Jon’s Picks: 6 New Thrillers to See You Into Summer

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Having already rocketed to the top tier of action thriller writers, Matthew Betley makes a bid for the highest slot with Field of Valor (Atria, May 22). Betley adds a chilling political, Ludlum-esque direction to his proven skills, pitting series hero Logan West against a sinister, secretive cabal behind a massive global conspiracy. At its heart is a plot to wage geo-economic war intended to pit China and the U.S. against each other in a no-holds-barred battle. Of course, dollars signs and decimal points often lead to bullets and bombs, and it’s up to West to preempt the seemingly inevitable catastrophe. Like Brad Taylor, former marine Betley has lived in the world his work encompasses and, beyond that, his storytelling skills hits the bullseye dead center. Brad Thor and the aforementioned Taylor may be merely keeping his seat warm at the top of the bestseller lists. A tale as realistically poised as it is wondrously realized.

What’s in a name, or two, for that matter? When it’s Michael and Daniel Palmer, the answer is plenty. Daniel, stepping in ably for his late, bestselling physician father has penned a terrific follow-up to The First Patient in The First Family (St. Martin’s, April 17). The attention here focuses on the president’s son who may or may not have some serious psychological issues his much-distracted parents seem to be ignoring. Enter stalwart Secret Service agent Karen Ray, just in time to take action before young Cam’s symptoms manifest into something much worse, both deadly and mysterious. The ethical issues The First Family raises aside, this is a bold and bracing thriller not afraid to break new ground, as it enthralls and enlightens every step of the way.

The harrowing and hellacious Wicked River (Source Books, May 1) was my first time reading Jenny Milchman, but it won’t be the last. This is one of those rare books so exquisitely etched that you can actually skip the coming movie and just lose yourself in the pages. Speaking of lost, that’s what happens when newlyweds Doug and Natalie Larson opt for a honeymoon with nature—specifically, a hike through the Adirondack Mountains wilderness that quickly goes astray. To this classic man-vs.-nature theme, Milchman adds a psychopath who feasts on preying on the lost, making them disappear forever amid these six million pristine acres soon-to-be splattered with more blood. Milchman juggles thriller sub-genres with a circus performer’s precision, helping to make Wicked River a smooth blend of C.J. Box and Harlan Coben.

You don’t need a program to tell the players in Robert Gleason’s stunningly effective The Evil that Men Do (Forge, May 8) because it’s got roman à clef written all over it.  That’s French for a novel in which real people or events appear with invented names, in this case U.S. President Tower and Russian power broker Mikhail Putilov. At the center of this dazzling political thriller are efforts by the United Nations to restore normalcy from the chaos in the persons of three intrepid heroes who are all that can prevent a terrifying new world order from rising out of the ashes of the U.N., if the bad guys get their way. Echoing the best of Tom Clancy, this is Seven Days in May for a new generation where The Manchurian Candidate has already been elected. Superb in all respects.

Culled from the world of the Robert R. McCammon classic Boy’s Life and reminiscent in all the right ways of Stephen King’s The Body (on which the film Stand by Me was based), Robert Dugoni’s The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell (Lake Union, April 24) is, well, extraordinary. The young hero of the title is born with flaming red eyes and before you can say Rosemary’s Baby, his life unfolds in true Stephen King-like fashion as flashbacks serve up a youthful Quixotic quest for belonging that morphs into an adult one for acceptance. The enchanting cast of characters make Dugoni’s latest read like a modern-day fairy tale in which irrepressible ugliness resides at the heart.  It makes us feel like kids again ourselves, lost in a grand shape-shifting epic in which posing the questions is as much fun as getting the answers. This is the bestselling Dugoni’s masterpiece, the book by which his work, and that of others, will be measured for years to come.

Charles Soule makes the most of his background with the world of Marvel Entertainment in his sterling debut The Oracle Year (Harper, April 3). Make no mistake about it, this is not your father’s, or your son’s, comic book. Instead, Soule pens a quasi-paranormal, Twilight Zone-like tale that follows down-on-his-luck New Yorker Will Dando who wakes up one morning to the realization that he can predict the future. Actually, he’s entrusted with those predictions by a mysterious force identified only as Oracle. Not surprisingly, an apparent gift swiftly dissolves into a curse and Will, in the truest of heroic formulas, is left to pick up the pieces of what he’s party to breaking. In lesser hands, this would’ve been a genre mishmash. But Soule’s first grasp keeps the story grounded every step of the way, leaving us relentlessly entertained and chomping at the bit for his next effort.

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