Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s stellar Crooked River (Grand Central), the nineteenth to feature FBI special agent Aloysius Pendergast, shows why this is the best mystery series going today.
The premise is enough to make the likes of Jeffery Deaver and Thomas Harris blush: dozens of identical blue shoes are washing up on the Florida coastline, all with a severed human foot still inside. As the number continues to escalate, Pendergast is summoned south to investigate, ultimately finding himself, along with younger and greener Agent Armstrong Coldmoon, on the trail of a fiend who defines the very nature of human depravity. Also along for the wild ride is Pendergast ward and acolyte Constance Greene, playing a post-modern version of Clarice Starling.
The over-the-top nature of the premise would be fodder for disaster in lesser hands but, as always, Preston and Child display a true masters’ touch. This is riveting reading entertainment of the highest order, the scope of Crooked River’s ambition is exceeded only by the scale of its execution.
Seven relics, known as the weapons of Christ, are being stolen from their resting places across the globe. Fortunately, Berry’s stalwart Cotton Malone is there to witness one of the thefts, plunging him into a high-stakes race with powers both big and small to reunite the mystical objects for the first time. At the heart of that race is a struggle for nothing less than European hegemony and the world’s figurative soul, played out amid expertly researched and beautifully colorized settings.
The Warsaw Protocol reads like a textbook in how all thrillers should be structured. Berry’s fourteenth Cotton Malone effort is his most ambitious yet, taking no prisoners in a non-stop rollercoaster ride of thrills and spills, twists and turns, and shocks and surprises with nothing less than the very future at stake.
One Minute Out (Berkley), the ninth entry in the Court Gentry (aka “Gray Man”) series cements Mark Greaney’s status as a preeminent storyteller whose thrillers continue to resound on multiple levels.
Gentry’s rogue exploits will be put to their greatest test when he uncovers a massive, international human trafficking ring, but here’s the problem: the ring’s leader claims to have information about an equally massive terrorist strike on the U.S. in the offing. The Gray Man has never been one to subscribe to the old “enemy of my enemy” treatise, knowing such men are not to be trusted. But moral dilemmas are also nothing new for him, and he attacks this particular one with an eye on the bigger picture, as always.
One Minute Out casts Gentry as a younger and even more jaded version of John Le Carre’s seminal George Smiley. In that respect, Greaney’s latest demonstrates how the American action thriller has now fully supplanted the more highbrow efforts of the British spy masters who invented the genre. Court Gentry is this generation’s James Bond and his latest adventure is not to be missed.
Compared to the prior three entries in this column, Allison Brennan’s The Third to Die (Mira) seems at first glance to be tame by comparison. But you know what they say about first impressions.
Currently on the skids with the Los Angeles Police Department, Kara Quinn finds a savagely ravaged corpse while jogging in bucolic Washington State where such things aren’t supposed to happen. Apparently, the killing marks the return of a serial killer who resurfaces like clockwork every three years. As that clock ticks down to the next victim being taken, loner Quinn reluctantly joins forces with others in an ad-hoc task force committed to bringing the “Triple Killer” down.
The Third to Die is Brennan’s broadest and most expansive novel yet, as much Catherine Coulter as David Baldacci with just enough of Thomas Harris thrown in for good measure. A stellar and stunning success.
Robert Dugoni is one of those rare thriller writers for whom plot and character are interchangeable, a penchant clearly on display in A Cold Trail (Thomas & Mercer).
Once again, the action revolves around series stalwart Detective Tracy Crosswhite, this time out back home in Cedar Grove, Washington, where her lawyer husband is busy with his latest case as they both struggle to make things work in a family where murder always seems to have a seat at the table. In A Cold Trail, it’s actually a trio of murders, encompassing the present as well as the past while forcing Tracy to confront her own painful memories. Not surprisingly, the solution strikes close to home, even as it threatens everything she’s trying to build.
This is crime writing of the absolute highest order, illustrating that Dugoni is every bit the equal of Lisa Gardner and Harlan Coben when it comes to psychological suspense. Call A Cold Trail an angst-riddled, contemplative tale, or just call it flat-out great.
Imagine witnessing the murder of your girl friend over Skype. That’s the tragic predicament facing Aidan Poole who, for some reason, resists calling 9-1-1 which forms the first of many mysteries in this multi-layered melodrama. Good thing Detective Chief Inspector Jonah Sheens, Britain’s version of Harry Bosch, is on the case to unravel the complex plot of why someone with no enemies or entanglements was murdered. Not surprisingly, Sheens’ investigation will take him down unexpected roads that lead to one shattering truth after another, as the story mushrooms outward with the stakes growing higher and higher.
Watching from the Dark is also reminiscent of Peter James’ superb crime series featuring Detective Superintendent Roy Grace. But Lodge’s mastery of the psychological suspense helps her carve out a territory all her own in fashioning this terrific tale.
James Grippando’s The Big Lie (Harper) is as scintillating and seductive as it is unsettling. Scintillating because it’s a crack courtroom thriller. Unsettling because it strikes a bit too close to home and is eerily on point.
Our setting is Florida and our hero, as usual, is Miami-based lawyer Jack Swyteck. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but the most recent (fictional) Florida presidential election is riddled with problems that end up in court with Swyteck fighting on behalf of the side that just wants a fair vote count. Plenty on the other side, though, want nothing of the kind and are willing to resort to anything, including murder, to see the wrong man win.
The Big Lie is one of those rare political thrillers destined to join the likes of Fletcher Knebel’s Seven Days in May and Allen Drury’s Advise and Consent in becoming a modern-day classic.
Last but hardly least, Ed Ruggero’s blistering Blame the Dead (Forge) stakes a rightful claim to being the best World War II-based tale in years.
The action evolves away from the battlefield through the eyes of military policeman Eddie Harkins who’s tasked with investigating a murder at an army field hospital based in 1943 Sicily. That, of course, turns out to be only the tip of the iceberg. A conspiracy and cover-up are afoot and only by rooting out the ringleaders and perpetrators can Harkins restore honor not just to a single hospital, but also the Allied cause.
Jon Land is the bestselling author over 25 novels. He graduated from Brown University in 1979 Phi Beta Kappa and Magna cum Laude and continues his association with Brown as an alumni advisor. Jon often bases his novels and scripts on extensive travel and research as well as a twenty-five year career in martial arts. He is an associate member of the US Special Forces and frequently volunteers in schools to help young people learn to enjoy the process of writing. Jon is the Vice-President of marketing of the International Thriller Writers (ITW) and is often asked to speak on topics regarding writing and research. In addition to writing suspense/thrillers, Jon is also a screenwriter with his first film credit in 2005. Jon works with many industry professionals and has garnered the respect and friendship of many author-colleagues. He loves storytelling in all its forms. Jon currently lives in Providence, Rhode Island and loves hearing from his readers and aspiring writers.