RaveCriminal ElementLola on Fire is pure dynamite. From page one, Youers throws us directly into a violent world fueled by revenge, populated by predatory monsters and their prey. Between the explosive action sequences is a slow-burn thriller that smokes ominously until we’re as trapped as Brody and Molly and have no choice but to see things through to the bitter (and bloody) end. This is a story that reads like a high-octane blockbuster film; Youers has a real gift for visualizing brutal combat and gruesome injuries. Lola herself comes across as a combination of John Wick and Beatrix Kiddo, and it’s easy to imagine a movie adapt starring Charlize Theron or Uma Thurman in the titular role ... Lola on Fire is compelling, compulsive, and exciting as hell. It’s guaranteed to get your blood pumping and your adrenaline surging—don’t be surprised if you find yourself gasping or shouting along with the characters. If you’re looking for something to snap you out of a slump or drive the winter blues away, this is one red hot adventure sure to satisfy.
RaveCriminal ElementThe slow yet steady unwrapping of each piece of plot is exceedingly well done; Stonex knows how to pull us in deep, until we feel just as ensnared and claustrophobic as the characters. Her prose is like the sea around the Maiden: beautiful, unpredictable, and substantial. The broody atmosphere is almost tangible at times, often as heavy and foreboding as the inescapable catastrophe. With a small cast of not entirely likable characters, Stonex successfully makes us invested in what happens (and what happened). We know going in that this is a tragedy, and it turns out to be even more tragic than the initial description would have us believe. But despite the many traumas, the persistent grief, and the injustices we discover, The Lamplighters is not entirely bleak. There’s an elegiac beauty to be found here that brings to mind the poetry of Poe or Dylan Thomas.
RaveCriminal ElementIt’s so dang refreshing to see a hero like Peter in an action-packed setting. He’s plenty manly and capable when the bones start to break, but he’s not the usual testosterone-soaked, wisecracking, muscle-bound lead. And it’s also great to see an ex-military hero struggle realistically with PTSD ... It’s that degree of realism grounding the action that makes the Peter Ash series both believable and so enjoyable. Yes, there are always extremely high stakes and often layers of conspiracy at work. The Breaker is no different, with Peter and Co. racing against a ticking clock to stop dangerous blueprints from spilling onto the internet and a power-hungry millionaire who’s building a metallic army. But with Peter as our lynchpin, Nick Petrie keeps everything tethered to reality ... Petrie’s solid prose does a lot of heavy lifting, too. He’s a master of unfolding larger-than-life dilemmas in a straightforward fashion, laying out catastrophic possibilities in a truly chilling way and ratcheting the tension up to eleven every time a baddie makes a move. Peter’s capability as a hero is only matched by Petrie’s capability as a writer. Six books in, Petrie has yet to disappoint even a little. His plots, his action scenes, and his characters are always deeply satisfying. You can pick up any one of his novels assured that you’re in for a solid, exciting ride.
RaveCriminal Element[A] tense, page-turning psychological drama about the making and breaking of a family and a woman whose experience of motherhood is nothing at all what she hoped for but everything she feared ... The Push is a shocking, deeply unsettling debut from Ashley Audrain and a story that will linger long after you put down the book. In the same vein as We Need to Talk About Kevin and The Bad Seed, this is a tale of the darker side of motherhood and the horror that comes from innocently, unwittingly, creating a monster ... t’s a story only a mother could tell; Audrain’s beautiful prose rings with truth ... Audrain has delivered one of the most female-focused thrillers yet, an unrelentingly bleak, stark story that pairs perfectly with the gray intensity of Winter 2020. Don’t pick up The Push unless you’re prepared to be pushed to the very edge—those that are, though, will find themselves breathlessly devouring Blythe’s tragedy in one or two sittings.
RaveCriminal Element... the first in what will hopefully be a long series, pays homage to several of the greats ... But while there are plenty of familiar flourishes and obvious inspirational threads, Fortune still manages to be refreshingly original and very much its own creature ... Much of this is thanks to its unique and vibrant narrator. Will Parker is relatably modern while still being an authentic product of her time. Her colorful background and snappy style of speaking certainly make her stand out from the crowd of typical gumshoes. Spotswood never plays her sexuality as a gimmick; it’s relevant to the plot and fundamental to the character, and underscores the fact that queer people have always existed, even in periods that have been frequently straight-washed by history books and the media ... And while the rest of the cast is populated by familiar, expected archetypes, Spotswood fleshes them out in fresh ways ... It’s no exaggeration when I say Fortune Favors the Dead is one of the most rewarding and entertaining books I’ve read in years, one that fully lives up to the promise of its synopsis. Every page—nay, every paragraph—is rich and compelling. This is a five-course meal of a book you’ll devour in one or two sittings ... ut Spotswood on your instant-order list if you’re a fan of any of the following: historical fiction, noir mysteries, brain-teasers, or feminist and queer themes handled respectfully. When it comes to male authors penning feminist issues that ring true and female characters who are fully realized and complex characters, Spotswood joins Terry Pratchett at the very top of the list.
