Mystery / Thriller
by Breakfield and Burkey
Plot: This complex techno-thriller centers on terrorist groups that have gone off the grid, thus leaving no digital footprints. While the story is soundly constructed and engaging, readers will benefit from familiarity with previous titles.
Prose: The authors write in technically sound prose, with a clear grasp on the forms of technology at the story’s core. However, the narrative can become overwhelmed and stilted by the heavy use of terminology unique to the circumstances at hand.
Originality: The authors present a timely and unique thriller with a compelling and credible scenario.
Character Development: The sizeable cast of characters may initially may present a challenge to readers. As the storyline becomes more distinct, central characters, their connections to one another, and their motivations, become more apparent.
by Diane Shute
Plot: Shute’s sequel to After Midnight interweaves several dramatic and intriguing subplots, including the disastrous effect of family dynamics on real-life politics and a perilous mystery that puts the protagonist's business venture--and life--in jeopardy. The introduction of new characters from the past and unexpected plot twists, serve to keep readers interested in this long but rewarding read, as the mystery is slowly unraveled.
Prose: Shute’s prose has moments of affectation and grandiloquence. Yet narrative tone and language--which includes relevant phrases from foreign tongues--generally offer sophisticated and nuanced storytelling.
Originality: Dramatic family politics, secret trysts, and dangerous ghosts from the past all call to mind classic English countryside dramas, but Shute has a knack for creating atmosphere through evocative details. Dry English humor and nods to literary classics remind readers of both the stiff outward nature of English culture during this time and the exciting undertones of forbidden conversations, relationships, and financial and personal ventures.
Character Development: Shute’s mystery consists of several pairs of important foils--benevolent young lords and dashing noblemen; malicious, power-hungry villains; angelic and fallen women; neutral cooks, maids, footmen; and even equine characters. This cast, and a brash display of devious sibling rivalry, result in a rich and entertaining period novel.
by J. T. Bishop
Plot: In an exceptionally well delivered sci-fi mystery, Bishop skillfully integrates multiple storylines, linking them in manners that are wholly unexpected and nuanced.
Prose: Bishop's prose flows evenly between seemingly disparate storylines; stark descriptions are laced with moments of quiet lyricism and a permeating sense of unease.
Originality: While the essential concept behind this captivating narrative—the infiltration of Earth by beings of uncertain origin—is not unfamiliar, Bishop’s story stands apart from others through sophisticated prose and subtle exploration of human connection and isolation.
Character Development: Characters, whether otherworldly or essentially human, are revealed through immediate actions, arresting dialogue, and exterior circumstances, rather than through extensive exposition. The result is a broad cast of individuals who come across as mysterious, organic elements of an uncertain universe.
by L.E. Luttrell
Plot: The overarching plot here is interesting and worth developing. However, the author needs to be careful about the plausibility of plot points. From the beginning, there are instances that are simply not realistic, and these take readers out of the story.
Prose: The prose here suffers from grammatical issues, the passive voice, and excessive and unnecessary details. The text would benefit from an edit to condense and tighten the prose.
Originality: Luttrell creates an original story with an interesting story arc. Some of the book's potential is undercut by plotting and prose issues, but the basis for an original and compelling tale is there.
Character Development: The author does an apt job of developing Cate, who is realistic and vivid. Other characters feature in the story, but none are as well-developed as Cate.
by A. Ireland King
Plot: King intersperses different strands of life in present-day Scotland to create a handwoven tale constructed solely upon the interactions between these quirky, complex characters. The Whisperer is King’s brilliant showcase as both an author and artist.
Prose: Despite the prose's frequent visits into poetic abstraction, the narrative faithfully follows a path built on concrete meanings. King’s simple, matter-of-fact writing style gives a new tangibility to the spiritual world, making ethereal beings such as angels and ghosts our relatable, recognizable next-door neighbors.
