Category Archives: thriller

Alex Kava — Hidden Creed

Kava gives us the three H’s—head, heart, and even a little humor. This is only my second read of an Alex Kava story and the first with dog handler Ryder Creed. She also includes FBI Agent Maggie O’Dell from another series. Kava gives us a picture of Florida’s Blackwater River State Forest for setting, a well-paced plot, and likable (and despicable) characters. My favorite characters are the dogs.

Ryder, his sister Brodie, and dog Alice uncover a body dump in the forest behind Ryder’s dog kennel. Some of the bodies aren’t even buried.

Even though the sixth book in the Creed series, I had no problem reading it as a stand-alone. I recommend for all murder mystery lovers.

Alyssa Cole — When No One is Watching

*Spoiler Alert*
I rate this five stars for the first half or more and three stars for the last part. The first part feels almost like a romance novel with girl meets boy, conflict between girl and boy, etc. The last part is more like a thriller, with the two main characters chasing down the enemies who are trying to take over the neighborhood—lots of violence.

For me, the strongest part of the novel is the social theme of breaking up neighborhoods for profit. This story carries it to an extreme, with really evil people doing terrible things. I learned a lot of history about the ups and downs of Brooklyn.

The characters at the beginning of the story are so well written they pull me into their frustrations, especially Sidney. Divorced, she returns to Brooklyn, trying to hold onto her mother’s home in a neighborhood undergoing gentrification. Trendy upscale shops buy out familiar stores, new condo buildings crop up, a pharmaceutical company is moving into an old hospital, and Sydney’s friends are disappearing. She’s not only trying to save her mother’s home, she’s trying to save the neighborhood.

In contrast to black, angry, frustrated Sydney, her new neighbor Theo is clueless, white, out of work, and riding the coattails of his rich girlfriend, who has relegated him into the hot attic of their house while she redecorates. Theo is a puzzle to me. He admits to doing things, even in the present, that don’t seem to fit his likable, curious, helpful personality.

The end of the story left me hanging. It solved the neighborhood’s immediate problem but left the overall issue alive and well.

I enjoyed the read; it kept my interest from beginning to end.

Lawrence Wright — The End of October

A well-researched pandemic novel. Reading the book, I learned a lot—interesting facts and history about viruses and epidemics—more than I wanted in a thriller. It felt almost like nonfiction. There were side trips that didn’t add to the story, such as the chapter about Henry’s family camping trip. Maybe the author was trying to give us a break from the science and political unrest.

This was a timely release, during the COVID-19 epidemic. Written before this disease cropped up, it’s surprising how much prediction was correct, but thankfully, our current crisis isn’t nearly as bad as the one in this story, and the world hasn’t responded in quite such a negative way.

Candice Fox – Gone by Midnight

In addition to her great characterization, Fox gives us a crocodile-filled picture of the setting in Queensland, Australia, a complex and twisty plot (a locked room mystery), emotions (head, heart, and humor), plus coverage of some themes such as wrongful crime accusations, bad police behavior, parenting, truthfulness (or not), and more.

When I read several books in a series, sometimes the main characters begin to lose their attraction for me. Not so with Candice Fox’s Crystal Lake series. PI partners Ted Conkaffey and Amanda Pharrell, both with dark pasts and quirky personalities (especially Amanda), continue to fascinate. Fox’s coverage of all her characters—villains, suspects, police, extras, etc.—is thorough and entertaining.

Gone by Midnight is my favorite in the series. Looking for #4.

Karin Slaughter — The Last Widow

Even though this book is the ninth in a series, it’s my first book by the author. It reads well as a stand-alone. From some of the reviews I read, I might get tired of the characters if I read all nine.

I found Slaughter’s unique style of writing fascinating. She covered the exact same events in the same timeframe in separate chapters from different characters’ points of view. Although interesting, it probably could have been done without repeating all the details and action multiple times. The book is looonng!

Good writing, good plotting, interesting characters (both good and evil), lots of themes, lots of action, but very dark, needs some fact-checking, and her political POV is sometimes overbearing.

