firstCLUE Reviews by Jeff Ayers

by Henrietta Thornton

firstCLUE Contributing Editor Jeff Ayers has been a book reviewer for The Associated Press, Library Journal, and Booklist. He co-hosted a podcast for Suspense Magazine and has interviewed many authors, including Dan Brown, Michael Connelly, and Harlan Coben. 

Jeff is currently the Co-Executive Director of Thrillerfest for the International Thriller Writers. He has written several fiction and nonfiction books and, with Jon Land, has a two-book deal for a National Park thriller series for Minotaur Books. The first one, Leave No Trace, came out in the Spring of 2024.

Below are reviews by Ayers, most recent first.

J.A. Jance. Den of Iniquity (J.P. Beaumont #23). September 10, 2024. 368 pages. William Morrow.

After a long gap, Jance brings back former Seattle Homicide Detective, now Private Investigator, J.P. Beaumont, and, like a fine wine, Beaumont ages well. He lives in Bellingham with his wife, and when his grandson arrives out of nowhere and wants to live with them to finish school, Beaumont realizes that his family is not living the idyllic life he thought. His daughter and her husband are separated, his son-in-law has a new girlfriend, and the living arrangements were too much for his grandson to handle. When a friend from his past asks for help, he can’t say no. A death ruled accidental due to a fentanyl overdose was officially closed by the authorities, but those who knew the victim say he would not touch drugs. As Beaumont investigates, he discovers that there are more “accidental” deaths, and the truth is more complicated than he can imagine. It doesn’t help that he’s also investigating the new girlfriend who broke up his grandson’s parents, and records show she is not who she claims to be. All of this plays out in February 2020, as the world is about to shut down, creating an impending doom in which the reader knows what is about to happen and longs to warn Beaumont and his family. Jance’s mysteries are like comfort food, guaranteeing readers a great story with authentic and realistic characters that will leave them wanting more after the last bite.Jeff Ayers

Cahoon, Lynn. Olive You to Death (Tourist Trap #16). June 4, 2024. 250 pages. Lyrical Press.
South Cove, the number one tourist trap on the Pacific Coast Highway, becomes a haven again for mystery and intrigue. Jill learns that the venue where she and her police detective boyfriend, Greg, will get married, is unavailable, and she begins to sweat. Another wedding between local antique dealer Josh and his younger girlfriend, Mandy, goes awry when she vanishes without a trace. Was she kidnapped, or did she bail on the wedding and run away, like most of the locals think? An old journal that Josh discovers proves problematic when a professor he was conferring with dies under mysterious circumstances that appear to be related to the journal, which just might contain a treasure map. Jill wants to solve both the disappearance of Mandy and who killed the professor, but she’ll have to do it behind her fiancé’s back. Cahoon juggles a lot of details, but it all works with her charming town and compelling characters. The multi-layered mysteries keep the reader both guessing and turning the pages. Even 16 books in, the series still seems fresh and engaging. Whether your first visit to South Cove or your 16th, it’s a town where you will want to stay for a while.—Jeff Ayers, firstCLUE, April 25, 2024

Moore, Taylor. Cold Trail (Garrett Kohl #4). September 17, 2024. 336 pages. William Morrow.
Garrett Kohl wants nothing more than to spend time with his adopted son, Asadi, and his girlfriend, Lacey. On leave from his job with the DEA, he collaborates with an old nemesis to get out of debt. Sabotage at a nearby natural gas plant threatens alliances, Garrett’s land, and his family when environmental protestors determine a pipeline runs through the property, and they will destroy it regardless of the cost. That is only part of the fun that Moore crafts in his latest thriller. The author spends quality time with some of his secondary characters, including Kim, Garrett’s former boss with the CIA, who is trapped while on a rescue mission in Afghanistan, and Asadi, who ends up lost with two others, one of whom is untrustworthy. These side characters shine in the spotlight and come to life even more than in Moore’s previous novels. The Texas landscape also plays a central character, as everything comes to a boil in the middle of an impending blizzard. Fans of C.J. Box and Brad Taylor should check this out, and first-time readers of the series will not miss a step.Jeff Ayers, firstCLUE, April 18, 2024

Hart, Rob & Alex Segura. Dark Space. October 8, 2024. 350 pages. Blackstone.
A mission to explore an uninhabited planet in another solar system excites Jose Carriles as he gets to pilot the vessel Mosaic, which takes the explorers to Esparar. Corin Timony, a former spy on the lunar colony New Destiny, receives a coded message from Jose saying the ship is in distress and needs immediate aid. Seconds after she receives the message, another one appears, saying to disregard the previous one and everything is okay. When Corin questions what happened, she finds herself in danger and surrounded by people wanting her to stay quiet. Jose learns the message was ignored, and as he works to figure out what is really happening onboard the Mosaic, he puts himself and the crew’s lives at risk. The story bounces back and forth between Jose and Corin, and the novel excels at slowly building the paranoia, forcing the reader to turn the pages faster to figure out what is going on. And the payoff is glorious. As a fan of both Rob Hart and Alex Segura, I was glad to find that their writing styles blend well together, and this mix of Star Trek themes and a story like Robert Ludlum and Andy Weir had a love child is a blast. Seek out this Dark Space.—Jeff Ayers, firstCLUE, April 11, 2024

Mizushima, Margaret. Gathering Mist (Timber Creek K-9 Mysteries #9). October 8, 2024. 256 pages. Crooked Lane Books.
A missing nine-year-old boy has Deputy Mattie Wray bring her K-9 partner, Robo, into uncharted territory to initiate a search and rescue for him in Mizushima’s latest terrific series. By leaving Colorado and heading to the Olympic Mountains of Washington State, Mattie risks Robo’s job and delaying her wedding. From the start, the information she and the team of searchers receive is a bit sketchy. When one of the other searcher dogs gets ill, it becomes clear that someone doesn’t want the team to find this boy. Since the missing kid is the son of a celebrity, and the longer he’s out in the wilderness, the louder the clock is ticking to still find him alive and keep away the paparazzi. Mizushima’s series engages on every level: the authenticity of the search scenes; the setting, in which the reader can feel the moss and dampness of the region; and the insight into the operation of coordinated efforts to find missing people. Gathering Mist is the perfect place to start if you are unfamiliar with her previous novels, and Robo is the most incredible dog ever. Who’s a good boy?—Jeff Ayers, firstCLUE, March 28, 2024

Ellis, David. The Best Lies. July 23, 2024. 384 pages. G.P. Putnam’s Sons.
Leo Balanoff’s skills as an attorney are assisted by his tendency to pathologically lie every chance he can. His unscrupulous methods caused the love of his life to walk away, and his horrific family background has him seeking revenge. When the target of his retribution is killed, and Leo’s DNA is found at the scene, he finds himself on the verge of losing everything. So when an FBI agent offers a chance to go undercover to avoid prison, the attorney jumps at the opportunity, not realizing it will put him in the crosshairs of his ex. Twist after shocking twist comes nonstop in this engaging and fun thriller. The story is not just like a twisty pretzel, it’s like an entire pretzel factory. Ellis has written one of those rare books in which every single word cannot be trusted, resulting in an ending that no reader will see coming. Paranoia, chaos, and shocks await.Jeff Ayers, firstCLUE, March 21, 2024

Deaver, Jeffery & Isabella Maldonado. Fatal Intrusion (Sanchez & Heron #1). August 6, 2024. 446 pages. Thomas & Mercer.
Two of my favorite writers have teamed up, and the pairing exceeds expectations. A nature photographer is killed, and a young woman named Selina narrowly avoids the same fate. Selina’s older sister, Carmen Sanchez, works for Homeland Security and wants answers. The attacker is methodical, ruthless, and seems to know every trick not to be seen or caught, though Selina did see he had a tattoo of a black widow spider on his wrist. With no motive and a heavily encrypted cell phone recovered at a crime scene, Carmen seeks the assistance of Professor Jake Heron, a teacher and security expert. Though they share a troubled past and probably should not be assisting each other, Carmen feels she has no alternative. Jake’s curiosity draws him directly into the case, and the reluctant duo is slowly drawn into the perpetrator’s web. This book reads like a great episode of Monk or Elementary, with law enforcement working closely with an expert consultant. Carmen and Jake have great chemistry, and the story reads like the best of Maldonado’s crime novels and Deaver’s thrillers. Fatal Intrusion is a must-read, and everyone will be dying for the next book.Jeff Ayers, firstCLUE, March 7, 2024

Rosenfelt, David. Dog Day Afternoon (Andy Carpenter #29). July 2, 2024. 304 pages. Minotaur.
Former defense attorney Andy Carpenter tries to stay retired, but another case lands in his lap. When there’s no hope of winning due to overwhelming evidence, that is when Andy shines and can’t say no to getting to work to prove his client’s innocence. A mass shooting leads to the police quickly finding a suspect, Nick Williams. Nick is a friend of someone Andy trusts, so he takes the case. Nick’s alibi is that he was kidnapped, held in an empty room, and chained to a wall for three  days. The police don’t believe him at all. With such a flimsy alibi, Andy and his team get to work. Rosenfelt’s series combines the best of cozy mysteries, suspense, legal thrillers, and humor to create a terrific story that is refreshing and fun 29 books in. Andy is snarky, and his inner monologues and legal discussions with Tara, his golden retriever, will put a smile on the face of even the most jaded reader. Whether this is your first read featuring Andy Carpenter or the 29th, this is another winner in the franchise. Did I mention the doggies?—Jeff Ayers, firstCLUE, February 22, 2024

Coben, Harlan. Think Twice (Myron Bolitar #12). May 14, 2024. 368 pages. Grand Central.
Sports agent and former attorney Myron Bolitar works closely with his best friend, Win, in a lavish office in New York City. FBI agents visit one day and demand answers. One of Myron’s former clients, Greg Downing, is the prime suspect in a couple of murders, as his DNA was found under a victim’s fingernails. The only problem? Greg died three years ago, and Myron last saw him at his funeral. Myron and Greg had a history, and being curious how a dead man could murder someone, Myron asks Win for help, and they start digging for answers. Mobsters, false identities, and a string of murders committed by innocent people are only the tip of the iceberg in Coben’s latest. Myron and Win’s stories are personal favorites, and their relationship, banter, and puzzle-solving skills make for a great series. Think Twice is a classic story with a favorite duo and another great Coben thriller full of surprises and misdirection. Here’s hoping we meet these partners in action again soon.—Jeff Ayers, February 18, 2024

Baldacci, David. A Calamity of Souls. April 16, 2024. 496 pages. Grand Central.
In a small Virginia town in 1968, a Black man named Jerome works for an elderly white couple. On Friday, when he expects to get his weekly salary, he walks into their house and finds their dead bodies. The police arrive and accuse him of resisting arrest and beat him. In jail with a head wound and bruises, the innocent man has already been convicted. A white lawyer named Jack Lee takes the case and immediately finds himself in the crosshairs of hate. Working with a female Black lawyer from Chicago, Jack struggles for justice in a town and environment where the verdict is already a foregone conclusion, and there is no lifeline for him or the case. Baldacci is one of the great storytellers, and he channels John Grisham in this compelling and harsh story that explores racism, the criminal justice system, and family dynamics. Half legal thriller and half an examination of the South at one of its most tumultuous times, this will be yet another bestseller for Baldacci and a novel destined for book club discussions.—Jeff Ayers, firstCLUE, February 8, 2024

