A brazen fusion of science fiction and apocalyptic thriller, the second installment in Neuvel’s Themis Files (Sleeping Giants, 2016) is powered by nonstop action and adventure involving alien invaders and an army of seemingly indestructible giant robots—but ultimately it’s also a deeply character-driven exploration of what it means to be human.
After finding alien artifacts that turned out to be pieces of a colossal, vaguely human-looking robot, physicist Rose Franklin and other members of the newly formed Earth Defense Corps have been relentlessly studying the advanced technology that runs the structure. Army pilot Kara Resnik and Quebecois linguist Vincent Couture have made great strides in deciphering the alien symbols and can now move the robot (named Themis) with some level of skill. Scientists theorize that Themis was left on Earth to protect humankind from future invasion, but when giant robots begin appearing all over the world and exterminating humans by the millions, Franklin and company are forced to try to understand the motives behind the mass slaughter before it’s too late. The reason this audacious story works so well is because the author blends the intellectual tone and thematic depth of classic SF works like Frederik Pohl’s Gateway (which deals with humans trying to unlock advanced alien technology) with the B-movie campiness and childlike sense of wonder associated with piloting a 20-story-tall metallic giant. Additionally, the ensemble cast is impressively authentic—they're not just two-dimensional, contrived plot devices. The depth of character development mirrors the complexity of the storyline, which is filled with numerous bombshell plot twists. And although the end is more than satisfying, Neuvel offers a glimpse into the next series installment, which promises to be even more enthralling.
Pure, unadulterated literary escapism featuring giant killer robots and the looming end of humankind. In a word: unputdownable.
A young couple discovers their budding romance has disturbing links to a string of crimes committed by a serial killer.
Michael Beaumont falls hard for Alison Parsons the first time their eyes meet across a crowded pub in Brighton. By the end of the night, she—and the reader—knows loads about Michael (he’s 20, works as a runner at a post-production studio in London with the hopes of making it in Hollywood someday, and was raised by his Grandmother Rose) while divulging very little about herself other than that she’s a travel agent in Brighton recently back from a five-year stint in Australia. They’re soon caught up in a whirlwind romance as London is gripped by a rampaging killer dubbed the Madman, who grabs random children and chucks them off bridges and piers. As the body count rises (Prebble has no qualms about knocking off the under-10 set), police scramble for leads. Back in lovebird land, Michael takes a big step and introduces Alison to Rose, who’s in Greenacres care home after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The meeting goes poorly, with Rose shrieking rather than welcoming Alison with open arms, causing Michael to start wondering—as the reader has many pages prior—if his paramour might be hiding something. Somewhat predictably, Michael and Alison are drawn into the heart of the Madman investigation, which causes all sorts of secrets—some expected and some actually revelatory—to come to light in the all-out hunt for the killer.
While Prebble (The Insect Farm, 2015) flounders when writing believably youthful characters, he spins an entertaining tale full of enough twists to gloss over this shortcoming.
In this intense moral thriller, an Israeli doctor conceals a fatal hit-and-run, is blackmailed by his victim’s widow into operating an underground clinic for refugees, and sees everything he ever believed about himself crumble to bits.
Neurosurgeon Eitan Green has just gotten out from a very late night at the ER. He is burning off steam on a deserted road in his SUV, bellowing along with Janis Joplin, “thinking that the moon was the most beautiful he had ever seen when he hit[s] the man.” From the moment we meet him, Eitan’s bad luck will become tangled in his good intentions, his poor choices with his righteous ones, his appeal with his weakness. The very vehicle in which he had the accident was a consolation prize to make up for having to move from Tel Aviv to dusty Beersheba: he was transferred when he uncovered corruption at his hospital. So he’s quite an ethical guy, as murderers go, and a devoted husband and father, too. Further complicating the situation and spinning off additional consequences, his wife is the police detective assigned to investigate the hit-and-run accident. By then Eitan has already learned that his getaway was not as clean as he had hoped: the day after the accident, a beautiful Eritrean woman shows up at his door with his wallet, dropped at the scene—and a demand. “During the day, you can do whatever you want…but you will keep your nights free.” Free to provide medical care to an endless stream of illegal immigrants whom he will treat in secret in a garage. That is just the first of the twists upon twists upon twists in this story—more than one of which will have readers yelping out loud.
Gundar-Goshen’s U.S. debut seems poised to catch fire, with the multiple narrative perspectives and dizzying reversals that connoisseurs of this genre adore.
Monroe’s debut thriller is a paranoiac’s dream with plenty of twists.
