All the hype withstanding, The President is Missing (Little, Brown, Available Now), from the unlikely pairing of James Patterson and former president Bill Clinton, is an outstanding political thriller. The hero of the title, Jonathan Lincoln Duncan is the kind of president we only wished we had. Patterson and Clinton present a proactive leader willing to take matters into his own hands for the good of the nation, even if that means disappearing for a time. At the heart of his quest lies a computer virus that could take us back to the Stone Age the protagonist Duncan must disable, even as the world’s top assassin closes in on his trail. Politics aside, this is superb reading entertainment, an extraordinary experience that reminded me of the similarly titled The President’s Plane is Missing, a thriller I read in a single sitting as a teenager.
Look up adventure in the dictionary and you’re likely to find a picture of Doug Preston and Lincoln Child for reasons that are all on display in The Pharaoh Key (Grand Central, Available Now). Series stalwart Gideon Crew once again takes center stage, even as he struggles with a death sentence doctors have given him. So when the opportunity to save his own life, along with the world, comes in the form of legendary ancient stone tablet known as the Phaistos Disc, Crew takes up the hunt with a sense of understandable urgency. The Pharaoh Key is a lightning-paced, action-thriller with writing of the highest order, a throwback to the best of Alistair McClean reminiscent of James Rollins and Brad Meltzer at their best.
The aptly titled and blisteringly original Providence (Random House, Available Now) brings the action, appropriately enough, to the Rhode Island capital hardly averse to nefarious dealings. But Cape Cod’s Caroline Kepnes takes that proclivity to a whole new level in a what is essentially a paranormal thriller featuring a hero named Jon who emerges from four years of captivity at the hands of a kidnapper with inexplicable powers. Good thing, because he’s going to need them to get to the root of a series of inexplicable murders that just might be connected to the trauma from which he emerged. In the best tradition of Stephen King and Robert R. McCammon, Providence is a morality tale that explores good and evil as true forces of nature in a tour de force of a tale that even sprinkles in some H. P. Lovecraft for good measure.
James Hankins’s chillingly effective A Blood Thing (Thomas & Mercer, Available Now) also makes use of New England settings, Vermont in this case. Reminiscent of Harlan Coben for all the right reasons, Hankins’s latest novel treats us to classic noir that dredges up the genre staples of extortion and manipulation. These aspects are layered amid hero Andrew Kane’s quest for the light, only achievable by saving his brother from a murder charge. The descent he must first make deeper into the darkness takes him into a netherworld of ambiguous morality, posing the question how far would you go to save someone you loved? Unique in its approach and bracing in its execution, A Blood Thing bleeds captivation on every page.
I somehow missed Jack Carr’s The Terminal List (Atria, Available Now) when it first arrived on my doorstep, a mistake I won’t make with his next book. That’s due in large part to the book’s intriguing and captivating hero James Reece, who at first glance seems cut from the same mold as every other former Navy SEAL protagonist. But appearances can be deceiving and, in this case, Reese might have stepped straight out of the work of Joseph Conrad as channeled by Nelson DeMille. DeMille penned one of the finest “war” novels ever in Word of Honor, also featuring a tortured hero plagued by an incident from his past. In Reese’s case, make that two, since it’s actually a pair of tragedies that have come to define his life. When it becomes clear a singular force was actually behind both tribulations, Reese embarks on a desperate, and often violent, quest for truth and the vengeance. This is thriller writing of the highest order, on par with the likes of Brad Thor and Brad Taylor.
In Dark Side of the Moon (Open Road, Available Now) Alan Jacobson takes his series featuring an FBI profiler in a new direction—literally, as the title indicates. A mystery surrounding an object found by an Apollo space crew forms Hitchcock’s MacGuffin style singular pursuit of this ambitiously structured and told tale. It’s left to the protagonist Vail and her team to protect that secret item by uncovering a mole bent on exposing or stealing it. Unlike past efforts that have bordered more on Thomas Harris, Jacobson’s latest creation is more akin to the work of the aforementioned Preston and Childs, or even James Rollins. What makes it truly special, though, are the psychological elements he maintains mastery over in crafting a relentlessly paced and riveting effort.
It’s hard to imagine a timelier tale than Alan Topol’s Russian Resurgence (Select Books, Available Now), which postulates a Kremlin plot to retake control of Central and Eastern Europe. Once again, it’s left to the intrepid Craig Page and team to head-off disaster in a story that strays far beyond even its ripped-from-the-headlines premise. That’s because Topol layers his tale with historic tones infused by characters who’ve seen the past and are relentlessly devoted to preventing it from becoming the future. I was going to liken Russian Resurgence to Nelson DeMille as well, but John le Carre or even Leon Uris might make for better comparisons. A cautionary tale that seems to become more prescient every day.