Baby, The Thrill Ain't Never Gone
“If we meet, we shall not ‘scape a brawl for now, these hot days, is the mad blood stirring.” Shakespeare’s words evoke the hot tension of summer—sweltering heat, restless desire for trouble, conflict, and excitement. This season’s thrillers scratch the itch. From gunfights to gangs, prostitution rings to psychology labs, these high-octane adventures have violent ends, and plenty of adrenaline in between.
Robert Bononno, translator
Bellevue Literary Press
Softcover $16.99 (208pp)
Nostalgia has a Greek root but was certainly perfected in France. In the suburbs of Paris, a young woman named Ania reenters the complex world of her childhood following her father’s suicide. What she finds—in her own memory, and in the memories of the people she’s known all her life—are clues to what turned her father from a notable cultural critic to a bitter, narrow-minded racist. Pascale Kramer’s incredible psychological thriller, Autopsy of a Father, exposes the deep prejudices, disappointments, and generational differences of modern France.
Raised by her brilliant father, Gabriel, Ania has not lived up to his high expectations. From the elegant home in the Parisian suburbs where she was raised, she now lives in a small, slummy apartment. She’s divorced; her young son, Theo, is deaf. She’s let herself go and is ordinary looking, nowhere near as elegant as her late mother. She works in a day care. “When Theo was born,” the narrative says, “Gabriel had sent Ania a rather generous check together with a long letter, lovely and rambling, in which he explained how much her systematic choices against him had pained him.” He’s slowly moved on as well, and married a ferocious young woman named Clara. Kramer’s surgical, elegant language cuts straight to the heart of this novel, sparing nothing. Who is responsible for Gabriel’s gruesome act? Who has witnessed his intellectual decline, and not intervened? Ania slowly sifts through the broken pieces of her father’s life: “An infinite nostalgia for everything that had gone wrong in her childhood began to weigh down on her life a stone.” As Ania pieces together her father’s story—including the years of their alienation from one another—she begins to understand the sinister anti-immigrant sentiment that suffused the final months of his life.
Kramer’s writing is incisive, insightful, and discomfiting. She was the recipient of the 2017 Swiss Grand Prize for Literature, and three of her eleven novels have been translated into English. Autopsy of a Father belongs on the shelf next to works by authors like Nadine Gordimer and Magda Szabo. Its psychological investigation of a crumbling intelligentsia and a family fallen from grace is absolutely riveting. Robert Bononno’s translation does great justice to this quiet and unsettling thriller.
Softcover $14.99 (400pp)
Charlie Hazard has been around the block a time or two. A combat veteran who works security to pay the bills, he’s picked up his share of scars—and shrapnel too. But when a beautiful, mysterious psychologist asks for his help, Charlie is plunged into an international conspiracy that will call on every survival tool he has. Fault Lines, the newest offering from award-winning author Thomas Locke, is a no-holds-barred thriller.
What sets *Fault Lines *apart is its careful exploration of ethics, psychology, quantum physics, and spiritual principles. Although that may sound out of place in a gritty thriller, the search for self-knowledge and exploring the farther reaches of the human mind fit in nicely with the novel’s themes. The scientist who’s hunting Charlie and his client, the lovely Gabriella Speciale, explains coalescing field theory: “Any quantum entity, such as a single electron, can influence another entity, regardless of space and time. The effects are instantaneous and can theoretically occur over any distance.” What that actually means is that psychological phenomena, such as teleportation or astral projection, can be used for spying, defense, and surveillance.
Locke’s familiarity with his genre comes through cleanly. His hero has scars in all the right places, and every woman who flits through Fault Lines is not only dangerously beautiful but whip smart as well. But it’s the book’s landscapes that breathe here. Deals are made over “a jelly jar of tea in \[a\] windowless wheelhouse, the flies and mosquitoes kept out by rusty screens and duct tape.” Florida, in all its muggy glory, takes center stage: “The coastal route was summertime empty, a lonely asphalt ribbon laid along the narrow strip of land separating the Atlantic from the Indian River.” It’s as sultry as Locke’s heroine, and as dangerous.
