A good thriller has nearly universal appeal. One way suspense/thriller authors (like Patricia Highsmith, Stephen King, Walter Tevis, or Stieg Larsson) boost storytelling appeal and staying power is by making their main characters—whether they’re heroes or villains—memorable. These Indie thrillers don’t stint on foreboding atmosphere and murder, but their biggest draws are their unforgettable leads.

In Jazzed, Jill Dearman’s “tale tweaks the real-life story of child-killers Leopold and Loeb into a love story of two women set in a richly atmospheric panorama of New York in the Roaring ’20s, awhirl in high society, hothouse dorms, and uptown gin mills.” The setting is stylish, but the leads are the main attraction: “At its center are indelible portraits of the doomed lovers: Will, who’s incurably awkward and ardently besotted, and Dolly, whose glittering, teasing surface belies a hollow core.”

A new police detective’s investigation of a murder takes him all the way to Russia. Richard Meredith’s fast-paced thriller, Maskirovka, features a cast that is “intriguing, fresh, and flawed.” Det. Steve Nguyen, “a Vietnamese American Stanford Law dropout and Bruce Lee look-alike…[who] graduated from the University of California at Berkeley at the age of 20 [and]…has trouble fitting in as a policeman,” is a sympathetic, layered character. The result is “a taut, timely, terrific thriller.”

Our reviewer’s description of Jacob M. Appel’s Shaving With Occam is, I think, all the enticement a reader needs: “The tale’s narrator is Henrietta Florence Van Duyn Brigander, aka Granny Flamingo, aka The Mad Bird Lady of East 14th Street. Born into a wealthy and well-connected, if quirky, old family, she slipped into schizophrenia early on in life and has been on the streets or in psychiatric wards ever since. Now, someone in the mental illness ward at Mount Hebron hospital has been murdered. Henrietta is determined to find the killer, especially because she was sweet on the victim, Big George Currier.”

Karen Schechner is the president of Kirkus Indie.