The Real Book Spy’s January 2017 Reading Guide

Happy 2017, thriller fans! As always, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite new books about to be released. This month, there’s eight really good novels coming out, but we’ve highlighted two as our Featured Selections. Those books are Brad Taylor’s Ring of Fire and Gregg Hurwitz’s The Nowhere Man!    

Tuesday, January 3

51hlde16ujl-_sx329_bo1204203200_Everything You Want Me To Be by Mindy Mejia

When a teenager’s body turns up in Minnesota, the ensuing investigation unearths some scandalous details about her past…and the well-kept secrets about a number of those around her. 

Hattie Hoffman had dreams that reached far beyond the small town she grew up in but felt trapped and confined to the place she, unfortunately, called home. With aspirations of becoming an actress, a skill she treated all of Pine Valley with when she crushed the leading role in the school play, the eighteen-year-old young woman attempted to catch a flight to New York.

Instead, police found her body in a barn. The girl with the bright future was stabbed to death before she ever truly got the chance to shine.

As Del Goodman, the local police officer and family friend of the Hoffmans, investigates her murder, he quickly realizes that Hattie’s performances extended far beyond the characters the town saw her play onstage. In truth, her entire life was one big performance, with Hattie changing her role based on who she was with at the moment.

Each answer Del finds sparks two more questions. But as he dives deeper into Hattie’s senior year of school, several solid suspects emerge. The most intriguing being one of Hattie’s teachers, Peter, and one of her ex-boyfriends.

While everyone in town knows Peter Lund as the high school’s English teacher, nobody knew his darkest secret. Besides his marriage being on the rocks, Peter was hiding something else that Goodman eventually traces back to Hattie. And the more Del investigates, the more he realizes just how deceptive and calculated the eighteen-year-old was.

The story itself switches between the perspectives of Del, Peter, and Hattie–whom we hear from directly before her murder. Each character has a different piece to the puzzle, and Mejia brings them into focus with the stroke of a master artist, slowly revealing the big picture one page at a time.  

While the concept–-the beautiful girl next door winds up dead, leaving the small town in shock–-isn’t new in itself, the author takes a somewhat provocative approach to the way she delivers the captivating details of Hattie’s life and death. There’s also a subliminal message about the importance of not living your life for others, something we’re all reminded of thanks to Hattie’s tragedy.

As the suspense piles up with each passing page, readers will race to the finish line where Mindy Mejia saves her best twist for the end. Everything You Want Me To Be is a mesmerizing psychological thriller that is, in fact, everything you want it to be.

Publisher: Atria/Emily Bestler Books

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51anyr3wj2l-_sx329_bo1204203200_Below The Belt by Stuart Woods

Newly ensconced in his Santa Fe abode with a lovely female companion, Stone Barrington receives a call from an old friend requesting a delicate favor. A situation has arisen that could escalate into an explosive quagmire, and only someone with Stone’s stealth and subtlety can contain the damage. At the center of these events is an impressive gentleman whose star is on the rise, and who’d like to get Stone in his corner. He’s charming and ambitious and has friends in high places; the kind of man who seems to be a sure bet. But in the fickle circles of power, fortunes rise and fall on the turn of a dime, and it may turn out that Stone holds the key not just to one man’s fate, but to the fate of the nation.

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons

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Tuesday, January 10

brad-taylor-ring-of-fireRing of Fire by Brad Taylor (Featured Selection)

For those who thought Brad Taylor peaked with last year’s Ghosts of War, you ain’t seen nothing yet…

When Pike Logan and Jennifer Cahill are summoned to the Taskforce’s headquarters in Washington D.C., they knew something was up.

The Taskforce is an off-the-books black-ops team of covert operatives who answer only to the president himself and a group of thirteen individuals from various branches of the United States government known as the Oversight Council. 

While tracking terrorist communications, the Taskforce inadvertently stumbled upon repeated conversations between a known jihadist and a reporter. While the nature of the conversations themselves ended up being harmless, as the reporter was simply doing research for a story he was working on, another tidbit of valuable information was unearthed. 

It turns out that a set of secret documents known as the Panama Papers are about to be released by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a Wiki Leaks-like group of whistle-blowers, but with more journalistic integrity.

Concerned about a law firm that they’d used to create offshore shell companies to mask the use of Taskforce funds and movements potentially being mentioned in the leak, Kurt Hale, Director of the Taskforce, had requested permission to forcefully obtain the documents before they were made public, if for no other reason than to start damage control in advance. He was denied by the Oversight Council, though, after they ruled that it was too risky to use Taskforce operatives for anything that wasn’t a direct threat to national security. 

Lucky for Kurt, a workaround was agreed upon.

