Ruth Ware: In a Dark, Dark Wood

in-a-dark-dark-woodThis is the first novel by Brit Ruth Ware, and it’s that rare thriller that is also a mystery. In a straight thriller, you may know whodunnit, and the thrill is catching or finding that person in time. But combining the best parts of the thriller—pacing, suspense—with the best parts of a mystery—whodunnit?—is a rarer skill. It’s shared by such writers as Jeffery Deaver and Lee Child. Heady stuff for a first timer.

This is a completely gripping story—I read it straight through in one sitting, just about—and you won’t forget it anytime soon. The central character is Nora, who lives alone in a London flat. She’s contacted out of the blue by someone named Flo who is throwing a bachelorette party (or in Brit lingo, a “Hen Do”) for Clare, Nora’s childhood best friend who she hasn’t seen in a decade. read more

Joseph Finder: Suspicion

Suspicion_paperbackThis is the first book I’ve read by the talented Joseph Finder, who really writes a killer thriller. Some parts of this book were so suspenseful I had to remind myself I was only reading about fictional characters. There, I’ve said it, disclosed my wimp-hood, but Finder really knows how to crank up the suspense in a simple scene where a character is someplace he really, really shouldn’t be.

The story grabbed me from the opening as we join writer and single father Danny Goldman feverishly wondering how he can afford the pricey Boston private school his daughter attends, much less the $5,000 trip to Italy all the juniors go on. His tuition is late and the headmistress is happy to wish his daughter, Abby, good luck at her new school. It seems there’s no answer, until Danny discovers that Abby’s fabulously wealthy new bestie has a dad willing to foot the bill for Italy. One problem solved. read more

Linda Castillo: After the Storm

AfterTheStormApparently, mystery writers don’t think like other people. They can see things in the mundane that create horror. As I was reading Linda Castillo’s new book, I was reminded of a store visit from Thomas Cook years ago. He was recounting the experience of watching “Little Women” with his daughter. He said when it came to the scene where one of the girls goes through the woods to deliver some cookies, he thought to himself, “Oh, this is the rape scene!” Then he remembered he was watching “Little Women.” The cookies get delivered. Cook was disappointed by the lack of drama. read more

Jenny Milchman: As Night Falls

AsNightFallsJenny Milchman’s third novel is the scariest yet – so creepy, I had to keep setting it aside periodically, though that didn’t make me stop reading. And I was well rewarded in my perseverance. As the book opened, I feared it was a standard prisoners escape, hold family hostage type story, but it evolved into something far more. Milchman carefully describes the beautiful home of the Tremont family – Sandy, Ben and daughter Ivy. Thanks to an inheritance, they’ve built a gorgeous, isolated house in the Adirondack woods, a house it appears Ivy and even Sandy were reluctant to move to, though Sandy now embraces the peaceful solitude. read more

Olen Steinhauer: The Tourist and All the Old Knives

TheTouristThe world of the spy novel can be a fascinating one. In the mystery universe murder is always lurking below the surface of our quotidian world, but it’s an anomaly, a rent in the social fabric that must be repaired. To a spy, murder is protocol, simply business as usual. Spies are soldiers fighting a patriotic war, but the battlefield is everyday life and no one wears a uniform. Only a tiny fraction of the people an agent encounters are actually hostile, but it’s the most unlikely ones that are the most deadly, especially if you’re under the impression that they are your friends. read more

Mike Lawson: The Inside Ring

The Inside RingIt’s always been a puzzle to me why the talented Mike Lawson isn’t a superstar, and his first book, The Inside Ring, is so good it really begs the question. I’m always in the mood for a thriller this time of year, and went to the Lawson part of the alphabet and grabbed this one on Christmas Eve. I’ve read others in the series but never the first, and it joins my ongoing mental list of terrific first novels that hit every mark out of the gate.

Lawson’s series character, Joe DeMarco, is a “fixer” for the Speaker of the House and works very much under the radar. His office is even in the basement of the House of Representatives alongside the janitorial staff. Whenever the speaker – long-time pol Mahoney – needs a task done that can’t see the light of day, it’s DeMarco he puts into motion. This gives DeMarco a lot of power and not quite enough as his official title and credentials are slightly nebulous. Because of DeMarco’s family background – his father was in the mob – he doesn’t carry a gun and tries to avoid violence. It often finds him anyway, though. read more

Elizabeth Heiter: Hunted

huntedThis is a neat first thriller with a really interesting main character. Evelyn Baine is a star profiler for the FBI, and it’s obvious Heiter is interested not just by the FBI jargon but by the whole business of profiling, and it’s a fascinating field, one not covered all that extensively in mystery fiction, with a notable example being Val McDermid’s Tony Hill. It’s odd there isn’t a greater profiling “presence” though there are some; lots of the FBI characters in mysteries are special ops or forensic experts. read more

Andrew Grant: Run

runAndrew Grant at last returns – after a change in publishers – with a new thriller, Run. Grant uses a fairly conventional thriller set-up and twists it to his own devices through the use of perspective and a possibly untrustworthy narrator, something he leaves the reader to figure out for themselves. I always appreciate an author assuming intelligence on the part of the reader and while I may not be as intelligent as Andrew, I appreciated the leeway he gave me as a reader to figure things out. read more

Michael Koryta: Those Who Wish Me Dead

thosewhowishmeI’m not a big fan of those headlines that read “The Best Writer You’ve Never Heard Of,” mostly because I often have heard of said writer. It’s a tidy formulation, however, and it scans much better than, say, “Here’s a Fantastic Writer Who’s Much Better Than Most of the Crap on the Best Seller List.” But say it any way you like, Michael Koryta is such an criminally underappreciated author.

He began his career while still in college with a superior private eye series set in Cleveland. The Lincoln Perry books started strong and only got stronger, ending not (as so many readers believe) at the artist’s whim, but simply because for whatever reason they failed to sell enough copies. Fortunately, publishers can see beyond a track record to discern true quality, and Michael was “relaunched” with three novels that mixed suspense with the supernatural. read more

Lev Raphael: Assault with a Deadly Lie

assaultwithadeadlylieIt’s been a few years since Professor Nick Hoffman has made an appearance (Hot Rocks, 2007), and he fills a nice gap. There are few academic based mystery series, and this is an engaging one, set on the fictional campus of “SUM” or State University of Michigan in “Michiganopolis,” a town that sounds suspiciously like East Lansing, where Raphael teaches classes at MSU. His central character, Nick, and his partner, Stefan, live a peaceful life on a bucolic street with their Westie, Marco, enjoying books, movies, food, wine and each other. read more