Anyone who has read any of Brian Freeman’s other Jonathan Stride novels set in Duluth know Stride is haunted by the death of his wife, Cindy. He’s in the present happily dating a woman named Serena but it’s been an itch I couldn’t scratch throughout the series – what was Cindy like? How did she die? (I knew she had cancer but the details were murky). What was her relationship with Stride like? Well, readers, those questions are answered at last and I could not have immersed myself more in this novel as I drank in the details of Stride’s marriage. Mr. Freeman, of course, as usual, includes a kick ass thriller on top of all this, so the book is literally impossible to put down.
The first chapter of this novel is a master class on how to kick off a gripping thriller. We meet an unnamed woman as she sneaks out of—somewhere?—we just find out it’s very cold and she has to be quiet. We join her on her escape and ultimate chase and death, caring about her more and more the more we read. In indelible strokes and in a short amount of space—only 9 pages—Castillo introduces her story conflict, brings us a character we care about and are invested in, and establishes a vivid setting. Really, if you want to write a gripping crime novel, this would be a great chapter to check out as an example. But if you’re a reader, like most of us, you’ll simply want to find out what’s next.
If you want a compelling reading experience, just pick up a David Bell book. Reading the first page can be like leaning over a suspense generating machine—the gears of the story will grab any loose time you have and draw you in irresistibly. Take, for instance, the first few lines of his latest, Since She Went Away:
Five police cars. Three news vans. And one coroner’s wagon.
Boom. There’s obviously something intriguing going on here and the reader will want to know what it is.
Bell’s developing story is anything but mechanical, however, but powered, as most good stories are, by realistic, multifaceted characters. It alternates between two viewpoints; that of Jenna Barton and her son Jared. Jenna is a nurse and single mother who can be a little too candid at times. Her main concern these days is her best friend Celia who has been missing for three months. Since the perpetually late Jenna was supposed to meet Celia at the park the night she disappeared, Jenna has been wracked with guilt and obsessed with the search:
This is the first one of Laukkanen’s books I’ve read – the subject interested me – and now I know what to say when someone has read every Harlan Coben title. Give Owen Laukkanen a try. This is a thriller with a heart and a brain, a difficult combination to resist. Laukkanen’s series characters are Minneapolis FBI agents Kirk Stevens and Carla Windermere, and Stevens is caught off guard early on when one of his daughter’s classmates commits suicide.
Windemere has her own issues with a classmate’s suicide many years ago and she takes a personal interest in this young man’s death, which, upon examination, appears to have been encouraged by someone else. While the FBI agents are on a tech trail trying to figure out what happened and find the instigator, the parallel story shows the reader just what’s going on.
One of the things crime novels excel at is investigating morality. The most common investigation in a more or less classic mystery involves absolute right and wrong. A noir novel tends to investigate the trickier edges of morality, as Steve Hamilton does brilliantly in his new novel, The Second Life of Nick Mason. The book opens with Nick walking out of prison, always a good start to any book.
Then the story backtracks – how did Nick get out? How did he get in? This is a true noir novel – Nick is in no way an innocent though he seems to have some inner core of decency, and he certainly has formulated a set of rules that help him get through each prison day. It’s this formulation that snags the attention of Darius Cole, who has a virtual office set up in his cell, along with a couple body guards and a couple prison guards who serve as his lackeys.
Four books in, Hank Phillippi Ryan has hit a sweet spot with her latest Jane Ryland mystery. A perfect mix of plot, suspense, emotion and character, Ryan takes a crazily snarled few days in the lives of Jane and her boyfriend Detective Jake Brogan and makes you live through them right alongside the characters. She layers her story so that she shifts between what’s happening to Jane and what’s happening to Jake, often cutting away just as she’s gotten to a reveal or plot twist, which only serves to sharpen the suspense.
This is a tight, smart, no hold barred thriller – I’d compare it to the Bourne Identity movies (alas, I haven’t read the books) in that the action is so organic and well staged it’s about impossible to look away. Holm’s premise is also a great one: his main character, Michael Hendricks, is a hitman – who only hits other hitmen. It has some of the joyful precision of Prizzi’s Honor, which, fans of the movie will recall, was also about hitmen (or a hitman and woman).
Hendricks only kills people who are about to kill other people. The people he’s saving aren’t always the most worthy types, but they are innocents of a kind, and Hendricks is seeking atonement for various wartime events that are revealed in the novel. His only ties to society are a fellow army buddy, Lester, a genius hacker who has been left wheelchair bound by an IED in Kandahar; and his former girlfriend, Evie, who, thinking Hendricks is dead, has made a life with another man.
We all know how masterfully P.J. Parrish (actually the sisters Kristy Montee and Kelly Nichols) can create suspense. What is amazing to me—considering that my sister and I can hardly write a joint grocery list without getting all Cain and Abel—is how seamlessly all the elements of a great mystery come together in a satisfying whole in their collaboration. Their new book, She’s Not There, a departure from the Louis Kincaid series, hits the ground running, with a set-up reminiscent of the great noir thrillers of the past.
Unfortunately, Stefanie Pintoff is no longer writing her wonderful (and Edgar winning) series set in turn of the century New York; fortunately, she’s turned her hand to thrillers and she’s very, very good at it. I wasn’t so sure when I saw the title (which is kind of generic) but I don’t think Pintoff as a writer is actually capable of writing anything approaching generic. She’s too good, and too smart, of a writer. The book I was most reminded of as I was reading was Deaver’s The Bone Collector, both for the intelligent storytelling and for the memorable main character.
Taking the detective from his excellent stand-alone, The Bone House, Freeman brings the eccentric Cab Bolton to Florida and lands him in the middle of an unholy mess. The novel begins with a shooting at a political rally, where the candidate and a couple others were shot and killed. The shooter escapes and a later capture and imprisonment leaves some folks not so sure the right person is in jail for the crime. Flash forward 10 years and the dead candidate’s wife, Diane, is in the race for Florida Governor as a third party candidate. She’s supported by her best friend, Tarla, who also happens to be Cab’s mother. Cab has been asked by a campaign operative to look into possible threats to Diane as the 10th anniversary of the shooting approaches.