The Real Book Spy’s December Reading Guide


Happy holidays, thriller fans!

This month’s new releases are essentially broken down into two weeks — Tuesday the 5th, and Tuesday the 26th — with no notable titles coming out in between. Another way to look at it is books coming out before Christmas, and, of course, those coming out afterwards.

For example, if you’re looking to get someone a new book for Christmas (browse our holiday shopping guide here), then James Rollins and Nora Roberts are the biggest names with new thrillers ahead of the 25th. One day later, though, Robert Crais’ The Wanted — one of the most anticipated books of the year — comes out, as do new thrillers from A.J. Tata and W.E.B. Griffin. 

As always, we’ve chosen two books as our Featured Selections. This month, those titles are James Rollins’ The Demon Crown, an all-new Sigma Force adventure, and Robert Crais’ The Wanted, the next book in his Elvis Cole and Joe Pike series. Read more about those books, and the rest of this month’s new releases, below. 

Reading Challenge

Don’t forget about our Real Book Spy Reading Challenge, especially if you’d like to win prizes at the end of the year!

For more info on how the Reading Challenge works, click here. Otherwise, remember to let us know which books from this list you’re planning to read either by leaving a comment on this article or by posting your picks on social media using the hashtag #RealBookSpyReadingChallenge so we can track your participation.

We’re really close to unveiling some of the cool book swag we’ve collected from authors to give away (both to a single grand prize winner and several other participants) towards the end of the year. Trust us, you’ll definitely want to get your hands on this prize package!

Note: Winners will be chosen at random at the end of the month! 

Tuesday, December 5th

The Demon CrownThe Demon Crown by James Rollins (Featured Selection)

In December of 1903, traveling by night under the cover of darkness, Alexander Graham Bell led a team of scientists to Geno, Italy for a top-secret mission. There, they searched for the remains of James Smithson, the founder of the Smithsonian Institute. After weeks of going about obtaining Smithson’s remains the right and legal way, only to have the Italian government repeatedly shut down their efforts, the group finally decided to act on their own.

In the present day, Commander Gray Pierce, following the events detailed in The Seventh Plague (2016), is enjoying some much-needed vacation time on a remote sandy beach off the island of Maui. Gray, one of the top operators for Sigma Force, a covert group tied to DARPA, has spent time traveling the world with Seichan, his significant other. Together, the two witnessed a bizarre event when a small plane dumped a black cloud above the water before them, and then flew into the cliffs in a fiery explosion. 

The black cloud, it turns out, was a swarm of three-inch long, poisonous black wasps.

With their vacation decidedly over, Pierce and Seichan contacted Painter Crowe, director of Sigma Force, to fill him in. Upon hearing that similar incidents had been reported on Oahu and the big island of Hawaii, it becomes clear that the wasps’ attack wasn’t an act of mother nature, but rather a coordinated biological assault.

Director Crowe, whose Sigma Force team lives by the motto of “get there first,” is shocked when they loop in Dr. Samuel Bennett, a leading entomologist expert, who informs them that Crow is actually the second person to inquire about this specific description of the wasps Gray forwarded to them. As further attacks terrorize Hawaii and its surrounding islands, Crowe begins to question the motive behind them, even wondering if the entire plan was meant to be a direct assault on Sigma. 

As Rollins’ story surges forward at breakneck speeds, two haunting realities become painfully apparent for the Sigma Force gang. First, someone woke an ancient, deadly threat unlike anything humanity has ever seen. Secondly, this species of killer wasps displays the frightening ability to adapt in real time, changing their tactics and adjusting to their opponents on the fly.

Facing their most dangerous threat yet, Sigma Force’s only chance to save mankind is for Painter Crowe and his operators to team up with their longtime sworn enemy…the Guild.

James Rollins takes his series to a whole new level with The Demon Crown, which features a chilling plot, plenty of action, and several well-timed twists that’ll keep readers flipping pages at a blazing clip. The early attack scenes are terrifying, with shades of M. Night Shyamalan-like fright and intensity. Those opening sequences set the tone and feel for the rest of the book, as the chapters unfold with a sense of urgency and purpose, creating a relentless pace that never lets up. 

Bold plotting, colorful characters, a mystery dating back to the days of James Smithsonan, and hard-hitting action…The Demon Crown has it all. Twelve books in, James Rollins proves once again that his Sigma Force franchise is one of the best series the thriller genre has to offer. 

Book Details

Author: James Rollins
Series: Sigma Force #12
Pages: 464 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 1101984813
Publisher: William Morrow
Release Date: December 5th, 2017
Book Spy Rating: 8.5/10
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Yeah OneYear One by Nora Roberts

“The sickness came on suddenly, and spread quickly. The fear spread even faster. Within weeks, everything people counted on began to fail them. The electrical grid sputtered; law and government collapsed―and more than half of the world’s population was decimated.

Where there had been order, there was now chaos. And as the power of science and technology receded, magick rose up in its place. Some of it is good, like the witchcraft worked by Lana Bingham, practicing in the loft apartment she shares with her lover, Max. Some of it is unimaginably evil, and it can lurk anywhere, around a corner, in fetid tunnels beneath the river―or in the ones you know and love the most.

As word spreads that neither the immune nor the gifted are safe from the authorities who patrol the ravaged streets, and with nothing left to count on but each other, Lana and Max make their way out of a wrecked New York City. At the same time, other travelers are heading west too, into a new frontier. Chuck, a tech genius trying to hack his way through a world gone offline. Arlys, a journalist who has lost her audience but uses pen and paper to record the truth. Fred, her young colleague, possessed of burgeoning abilities and an optimism that seems out of place in this bleak landscape. And Rachel and Jonah, a resourceful doctor and a paramedic who fend off despair with their determination to keep a young mother and three infants in their care alive.