Originality: Though our musings of the afterlife predate ancient origins, King’s ingenious invention of the “whisperer,” a guardian angel-type misfit who sometimes guides (or misguides) our thoughts and actions, brings new life to the world of the dead. King’s creativity spurs a proliferation of questions about what it means to be alive.
Character Development: King creates a diverse blend of characters that readers will find refreshing. Though none of the players are essentially new, it’s King’s masterful manipulation of these pre-existing archetypes that makes The Whisperer such a distinctive read.
by Steve Zell
Plot: Zell's moderately paced novel evolves into a tense, genre-bending, and climactic adventure beyond the imaginations and anticipations of the twin protagonists.
Prose: Zell's prose is immersive, detailed, and atmospheric, with varied dialogue and tonal shifts.
Originality: Zell's story is centered upon a truly original concept, and the vastly different personalities, interests, and skills of the protagonists. The novel’s fine-tuned sense of place is particularly memorable.
Character Development: Zell's characters may have simple, unassuming facades, but they are multi-layered, complex figures whose interests and goals propel them to seek an escape from their present circumstances and face their greatest fears.
by Glenn Dyer
Plot: This is a well-written espionage tale with cameos by real-life historical heavyweights like Charles de Gaulle, Winston Churchill, and Hedy Lamarr that give the story historical context.
Prose: Dyer’s skillfully-crafted prose flows naturally and conveys time and place effectively. Works of historical espionage need the right balance between historical context, action, and intelligence— and the author manages to find the right balance between all three elements.
Originality: The premise of this book will be nothing new to readers. However, what sets Dyer’s book apart from the others in the genre is his unfailing attention to historical detail and great writing.
Character Development: There are a lot of characters in this book and sometimes it’s difficult to keep track of all of them. However, the main protagonists are fully developed and entirely believable.
by Peter Man
Plot: Man’s fast-paced mystery spans time and space as Victoria Solana discovers clues behind her true parentage, heritage, and the unexpected reasons she is being dangerously pursued. Shifts and transitions between time periods can be blurred, but the meaningful connections Man draws between the various characters’ histories and global events are both enjoyable and educational.
Prose: Man’s prose is clean, clear, and informative. While the narrative tone can become didactic, the writing is generally subtle, with contextual clues and meanings behind mysterious symbols, artifacts, and histories woven into Victoria’s contemporary life. The author’s care in crafting the plot and character dynamics--and the juxtaposing of the ancient and the futuristic--are apparent throughout the work.
Originality: The novel’s literary style is creative, informative, and at times offbeat, with instances of breaking the fourth wall, and the integration of diagrams, symbols, and illustrations. The breadth of knowledge and content Man integrates into the narrative (art history, world geography, mythology, and literature) is ambitious and often captivating. This genre-spanning novel is rich, profound, and--for some readers--potentially overwhelming.
Character Development: Several of Man’s characters are loosely sketched, taking a backseat to the novel’s extensive action and historical content. While few may be entirely emotionally relatable, the players nevertheless effectively serve the playful and philosophical story.
by Greta Cribbs
Plot: The plot of this novel is engaging and soundly constructed. The story moves along at a good pace, but some readers may find the ending a bit predictable.
Prose: The prose is one of this book's main strengths. The writing is clear and smooth. The dialogue is effective.
Originality: Though the conceit of this novel will be familiar to some readers, the author manages to make it feel fresh and different.
Character Development: The characters here are well rendered and believable. Readers will care about them, though some character motivations could be clearer.
by H. Max Hiller
Plot: Hiller creates a compelling context for this mystery novel set in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Issues of disaster recovery, gentrification, and local politics are explored in tandem with criminal intrigue. A somewhat convoluted conclusion muddies the otherwise well developed storyline.
Prose: While Hiller's prose is generally clear and smooth, character motivations and backstories are often conveyed through exposition, rather than through organic storytelling, while dialogue can be stilted and less than realistic.
Originality: Hiller brings a particularly human element to this mystery by focusing on the lives of New Orleans residents and the divisions between the wealthy and poor, which become more stark in the aftermath of disaster.
