I’ve lucked into free thrillers from my favorite authors, thanks to NetGalley’s auto-approval program. Here are some I’ve really enjoyed:
- Ocean Prey–Lucas and Virgil team up to solve this crime
- The Final Twist–Deaver’s next great character may be as good as Lincoln Rhyme
- Better off Dead–another excellent Jack Reacher story–injustice is defeated, morals are upheld, good guys win
- Bone Rattle–-Mark Cameron’s side gig, when he’s not writing for the Ryan series
- Jackpot–drama in the exotic Macau
by John Sandford
In Ocean Prey (G.P. Putnam 2021), Sandford’s latest in the wildly-popular Prey detective series, three Coast Guards are gunned down while investigating a suspicious ocean craft and then the boat is burned, killing Lucas’ girlfriend who is also a high-ranking FBI officer. When the FBI fails to solve the mystery, Lucas and Virgil Flowers get involved and quickly come up with threads to pull as only they can.
It is unusual for both Davenport and Flowers to be the main characters in a story but in this story, it works brilliantly. The story is fast-moving and clever, the scenery well-defined, and the characters vintage. Sandford has a way of writing these stories that I don’t find in other novels, a little like a police procedure but not so technical. Here’s an example.
“We’ve still got twenty-five minutes on the movie,” Bob said, when Weaver rang off. They watched the movie to the end and a few minutes of a sports talk show, and then Bob went back to his room to catch some sleep. Lucas was a night owl and spent an hour reading a Lee Child thriller.”
Detail about life beyond the explosive moments that occupy all cases.
Sandford’s writing style is to create characters that are sharp, clever, and human. For example:
“Where do we find the guys whose toes we’re going to step on?”
“I never even saw your name in the newspapers.” “There’s still newspapers?”
One annoyance: For the first time I can remember, Sandford got a little preachy. Virgil was annoyed at Lucas because Lucas tends to shoot bad guys to save his own life. Virgil didn’t think Lucas always tried all other available options while Lucas was sure he did. This came up three or four times in the book, enough to tell me Sandford was trying to make a point, and enough to annoy me. One more annoyance: Every book in this series includes a character saying “F***** Flowers” (if you read the series, you know exactly what I mean–like Clive Cussler cameoed in every book he wrote). Not in this one and I looked for it–even did a search for the phrase! The closest I got was Virgil saying, “F*** me.” I don’t know if that counts…
Luckily, Sandford is a magnificent storyteller so I recovered from my angst. Overall, an excellent read–as usual.
by Jeffrey Deaver
In usual Deaver fashion, The Final Twist (G.P. Putnam 2021), a new series and separate from the long-standing and highly-successful Lincoln Rhyme character, is a fast moving, intricate, and original thriller. The main character–Colter Shaw–finds people, good or bad, no questions asked, for money. To become the most sought-after finder who regularly does what seems impossible, he draws on a background of survivalist training, defensive and offensive skills taught to him and his siblings by his father. In this, the first of the series, he is drawn into a mystery that also might help him understand how his father was killed in circumstances that he should have easily survived. To Colter’s surprise his estranged brother shows up, a man he hasn’t seen in a decade, not since their father died. For Colter and his brother, survival means questioning everything:
I loved Jeffrey Deaver’s NY criminalist Lincoln Rhymes. I read every one in that series and never got bored. I didn’t know if I’d like this new guy, Colter Shaw. Two pages into it, I did. Besides being an interesting character, tough and resilient, grounded in family, with a strong moral core, I learned a lot about survivalist strategies. He shares rules his father drilled into him that apply to life in general:
You see why I embraced Colter and claim him now as a favorite character. What do you think?
by Lee and Andrew Child
Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series is about a retired Army intel officer who goes off the grid pretty much because he’s tired of people. But as he vagabonds across the country, he can’t let injustice go unanswered which becomes the core of each book in the series. If you love stories of a guy with a solid moral core who never backs away from doing the right thing, and is never afraid to push back against overwhelming power with a combination of brains and brawn, you will love this series. Here’s a typical scene:
“Get down. Do it now.” I didn’t move. “Were you dropped on your head when you were a baby? Was your boss? Because honestly, I’m worried. Virtually every creature on the planet has the ability to learn from experience. But not you, apparently. What happened last time you tried this? When you had three buddies to help out. Not just one.”
Lee Child has a unique voice. It separates his writing from all other thrillers and is one of the reasons I love his books. Here’s an example:
The light had been easy to find, just like he’d been told it would be. It was the only one in the compound that was still working, all the way at the far end, six feet shy of the jagged metal fence that separated the United States from Mexico.
Exact measurements is how Jack Reacher’s mind works. That could be boring but in Child’s talented hands, even numbers are consumable. Then, there are the fight scenes. Child makes me believe Jack Reacher can actually face off against five thugs and win. I dare you to read a fight scene and think Reacher should have lost. And finally, there’s the clock in Reacher’s head that is always spot on about what time it is. Child uses it to build drama by ticking off the time as the action passes.
This twenty-sixth book in the series is written by Lee and Andrew Child which made me immediately suspicious that I’d lose those important story pieces (mentioned above) that kept me coming back to this series. Usually, passing the pen to a family member doesn’t work well. Tony Hillerman’s niece now writes his acclaimed series–good not great. Tom Clancy’s estate keeps trying to find a writer who can duplicate Clancy’s voice. I have yet to read a post-Clancy book that sounds like him. This Lee and Andrew Child book is close to the original voice but not quite as clever. Lee Child kept me guessing, always surprised me. Andrew does also, just not as much or as effectively.
Overall, an excellent read.
by Mark Cameron
Headline. Top notch storyteller but a bit distracting.
The star of Marc Cameron’s Bone Rattle (Kensington Books 2021), Supervisory Deputy U.S. Marshal Arliss Cutter, operates out of the frigid beauty of desolate Alaska. He is clever, hard working and impossible to stop once he has his teeth into a crime. This one starts with an ancient Native American gravesite that ends up in the way of a developer’s project, an archaeologist who sees it for its historic importance, a worker who steals a valuable bone rattle rather than hide it after the archaeologist disappears, and doesn’t end until Cutter has unraveled all of the sordid details.
Cameron, author of a slew of Tom Clancy novels, brings his storytelling skill to this story also. Read these excerpts:
The plot is fast, the action clever and intricate, and the characters fascinating. This depth of understanding for what’s behind the characters’ actions is one trait I love about Cameron’s writing but in this case, it became somewhat distracting. Cameron takes a sentence or more to describe every character that pops up in the book:
“Alaskans knew that cotton killed in the cold and damp. Merculief preferred layered wool and a waterproof rain suit.”
Merculief is the archaeologist and only appears in the earliest part of the book. Reading this now, it doesn’t sound as distracting as it was while reading. The problem was there were a lot of these asides, so many it slowed the flow of the story and at times, the dramatic action. I wanted to be in the action not mulling over the scent or the motivations or listening to interior monologue.
If this doesn’t bother you, you are going to love this book. It’s smart, human, and satisfying. Let me know what you think.
by Stuart Woods
Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular prehistoric fiction saga, Man vs. Nature which explores seminal events in man’s evolution one trilogy at a time. She is also the author of the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers and Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. Her non-fiction includes over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, reviews as an Amazon Vine Voice, a columnist for NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Natural Selection, Winter 2022.