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Need Adrenaline? 5 Mind-Racing Thrillers

Thriller

Heart-pounding, mind-racing, breath-catching. In a word—thrilling. Being swept up is part of it; the other part is racing to keep up and loving every minute of it. It can be hard to come by that sort of adrenaline, so why not find it in a book? Try any of these, three of which featured in our Winter 2017 issue.

Chain of Custody

Book Cover
Anita Nair
Bitter Lemon Press
Softcover $14.95 (365pp)
978-1-908524-74-4
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

Gritty and graphic, this mystery probes sex-trafficking rings, with empathy to their victims.

Anita Nair’s Chain of Custody is a gripping mystery set against the backdrop of India’s hustle-and-bustle cities and landscapes.

When a thirteen-year-old girl goes missing in a busy market, it’s a race against the clock to recover her from a deadly criminal ring. And what does her disappearance have to do with the murder of a nearby lawyer? Borei Gowda and his partner Santosh must solve the disappearance, and they hope to find her alive, before she is sold or worse.

The novel immediately introduces its lead character with all his vices, presenting them in a way that makes him refreshingly human. Inspector Gowda is a complicated individual. He is married, but he still feels an attachment to his mistress, his college girlfriend, Urmila. He is morally complex, an adulterer and a pessimist. Despite his controversial private life, his heart is shown to be in the right place.

His investigation thrusts him into the dark and disturbing world of child sex trafficking, an underground but extremely common problem that is often pushed into the shadows. The book is less a mystery than an investigation into a massive underground world, a subject that rarely sees the light of day.

The novel is gritty. It does not shy away from dark themes and violence, and is very much rooted in harsh realities. It occasionally switches perspectives to give voice to a young girl imprisoned in a brothel and forced to service its customers. Each character has his own struggles and demons, from young children living in poverty to the main character himself. The investigation takes many surprising turns, leading to an ominous conclusion.

Chain of Custody is a graphic, satisfying read that delves into a controversial subject in a sympathetic and humane way.

SONYA LOVY (November 9, 2016)

Disruption

Book Cover
Chuck Barrett
Switchback Press
Softcover (406pp)
978-0-9885061-8-3
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

For fans of Tom Clancy and Robert Ludlum, Disruption is an absolute yes.

Things that thriller novels are not: politically correct. Things that thriller novels are: fast-paced, sweat-inducing, heart-pumping. Disruption, the latest shot of adrenaline from best-selling author Chuck Barrett, gets top marks in both categories. Disruption is true to its genre and delivers a satisfying punch.

Disruption is set in the immediate future: an age when cyberterrorists network on Twitter, ditch traceable IP addresses, and take down government tech support with the click of a button. Black-hat and white-hat hackers battle for control over an underworld that trades code the way cartels swap bricks of cocaine. Jake Pendleton, a former naval-intelligence officer turned secret operative, turns up in time to penetrate the mysterious world of cybercrime.

Having saved the day in Barrett’s earlier novels Breach of Power, The Toymaker, and The Savannah Project, Jake is already warmed up and ready to roll. Assisted by his predictably lovely partner Francesca Cataranzo, Jake heads for Italy to track down a hacker named The Jew. Racial stereotypes abound: there seems to be a swarthy terrorist, a ruthless mercenary, and a pinkie-ring-wearing kingpin on every page. However, Barrett sticks with the facts, and while the plot twists may be a bit predictable, that doesn’t diminish the speed of this page-turner one bit.

Barrett’s descriptions of how programming works at the cyber level are compelling and clear, detailed enough to create tension but not overly technical—as with the Collar, a neotech torture device, “a ring of prongs capable of delivering an electric shock to the host [with] an explosive compound “ inside. With a master’s touch, Barrett leaves lit fuses in every chapter, building to an explosive conclusion.

Though the novel may not break new ground, it is current and extremely provocative in a post-9/11 culture where technology and tech crime are hard facts in our increasingly paranoid world. For fans of Tom Clancy and Robert Ludlum, Disruption is an absolute yes.

CLAIRE FOSTER (November 9, 2016)

The White Devil

Book Cover
Domenic Stansberry
Molotov Editions
Softcover $15.95 (232pp)
978-0-9967659-1-6
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

Gripping from beginning to end, The White Devil is an unforgettable novel by an author at the height of his powers.

Domenic Stansberry’s thriller The White Devil shows a masterful touch for perspective and character, unspooling a sultry story of passion, revenge, and betrayal that invokes the great age of Italian film noir.

In a Rome still under John Paul II, Vicki Wilson’s lovers keep turning up dead. Vittoria, as she’s known in Italy, is a small-time model and actress, recognizable but hard to place. Guided by her delinquent brother, Johnny, Vittoria enters the upper circles of Roman society. Before long, she’s mingling with the high rollers, corrupt senators, and powerful movers. Among them is Paolo Orsini, who quickly claims Vittoria. Too bad he’s married; too bad his wife, an aging film icon, is murdered. Vittoria soon finds herself at the heart of a scandal. Is she innocent, or just turning a blind eye to the facts?

