Category Archives: Thriller

Beneath the Waves (The Kira Hunter Novella, Book 1) by Nora Cabot

When a private investigator returns to her childhood home to make peace with her past, someone in town tries to prevent that from happening.

Kira Hunter was the sole survivor when the old boat that she and her classmates were holding their graduation party on overturned and sank in a sudden storm. She and her mother had fled the town to avoid the constant reminders immediately after and had never gone back until now, 20 years later. When an aunt left her the manor house just out of the town, Kira felt the time was right to return to Wayhill and face her memories and, perhaps, make some sense of what happened that tragic night when everyone, including her best friend, Zen, died. However, from the minute she hit town, she had the constant feeling that she was being watched, and then the notes started showing up.

The first note, left in plain sight on her bed at the manor when no one else was in the house, was a personal message written in Zen’s handwriting. Others followed and revealed details only Zen would know. Then there was the mysterious figure in black that she kept getting a glimpse of – was it just the handyman from next door? One thing was certain; someone didn’t like that she was back in town and meant to do something about it.

Beneath the Waves is the thrilling first book in a new series by author Nora Cabot. The main character, Akira ‘Kira’ Glory Hunter, a high school senior at the time of the accident, is now a grown woman with ten years’ experience as a private investigator under her belt. But with all the strange goings-on as she tries to get settled into her new home, her investigation into what happened at the graduation party gets sidelined. Kira returns home with a load of survivor’s guilt, and the shocking appearance of the messages, seeming to come from her deceased friend, really keep her off-balance for most of the story. However, when she finally shakes herself off and gets her mind set to find out who is doing this and why she settles down and acts like the successful investigator she is.

Supporting characters that added a lot to the story include Noah Price, the handyman from next door who is trying to escape his own past burdens. I enjoyed the interplay between the two and liked the resulting chemistry, slow-building and tantalizing. Although I didn’t care for Sheriff Matthews initially, he’s growing on me, and I liked how he seemed to appear to be more complex and competent as the book went on. Kira’s mother didn’t have a lot of ‘screen time,’ but what there was proved fun and, later, almost disastrous. I look forward to seeing more of all three of these characters in future ‘Kira’ books.

I thought the notes and insider messages were frightening, and the constant feeling that Kira was being watched, even in her own home, highly effective and sinister touches. The murder was as shocking as it was unexpected and really amped up the feeling of dread. There were clues to follow, and Kira unerringly starts with the most likely suspects to know what’s really going on in the small town. I thought the resolution was simple but made sense. The story leaves the reader with questions and unfinished business, which creates a “need to know what will happen next” and provides a good jumping-off point for the next book in the series.

I recommend BENEATH THE WAVES to readers that enjoy a mystery with a strong female protagonist, a PI mystery, and a story a bit darker than what a cozy would provide.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from Reedsy Discovery.

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The River Girls (Mercy Harbor Thriller, #1) by Melinda Woodhall

The River Girls, book one in the Mercy Harbor series, is an exciting mystery thriller debut!

Five years ago, successful software developer, Eden Winthrop, discovered the body of her younger sister, who her abusive husband had murdered. Now she’s watching the front desk of one of the safe houses for abused women that she’s set up in her small Florida hometown of Willow Bay when a teenage girl named Star shows up looking for refuge. Against protocol and proper vetting, Eden allows her inside, listening to her desperate story that men have killed her friend, Jess, and now they’re after her! Getting her settled in a room for the night, Eden calls the foundation’s executive director for guidance, but when the other woman arrives, they discover Star has slipped out the back door and headed down to the river nearby. Fearing the girl may have drowned, Eden goes to the police department to report her as missing.

Police Detective Vanessa ‘Nessa’ Ainsley takes Eden’s report, and days later, when she’s called to the river where a teenage girl’s body has been found in the water where she’d been dumped after having been strangled. The crime and the victim’s details are similar to a previous scene weeks earlier, and the department fears a serial killer is at work. Nessa contacts Eden to view the body to see if it is Star.

Leo Steele is a successful criminal defense attorney. Some, like Eden, would say too successful. He’s the lawyer that got her sister’s husband off charges of violating a protective order the week before he murdered her. He’s been contacted by one of his clients who was not so lucky and is currently serving time while her teenage daughter is on her own and being passed from one foster situation to another. The daughter, Jess, has dropped out of sight, and she wants Leo to try and locate her. He is also contacted to help identify the body, and it is his client’s daughter, Jess.

Eden and Leo overcome their differences and begin to work together to find Star, who they feel is in danger and holds the key to Jess’s murder. When another teenage girl’s body is found in the river, Detective Ainsley heads up a team of veteran investigators to work the evidence from the crime scenes and stop this killer before another girl is murdered.