RaveCriminal Element... isn’t chilling. No, it’s a sparking fuse leading to an explosion of feminist rage. This is a thriller that will prove disturbingly cathartic for female readers; too many moments will ring a familiar note for far too many. Even if you’ve never tweeted #MeToo, you know someone who has ... And Fargo never tempers that rage or darkness. This is a novel that could only be written by a woman, steeped in all of the outrage, disgust, and repressed screams of the wronged. There’s plenty here to horrify—triggers abound—but the ultimate theme is of women reclaiming their power. Former victims reassert their agency and own their narratives, giving a defiant, bloody middle finger to the status quo and calling out the hypocrisies and double standards that consistently favor men over women ... Fargo’s prose is propulsive, her short chapters urging us into a breakneck pace. They Never Learn isn’t so much a book as it is an experience, darkly hypnotic and intensely compulsive. This is a psychological thriller of the highest order, a story that seeps into your thoughts like blood through floorboards. If you read this at night, be prepared to sleep uneasily—or not at all.
RaveCriminal ElementAlyssa Cole is best known for her wildly popular and award-winning romances—quick pause to strenuously recommend her Reluctant Royals series—but When No One is Watching proves she’s a master at crafting spine-chilling thrillers, too ... Few stories have felt so real, so visceral, or so disturbing ... Readers of color will find themselves nodding in agreement and wincing in empathy for Sydney. Performative allyship is ruthlessly skewered as the rotten heart of racism is revealed behind smiling white faces, and Cole makes a special point to shine a light on white women’s contributions to the deadly status quo ... It’s one of the most relevant modern horror stories I’ve encountered, with killer prose, vibrant characters, razor-sharp societal commentary, and a knockout of a finale.
RaveCriminal ElementHarkup takes a deep dive into how the world’s most famous playwright was influenced by both the knowledge of his time and his own personal experiences when it came time to kill off his characters ... Harkup does a tremendous job of presenting a wide array of research in a way that is both informative and entertaining. Her background in chemistry and science is obvious, but this is just as much historical and literary non-fiction, too, rich was intriguing asides, brief tangents, and footnotes that expand beyond the narrow focus of Shakespeare to take in the full scope of his time period and the works of his contemporaries and influences ... Death by Shakespeare is also a rather timely book for our current climate; many pages are devoted to the disruptive, deadly power of the plagues that, yes, plagued Shakespeare’s entire life, and reading this in the middle of your own quarantine can be quite unsettling ... a valuable addition to the scholastic pile. It’s accessible without being too simplified or pat, and the scientific, biological approach to the plays is a refreshing one ... Light enough to be a quick read for fun but hefty enough to educate.
RaveCriminal ElementAt first blush, the core mystery of Death of a New American is a small, straightforward one. But by the final page, Fredericks has revealed a surprisingly complex explanation for just what happened in that tower nursery ... Fredericks paints these evocative happenings with an assured, delicate hand, making this as much a historical novel as a murder mystery ... Jane is a compelling, forthright narrator. Her unorthodox background and friendships give her a clearer-eyed perspective than many around her ... Death of a New American’s greatest strength, however, lies in how effortless a read it is. Too often with historically-set stories, the plot bogs down in details and facts; so many authors feel the need to impress their audiences with their scholarship, or have a hard time paring down their research. Not so here ... Fredericks clearly knows her setting, but never lets it overwhelm her characters, keeping the pace quick and the prose light even when touching upon heavy topics. It takes real skill to craft a story that has substantial meat on its bones and yet can be devoured in only a sitting or two, and Death of a New American proves Fredericks has that knack. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable read from prologue to epilogue.
