Our 2017 list of the best mysteries and thrillers is incredibly diverse, ranging the gamut from psychological thrillers such as Rose Edmunds’ second Crazy Amy book to Douglas E. Richards’ latest sci-fi mindbender. Unlike previous years, we’re highlighting exceptionally read audiobooks in our list as well – a nod to the growing popularity of the format.
Infinity Born by Douglas E. Richards
The Bottom Line: A breathtaking near-future thriller.
When DARPA’s billion-dollar program to create Artificial Superintelligence is sabotaged, US operative Cameron Carr is tasked with finding the culprit. He’s been on high-stakes missions before, but this time the stakes are nothing less than the future of humanity. Because the race to evolve a superintelligent computer is on, and power players around the world will stop at nothing to get there first.
In the right hands, Artificial Superintelligence could lift humanity to towering heights. But in the wrong hands, this technology could represent the greatest threat humanity has ever seen . . .
Ripped from tomorrow’s headlines, is a roller-coaster ride of a thriller that explores the deadly perils and mind-blowing possibilities that await the human race–including both extinction and immortality.
As our phones and computers become ever smarter, Infinity Born takes an unblinking look at a technological tipping point that is just around the corner. One that will have a profound impact on the future course of human history.
HYBRID by James Marshall Smith
Bottom Line: Exhilarating and original, HYBRID demonstrates that even wildlife conservation can have a sinister underbelly.
Dieter Harmon seems to be nothing more than an unassuming veterinarian. He’s also the new guy in town. Not long after stumbling upon a mutilated body in the woods, just the latest in a string of animal attacks, he finds himself at a moral crossroads.
It seems that the government is trying to restore the wolf population inside Yellowstone. But after Dieter meets the conservation group – including a including a pair of ne’er-do-well rangers in their own power struggle — he also realizes that something’s not quite right about the wolves roaming outside the Grand Loop. Things soon get hairy as Dieter discovers that he has become prey.
Author James Marshall Smith’s follow up to SILENT SOURCE, one of our picks for the Best Thrillers of 2016, has created anything but a standard whodunit in HYBRID. Smith paints a lurid story involving personal vendettas and underground experimentation. At times, it read like a wondrous mash-up between Mary Shelly and James Patterson.
It’s not a slow burn. Cerebral, complex and yet heart-pounding, the book teeters at a full boil throughout. A finalist for the 2017 William Faulkner-Wisdom Novel Award, HYBRID is a must-read.
The Wives of War by Soraya M. Lane
The Bottom Line: This terrific little book could have been written in 2017 or 1947. Brilliantly read by Heather Wilds, fans of Call the Midwife will love Wives of War.
London, 1944. Two young nurses meet at a train station with a common purpose: to join the war effort. Scarlet longs for the chance to find her missing fiancé, Thomas, and to prove to her family—and to herself—that she’s stronger than everybody thinks.
Nursing is in Ellie’s blood, but her humble background is vastly different from Scarlet’s privileged upbringing.
Though Ellie puts on a brave face, she’s just as nervous as Scarlet about what awaits them in France.
In Normandy, the two friends soon encounter the seemingly unflappable Lucy.
Scarlet and Ellie are in awe of her courage and competence, but the experienced nurse is well aware of the dangers of the job they’ve chosen—and even she is terrified they won’t make it home alive.
Pushed to their limits by the brutality of a world at war, Scarlet, Ellie and Lucy will need to rely on each other—and the power of their friendship—to survive.
The Amendment Killer by Ronald S. Barak
The Bottom Line: Fresh, fast and furious. The Amendment Killer is one of the year’s best legal thrillers. Fans of Scott Pratt and Lisa Scottoline may find a new favorite author in Ron Barak.
Set among the hallowed chambers of the Supreme Court of the United States, Ron Barak’s new thriller begins as Thomas T. Thomas III stalks Justice Arnold Hirschfeld’s granddaughter. Kidnapping eleven-year-old diabetic Cassie Webber isn’t going to be easy. Compared to Thomas’ childhood, Cassie leads a privileged life, including door-to-door transportation to school by her doting parents and twice-a-day private golf lessons.
