Thriller/Suspense

SOUTHTOWN by Rick Riordan

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He planned the jailbreak for months. Some of his associates were less than perfect, but he could always get rid of them on the outside. Once Will Stirman escaped, he would have only one thing on his mind: revenge. The private detectives responsible for putting him in jail will pay for his imprisonment and for the innocent lives that their treachery took.

PI Tres Navarre knows his boss is keeping something from him. Ever since Erainya heard the news about the infamous human trafficker’s escape from prison, she had been on edge.  She had even contacted her bitter rival Sam Barrera to arrange a meeting, though she won’t explain why. Tres knows the only way to get to the truth is to find out what really happened when the human trafficking ring was busted eight years ago. But the case reaches a new level of urgency when Stirman threatens Erainya’s son.

This fast-paced mystery/thriller is part of Riordan’s Tres Navarre series. The story is marked with interesting characters, but it is the plot that keeps the reader engaged from beginning to end. The book is short and the story moves quickly. Riordan gives enough clues for the reader to puzzle out the mystery along with (or possibly before) the detectives. The stakes are high for both the detectives and the criminal, and there is enough blame on both sides to make the story morally intriguing. I would recommend this book to adult readers who enjoy thrillers and fast-paced mysteries.

YOU BELONG TO ME by Karen Rose

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When Lucy first sees the body slumped over the table at the park, she is sure that it is her former music teacher, Mr. Pugh.  After all, he is wearing Mr. Pugh’s clothes and sitting where Mr. Pugh always sits.  But the initial shock of thinking her mentor is injured is immediately overwhelmed by two more horrifying discoveries: first, the body is horribly mutilated—face and teeth pulverized, fingers sliced off, bones shattered and heart cut out—and second, it is not Mr. Pugh after all; the killer clearly dressed the body and left it for Lucy to find, to torture her emotionally.  Being a police Medical Examiner, death doesn’t usually phase Lucy, but as the gruesome bodies begin to stack up—and all in places where Lucy is sure to find them—it becomes apparent that this killer is targeting Lucy as he executes people from her hometown.  Detective J.D. Fitzpatrick is determined to catch the ruthless killer and to keep Lucy safe, but as their professional relationship blossoms toward romance, J.D. realizes that Lucy has a lot of secrets, and their only hope to solving the case might be to delve into her past.

This book kept me reading through to the very end!  In addition to the main plot with Lucy and J.D., concurrent plot lines give you glimpses of the serial killer and the PIs who unwittingly helped him change his identity—all of which just ramps up the intensity.  Although you know the serial killer’s main motivation from the start, readers have to put the puzzle together to figure out how Lucy fits in and how the killer is able to track her every move.  And the relationship between Lucy and J.D. throws in a bit of romance.  I would recommend this book to readers who like a fast-paced mysteries, thrillers, and/or romantic suspense.

BORN TO DARKNESS by Suzanne Brockmann

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Mac and her Obermeyer Institute colleagues aren’t sure what to expect when they begin their mission to take down and contain the latest Destiny user.  The drug enables its users to integrate their brain function at a much higher level than the average 10%, which could give them any number of superhuman abilities, including flying, telepathy, and in this case deflecting bullets. Mac and her colleagues (all of whom have integration levels of 50% and above without chemical enhancement) are finally able to take him down, but not before Mac injures breaks her ankle.  Stopping at a bar on her way home, however, she meets a former Navy SEAL, Shane Laughlin, and discovers that just by touching him, her powers to heal increase.  And their night of sex does wonders.  Thinking she can leave it as a one-night-stand, Mac is dismayed when Shane shows up at the Obermeyer Institute the next day—identified as a “potential” for high integration himself.  Though she fears where a relationship with Shane could lead, a little enhancement may come in handy when an opportunity arises to take down the merciless criminal organization that manufactures Destiny by abducting and torturing gifted teen girls and draining their blood.

I loved this fast-paced, suspenseful thriller!  The science of the sci-fi isn’t fully realized (and the directer of the OI is totally a rip-off of Professor X), but it is a cool concept.  There is lots of graphic sexual content, so if that’s something you like to avoid, this is not the book for you.  But if you like sci-fi thrillers with a bit of romance, this was an exciting one!

ALL THE QUEEN’S MEN by Linda Howard

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Niema and Dallas Burdock both love their jobs as CIA operatives—and of course they love each other.  But when a mission to the Middle East goes south, Dallas forfeits his life to achieve the objective, and Niema falls apart.  She only makes it out of Iran thanks to the care and sacrifices of another agent on the team: “Tucker,” who turns out to be the CIA’s most deadly and elusive agent, John Medina.  Five years later, Niema and Medina cross paths again in a dangerous undercover mission surveilling a French terrorist.  But new details about the terrorist’s personal life force Niema to question their objective, while the growing attraction between Niema and Medina complicates the mission even further.