At first glance, Fault Lines is a well-constructed thriller, packed with its quota of action and just the right number of plot twists. But a closer look reveals gorgeous, evocative writing, and a deeper exploration of what it really means to be human—and what happens when that’s up for sale.
Softcover $16.99 (384pp)
Dr. Maria Martinez knows a few things about guilt. Convicted of a murder she doesn’t remember, Maria grapples with her slippery past, in The Killing Files, the second book in the Project Trilogy. Although experience has taught her that she can’t trust herself, she is starting to wonder whose story to believe. The Project, an underground organization who studied and trained her, has one version; her own mind tells another. Whom can she trust? Author Nikki Owen keeps the tension running high in this satisfying new thriller.
The recap of the trilogy’s first book is quick and dry, bringing The Killing Files up to speed. A science-based conspiracy that trains people to kill without thinking, The Project is deliciously villainous, peppered with sadistic scientists and pop psychology. Its many shadowy arms stretch after Maria, pursuing her as she attempts to retreat to Spain with her family. Of course, she’s as much their product as their patient—and as The Killing Files progresses, we’re left wondering how much agency she really has.
Additionally, Maria has Asperger’s syndrome. Her sensitivity to touch and eye contact, in particular, come into play, especially when she confronts an adversary. Slapped, “a sting like one hundred needle points pricks my skin. I want to scream at him, jolted by the feel of his touch, but am too scared because I know he could shout and the noise would bother me too much, and so instead I attempt to do as he says so he won’t touch me again.”
Told in the first person, The Killing Files sticks close to Maria’s perspective. Her looping inner monologue is a sharp contrast to her hyper-capable exterior. She’s technically gifted in astounding ways: she cracks complex codes in minutes, reassembles mechanical devices with ease, and senses acute sounds and scents. And another thing: she kills, seemingly without warning. Who’s next, and why? The Killing Files is a nail biter that promises a strong finish to this trilogy.
Hardcover $26.95 (368pp)
Tradition, honor, and secrets knit a deadly web at the prestigious Blackburne boarding school. The “rules are stark as barbed wire against snow: you will not lie, nor cheat, nor steal, nor tolerate those who do.” Which is too bad for Matthias Glass, whose betrayal of the code sets up a tragic series of events, in literary thriller Shadow of the Lions. After Matthias’‘s best friend, Fritz, disappears, he’s left to confront both the past and the person he thought he was.
Christopher Swann holds a PhD in creative writing and is the English department chair at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School. His deft mastery of language and his sense for academia come through the novel strongly. Shadow of the Lions is believable, tense, and rich. Blackburne’s insular community is the perfect stage for this literary thriller, which earns positive comparisons to *Dead Poets Society *and The Marriage Plot. Matthias’s tenure as an English teacher dovetails nicely with his memories of being a student at Blackburne. In boarding school, history is doomed to repeat itself, and the microcosm of intense emotion makes Shadow of the Lions extremely satisfying.
Swann pulls no punches, and he isn’t shy about revealing his characters at their worst. Matthias, in particular, squares off with his ego again and again. Although he’s had some notoriety after graduation, the pink cloud evaporated quickly, leaving him bitter and full of self-doubt: “I, the product of that school so dedicated to rigorously training its students to achieve success, had soared out into the wider world, briefly scaled the empyrean heights, and then plummeted to earth. In short, I had failed.” Part of him hopes to find redemption at Blackburne, but instead he is plunged into a scandal that forces him to revisit his failures.
Witty, fast paced, and satisfying, Shadow of the Lions is a perfect literary thriller for back-to-school season.
