Our 2018 mid-year list of the best mystery and thriller books so far is incredibly diverse, ranging the gamut from political thrillers to crime thrillers and everything in between. If there’s one thing that distinguishes this excellent batch of books, it’s character development. While losing sleep is practically guaranteed with any of our mid-year picks, each is a fast-moving tapestry of emotionally-driven art that you’ll be begging your friends and family to read.
The President is Missing by Bill Clinton and James Patterson
Given that James Patterson is more executive producer than author these days, seeming to churn out a new novel each month, it comes as a shock that his collaboration with former president Bill Clinton tops our list. ‘
But this is one collaboration that is obviously magic, producing the best Patterson novel in years.
Rogue U.S. President Jonathon Duncan faces impeachment for persistently escaping from the eyes of the Secret Service. Duncan is convinced that he is the only man with the insider information to stop an imminent cyberterror attack on the U.S.
To say much more would spoil the fun.
Set over the course of three days, The President Is Missing sheds a stunning light upon the inner workings and vulnerabilities of our nation. Is it filled with information that only a former Commander-in-Chief could know?
You be the judge. One thing is for sure: this is one thriller that is well worth reading.
Gate 76 by Andrew Diamond
Compared to Diamond’s excellent cyber-crime novel Impala, Gate 76 is a bona-fide big tent crime thriller that should connect with readers from all walks of life.
34-year-old private detective Freddy Ferguson, a man still largely defined by his former career as a prize fighter, is waiting to board a flight to Washington D.C. when he spots Anna Brook. She is attractive in a hassled sort of way, but it’s her interaction with her male companion – a knucklehead gripping her arm in an unkind way – that really grabs Ferguson’s attention.
He watches as she prepares to board a flight to Honolulu, only to emerge from the jetway at the last minute, change her appearance, and catch a flight to Chicago.
By the time Ferguson lands in Dulles, news of a plane crash – the very same one that Brook nearly boarded – is on CNN. The world believes Brook is dead. Only Ferguson knows the truth.
Writing from Ferguson’s point of view, Author Andrew Diamond’s first person, present-tense narration is a breath of fresh air in a genre where the narrative voices are all too homogenous. Not since Thom Jones’ The Pugilist At Rest has a writer so eloquently incorporated the physical and mental toll of boxing in a protagonist’s life journey.
As PIs go, Ferguson is as world weary as you might expect, but much funnier:(“I get premonitions… I see some guy walking down the street—never laid eyes on him before—and I just know he’s gonna be beating the crap out of me in an alley before the day is over.”) For a young man, he’s decidedly old school, from his puzzlement at the “younger folks” taking photos at a funeral to the way he carries a toothpick and uses it as a low budget burglar alarm. The result is a story that feels timeless – it could have been set in any era over the past six decades – but still completely of this world.
The First Conception by Nesly Clerge
The author of the addictive Amazon #1 bestselling psychological thriller The Anatomy of Cheating shows his narrative range in his latest outing, The First Conception: The Rise of Eris. In an alternate reality, a genetically engineered blight has caused most of humanity to become infertile. As in vitro techniques fail, the human race faces inevitable extinction.
The fear of mass infertility has been a common sci-fi theme over the past few decades, including P. D. James’ novel The Children of Men, Margaret Atwoods’ The Handmaid’s Tale and the upcoming The Completionist by Siobhan Adcock. With The First Conception, author Nesly Clerge has written a worthy entry into the canon. But unlike Atwood, James or Adcock, the cause of infertility isn’t caused by an environmental disaster, but rather, by a powerful team of women who have had enough of male dominance and sexual abuse.
The book focuses on traumatized molecular biologist Dr. Katherine Eris Barnes, the child of a poor single mother with a dizzying array of abusive lovers. Clerge’s depiction of Barnes’ home life is remarkable for its psychological and physical brutality, but the result is a smart, imaginative revenge fantasy wrapped in a terrifying medical thriller. While Barnes cops to her plot to destroy humanity in the very first chapter, discovering how she does it – and why – is well worth the journey.
Blind Eye by Meg Lelvis
Following her razor-sharp debut novel, Bailey’s Law, author Meg Lelvis has resurrected detective Jack Bailey for another adventure on the mean streets of Chicago. When popular parochial teacher Sister Anne is found murdered along with two Bible verses – Psalm 27:10 and Isaiah 41:17 – Bailey suspects that it won’t be the last. Sure enough, another victim – and another verse – appears again in two weeks. And of course, Bailey rips off the perfect line: “The Bible thumper strikes again.”