Barak has devised a kidnapping that is anything but ordinary. There’s no demand for money. Instead, Thomas wants to sway Hirschfeld’s critical vote on the Supreme Court’s determination of the validity of 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution – one that would criminalize abuse of political power. And if Justice Hirschfeld doesn’t comply? Thomas won’t kill the girl. He won’t have to. He’ll simply deny the diabetic youngster the insulin she needs to live.
With that, Barak beautifully sets the stage for a high-stakes legal thriller that is easily the best we’ve read this year. Former courtroom attorney Barak, who is also diabetic, expertly tells the story from alternating points of view. While Cassie’s chapters are as gut wrenching as you might expect, it’s Thomas’ that are the most effective. His sense of entitlement, envy and fanatical obsession with protecting his country are delightfully disturbing.
Barak could easily have chosen more obviously explosive legal topics, such as Roe v. Wade, or a contested presidential election. His decision to aim for more intellectually stimulating fare is refreshing, and by the time the final page is turned, readers will have learned a lot about why the issue is so important. Highly recommended.
The Happy Chip by Dennis Meredith
The Bottom Line: A hugely satisfying blend of ripped-from-the-headlines science fiction and suspense, The Happy Chip is one of the year’s best medical thrillers. Highly recommended.
Human beings have used mood-altering drugs – ranging from roots to prescription drugs – for thousands of years. Author Dennis Meredith’s The Happy Chip takes the idea a step further by imagining a world in which an implanted nanochip measures and regulates the hormones that help determine happiness.
Chippers, as they are called, don’t just feel better. They also appear to make better choices, leading to financial stability, improved relationships and better dietary choices. But soon after science writer Brad Davis heads to NeoHappy, Inc’s headquarters to write a biography of wealthy chip inventor Mary Fallon, he learns of a string of murders related to a new nanochip. Is NeoHappy – or even Fallon himself – using the chip to control humanity?
Credit Meredith, author of the excellent Cerulean’s Secret and Wormholes, for devising his most timely novel yet. In an age when technologies such as the iPhone, social media apps and the FitBit have been embraced by billions despite significant privacy tradeoffs, Meredith brilliantly assesses the risks of the next inevitable step
(reports that DARPA is developing a similarly mood-altering nanochip have been rampant in recent years). Is the nightmare he portrays really all that far-fetched? The fact that such biotech seems within reach even now makes this expertly paced novel all the more urgent.
In Brad, Meredith has found an exemplary vehicle for channeling our hopes, dreams and fears about biotech. Readers will be hooked form the get go, and by the time the last page is read, fans of Douglas E. Richards and A.G. Riddle may find a new favorite author.
The Man Who Walked Out of the Jungle by Jeff Wallace
The Bottom Line: A highly textured, must-read gripper that will appeal equally to fans of mysteries, military thrillers and police procedurals.
Vietnam, 1970. George Tanner, an American military police investigator based in Saigon, is near the end of his final tour of duty. While trying to convince his Vietnamese girlfriend to go with him when he leaves, he becomes obsessed with the death of a man the press has labeled an ‘unknown soldier.’
Told from Tanner’s point of view, author Jeff Wallace spares no detail in describing the wartime flavor of Southeast Asia. You can practically taste the humidity, feel the mosquito bites, and hear the occasional air conditioner struggling to keep the scorching heat at bay. And yet due to Wallace’s economical use of dialogue and deft pacing, the plot never feels bogged down by the grandiosity of the language.
The deeper Tanner wades into the investigation, the more precarious it becomes. Before long, he finds that he’s in far too deep, putting himself in mortal danger. At every turn, circumstances seem to compel him to stay in the country – or is Tanner himself willing it to happen? Soon, the prospect of leaving the country alive seems about as real as one of his recurring dreams.
Ex-soldier Wallace’s debut novel is a stunner, and not just for the intensity of the mystery he has created. More than just a great thriller, The Man Who Walked Out of the Jungle is a profound tribute to the people who go above and beyond the call of duty.
Exposure by Rose Edmunds
The Bottom Line: A five-star financial thriller, and one of the year’s best overall. The Crazy Amy series is a must-read.
