This October, be sure to get in the mood of all things spooky and suspense with thriller writer Jon Land’s selected highlights. Dracula, cyber warfare, and much more in his thriller round-up.
In these days of perpetual political distraction, Red War (Atria) seems especially well-timed. That’s because Kyle Mills latest take on the late Vince Flynn’s seminal Mitch Rapp series serves up the ultimate distraction in the form, potentially, of World War III.
Russia’s Putin-esque president, you see, is dying of cancer. So what better way to cling to power in his waning days than to start a war? With the world sitting on a true precipice, once again it’s left to Rapp to pull us back from the edge, which means undertaking what is essentially a suicide mission behind enemy lines in the Kremlin.
Red War is a blistering, white-hot thriller that mines the best from Tom Clancy absent the techno-babble and jingoism. Call it the perfect thinking man’s action-adventure tale.
Those picking up Craig Johnson’s terrific Depth of Winter (Viking) expecting a typical Walt Longmire mystery may be in for a surprise, because this time out Johnson opts to go full thriller on his crusty Wyoming sheriff.
He also takes Wyoming out of the mix and brings the action south of the border to Mexico where Walt’s daughter is being held hostage by his arch nemesis, cartel head Tomas Bidarte. In between getting to know the territory and being mistaken for football great Bob Lilly, Walt finds time to run afoul of some of the locals, even as he draws closer to Bidarte on a suicide mission of his own through the Mexican badlands.
That new take casts the ornery Longmire more as the classic cowboy hero reminiscent of John Wayne in the John Ford classic The Searchers. Labels aside, though, this is superb reading entertainment that pleases on every page.
Dacre Stoker and J. D. Barker’s wildly effective Dracul (Putnam) imagines a prequel to the classic by Bram Stoker, from whom Dacre is descended. And the result is nothing short of a modern horror classic.
Years before even contemplating Dracula, Dracul postulates a dangerous quest undertaken by Stoker and his siblings for the monster that haunted their childhood, bumping back against that which had gone bump in their nights. That journey takes on a shape that eerily resembles the horror classic that is to come, leaving us smiling every time Stoker comes upon something that later becomes part of the fabric of his groundbreaking vampire tale.
This is speculative horror writing at its best, on par with Stephen King, Joe Hill and, especially, Dan Simmons. Riveting and relentless.
In Sunrise Highway (Minotaur), Peter Blauner has crafted a sumptuously elegant tale that’s the best dark thriller this side of James Elroy, channeled through the classic film noir Chinatown or HBO’s sterling first season of True Detective.
New York detective Lourdes Robles is no stranger to the investigation of brutal murders. But when the latest case she catches bears an intrinsic connection to a slew of older killings, Lourdes finds herself bumping and brushing up against some of Long Island’s oldest and most powerful moneyed figures. That means risking her own career to get to the truth, a challenge the angst-riddled Lourdes isn’t about to shy away from.
Reminiscent in all the right ways of Roderick Thorp’s classic The Detective, Sunrise Highway is a crime thriller extraordinaire with pitch-perfect pacing equaled only by its superb characterizations.
This prescient, all-too-plausible cyber thriller features a wheelchair-bound techno-genius known as Roller, whose sharp wit is equaled only by an even sharper knowledge of all things Internet. Good thing, since she’s the only thing standing between life as we know it and a titanic shift in the Web-based balance of power along the front lines of the next major likely conflict.
This is speculative science writing at its best, grounded in just enough reality to scare us without requiring a bachelor’s degree to make sense of all the diatribe. The kind of book Michael Crichton would write if he was still alive today.
Equal parts Mario Puzo and E. L. Doctorow, Button Man introduces us to a trio of first-generation American brothers who climb different ladders of the American Dream to success. All three are destined to collide with elements of the rising tide of organized crime through New York in the 1920s and 1930s. And how Morris, Sol, and Harry respectively deal with that reality forms the stuff that great conflict and melodrama is made of.
In this case, that hero is a Belgian Malinois named Elvis, war and peacetime partner of Mercy Carr. Imagine their surprise when this former bomb-detecting team finds a cache of buried human bones in the Vermont wilderness. Enter a second dog and handler team to sort through a mystery that involves an unidentified infant, a missing mother and a crime buried (literally) in the past.
Munier’s perfectly paced tale crackles with fast-paced dialogue and elegant descriptions that would make the likes of John Hart and James Lee Burke proud. But it’s her writing about animals, dogs in particular, that truly sparkles and distinguishes her from the pack.
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