So far, this is shaping up to be an amazing year for fans of mystery and thriller books. There have simply never so many high-quality choices on the market, and narrowing the list down from the hundreds of books our team has read this year to just a handful is daunting.
Our 2019 list of the best mystery and thriller books so far is incredibly diverse, ranging from crime thrillers to medical thrillers and everything inbetween. Our mid-year list contains several first-time honorees, including Lisa Jewell, Preston & Child, Liam Fialkov and Lawrence Matrick M.D. Returning to our list is Andrew Diamond, who was on our 2018 list with his gem, Gate 76, and Harlan Coben.
Each of these mid-year picks is bound to keep you up late at night.
There are still many highly anticipated books yet to be released later this year from luminaries like Stephen King, Daniel Silva and Liane Moriarty, so stay tuned as we make additions throughout the second half of 2019.
Watching You by Lisa Jewell
What’s creepier than a peeping Tom? How about an obsessive, socially dysfunctional teenager who spends all his free time watching and cataloguing the movements of his neighbors? He even has nicknames for them, like “red boots.” Oh, did I mention that his biggest dream is to become a spy?
Melville Heights is one of the nicest neighborhoods in Bristol, England; home to doctors and lawyers and old-money academics. It’s not the sort of place where people are brutally murdered in their own kitchens. But it is the sort of place where everyone has a secret.
As the headmaster credited with turning around the local school, Tom Fitzwilliam is beloved by one and all—including Joey Mullen, his new neighbor, who quickly develops an intense infatuation with this thoroughly charming yet unavailable man. Joey thinks her crush is a secret, but Tom’s teenaged son Freddie (the one who is always watching) is all too aware.
One of Tom’s students, Jenna Tripp, also lives on the same street, and she’s not convinced her teacher is as squeaky clean as he seems. For one thing, he has taken a particular liking to her best friend and fellow classmate, and Jenna’s mother—whose mental health has admittedly been deteriorating in recent years—is convinced that Mr. Fitzwilliam is stalking her.
Meanwhile, twenty years earlier, a schoolgirl writes in her diary, charting her doomed obsession with a handsome young English teacher named Mr. Fitzwilliams.
What could go wrong?
Lisa Jewell has created a complete ecosystem made up of just the right people, with the right urges, and the right weaknesses for a delectable mystery. Impeccably paced, Watching You is not to be missed.
Run Away by Harlan Coben
You’d never know by looking at her, but drug addict Paige Green is the daughter of a Wall Street financial adviser and a pediatrician. When her father, Simon, spots her playing guitar and panhandling in Central Park, he tries to help. But all hell breaks loose as addict boyfriend Aaron Corval gets in the way.
Paige flees during the melee, only to become a suspect in Aaron’s murder when he’s found dead in the Bronx.
Enter, Elena a retired FBI agent who is now a private investigator. The ensuing story is a rollercoaster involving drugs, cults and the power of family. While there are some powerful dramatic moments in the book, the story is driven by quick pacing and plot twists that few will see coming. Expect to be heavily invested in these characters from the get-go.
The Broadcast by Liam Fialkov
That is the promise of a fascinating technology at the center of The Broadcast, a novel about a television network called TXB that produces believable footage of contemporary events, as well as historically significant ones, such as the Battle of Gettysburg, without so much as a set, a production crew, actors or animators. The footage appears to be, for lack of a better term, authentic. Is it real, or some kind of hoax?
Meanwhile, TXB fan Sarah, a psychologist who lives with her husband in a small central California town directly on the San Andreas Fault, is perpetually haunted by the forced adoption of her newborn son when she was just sixteen. While she and her husband appear to build a life together – complete with three dogs, eleven cats, the chickens, ducks, and geese – it’s really a house of cards on the verge of collapse. The circumstances surrounding her pregnancy and the mystery over her son’s whereabouts have left a void in her life that proves impossible to satiate, leading to increasingly provocative behavior that threatens to turn her life upside down. Author Liam Fialkov takes his time building Sarah’s character arc, and the payoff is worth the wait.
In terms of sheer real estate, one could argue that this is Sarah’s story, but the concept itself is truly the star. When religious groups become concerned about whether TXB can reach back 2000 years, and what future episodes might reveal, Liam Fialkov’s fascinating concept becomes a bonafide page-turner. Like Dave Eggers’ The Circle, The Broadcast also evokes important questions about society’s relationship to media, surveillance and personal privacy.
The Madhouse by Lawrence Matrick M.D.
The Madhouse is the story of New Orleans native Alex Gage, who struggles out of poverty to become not only a respected psychiatrist, but also an aspiring reformist. The story begins in the deep south as Alex is born with a clubfoot that keeps him from being drafted (it would be surgically repaired later in life). Despite his ascension to higher learning, he finds himself working as a physician in a Canadian mental institution – a nightmarish shop of horrors that would make Dante reconsider his definition of hell.
Alex’s colleague, Dr. Aaron Levy, a former Italian mafia thug, spends his time sexually assaulting the nurses, plying them with cocaine and morphine, abusing his patients, and talking about himself in the third person (“Aaron is poorly prepared.”)
Alex’s life takes a turn for the worse when he stupidly confides in Aaron, telling him about a deadly encounter with a man his mother knew back home. Shortly afterwards, Aaron begins blackmailing him, repeatedly requesting that he break the law in exchange for his silence. It’s a brilliant twist that instantly raises the book’s already sky-high stakes.