McCreight, Kimberly. Like Mother, Like Daughter. July 9, 2024. 320 pages. Knopf.
Cleo, a student at NYU, has a tumultuous relationship with her mother, and that hatred gets tested in McCreight’s latest domestic thriller. Cleo’s mom, Kat, begs her to come for dinner, and Cleo reluctantly agrees. Arriving late, she finds food burning in the oven and on the stovetop and blood on a shoe, but no Kat. What happened to her mom? As she searches for answers from her father and friends, she quickly learns that everyone has secrets, and the mom she wanted to avoid was not the woman she thought. The story jumps between Cleo trying to find the truth and Kat, from two weeks before her disappearance, trying desperately to hide from her past and keep Cleo from discovering everything. Even the most jaded readers will not anticipate all the surprises here. McCreight, who knows how to keep the pages turning, has become one of the best in the psychological thriller genre. She has another bestseller on her hands.Jeff Ayers, firstCLUE, February 1, 2024

Mathews, Lisa Q. The Jig is Up (An Irish Bed & Breakfast Mystery #1). August 20, 2024. Crooked Lane.
Irish step dance can kill in the first of what is hopefully many books in this series. Single mom to two young girls and the daughter of a police chief, Kate Buckley receives an urgent text from her sister, Colleen. She packs up and drives to Shamrock, Massachusetts to learn what is wrong. Upon their arrival, Colleen tells her it’s no big deal, but Kate knows otherwise. Stumbling upon the body of Colleen’s best friend, Deirdre, unveils family secrets and hidden motives from people Kate thought she knew. This cozy is perfect as Mathews creates a visual world of great characters and setting, ex-loves, pets, and Irish step dance. She also adds a dose of domestic suspense, but it doesn’t have too much of a psychological bent, keeping the book in cozy territory. With more surprises than usual, this is a step above much of this genre. Readers will be eager for book two; let’s hope it won’t take too long.Jeff Ayers, firstCLUE, January 25, 2024

Podolski, Gregg. The Recruiter (A Rick Carter Novel). July 23, 2024. Blackstone. DEBUT
Rick Carter, not his real name, walked away from his family ten years ago to keep them safe from the ramifications of his job. He is the best of the best when it comes to recruiting others to handle jobs notorious criminals want dealt with. Professional assassinations, smuggling, or dealing with trafficking issues while keeping those in the driver’s seat out of the spotlight? Call Rick. But even with his unscrupulous methods, Rick has a moral code. When he’s forced to find killers to eliminate a law-enforcement task force, he quickly learns that there is more at play than he realized, and now his family and entire criminal empire are about to end horribly. Podolski crafts a skillful and page-turning action thriller that does not let up for a second. Rick and his telling of the story make someone completely unlikeable into one whom the reader can root for to succeed. It’s hard to create empathetic characters when you build a world of criminals, but Podolski nails it. This looks like the start of a series, and the second one cannot come fast enough.—Jeff Ayers, firstCLUE, January 18, 2024

Barclay, Linwood. I Will Ruin You. May 7, 2024. 352 pages. William Morrow.
Richard Boyle teaches 11th-grade English, and during class one morning, he looks out his window and sees a former student walking toward the entrance with a bomb strapped to his chest. He takes matters into his own hands and ends up confronting the bomber, who wants to see three specific individuals so he can complete his mission. Richard ends up saving everyone, but the bomber trips and blows himself up. Now a hero, Richard learns that his actions have made some people angry, including the bomber’s parents and a blackmailer with dirt on Richard, though he has no idea what that might be. In his case, good deeds are punished. To reveal any more of the story would spoil some neat surprises. Barclay immediately turns up the intense narrative and creates a page-turner that could quickly turn toward uncomfortable territory due to its subject matter, but since he is a master, he avoids that realm completely. Instead, we have a psychological and paranoid thriller that fires on all cylinders.Jeff Ayers, firstCLUE, January 4, 2024

Gates, Eva. The Stranger in the Library (A Lighthouse Library Mystery #11). June 4, 2024. 304 pages. Crooked Lane.
Recently married, Lucy McNeil runs the Bodie Island Lighthouse Library. When a traveling art-history exhibit arrives in town, Lucy works with family and friends to create a unique display in the library that showcases local, national, and international artists. The morning after the library celebration, the librarian is surprised to discover one of the reproductions of a famous local artist is no longer on the wall. Who would want to steal a worthless copy of a famous painting? The grand opening of the exhibit leads to drama and the murder of one of the organizers, and the prime suspect for both the theft and the death is Tom Reilly, an art dealer with a shady past. Gates, who also writes mysteries under the name Vicki Delany (Deadly Summer Nights, 2021; Have yourself a Deadly Little Christmas, 2023), is a master of cozy settings and telling a compelling story. Her vast cast of characters is realistic, and the puzzle is challenging and surprising. While the actual lighthouse at Cape Hatteras does not have enough space for a library, readers will still want to visit. Whether this is the first dive or the eleventh, this series is a lot of fun.—Jeff Ayers, firstCLUE, December 21, 2023

Dugoni, Robert. A Killing on the Hill. April 9, 2024. 366 pages. Thomas & Mercer.
Dugoni (One Last Kill, Her Deadly Game) takes a detour into Seattle’s past in his latest legal thriller. In 1933, in a world worried about the rise of a German Chancellor named Adolf Hitler and the United States feeling the crunch of the Great Depression, a young man named William “Shoe” Shumacher leaves home to take a position at one of Seattle’s newspapers. Shoe receives assistance from a homicide detective and is given special access to a murder at a social club. A former boxer named Frankie Ray is killed by the club owner, George Miller, who claims self-defense. Shoe begins to suspect there is more to the story as he writes his daily updates for the Seattle Daily Star. Dugoni juggles a compelling crime story with a sweet romantic tale as Shoe falls for a young woman who works at a bakery, and they begin to fall in love, even as he spends every day in the courtroom watching the case unfold. The case is compelling, the characters are stellar, and the prose takes the reader back to a time when DNA and technology were not available to make a slam-dunk prosecution. Is it too early to say that this will be remembered as the best legal thriller of the year?—Jeff Ayers, firstCLUE, December 7, 2023

Box, C. J. Three-Inch Teeth (Joe Pickett #24). February 27, 2024. 384 pages. Putnam.
Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett learns of a tragedy that hits home. It appears that a grizzly bear has attacked and killed his daughter’s potential fiancée. A search ensues to capture this rogue animal, and meanwhile, Dallas Cates, a man who blames Pickett for imprisoning him and destroying his family, is released. Cates has an agenda: to kill the people who wronged him, and at the top of the list is Pickett and Pickett’s friend, Nate Romanowski. Inspired by the bear attack, Cates creates a mechanical device that leaves victims looking as though a bear mauled them. The prison officials promised to alert Pickett when Cates was released, but in the wake of the carnage, they forget. Can the warden figure out his nemesis’s plan before it’s too late? Box has created a series with rich and diverse characters whom readers have grown to love, and his latest is one of his best. At times brutal and shocking, and with an ending that will have readers demanding the next one immediately, Three-Inch Teeth will top bestseller lists.—Jeff Ayers, firstCLUE, November 30, 2024

Berry, Steve. The Atlas Maneuver (Cotton Malone #18). February 20, 2024. 400 pages. Grand Central.
Berry’s talent for mixing nonstop action with history is in full swing in his latest. Cotton receives what seems like a simple assignment: protect a woman named Kelly Austin. When he rescues her from a kidnapping attempt, he learns that Kelly is not her real name, and before plastic surgery that was necessary due to an accident, she had a torrid past with Cotton. The truth of her background and why she is being hunted will separately take Cotton and his lady love, Cassiopeia, on a global chase that will make them unable to trust anyone but themselves. How does the creation of cryptocurrency tie in with the plundering of a vast treasure by Japan near the end of WWII? The answers will surprise and even shock even die-hard Berry fans. The truth of the Atlas Maneuver, if it comes to pass, will change the world’s economic future forever. One of the best features of Berry’s novels is the writer’s note, in which he breaks down the facts behind the fiction, and it’s essential reading since everything in this thriller seems all too real. Whether you are a long-time reader of Cotton’s adventures or a newcomer, this book is terrific.—Jeff Ayers, firstCLUE, November 16, 2023

Campbell, Rick. The Bin Laden Plot (Trident Deception #7). April 23, 2024. 352 pages. St. Martin’s.
The USS Stethem is cruising in international waters when it is bombed and sunk by a torpedo. Evidence leads to the Iranians, but what Captain Murray Wilson of the USS Michigan is informed by his superiors is that the actual culprit is a top-secret unmanned vehicle. The vehicle’s programming has somehow been corrupted, and Wilson must take his team to destroy the craft before it does more damage. But what he’s been told is not the truth, instead, he’s embroiled in a conspiracy to murder the soldiers who were part of the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden. The assassin, who has personal motives, is pursued by Jake Harrison, a former CIA operative who wants nothing more than to stay retired and spend time with his family. That’s not going to happen. In this fast-paced thriller, Campbell juggles a large canvas and a fun cast of characters that pivots between being trustworthy and untrustworthy. Fans of the previous novels will be thrilled and upset by what transpires, while newcomers will have enough details to enjoy. Readers expecting a novel with a Tom Clancy vibe will discover this is more of a Brad Thor meets Yellowstone experience. Campbell needs to hurry and write the next one.—Jeff Ayers, firstCLUE, November 9, 2023

Gardner, Lisa. Still See You Everywhere (Frankie Elkin #3). March 12, 2024. 400 pages. Grand Central.
Frankie Elkin finds missing people, most of whom are deceased. She is not law enforcement or a PI; her skills are merely a hobby. But she’s one of the best when someone wants to discover the truth and find closure. Frankie’s summoned to the prison where Kaylee Pierson, the so-called Beautiful Butcher, is on death row, scheduled to be executed in three weeks. The condemned woman asks Frankie to find her missing sister before the lethal injection is administered. The information Frankie receives from Kaylee and Kaylee’s attorney puts her on an undercover mission to a remote island south of Hawaii to work with a small team employed by a tech mega-billionaire. With no technology and no way to get immediate help, Frankie will be stretched to her limits, and what she uncovers will surprise even the most jaded thriller readers. Gardner has a gift for writing about the grim and dark world of crime while focusing on hope and humanity. Taken meets Glass Onion in this terrific novel, and holy cow, the ending! Still See You Everywhere is a perfect place to start if you are not familiar with Frankie, and a fantastic continuation of the series if you have already had the pleasure.Jeff Ayers, firstCLUE, November 2, 2023

Andrews, Brian & Jeff Wilson. 4 Minutes. April 2, 2024. 355 pages. Blackstone.
Special Operations Chief Tyler Brooks gets a chance to lead a secret team of operatives in this tense and mind-blowing thriller. The Task Force Omega squad has access to a top-secret device that can move anyone on the team up to 28 days in the future for four minutes, and then they are returned. They cannot change anything they see but can gather intel to research once they return, hopefully stopping the incident from happening. Brooks does not know that a particular op that came together before his recruitment has a soldier with similar skills who is seeking vengeance and who wants Brooks dead. Events swerve drastically when the team jumps into the future and discovers a nuclear-decimated landscape. Can Brooks lead his team to find answers, even with a hidden target on his back? Andrews and Wilson are the best in the business at telling stories involving military operations while emphasizing the human side of warfare. They take a sci-fi concept and make it realistic and believable. 4 Minutes is arguably the best book they have written.—Jeff Ayers, firstCLUE, October 19, 2023

