Count me as someone who loves old-fashioned thrillers that feature a potent connection between the past and the present. That explains why I’m such a fan of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, particularly their newest series that continues with The Scorpion’s Tail (Grand Central), featuring the team of FBI agent Corrie Swanson and archaeologist Nora Kelly.

This time out, the mystery in the past involves a century-old mummified corpse recovered along with a priceless artifact. Has our stalwart pair uncovered a missing ancient treasure? A far more recent murder? A plot of huge proportions? In this case, it’s all of the above, resulting in a devilishly entertaining romp that harkens back to the seminal works of Alistair MacLean, as well as the H. Rider Haggard 19th century classics King’s Solomon’s Mines and She.

This is historical adventure writing of the highest order, a mystery wrapped in a puzzle wrapped in a high-stakes thriller. For Preston and Child, what’s old is new again and the result is a rocking, rollicking tale that reminds us of how much fun reading can be.

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Nobody writes military-themed action tales better than Brad Taylor and look no further than his latest, American Traitor (William Morrow), to see why.

Taylor, who relies on his own elite experience in the Special Forces for both detail and authenticity, has never been better and neither has his literary doppelganger Pike Logan. American Traitor pits Logan and his TaskForce team against what, on the surface, appears to be a Chinese plot to reclaim Taiwan. Notice I said “appears,” because as soon as a former member of TaskForce reports something awry, Logan senses something is up and, boy, is it ever.

The recent passing of the great John le Carre represents a symbolic passing of the torch to spy novelists like Taylor, Brad Thor and Kyle Mills (writing as Vince Flynn), who favor more muscular approaches because that’s what the world today calls for. But American Traitor is a thinking man’s thriller as well, boasting both brains and brawn in a no-holds-barred, terrific tale.

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Speaking of thinking man’s thrillers, Caz Frear is back with Shed No Tears (Harper), a London-based mystery that bears all the neo-noir, gothic touches that made Lynda La Plante’s Prime Suspect and David Morrell’s splendid Victorian-based trilogy featuring Thomas De Quincey into modern-day classics.

Frear’s version of Detective Superintendent Jane Tennison is Detective Constable Cat Kinsella who here takes on a case connected to a modern-day Jack the Ripper from several years before when the remains of that serial killer’s final victim are finally recovered. The problem is each answer Kinsella uncovers raises fresh questions, leading her to believe that another, even more fiendish killer is afoot.

Add to clever plotting the fact that Frear attacks her settings with Dickensian aplomb, and Shed No Tears becomes a wondrously atmospheric tale where the fog rolling in over the streets of London mirror the moral morass in which Kinsella finds herself mired. This is mystery writing of the highest order.

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Look up “timely” in the dictionary, and you’ll find the cover of Bone Canyon (Thomas & Mercer) by Lee Goldberg. That’s because the latest in the series featuring Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Eve Ronin uses the scourge of California wildfires as a jumping-off point. 

In classic mystery tradition, a skull is found amid the ruins left by the fire, not burned but previously buried. It falls on Ronin to reverse engineer the murder with the help of a forensic anthropologist and her own instincts, which lead her to the revelation that the decades-old murder cuts deeply close to home.

Goldberg’s pacing and plotting are both pitch-perfect, and his command of the story places him at the top of modern-day California crime writers staking a claim to the mantle of Raymond Chandler and Dashiel Hammett. Bone Canyon is destined to be the first great mystery of 2021.

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Here’s the thing about cozy mysteries: they may not be for everyone, but if you’ve got a taste for this particular subgenre look no further than Tara Lush’s Grounds for Murder (Crooked Lane).

Lana Lewis loves her quaint and popular Florida coffee shop Perkatory. The customers are all treated like friends and the employees are family, explaining why Lewis feels betrayed when one of her baristas jumps ship to a dreaded rival and on the eve of the Sunshine State Barista Championship no less. Betrayed enough to commit murder, though? Because that’s the question she faces when the employee’s body turns up dead on Perkatory’s premises.

Appropriately branded as a “Coffee Lover’s Mystery,” Grounds for Murder boasts no shortage of caffeine-injected twists and turns that make for the perfect balance of the lightness cozy fans love and the plotting mystery fans crave. A rare combination that makes this a bright, airy, and terrific read.

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Jason Pinter has fashioned a superb psychological thriller in A Stranger at the Door (Thomas & Mercer), a book that is beyond timely. That’s because the subject matter cuts, literally, ever so close to home. 

Coming off the solid Hide Away, the book that provided heroic but conflicted Rachel Martin’s origins as a vigilante, the second in the series ramps up the stakes and the action. Not only are we treated to a Madoff-like Ponzi scheme, but also Martin’s own son falling under the spell of the scheme’s cult-like organizer, Bennett Brice. Based on what we know about her response to such things, woe unto him and anyone else who’s wronged her family.

Pinter’s sparse prose effectively understates form in favor of function, presenting the steadily unfolding events in a matter-of-fact fashion that is true to the way Martin sees the world. A Stranger at the Door both challenges our sensibilities and fuels our emotions, a rare combination for a thriller indeed.

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Speaking of timely, look no farther than Edwin Hill’s bold and bracing Watch Her (Kensington), his third title to feature Heather Thursby.

The book begins simply enough with Thursby paying a routine visit to Prescott University. Little does she know that showing up on campus will embroil her in a complex web of crime, deceit and even murder dating back years. Thursby turns her attention to some missing alums from the privately-owned college, not realizing that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what she is destined to uncover at the risk of her own life.

Hill’s command of setting and the world of academia make Watch Her hum in a way seldom seen since Robert Ludlum took on similar material in The Matlock Paper. Comparing any thriller writer to the master in his prime is a rare accolade, but one Hill has proven he is worthy of. Solid and sure. (Read also Jodé Millman’s review of this book here.)

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The Strand Magazine has unearthed yet another previously unpublished short story, in this case by none other than Shirley Jackson who penned the famed short story “The Lottery,” as well as the classic horror tale The Haunting of Hill House that’s the basis for a current Netflix series.

The story in question, Adventure on a Bad Night (The Strand Magazine), echoes John Collier’s classic story “The Chaser” in terms of its sparseness and simplicity. Out of the simple set-up of a woman named Vivien heading out on some errands, Jackson crafts a tale of happenstance, stereotypes, prejudice and hopelessness. Vivien runs into a never-named pregnant immigrant who needs help sending a telegram to the child’s GI father. We know it will never be returned just as we know she’ll be in to send another the next day.

In typical Jackson fashion, the story is all show, no tell; Vivien is as much a prisoner of her routine as the nameless woman is of hers. A well-told tale made more striking by its vivid understatement and casual confidence of a writer still at the top of her game. (Read also BookTrib’s coverage of the story here.)