I read a bunch of Linda Howard books this week (15 to be exact) and this was definitely my favorite.  The thriller plot was incredibly engaging and even though I knew it was a romance and therefore had to have a happy ending (the fundamental law of the romance genre) the characters and situation were so complex and nuanced that the resolution was neither obvious nor above moral scrutiny.  Like all Linda Howard books, this is a steamy romance and has a couple of sex scenes, although far fewer than many of her books.

If you find this book compelling, it is the second in a trio of novels involving CIA spies.  The first is Kill and Tell and the last Kiss Me While I Sleep (both of which I also enjoyed, particularly the latter).

I won’t bore you with a bazillion Linda Howard posts, but if you are wondering about any of her books, I have now read All the Queen’s Men, Blood Born, Burn, Cover of Night, Cry No More, Death Angel, Drop Dead Gorgeous, Dying to Please, Ice (by far the worst), Kiss Me While I Sleep, Prey, Shadow Woman, To Die For, Up Close and Dangerous, and Veil of Night.

SHADOW WOMAN by Linda Howard

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Lizette is having a perfectly normal morning when she glances in the mirror and realizes that the face staring back at her is not hers. When she looks closely, she can see the faint scars from plastic surgery she doesn’t remember having.  In fact, there is a huge gap in her memories starting three years earlier.  And now when she tries to recall what happened, she experiences violent physical symptoms.  What she knows instinctively—although she cannot say how—is that someone has bugged her house and her car.  The same people who are watching her are the people who took her memories.  She also realizes that for some reason, she has significant training in espionage and combat.  Knowing that her life hangs in the balance, Lizette must put on a show for her observers as though nothing is wrong while she struggles to figure out what happened to her three years ago–and how she can escape.

Xavier has been observing Subject C for three years, looking for anything out of the ordinary.  When she begins making slight alterations to her behavior and habits, Xavier notices.  He doesn’t know whether Al and Felice have picked up on the subtle change, but then they never knew her as well as he does. Xavier knows the old Lizzy is coming back, and he knows that if Al and Felice realize it, her life will be in grave danger.  What Xavier doesn’t know is whether he can get close enough to protect her when the sight of him might bring her memories flooding back and put them all in even more danger.

Linda Howard is a bestselling thriller-romance writer.  I had previously read several of her books which I had hated (Ice, for example).  But I loved Shadow Woman.  The thriller plot and romance plot were fairly well integrated in this novel.  The suspense will keep you on the edge of your seat.  I literally read the book in two hours because I couldn’t stop turning pages.  So if you like thrillers and steamy romances, I think Shadow Woman is one of Linda Howard’s best.  (If you don’t like steamy romances, there are about 3 or 4 sex scenes, none of which are essential to the plot and can be skimmed over; but if you don’t like romance at all, Linda Howard is not for you.)

BEAT THE REAPER by Josh Bazell

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Pietro has worked hard to become a doctor, and the witness protection program has worked hard to keep him safe from the mafia hitmen who want him dead.  It seems you can’t throw a mob boss’s son out of a sixth-story window without ending up on someone’s hitlist.  But everyone’s hard work goes to waste when a ghost from Pietro’s mob days shows up in his hospital.  The mobster tips off a friend as to Pietro’s whereabouts and instructs him to spread the word–unless Pietro can save the dying mobster’s life.  Now Pietro is locked in a race against time and nature.  As he struggles to save the man’s life, he remembers the events that led up to his involvement in the mafia and his life on the run.   

If you like horrifically violent, action-packed, suspenseful thrillers, this is the book for you!  If you do not like horrifically violent books, do not read this book.  I have read a lot of thrillers, serial killer mysteries, etc.,  but this book was officially the most violent book I have ever read.  At several points I actually felt dizzy and physically ill from the level of violent detail.  That said, I couldn’t put it down!  The protagonist was such an intriguing character with a fascinating, intricately designed past!  And of course the suspense and action from the plot kept me on the edge of my seat.  A great read, but definitely, definitely not for the squeamish. 

(Movie rights were purchased in 2009, but it does not appear that any substantial steps have been taken toward a film adaptation.)

THE BONE GARDEN by Tess Gerritsen

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When Julia bought an old fixer-upper house in rural Massachusetts, she was looking forward to gardening–a relaxing project to keep her mind off of the divorce.  But when she unearths a human skeleton which shows signs of premortem trauma, she finds herself getting swept up in a mystery that began in 1830s Boston.  She meets Henry Page, an 89 year old man with family connections to her new estate, and they begin searching through boxes of old letters, many of them written by the famous Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes.  Along with Julia, the reader begins to hear the story of seventeen-year-old Irish immigrant Rose Connolly and medical student Norris Marshall, the son of a lower-class farmer.  While Norris, Wendell, and their fellow doctors try to discover the cause and treatment for a fever epidemic that claimed the life of Rose’s sister and many other recently pregnant women in the hospital, Rose tries to protect her late sister’s child from her abusive brother-in-law, Eben.  Norris and Rose’s stories become intertwined when nurses and doctors from the hospital begin to be murdered and mutilated with a distinctive pattern of knife wounds.  Norris and Rose are the only two people to have seen the murderer (a figure cloaked in black with a mask like a skull), but no one believes them, and due to their lower-class status and circumstantial evidence, they both become murder suspects.  Meanwhile, it seems people besides Eben are after Rose’s baby niece.  The key to the mystery may be found in an old locket that Rose pawned to pay for her sister’s burial.