Simone St. James
RaveCriminal ElementThis is a story of darkness, violence, and obsession, of human monsters and supernatural warnings. In short, it’s a true St. James thriller, where the (unsettling, creepy) ghosts are secondary to some very real-world threats and the female protagonists are stubborn and driven. And St. James understands the power of the perfect setting: liminal spaces like rundown highway motels are inherently spooky, just the sort of place where you’d expect to find ghosts and bloody violence. The location and the predominantly night-set story combine to weave a hypnotic, haunting spell ... another knockout by an author who proved her skill long ago and a must-read for established fans and newcomers alike ... It’s a wonderfully crafted and emotional piece of validation for every female true-crime buff.
RaveCriminal ElementWhite has more than one shocking twist ready to trip the unwary ... Here, the twist only amplifies a solidly constructed, emotionally moving, and deeply compelling story told with beautiful yet straightforward prose. White’s characters are complex and real, varied in their behavior and motivations ... there’s an otherworldliness to this story that leaves quite an impact ... The themes The Wife and the Widow explores are equally impactful; from the obligations of honesty and responsibility to the bonds between parents and their children, wives and their husbands ... an impressive, cinematic chiller that demands a re-read if only to fully appreciate the mastery of its construction.
RaveCriminal ElementThat Thomas (the author, not the narrator) can interweave so much action and espionage into a cohesive tale brimming with thrills, snarky humor, and rich history is impressive. Even more impressive: this is the eleventh adventure starring Barker and Llewelyn and it’s just as fun and exciting as the previous installments. It’s no simple task keeping a set of characters fresh and interesting this far into a series, and Thomas makes it look easy ... With colorful characters old and new, a rich sense of time and place, an eccentric and unpredictable hero, and a narrator who often elicits chuckles or outright laughter with his droll observations, Lethal Pursuit
MixedCriminal ElementIn her 11th mystery, Bess Crawford remains a durable, determined, plucky heroine ... the chivalric flyer Captain Jackson is a colorful new addition to the series ... longtime fans will be pleased to see that [Bess] is thinking of Simon Brandon, whose absence and mysterious jaunt off to Scotland looms large in Bess’s mind ... there are a couple of shocking twists and dangerous beats to break up the introspection and melancholy of a world still torn by war ... As always, there’s plenty of historic atmosphere to savor ... isn’t quite as solid as the previous Crawford novels—things drag a little in the middle of the narrative, and the climactic revelation feels a bit too outlandish and underdeveloped. Like the world in the aftermath of WWI, floundering to regain its equilibrium and find a new normal, it feels as though the mother-and-son writing team of Charles Todd is still figuring out which new direction to shift their heroine. Without the war to ground her, what will Bess do now? It’s a question the character herself asks and that the authors haven’t tried to answer yet. Deception is a transitional story and is a little unsteady as a result; we can only hope the indomitable nurse’s next appearance is on firmer footing.
RaveCriminal ElementStrangers at the Gate literally drips with Gothic, oppressive atmosphere as McPherson layers one ominous moment onto the next ... Lord Almighty, this is a wild ride of a story. I can say with assurance that you’ll never see the end coming. Just when you think you’ve seen or heard the craziest thing, McPherson surpasses herself ... this is her finest work yet. This contemporary-set thriller has a unique vibrancy to its prose and a powerful voice in narrator Finn Lamb. It’s certainly one of the strongest novels—on every level, from plotting, characters, and atmosphere to dialogue and construction—I’ve read this year. And this is the perfect time to dive into this chilly, creepy mystery. Be sure to wrap up tight with a blanket and have a steaming cup at hand to combat the cold of Simmerton before you begin—it’s always more fun when you can savor the shivers in secure comfort.
Laura L. Sullivan
RaveCriminal ElementMilady is gorgeously written; our heroine’s voice is a confident and eloquent one, unflinching as it recounts horrible pain and unapologetic as it calls out the deadly double standards she faces ... Sullivan clearly put significant effort into the historical details, language, and tone. When dialogue and scenes from Dumas’ novel are slipped into the narrative, it all feels seamless ... Milady lives a life of high adventure and twisty plotting. This novel is like a carefully layered and intoxicating rum cake, where more and more secrets and machinations are revealed as the story sways between Milady’s present and past ... Milady is a historical adventure, a high romance, a twisty thriller, and a feminist reclamation. Like its heroine, it wears many masks and accomplishes many goals. For all of those craving sharp characters and grandiose action—and especially for those longing to see more powerful heroines—this is a palpable hit.