Greaney, Mark. The Chaos Agent (Gray Man #13). February 20, 2024. 560 pages. Berkley.
Cort Gentry, the Gray Man; and his girlfriend, Zoya Zakharova, have assumed new identities while trying to live off the grid for a few months. But they can only hide for so long. A colleague of Zoya’s arrives in the Central American town where Cort and Zoya felt safe and asks her help in rescuing a Russian scientist who is one of several engineers and computer experts with targets on their backs. Shortly after the meeting, Cort and Zoya must flee to avoid the weaponized drones and army of killers sent to take them out. One of those soldiers has a past with Cort and a reputation of being as good an assassin as Cort was in his prime. The mayhem grows in intensity as the truth unveils itself; a mystery controller named Cyrus calls all the shots and does not care about any collateral damage. Greaney combines the best of special-ops novels with a dash of James Bond, and though the page length is significant, the story never bores or lags. The Chaos Agent is another winner, and whether you are a fan or new to the Gray Man, this is a blast (no pun intended).—Jeff Ayers, firstCLUE, October 12, 2023

Pandian, Gigi. A Midnight Puzzle (Secret Staircase Mystery #3). March 19, 2024. 352 pages. Minotaur.
Tempest Raj, a former magician, now runs Secret Staircase Construction, which, among other things, creates elaborate hidden passages behind bookcases. The more complex and baffling the construction the better. One of the company’s jobs is scrutinized when a woman falls down a secret staircase and almost dies. Tempest knows that the victim’s husband, Julian, set up the fall so he could sue Tempest’s company and avoid liability. One night, Julian calls Tempest to visit him at the historic Whispering Creek Theater, a venue recently purchased and upgraded by Tempest. She arrives to find Julian dead, with a sword through his chest. When a paramedic stumbles upon another blade that pops out one of the entrance doors, Tempest realizes the theater has been set with booby traps. Demanding answers, especially since the clues lead to questions about her past, Tempest will risk everything for the truth. Pandian creates a cast of characters that is straight out of the best cozy mysteries, and even though this is the third book in the series, the story is a perfect launch point for newcomers. The pacing and writing elevate A Midnight Puzzle to a must-read for the cozy mystery fan.Jeff Ayers, firstCLUE, October 5, 2023

Taylor, Brad. Dead Man’s Hand (Pike Logan #18). January 23, 2024. 464 pages. William Morrow.
A secret meeting between a rogue team of Ukranians desperate for peace and military intelligence officers from Russia sparks the chaos in Taylor’s latest Taskforce novel. The plan they concoct involves assassinating Putin, but Putin already knows of their plot. His solution is to have his most trusted officer run a counterattack once he commits an act of violence to keep Sweden from joining NATO. Pike Logan and his Taskforce team learn of the Swedish offensive, and soon, they are wrapped in an operation with massive complications. What they don’t realize is that Putin’s contingency, if he’s killed, involves launching the Perimeter Nuclear System known as the Dead Hand. Logan and his team must confront how someone can be the enemy when they have the same goals. Whether this is your first time with the Taskforce or your eighteenth, this series remains intense, timely, and worthwhile. Taylor is one of the best in the special ops world. Brad Thor and Jack Carr fans should already have Taylor on their mandatory reading list.—Jeff Ayers, firstCLUE, September 28, 2023

Mofina, Rick. Someone Saw Something. April 30, 2024. 368 pages. Mira.
A parent’s worst nightmare comes true for news anchor Corina and her family in Mofina’s gripping thriller. Six-year-old Gabriel is playing in Central Park with his older sister when he vanishes after going after his model airplane. Initial searches show no evidence of how he disappeared, nor any witnesses to the abduction. With no ransom demand, the police and investigators are baffled. Since Corina is a celebrity, the case brings out some sympathetic thoughts, but those are few. Most of what Corina reads online are vicious attacks and conspiracy theories regarding Gabriel’s true origins that make her life, and that of her family, a living hell. It doesn’t help that her husband and daughter have secrets they don’t want the world to discover. Mofina intelligently crafts the story by never showing Gabriel’s whereabouts or who is responsible for his kidnapping, amping up the conspiracy and paranoia. Focusing on the family’s agony and quest for the truth puts the reader directly into the story, and the final payoff is terrific. Mofina is a number-one bestselling author in Canada—as he should be in many other countries.Jeff Ayers, firstCLUE, September 14, 2023

Connelly, Michael. Resurrection Walk (Mickey Haller #7). November 7, 2023. 416 pages. Little, Brown & Company.
Connelly’s stellar effort, which brings together defense attorney Mickey Haller, the Lincoln Lawyer; and retired LAPD Detective Harry Bosch, explores a case of an incarcerated woman claiming innocence. She was coerced into a no-contest plea of a lesser sentence of manslaughter by her sleazy attorney, who told her if she didn’t agree to this deal, she would face life in prison for killing her sheriff’s-deputy husband. Every attempt by Haller and Bosch to find answers is met with either disdain or tainted evidence and testimonies. Connelly is a master of taking a straightforward case and compellingly revealing the details while throwing in a few twists and turns. Laws are questioned and Bosch and Haller soon determine they are David and this Goliath is too strong for them. Whether you are a fan of the books or the Netflix and Amazon Prime series, this latest entry is another gripping winner from the master of crime fiction, and with the great popularity of the TV series, expect huge interest in this title.Jeff Ayers, firstCLUE, September 7, 2023

Blackburn, Maggie. A Killer Romance (A Beach Reads Mystery #3). February 6, 2024. 304 pages. Crooked Lane.
In Blackburn’s latest cozy, Summer Merriweather, owner of the Beach Reads bookshop, has a special Valentine’s Day event lined up, and invites Lana Livingston, a famous author who has reimagined Romeo and Juliet with a happy ending, to lead the festivities. Summer doesn’t realize that Lana recently became a widow and is being investigated for the murder of her husband. Things worsen when Lana has tea during her bookstore appearance and is later found dead of poisoning in her hotel room. The main suspect is Glads, the woman who served the author tea during the event. A ruthless detective wants answers, and to save her friend from being railroaded, Summer gathers a group of amateur detectives, including her ex-boyfriend, to solve not only who killed Lana but maybe even who murdered the author’s husband. Fans of cozy mysteries will find everything they love here, and even though this is the third book in the series, both newcomers and readers of the previous entries will find it worthwhile.—Jeff Ayers, firstCLUE, August 31, 2023

