Category Archives: thriller

Lisa Unger — The Stranger Inside

A character-driven psychological thriller, this novel grabs your attention and keeps it to the end.

Three children meet a monster in the woods—a huge, mean man with a huge, mean dog. Rain fights off man and dog, runs, and hides in the roots of a tree. Physically injured and traumatized, she stays hidden for hours, unable to move, call out, or go for help. Her two friends, Hank and Tess are dragged away by the monster. Hank is brutalized but survives. Tess doesn’t make it.

The story follows Rain and Hank as adults. Rain is a journalist who has quit her job to be a stay-at-home wife and mother, and Hank is a psychologist who treats traumatized children. Both lead fairly normal lives but carry scars from their childhood abduction and loss of their friend. Rain has a loving husband and a beautiful daughter that she adores. Hank is a kind and gentle doctor helping his patients. But Rain carries heavy guilt about not going for help to save her friends, and Hank has a second personality, cruel and vindictive. Both Hank and Rain become involved in the investigation of an apparent vigilante serial killer whose first victim may have been their abductor. Enough of the plot. Any more would be a spoiler.

Unger’s character development makes this book outstanding. She covers the two main characters in depth, good and bad. Unlike many books I’ve read recently, their personalities, although warped, are believable and held my interest from beginning to end.

Candice Fox — Fall

An angry serial killer is loose, killing beautiful female runners in the parks of Sydney Australia. In this third novel of Fox’s series about police partners Frank Bennett and Eden Archer, I learned more about Eden’s background and her vigilantism. Fox also focuses on Hookey, a teen who is helping the police with her technical skills.

Eden and Archer spend more time together in this book. It’s a bit hard to understand their relationship. Sometimes there’s between them and other times distrust and even fear. All of the characters are twisted and broken.

I enjoyed Fall more than the second book, Eden. The plot was less convoluted. The killer was not a surprise, but there was a major twist at the end.

Candice Fox — Eden

This mystery/thriller/crime novel takes place in the underbelly of Sydney, Australia. The author creates unique descriptions of places and characters, even the minor ones. A dark story filled with dark people—addicts, prostitutes, gangsters, killers, corrupt cops, and more. The second book in a series, I didn’t feel I missed anything by not reading the first, Hades.

Three girls have gone missing, and police detective Eden goes undercover to a farm where all three have lived at different times. Her partner Frank gets involved in a side job for Eden’s father, Hades, to identify a stalker and to solve an old cold case of a missing woman.

Although grim, the story kept my attention to the end. I was surprised by the ending.

Good writing.

Lee Child — Blue Moon

(spoiler alert) I think Reacher is getting older and meaner, less tolerant of the bad guys. He’s still unbelievably observant, sharp, calculating, and very, very lucky. This book reads like a violent video game, with a lot more mayhem than previous Reacher novels. And the girl who accompanies him through the story is very tolerant of his murderous ways. I found it difficult to believe he and a few friends could take out two whole crime families.

All that said, I still enjoyed this addition to the series. I like Lee Child’s clipped style of writing and strange sense of humor.

Elizabeth Haynes — Into the Darkest Corner

(spoilers included)

I almost abandoned this novel after the first few chapters because it bounced around too much in time and POV. First there was part of a trial (2005), then a murder scene (2001), a scene with Cathie, the protagonist, at work (2007), Catherine, an earlier version of Cathie, out drinking with friends (2003), and finally it gets into the rhythm of skipping back and forth between 2007 and 2003. At this point, I started to get hooked.

The personalities of Cathie and Catherine are entirely different. Catherine (2003) loves to party, drinks too much, sleeps around. Cathie (2007) suffers from severe OCD and PTSD. Catherine hooks up with sexy, mysterious Lee, who becomes more and more controlling and abusive. Cathie starts a cautious friendship with her neighbor Stuart, a psychologist who is unbelievably understanding of her weird behavior.

There is no mystery. The trial at the beginning tells us that Lee is the bad guy in the story. It’s obvious that Catherine and Cathie are the same person. It’s also fairly obvious that Lee probably murdered the woman at the beginning of the story (2001). At first, I thought the trial (2005) was for the murder.

But this is a well-written psychological suspense/thriller. It kept me reading throughout to find out what happens next. Haynes follows Catherine/Cathie’s personality changes in detail—Catherine’s downhill slide as her relationship with Lee becomes more controlling and abusive, and Cathie’s climb back to normality as she struggles to overcome her anxiety and OCD.

I would recommend the book to anyone who likes dark stories.

Dan Brown — Origin

I haven’t read a Dan Brown novel in years. I gave up after The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons. As you can read in many of the reviews, he’s not the best writer. But a friend gave me a copy of Origin recently, so I read it.

Where do we come from? Where are we going?
These are the two questions to be answered by the “big reveal” that is the central plot of the novel. There is lots of philosophical discussion about the questions and the differences between religion and science—some interesting, some repetitive. But in my opinion (and maybe the author’s), the big reveal doesn’t truly answer either question. And I guessed the villain of the story early on, so the ending fell flat for me.

I enjoyed Spain. Brown’s description of the art, architecture, landscape, and culture made me want to visit. But even some of this was repetitive.

Overall, it was an interesting read, but it could have been much shorter.

Robert McCaw — Off the Grid

Off the Grid is a murder mystery/police procedural/international thriller set on the big island of Hawai’i.

The story starts with “bang” when a woman’s car is crushed by a dump truck. As the police and firemen close in, there is a massive explosion, which turns out to be a bomb. Chief Detective Koa Kãne leaves the scene to investigate a body found in the volcano Pele’s lava flow. The two victims are a man and woman who have been living off the grid on the island for twenty years with little interaction with other people. Who are they, who murdered them, and why?

Koa meticulously tracks the complicated answers, with his instincts helping to point him in the right direction. His chief, CIA, MIA, and island politics all try to block and interfere with his investigation. He continues to uncover secrets about the two victims, the military, the CIA, the Chinese, and the locals.

Koa Kãne has secrets of his own that he shares with no one, not even his girlfriend. The author paints a picture of Hawaii and its people that is fascinating. You can feel the heat and smell the sulfur of the volcano, sense the lush rainforest, connect with the variety of people who inhabit the island. All of McCaw’s characters are interesting.

A great read by a talented author. Thanks to Oceanview Publishing for sending an advanced reader’s copy of this book.

Tim Johnston — The Current

The Current is a strange story written in a strange style, and it leaves unanswered questions at the end. It’s closer to real life where everything doesn’t get neatly tied up. There is mystery here, but not your typical “whodunit” mystery, maybe a literary mystery.

I enjoyed the story, but it took a little while to understand the flow. At times Johnston writes stream of consciousness, sometimes he uses second person POV, head-hopping from one character to another, and he skips back and forth between timelines. But he digs deep into the psyches of his characters—love, hate, grief, curiosity, need-to-know, vengeance—and tells all that is going on around them—sights, smells, heat and cold, sounds, skin sensations.

I enjoyed the book but only gave it four stars. It grabbed my attention, my heart, and my mind. But the author could have made it a little easier to follow without losing the grip of the story.

Barry Eisler — The Killer Collective

Barry Eisler is one of my favorite authors. It feels strange to me that I like his writing, because many violent thrillers completely turn me off. But Eisler gets into his characters’ heads, and we get to know them. He also does a great job with settings.

I won’t go into the storyline here, since it’s readily available in other reviews. I will say that having read other books with these characters was an advantage, but you could probably enjoy it as a stand-alone. The author brought together a large group of characters from previous novels.