The second entry in Rose Edmunds’ Crazy Amy series has the former finance executive rising from the ashes of her wasted life. The novel opens at London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral, where Amy has found a high perch from which to release twenty thousand in cash, which floats down to a crowd of anti-capitalist protesters down on the street. Despite her contempt for the “dumb little peasants” below, the act is an important alcohol-fueled symbol of her break with the past.
After this manic episode, Amy enters rehab. Her stay is interrupted when the suspicious death of a former colleague, John Venner, hits the news. Amy is watching the report live as her own name is linked to the investigation, followed by these words: “To add to the mystery, Amy Robinson has disappeared.”
When Amy leaves rehab to attend the funeral, she quickly finds herself immersed in the quest for answers that could not only solve Venner’s murder, but eventually, save her own life.
After Edmunds’ breathless series debut, Concealment, we find an author writing at the top of her game. The loathing and vitriol that makes Amy so unique among contemporary sleuths is still here, but it’s all the more biting and delicious now that Amy is “done with capitalism.” At times, her struggle to leave her past behind is absolutely heartbreaking, but dark levity reigns as her investigation takes her from one “charmless moron” to another. Her journey finds herself decoding a complex web of deceit, but credit Edmunds for keeping us in Amy’s head – and even in her notes – as she deftly works her process.
Above all, readers will relish the fact that Crazy Amy will do anything – anything! – to solve the murder, and that is what makes Exposure a true page-turner.
Nobody’s Safe Here by Bill Percy
The Bottom Line: One of the most exciting mystery novels in years.
Jarringly gritty and grounded, Nobody’s Safe Here is a fresh take on what seem like tried-and-true situations. Unexpected plot twists and variations on procedurals will have readers excited to turn the page.
What starts off as a heavy-handed and brutal book — there’s a planned school massacre, possible demonic possession, a mental breakdown, and a new deputy sheriff from the “big city” — becomes one of the most exciting mystery novels in years. Where so many stories begin with the arrival of a strange sheriff, author Bill Percy turns that formula on its ear and offers up a slew of imaginative and surprising spins along the way. Nobody’s Safe Here is filled with a colorful cast that’s both intriguing and off-putting. Deputies Andi Pelton and Brad Ordrew connect a seemingly disparate crew: an all-star high school student, a cattle baron, and a psychologist. Among these characters, there’s a romance, a heartbreaking plot, and good people facing hard choices. In what’s supposed to be a quiet, tiny enclave, there are major problems everywhere. The plot can seem overwhelming at times, but the author manages to keep everyone in their lanes, bringing them together only when necessary — and sometimes in very surprising ways.
As readers get deeper and deeper into the minds of each character, Nobody’s Safe Here reveals itself as a psychological mystery as much as investigation into what drives people to do what they do. The dialogue is believable and a joy to read, the unusual mix of topics is relevant in the current state of America, and Bill’s colorful descriptions makes this remote city seem huge and vast. Anyone looking for a mystery novel that’s unlike anything on their bookshelves (digital or otherwise) needs to pick this one up.
Bleed Through by Adriana Arrington
The Bottom Line: Debut novelist Adriana Arrington knocks it out of the park with this psychological thriller in which nothing is as it seems.
Twenty-five-year-old Liam Murphy has every reason to feel optimistic. Having suffered schizophrenia and the death of his father, he’s now under the care of a psychologist who seems to understand him. Feeling better, he’s enrolled in community college and is reconnecting with his mother and sister.
Then he witnesses a murder on the pier near his mother’s home. Or did he?
While unreliable narrators have been sweeping the literary landscape as of late, the technique often feels like a cheap trick. Not so here, as first-time novelist Arrington delivers a perfectly drawn protagonist that you can’t help but root for. Did Liam really see a murder? Is his mental illness really under control? Does his medication give him supernatural abilities?
Arrington has created a compelling ally for Liam in fellow college student and eternal optimist Mai Nguyen. Things get considerably choppier as Liam stops taking his meds and decides to take the murder investigation on himself. With each succeeding chapter, the simple act of deciding which of Liam’s observations to believe makes for one of the most entertaining reads we’ve had this year.
Bleed Through is an addictive treasure that is easily one of the year’s best thrillers so far.