Character Development: At times, character development is secondary to Hiller's intriguing setting and the nuanced perspective on post-hurricane New Orleans. Readers may struggle to gain clear insights into the protagonist, while side characters can seem archetypal.
by Haris Orkin
Plot: Orkin’s twist on the spy narrative is fast-paced and exciting, packed with thrilling action sequences and close calls. However, the final conflict wraps up too quickly and fails to convince readers that any of the characters are in real danger.
Prose: This novel is incredibly well written; the action sequences are finely crafted and give just enough detail to be effective. For the most part, descriptive passages are clearly written and lovely. However, there is expository information that should be integrated into the narrative. Additionally, the prose is less clean in the latter half of the novel, with overly detailed descriptions and overwrought dialogue.
Originality: Orkin’s novel has a promising premise that allows for a substantial amount of subversion of spy tropes. However, the narrative proceeds in fairly standard and familiar manner with few real surprises.
Character Development: Orkin’s construction of James Flynn is effective and his partnership with Sancho is particularly well done. However, the novel suffers from an abundance of minor characters who are more like stereotypes than real people.
by M. Jonathan Jones
Plot: This dramatic, fast-paced novel is well organized. The author creates a vivid environment of devastation and destruction.
Prose: The prose is compact and concise, although some of the invented words can be a bit clunky. Additionally, the prose occasionally becomes overly dramatic and slightly purple.
Originality: This is an original story that manages to capture interest and maintain a furious pace while intentionally leaving out the "before" details.
Character Development: The characters are well crafted and strongly developed. Readers will definitely care about them and their story.
by Ryan Scoville
Plot: While the plot does make use of genre tropes, what makes it interesting here is the tension the author builds and the fast-moving pace. The prologue will grab readers and keep them turning pages.
Prose: The prose is tight and clear, especially in the prologue—and the style changes each time the author goes into the head of another character, which helps create unique voices. However, in some places, there is more telling than showing.
Originality: The plot is not original and will be familiar to fans of the genre. What gives this novel a freshness and captures reader attention is the well-developed tension and conflict.
Character Development: The characters in this novel are decently etched, though there is an abundance of secondary characters, which may confuse some readers. Still, the character voices are distinct and believable.
by James Scott Byrnside
Plot: Byrnside delivers a classic, historical murder mystery that maintains focus and tension up until its satisfying conclusion.
Prose: Prose effectively serves the story, yet does not always shine. Dialogue is generally vivid, witty, and allows readers to easily differentiate between characters.
Originality: The highly original backdrop of the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, greatly enhances Byrnside's storytelling, while infusing the narrative with historical resonance.
Character Development: The author crafts a lively cast of unpredictable characters with secrets, peculiarities, and potentially nefarious intentions.
by A.B. Alvarez
Plot: Alvarez skillfully plots the third volume in this high-tech thriller. The author connects past and present events with clarity and generates tension with style and ease. However, the complexity of the storyline is such that readers will benefit greatly from reading the previous titles.
Prose: Alvarez writes with memorable detail, wit, and forward momentum. Nevertheless, some external and internal dialogue can lack the same finesse as descriptive passages.
Originality: The narrative provides an often unique blend of psychological and technological elements. Alvarez's subtle and detailed writing style brings the layered story to life.
Character Development: Alvarez's work is largely plot-driven rather than character-driven; the frequent shifts between time and place can result in uneven characterizations.
by Peter Ralph
Plot: This smart and suspenseful crime drama features an action-filled storyline, along with a nuanced exploration of how life choices impact personal and professional relationships.
Prose: While Ralph’s prose style has moments of dryness, dialogue is varied and the fluctuation between perspectives, is well executed.
Originality: The novel delves into the psychology of crime lords, victims, and unexpected heroes with candor, allowing Ralph’s work to stand out from the crowded genre.
Character Development: Ralph’s novel features a wide cast of relatable, working-class individuals with unique voices, whose stories ultimately create a powerful, cohesive whole.