Brad Meltzer’s mind-blowing thrillers have always been among my favorite. So it should come as no surprise that his second non-fiction thriller, The Lincoln Conspiracy (Flatiron), is every bit as riveting as his fictional ones.

The book is set four years before Abraham Lincoln’s ultimate assassination, introducing us to the very real notion that our sixteenth president faced an even more determined plot in the wake of first being elected in 1860. We even see him riding a train in disguise, knowing a sinister cabal of pro-slavery power brokers is out to get him. If that sounds like the kind of thriller Meltzer or any number of his contemporaries might fashion in fiction, it should because The Lincoln Conspiracy contains the same hallmarks and benchmarks that have pushed the likes of James Rollins and Steve Berry to the top of national bestseller lists.

The Lincoln Conspiracy is storytelling of the highest order, made even more resonant by the fact that it’s real instead of made up. Chock full of heroes (like the actual founder of the famed Pinkerton detective agency), villains and plenty in between, this is the first absolute must read book of 2020.

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You won’t find the esteemed Lincoln Rhyme anywhere in the pages of Jeffery Deaver’s The Goodbye Man (Putnam) but, once again, Colter Shaw proves supremely adept at driving the action that’s totally devoid of serial killers as well.

That action finds the jaded and financially motivated Shaw this time tracking targets suspected of a hate crime. But that’s just the catalyst for Deaver to cleverly plant clues that send Shaw on another trail altogether and not for the reward or bounty either. Those clues may reveal the true fate of his own father, even as it leads him into a hornet’s nest of secrets and subterfuge somehow connected to a shadowy cult based in Washington State.

The Goodbye Man features Deaver at his level best, wielding his computer keyboard like a magic wand to dazzle us. This is thriller writing of the highest order, as compulsively readable as it is masterfully structured. | Read our Q&A with Jeffery Deaver

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Savage Son (Atria), former Navy SEAL Jack Carr’s third book to feature his doppelgänger James Reece, solidifies his status as the fastest rising action-thriller writer out there today.

Siberia and Russia, the Russian mob specifically, play prominent roles in a tale that finds Reece recuperating from near fatal brain surgery and struggling to master everyday life, much less returning to the world that defined him. Little does he know that enemies both old and new are gunning for him — literally — turning Savage Son into a kind of thinking man’s version of the John Wick film series. Of course, in the best tradition of heroes of this ilk, Reece knows that turning the tables is his best strategy, a good offense beating a good defense any day.

This is a deeply personal effort by an author already at the top of his game, an easy mix of Brad Thor and Brad Taylor with the sensibility and ambition of the great David Morrell thrown in for good measure. Not to be missed.

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Liv Constantine plants her flag squarely in land staked out by the likes of Lisa Gardner and Karen Slaughter with The Wife Stalker (Harper), a romantic thriller of rare depth and poise.

The action centers around Piper Reynard who brings her trendy New Age way of thinking to staid Westport, CT, where she receives a surprisingly warm reception, especially from a married lawyer who wants to have his cake and eat it too. Choices like that in thrillers normally lead to bad ends and any number of bodies. But here the emphasis is more on psychological suspense of a kind best realized in films like Fatal Attraction or Body Heat, dominated by femme fatales.

The Wife Stalker keeps you reading, and guessing, from the first page to the last. A sumptuous and scintillating read that disguises its secrets with a master’s touch.

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Marc Cameron’s exceptional Stone Cross (Kensington) solidifies his place on ground with the likes of David Baldacci and C. J. Box.

Especially the latter, given that Deputy US Marshall Arliss Cutter evokes Box’s stalwart park ranger Joe Pickett in any number of ways, roaming the wilds of Alaska instead of Wyoming. The action here takes Cutter to the town of Stone Cross to protect a federal judge who’s been receiving death threats. But he and his still somewhat raw deputy Lola Teariki find plenty more afoot that might already include murder.

Stone Cross is also reminiscent of a less laid back and more hardboiled version of Craig Johnson’s superb Longmire series. Cameron checks all the boxes in fashioning a mystery-thriller that hits all the right notes in terms of both tone and pacing.

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Secret Investigation (Harlequin) by Elizabeth Heiter is a sterling entry in the multi-author penned Tactical Crime Division series.

The premise of failed body armor in a training exercise gone horribly wrong makes for a great jumping off point for FBI agent Davis Rogers to take the case, given that a good friend of his was one of those who perished. Rogers’ investigation finds him effectively joining forces with Leila Petrov, CEO of Petrov Armor, who is just as driven to get to the truth behind what went wrong inside her own company in stark contrast to the traditional treatment multi-national arms executives get these days.

Secret Investigation might be wrapped in a small package, but it packs a big wallop with satisfyingly high stakes. Call it a post-modern, thriller take on the classic Arthur Miller play All My Sons. Supremely effective and wondrously realized.

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Reece Hirsch’s eerily prescient Dark Tomorrow (Thomas & Mercer) is one of those thrillers I almost wished I hadn’t read.

Indeed, cybercrime is scary enough already without being whisked away into the world of hackers and the Dark Web. Good thing FBI agent Lisa Tanchik is on the job, tracking bad guys who fire off code instead of bullets to even more dangerous ends. The stakes escalate when that code is responsible for taking out the entire East Coast’s power grid with the promise of more devastation.

This is cutting edge, ripped-from-the-headlines entertainment. Superbly researched and masterfully executed, Dark Tomorrow will teach you things you’d much rather never have learned.

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Mary Keliikoa just may have brought us the next great female private detective with Kelly Pruett who makes her debut in Derailed (Camel Press).

Her agency was actually founded by her late father, to whom she’s eternally trying to measure up. Add raising a deaf daughter to the mix and it’s a wonder she’s able to eke out a living. Not so wonderful is her late father’s involvement in the death of a woman who was hit by a train. That case was never resolved to his, and now her, satisfaction as the suspects mount and Kelly unravels the underbelly of the victim’s life.

With the passing of Sue Grafton, both Pruett and Derailed have arrived not a moment too soon. Keliikoa’s sharp dialogue, command of the first-person point of view and ability to create solid characters will make her a literary force to be reckoned with for years to come. | Read BookTrib’s full review of Derailed.

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