The Best Thrillers of October 2019

It’s fall, which means we’re heading into prime stay-in-and-read weather. Thankfully, October boasts plenty of great thrillers to keep you busy, from John Grisham’s latest to new entries in the Jack Reacher and Harry Bosch series.

The Guardians, by John Grisham
John Grisham returns with a taut thriller that opens with the murder of a small town lawyer in Seabrook, Florida, more than 20 years in the past. The shocking killing offers few clues, but the police eventually arrest Quincy Miller, a young black man who was once the lawyer’s client. There is little doubt that Quincy has been framed, but for decades he languishes in prison without hope—until one day he writes a letter to Guardian Ministries, an innocence group run by attorney and minister Cullen Post, who is also the firm’s only investigator. Post takes on Miller’s case, and soon finds himself enmeshed in a dangerous game as the powerful forces that framed Miller in the first place intend to prevent justice from finally being served—even if it requires another dead lawyer turning up dead.

Blue Moon, by Lee Child
Jack Reacher is once again restlessly moving around the country in Child’s 24th novel following the oversized, highly intelligent former army cop. When he happens upon a mugging, he steps in in classic Reacher fashion, saving an elderly man named Aaron Shevick from losing an envelope full of cash being stolen. Reacher helps the old man home and learns the Shevicks are in deep with a loan shark due to their unmanageable medical bills. While in the background a turf war breaks out between the Ukrainian and Albanian gangs, Reacher takes up for the Shevicks, and as the stakes get higher he recruits a few allies and brings the fight to the criminals the way only Jack Reacher can—with surprising wit and bareknuckle action.

The Night Fire, by Michael Connelly
Michael Connelly reunites the winning team of Harry Bosch and Renée Ballard, as Bosch attends the funeral of his one-time mentor, John Jack Thompson, and receives a surprising gift from Thompson’s widow: a murder casefile Thompson took with him when he retired from the LAPD two decades before. The cold case inside involves a young man killed in an alley known to be used by drug dealers. Bosch decides to honor his mentor’s legacy and brings the case to Ballard for help—but as they dig into the evidence, Bosch begins to wonder if Thompson made off with case file because he wanted to solve a crime—or cover one up.

The Deserter, by Nelson DeMille and Alex DeMille
DeMille, a master of the thriller format, and his son, a screenwriter, combine forces in this smart, explosive thriller. Delta Force Captain Kyle Mercer abandoned his post in Afghanistan and fled, turning up in Venezuela. Scott Brodie, a former soldier who doesn’t like following rules, is teamed with the much more by-the-book Army cop Maggie Taylor. Taylor and Brodie are a mercurial team, but they track Mercer to a compound outside Caracas where he’s training mercenaries, apparently with the full support and knowledge of President Maduro. Brodie may be hot-tempered, but he’s no fool, and he begins to suspect there’s a lot more to Mercer’s story than simple desertion—but he also isn’t certain he can trust Taylor, who he suspects might be reporting back to the CIA.

Bloody Genius, by John Sandford
The twelfth Virgil Flowers novel opens with the murder of a flamboyant and famous college researcher, Barthelemy Quill, killed in the school library while engaged in an extramarital encounter; his head is bashed in with his own high-end laptop, which the killer takes. When local cops, led by Sergeant Margaret Trane, don’t move quickly enough, Quill’s wealthy and connected sister gets Flowers assigned to the case, and Trane’s initial annoyance shifts quickly to excitement when Flowers immediately produces results. Soon, however, the pair find themselves with too many possible suspects—was it the killer the (third) wife, in a fit of jealousy? The family of a man who committed suicide after a procedure created by Quill? A rival professor engaged in a public and nasty war of words over the ‛anti-vaxx’ movement with him? A shady business troll who shakes down businesses by claiming ownership of intellectual property? Flowers, of course, will get to the bottom of it all—and in highly entertaining fashion.

Agent Running in the Field, by John le Carré
No one writes cerebral, simmering spy thrillers like le Carré. His latest opens with aging SIS agent Nat afraid that at the ripe old age of 47 he’s done running spies across Europe. Instead of being put out to pasture, however, he’s given a surprising and disappointing assignment to run Haven, a slipshod London substation where fifth-rate informers and other low-value assets are managed. He accepts, knowing that he’ll either get the place in shape or wind up closing it—and his career—down. When his second in command quits in anger and an operation seems to fail due to a leak, however, Nat slowly finds himself doing the sort of meticulous spycraft that le Carré describes so well, uncovering a plot jucier than anything Nat has encountered before.

Imaginary Friend, by Stephen Chbosky
Stephen Chbosky’s surprising second novel, arriving twenty years after The Perks of Being a Wallflower, is a terrifying nightmare of a tome that will keep your pulse elevated across all 700 of its pages. Single mom Kate moves to a small town in Pennsylvania with her son Christopher to hide from her abusive boyfriend. Christopher, who has a learning disability, begins making some friends at school—and then disappears in the nearby woods for a week. When he returns, he’s physically unharmed, but seems to have changed in other ways—for one thing, he’s no longer suffering from his learning challenges. Soon, Christopher begins to hear a voice telling him to build a treehouse in the woods, while all around him the town descends into chaos as a mysterious illness moves through the population and a host of disturbing entities begin to haunt it. As Christopher’s hold on reality begins to slip, his loss of control infects the writing itself, giving the reader the unsettling feeling that the evil depicted in the story is somehow reaching through the page.

The Butterfly Girl, by Rene Denfeld
The second book to feature Naomu Cottle finds the private detective still searching for the sister she lost when she escaped from captivity as a little girl—an effort hindered by her almost complete lack of memories of the experience, including her sister’s name. Cottle begins looking into a rash of murdered street kids, and meets Celia, a young girl living on her own ever since her stepfather was acquitted on charges of molesting her. Celia is terrified that he will now prey on her little sister, which naturally hooks Naomi—as does Celia’s beautiful mind, which sees gorgeous butterflies everywhere. Naomi’s deep dive into the hard truths of child homelessness is bleak, but when she begins to think Celia may be the key to catching a terrifying predator, there’s reason to see some hope amidst all the horror.

Stealth, by Stuart Woods
Stuart Woods shakes things up in the 51st Stone Barrington novel, which transports Barrington to Station Two, a training camp for MI6 operatives in the Scottish highlands. Barrington spends time with Dame Felicity Devonshire, head of MI6, and borrows her sports car—which he promptly crashes, driving off a bridge into a river. Barrington is treated by Lieutenant Rose McGill, M.D., and the two begin a romantic affair as Stone is criticized for his recklessness. MI6 is soon apologizing, however, when they determine that someone infiltrated Station Two and shot out the tires of the car. As Barrington juggles two lovers and a personal beef with the number two officer at the camp, things get sticky when Stone and Rose expose a blackmail scheme that leads to a tense confrontation with Russian agents who wouldn’t mind seeing both of them—and Felicity, too—dead.

What thrillers are chilling you this October?

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