Seven Guns Press
Softcover $12.95 (372pp)
Sheriff Rick Johnson has two problems: his present, and his past. Now that he’s safely home from a tour of duty in the Middle East, he’s settled into small-town life in Resurrection, Colorado. Even in that one-horse town, though, his memories intrude, haunting him even as the here and now demands his attention. In Jeff Gunhus’s latest thriller, Resurrection America, Rick squares off with a billionaire whose mining operation threatens to turn Resurrection into a ghost town.
Gunhus, a USA Today bestselling author, spins an extremely satisfying, high-stakes tale of the modern West. Within a few paragraphs, Resurrection America is primed and traveling at top speed. Rick is the perfect hero for this thriller—both a defender of American values and someone who’s suffered from his willingness to serve.
Frequent flashbacks to his time overseas give deep insight into Rick’s character: “He closed his eyes and, just that fast, he was standing in a farmer’s field in Afghanistan, the faceplate of his bio-chem suit fogging up as he spun in a circle, surrounded by dead livestock in every direction.” After his harrowing time as a soldier, why does Rick still feel duty-bound to protect Resurrection?
Themes of patriotism, homeland, and justice are threaded through Resurrection America, giving this classic thriller depth. Gunhus’s descriptions are vivid and gripping, especially when he takes on Rick’s perspective. Tired of seeing “America rot from the inside,” Rick intuits that his survival is tied to Resurrection’s. It’s a small-town story that honestly depicts the struggle between “modern” tech savvy America and the blue-collar past: “As he pulled into his small town, he felt like he was looking at a terminal patient doing the best it could not to give up hope in the face of an incurable disease.” Rick’s best weapon is his integrity, but he’ll need more than that to fight off yet another corporation.
Resurrection America does touching work, tying together a portrait of rural America in crisis. Without pulling any punches, Gunhus delivers an unforgettable thriller that is thought-provoking, honest, and true-blue.
Hardcover $25.00 (320pp)
Memory is slippery. Acted on by the present and our wishes for the future, the past changes shape. Like a boomerang, it can turn and slice us to ribbons. Nobody knows that better than Charlotte Harrison, who is drawn into a shocking crime, in Part of the Silence. Charlotte identifies a woman who’s been found nearly battered to death—but whose version of the past is true? The woman, calling herself Edie Sherman, claims to have lost her three-year-old daughter. As the Cornwall police detectives investigate the assault and the alleged kidnapping, one thing becomes clear: there is no evidence that Edie’s daughter ever existed. The mystery hinges on the memories of the many people involved—all of whom have a good reason not to tell the whole story.
Debbie Howells’s latest novel is a disorienting, suspenseful thriller set in modern Cornwall. Nothing is what it seems. Happy relationships are shot through with conflict; best friends betray one another at the drop of a hat. Howells’s masterful pacing reveals, slowly, the many flaws and cracks in her characters’ lives and the surprising events that link them together. The novel’s small, intimate scale amplifies its tension, as does Howells’s use of her ensemble. Each character’s perspective—especially their impressions of one another—adds to the suspense.
Howells, the author of two other novels, is an agile writer with a good sense for realism. Although Part of the Silence leans heavily on dialogue and character, Howells includes some gorgeous looks at Cornwall itself. In such a breathless thriller, this is a welcome respite: “It’s too beautiful out here, the last of the sunlight fading into the horizon as the first of the stars become visible overhead,” Charlotte reflects. “It takes a bottle of wine and all of this—the vastness of the dark sky, the sound of waves crashing against the layers of purple-hued slate below, the sense of solitude—for my mind to become still at last.”
Enjoy the moment of serenity. Part of the Silence is unsettling from start to finish.
Tal M. Klein
Geek & Sundry
Softcover $14.99 (300pp)
It’s 2109. Teleportation coexists with Rome’s iconic Vespa scooters, and the Mona Lisa has just disappeared. Following a plasma storm that knocks out the city’s tech network, Joel Byram wakes up with a very loose grasp on time: “That solar storm hit the Earth with such force, it ionized the sky, creating a vast cloud of hyperactive electrons that bounced around inside the atmosphere above Italy.” Of course, it gets worse, and soon Joel is plunged into a plot that only gets thicker.
