Brad Thor takes his seminal hero, former Navy SEAL Scot Harvath, to new heights and depths in the blistering and bracing “Black Ice” (Atria, 320 pages, $28.99).
With a new relationship and attitude, Harvath is giving serious thought to hanging up his holster, like a classic gunfighter from the Old West. As was the case with those heroes of lore, though, fate intervenes in the form of a past he cannot escape no matter how much he tries, when a foe he thought he’d killed miraculously resurfaces. From there, we’re treated to a new Cold War adventure, and I mean literally, since the story ultimately takes Harvath to the Arctic Circle.
That leads to inevitable comparisons to the Alistair MacLean classic “Ice Station Zebra,” but Thor is more than up to such a lofty likeness. He’s the undisputed master of blending geopolitics with spycraft and adding just enough action to the mix, which helps make “Black Ice” a thriller aficionado’s dream.
Truly impressive legal thriller
Karin Slaughter is always good, but in the mesmerizing “False Witness”(Morrow, 504 pages, $28.99), she’s downright great.
At its heart, this is a legal thriller extraordinaire that follows lawyer Leigh Collier barely managing to balance her firm’s politics and time demands with being the mother of a 16-year-old daughter. Driving the action is a sexual assault case Leigh knows she must take despite her misgivings, especially since she has a long-buried past with the client.
Slaughter stands firmly alongside Sandra Brown, Lisa Scottoline and Lisa Gardner as preeminent female forces in popular fiction, as great a writer as she is a storyteller. The truth about “False Witness” is that it’s not to be missed.
Old-style noir from a new pair
Tess Gerritsen and Gary Braver, both masters of biotech-oriented or medical thrillers, make for an interesting pairing in “Choose Me” (Thomas & Mercer, 310 pages, $24.95).
But here’s the thing: “Choose Me” fits into neither of the categories this stalwart team is best known for. Instead it’s a hardboiled psychological thriller from the school of noir that follows college professor Jack Dorian’s misplaced affair with one of his students. The story kicks into overdrive when the coed turns up dead, with Jack marked as a suspect. Or was it suicide? And who’s responsible for Taryn Moore’s pregnancy?
Pop culture-wise, “Choose Me” packs the same wallop as films like “Body Heat” and “Fatal Attraction.” At heart, though, it’s also a kind of throwback to the brilliant work of James M. Cain in books like “Double Indemnity” and “The Postman Always Rings Twice.” Labels aside, this is flat-out great reading entertainment.
Writers spill their secrets
We now interrupt this thriller column to discuss a brilliant book about, well, thriller writers. In “The Storytellers: Straight Talk from the World’s Most Acclaimed Suspense and Thriller Authors” (Blackstone, 365 pages, $16.99), Mark Rubinstein has fashioned a book that offers the final word on all things related to the craft of telling tales that are impossible to put down.
Rubinstein lets the writers included speak for themselves in classic Q&A format, his interviews sprinkled with wit and insight from the likes of Lee Child, Harlan Coben, Michael Connelly, the aforementioned Tess Gerritsen, and Kathy Reichs, along with two Rhode Island writers, Don Winslow and Lisa Gardner. The interviews are not boilerplate, each subject’s questions are geared specifically to their work
Rubinstein has penned one of the best author-centric studies of writers and writing ever created, and one of the few ever attempted for popular fiction. This book is destined to stand the test of time, with great storytelling in its own right that for this thriller writer was impossible to put down.
Paranoia hits home
Psychological thrillers don’t get any better than B.A. Paris’ scorching “The Therapist”(St. Martin’s, 360 pages, $27.99), one of those books that make you want to draw the blinds to make sure nobody’s peeking inside.
Imagine the shock Alice and Leo experience upon moving into an upscale community known as the Circle, only to learn that the house’s previous owner was murdered within its walls. The creepiness escalates when the couple finds the other residents of the Circle to be a snooping, conniving lot with secrets that must be kept at all costs, even if that requires more murder. And it’s up to Alice to solve the last murder in order to prevent herself from becoming the next victim.
There’s plenty in “The Therapist” that echoes Ira Levin’s “The Stepford Wives,” but for my money it more resembles an even greater Levin classic, “Rosemary’s Baby,” thanks to paranoia induced by duplicitous neighbors with a secret agenda. A neo-Gothic stunner of a tale.
In a class by itself
The deliciously devious “Kill All Your Darlings”(Berkley, 400 pages, $27) reads like a book that David Bell was born to write; or, more accurately, trained to write, based on his experience as a college professor.
That’s where the comparison stops with his fictional counterpart Connor Nye. In the wake of losing his wife and son, Nye finds himself unable to finish the Great American Novel he’d committed himself to. Then a twist of fate leaves Nye in possession of a killer manuscript written by a student who has disappeared. Who knew the missing student would reappear just in time for publication of the novel she actually wrote? Who knew that the book’s plotline would end up branding Nye a murder suspect, and how’s he supposed to explain how the real suspect is the writer he stole the book from?
This is the best thriller set within the insular world of academia since Robert Ludlum’s “The Matlock Paper” and Donna Tartt’s “The Secret History.” “Kill All Your Darlings” is psychological suspense of the highest order, a morally ambiguous, twist-laden tale that shines a light on the darkness that lurks inside all of us.
Echoes of Hitchcock
Speaking of psychological suspense, Liv Constantine’s appropriately titled “The Stranger in the Mirror” (Harper, 336 pages, $26.99) is one of those books where you almost need a flow chart to keep track of all the dips and darts.
The action surrounds a soon-to-be married, less-than-happy couple. Addison Hope is about to wed Julian Hunter, but there are complications. To start with, Addison lost her memory two years ago after being found beaten and bloodied on a roadside. Julian’s first wife, meanwhile, ran off with their 7-year-old daughter … also two years ago. Are we sensing a connection here?
Before you can say “Harlan Coben,” we’re off and running in this twisty tale that makes our mouths drop without our tongues moving to our cheeks. The execution is flawless and the story virtually Hitchcockian in a “Vertigo”-like way. One of the best books of the summer, if not all of 2021.
WWII intrigue, set in Bermuda
“Triangle of Treason” (Echo Point, 312 pages, $18.99) is a throwback to the kind of taut, World War II thriller that helped enshrine the entire genre as a pop culture staple. What’s even more impressive is how deftly author Bob Richards weaves a period piece out of Bermuda’s little-known history, given that this is his first book out of the box.
Richards, who is African American, is also not afraid to introduce racial tensions into the mix. In that respect, Bermuda’s segregated society forms the perfect backdrop for the interracial romance that helps define our hero, pilot Harley Harvey. His antagonist is Rodney Grant, a former British naval officer and current Nazi spy, thanks to a chance encounter with none other than Adolph Hitler.
“Triangle of Treason” is a spy novel cut from the cloth of Graham Greene, where subtext and subterfuge trump all. This is ambitious, high-stakes storytelling, distinguished by issues of race that ring all too true today and establishing Richards as a force to be reckoned with.
— Jon Land ([email protected]) has published many thrillers, including his latest, “Margaret Truman’s Murder on the Metro.” He lives in Providence.
Thor’s latest leads Jon Land’s list of July’s best thrillers