It’s been five years since Rosa Sandhoe, the love of Dubliner Jarlath “Jar” Costello’s life, supposedly jumped off a bridge to her death. Her body was never found, and Jar, who frequently “sees” Rosa, has convinced himself that she’s still alive. He finds a sympathetic ear in his best friend, Carl, but Carl is sure that Jar, in his enduring grief, is just seeing things and recommends that he see a psychologist specializing in “post-bereavement hallucination.” When Rosa’s aunt Amy finds what she believes is Rosa’s diary, written while she stayed with Amy and her troubled husband, Martin, she gives Jar the hard drive, but it’s encrypted, so Carl finds someone who can decode it. Entries are sent to Jar as they are recovered, out of order, and that's how they’re presented within the novel, interspersed with Jar’s investigation. The diary entries are revelatory, and Jar becomes increasingly convinced that Rosa was recruited for a disturbing government project, perhaps because of her deceased father’s work. Rosa’s diary entries reveal a young woman conflicted about her place in the world: she’s not quite sure of how she fits into student life at Cambridge, and her intense love for Jar has her at odds with her nearly unbearable grief after her father’s death. When Jar’s efforts attract the attention of the police, he’s sure he’s getting closer to a horrible truth about Rosa, and for him there’s no turning back, but what if the truth is closer to home than he ever could have imagined? Jar’s labyrinthine search is intimately entwined with Rosa’s story of self-discovery, making for an exciting read that combines the thrill of a spy novel and the intimacy of a coming-of-age tale.
Mackintosh follows her wildly successful debut thriller (I Let You Go, 2016) with the harrowing tale of a woman in the cross hairs of a vicious criminal enterprise operating deep within the London Underground.
Zoe Walker takes the Tube to her London-based job with a real estate firm. One day, while waiting for her stop, Zoe spies an odd newspaper advertisement bearing the photo of a woman who could be her twin. Soon she’s convinced that the woman in the photograph is her and that someone is watching her. The ad directs readers to a site called FindtheOne.com, but Zoe can’t get to the site. When she discovers that another woman pictured in one of the website’s photos has had her keys stolen, she contacts Kelly Swift, an officer with the British Transport Police. While Kelly investigates, Zoe tries to allay her fears that someone around her could be the culprit. Mackintosh offers up a rich stew of possibilities, including Zoe’s boyfriend, former husband, next-door neighbor, and boss. Soon, a third woman connected to the website is murdered. Kelly manages to finagle her way onto the Metropolitan Police’s Murder Investigation Team to assist on the case, immediately crossing swords with the lead investigator, DI Nick Rampello, as the MIT scrambles to prevent another tragic death. Mackintosh’s debut novel delivered a surprise that left readers reeling, and while her latest one is packed with suspense, twists, and turns, it falls a bit short of her first effort. Most readers will peg the villain early on, while the epilogue will remind them of the loose ends the author—and authorities—has left dangling.
The author’s meticulous detail to investigative accuracy and talent in weaving a thrilling tale set her work apart from others in the field.
An underground network of U.S. operatives contracted by the government to kill terrorists has been exposed, leaving the Special Ops and their families vulnerable to foreign assassins.
A "human sequel" to the CIA's killer drones, the lethal shooters of the Cold Harvest operation have wiped out terrorist threats, freed kidnapped Americans, and stopped the transfer of nuclear technology. Maintaining the program's ultrasecrecy is so complicated that battle-scarred hero John Hayes must convince even his closest allies that he's sold out and gone to work for the other side. For two years, he was in self-imposed exile overseas, where he was pursued as an enemy of the United States. Now his job becomes even more perilous when Hynd, a German baddie for hire in possession of the home addresses of Cold Harvest's agents, begins having them eliminated. He's out for vengeance for Israeli intelligence's U.S.–backed killing of his father, a nuclear engineer who worked for the Egyptians. Hayes finds himself pitted against not only Hynd, but also Carol Duncan (real name: Claire Rhodes), an assassin Hayes mentored himself. Traumatized by the killing of her husband in a car fire, she's emotionally fragile, on the run—and may not be working on the same side as Hayes. Quirk's deft plotting (beware the explosion awaiting in Manhattan!) and superior action scenes are what make the book tick. But the author also has a nice way of getting the most out of his characters and his varied locales without falling back on clichés.
An excellent follow-up to Cold Barrel Zero (2015), this is a standout thriller.
The bonds of love and trust are put to the test when a woman’s husband goes missing on the eve of his incarceration, leading her to question everything she thought she knew about him.
Grant Jacobsen has been convicted of statutory rape and has a week before he must report for his yearlong jail sentence. He and his wife, former defense attorney Ava, whom he calls V, have decided to go to Palm Springs for a few days of relaxation, hoping to reconnect after the stress of the trial. Grant has always maintained his innocence, and the victim, 17-year-old Graciela Lopez, made some telling mistakes during her testimony, but sloppy work from Grant’s public defender ensured that he got the maximum sentence. When Grant goes missing one night during their getaway, Ava doesn’t know what to think, and she’s got some odd injuries that she doesn’t remember getting. Puzzlingly, given his meticulous nature, Grant’s keys and wallet are still in their hotel room. Ava, no wilting violet, vows to find him on her own. She frequently drops breadcrumbs about her past, from childhood violence that has marked her to her work as a public defender. Looming in the background is the creepy attention of a judge, Martin Durham, who took their breakup years ago hard, to say the least, and who holds an explosive secret over Ava. Priamos’ (The Shyster's Daughter, 2012) first-person narrative is a heat-seeking bullet, expertly capturing Ava’s essence and determination, set against the heat and sleaze that simmers under LA’s surface. Ava knows exactly what she wants and makes no apologies for the deep, overtly sexual nature of her relationship with Grant. The irony that Grant left his previous wife to be with her is not lost on Ava, adding a frisson of uncertainty to her belief in Grant’s innocence, though she loves her husband with a fevered intensity.
