Time to take a respite from the romance of the recent holiday with eight captivating thrillers, chosen by esteemed author Jon Land. Break out your heart-shaped chocolates and dive right into some highly anticipated reads–you’ll be glad you gave any of these a shot!

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Seldom has a writer laid claim to a genre, almost to the point where it feels like she invented it. And previous Rhode Island resident Lisa Gardner practically did just that with what can best be described as the suburban nightmare novel in which cushy neighborhoods become the settings for grisly crimes that upend and destroy lives.

Such is the case with Never Tell (Dutton), only on steroids. The intrepid series stalwart D. D. Warren finds herself on the trail of a truly brutal murderer that pairs her with none other than former kidnapping victim Flora Dane, no stranger herself to violence. Their pursuit unveils a multi-layered conspiracy that bears connections with a past that continues to haunt any number of the principle characters and includes a literal smoking gun.

This is easily Gardner’s most ambitious, complex tale ever, a shattering emotional journey that’s utterly relentless in pacing and suspense.  Tell everyone that Never Tell is an early candidate for the best thriller of 2019.

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The opening of Mark Greaney’s mesmerizing Mission Critical (Berkley) reminded me of the classic set-up of the film “The Dark Knight Rises,” with a similarly masked stranger being loaded on board a government transport plane.

Good thing Court Gentry, also known as the Gray Man, is also on board to sort through the chaos that ensues when the plane is attacked upon landing in the United Kingdom. Gentry’s relentless defense doesn’t let up until the entire team of assassins is dead and buried. But this time out he also finds himself unraveling a devilishly devious plot at the root of all the gunplay.

Equal parts revenge drama and conspiracy tale, Mission Critical combines the best of John Le Carre and Robert Ludlum. Greaney has fashioned a masterpiece of an action thriller mixed with deep-seated global politics, placing him on level footing with the likes of Brad Thor, Brad Taylor and the late, great Vince Flynn.

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Okay, stop me if you’ve heard this one: Tim Dorsey is the best comic crime novelist out there today and very likely ever. And you need look no further than his latest No Sunscreen for the Dead (William Morrow) to see why.

Once again knight errant Serge A. Storms and his stoner sidekick Coleman hit the road, this time in search of the proper retirement community in which to settle down, even though Serge is well short of retirement age. That, of course, leads to all manner of hijinks, ribald adventures and side-splitting fun as Serge alternately alienates and enthralls all manner of roving security guards, Amish food servers, and elderly potential neighbors, even as he lays waste to scammers targeting his newfound friends.

No Sunscreen for the Dead is so much fun, you might not even notice the pumped-up plotting as an added bonus. On the Mount Rushmore of comic crime writers, let’s just chisel Dorsey’s face next to Carl Hiassen’s, Donald Westlake’s, and Dave Barry’s.

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I once read that Gerry Spence never lost a case in his career as a trial attorney. If his ability to entrance a jury was anything like his ability to captivate a reading audience in the scintillating Court of Lies (Forge), I can see why.

Talk about a sultry thriller jam-packed with devious legal wrangling and duplicitous courtroom maneuvers. It’s all inevitable when prosecutor Haskins Sewell sets wealthy socialite Lillian Adams in his crosshairs. Whether she’s guilty or innocent of murdering her husband is secondary to how Sewell can use her prosecution to advance his own career, even if that includes setting up the presiding judge to take a fall of his own.

Court of Lies is best filed under courtroom noir, a la Michael Connelly’s superb Lincoln Lawyer series featuring Mickey Haller. Spence’s prose is as polished as his final summation to the jury, helping to make the case that he belongs alongside John Grisham and Scott Turow as the foremost legal thriller writers of our time.

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Every principle of great storytelling is on display in The Clockwork Dragon (Simon and Schuster), the third in James R. Hannibal’s superb Sector 13 series aimed toward a younger audience, but with the kind of magic capable of making us all feel like kids again.

This time out, young Jack Buckles of the Ministry of Trackers finds himself with a new potent adversary in the form of Ignatius Gall, who presides over a suitably dark counter ministry. While that’s more or less classically typical of the genre, what’s rare is the sweeping sprawl of Jack’s quest to destroy the darkness personified by Gall and his minions. This quest spirits him and his stalwart team on a global chase across multiple continents.

This is classic storytelling at its level best, Harry Potter for a whole new generation just waiting to break out on a comparably viral level, thanks to Hannibal serving up a seasoned mix of adventure and adolescent angst in sterling fashion.

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Renée Knight may well have invented a new genre in The Secretary (Harper). Call it corporate noir, full of steamy intrigue and office politics that make even Washington look good by comparison.

Our dueling antagonists/protagonists are the powerful business and media personality Christine Butcher (a perfectly chosen name) and her trusty, ambitious assistant Mima Appleton. Their initial synthesis is swiftly waylaid by the dual revelation that neither woman is what she appears to be and that, ultimately, both of them cannot survive—literally as well as figuratively.

The Secretary may be the best book of its kind since Michael Crichton’s brilliant Disclosure and well worth the wait. A smooth and sultry mix of The Devil Wears Prada and Joseph Finder’s corporate-based thrillers.

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Lee Goldberg’s street creds writing for television are keenly on display in Killer Thriller (Thomas & Mercer). This second effort featuring Ian Ludlow crackles with pitch-perfect dialogue and terrific scene-setting.

Ludlow, by the way, is a bestselling thriller author in his own right and, in a ploy reminiscent of the TV show “Castle,” he also displays a tendency to get involved in very real-life scenarios that resemble the ones he writes. This time out, he’s actually on the Chinese set of a film adaption of one of his own books when, in true Hitchcockian fashion, he latches on to a mammoth conspiracy that imperils his own life.

The story carries traits akin to Robert Ludlum write the book, as he merged fiction and fact in The Chancellor Manuscript. Goldberg adds a contemporary edge and approach to a tried and true theme, crafting a thriller that packs a ton of fun into every page.

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History has provided great settings and setups for any number of thrillers, but few have gone as far back in time as Chris Formant’s meticulously researched Saving Washington (Permuted Press).

Drawn from experiences of real-life heroes, the tale follows a pair of
Revolutionary War soldiers who fate places amid a decisive and defining battle. Their efforts proved vital in preserving General Washington’s life. As we know, the patriots go on to win the war, but without this decisive first battle, Washington may not have been able to regroup and turn the tide. With that tide turned, the rest as they say is indeed history.

This is among the finest period pieces ever to chronicle the events that gave birth to American independence. A pitch-perfect study of the grit that defined a fledgling America and a historical thriller extraordinaire.

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