob Lubitz

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot/Idea: This is a riveting and tension-filled novel that will hold the reader's interest from beginning to end. The author does a fine job with the story's plot twists, making them surprising yet wholly believable.

    Prose: The author is a strong writer, able to craft action sequences, dialogue, and description with equal skill, allowing the story to unfold at just the right pace for an engaging reading experience.

    Originality: The Night of the Burning Car features a highly intriguing, credible premise that offers psychological depth and keeps readers guessing. 

    Character/Execution: The author capably develops the primary characters, providing them with appealing dimensions and complexity. Billy Dalton's own uncertainty surrounding the events of the titular event is particularly well examined. 

  • Murder at Old St. Thomas's

    by Lisa M. Lane

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot/Idea: Murder at Old St. Thomas's is a richly developed historical mystery filled with fascinating period details, including those surrounding the medical profession, theatrical productions of the era, and societal conflicts.

    Prose: Lane's prose is layered, immersive, and immediately transports readers to nineteenth century London. The police procedural aspects of the story are carefully constructed and finely detailed.

    Originality: Lane's novel readily calls to mind works of classic mystery, while allowing the events, atmosphere, and characters to fully resonate with modern readers. 

    Character/Execution: The story's many characters range from doctors to nurses to apothecaries to actors to an extremely intelligent and observant 12-year-old boy. Lane creates a complex and decidedly unlikable character in the novel's victim, effectively establishing early on the number of potential suspects. While the Dickensian cast may overwhelm readers, Lane brings them each to life. References to historical figures provides verisimilitude and context, while both central players and peripheral ones add to the splendor of the world Lane creates. 

  • Aggressor

    by FX Holden

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot/Idea: Holden’s novel moves at breakneck pace and is expertly plotted. A myriad of players on the international stage come together flawlessly to depict a conflict with the potential to evolve into WWIII.

    Prose: The prose here is beautifully crafted, imbuing characters with emotion and humanity. The narrative flows seamlessly from one character’s perspective to another.

    Originality: This engrossing military thriller unfolds in the near future, following the latest mission Karen “Bunny” O’Hare finds herself on along with Aggressor Inc. Each page is steeped in action and tension, while characters on all sides of the conflict bring humanity to the story. 

    Character/Execution: The many characters populating Aggressor prove memorable, with those on all sides of the brewing conflict brought vividly and lovingly to life. Readers will find themselves empathizing with characters on both sides of the conflict. Secondary characters are integral to the story, many growing into major players on the international stage.

    Blurb: A blood-pumping military techno-thriller that will leave readers itching for the next book in the series. Perfect for fans of thrillers and near-future sci-fi. 

  • The Other Place

    by Scott Nagele

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot/Idea: Nagele has crafted a clever and suspenseful sketch of a family desperate to undo their tragic fate. The plot twists and turns, keeping readers on their toes throughout, with quick, steady pacing and action that moves the story forward in a logical, linear fashion.

    Prose: The prose flows smoothly, and Nagele builds uneasiness so delicately that readers will sense, more than see, the tension escalating. 

    Originality: This is a stunning work in its ability to slowly create almost unbearable tension. That, combined with the memorable characters, makes The Other Place stand out in a crowd.


    Character/Execution: Nagele does a stellar job with characterization, particularly for five year-old Emma, who undergoes a tremendous ordeal on her way to saving the day.

  • An Undetermined Manner of Death

    by Peter Tinits

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot/Idea: An Undetermined Manner of Death, a character-driven mystery, centers on coroner and anesthesiologist Matthias Kork as he attempts to unravel the mystery behind the death of a Mennonite man.

    Prose: Tinits's prose is inviting, descriptive, and propulsive. Dialogue is particularly expressive and endearing.

    Originality: Tinits offers a unique mystery involving the discovery of a decomposing body belonging to a Mennonite man. But the novel's true charm lies in its distinctive central character, Matthias Kork.

    Character/Execution: Tinits offers a winning formula, blending elements of noir with a twisty mystery, and a wholly charming protagonist. Matthias's wife Katya is especially well-realized, but the author excels at providing substance to even the most peripheral of characters.

  • Who Are You?

    by R. T. Lund

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot/Idea: Lund has crafted an arresting plot with a no-nonsense but likeable protagonist determined to solve the crime. The story twists and turns, keeping readers involved and guessing until the satisfying ending.

    Prose: Lund offers a skilled balance of description, action, and dialogue. Necessary background information is seamlessly woven throughout and manages to engage as much as it informs. On occasion, however, the dialogue doesn't ring true, detracting from the otherwise crisp writing.

    Originality: Memorable characters combined with convincing mystery make this a gripping read.

    Character/Execution: Strong characterization is a highlight of the novel; Lincoln's nature emerges naturally through her actions, determination, and methodical approach, all of which make her a believable protagonist.

  • Vessels of Wrath

    by Thomas Holland

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot/Idea: Despite taking place over a relatively short period of time, the novel’s charged atmosphere is immersive and brings 1960s Civil Rights era Arkansas to vivid life. The crime is gripping, the subplots intense, and the pace lively.

    Prose: Holland writes skilled dialogue that flows effortlessly, gradually building tension and drawing readers into the setting through nuanced character interactions and intriguing events.

    Originality: This is a riveting portrait of Arkansas in the ‘60s, with subtle historical overtones and a compelling crime set up.

    Character/Execution: The first-person narrator—police chief Elmore—is engaging, and Holland refines the story through his eyes, piece by piece, until the subplots come together in a satisfying, though shocking, ending.