Goldberg, Lee. Dream Town (Eve Ronin #5). January 16, 2024. 300 pages. Thomas & Mercer.
Real life collides with reality television in a mega-rich section of Los Angeles in Goldberg’s latest thriller. Detective Eva Ronin investigates the discovery of bones found in a park outside a private and secure area called Hidden Hills. That cold case soon requires focusing on a current investigation when a reality star is murdered inside her home while her family sleeps nearby. Hooded thieves broke in and ran when the family awoke to the gunshots. The expected security of the community appears nonexistent. Eva knows about the world of Hollywood since her police role has become a TV series, so she’s used to what is factual being played up for entertainment value. But this case seems to defy logic as more deaths occur, and reality means nobody is safe. Goldberg has created a terrific character in Eva Ronin, and he knows how to write a fast-paced thriller mixed with humor and inside jokes with no fluff. Like Michael Connelly, Goldberg also utilizes the Los Angeles landscape effectively.—Jeff Ayers, firstCLUE, August 17, 2023

Preston, Douglas. Extinction. April 23, 2024. 384 pages. Forge.
Erebus is a resort for the extremely wealthy, and those who visit the sprawling grounds in the heart of the Colorado Rockies get to experience Earth’s distant past. Using cutting-edge technology, scientists have been able to de-extinct mammals like woolly mammoths and plant life from the Pleistocene era. A young couple pays for a camping trip in the sprawling complex and is kidnapped and killed by what appears to be a group of ruthless hunters. Colorado Bureau of Investigation Agent Frances Cash and county sheriff James Colcord lead the investigation. As the mystery creates national headlines, Cash and Colcord meet resistance from both the team at the resort and their own supervisors. What happened to the couple is only the beginning, and the shocking truth will threaten lives and the history books. Preston creates a Michael Crichton level of thought-provoking science and thrilling intrigue while avoiding writing a Jurassic Park clone. Extinction goes beyond the simple question of whether man should play God, and with a terrific cast of characters, Preston has a guaranteed bestseller.—Jeff Ayers, firstCLUE, August 10, 2023

Pitkin, Joe. Exit Black. February 20, 2024. 350 pages. Blackstone.
A floating space station, the Imperium, was once a laboratory but has been crafted into a hotel for the extremely wealthy in Pitkin’s thriller. The first group arrives, and the team onboard is ready to show off the unique features of a stay, including a view of Earth and a supervised spacewalk. Chloe, a biophysicist who misses having her work be the focus of the station, assists in making the visitors feel welcome. It doesn’t help that her boyfriend, the CEO of the hotel, can’t make it at the last minute. She quickly learns that something sinister is happening and that some of the staff she thought she could trust are part of a global terrorist group called The Reckoners. While Chloe remains in hiding, the visitors are taken hostage, and the demand is eight billion dollars. With no hope of rescue and no way to communicate with anyone on Earth to send help, Chloe takes matters into her own hands. This mashup of the films Die Hard and Gravity is an action-adventure reader’s dream. The pacing is relentless and claustrophobic, making it impossible to stop turning the pages. Pitkin has written a winner.—Jeff Ayers, firstCLUE, August 3, 2023

Charles, Paula. Hammers and Homicide (Hometown Hardware Mystery #1). January 16, 2024. 320 pages. Crooked Lane.
Dawna Carpenter runs a hardware store in downtown Pine Bluff, Oregon. She struggles to keep it going, especially after the death of her beloved husband, Bob. The building shares space with a boutique, and the woman who runs Lipstick and Lace is a real piece of work. A real-estate developer in town has bold plans to open a luxurious hotel, but when he’s found dead in the hardware store’s bathroom, Dawna’s life gets turned upside down even more than she thought possible. The quirky cast of characters, the slowly building mystery, and the light-hearted tone make Hammers and Homicide a terrific debut. Charles also does an outstanding job of addressing how people deal with the grief of losing a loved one, without being overly depressing. Readers will be fixing to read more mysteries of this series and Paula Charles.—Jeff Ayers, firstCLUE, July 27, 2023

Deaver, Jeffrey. The Watchmaker’s Hand (Lincoln Rhyme #16). November 28, 2023. 400 pages. Putnam.
Paraplegic forensic Captain Lincoln Rhyme; his wife, Detective Amelia Sachs; and their team of NYPD officers race against the clock in Deaver’s terrifying thriller. A construction crane collapses, and without a last-second move by the operator, it would have done extensive damage. The crash ends up only killing several people rather than hundreds. It was sabotage, and the crash is only the beginning, as those claiming responsibility will conduct another act in 24 hours unless their demands are met. One by one, the team members experience accidents designed to eliminate Rhyme’s trustworthy colleagues and those he truly cares about. Rhyme learns that the mastermind is someone he has been unable to capture, The Watchmaker. The Captain’s nemesis seeks revenge, his end goal to murder Rhyme. Deaver is the master of manipulation and telling a story quickly, and he is at the top of his game here. Readers should not be intimidated by the 15 previous entries in the series, as this one can be read as a standalone. The Watchmaker’s Hand is a fantastic thriller with great characters and jaw-dropping surprises.—Jeff Ayers, firstCLUE, July 20, 2023

Grumley, Michael C. Deep Freeze (The Revival #1). January 9, 2024. 336 pages. Forge.
A bus ride becomes a nightmare when John Reiff wakes up to see the bus plunge into a freezing river, and he and several others are trapped. But that is not the end for him. He then wakes up in what appears to his confused mind to be a mix of a hospital and a laboratory. The doctors there tell him that he was cryogenically frozen due to the accident conditions, and with the experimental equipment on site, they could revive him. As John gathers his strength, he realizes that the doctors are not as forthcoming with him as they should be. He has secrets of his own, as he begins to have terrifying visions of flames mixed in with the pain from his resurrection. The truth and its ramifications will jeopardize the lives of John and the doctors who brought him back to life. Robin Cook meets Blake Crouch in this intense thriller that will appeal to fans of mysteries that feature paranoid conspiracies and a hint of science fiction. While not a cliffhanger, the ending will still have readers demanding the next book right away.—Jeff Ayers, firstCLUE, July 13, 2023

Goldberg, Lee. Calico. November 7, 2023. 320 pages. Severn House.
A missing-person case becomes a possible homicide investigation, and an ex-LAPD detective becomes tangled in a bizarre mystery in Goldberg’s latest thriller. Beth McDade was forced out of the LAPD, and the only place willing to hire her is in the isolated area of Barstow, California. Everyone knows everybody in this area of the state, and even though there are few people spread out over many miles in the desert, she hopes to escape her past and find a second chance. The disappearance of a man on the way to visit his daughter and an accident involving a motor home running over someone keep her busy. Still, the more she investigates, the more she will question her sanity. Goldberg also takes the time to explore the life of Ben, who becomes a chef in the mining town of Calico in the late 1800s. What Ben uncovers in the past could very well help Beth in the present. The journeys of both Ben and Beth are complicated and compelling, and what Goldberg has crafted is a page-turning novel that has surprises up to the final page. Calico is arguably one of his best.Jeff Ayers, firstCLUE, June 29, 2023

Hurwitz, Gregg. Lone Wolf (Orphan X #9). February 13, 2024. 400 pages. Minotaur.
The usually solid Evan Smoak, a former government assassin in the Orphan program, is not at the top of his game. His sharp senses and training are gone, and to get back into shape and help those with nowhere else to turn, Evan agrees to find a missing dog. A mission not worthy of his skills quickly becomes deadly when he stumbles upon a dead body and is almost shot by a female assassin, The Wolf. She is formidable and focused on completing her assignment with training similar to his own, even if that means eliminating Evan and everyone he cares about and feels responsible for keeping safe. It’s jarring seeing Evan be “ordinary” at first, but his journey back to being himself is both intense and satisfying. The series has always been a blend of Batman, the Equalizer, and Vince Flynn’s Mitch Rapp, and Lone Wolf reinforces why it continues to be great nine novels in. Newcomers to Evan’s adventures should feel fine starting here before diving into the others.—Jeff Ayers, firstCLUE, June 22, 2023

Gardiner, Meg. Shadowheart (UNSUB series #4). October 3, 2023. 330 pages. Blackstone.
Gardiner shakes up the serial-killer genre with her latest thriller. FBI profiler Caitlin Hendrix visits serial killer Efrem Judah Goode in prison. He shows her detailed drawings of the women he has killed, but none of them are the victims he’s incarcerated for  killing. He claims innocence for those women’s murders but is not innocent of being a murderer. There is a copycat called the Broken Heart Killer, and somehow Goode and this UNSUB are connected. Caitlin dives into the case and will once again put her career and life on the line for justice, while bringing closure to the families of the women Goode killed. What she uncovers will surprise even the most jaded reader. Gardiner has a gift for tackling gruesome and uncomfortable topics and giving the prose a literary spin. While other authors might wallow in the ugly, Gardiner makes it beautiful. Fans of true crime and the television show Criminal Minds should make Gardiner mandatory reading.—Jeff Ayers, firstCLUE, June 15, 2023

L’Etoile, James. Face of Greed (The Detective Emily Hunter Mystery Series #1). November 7, 2023. 320 pages. Oceanview.
James L’Etoile uses his time working for the prison and criminal justice system to maximum effect at the start of this series featuring Detective Emily Hunter and her partner, Javier Medina. A businessman with ties to the Sacramento community is murdered in his home, and his wife is injured. The mayor wants answers and pressures Emily’s Captain to uncover the truth while ordering them to stay away from his widow. As the investigation progresses, the widow seems to have the answers they seek, but Emily and Javier risk being tossed off the case if they continue to prod her. More bodies start to appear, and a break-in reflects poorly on the dead businessman and his unscrupulous methods to maintain his job and charitable contributions. It doesn’t help that Emily is distracted by a family matter that seems to lead to a conclusion she cannot accept. The pacing and realistic feel of the investigation will appeal to fans of Michael Connelly, who enjoy a baffling crime to solve. Readers will be anxious for Emily’s next case.—Jeff Ayers, firstCLUE, June 8, 2023

Morrison, Boyd and Beth Morrison. The Last True Templar (Tales of the Lawless Land #2). September 14, 2023. 432 pages. Head of Zeus.
The brother/sister team of Boyd and Beth Morrison delivers a stellar sequel to The Lawless Land. Gerard Fox and Lady Willa are adventuring together in 1351 Italy, hoping to overcome their problematic societal pasts to marry. They stumble upon an ambush and help an older woman, Luciana, escape the attack. That act of kindness plunges them into a decade-old search for the location of the Templar treasure. It doesn’t help that Luciana’s greedy husband wants her dead and the treasure for himself. To succeed in their quest, Gerard and Willa must overcome betrayal, villainy, and deception while keeping the truth of their heritage secret. The Middle Ages comes to glorious life mixed with a plot from a Clive Cussler novel. The Last True Templar is adventure at its finest, and the pacing never slows down for a second. The story reads like the authors somehow have a time machine and are merely transcribing actual events. Readers will be anxious for the next book in the series, and hopefully a big-screen adaptation is not far behind.—Jeff Ayers, firstCLUE, May 25, 2023