RaveCriminal ElementBuried proves Cooper’s chops yet again. The anthropologist/investigator-turned-novelist clearly has the background necessary to bring Sayer and her team authentically to life; the science and FBI work are both handled deftly. While Sayer searches for the missing women, she also works on important research into sociopathy, which nicely introduces a shadowy new villain playing a much longer game than the immediate serial killer. The characters are all intriguing on their own and equally fun as a unit. This is a diverse bunch ... Written in short, succinct chapters, Buried is a quick read with a great balance of dialogue vs. action. Cooper never gives us enough time to get bored or bogged down, moving the narrative at a swift clip and sprinkling in important clues and revelations at a satisfying pace ... this is a layered story that manages to keep every subplot interesting and vital ... Buried is an exciting and solid standalone worth picking up—and perfect for fans of Kathy Reich’s Temperance Brennan series looking for a new scientific heroine to root for.
RaveCriminal ElementStone Mothers...is an intense, irresistible novel of psychological suspense ... The women we follow are vastly different, fully-formed, and real. We feel deeply for each of them in their pain, fear, and horror. Nobody is wholly victim or monster, and the lines between guilt and mental illness are often murky ... As always, Kelly’s prose is emotionally resonant and cinematically descriptive. So many of her turns of phrase are imbued with the haunting weight of an elegy, the sense that a ghost or scene of disturbing madness lurks around the next corner. She never shies away from the genuine horror inherent to the situations her characters are thrust into or the choices they choose to make, yet she never sacrifices poetry for shock value or caricature.
RaveCriminal ElementIt’s truly remarkable that The Confessions of Frannie Langton is Sara Collins’ first novel. The plotting is so assured, the characters so layered, the prose so searing ... Narrator Frannie’s clear eye never shies away from the sordid or painful as she unfolds a story from the margins of society, giving voice to personal truths the history books penned by white men rarely record ... In Frannie, with her crisp and darkly beautiful prose, Collins has created a narrator who is both unflinchingly honest and vibrant. She’s a fully-realized woman with dreams and desires and flaws ... Despite everything, her voice can be kind, and wry, and poetic as she recounts everything that led to her trial ... Collins’ Confessions ring with such truth and humanity that I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest to see this on a college course’s required reading list in years to come.
S. A. Lelchuk
RaveCriminal Element... a helluva ride: a fast-paced neo-noir with a stellar new heroine at its core. Comparing Nikki to Lisbeth Salander is inevitable—a supporting character even calls her Lisbeth—but she also owes half of her DNA to old-school, hardboiled private eyes like Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe ... Her California is more technologically advanced and affluent, a little brighter, more colorful, and cleaner, than Raymond Chandler’s was. But the same seedy underbelly of greed and brutal violence lurks beneath the surface ... Lelchuk does a fine job of making Nikki complex, real, and relatable. She’s not just an ass-kicker ... With its balance of terse dialogue, real stakes, literary love, and thrilling badassery, Save Me From Dangerous Men is a must-read for fans of neo-noir and powerful women. Nikki Griffin is far too compelling and exciting to be a one-off character, and we can never have enough vigilante ladies—with any luck, Lelchuk will oblige us with a full series.
PositiveCriminal Element\"The Vanishing Man, in true Lenox fashion, has a nice balance of mystery, history, and humorous charm. While certain stakes are sky high... they never become too personal or dangerous for our hero. This is a tale that strolls at a comfortable pace, giving us a nice view of the scenery and colorful characters, without stressing our nerves or heart overmuch. That isn’t to say that The Vanishing Man isn’t substantive. Charles Finch fills the space between plot-pertinent clues with plenty of intriguing etymology and history ... The supporting cast is as fine as ever ... The Vanishing Man still adds new depth and layers to Lenox and his world, making it a must-read for old fans. At the same time, it’s fresh enough to be a great launching point for any newcomers to the series. Finch’s light touch makes for a compelling if leisurely read...\
Dacre Stoker & J. D. Barker
MixedCriminal ElementThe prequel to Dracula, inspired by notes and texts left behind by the author of the classic novel, Dracul by Dacre Stoker & J.D. Barker is a supernatural thriller that reveals not only Dracula’s true origins but Bram Stoker’s—and the tale of the enigmatic woman who connects them ... To those well-versed in vampire lore and fiction, Dracul doesn’t tread much new ground. But its biographical framing and focus on Ellen Crone makes it a compelling, entertaining read nonetheless. And despite being nearly 500 pages long, the pace is so crackling and the prose easy enough to follow that you’ll find yourself devouring it in a matter of hours. With cooler nights rolling in and the leaves beginning to change, this is a perfect atmospheric read for October.