The Punch Escrow is written in an appealing direct address: one part adventure journal, one part letter from the future. It’s a clever way to explore this brave new world, and author Tal M. Klein makes the most of it, adding details in Joel’s distinct, likeable voice. He is a salter, a low-level computer tech: “I imagine in your time, salting will have become as extinct as riverboat piloting, chauffeuring, or teaching, because apps will have outsmarted and replaced us in every conceivable way,” Joel says. Whatever he learns in his lowly line of work makes him a threat to International Transport (IT), a massive corporation that controls the lines of communication in this new world. Darting between The Bourne Identity and Blade Runner, The Punch Escrow travels through time to unwind the global conspiracy theory. When Joel’s wife, Sylvia, is implicated in the company’s grab for power, questions arise. Whom can he trust? And is he the same person he was before he stepped into the teleporter?
Klein makes the most of Joel’s character, and the sections written in his voice are zingy and funny. Footnotes peppered throughout explain changes in corporations, environment, technology, and other fine points of life in the future. Although the plot of The Punch Escrow is a fairly straight thriller—action sequences, missing artwork, and all—the futuristic setting and the wonder of discovering an alternate universe is a delight. Without leaning too heavily on long exposition, Klein has written a quick-witted, self-aware thriller that is addictive and fun.
Neatly combining sci-fi tropes and thriller pacing, The Punch Escrow is a terrific new novel that explores the terrifying side effects of the tech utopia we’ve been promised.
Allison and Busby
Softcover $16.95 (352pp)
Investigator Mumtaz Hakim is not sure how she feels about Allah’s plan. As a strong Muslim woman negotiating the hostile world of modern London, she’s well aware of the prejudices and shortcomings of her community: “Good Bangladeshi girls were supposed to put family first, always.” But Mumtaz has bigger problems: helping track a young man who’s potentially been kidnapped by a radical Islamic group. In order to find him, Mumtaz must navigate the shadowy world of online jihadist recruiters and London’s gritty boxing clubs. Bright Shiny Things is an authentic, fast-paced crime thriller that explores modern, multicultural London and Muslim life.
Mumtaz isn’t working this case alone. Her partner is private investigator and ex-soldier Lee Arnold. Arnold has a working knowledge of the Turkish-Syrian border, thanks to his service during the Second Iraq War. However, it’s Mumtaz’s expertise that guides the pair deep into the heart of the Middle Eastern conflict. Bright Shiny Things takes on issues of human rights, religious freedom, women’s liberation, sexual oppression, and psychological torture. Rather than sensationalize or offer a dry, detached perspective, the novel acknowledges that these issues are a part of everyday life for many Muslims. Honor your family, or follow your own path and seek an education? Tolerate daily discrimination and hostility, or radicalize and fight back? Mumtaz is a witness to her community, and her strong, confident voice brings this rarely explored world to light. Especially chilling are her text conversations with a jihadist who wants to “convert” her into being his wife. Social media, technology, and Islam are the enemy’s tools—but they’re Mumtaz’s, too, and she uses them all to find the radicals who have kidnapped Lee’s friend.
Barbara Nadel, whose earlier novel Deadly Web won a CWA Silver Dagger, is an incredible writer. Bright Shiny Things is reminiscent of her Inspector Ikmen series, but breaks new ground with Mumtaz. Courageous, self-aware, and driven to fight radical Islam, Mumtaz is a bright new voice in crime fiction—certainly strong enough to carry her own series. Nadel’s background as a mental-health services worker and her childhood in London’s East End round out Bright Shiny Things. This isn’t a caricature, after all: it’s real, and happening right now, all around the world.
Bright Shiny Things is a timely thriller that deals with current issues in the Middle East and the lived experience of Muslims everywhere.