Pike Logan and Jennifer Cahill don’t technically work for the Taskforce in any official capacity. Instead, they own a legit company of their own, but moonlight with the Taskforce, where Pike remains the leader and most trusted asset. 

Their orders are to intercept the Panama Papers and report back with their findings immediately. But for this mission, they’re given no backup, as all other operatives are directly connected to the Taskforce. Plus, as the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11 approaches, it’s all hands on deck, just in case the president needs a rapid response team should any credible threats suddenly surface.

What Pike, Jennifer, Kurt, and the Oversight Council didn’t know, though, is that the Taskforce isn’t the only group after the Panama Papers due to concern that their secret details might suddenly be brought to light. 

Fifteen years ago, Dexter Trippler, the owner of a small aircraft maintenance firm, was bleeding funds and barely staying afloat. Desperate to land a cushy government contract, he made a deal with the devil, then hit it big. But now, as his past sins threaten to crush the empire he’s built, he’s willing to do anything to bury any and all evidence against him. Even if that means killing those standing in his way. 

Likewise, another dangerous group also has a vested interest in the Panama Papers, but for more sinister reasons.

Soon Pike and Jennifer find themselves caught up in a dangerous web of conspiracy and revenge that traces all the way back to 9/11 and leads to a series of planned commemorative attacks on America. Known as Ring of Fire, the attacks are designed to be even bigger and more disastrous than before…and they’re already underway.

What was supposed to be a walk in the park just turned into Pike Logan’s most difficult mission yet. 

While other authors tell action stories, Taylor uses his experience from a long and distinguished career in Delta Force to put readers square in the gunfight with crackling, been-there-done-that authenticity. Add to that a number of real-world events that are startling similar to the book’s plot, and Ring Of Fire is Taylor’s most timely, action-packed novel to date.

With steady action and a final reveal that will leave readers stunned, Brad Taylor kicks 2017 off with a thundering bang, delivering the year’s first must-read thriller.

Publisher: Dutton

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Tuesday, January 17

gregg-hurwitz-nowhere-manThe Nowhere Man by Gregg Hurwitz (Featured Selection)

Following last year’s hit novel, Orphan X, Gregg Hurwitz continues Evan Smoak’s story in blistering, high-powered fashion.

Plucked from a Baltimore group home as a child, Evan Smoak was thrust into a top-secret government agency called the Orphan Program. Designed to raise elite-level assassins for the government to turn loose overseas without backup, and with absolute plausible deniability should something go wrong, Evan was designated Orphan X (the letter, not the Roman numeral).

His days of mindless killing are done, though, as Evan split from the program years ago. Armed with a unique set of lethal skills and a nearly endless amount of money, courtesy of secret bank accounts lined with cash straight from the Treasury’s printing press (a little parting gift he kept for himself after breaking from the Orphan Program), Evan now does things his way.

To right his past wrongs, Evan’s traded in his life as a government hitman and taken on a secret identity. Known only as the Nowhere Man, a vigilante who comes to the aid of those in desperate need of help, Evan asks just one thing of his clients—to pay it forward by giving his number to someone with nowhere else to turn.

That’s how it works. Those in need who call are greeted with a simple, “Do you need my help?” No strings attached.

But, as one might imagine, departing from a classified government program doesn’t come without risks. In Evan’s case, Charles Van Sciver, the most brutal operative of the original Orphans, now heads up the program. Due to his intimate knowledge of past Orphan operations and Van Sciver specifically, Evan is enemy number one, and Charles’ top priority.

When a victim of a child sex ring phones the Nowhere Man for help, Evan sets out to not only save her, but to destroy the entire operation. In the process, he learns that another young girl is trapped in a shipping container on board a cargo ship that is fourteen days away from reaching its destination. Should the ship arrive before Evan can get to the girl, she’ll enter the hell-on-earth life of a sex slave.

That can’t happen, and Evan vows to save her, too. But first, he’ll have to save himself.

With Van Sciver hot on his trail, working off of his first real lead in years, Evan is kidnapped by a mysterious businessman named Renee, then taken to a heavily-guarded, secluded mansion set in a densely wooded location miles away from civilization.

Imprisoned with little hope of escape, and Van Sciver and his assassins getting closer with each passing moment, Evan soon finds himself in the kind of desperate situation people would normally call him for help with. And to make matters worse, there’s still an innocent girl locked in a crate who needs to be saved.

What do you do when you’re held captive in the middle of nowhere, with no weapons and no one to call? Well, if you’re the Nowhere Man, you do exactly what you’re trained to do–fight back.