Vittoria is a perfect main character. Her beauty allows her to get close to strangers easily. It gives her access to the secret parts of life, the back-room deals. At the same time, she’s strangely opaque, like a mirror that holds light without divulging a reflection. Her brother, though fiercely protective of her, is possessive. He brokers her relationships, nudging her into the bedrooms of the rich and powerful. As Vittoria follows Johnny’s guidance, normal life falls away and is replaced by the surreal. She’s unsure of whom to trust, and even questions her own motives.

Stansberry keeps this thriller centered by pinning his characters to Italy’s timeless hills: “Tuscany spread out in front of us, beautiful, ancient. The landscape had a runic quality, like a puzzle waiting to be solved.” The cinematic cliffs, beaches, and architecture contrast with the violence that lingers, like a cloud, around Vittoria. When she’s able to finally see through it, she has two choices: feign ignorance, or take revenge of her own.

Gripping from beginning to end, The White Devil is an unforgettable novel by an author at the height of his powers.

CLAIRE FOSTER (November 28, 2016)

Cover Me in Darkness

Book Cover
Eileen Rendahl
Midnight Ink
Softcover $15.99 (264pp)
978-0-7387-5020-0
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

Isolate. Compartmentalize. Control. This is the motto of Amanda Sinclair, who used to belong to a cult—a cult that rears its ugly head again just when Amanda felt sure she had put the past behind her. Dark and charged from the start, Cover Me in Darkness is a thriller that explores the depths of the psychologies of its characters, from Amanda’s mother, a troubled woman who took her own son’s life and ended up in a mental ward, to Amanda herself, who has wrapped herself in a veil of normalcy at a job in a cosmetics company in order to hide from the ugly secrets of her past.

While Amanda was growing up, she and her family were followers of Patrick Collier, a charismatic gentleman who led what seemed like an innocent cult, Children of the Greater God. Years later, when Amanda’s mother commits suicide, Amanda grows suspicious that her mother’s death has something to do with the legal trouble that Collier has found himself in, as Collier has recently come up for parole after a stint in jail for mishandling the cult’s money. Fearing that Collier is trying to hide something, and doesn’t care about any collateral damage in his efforts, Amanda launches her own investigation that digs up dark secrets from her past.

Cover Me in Darkness is about family, loyalty, and trust. Rendahl’s writing is light and sharp, perfect for a story that moves quickly—from initial crime to deep investigation—while handling intense subject material. Amanda’s descent into her own conspiracy theories, and her confusion about what to believe and whom to trust, grow more and more urgent over the course of the novel, finally reaching a crescendo with a riveting, brief conclusion. Perfect for fans of quick-moving thrillers, Cover Me in Darkness is an excellent new novel by a confident writer.

STEPHANIE BUCKLIN (November 28, 2016)

King Daniel

Gasparilla King of the Pirates

Book Cover
Susan Wolf Johnson
Balboa Press
Softcover $21.99 (344pp)
978-1-5043-5987-0
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

Nautical twists abound as King Daniel excites with its page-turning thrills and familial revelations.

Against a colorful backdrop of pirates, family secrets, and intrigue, Susan Wolf Johnson’s King Daniel shines as a literary lighthouse on rocky shores.

When Daniel Westcott, the newly chosen Gasparilla King of Tampa Bay, Florida, goes missing in 1973, the remaining Westcotts are thrown into chaos. Natalie, Daniel’s wife and the matriarch of the household, struggles to maintain appearances amidst the mystery. She is supported by her granddaughter, Becca, a wandering soul who had escaped to New York to pursue a singing career on Broadway, only to be drawn back into the strange hierarchical world of Gasparilla pirate krewes.

Though it seems Daniel may have been “kingnapped” by local drug smugglers, the truth may be more complex than anyone realizes. Becca gradually uncovers her family’s secret, sordid history, leading to revelations that will forever impact her and the other members of the Westcott family.

Beautifully crafted, the novel maintains some shred of mystery almost until the final chapters. Subtle clues are scattered throughout to allow a piecing together of the true nature of the Westcott family’s history along with Becca. There is no central protagonist here. Rather, the family itself occupies that role, with outsiders serving in supporting roles throughout. Victor, while one of these outsiders, is especially developed and serves to anchor Becca’s—and by extension, the rest of the Westcotts’—tendencies toward flightiness. Though Becca and the rest of the family must wrestle with loss in various ways—loss of innocence, loss of life, loss of self—there is a strong thread of redemption that runs underneath the tragedy and elevates the narrative out of potentially pure cynicism.

The prose is effortless and strikes a balance between the solid, evocative details of sea life, pirate festivals, and drug smugglers, and the ephemeral inner worlds of its characters, especially of the mentally unstable Julia, Becca’s mother. The few chapters devoted specifically to her point of view are delightfully disorienting and breathe with a tinge of mysticism.

Enough historical markers, such as mentions of the Vietnam War and Nixon, are present to situate the audience in the time period. Hints of religious themes are sprinkled alongside brief touches on recently legalized abortion in New York, but these issues are distantly secondary on this smaller stage. The turmoil of the outer world serves as a macrocosm of the family history’s seemingly never-ending list of half-truths and outright lies to preserve their all-important reputation.

Nautical twists abound as King Daniel excites with its page-turning thrills and familial revelations.

MEAGAN LOGSDON (September 23, 2016)

Hannah Hohman

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