PositiveThe Criminal ElementAn Act of Villainy, the fifth in Weaver’s Amory Ames series, sees Amory and Milo finally working more in tandem than at loggerheads, which is refreshing. For much of the series, Amory has spent as much time doubting Milo as the suspects. And while she has moments of frustration over her husband’s lothario ways and casual manner, the two have plenty of moments to shine together. Fitting, since fidelity is the dominant theme here ... As with the previous Amory adventures, there are colorful characters abound and more than a little melancholy: for lost loves, soured relationships, and great talent cut off far too soon. Amory herself remains a relatable and understandable narrator ... The plot itself unwinds at a steady pace. Weaver does a masterful job of sprinkling in breadcrumbs and muddying the waters just enough that the last act will almost certainly take you by surprise, even if you’re a well-read armchair sleuth.
RaveThe Criminal ElementCity of Ink is, no exaggeration, a work of art. Elsa Hart has crafted a story that defies genre labels. It’s a mystery, yes, but this is no mere police procedural or political thriller—it’s both and neither. It’s a character-driven personal drama, as the bookish and middle-aged Li Du proves that the bravest heroes don’t have to be muscle-bound action stars—they can also be quiet scholars willing to dare public execution to uncover long-hidden truths. It’s also a meaty historical novel, richly researched and brought so vibrantly to life that 1700s Beijing is a major character in and of itself ... The plot has as many turns and blind alleyways as the labyrinthine city. Each new clue takes Li Du in unexpected directions, introducing new characters and shocking revelations. If you’ve grown frustrated with novels that are far too easy to predict, City of Ink is a perfect antidote to that jaded cynicism. Hart does a splendid job of making the Far East and its people—so often reduced to stereotypes and shallow mysticism—solid and real ... a wonderfully satisfying climax, one of the most enjoyable I’ve ever read ... Whether you love mystery, history, Chinese culture, or well-rounded characters, you need to read City of Ink.
RaveCriminal ElementIt\'s a story of old Shanghai. It’s the story of racial and class divides. It’s the story of a city between world wars and the fall of the \'Paris of the Orient\' during the second. And it features a cast of dozens, all brought back to life with vivid detail and panache by Paul French ... French’s powerful voice is perfectly suited to his subject matter. The omnipresent, hardboiled narration would be at home in any noir, and though this is nonfiction, the larger-than-life figures fall into nearly every trope of that genre. There are deadly dames aplenty—beautiful showgirls, desperate prostitutes, dangerous drug addicts, and mobster’s molls. Cutthroat racketeers who stack the odds in the house’s favor, pull razor blades during riots, and shrug when someone else takes the fall for their transgressions. Toadies and henchmen. Traitors and corrupt G-men ... From the very introduction, you’ll be hooked. I honestly can’t remember the last time a work of nonfiction was so compelling and readable; I devoured half of the book before I came up for air.
RaveThe Criminal ElementThere’s so much fun to be had in a David Housewright novel—especially when it stars McKenzie. The initial scene set is always so innocent and everyday; here, it’s a St. Paul salsa factory. Completely innocuous. But over the course of two hundred pages, Housewright veers into encounters with drug lords, mobsters, and life-or-death scenarios. And it all feels organic and natural. You never doubt how serious the stakes are. Few think \'Minnesota\' when they hear the phrase \'neo-noir,\' yet by the last chapter with McKenzie, you’re a believer ... Like to Die is satisfyingly twisty, meaty, and action-packed. Housewright takes just enough time to set his scenes—amps up the tension to just the right level—before bringing down the hammer. And, by the final page, all of the threads have been unknotted and tied into a gratifying bow.
B. A. Paris
PositiveCriminal ElementDespite its turns, twists, and surprises, this isn’t all that complex of a tale once viewed from afar. But that’s not a putdown; with a barebones cast and the all-consuming focus on the mysterious and bizarre Layla, Paris does a respectable job of standing out in the growing crowd of emulators ... Bring Me Back is one of those unputdownable books that disquiets you even as it draws you in. At times, it’s hard to swallow—and yet you won’t be able to walk away.
PositiveCriminal ElementIt’s abundantly clear why author Zhou Haohui is one of the three most popular suspense authors in China: Death Notice literally has it all... Death Notice rewards the careful reader and surprises the most jaded of genre fans.