David Baldacci has served up just what the doctor ordered for sheltering in place during a pandemic with Walk the Wire (Grand Central), featuring the stalwart and cerebral FBI agent Amos Decker.

Decker and his photographic memory are put to their greatest test ever when he and his partner Alex Jamison are summoned to the oil rich grounds of North Dakota where boomtowns have sprung up virtually overnight, bringing with them host of problems. One of those problems turns out to be the grisly murder of a young woman, which opens up a slew of deadly town secrets that reminded me of the Spencer Tracy film classic Bad Day at Black Rock. The multitude of sordid characters with skeletons in their closets will test even Decker’s memory.

Walk the Wire solidifies Baldacci’s status as this generation’s premier storyteller, a writer who works his pen/keyboard like a maestro wielding his baton in a perfect concerto. The perfect thriller to remember during a time we’d all like to forget.

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The completion of his classic drug-drenched cartel trilogy hasn’t slowed the South Kingstown born Don Winslow’s creative genius in the least. It’s wholly on display in Broken (William Morrow), a terrific collection of shorter works.

Let’s start with a chimpanzee that stages an armed breakout from the zoo — yup, you read that right. Want more? How about the world’s most charismatic jewel thief? Or an old-fashioned, hard boiled detective from the Raymond Chandler school of cops. For nostalgia buffs, there’s a Boone Daniels visit from Winslow’s spectacular surfing mystery series. And, finally, a climactic tale staged around separating migrant children from their parents.

With the passing of Elmore Leonard a few years back, it’s now safe to proclaim Winslow America’s greatest living crime writer. His consistency is matched only by his creativity, his talent exceeded by his ability to surpass himself time and time again. Not an easy task with the six stories contained in Broken, but one he manages with typical wit and aplomb.

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Twenty-plus years ago, Dean Koonz struck literary gold with Watchers, which featured a genetically enhanced genius of a dog named Einstein. Now he’s back with another special golden retriever, Kipp, in Devoted (Thomas & Mercer).

Woody Bookman, who hasn’t spoken once in his eleven-year-old life, is the boy in the story this time. That fact provides for a unique bond of communication between him and Kipp. And, true to form, Kipp is the only one who seems to get the fact that a monstrous entity, some form of ultimate evil, was responsible for the death of Woody’s father and is coming for the boy and his mother.

Who doesn’t love dogs, right? There’s also plenty to love in Devoted, a warm, deeply engrossing tale that reminded me in all the right ways of the Robert R. McCammon classic Boy’s Life for its easy mix of the normal and not-so normal, as well as the mysticism that defines childhood itself. This one’s not to be missed.

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I tried to tally the number of books written by Heather Graham for this column and lost count at around a hundred, which makes it all the more striking that The Final Deception (Mira) checks all the boxes thrillers are supposed to. 

Once again FBI agent Craig Frasier and expert criminal psychiatrist Kieran Finnegan take center stage, this time on the a devilishly brilliant serial killer who plays like a combination of Hannibal Lecter and John Doe from the film Seven. Only this particular villain has friends in powerful places, at least partially explaining his impossible escape from a maximum-security prison. Good thing Frasier and Finnegan aren’t in business to make friends, though their latest enemies seem determined to thwart their efforts at every turn for their own nefarious reasons.

Like the mailman, Heather Graham always delivers. The Final Deception is smart, stylish and scintillating, leaving us ready for the next title in her considerable oeuvre.

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Speaking of Heather Graham, Jennifer Hillier has fashioned a thriller that would make both her and Lisa Gardner proud in Little Secrets (Minotaur).

The great thing about books like this is that they always start with a family for whom everything is great, if not idyllic. Such is the case with Marin, Derek and their young son Sebastian — that is until Sebastian is kidnapped. A bit down the road, add in the fact that Marin finds out Derek is having an affair. Then there’s McKenzie, a post-modern take on the classic femme fatale, who pays the bills thanks to affairs she makes a habit of having with married men. Might she be somehow connected to Sebastian’s kidnapping as well?

The fun of Little Secrets lies in assembling all these disparate pieces into a single, harrowing landscape that keeps shifting with every chapter. This is psychological suspense of the highest order, a rich character study of a woman at the end of her rope and the lengths to which she will to free herself from her bonds. 

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James R. Hannibal just might be the best action thriller writer not named Brad Thor, Brad Taylor or Vince Flynn (now Kyle Mills) and all the evidence is firmly on display in Chasing the White Lion (Revell).

The setup is stunningly and effectively unique. A web-based crime family has kidnapped a group of kids who happen to be refugees for their own despicable purposes. So how do you track bad guys in Cyberspace? Good thing CIA agent Talia Inger has assembled a Dirty Dozen-like rogue’s gallery to help her chase down the villain of the title, a kind of contemporary version of a true James Bond-esque bad guy.

If you’re looking to chase a great thriller, Chasing the White Lion is for you. Inger is a splendid, emotionally wrought hero — a far more self-assured version of Clarice Starling from The Silence of the Lambs. And, interestingly enough, a portion of the book’s proceeds will be donated to battle child poverty across the globe, thanks to a real-life group called Compassion International that figures prominently in the book’s plot.

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