February’s Best New Thrillers

Humans, Bow Down, by James Patterson and Emily Raymond
Patterson brings his razor-sharp sense of pacing and drama to a sci-fi thriller unlike anything he’s done before—but still unmistakably Patterson. Along with frequent co-author Emily Raymond and the striking illustrations of Alexander Ovchinnikov, Patterson tells the story of Six, a young woman whose family was murdered in the early days of the Great War between humans and robots. The machines won, and humans are either enslaved or confined to a lawless waste known as the Reserve. The machines are gearing up for a final push to conquer the last survivors—and Six is gearing up for revenge, and the salvation of humanity itself. Fast and furious, this sci-fi action yarn is perfect even for those who don’t normally go for sci-fi.

Right Behind You, by Lisa Gardner
Gardner returns to her popular characters Pierce Quincy and Rainie Conner (Say Goodbye) with a tense thriller with a lot of heart. Quincy and Conner have been fostering 13-year-old Sharlah since her brother Telly beat their father to death for killing their mother while in a drunken stupor. Now, they want to formally adopt the girl they’ve come to love. Telly, now 17 and separated from his sister, is seen on security footage robbing a service station, killing two people in the process, and his foster parents are found dead at home. Quincy and Conner launch a desperate search for Telly while striving to protect Sharlah, and the points of view shift furiously as both children match wits with the adults in different ways, revealing secrets and slowly circling toward an explosive finale.

Gunmental Gray, by Mark Greaney
Greaney’s sixth Gray Man novel finds Court Gentry working as a contract agent for the CIA. When one of the world’s most talented, dangerous hackers, Fan Jiang, escapes from China and goes on the run, the world’s intelligence agencies launch a manhunt to find him. Court is placed in charge of the American effort, and ironically, this means he must pretend to join forces with the Chinese, who are using a captured old friend as leverage. Court in turn captures Zoya Feodorovich, the SVR operative leading the Russian search, and a relationship begins to develop between the two. As the chase takes the agents all over the world, Greaney demonstrates why he’s one of the most popular thriller writers working today.

I See You, by Clare Mackintosh
Mackintosh’s crackling new thriller turns on a beautifully constructed “what if?” scenario: Zoe Walker, a middle-aged bookkeeper in London, is shocked to see a photo of herself in an advertisement for sex chat lines. She’s even more shocked when she researches the ads and sees the photos of two recent murder victims. Zoe begins working with a police task force led by recently demoted Kelly Swift—but she can’t stop a creeping paranoia from taking over her life, and begins to see threats everywhere, from her boss, her coworkers, and even the live-in boyfriend who suddenly seems too nice to be for real.

A Book of American Martyrs, by Joyce Carol Oates
Noted Twitter master and famously prolific writer Oates offers up a thoughtful story touching on the furor surrounding the issue of abortion in the U.S. Luther Dunphy loads his shotgun and murders Dr. Augustus Voorhees outside the clinic where he works. Dunphy is arrested and convicted, and as he sits on death row, Oates turns her attention to the daughters of both men, exploring the impact the crime has on two families. The slowly simmering plot brims with humanity and a depth of emotion that gives its twists and surprises—and there are many—an extra jolt of impact. As the lives of both Voorhees and Dunphy are explored in contrast to those of the daughters they left behind, Oates crafts a story as ragged and difficult as the issue it’s centered on.

A Divided Spy, by Charles Cumming
Cumming’s third Thomas Kell novel finds Kell still mourning Rachel, his lover and colleague, murdered the year before in Istanbul. When he is given the location of the SVR officer he holds personally responsible for Rachel’s death, he doesn’t hesitate to begin plotting the man’s capture. What ensues, as fans of Cumming know to expect, is a spy thriller as smart as anything le Carré has written, but with an added sense of violent action and dreadful purpose that makes Kell a character we want to revisit again and again. The plot is meticulously constructed, detonating perfectly even as it surprises at every turn as Kell convinces his former boss, SIS chief Amelia Levene, to assist in the carefully planned operation.

Most Dangerous Place, by James Grippando
The 13th Jack Swyteck novel kicks off with the arrest of wealthy former beauty queen Isabelle Bornelli as she steps off a plane in Miami, accused of murdering the man who raped her 12 years earlier. Swyteck is on the case—but he’s not completely in control, as a rival attorney and Bornelli’s estranged father both insinuate themselves into her defense, undermining him. That complicates an already difficult case, as Bornelli’s recollections of the past are inconsistent, her imprisoned former boyfriend is eager to make a deal damning her, and the prosecutors are using every trick they know, including charging her husband as an accessory and separating their cases to pressure them to turn on each other. Grippando explores the politics of sexual stereotypes, sexual assault, and the fallibility of memory in a complex story that doesn’t skimp on the surprises.

Shining City, by Tom Rosenstiel
Peter Rena and Randi Brooks, D.C.-based “spin doctors” from opposite ends of the political spectrum, are hired by the president to “scrub” his Supreme Court nominee, Roland Madison. Rena and Brooks make an effective team despite their political differences, and turn up some potentially troubling politics in Madison’s past. All that gets sidelined when colleagues of Madison begin turning up murdered, and Rena and Brooks find themselves conducting a different investigation entirely. Rosenstiel has real-world experience in the sausage factory of Washington politics, and it shows—every twist and turn feels entirely plausible, even as the book races toward a surprising ending.

Under the Knife, by Kelly Parsons
Dr. Rita Wu, a respected professor of surgery at the University of California, wakes up strapped to an operating table with no memory of how she got there. When a voice begins talking to her in her head, able to control her mind, she recognizes it as wealthy, powerful inventor Morgan Finney, who says he wants to talk about his wife, Jenny. From this incredible opening, Parsons jumps from point of view to point of view, filling in the blanks and slowly painting a frightening picture of what’s happening. Along the way, Wu grows into a fully fleshed character enduring one of the craziest days anyone could ever have. Everything ties together nicely in the end, but you definitely won’t figure out how until the final chapter.

The Dime, by Kathleen Kent
Betty Rhyzyk is tall, with flaming red hair and a steady girlfriend—all factors making her move to the Dallas Police Department’s narcotics team complicated. To say she isn’t the norm in Texas is an understatement, but she’s very good at her work. When an operation against notorious drug dealer Tomás “El Gitano” Ruiz goes hinky, leaving a lot of dead bodies piled up, the case is given to Homicide, much to Rhyzyk’s rage. She pursues an investigation anyway, but when a piece of the crime scene is placed in her apartment—apparently while her girlfriend was home, but without her noticing—the threat seems clear. Rhyzyk isn’t convinced it’s the cartels trying to scare her off, but alternative explanations are even worse. Kent guides her characters with a sure hand, making their decisions believable even as the threats increase and the danger seems inescapable.

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