Near Dark: A Thriller (The Scot Harvath Series Book 19) by [Brad Thor]Vulnerability and redemption remain two of the oft-used themes in thriller fiction and Brad Thor combines them brilliantly in Near Dark (Atria). No easy task, given that this represents his twentieth book featuring former Navy SEAL Scot Harvath.

Picturing Harvath as a boozy, bar room brawler on the skids and disconnected from his life in special operations missions would have been impossible to conceive before his last adventure as told in Backlash. Not since Ian Fleming rendered James Bond a mere shell of himself in the wake of “From Russia, With Love,” has an author pushed an icon to such depths, made even more fun by watching Harvath’s sudden return to action to thwart a vast international cabal bent on realigning world power. This while a massive bounty has been placed on his head that forms an ironic counterpoint to Harvath’s self-destructive impulses.

Thor continues to weave together the world of contemporary action thriller with the espionage-oriented, angst-riddled spy novels of John le Carré in seamless fashion, creating the fabric that makes him the most complete thriller writer working today. Not to be missed.

The Silent Wife: A Novel (Will Trent Book 10) by [Karin Slaughter]This month also marks the publication of perennial New York Times bestseller Karin Slaughter’s twentieth terrific tome in The Silent Wife (Morrow), with Georgia Bureau of Investigation detective Will Trent once again taking center stage.

Like Scott Harvath, Trent finds himself dealing with his own personal demons and angst when an investigation into a prison murder leads him to a series of murders committed by a serial killer who’s been able to avoid detection while leaving a string of bodies across the state. Pursuit of that killer, though, means dismantling the reputation of a fellow investigator who put the wrong man in prison. Trent follows a twisty, turny trail that leaves him at odds alternately with his own people and the one person who can help him find the truth.

Slaughter combines all the ingredients of a great psychological thriller in staking her claim to ground previously harvested by the likes of Thomas Harris and James Patterson. Riveting and relentless.

Home Before Dark: A Novel by [Riley Sager]Riley Sager reimagines the classic haunted house tale in Home Before Dark (Dutton), a stunning tale that blends genres with the ease a master painter mixes colors.

Maggie Holt has long believed she grew up living a lie, that the content of her father’s bestselling book about the hauntings of Baneberry Hall were nothing but a ruse to make a buck. That is until she inherits the sprawling Victorian mansion and comes face-to-face with the fact that her late father may not have been lying at all. Of course, as is true for all Sager tales, nothing is as it appears to be and Maggie finds herself cast as much as a detective as paranormal investigator.

Comparison to the likes of Shirley Jackson aside, Sager manages to inject just the right neo-gothic overtones into a psychological mindbender where horror truly lurks in the eye of the beholder. This is scintillating suspense writing, Sager leaving no stone left unturned in crafting a page turner of rare depth and complexity. (Check out Dawn Ius’s review and interview with the author here.)

At times, The Nemesis Manifesto (Forge) by Eric Lustbader reads more like the front page of the newspaper, than the great thriller it is. In large part, that’s because the book assembles all the great fears facing us today into a single plot aimed at first destabilizing and then essentially destroying America.

Lustbader, who gained fame first his Ninja novels and then with a long series of tales featuring Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne, has fashioned his very own (female) Bourne of sorts in Evan Ryder. It’s Ryder who uncovers the sinister, Russian-inspired plot called Nemesis and much of the book takes on the structure of a frantic chase, as she rushes from one end of the globe to the other to smoke out the bad guys.

Count me among those who found Lustbader’s last couple Bourne novels to have grown a bit stale, so it’s all the more refreshing to see him writing in his voice instead of someone else’s. The Nemesis Manifesto is thriller writing of the highest order, a textbook political tome that reminds us why we buy tickets for roller coaster rides like this.

Look up impossible-to-put-down in the literary lexicon and you might well find a picture of Ellison Cooper’s superb Cut to the Bone (Minotaur), a book that truly lives up to the agony suggested in the title.

The setup is pure thriller gold: A fiendish villain who would make even the likes of Hannibal Lecter pale by comparison has kidnapped an entire bus load of high school students. It’s left to troubled FBI profiler Sayer Altair, a kind of psychopath-whisperer, to outthink her brilliant nemesis, an already challenging task before kidnapping begins to morph into murder, even as she realizes she might well bear a connection to her quarry.

Too often there’s a been-there, done-that feel to this kind of book, almost like the Crazy of the Week. But Cut to the Bone doesn’t just break the mold, it shatters it in forging one of the best books of its kind since the Thomas Harris classic Red Dragon.

People of the Canyons: A Novel of North America's Forgotten Past by [Kathleen O'Neal Gear, W. Michael Gear]

People of the Canyons: A Novel of North America’s Forgotten Past (Forge) takes its place in the brilliant cannon of Kathleen O’Neal Gear and Michael Gear. Every time I read a new entry in this seminal series, I’m amazed by the authors’ command of all things history.

This time out, that history involves a pair of warring tribes and a mystical artifact with the power to determine the ultimate victor. We’re treated to a wondrous assortment of shaman, witch hunters, tyrants, heroes and a young heroine (Tsilu) straight out of the world of George R. R. Martin. In fact, this mesmerizing tale has a real Game of Thrones feel to it, a kind of early American version of the Starks versus the Lannisters.

People of the Canyons is storytelling at its level best, leaving us putty in the hands of authors whose firm grasp of these (very) early American times is equaled only by their ability to captivate us with a tale as rich in allegory as it is in action. Brilliant in all respects.

The Strand Magazine: Unpublished Louisa May Alcott

Kudos once again to the Strand Magazine for unearthing yet another lost manuscript, in this case Louisa May Alcott’s Aunt Nellie’s Diary (Strand Magazine).

So what’s a short story by the author of “Little Women” doing in a thriller column? Well, it literally unfolds in diary form, with only the title character’s perspective to rely on, as Aunt Nellie becomes reacquainted with her orphaned niece Annie. But Annie’s character and motivations, in her aunt’s mind anyway, range from questionable to duplicitous, distinguished by lines like, “’You shall soon know all.’” In that respect, the story serves as a stylistic precursor for the likes of contemporary bestsellers like The Girl on the Train and even Donna Tart’s The Secret History, in which we only see what the narrator wants us to see.

In the tradition of Charles Dickens’ The Mystery of Edwin Drood and Edgar Allen Poe’s The Light-House, this early tale by Alcott was never completed. Even in its current form, though, it becomes an apt harbinger for the greatness that was to follow and the literary traditions the author helped spawn. (Check out Susan Bailey’s full analysis of the story here.)