If you like thrillers and find medical history interesting, then this is the book for you!  Gerritsen weaves details about Victorian medical knowledge (or lack thereof), body-snatching surgeons, and the medical education system of the time into a suspenseful mystery plot.  The present day plot is kind of cheesy, but only comprises a small fraction of the novel.  Readers who like suspenseful forensic mysteries or historical fiction thrillers will likely enjoy this novel.

If you liked The Bone Garden as a historical mystery, you may be interested in The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale.  If you liked The Bone Garden as a medical thriller, you might like the Lincoln Rhyme books by Jeffrey Deaver.

ANGELS AND DEMONS by Dan Brown

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When art historian Robert Langdon gets an urgent phone call claiming that an ancient cult of anti-Catholic scientists have resurfaced, he believes it is a hoax.  But when he sees a picture of a dead scientist with a symmetrical Illuminati symbol branded on his chest, he quickly realizes that the danger is real.  Max Kohler, the director of the scientific research facility where Leonardo Vetra was murdered, enlists Langdon’s aid in discovering the Illuminati’s motivation.  When Vetra’s daughter Vittoria arrives and reveals what the Illuminati stole, however, their objective becomes clear:  the Illuminati plan to use a canister of anti-matter as a bomb to destroy the Vatican in the midst of the Papal Election.  Langdon and Vittoria rush to Rome, only to discover that the Illuminati assassin has also abducted the four Prefereti cardinals, candidates for the papacy, who they plan to publicly murder in four different churches across the city.  As the Swiss Guard search Vatican City for the anti-matter bomb, Langdon races to decipher the ancient trail of the Illuminati and find the assassin before he strikes again.

If you like fast-paced plots with unexpected twists and turns, this is a gripping thriller that is difficult to put down!  If you read for rich characters and character development, however, you may be disappointed as Dan Brown sacrifices the consistency of his already somewhat flat characters in order to create the unpredictable plot twists that drive his novel.

THE BONE COLLECTOR by Jeffrey Deaver

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Lincoln Rhyme was once the greatest forensic investigator the NYPD had ever seen.  That was before the accident that left him paralyzed and bedridden—only able to move one finger.   Although he once delighted in the intellectual puzzle of criminology, Lincoln Rhyme now desires only one thing:  his own death.   But when the NYPD asks for his help tracking down a serial killer with a strange fascination with human bones, Rhyme cannot resist taking a crack at the bizarre case—especially as it becomes clear that this serial killer is leaving clues specifically for Rhyme himself.  Energized by the mystery and his new partnership with the incredibly strong-willed and clever police officer Amelia Sachs who serves as his “arms and legs,” Rhyme postpones his assisted suicide and takes up the race to find the pattern behind the serial killer’s madness before he can claim another victim.

This mystery is a fast paced thriller with emphasis on the forensic aspects of detective work.  The characters are compelling and while enough information is provided for the reader to piece the mystery together, there are also enough twists and turns to keep you guessing.   Don’t read this book if you are squeamish; the serial killings are described in detail.  But if you like a good mystery thriller, I highly recommend it.  It is the first in the Lincoln Rhyme series.

If you like forensic thrillers, you might like books by Tess Gerritsen.

THE ASSASSIN’S GALLERY by David L. Robbins

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No moon shines over the dark waters of the Newburyport coast as a Persian assassin slithers ashore.  Her mission: to kill Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the United States.  Only Professor Mikhal Lammeck has a chance of tracking the elusive Judith and eliminating her before she reaches her target.

Lammeck has spent years teaching the theory of assassin psychology.  Now, called back into the field against his will, he realizes he is in way over his head.  As the distance between him and his quarry narrows, Lammeck finds himself entering the assassin’s mind.  No longer motivated by the desire to help his country, the professor is drawn forward by the allure and enigma of his brilliant adversary.

Robbins’ novel is not simply an action-packed thriller.  His alternate history is filled to bursting with historical detail, set against the complex backdrop of the 1940s social climate.  Industry, war, racism, and sexism writhe in the background, complicating an already intriguing plot.  Robbins also devotes considerable energy to developing the character of his assassin, lest she be seen as a “faceless” enemy.  Along with Lammeck, the reader comes to understand the motivations and history of the assassin, the challenges she faces, the depth of her resolve, and the reason that she is determined to succeed in her objective, against all odds.