In addition to the nonstop action, Hurwitz mixes in plenty of suspense and several well-timed plot twists that each change the tempo of the story. Just when you think you have the plot figured out, it takes an unexpected turn—elevating the stakes higher with each shocking revelation.

Hurwitz has developed Evan (a Jason Bourne-like character, but with Tony Stark’s money and gadgets) significantly from last year’s Orphan X, and he does it in a creative way that readers won’t catch onto until after a brilliant reveal that is incredibly well-written.

Even with the odds stacked against him, don’t count Evan out just yet. He’s trained his entire life for impossible situations, allowing him a certain level of comfort when surrounded by danger. But the real fun isn’t just watching Evan get himself out of a jam, it’s following his thought process and analysis of each situation, as Hurwitz does a fabulous job allowing readers into the complex mind of his highly-trained operative.

With tons of buildup and a great supporting cast, the author saves his best work for the ending, which delivers in a big way. Thriller fans will be reading pages faster than they can turn ’em, captivated by the story’s blazing-hot final act.

Gregg Hurwitz isn’t just on the top of his game, he’s struck solid gold with The Nowhere Man, a hard-hitting, near-perfect thriller that starts fast and never lets up.

Publisher: Minotaur Books

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51lw8gOfBsL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThe Rising by Jon Land and Heather Graham

“Twenty-four hours. That’s all it takes for the lives of two young people to be changed forever.

Alex Chin has the world on a plate. A football hero and homecoming king with plenty of scholarship offers, his future looks bright. His tutor, Samantha Dixon, is preparing to graduate high school at the top of her class. She plans to turn her NASA internship into a career.

When a football accident lands Alex in the hospital, his world is turned upside down. His doctor is murdered. Then, his parents. Death seems to follow him wherever he goes, and now it’s after him.

Alex flees. He tells Samantha not to follow, but she became involved the moment she walked through his door and found Mr. and Mrs. Chin as they lay dying in their home. She cannot abandon the young man she loves. The two race desperately to stay ahead of Alex’s attackers long enough to figure out why they are hunting him in the first place. The answer lies with a secret buried deep in his past, a secret his parents died to protect. Alex always knew he was adopted, but he never knew the real reason his birth parents abandoned him. He never knew where he truly came from. Until now.”

Publisher: Tor Books

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Tuesday, January 24

john-lescroart-fatalFatal by John Lescroart 

Stepping outside of his popular Dismas Hardy universe, John Lescroart explores how a single guilty pleasure can have deadly consequences in his latest standalone novel, Fatal.

Kate and Ron are happily married, as are Peter and Jill. But when the couples meet at a house party hosted by mutual friends, Geoff and Bina Cooke, Kate finds herself attracted to Peter and develops an innocent crush on the married father of two.

Kate confides in Beth Tully, her longtime cop friend, about her crush on Peter. The two agree that it’s harmless but that Kate, obviously, needs to move on and focus her attention and energy towards her own husband and family. They laugh it off, joke about how potentially awful that situation could have turned out, and then move on.

In the coming days, however, Kate’s innocent, harmless crush turns to lust. Lust evolves into an obsession, and soon the middle-aged housewife is phoning up Bina Cooke to casually find out more about the couple they’d been introduced to at the party.

Kate’s obsession goes a step further when she finds out that the man’s name is Peter Ash, and that he’s an attorney. After Facebook-stalking him, she finally makes her move and contacts him under the guise of someone seeking legal help. Agreeing to meet, but caught off-guard by the randomness of Kate’s reaching out to him, Peter slips away from his office and heads to the hotel address Kate gave him.

Later, while her kids are at school and her husband is still at work, Kate returns home as if nothing happened. Taking an Uber to avoid using her own car, she strode inside with a long overcoat draped around her to shield prying neighbor’s eyes from the sexy garments she wore underneath, removed her high heels from her purse, and went about washing any and all traces of the affair off of herself and her clothes.

With the deed done, both Kate and Peter agreed to cut things off and go back to their spouses. No need for anyone to get hurt from this. They were, after all, adults, and they had families to think about.

Kate is the first one to break the established rules when she reaches out to Peter. But just as she’s finally mentally ready to move on once and for all, it’s Peter who can’t seem to let go. His less-than-discreet acts of affection are rebuffed by Kate, which only angers him. The obsession ball is now definitely in Peter’s side of the court, and his antics threaten to destroy both of their lives and families.

Still confiding in Beth, Kate and her friend inadvertently wind up in the middle of a terrorist attack that puts them both in the hospital. Hobbled and left dependent on crutches to get around, Beth gets back to work. But the plot thickens when the victim in a case she’s investigating about a dead guy with a single gunshot wound to his head turns out to be Peter Ash.

