Blaze In, Blaze Out – The Year’s Best Crime Thriller

The Bottom Line: The year’s best crime thriller (Winner, The Book Awards). A superb crime drama simmering with suspense and deep character studies en route to an explosive finale.

Joseph Lewis’ latest novel tells the story of two lawmen who find themselves hunted by killers loyal to an Ukranian kingpin. The book opens in Chicago’s Cook County Criminal Court, as a jury finds Dmitry Andruko guilty on illegal weapons trafficking and murder. Before disappearing into the prison system, Andruko – with a turn of phrase and a threatening look – puts Detective Pat O’Connor on notice that he’ll forever be looking over his shoulder.

O’Connor also has other reasons to feel like he has a target on his back. He’s central to the next case, which could do even more damage to Andruko and his organization. Those fears are realized when three suspicious characters follow O’Connor and his partner Detective Paul Eiselmann to a restaurant. Later, Sasha Bakay and Misha Danilenko – suspects in several unsolved murders in and around Chicago and employees in Andruko’s empire – show up at a family soccer game.

But O’Connor, having been under the gun for so long, decides to go ahead with plans to unplug on a fishing and hunting trip. Readers of Lewis’ Betrayed will already know the group going with him: Detective Jamie Graff and four boys: Brett, Brian, George, and George’s half-brother, Michael Two Feathers. But are the Wisconsin woods remote enough to discourage Andruko’s contract killers? Lewis employs chapters told from the killers’ points of view to great effect, building suspense as both groups stalk their prey.

Featuring a taut, deliberate plot that builds to a crescendo, Blaze In, Blaze Out is a welcome break from end-to-end breathless action thrillers. Rather than relying on gimmicks, Lewis has created a village of sturdy characters that he moves in and out of his novels, and he centers their development around engrossing police procedurals. Since much of the boys’ individual coming-of-age stories begins in Betrayed, readers are strongly encouraged to read both books in tandem.

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