Alex’s girlfriend, Monique, organizes the women to march and force the early changes to the primitive abortion laws in the country. The nuns, the female ward supervisors, Rani, an East Indian female doctor, and the female nurses endeavor to help Alex change the oppressive attitudes towards the institutionalized orphaned children, the aboriginals, the mentally deficient and intellectually deprived patients. Working together, will they be able to change the course of treatment as to prefrontal lobotomies, and to abolish illegal female sterilization?
Author Lawrence Matrick, M.D. has drawn an extremely evocative world where danger lurks around every corner, especially where medicine is practiced. But The Madhouse is more than just a gritty crime thriller. Matrick, himself a former psychiatrist with experience as a mental hospital resident, employs the medical practices of 20th-century psychiatry to terrifying effect. Note that The Madhouse is not for the faint of heart. The book is chock full of bone-chilling afflictions and remedies, ranging from venereal disease to lobotomies and shock therapy, and Matrick includes them without ever seeming gratuitous. As an added bonus, Matrick has added an epilogue detailing a brief history of the evolution of mental institutions.
To Hell With Johnny Manic by Andrew Diamond
The Bottom Line: One of the year’s best thrillers. Part psychological suspense, part contemporary noir, Johnny Manic is wonderfully unreliable.
Tom Gantry, a.k.a. Johnny Manis, a.k.a. Johnny Manic, is having an identity crisis of epidemic proportions. As Tom tells it, the gregarious, effortlessly cool Johnny Manis became legendary in the tech world for making a fortune off mobile video games, publishing a manifesto, then deleting his social media accounts and going off the grid. He has a spotless criminal record, or so he tells himself. Meanwhile, alter ego Tom is a fugitive embezzler with a gambling problem who is in violation of his parole.
As the novel begins, Tom is in a Vegas casino, and is on a losing streak. Afraid that his addiction to roulette and craps will leave him broke, he wires $240,000 to his ailing father’s healthcare provider, leaving just $10,000 for his own survival. Eager to get out of town, and yet equally motivated to “kill John Manis once and for all,” Tom meets a computer technician from Napa and, following a crazy impulse, offers to purchase the man’s struggling business.
Tom may be mixed up about who he is, but grifting his in his blood. When he spots Marilyn Dupree in a grocery store, his killer instinct takes over. Marilyn is the wealthy wife of a philandering software tycoon. Having consciously or unconsciously found his mark, Tom begins a precarious journey that catches the attention of local Detective Lou Eisenfall. As Tom works his magic while balancing his identity, the ensuing cat-and-mouse game is one for the ages.
Andrew Diamond, author of the critically acclaimed Gate 76, has created a truly riveting tale of deception, murder and psychological suspense. Part psychological thriller, part noir, Diamond has accomplished the incredibly difficult task of deriving true suspense from the battle for supremacy going on within Tom’s own mind. As Diamond unfurls this highly entertaining caper, readers will take great pleasure in spotting the lies Tom tells himself – and us.
Verses for the Dead by Preston & Child
What could be worse than an extended government shutdown? For the eccentric Aloysius Xingu Leng Pendergast, the answer is a leadership overhaul at the FBI New York field office. Pendergast likes to work alone, and thanks to the agency shakeup, those days are seemingly over.
In Preston and Child’s 20th series book, Pendergast and his new colleague, junior agent Coldmoon, are assigned to investigate a rash of killings in Miami Beach, where a bloodthirsty psychopath is cutting out the hearts of his victims and leaving them with cryptic handwritten letters at local gravestones. The graves are unconnected save in one bizarre way: all belong to women who committed suicide.
But the apparent lack of connection between the old suicides and the new murders is soon the least of Pendergast’s worries. Because as he digs deeper, he realizes the brutal new crimes may be just the tip of the iceberg: a conspiracy of death that reaches back decades.
It goes without saying that Preston and Child are among the best in the business at constructing a deliciously elaborate crime and meticulously deconstructing it. The question here is whether Pendergast is better served with a partner, and the answer is yes. Like Holmes and Watson, Pendergast and Coldmoon are a wonderfully odd pairing, and equal far more than the sum of their parts. If you’ve never read any books in the series, Verses for the Dead is a perfect place to start.
LION: Escape from Russia by Douglas Misquita
As the Islamic State closes in on one of Syria’s most notorious military prisons, captured Syrian freedom fighter Aslan “The Lion” Terzi is on the brink of suicide. Having suffered betrayal and torture, he welcomes death when the ISIL fighters storm his cell. To his great surprise, they set him free.
But as he is leaving Syria, Terzi learns that Sarah Rashnikov – the daughter of a rebel financier, whom Terzi had vowed to keep safe – is a virtual prisoner by her madman husband (the same man who betrayed Terzi in the days leading up to his capture). Terzi also happens to be in love with her. Against all sound reason, he turns back into the war-torn country to fulfill his destiny.
Author Douglas Misquita’s sixth novel is perhaps his richest yet, brimming with complex geopolitics involving Syria and ISIL, intelligence agencies from Russia and the United States, and a large cast of characters. Misquita’s depiction of spycraft and alliance-building across organizations and cultures is substantial and completely engrossing.
Ultimately, Terzi’s plight is the heart of the novel, which is reminiscent of The Count of Monte Cristo – not only because it begins with a stroke of fortune after a period of prolonged imprisonment, but also because the themes of revenge, duty and love are so prevalent throughout. As heroes go, Terzi is a series-worthy combination of brains, brawn and courage, and Misquita uses him to great effect.