From there the author mixes an incredibly complex plot involving a police investigation, the aftermath of the terrorist attack, and the unsettling reality that Beth might not know her friend as well as she thought she did, or what she’s capable of. 

As multiple suspects emerge and different theories take shape, John Lescroart serves up a brilliant whodunit mystery that will have readers holding their breath and racing to uncover the truth.

Publisher: Atria Books

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Tuesday, January 31

alex-berenson-the-prisonerThe Prisoner by Alex Berenson

Just when John Wells is happy with life and ready to walk away from the world of covert operations, he’s sucked back in for his toughest mission yet.

Following The Wolves (2016), Alex Berenson’s eleventh novel shows a new side of John Wells. For starters, he’s content with where his life is at. Following a brief period of living like a hermit, far from civilization and totally off the grid, Wells’ life changed abruptly after he received news that he’s a father.

After moving to New Hampshire to help care for his daughter, Wells makes peace with his recent decision to retire, made possible by recently coming into a large sum of money. He starts to relax and forms a special bond with his daughter, constantly turning down various requests and inquiries from anyone connected to his former life–including the president-elect–unwilling to revisit who he used to be.

Meanwhile, a team of CIA operatives is ambushed behind enemy lines, shedding light on the chilling reality that there’s a high-ranking mole within the Central Intelligence Agency.

When a blast from the past makes unexpected contact, Wells agrees to an overseas meeting to hear out a source who demanded a face-to-face meeting. Kissing his daughter and the newfound joy that’s rooted in his life with her goodbye, Wells promises to be back soon.

A promise he quickly realizes he won’t be able to keep.

Instead, Wells views credible information that suggests someone inside the CIA is funneling operation intel to ISIS and decided he cannot sit back and do nothing. After some dialogue with Vinny Duto, the new president, and longtime friend and colleague, Ellis Shafer, a plan is put into place.

Wells, the only American operative to successfully infiltrate al Qaeda during an undercover operation many years prior (the events of which were detailed in Berenson’s first novel, The Faithful Spy), now agrees to go back undercover to befriend a terrorist being held in a Bulgarian prison.

Longtime fans of Berenson’s series will recall that Wells actually converted to Islam during that undercover operation, which ultimately led to those around him questioning his loyalty to America. Since then, Wells has proven where he stands numerous times, which is on the front lines as the United States’ most lethal weapon to combat terrorism.

Berenson’s best work takes place during the prison scenes, where he mixes raw emotion with nonstop suspense. Not only does Wells work to get close to the high-ranking ISIS member who can feed him info on who the CIA’s leak is, but he also discovers that the terrorist group is planning a large-scale attack, which he must work to prevent from behind bars.

As Wells’ plan slowly unravels with nothing going according to the script, the narrative bounces between a fantastic secondary cast of characters. Berenson provides a glimpse inside the terrorists’ planned attack, but also gives plenty of screen time to Ellis Shafer, who manages the entire situation from back in Washington.

With a firm cover and backstory, Wells is treated like any other prisoner in the facility that houses mostly jihadists–which means he’s treated horribly and endures hellish conditions that would break most men. But John Wells ain’t most men, and it’s quickly apparent that his greatest comfort zone isn’t at home with family, but when his back is up against the wall.

Taking Wells back to the very scenario that introduced him to readers a decade ago was a brilliant move by Berenson, who remains one of the elite thriller authors in the genre today. The Prisoner is a fiery, high-powered political thriller that starts fast and never lets up.

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons

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511aue-oml-_sx329_bo1204203200_Right Behind You by Lisa Gardner

“Is he a hero?
Eight years ago, Sharlah May Nash’s older brother beat their drunken father to death with a baseball bat in order to save both of their lives. Now thirteen years old, Sharlah has finally moved on. About to be adopted by retired FBI profiler Pierce Quincy and his partner, Rainie Conner, Sharlah loves one thing best about her new family: They are all experts on monsters.
Is he a killer?
Then the call comes in. A double murder at a local gas station, followed by reports of an armed suspect shooting his way through the wilds of Oregon. As Quincy and Rainie race to assist, they are forced to confront mounting evidence: The shooter may very well be Sharlah’s older brother, Telly Ray Nash, and it appears his killing spree has only just begun. 
All she knows for sure: He’s back.
As the clock winds down on a massive hunt for Telly, Quincy and Rainie must answer two critical questions: Why after eight years has this young man started killing again? And what does this mean for Sharlah? Once upon a time, Sharlah’s big brother saved her life. Now, she has two questions of her own: Is her brother a hero or a killer? And how much will it cost her new family before they learn the final, shattering truth? Because as Sharlah knows all too well, the biggest danger is the one standing right behind you.”

Publisher: Dutton

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