The Escape Artist (Grand Central), the latest from perennial New York Times bestselling author Brad Meltzer, couldn’t be better timed. That’s because in a time ripe for strong women we’re introduced to Nola Brown, who serves as an army artist responsible for making art, essentially, out of death. From that backdrop, and her own apparent death, Nola becomes a force to be reckoned with, a living participant in one of her own creations as she seeks to lay waste to those who have far more nefarious means in mind. The Meltzer tradition of nonstop twists and turns is keenly on display here, but this is much more of an action thriller than the historical speculative tales for which he is better known. A sumptuously scintillating, brash and bold tale featuring the best heroine this side of Homeland’s Carrie Mathison.
Speaking of historical speculation, nobody does it better than Steve Berry whose finely tuned talents are showcased in The Bishop’s Pawn (Minotaur). No stranger to topics spanning the millennia, Berry brings his expertise closer to the present with ever-stalwart Cotton Malone seeking the truth behind the politically charged assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Not surprisingly, nothing and no one, past or present, is what it seems, and it’s left to Malone to sort through the conspiratorial morass behind that tragic night in Memphis. Berry doesn’t so much as up the ante here as change the game. And the result is a tour de force that’s everything a great thriller is supposed to be.
Mark Greaney’s Gray Man series continues robustly in Agent in Place (Berkley), a thriller featuring a Syrian backdrop as timely as it is potentially prescient. In a fashion reminiscent of John Le Carre, Court Gentry, the Gray Man himself and still a rogue agent, undertakes a mission to kidnap the mistress of Syria’s dictator to facilitate bringing down the regime. As with all great spy thrillers, duplicitous actions, double crosses and mouth-dropping twists abound, as Gentry finds himself a man alone again pitted against enemies both home and abroad. Exquisite in its execution, the relentlessly riveting Agent in Place firmly plants Greaney alongside Brad Taylor and Brad Thor as the masters of this thriller sub-genre.
When it comes to sterling international thrillers, look no further also than Traitor (Atria). The debut effort from Jonathan de Shalit (pseudonym for a former Mossad agent) crackles with both authenticity and historical relevance akin to the work of Daniel Silva. In a plot eerily comparable to today’s headlines, the actions of an unwitting Russian spy unleash an international, continent-jumping race to track down the man, as well as his handlers This is a cerebral thriller of the highest order, a supremely effective, cunningly crafted contemporary take on the likes of Len Deighton and Helen MacInnis.
Donald Bain has never been better than in his final effort writing Margaret Truman’s Capital Crimes series. Bain, who died recently after penning more than 120 books, saved his best for last in Allied in Danger (Forge), thanks in large part to the fact that he skirts the series’ normally staid, Washington-based formula for a continent-skipping yarn that boils over with tension and suspense. International private investigator and series regular Robert Brixton is no stranger to the dark dealings of the Capitol that, this time out, take him to Nigeria on the trail of a warlord implicated in the murder of a British national. His efforts parallel that of the murdered young man’s father who has a mercenary army at his disposal. As beautifully structured as it is perfectly told, Allied in Danger evokes Frederick Forsyth at his level best. A testament to classic storytelling that begs to be read in a single sitting.
Complexity seems to be the word of the day, as showcased once more in the globe-spanning The Deceivers (Putnam). Alex Berenson’s latest smart, prescient, and harrowing tale sends series hero John Wells, appropriately enough, on the trail of a Russian plot that stretches well beyond election meddling into the fabric of the country itself. The action follows Wells as he hopscotches cities and countries en route to the plot’s center and those pulling the strings of the Russian puppets who’ve infiltrated the U.S. government. Resembling FX’s hit TV show The Americans in all the right ways, this is The Manchurian Candidate for a new generation.
Speaking of solid political thrillers, look no further than David Pepper’s, tension-riddled The Wingman (St. Helena Press). Though the action is confined to the United States, the stakes are no less high given a threat faced by our political system and democracy as a whole. Heroic journalist Jack Sharpe again pulls out all the stops in racing to prevent a sinister cabal from installing a despot in the White House. The ripped-from-the-headlines feel not withstanding, The Wingman is even scarier than what news stations report on a daily, if not hourly, basis. Pepper expertly takes the country right to the edge of the precipice in the fashion of Fletcher Knebel’s Seven Days in May in this political thriller par excellence.
Check out BookTrib’s interview with author Steve Berry as he talks about his new book and one of Jon Land’s March pick, The Bishop’s Pawn: