Category: Thriller Review (Page 1 of 3)

#BookBeginnings The Cipher by Isabella Maldonado

Today I have a thriller by a local author, The Cipher by Isabella Maldonado for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!



The Cipher* by Isabella Maldonado

(*Amazon Affiliate link)


Summary:   FBI Special Agent Nina Guerrera is haunted by her troubled childhood. When a specter from her past starts a killing spree, Guerrera teams with mind hunter Dr. Jeffrey Wade to track him down.

First Sentence:

Nina Esperanza gazed up at the man who held her fate in his hands. Judge Albert McIntyre perused the submitted documents in silence.

Discussion:  Isabella Maldonado is a retired police captain and local Phoenix author. I’ve seen her speak several times, and have read the first book of her earlier series. As you would expect, the police procedures in her novels are spot on.  This one seems to be a lot more deeply violent than I remember her earlier works.

I like that we aren’t quite sure what is going on in the beginning. Is Nina a criminal about to be sentenced?


The Friday 56 is hosted by Freda’s Voice. The premise is simple. Turn to page 56 in the book and pick a quote.


Wade lowered his voice. “If any of this becomes uncomfortable, I expect you to let me know.”

She looked him straight in the eye and lied. “I will.” She was already fifty clicks past uncomfortable.


Yikes, I know I’m in writer mode when I want to edit the quote. Anyway, the “fifty clicks past uncomfortable” captures her voice nicely.

What do you think? Are you in a thriller mood for Halloween?

#BookBeginnings Among the Shadows by Bruce Robert Coffin

Today I’m reading Among the Shadows by Bruce Robert Coffin for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!



Among the Shadows by Bruce Robert Coffin

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  When a retired cop is murdered while in hospice, Detective Sergeant John Byron struggles to find a motive. Why would someone kill a man already so close to death? When second ex-Portland police officer is killed, Byron realizes the cases are linked and that if he doesn’t solve the murders quickly, more cops might die.

First Sentence:

The bitter stench of urine and impending death permeated the small dingy bedroom. Hawk stood next to the bed, looking down at O’Halloran.


I have to admit that first bit made me feel a bit squeamish. What about you?

Because we meet the victim and the killer pretty much in the first sentence of the book, this is not a traditional mystery. The publisher calls it a thriller.


The Friday 56 is hosted by Freda’s Voice. The premise is simple. Turn to page 56 in the book and pick a quote.


Retired Detective Ray Humphrey, one of Byron’s oldest and dearest friends, had always said:  “If you find your train derailing during the course of the investigation, the best thing you can do is go back to the beginning.”


I recently watched a webinar featuring Bruce Robert Coffin, who — like his fictional protagonist –is a retired detective sergeant from Maine. I was impressed by what he said during the talk, so I picked up his first two books.  If you like police procedurals,  this is a good choice. You can tell the guy knows his stuff and isn’t afraid to put it on the page.

You can’t tell from the excerpts, but the Portland, Maine setting adds a dimension to the story, too.

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Recent Reads: Catching Up

Having read a bunch of novels recently, I decided to quickly post summaries of my thoughts before I move on.

Spoilers likely!

The Last Sister* by Kendra Elliot (2020)

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: When Emily Mills discovers a man dead hanging in a tree, she is disturbed by the memories of finding her own father hanging under similar circumstances twenty years before. Her phone call to report the crime to the FBI brings special agent Zander Wells with his partner special agent Ava McLane to the scene. When Zander begins to investigate her father’s death to see if the crimes are related, Emily wonders about her older sister’s involvement and what she really witnessed all those years ago.

Notes:  The Last Sister drew me right in. It was enjoyable not to notice any frayed edges or issues, but just disappear into the story.  There were some interesting twists, most of which were believable. I also like that author Kendra Elliot uses a few law enforcement (FBI special agents) characters from previous novels, but shows them in a different light or brings someone who was a secondary character in a previous book up front to be a main character. It is less confining than a series with only one main character, yet there are familiar faces.

Although I totally get that the crime has to be of a certain type for the FBI to be called in, the hate crime/racism aspect was pretty disturbing.

Love meter:   ♥♥♥♥

Vanished by Kendra Elliot (2014)


Summary:   When eleven-year-old Henley disappears on her way to school, the FBI is on the case. Special Agent Ava McLane stays with the family to keep them safe and informed. Police detective Mason Callahan, who was once married to Henley’s stepmom, also arrives to help find the girl, even though someone he knew through work has just been murdered.  As clues are uncovered, Ava begins to suspect that more is going on than a simple kidnapping and other family members may be targeted as well.

Notes:  Once again, it was easy to lose myself in this novel. I liked that the family was a complicated one, with step moms and step dads in the mix. Although they all had the same goal, conflicts still arose because of their histories. The plot moved along smoothly and the characters were for the most part well developed. I liked the romance that emerged, also. It added some spice.

Love meter:   ♥♥♥♥


The Lucky One by Lori Rader-Day (2020)

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: Alice Fine works in a construction office with her dad by day and volunteers with an online group that matches unidentified bodies (“Does”) with missing persons at night. Unlike many of the other members of the group — who started because they have missing relatives — Alice was drawn to the work because she herself was a missing person when she was very young. She was rescued in less than a day, but her kidnapper was never caught. When Alice recognizes a man from a photograph on the missing persons website, she soon realizes he is the one who kidnapped her so long ago. With the help of other volunteers, Alice delves into the mystery of who he was and why he took her.

Notes:  I really like this book. I like that the author was inspired to write it by real events in her neighbor’s life. I like that the amateur sleuths were based on actual volunteers who run The Doe Network website.  I like that Alice’s memories may or may not be reliable, but that her present day narration is reliable.

My only criticisms were that a couple of the male characters had odd character arcs or seemed to get tossed into and out of the story randomly. One example was Jimmy, who was the son of one of the co-owners of the construction business. Jimmy stole Alice’s backpack and hated the fact she secretly owned the business that he thought he would inherit. Except he was in love with her in the end/climax scene?

Merrily’s potential love interest(?), Vasquez, more or less also randomly shows up at the end climax scene. It isn’t clear what his motives are, who he is investigating, and why he keeps popping up except that Merrily needs a guy.

Still, the rest works very well.

Love meter:   ♥♥♥♥♥

The Secret Place by Tana French (2014)


Summary:  A teenage student at a boarding school for boys, Chris Harper, was murdered a year ago, but the perpetrator was never found. When sixteen-year-old Holly from the neighboring girls’ school shows up at Detective Stephen Moran’s  desk in the cold case division with a clue, he uses it to join Lead Detective Antoinette Conway of Dublin’s Murder Squad as she reopens the case. Nothing is as it seems, however, as Holly’s friends and rival cliques are determined to muddy the waters.

Notes:  Finally, a Tana French novel to truly love (see my complaints of other novels on the author page). The writing is still gorgeous, as with all the others, but this time the police do their jobs and the ending is satisfying. Yes, Tana French can pull it off.

What is most delightful in this novel is the theme of lies and deception. It is a merry-go-round ride as Moran and Conway try to deceive the girls they interview into revealing what happened and the girls do their best to lead the detectives astray. For that matter, Moran is trying to butter Conway up so he can move to the Murder Squad. Who is lying for the “right” reasons? Perhaps they all are.

Love meter:   ♥♥♥♥♥

Rough Day: Detective Lottie King Mystery Short Stories* by Shelley Coriell

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: Author Shelley Coriell introduced Detective Lottie King as a minor character in the first book of her Apostles series, The Broken (reviewed here). Lottie was so popular, Shelley decided to write more about her. By the way, Shelley is a bit of a foodie and she includes Lottie-inspired recipes — and drinks(!) — between each chapter.

The stories range from Lottie working with her granddaughter’s Girl Power group to solve a locked room mystery, to helping a twelve-year-old boy find his missing grandfather.

Notes:  Given that this is a collection of short stories, it is easy to put it down between chapters, which I did over a year ago. When I picked it up again, I had forgotten how much I loved Lottie. She plows right in and gets the job done, all the time wearing the most amazing shoes.

I went to see if Shelley Coriell had any new novels out, but her last apparently was another collection of Lottie short stories published in 2017.  Hope that is remedied soon.

Love meter:   ♥♥♥♥

#BestsellerCode100: The Hit By David Baldacci

Time to discuss a novel from The Bestseller Code 100 list,

The Hit* by David Baldacci

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

The Hit is the second title in the Will Robie thriller series.

Summary: When a fellow CIA assassin Jessica Reel starts killing their colleagues, Will Robie accepts the task of hunting her down. Soon the clues aren’t adding up, and Robie must figure out who is telling the truth before he becomes the next target.


Right at the beginning we realize this novel is going to be a roller coaster ride because Baldacci sets up expectations that one thing is about to happen when “Bam!” there’s a big surprise. The plot continues to twist and turn throughout the book, until it is unexpected when things don’t twist.

Overall, it was a good read except for the very end, which  in my opinion was too forced. I won’t go into details, but it felt tacked on.


In The Bestseller Code, the authors suggest that emotional beats are one characteristic of bestselling novels (like for example, in Fifty Shades of Gray). In this novel, however, the characters have the emotionalism of a sharks hunting prey. They are cold and calculating, and bury their emotions.

So, how did it make the list? It turns out that although the emotions don’t bounce up and down like a dribbling basketball, the pacing does. In a typical chapter there is a short burst of violent action with tight, terse pacing, then the rest of the chapter involves the character reflecting on what happened and what is going to occur next. It seems likely the computer algorithm picked up the action-reflection-action-reflection pattern.

The point of view also jumped between characters from chapter to chapter, but not as regularly or evenly as the pacing. Plus, frankly, the voices weren’t that different.  After all, the two main characters were both CIA assassins and it is their similarities that makes the story compelling;  two equals going head to head.

Bottom Line:

If you are a writer, check out how David Baldacci handles his characters’ reflections. They are undoubtedly  part of what makes this novel a bestseller.

Have you read The Hit by David Baldacci? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Public domain photo courtesy

John Sandford’s Golden Prey

Let’s take a look at Golden Prey, one of the latest in the Prey Series by John Sandford (link to author post).

Golden Prey by John Sandford

I had read that Golden Prey might be a good starting place if you hadn’t seen this series before and were reluctant to start at the first.  I agree with that assessment because this novel breaks many of the ties of the past books. Lucas Davenport has taken a new job with the U. S. Marshals and he’s out of his depth. He knows his home state of Minnesota and has numerous connections there. Now his beat is the entire country. He’s gone from a small pond to a huge one. Will he be able to keep up with the big fish or will he get swallowed up?

Genre:  Thriller

Once again, this novel follows the thriller road map. We learn what the bad guys are up to early on and the question becomes will Lucas be able to catch them. Also, the ending isn’t tied up completely in a nice neat bow, which makes reading more suspenseful.  You never know who is going to get away with what. Sometimes the bad guys are victims.


The U.S. Marshals have wide ranging jurisdiction, so Lucas is free to follow the criminals wherever they go. He’s no longer stuck in Minnesota. Sandford takes full advantage of this, sending him to Tennessee and Texas for much of the book.


If readers missed it, Sandford isn’t shy about letting us know that an overarching theme is how dependent we are on cell phones and how they make us vulnerable to being spied on.

“They’re  so great, these little machines are, that we all agree to be spied on for the privilege of carrying them.”

I like how he shows that the criminals are fully as able to track cell phones as law enforcement is.


Although it must be difficult to maintain momentum without becoming stale, Sandford throws his main character into new situations to keep the stories fresh. As with others in the series, Golden Prey was impossible to put down until the very end.


#BookBeginnings The Crooked Staircase by Dean Koontz

We have the newest Jane Hawk thriller, The Crooked Staircase by Dean Koontz for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!



The Crooked Staircase* by Dean Koontz

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  In the third novel of the series, Jane Hawk is still hunting the secret organization responsible for her husband’s death as well as the deaths countless other innocent victims. Previously an FBI agent, her pursuit of the villains has turned her former employers against her, so now she is running from both former friends and enemies. Will she be able to stop the man behind it all before her pursuers catch her?

First Sentence of The Crooked Staircase:

At seven o’clock on that night in March, during a thunderless but heavy rain pounding as loud as an orchestra of kettledrums, Sara Holdsteck finally left the offices of Paradise Real Estate, carrying her briefcase in her left hand, open purse slung over her left shoulder, right hand free for a cross-body draw of the gun in the purse.


What a lot of information in one sentence! We have the who, when, and where as well as a set up that leaves the reader wondering what is going to happen next.

Conventional wisdom says not to start a novel with a reference to the weather, but since this sentence includes so much else in addition to the rain, I think it works.

What do you think? Have you read any of Koontz’s Jane Hawk thrillers?

Hope you are having a wonderful Friday!

#amreading Thriller Fade to Black by David Rosenfelt

Let’s take a look at the new thriller Fade to Black by David Rosenfelt.

Note:  One potential spoiler (sentence labelled as such).

Fade to Black* by David Rosenfelt

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

This novel is a sequel to the 2016 novel, Blackout.

The blurb:  After getting shot in the line of duty, New Jersey state police officer Doug Brock has been busy rebuilding his life. His fiancé suggests he attend an amnesia support group where he meets Sean Conner. Conner approaches Doug with a scrapbook that he says he found in his attic, which consists of news clippings about a woman who had been killed three years before. Conner, who also has amnesia, has no idea who the girl is or why he might have made the scrapbook. Doug agrees to help and convinces his captain to open the cold case. When he discovers that he has a personal connection to the investigation, suddenly he’s questioning everything he thought he knew about Sean and wondering if he put an innocent man in prison.


Author David Rosenfelt started his career in the movie industry and eventually moved into writing for TV and movies. The best parts of this novel reflect his screenwriting expertise. For example, the scenes are short and tightly written. There is a minimum of setting or even action. Much of the novel consists of fast-paced dialogue.

The dialogue is excellent. It is complex and nuanced, with plenty of underlying conflict and subtext. When the protagonist Doug Brock talks to his partner or girlfriend, he uses shorthand and banter, whereas when he’s interviewing someone, he’s much more formal. The author uses the barest of dialogue tags, but it is always easy to know who is speaking.

Here is Doug bantering with his girlfriend:

“Can I tell you something privately? Off the record?”
“Doug, we’re engaged…in a manner of speaking. We’re going to be married… at some point.”
“You’re really going out on a limb there,” I say.
She nods. “I’m a risk taker…”

Notice all the contractions?

Now Doug is talking with an informant:

“We’ve been through this twice, Mitchell.”
“I don’t care. I’ll deny everything, and I’ll never testify. You need to make the promise again.”
“I won’t reveal your name. Now who are the people that could have killed Rita Carlisle?”

The scenes with Doug narrating are written in the first person and present tense, whereas those with bad guys or victims narrating are from the third person and past tense. It might take a reader a few minutes to get used to the switches, but once the pattern is established it helps the reader orient quickly to each new scene.

Rosenfelt also knows how to plot. He draws the reader off in one direction and then makes an 180 degree turn without missing a beat.

Thriller or Not?

Which leads to the question, is this really a thriller?

Traditionally, in a thriller the reader knows who the bad guy is and what he or she is doing. The tension comes from waiting to see if the protagonist can stop the bad guy.

(Possible spoiler alert) Although this novel does show us bad guys towards the beginning, we’re not really sure what they are up to and soon we find out that the bad guys might not know what is going on either.

Rather than a traditional hardcore thriller, the novel wanders between thriller and mystery. That doesn’t detract from the fact that it is paced well and does have an interesting plot.

Bottom Line:

The bottom line is that I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It was a fast and easy read, but still had some substance to it. I would be willing to read other novels by this author.

#BookBeginnings Fade to Black by David Rosenfelt

This week I found the thriller Fade to Black by David Rosenfelt at our local library. Let’s take a look at it for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!



Fade to Black* by David Rosenfelt

(*Amazon Affiliate link)


After getting shot in the line of duty, New Jersey state police officer Doug Brock has been busy rebuilding his life. His fiancé suggests he attend an amnesia support group where he meets Sean Conner.  Sean approaches him after a meeting with a scrapbook of a murder victim that he found in his attic. Conner, who also has amnesia, has no idea who the girl is or why he might have made the scrapbook. Doug agrees to help and convinces his captain to open the cold case. When he discovers that he had a personal connection, suddenly he’s questioning everything he thought he knew about Sean and about his own past.

First Sentence:

His name was William Simmons, but no one he knew really cared about that. Social workers asked him for his name when they gave him a meal, or if he checked in for a cot on a particularly cold night, but they wrote it down without paying much attention.


It’s not really clear who this character is and how he fits into the story. We meet the protagonist, Doug Brock, in the second chapter.

What do you think? Have you ever read any of David Rosenfelt’s novels?

Thriller Set In Arizona: Blood’s Echo by Isabella Maldonado

After looking at three mystery series set in Arizona last week, let’s take a look at a thriller/police procedural set in Phoenix, Blood’s Echo by Isabella Maldonado.

Blood’s Echo* by Isabella Maldonado


(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  The leading force behind the Phoenix Police Drug Enforcement Bureau’s campaign against a powerful drug cartel, Detective Veranda Cruz is on the brink of finally bringing in a powerful drug lord. When the operation goes wrong, however, Cruz finds herself battling her own bosses as well as the cartel. Will her secrets prevent her from getting the upper hand?

This is Isabella Maldonado’s debut novel in a planned series.  Although it has some of the rough edges one might expect in a debut novel, it also has some bright spots.

Bright Spots:

Maldonado is a retired police captain, and her experiences give the police procedure portions real depth and authenticity. Aspiring mystery authors should pick up a copy just to see how she uses police jargon and vocabulary. I found myself underlining terms, especially in the first scene or two. How the various organizations within the police departments fit together is also enlightening.

In addition to police procedural, this novel is a clear thriller. The bad guys are revealed right up front and the question isn’t who did it, but will they win. Maldonado’s plotting is tight, which isn’t always easy to do. She also spends time with her villains, showing scenes from their point of view. This makes the stakes even higher, because we can see them as fleshed-out characters with goals and motivations.

Even though it is part of a planned series (with threads set up for the next book), the ending was satisfying and clean.

Needs More Polish:

The place where the novel falls down is a common one. Even experienced authors tend to write clichés, or overused ideas and phrases in their first drafts. The trick is to find the tired old phrases and rework them to make the ideas and words fresh for the reader. For example, “stomach churning,” “eyes cutting,” and “sweat running in rivulets” are commonly-used phrases that could have been upgraded.


Overall, Blood’s Echo is a tightly-drawn thriller with a strong female protagonist and well-crafted setting. It was a fast and enjoyable read. I will definitely check out the next one as well.


The second novel in the Veranda Cruz series:

Phoenix Burning* by Isabella Maldonado

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

#BestsellerCode100: Number 67. The Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Koontz

Time to start the discussion of our next novel from The Bestseller Code 100 list, 67. The Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Koontz

This post does not contain spoilers.

The Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Koontz

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary: Amy Redwing has devoted her life to rescuing golden retrievers. When she puts herself in danger to save Nickie, she develops a special bond with the dog. But now someone is after Amy. Who is going to rescue whom?

Have you read The Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Koontz? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

  1. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  2. Karen’s review from a reader’s perspective
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.

Have you written about The Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Koontz? Feel free to add a link to your review in the comments.

What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.

The next book is number 66. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (2002) – Discussion begins February 19, 2018
Mix of genres

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