A lean, searing, and psychologically astute thriller with a surprising twist and an unforgettable heroine.
For a clique of aspiring Shakespearean actors at an elite arts academy, the line between performance and reality dissolves, with disastrous results.
In the prologue to this bloody, melodramatic, suspenseful debut novel, we meet former drama student Oliver Marks, now finishing up a 10-year prison sentence. He is visited by the cop who brought him to justice on the eve of his retirement, asking if Marks will finally tell him the truth of what happened that night at Dellecher Classical Conservatory. He agrees to do so after his upcoming release, on the condition that there are no repercussions for revealing his secrets. And so he begins. “Enter the players. There were seven of us then, seven bright young things with wide precious futures ahead of us…surrounded by words and books and poetry, all the fierce passions of the world bound in leather and vellum.” They are in their fourth year, the kings and queens of the campus, dividing among them all the best roles in the productions of Macbeth and Julius Caesar planned for that fall. But as the semester progresses it becomes clear that just as Shakespeare’s language has taken over their speech—they address each other constantly in quotes from the poetry and bits of repartee from the plays—his characters have taken over their souls, and the power struggles, jealousies, and murderous rages that fill the dramas have crossed into their real lives. “I have ransacked Shakespeare’s entire oeuvre with giddy abandon,” Rio confesses in her Author’s Note, managing to cleverly weave a whole new story from the poetry and plots of Macbeth, Caesar, Romeo and Juliet, and King Lear. "Do you blame Shakespeare for any of it?" the retired detective asks the released convict. "I blame him for all of it," the narrator replies.
This novel about obsession at the conservatory will thoroughly obsess you.
Alexsi, the protagonist of Christie's latest novel, is a wily 16-year-old hustler and thief in 1930s Russia. After he is arrested, turned into a spy, and forced to become a Soviet double agent in Nazi Germany, his gift for self-preservation is tested to the max.
The NKVD, the Soviet secret police, gives Alexsi no choice: he either does their bidding or gets disappeared in a Moscow prison cell. In various acts of self-defense, using a concealed knife, he has already demonstrated his capacity for violence. And he speaks German. But he needs to be trained in other areas—including on-the-job sex. "In order to achieve longevity you must think of something that repels you," his instructor tells him, preparing to demonstrate on a helpless peasant girl. Following his training, the Russians send him to Munich, where, assuming the identity of the long-missing nephew of a top Nazi official, he puts his prized ability to impersonate Germans among native Germans to use. After surviving the invasion of Czechoslovakia with a Prussian Berlin infantry unit, he is assigned to military intelligence in Berlin. There, he works under unsuspecting intelligence legend Wilhelm Canaris. Even as Alexsi is sending coded messages about German military plans back to the Russians, he is assigned by his German superiors to infiltrate the 1943 Tehran conference attended by Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin—and orchestrate their assassinations. Inspired by an unsubstantiated but tantalizing account detailing this alleged plot, dubbed Operation Long Jump, Christie makes the story believable while treating readers to the escapist pleasures of imaginative fiction. The book gathers steam early on when, escaping a skirmish between Russian and Iranian Shahsavan forces in Soviet Azerbaijan, young Alexsi is awed by the " paths of light in the darkness" created by newfangled Russian machine guns. Christie never squanders that momentum. Alexsi may be an opportunist, but the jaded quality that characterizes many spy novels is nowhere to be found.
Part bildungsroman, part history lesson, part political exposé, Christie's enthralling novel defies expectations while striking all the chords that make spy fiction so enjoyable.
Women in a small British town have been drowning since 1679.
“No one liked to think about the fact that the water in that river was infected with the blood and bile of persecuted women, unhappy women; they drank it every day.” So sayeth the town psychic in Hawkins’ (The Girl on the Train, 2015) follow-up to her smash-hit debut. Unfortunately, there’s nothing here to match the sharp characterization of the alcoholic commuter at the center of that story. Here the central character—Danielle Abbott, an award-winning writer and photographer who's also the single mother of a teenager—has already died. At the time of her watery demise, she was working on a coffee-table book about the spot the people of Beckford call the Drowning Pool, once her “place of ecstasy,” where she learned to swim, now her grave. She left behind a pile of typewritten pages and a daughter whose best friend also drowned just a few months ago. Danielle's estranged sister, Jules, returns to town to identify the body, relive the distressing past that led her to flee this creepy place, and try to deal with her snotty, grieving niece, Lena. Many of the neighbor families are also down a member via the pool, and even after you’ve managed to untangle all the willfully misleading information, half-baked subplots, and myriad characters, you’re going to have a tough time keeping it straight. The spunkiest voice belongs to a somewhat tangential policewoman who probably should have been the narrator. “Seriously,” she comments, “how is anyone supposed to keep track of all the bodies around here? It’s like Midsomer Murders, only with accidents and suicides and grotesque historical misogynistic drownings instead of people falling into the slurry or bashing each other over the head.”
Let's call it sophomore slump and hope for better things.