The use of scripture in relation to criminal cases is a tried-and-true plot device, but when used by a writer like Lelvis, it never gets old. From the moment Bailey’s partner, Sherk, observes that the word “forsaken” is used in the first two verses, a world of analysis opens up. Did the nun somehow abandon one of her students? Was there abuse involved? Or was it just a red herring to throw the detectives off the trail?
While Lelvis lets us in on a key piece of the puzzle early on, that bold plot device allows her to fully flesh out her villain. But to her credit, she doesn’t show all her cards until the very end, making for a shocking conclusion that will keep readers white-knuckling the book until the bitter end. As a series author, Lelvis is only just hitting her stride. For now, here’s a toast to many happy returns for Jack and Sherk.
Caught in a Web by Joseph Lewis
When Milwaukee Detective Jamie Graff’s phone rings, he can tell by the early hour that he’s about to receive bad news. His hunch is right, as he hears that yet another kid has been found dead from an overdose of heroin and fentanyl. The local drug trade, controlled by MS-13, has claimed the lives of three high schoolers and one middle-school student. They won’t be the last.
Author Joseph Lewis has crafted an exceptionally timely crime novel about MS-13, aka Mara Salvatrucha, the international criminal gang that originated in Los Angeles in the 1980s. The White House has a stated goal of eradicating MS-13, and more recently, reports surfaced that MS-13 groups were encouraging its recruits, largely teenagers, to kill policemen. That threat is palpable in Caught in a Web, as Graff, effectively drawn as a world-weary local crime-fighter, is joined in his effort to dismantle the gang threat by intrepid undercover sheriff Detective Pat O’Connor and his control, Paul Eiselmann.
Meanwhile, Ricardo Fuentes, an MS-13 member known as “The Blade,” is sent from Chicago to find out who is cutting in on their business. That’s only the beginning, however, as he is intent on finding and killing the 15-year-old that murdered his cousin. Using the incomprehensibly cruel and morally bankrupt Fuentes as a vehicle, Lewis holds little back as he demonstrates the extent of cultural decay at the hands of MS-13. The results are grisly – one scene with a 13-year-old is especially difficult to read – but extremely effective. Simultaneously, at Butler Middle School, Lewis creates a believable sense of how MS-13 threatens to destroy what is, in many ways, a normal educational existence. The result is a truly important novel in which readers will truly care about characters’ lives.
Restitution by Rose Edmunds
Rose Edmunds proves that her Crazy Amy series is only getting better with each installment.
Has a long-lost Picasso really resurfaced in Prague? That’s the hope of 84-year-old London resident George Smithies, whose father, a gallery owner, was allegedly tortured and killed by the Nazis in 1939. Having avoided his homeland since his escape to England as a boy, a newspaper photograph of the painting, found in a Czech apartment, has compelled him to consider it.
Enter 38-year-old Amy Robinson, a.k.a. As a newspaper report has it, Amy “will try to help George navigate his way through the minefield of Czech restitution law.” But as anyone who has devoured Rose Edmunds’ first two Crazy Amy series books might guess, that doesn’t come close to describing the extent of the personal and professional danger that awaits her.
Amy recently lost Zowie, the unborn child whom she named after the late great artist David Bowie’s son. Actually, “lost” isn’t quite the right word, since it’s quite possible that Amy’s drinking killed him. No matter. Amy steels herself, quite ready for the task that lies ahead. And thus is the genius of Edmunds’ recurring anti-hero. Amy is painfully, deeply flawed. And yet she is utterly brilliant, fearless and to George, indispensable. Once again, Amy’s inner mind chatter crackles with quotables throughout (favorite lines: “If Kafka hadn’t existed, what other word could adequately describe my experiences?” and “As a modern, professional woman, it was embarrassing to admit you’d been seduced by the idea of becoming a princess”) .
As Amy and George’s adventure takes them deeper into this labyrinthine quest –spoiler: there is actually a maze – their journey becomes one of mystery, mayhem and murder. But more importantly, each successive chapter brings us to increasingly close quarters with both characters’ quest for spiritual and physical survival. It’s a ride well worth taking. While Restitution is a fine entry point for any new reader, we highly recommend the entire trilogy.