February's Top Picks in Thrillers

How do you know you’re reading a thriller? Is it the way your heart pounds like you’ve been running for your life, even though you’ve been sitting on the couch reading all day? It is being so absorbed in a story your legs fall completely asleep and you have to crawl to the kitchen for a snack? However you define the “thrill” part, they’re the books you turn to to bring a little excitement to your life. Here are 12 coming out in February that will keep your pulse pounding.

Mightier than the Sword, by Jeffrey Archer
The fifth book in the popular Clifton Chronicles—a combination thriller/experiment covering the life and family history of one man over the course of a century—doesn’t disappoint. Part melodrama, part soap opera, and part spy thriller, this 1960s-set story once again hits the sweet spot with incredible plot twists and dazzling descriptions that’ll make you want to fly to London to hit up a nightclub or two. Amid bombs, show trials, and embezzlement schemes, the Cliftons and their increasingly complex entanglements with other families, villains, and world powers once again prove to be effortlessly, irresistibly entertaining.

Twelve Days, by Alex Berenson
It says something when you’re nine novels into a character’s series and still producing nail-bitingly tense stories that bob and weave, surprising the reader at every turn. When it comes to thrillers, a deadline is always an effective narrative device, and in this new John Wells story the titular twelve days is the length of time our hero has to stop World War III from happening. Combining Berenson’s usual deft plots and realistic-feeling world politics with a surprisingly weighty emotional core, Twelve Days keeps the tension mounting to its thoroughly entertaining climax.

Crash and Burn, by Lisa Gardner
This is the novel you’ll be discussing in your book club or in the break room for the rest of the year. Sgt. Wyatt Foster and PI Tessa Leoni (with a brief, welcome cameo from Detective D.D. Warren) encounter a woman who survives a car crash and tells them she needs their help saving a little girl who is in trouble. But the woman, Nicole Frank, is clearly addled, and her husband tells them she’s suffering from a brain injury and can’t be believed—but what’s true and what’s not? From this twisty premise Gardner constructs an expert puzzle that both keeps you guessing and pays off perfectly in the end.

Blood Infernal, by James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell
A perfect choice for anyone who loved The Da Vinci Code, the Order of the Sanguines series combines Catholic mystery, secret history, and heart-pounding adventure. The third book puts Erin Granger and her allies Jordan Stone and Father Rhun Korza back in the thick of it as they scramble to understand the instructions in an ancient book, written by Jesus himself, that is the only hope of saving the world from demonic destruction. With a story that spans the globe, expertly combining history, horror, and action, Blood Infernal is both a satisfying conclusion to an epic story and a thrilling read unto itself.

Empire Rising, by Rick Campbell
Very much in the spirit of Jack Ryan, Campbell has crafted a tightly plotted and horrifyingly believable story in which China, desperate for access to oil in a near-future where supplies are running low, declares war and reveals itself to be much better prepared than anyone expected. After a military disaster that sends the United States reeling and leaves the Chinese free to act, a trio of well-written characters work to  snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Combining thrilling espionage-style adventures, detailed naval battles, and incredible SEAL Team missions, Campbell has created what might be the perfect military thriller.

Last Days of the Condor, by James Grady
Grady returns to his iconic character from the classic 1974 espionage thriller Six Days of the Condor, updating the setting to the infinitely more complex and less black-and-white modern world of spies. Condor, now old and addled from medications helping him manage his post-traumatic stress disorder, has a weak grasp on reality, which adds to the boiling tension of this methodical story. Framed for a murder and suddenly on every agency’s kill list, Condor must analyze his own visions and clear his name. Punctuated by explosive action scenes, this book has a flavor all its own and a pedigree that can’t be beat.

The Swimmer, by Joakim Zander
The best thrillers combine human-scale emotion with global realpolitik, and Swedish author Zander hits the perfect balance in this book, which was a huge hit in Europe and will almost certainly be one here as well. A retired spy thinks back on the baby daughter he abandoned thirty years before, and the life of self-punishment he pursued as a result. A young political aide and her former lover discover the sort of sensitive information that gets people killed, and must run for their lives. It all comes together in the end in this exciting, fast-paced story that will have you missing train stops and extending your lunch break.

The Country of Ice Cream Star, by Sandra Newman
One of the most original and interesting novels in recent memory, this is the story of a future world where a global plague means no one has lived past the age of 20 for generations. In a world of children, language, history, and society itself have changed in fascinating ways. Fifteen-year old Ice Cream Star embarks on a warlike quest when her brother begins showing signs of the plague, and meets a 30-year-old man who claims his tribe has a cure. It takes a few pages to adjust to Ice Cream Star’s fascinating future-teen patois, but once you do this book takes hold and never lets go.

The First Wife, by Erica Spindler
Thrillers often revolve around simple scenarios that have been heightened just enough to transport the reader from his own reality. The First Wife does this so expertly you don’t even know you’re being pulled in until you’re hooked. The premise is fundamentally simple: imagine you met, fell in love with, and married a man, only to discover he had family secrets—one of which might involve the mysterious death of his first wife, and the ongoing disappearances of women in the area. Spindler cranks up the tension steadily until the puzzle is solved.

Monday’s Lie, by Jamie Mason
It’s easy to assume our happy lives will continue to be happy forever, but everything can fall apart in a moment—a reality Mason exploits to great effect. Dee grew up with a mother who was a spy, and who taught her daughter spycraft through a series of childhood games. Fleeing the shifting, unpredictable world of her upbringing, Dee marries a man she thinks offers stability and normalcy—but begins to suspect he has ulterior motives involving a large sum of money her mother left her. Reaching back to her childhood memories of the games and skills her mother taught her, Dee begins piecing it all together in a story that keeps twisting and turning even as the pace picks up, leaving you breathless.

The Marauders: A Novel, by Tom Cooper
Cooper invents a satisfyingly detailed off-center alternate universe in the small town of Jeannette, Louisiana, battered by both Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon spill. Taking his time to introduce us to an array of memorable characters—one-armed treasure hunters, chatterbox potheads, slick oil executives with criminal tendencies—Cooper combines one of those great plots that starts off as a bunch of separate, small-scale schemes and boils into a grand confrontation between increasingly desperate folks with an eye for detail that makes his world seem real—and fascinating. As the story speeds along you’ll find yourself laughing out loud, and unable to stop reading.

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