Dean Koontz — Devoted

I’ve read Dean Koontz in the past with mixed feelings. Some are excellent and some I haven’t finished due to lack of interest. This one is somewhere in between. The differences in Koontz’s writing styles makes me wonder if he uses ghostwriters, or if he has multiple personalities.

Devoted is a mix of fantasy, suspense, genetics SF, horror, psychological thriller, paranormal, and maybe a “shaggy dog story” without the humor. It’s the story of an intelligent dog, Kipp, and an autistic eleven-year-old boy, Woody, who has never spoken a word. The boy screams a psychic cry for help that is picked up by “The Wire,” a telepathic communication network for a group of dogs. Kipp comes to the rescue.

My biggest problem with this book is the characters all appear to be seen from the point of view of the dog. All the people are either very bad (haters, liars, greedy, etc.) or unbelievably good (loving, truth-tellers, sympathetic, loyal, etc.). The good people have no bad characteristics, and the bad have no good. And of course, all the dogs are noble.

The best part of the book is the hopeful ending.

Lars Kepler — The Rabbit Hunter

My first taste of Lars Kepler, I found The Rabbit Hunter a dark and grisly novel, too much so at times. I mostly enjoyed the plot, but it did get sidetracked from time to time, with issues not necessary for the story. The characters held my interest, but the two main ones were thinly sketched. Maybe because they’ve been around through several books. More effort was spent on the chef and his son, and the killer.

The pace moved fairly slow in the beginning, probably because either the authors or the translator (English translation) wrote too much passive, not active. It picked up as the story progressed. The ending was an obvious plug to try to get you to read the next book.

I always find it fascinating when two or more writers collaborate. This husband and wife team work together seamlessly.

Lisa Gardner — When You See Me

Hikers find a girl’s bones off the Appalachian Trail in northern Georgia. They turn out to be the remains of a girl gone missing 15 years earlier, a suspected victim of dead serial kidnapper Jacob Ness. The incident brings together a team of crime investigators, led by FBI agent Kimberly Quincy. She recruits a group from Boston who have been tracking Ness’s crimes—police sergeant D.D. Warren, civilian kidnap-survivor Flora Dane, and Flora’s sidekick, computer guru Keith Edgar.

The book combines police procedural and thriller. The first part, mostly procedural and introduction to the characters if you haven’t followed the series, is a bit boring if you’ve followed Gardner’s novels. The pace picks up as it goes along, and the crimes and criminals pile up. The last few chapters are action-packed. The story pace feels like a train slowly chugging out of the station, picking up some speed as it goes through the city, then turning into high-speed rail.

The plot is chilling. Hopefully no real towns exist like the one in this story. Gardner’s excellent writing kept me reading even through the early slow chapters.

The pace and the proliferation of characters keep my rating at 4 stars, not 5. I would prefer fewer POV characters. Four women carry the story, each picking up separate pieces of information—Kimberly, D.D., Flora, and a girl without a name or voice who is held captive by the bad guys.

Even with these flaws, When You See Me is an excellent read. I recommend it, and I recommend that if you haven’t read other Lisa Gardner books…do it now!

P.J. Tracy — Ice Cold Heart

Not having read the previous books in the Monkeewrench series, this was a standalone for me. It was well written, and I enjoyed it.

The characters, good and bad, are interesting, some with unique backgrounds and personalities, but there are too many to follow. I was almost to the end of the story before I had them all sorted out. It probably would have helped to read earlier books in the series first. But they were warm, sometimes humorous, and the baby in the office at Monkeewrench added insight into some of the characters.

I won’t summarize the story; it’s covered many times in reviews. The plot had many twists and turns, but I feel it overdoes the coincidences and connections between crimes, like cop shows on TV. I can’t believe that happens often in real life.

There were several bad guys in this story, and I spotted them all early before they were revealed even though some were painted as good or harmless. But there is a twist at the end.

“You ever notice that when it’s this cold, snow doesn’t crunch, it squeaks?” The bitter cold Minneapolis setting made me shiver, reminding me of my many years living in the north. I’m glad I now live in Florida.

Overall a good read. I would recommend it, but with the caveat that you read other books in the series first.

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.