“The River Girls” is a fast-paced and gripping thriller of a mystery. The characters are a diverse group of people, each with their own lives and problems, who come together to solve this horrific series of murders of teenage girls. The bad guys are very bad and easy to despise, and some are tantalizingly hidden in plain sight. The main characters felt like real people to me, and I particularly appreciated seeing things through the eyes of the teenage girls involved. I was surprised and pleased with how the story is resolved and look forward to more books in the series.

THE RIVER GIRLS is a violent story with murders of teenage victims. It has several plot lines to follow, but they are straight-forward and easy to follow.  The story also features a character with an anxiety disorder with an emotional support animal that I found very interesting and different in mystery/thrillers. I would recommend this book to those who would like to read a small-town thriller or mystery.

I received an advance review copy for free from Book Sirens, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.

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Deadland by Sawyer Hall

A timely thriller-horror story about a fabulous new theme park and a virus that gets in with the guests.

Deadland is the latest premiere amusement park to open its gates, and people are flocking to enjoy its offerings. The park is themed on five different cultures’ vision of Hell, and park guests wear a metal smart-wrist-cuff that reads their body’s reactions and tallies their participation points as they work their way through the sections, rides, games, and amusements while trying to avoid being “bitten” by roaming zombies. The guest with the most points at the end of the day wins a fabulous (but unnamed) prize.

On this day, the guest list includes Nick Calvo and his son, George. George is a little younger than the minimum age, but he’s being allowed in as part of a Make-A-Wish-style dream trip. George is in remission from a rare form of leukemia.

Another guest group is the Abernathy family from San Francisco. Sisters Blake and Lola and their younger brother, Asher, are in the park sans parents. The two girls are well-known social media influencers, but Deadland prohibits guests from having cellphones, cameras, or other recording devices inside the park, so they’re focusing more on cute boys leaving Asher to fend for himself.

Then there is Dr. Piper Prescott, a renowned but disgraced virologist and special VIP guest of the park’s multimillionaire creator, Derek Farber. Piper and Derek have a history. Eight years, the Apopka virus, with a 100% fatality rate, had killed the entire population of two remote islands as the whole world looked on. Without knowing how the virus was transmitted and fearing it had already spread from ground zero, a vaccine had been developed, and people were required to get it. However, weeks later, it was discovered that the vaccine had an unforeseen reaction in approximately 10% of the treated population, and millions of people died. Anti-vaxxers seized the day with the result that unvaccinated people were buying forged ‘proof of immunization’ documents on the black market. Piper, the most knowledgeable person about the vaccine debacle (and a staunch proponent of vaccination), appeared at a professional convention to promote her new book on the Apopka virus when Derek showed up and humiliated her in front of her peers. Now he’s offered an olive branch and wants her to come to observe his park, many aspects of which are based on the viral pandemic, and give him her opinion.

George and his nervous father, Nick, are having a great time, though, when they meet up with Asher Abernathy, who is trying to enjoy the park on his own. But while making their way through the first section, Asher becomes visibly ill and, rather than accepting Nick’s help, goes off to find his sisters. Soon after, George gets separated from his dad, and Piper runs across Nick searching for him. The two find the boy lying unconscious and exhibiting the same symptoms Asher, symptoms Piper readily identifies as those of the Apopka virus.

As Piper and Nick desperately try to get help for George, they are detained at the park’s infirmary. Piper begs Derek to put the park into quarantine and call the CDC but not before numerous guests, including the Abernathys and a very sick Asher, leave.

Blake takes her sick brother to the nearest medical facility she can find and contacts her parents to come to help them. Asher appears to be making a recovery when their parents arrive, so their father decides to fly back home with the two girls, leaving his wife and son behind. But when the senior ER doctor, Stick Williams, sees the rash on Asher’s face, something clicks in the back of his mind, alerting him to the possibility that this might be the Apopka virus. He must now work against the clock to get Asher the treatment he needs and quarantine the ER, all the while knowing that he himself is harboring a terrible secret regarding the virus.

Deadland was an absorbing story, heart-pounding and exciting. It is a timely thriller, horror story considering our current pandemic and recent approval to distribute and mass-inoculate with fast-tracked vaccines. (So, it is hitting a little close to home and may not be the right book for some at this time.)

I liked the characters, especially Nick and George Calvo, and rooted for their success throughout the book. Blake and Lola Abernathy felt like real teens with their distractions, worries, and sibling rivalry. Poor Asher seemed like a good kid but we really don’t get to enjoy him much before he becomes desperately ill. Dr. Piper Prescott was another favorite character. I liked that she seems to regain her confidence and get back on her feet while under pressure, and I liked that she was a more than competent competitor in the Deadland scoring. I did not understand Derek’s past animosity toward Piper and that part of their backstory.

