It seems that some talented writers have already assured us that 2019 is off to an explosive start. So many fantastically thrilling books have come out this month that Jon Land’s featured picks will be split into two parts. The true harrowing plot to take out one of America’s iconic leaders, a hunt for a book cursed from Medieval times, and more in this first installment of Jon Land’s powerful picks.

Reading James Rollins makes me feel like a kid again, taking me back to the time where I could spend the day with Doc Savage, Matt Helm, Mack Bolan or James Bond. And the reasons for that are all on display in the superb and scintillating Crucible (William Morrow).

The kidnapping of his own girlfriend sends Commander Gray Pierce and his stalwart Sigma Force on a dizzying global chase somehow connected to the Spanish Inquisition and a legendary book, The Hammer of Witches. Dating back to Medieval times, this book is rumored to hold the means, or formula, to bring on the extinction of life on Earth.

Not surprisingly, there’s no shortage of fiendish bad guys who want The Hammer of Witches too. In this high-stakes pursuit, Pierce learns the hard way that saving the world pales in comparison with saving someone he loves.

Rollins shades Crucible with equal measures of science and speculation, mixed in typically brilliant fashion and propelling him past the likes of Wilbur Smith and Alistair MacLean to claim the mantle of the greatest action-adventure writer of this or any generation.

Speaking of greatest ever, Doug Preston and Lincoln Child’s master detective A.X.L. Pendergast is every bit the modern equivalent of Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot. And his investigative skills have never been sharper than in the altogether brilliant Verses for the Dead (Grand Central).

Pendergast brushes aside his reluctance to take on his first FBI partner in pursuit of an especially lurid, Thomas Harris-like case. Together, this team takes on a twisted serial killer who cuts out his victims’ hearts and leaves them on display upon the graves of women who committed suicide.

As the bodies continue to mount, and Pendergast searches for the tenuous connection between the dead from the past and present, he realizes a much bigger game is afoot with risky mechanizations that challenge even his superlative skills.

Like other series entries, Verses of the Dead is a throwback to classic crime fiction while maintaining a sharp, post-modern edge. When Edgar Allan Poe invented the modern detective novel, this was exactly what he had in mind.

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The first thing I noticed about Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch’s The First Conspiracy (Flatiron Books) is that it’s categorized as “History” instead of “Fiction.” Not as big a stretch as you might think, given the historical basis of so many crack Meltzer thrillers, and the result is sterling in all respects.

The book unpacks the very real plot to assassinate none other than George Washington, a plot undertaken by rogue colonists in league with their British brethren. Even though most know the end result of this attempt, it does little to diminish the suspense or the minute details of how Washington uncovered the plot and what he did in response. In fact, the book reminded me most of the fiction classics The Eagle Has Landed and The Day of the Jackal, which dealt with similar subject matter circa World War II.

The difference here is the abject brilliance of Meltzer and Mensch’s research in reconstructing revolutionary times to the smallest detail in exquisite fashion. Consider The First Conspiracy the last word when it comes to thrilling tales yanked from history, proving that sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction.

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After reading The First Conspiracy, I was afraid plunging back into comparably outlandish plots in fiction might be difficult. That concern lasted all of the first three pages of Brad Taylor’s mesmerizing Daughter of War (Dutton).

Taylor, more a chronicler of future events than past ones, here envisions a terrifying alliance between North Korea and Syria forged by a deadly, explosive compound known as Red Mercury. It’s left to Pike Logan and his Taskforce group to lead a hectic race against time to stop a devastating shift in the global balance of power.

Taylor, a former Delta Force operator himself, has envisioned a scenario every bit as grounded in reality as the likes of John Le Carre’s Cold War and Steve Berry’s historically-based thrillers. But he also adds his trademark rapid-fire pace and action scenes that rival the best of Brad Thor and Vince Flynn. A must-read for all hardcore thriller fans.

Speaking of stretching, Simon Gervais is back with Hunt Them Down (Thomas & Mercer), marking the beginning of a new series sure to give the likes of Brad Taylor a run for his money.

His Jack Reacher-like hero, Pierce Hunt, has a unique perspective on the drug business given that he’d once fallen in love with the daughter of his Cartel leader target. Years later, an assignment that offers both redemption and revenge forces Hunt to revisit his past, at the risk of losing everything he holds dear in pursuit of a mission to bring down a virtually mythic Mexican drug kingpin.

The superbly crafted and deceptively complex Hunt Them Down reminded me of Don Winslow’s brilliant drug-fueled trilogy that most recently included The Cartel. This is thriller writing at its level best by a new voice not afraid to push the envelope beyond traditional storytelling norms.

In My Darkest Prayer (Intrigue), S. A. Cosby seems to be channeling both Taylor and Gervais to phenomenal results in this terrific post-modern crime noir.

My Darkest Prayer by [Cosby, S.A.]

The book’s hero, former Marine Nathan Waymaker, is a hybrid mix of John D. MacDonald’s Travis Magee and Richard Stark’s (also known as Donald Westlake) Parker. The classic reluctant hero, Waymaker just wants to be left alone to do odd jobs that allow him to get by. At the same time, though, he’s someone people can turn to when they find themselves at wit’s end, which in this case pits Waymaker against all manner of small-town crime while trying to get to the bottom of a local minister’s murder.

An eclectic and exciting cast of characters add color to an already vibrant landscape as one man stands alone in a relentless fight for justice. A tour de force of both style and substance.

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