In a month where any of the first five thrillers covered here could have been the lead, let’s start with David Baldacci’s mesmerizing Mercy (Grand Central), his latest to feature Atlee Pine.

Those familiar with the series are well aware that the driving force behind Atlee becoming an FBI agent is the lifelong obsession of finding her missing twin sister. That and the circumstances involving her dysfunctional parents have haunted Atlee for the bulk of her life. The last entry, Daylight, shined, well, a light on her sister’s true fate and Mercy will bring that arc full circle in a classic be-careful-what-you-wish-for crescendo. Indeed, learning the truths of Mercy’s life might well cost Atlee hers.

Unlike virtually all other series going today, the interconnected, cohesive nature of the Pine books begs for them to be read in order. Mercy, though, dips deeper into the dark world of noir, resonating at times as neo-gothic. This is Baldacci at his best, probing well beneath the surface of the story to create a thriller as richly drawn as it is wondrously realized.

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As much as I’ve always enjoyed the seminal Harry Bosch books, Michael Connellys pairing Bosch in semi-retirement with Los Angeles Detective Renee Ballard was a stroke of genius, all the reasons for which are on clear display in The Dark Hours (Little, Brown).

This time out, the team’s reunion is spurred by Ballard, who finds a link behind a current killing with a murder Bosch investigated years before. She’s already tracking a pair of serial rapists, managing to divide her time between the two cases thanks to Bosch’s willingness to jump on board. The fact that the two investigations are linked may not surprise the typically jaded thriller fan, but the connective strands the stalwart pair unearth are brilliantly conceived and perfectly logical.

Connelly stitches both Covid and social unrest into the tapestry of his Los Angeles-set tale, which lends The Dark Hours a societal relevance that’s rare for the genre indeed. The teaming of Bosch and Ballard has refreshed the series and this effort is the best of that bunch so far. Not to be missed.

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The unlikely team of Louise Penny and Hillary Clinton has penned a political thriller extraordinaire that feels just real enough to be as scary as it is entertaining with State of Terror (Simon & Schuster/St. Martin’s Press).

Appropriately enough, the book is centered around an internecine conflict between the current president and his female secretary of state. That leaves Ellen Adams pretty much on her own when the State Department catches wind of a massive looming threat to the Homeland. The group behind it has already struck in multiple countries, but their aims in this complex international chess game is centered squarely on the United States.

State of Terror reads like a modern-day version of Fletcher Knebble’s Seven Days in May or Alan Drury’s Advise and Consent. Clinton excises her share of political demons while, with Penny, fashioning an insider tale that explodes off the page even as Washington risks becoming an inferno. Read BookTrib’s review here.

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Televised trials have not exactly made us feel warmer toward judges lately, which makes John Grisham’s The Judge’s List (Doubleday) as cathartic as it is beautifully conceived.

Lucy Stolz, investigator for the Florida Board on Judicial Conduct, returns to the fold to tackle far worse judicial behavior than the corruption she confronted in The Whistler. This time out, Lucy is on the trail of a judge who doubles as a serial killer — or maybe it’s a serial killer who doubles as a judge. A tip from a woman obsessed with the murder of her father twenty years earlier starts Lucy down a road littered with other bodies linked to a villain in black robes who knows the system well enough to beat it at every turn.

The Judge’s List is Grisham at his pop culture level best. Using the legal system as a backdrop more than a plot point does nothing to diminish the momentum of the story or power of the narrative. My verdict: superb reading entertainment.

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Cherie Priest’s Grave Reservations (Atria) is one of those mysteries that’s tough to categorize. It’s more hard-edged than a cozy, but not quite as ironic or quirky as Carl Hiaasen.

Leda Foley struggles to make a living as a travel agent, while channeling her not-always-reliable psychic abilities. Enter Seattle detective Grady Merritt, whose life is saved after Leda rebooks his flight thanks to a vision of his original plane blowing up. When that vision proves prophetic, Merritt enlists Leda’s help in clearing his case load. Leda agrees and drags along the members of a kind of psychic singing club to aid her pursuits.

However you want to categorize it, and I’d use Janet Evanovitch as the most apt comparison, Grave Reservations is a blast to read, comfortable in its own skin while managing to straddle the delicate line between hard-boiled and light reading.

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Reading James Hannibal’s Wolf Soldier (Enclave Escape) felt to me what it must have been like for others to read the debut Harry Potter or Wheel of Time entry. This seminal young adult effort is that good.

The action involves an ancient order a long time ago in a world far, far away. Much like the Jedi of the Star Wars saga, the Lightraider Order vanished generations ago. But new threats to this old world requires their return in the form of five young knight initiates, led by the typical predestined hero from modest means, Connor Enarian. It will ultimately fall on young Connor to thwart an invasion by an especially venile enemy threatening his entire world.

Wolf Soldier echoes Orson Scott Card’s Ender series in all the right ways. Hannibal handles genre tropes with skill and aplomb, managing to make a well-worn form seem fresh and new. This exquisite adventure is a great read for kids of all ages.

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I missed Lorie Lewis Ham’s One of Us (King’s River Life) when it was first published a few months back, but I’m glad it finally crossed my desk.

That’s because the book strikes the perfect balance between a cozy and more complex mystery tale. Children’s book author Roxi Carlucci opts for a major lifestyle change when her publishing career comes to a sudden and bad end. She ends up settling in San Francisco where she lands with a community theater group. Who knew that a cast member would be murdered in the middle of rehearsals and that it would fall on newly-minted amateur sleuth Roxi to solve the crime.

One of Us might be thriller-light, but never stops taking itself just seriously enough in becoming a solid, entertaining tale from a debut author we’ll be hearing more from.

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