The separate timelines for the Calvos, the Abernathys, and Dr. Prescott were a little odd to me. The three groups of park visitors were all there on the same day, yet Piper’s story stayed about a half a day ahead of the others until she joined up with the Calvos.

The idea of the visions of Hell as the theme for the various sections of the park was a winner for me but not being overly familiar with any one of them had me wondering about the presence of zombies there at all. I understood the zombies part in the scheme of the game but wondered that they were in keeping with the theme. Parts of this reminded me of the old Fright Nights at Six Flags Over Texas – good times!

I thought the situation with the various personnel at the local hospital was a great addition to the plot. I worried about the young, inexperienced, and inept doctor, and the lazy lab tech actually made me mad. This part of the story kept me guessing who would figure things out and save the day. The hotline story was a total surprise and totally shocking. All in all, the action at the hospital was a real highlight.

I recommend DEADLAND to readers that enjoy apocalyptic style tales, medical thrillers, and even those that would enjoy a pulse-pounding action story set in an amusement park. With the exciting plotting and the page-turning quality of the writing, I’ll certainly be looking for more by this author.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from Reedsy Discovery.

See my original review on Reedsy Discovery

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Filed under Book Reviews, Horror, Thriller

The Holy City Murders (A Duke Dempsey Mystery, #1) by Ron Plante, Jr.

Duke Dempsey, formerly a Charleston PD detective, is out on his own as a private investigator, and although business is looking good, he’s still adjusting to his inglorious ouster from public service and the hit he took to his self-esteem and reputation. He’s had success with some big cases but nothing as big as his latest, finding a missing relic for none other than the Pope! Tied up with his investigation is the double homicide his former partner, Johnny Stampkin, is dealing with down on the docks of the Charleston port. A local priest, Father Lorenzo, a favorite in the Holy City as Charleston is known, has been vicious stabbed, and his companion, an off-duty Charleston cop, has had his throat slashed. Father Lorenzo was supposed to have been the safeguard of the Church’s relic, and no one knows where it is. As Duke and Johnny’s cases entwine and the bodies continue to pile up, they desperately pool their resources to go after the killer and find the precious artifact.

The Holy City Murders is the debut novel in the Duke Dempsey Mystery series by author Ron Plante, Jr. I found the main characters – Duke, Johnny, Margo, and Mary – likable and engaging, and the time period of the events appealing. The city of Charleston, South Carolina, made for an appealing setting with its humid, laid-back charm, recognizable landmarks, and unique opportunities because of its diversity for this and future books in the series. I thought the story was very good with the simultaneous police and private investigations of the two former partners. However, I knew who the secret spy was pretty quickly, so the mystery was really how this person would be revealed and how the protagonists would figure things out.

There were a couple of drawbacks for me in the story, though. First, the dialogue seemed more suited to the streets of New York, Chicago, Boston, or Philly. I choose to believe this was done to emphasize the patter seen in traditional detective noir. But Duke is a southern boy, a Charlestonian native, he even brings this up a couple of times, and I don’t see it in the language. Having said this, I still enjoyed the patois.

The other beef I have, and I see that previous reviewers noted it as well, was the plethora of grammatical issues in the version of the story being read. I read an Advance Readers Copy I received from Book Sirens, and there were numerous problems of this nature. However, a quick look at the finished version currently available for purchase or download shows that many of these issues have been found and corrected. Based on that examination, I’m adding an additional star to my original rating.  

With the look and feel of a noir detective story, there is so much to enjoy in Duke Dempsey and The Holy City Murders. The story doesn’t end here, and I look forward to reading more about Duke and his crowd as the series continues. I recommend this book to readers that enjoy a grittier mystery (than a cozy), noir detective stories, historical mysteries, or even a mystery that features Civil War elements.

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Readers Copy from Book Sirens.

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The Guest List by Lucy Foley

It promised to be the poshest wedding of the season. The bride, Jules Keegan, is the founder of The Download, one of the hottest online magazines of the day. The groom, Will Slater, is the handsome and charismatic star of the successful television show, Survive the Night. On a remote island off the coast of Ireland, the nuptials are to be exchanged in front of 200 of their closest and dearest friends…or are they? Someone thinks the bride is making a terrible mistake.

What an enjoyable suspenseful story! Told in short chapters from the alternating viewpoints of different members of the wedding party or those closest to them, the story of the bride and groom and their families and friends is revealed much like a slow-burning fuse. It is an incredibly atmospheric telling with its setting on an abandoned island with a dire history, its luxuriously appointed ‘Folly,’ the crumbling ruins of the old church, treacherous bogs, and a black storm brewing in the near distance.  

