book reviews

3 Thrillers With Strong Male Characters

I love finding great protagonists that are interesting, deep, multilayered, surprising, and cerebral. John Wells is a long-time favorite so when his latest in the John Wells series came out I grabbed it. I was also lucky enough to find two new debut series with two of the best characters I’ve run across in a while: Shelby Alexander in the Shelby Alexander series and Jake Noble in the new Noble Man series.

  • The Prisoner–John Wells again gets himself into a series of impossible circumstances that only someone with his talent could live through
  • Noble Man–Jake Noble finds that, despite being disavowed by the CIA and the life of a covert operator a decade before, he still knows how to unravel a mystery.
  • Serenity–retired fighter Shelby Alexander moves to the small town of Serenity, Michigan looking for a peaceful retirement and finds everything but that.


The Prisoner (John Wells, #11)The Prisoner

by Alex Berenson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In Alex Berenson’s The Prisoner (G.P. Putnam 2016), 8th in the John Wells series, Wells goes back undercover as an Al Quaeda operative so he can be captured and incarcerated in the Bulgarian prison also home to a high-value ISIS leader who might have knowledge of a senior CIA mole trading American secrets to the enemy. While Wells is preparing himself for what is likely to be a painful and dangerous mission, Berenson builds a credible picture of what motivates traitors who turn on their homeland in favor of religious zealots set on the destruction of America. This backstory is compelling and believable with just enough emotion to make the half-crazed conclusions believable. Almost.

Underpinning everything Wells does is a new motivation: his daughter Emmie. To his surprise, he loves being a father, having a daughter. How his decisions affect her life colors every move he makes. Where in earlier novels he would unfold his plans based on logic and what’s best for his country, now, he is conflicted. What will Emmie do if he never returns? What if he can’t experience her childhood milestones?

As with many of his novels, Berenson draws on his own experiences to build his plots, crises, and responses. As a reporter for The New York Times, Berenson covered events such as the occupation of Iraq. He graduated from Yale University in 1994 with degrees in history and economics. The first John Wells novel, Faithful Spy,  won the 2007 Edgar Award for best first novel.

Overall, The Prisoner is another highly entertaining Berenson political thriller with so many believable pieces that readers can’t help but become cynical at the politics and cheer for John Wells’ indomitable ability to prevail.

–received a free copy of this book from Netgalley in return for an honest review

More by Alex Berenson

The Wolves

Twelve Days

Shadow Patrol


Noble Man: A Jake Noble Spy Thriller Series book 1 (Noble Man Series)Noble Man: A Jake Noble Spy Thriller Series book 1

by William Miller

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jake Noble, the main character in William Miller’s first novel in his planned series, Noble Man (Black Pawn Publishing 2015) is a tip-of-the-sword operator in the CIA’s Special Operations Group with a reputation for always getting things done. Until things go wrong. To save a group of women brought to the country to be sex slaves, he ends up killing a well-connected diplomat. He had just cause for the death, but that didn’t matter. He is disavowed by the CIA and forced to reinvent himself as an underwater photographer. He finds this a gratifying job despite barely making enough money to pay his bills. Four years later, when his mother gets cancer, he can’t afford the expensive treatment that might spare her life and accepts an off-the-books offer from his old CIA boss to find the kidnapped daughter of a diplomat in return for a hefty fee. The downside: If he fails, the CIA will deny all knowledge of him. He picks up the woman’s business partner as an uninvited assistant and together, they track the kidnappers around the world, each stop more dangerous than the last, each step bringing them closer to either saving the woman or being killed themselves.

The story is well-planned and superbly detailed, making this a highly believable and satisfying plot. Jake Noble is likable with a strong moral compass and the ability to make decisions that can mean life and death. I must say, I am thrilled to have traveled with him. Noble Man is a gem of a find from an author I’ve never heard of. Well, that’s over. I’ll be looking for all of his future books. Highly recommended.

–received a free copy of this book in return for an honest review


Serenity (The Shelby Alexander Thriller Series Book 1)Serenity

by Craig A. Hart

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Usually, when I read a book by a new author, I can come up with several similar stories. Not Craig Hart’s Serenity (CreateSpace 2016). It’s unique. Shelby Alexander is a retired fighter, about sixty, living alone on a farm in the backwater town of Serenity, Michigan. He has a bartender girlfriend the age of his daughter and a past filled with secrets he doesn’t share. He has a daughter who worries about him, an ex-wife who hates him, and a faux-job that could loosely be categorized as a fixer. Does that sound like anything you’ve ever read? In this first novel of the Shelby Alexander series, Shelby is hired by a local family to look into the death of their daughter. The official reason is she froze to death, but Shelby quickly finds she has been slugged in the head and raped. Whether either of those contributed to her death is unknown because the sheriff won’t share any details. That doesn’t stop Shelby. He has other ways to untangle this mystery.

Throughout the story, readers enjoy tantalizing stories about rural America such as collecting maple syrup directly from the trees, fishing in hidden ponds through holes in the ice, and a life lived not reporting to anyone but himself. This is all told with a quiet sense of humor and a thick layer of hubris.

“It seemed unfair the closer you got to running out of time, the faster it seemed to go. There ought to be some way to tap the brakes.”

“One minute you were sure all you needed in life to be fulfilled was this tiny version of yourself [Shelby is referring to an infant]. And the next you completely understood why parents murdered their children.”
“Stupidity and courage were not the same thing,”

Well recommended to mystery and thriller lovers alike.

–received a free copy of this book in return for an honest review

View all my reviews


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, and the thriller, To Hunt a Sub. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. The sequel to To Hunt a Sub, Twenty-four Days, is scheduled for Summer, 2017. Click to follow its progress.

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29 thoughts on “3 Thrillers With Strong Male Characters

  1. Jacqui, you spoil us with three great reviews – they all sound so tempting, packed with suspense, compelling story and wonderful characterisation. For being thrillers I couldn’t help but smile, there is Shelby Alexander just wanting a peaceful retirement and getting anything but – excellent excerpts as well, very colourful and gives us a feel for the book. Where to start!?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Serenity sounds like me. It is one thing to be told to read outside your usual tried and true reading-genre & quite another to find titles that are good examples.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I want to read them ALL. These sound so captivating, I’d give up sleep if I learned how to keep my poor eyes open after 11:00 p.m. On my list. Sigh. Last I checked, I had 248 titles on my Kindle, probably only a handful read. o_O I can’t keep up.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I love strong characters, period…But I’m getting tired of stereotypical macho men in action, and weepy yet feisty women in romance. It’s great to see this list- ‘ll definitely give your recommendations a shot!

    Liked by 1 person

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