Scalzi, John. Starter Villain. September 19, 2023. 272 pages. Tor Books.
Charlie’s life is nothing special. He makes a pittance taking occasional substitute-teaching gigs and lives with his two cats in his dad’s house, to the detriment of his other siblings. When his uncle passes away, his will stipulates that Charlie oversees the funeral, and then will receive his inheritance. The only people who show up at the service are his uncle’s enemies, and they all go out of their way to ensure the body inside the coffin is dead. After the service, Charlie learns that his inheritance is a lair built inside a dormant volcano, and his uncle was a supervillain. With Charlie becoming the new head of his uncle’s business practices, he will need a crash course on being ruthless and bloodthirsty if he can stay alive long enough. James Bond villainy meets Despicable Me in this hilarious and intense journey into the other side of the battle between good and evil, featuring mostly shady characters mixed with a team that is unlike any seen anywhere before in a thriller. Starter Villain is a blast. Fans of Scalzi will consider it one of his best, and thriller fans who want humor and a different perspective into the world of criminals will treasure it.—Jeff Ayers, firstCLUE, May 18, 2023

Moore, Taylor. Ricochet (Garrett Kohl #3). August 29, 2023. 336 pages. William Morrow.
Garrett Kohl’s plan for a normal life on his Texas ranch goes awry in Moore’s latest action thriller. He learns that his adopted son’s brother might still be alive in Afghanistan, and he will have to lead the rescue operation if there is a chance of it succeeding. Doing so could cost him a chance to marry his high-school sweetheart and the peaceful life he has promised his friends and family. When Garrett learns about a possible act of sabotage with international implications that could destroy the region, he must put aside his feelings and work with both CIA allies and neighborhood enemies to stop the potential carnage. C.J. Box meets the television series Yellowstone in this wild and compelling thrill ride amidst a beautiful Texas landscape. Moore has crafted a cast of characters and a locale that feels authentic. Readers will be eager for the author’s next adventures.—Jeff Ayers, firstCLUE, May 18, 2023

Elston, Ashley. First Lie Wins. January 9, 2024. 352 pages. Pamela Dorman Books.
Ryan Summer helps a young woman named Evie Porter with a flat tire, and shortly afterward, they are inseparable in Elston’s twisty thriller. He falls head over heels for her, but in Evie’s case, the relationship is an assignment from her mysterious boss she has never seen, Mr. Smith. Her orders are to get close and obtain information about Ryan’s business. As time passes, she finds herself falling for her mark, and one evening, while meeting some of Ryan’s friends, she meets Lucca Marino. Evie’s real name is Lucca Marino, and this woman is using Evie’s real-life identity and background. It’s clear her boss has put a target on her back, and she will have to use all her manipulative skills to stay alive, even if that means she has no realistic chance of returning to her old life. Retirement is not an option. Elston has crafted a story that stretches credulity a bit, but works. Readers will be dying  to finish this fast enough so they can decipher what’s going on, and it’s a guarantee that they’ll find the truth unexpected. Fans of Hank Phillippi Ryan and Megan Miranda should seek this out.—Jeff Ayers, firstCLUE, May 4, 2023

Slaughter, Karin. After That Night (Will Trent #11). August 22, 2023. 432 pages. William Morrow.
Nothing was ever the same for Sara Linton after the night she was attacked. Though the police apprehended the culprit, Sara has struggled to deal with the trauma ever since. She’s now engaged to GBI Special Agent Will Trent, and they are crafting wedding plans. When Sara promises to pursue justice for another young woman, who dies, she has no idea that this will force her to confront the darkness and memories she has been avoiding for years. Will wants to help, and what they uncover leads to connected attacks with ties to recent incidents. Slaughter is a master of telling a story with horrific elements and spinning it to be both clinical and compelling. She dives into the characters we love and provides more insight into what has made them who they are, which makes them come alive on the page. The ABC television series Will Trent was recently renewed for a second season, and its popularity will steer readers to pick up this book. Whether a newcomer to the series or a fan who has read the previous entries, readers will find this one of the best to date.—Jeff Ayers, firstCLUE, April 27, 2023

Dugoni, Robert. One Last Kill (Tracy Crosswhite #10). October 3, 2023. 379 pages. Thomas and Mercer.
A newspaper retrospective of an unsolved killing spree brings back more than memories in Dugoni’s latest thriller. The Route 99 serial killer seemed to stop almost three decades ago, but why? The upcoming article reflecting on the murders has Tracy Crosswhite investigating the cold case with Johnny Nolasco, her superior, whom she does not get along with. He ran the original task force, and failing to deliver a suspect still haunts him. The two must overcome their differences to see if they can find justice and bring closure to the victims’ families. The clues lead to the horrific possibility that renewed exposure will cause the killer to strike again. Though this is the 10th Tracy Crosswhite, newcomers will savor the story, while Dugoni fans will love how he ties up several storylines from earlier novels. Few authors deliver consistently stellar crime fiction, and Dugoni is one of those writers. Michael Connelly fans should have this series on their reading pile.Jeff Ayers, firstCLUE, April 13, 2023

Yew, Samara. Murder by the Seashore (A California Bookshop Mystery #1). October 17, 2023. 256 pages. Crooked Lane.
Yew’s first book in this series creates a perfect launch point for the adventures of bookseller Scarlett Gardner and her world of nosy tourists; endearing friends; and a former boyfriend, Connor, who embodies the word jerk. She moves to the beachfront town of Oceanside, CA, to open a bookstore with Connor, but he leaves her in the lurch soon after opening. She finds friendship with Evelyn, who helps her run the store. One morning, Scarlett finds a woman’s body on the beach near the store. When the police learn that not only was the woman in the store the night before but also that she left Scarlett a vast inheritance, the bookseller becomes a prime suspect. Scarlett has no idea why she is receiving this enormous sum of money, and suddenly everybody wants to meet the “murderous bookseller.” Yew has the goods to craft a compelling story full of everything cozy fans expect, including the red herrings, sketchy suspects, and motivation to have Scarlett investigate the case herself to prove her innocence. Under the name Holly Yew, the author launched another mystery series, The Rose Shore Mysteries, featuring an art curator. Under any name, Yew has a bright future in the cozy world.—Jeff Ayers, firstCLUE, April 6, 2023

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