As each character takes a turn at narrating, the author gives and leaves out just enough information to keep the reader in the dark or guessing but not connecting the dots too soon. I know I missed some clues along the way to the big reveal later on. One thing I experienced is some characters I didn’t care for at the start of the story, and ones I did, flip places in my emotions by the end. That change in attitude was entertaining in itself. But the end does come, and it is a doozy!

I recommend The Guest List for mystery and thriller readers that don’t mind that slow, inexorable burn to the exciting denouement.

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John Rader (John Rader Thrillers, #1) by Ian Quarry

John Rader

He comes to behind the wheel of a wrecked Porsche which is nose down a snowy slope head first against a tree. The blonde woman in the passenger seat is dead from a gunshot wound, and he cannot remember a thing – about himself, about her, about anything. He climbs out of the wreckage and makes his way to a roadway and a truck ride to the address he finds on the ID in his wallet.

And so begins the exciting and desperate story of John Rader. As Rader follows the clues to his identity, familiar places and familiar faces fill in the past he’s lost and gives him a direction to gain justice for the dead woman he left behind in the car.

At first, the story seems clouded with confusion right along with the main character but much of that clears up as John follows his leads, and I felt this really set up an uneasy, and at times, desperate atmosphere. And since John is not quite himself, the bad guys have a difficult time tracking him down to finish the job that began in the Porsche and got Miranda, his companion and love interest, killed. There is a wide cast of characters presented in the book: villains, henchmen, crooked cops, a prostitute with tragic backstory. The reader doesn’t get a full, complete picture of who John Rader is in this first book, but for me, it was enough of a reveal to enjoy it and look forward to the next book in this new thriller series, John Rader Thrillers.

I recommend this book for mystery/thriller readers that don’t mind an overt lack of back story information and those that like stories with an organized crime plot. I liked it!

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Authority (Southern Reach #2) by Jeff VanderMeer

Authority

 

Almost a cliffhanger ending!

So some of the members of the Expedition 12 team have appeared back at their homes, or in the biologist’s case – the empty lot she used to go to for solitude. The Psychologist who we learn was also the Director of the Southern Reach agency itself is not among the returned. In the absence of the Director, John “Control” Rodriguez, has been assigned to the agency as a “fixer.” He’s to find out what is going on at the Southern Reach and report back to a handler known as the “Voice” by a secret cellphone. The Assistant Director, Grace, and many of the other staff are understandably not welcoming. The Director seems to have been revered and many, Grace among them, are still waiting for her to return.

The members who have shown back up from Area X remember almost nothing about their time there. They do not know how they got out of Area X and back to their homes (or empty lots.) It’s all very mysterious, confusing, and then there are creepy staff members and strange shrines to who-knows-what in closets, drawers, and hidden rooms.

Book 2 quietly sneaks up on you as you try to unravel the secrets of Area X, the Southern Reach, and even Central. I kept listening and holding my breath for the next shoe to drop and when it does… the action doesn’t stop … only the narration. For now.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Dystopian/Post-apocalyptic, Horror, Sci-Fi, Suspense, Thriller

Sins of the Father (Land’s End #4) by S.W. Frontz

Sins

Working on a cold case of murder from 1989, Captain Robin Drexel of the Atlanta Police Department follows a lead to the tiny island of Land’s End, Virginia, and into the jurisdiction of her old Macon PD partner, Sheriff Andy Patrick. Land’s End is also where the victim of one of Robin’s cold cases, Mary Elizabeth Martin, was spirited away to hide out from her still-at-large attacker.

As Robin works the angles presented to her, she quickly assimilates into the island community thinking maybe this is where she’ll settle when she retires. (She’s got way more tenure at APD than she needs to call it done, and her rheumatoid arthritis has become a constant, painful companion.) On the island, she meets old friends and new as well as the handsome blue-eyed George that seems to so very, very familiar to her.

Meanwhile, a long-burning domestic abuse case on the island come to a head but even with the abuser out of the picture, tragic events continue to plague the victimized family with two women attacked, two twin sons murdered, and one young teenage daughter kidnapped.

Sins of the Father is the 4th book in the Land’s End series so there are a number of diverse plotlines in play left over from previous books going from the very start. I have not read the first three books but was able to get the gist of what was going on and enjoyed it. I have a feeling that I would have enjoyed the book even more if I’d read the earlier installments though. There are a lot of interesting characters to keep up with, all of whom add plenty to the ongoing story. The author gives some background information during the course of the book which helped to get me up to speed and there was a mix of flashbacks among the chapters that reinforced or clarified the back story.

This was an enjoyable book with a lot going on – mystery, romance, and a thriller all rolled into one. I look forward to getting into those earlier books and will be waiting for book 5 as well. There’s still a lot of unanswered questions and cliffhangers at this time.

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