In a world of survivors where every stranger encountered could be either a savage or a savior, none of them knows exactly where they are heading, or why. But a purpose awaits them that will shape their lives and the lives of all those who remain.

The end has come. The beginning comes next.”

Book Details

Author: Nora Roberts
Pages: 432 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 1250122953
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Release Date: December 5th, 2017
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Crusader OneCrusader One by Andrews and Wilson

Former Navy SEAL and Tier One operator John Dempsey, now part of an elite, ultra-secret unit known as Ember, returns for the third book in Brian Andrews and Jeffrey Wilson’s explosive series. 

Early on in this one, John Dempsey once again faces the decision he made to leave his old life, back when he was a Navy SEAL named Jack Kemper, behind. It wasn’t easy by any means, especially considering that he had a wife, Kate, and son, Jacob. Dempsey knew his family, friends, and loved ones all mourned his death and struggled to move on…

The harsh reality is that Jack, who is still secretly alive, had to give up everything he knew and loved to take on the persona of John Dempsey. As Dempsey, a vital member of Ember, a top-secret program that operates without any bureaucratic red tape and answers directly to the Director of National Intelligence, John has the freedom to live completely and totally in the shadows.

That is, after all, where the bad guys–in this case, terrorists–dwell. And while the rest of the world fears evil men, evil men fear Dempsey. 

To round out his Ember team, Dempsey pays a visit to Dan “Doc” Munn, a former frogman whom John was close with in his previous life. There’s no question that Munn’s surgical and trauma experience would be an added asset to Dempsey’s team, along with his battlefield-proven combat skills, but recruiting his old friend–who now spends more time in bars than operating rooms–proves to be a sizable challenge. 

Like everyone, Munn thought his friend had died during Operation Crusader, which ended in a total tragedy, as all of Kemper/Dempsey’s teammates were slaughtered. Shocked to learn he’s still alive and going by the name John, Munn listens to Dempsey explain that Ember has quickly become “the best frontline defense against the universe of threats” trying to bring America to her knees. 

After initially putting up a fight, Munn can’t help but jump at the chance to get revenge on the men who killed his fellow SEALs. He joins Ember, who is hot on the trail of the Iranian terrorist mastermind behind the Operation Crusader attack. 

As the story evolves, Dempsey realizes there’s a lot more at stake than just revenge and retribution. As he embarks on a dangerous globe-trotting mission, John accepts the reality that failure, on his part, could very likely mean pushing multiple countries into a third World War. 

Nobody is doing things like the dynamic writing duo of Andrews and Wilson, who’ve been building and growing multiple plot threads over the previous two novels. The Crusader story comes to a close here, answering questions readers have been asking since Dempsey first burst onto the scene last fall. The authors go out of their way to make sure their readers aren’t short-changed after all the buildup from Tier One and War Shadows (2016), treating diehard fans to a heart-wrenching experience that caps off a stunning story arc in high-powered fashion. 

Buckle up tight, Crusader One is an intense, emotionally-charged military thriller that pops with authenticity and operations know-how. 

Book Details

Author: Brian Andrews and Jeffery Wilson 
Series: Tier One #3
Pages: 414 (Paperback)
ISBN: 1477809058
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Release Date: December 5, 2017 
Book Spy Rating: 7.5/10 
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Strong to the boneStrong to the Bone by Jon Land

Caitlin Strong is back in Jon Land’s ninth novel in this blistering, criminally underrated franchise starring the genre’s most compelling female protagonist.

Land opens his latest novel with a flashback scene set in 1944. Back then, Caitlin’s grandfather, Texas Ranger Earl Strong, was investigating several murders inside a German POW camp.

In the current day, Caitlin finds herself investigating the most personal case of her career. After four generations of Texas Rangers, a younger Caitlin was ready to end her family’s streak of service when a horrible act changed her mind. At nineteen, she was raped. After recovering from the hellish experience, Caitlin followed the footsteps of so many Strongs before her and became a Ranger to help keep innocent people from enduring the same kind of pain. And she’s darn good at her job.

Now, though, Caitlin isn’t just following in her grandpa’s and father’s footsteps, she’s reliving one of her grandpa’s old cases, too. It turns out that along with the three murders Earl investigated more than seven decades ago, he attempted to track down an escapee with no success. As she digs, Caitlin unearths a shocking conspiracy…

Teamed up with Cort Wesley Masters–an ex-Green Beret, and Strong’s lover–Caitlin mixes it up with a dangerous neo-Nazi gang that has roots planted in Texas that go way back to Earl’s days on the job. Simultaneously, new evidence seems to suggest that the same man who raped Caitlin as a teenager is still at large and preying on women. Those two storylines are woven together, along with a handful of well-placed twists and turns, creating a gripping, unputdownable thriller that merges fact and fiction brilliantly on its way to a high-powered ending. 

You’d be hard-pressed to find an author more underrated than Jon Land, who has consistently delivered strong (pun intended), entertaining thrillers for thirty years. Caitlin is, without question, the best character of his career, and Land has done a terrific job bringing her along and developing her into a total powerhouse. Think Ronda Rousey with a badge and a southern accent, and you’ve got Caitlin.

Book Details

Author: Jon Land
Series: Caitlin Strong #9
Pages: 368 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 0765384647
Publisher: Forge
Release Date: December 5, 2017
Book Spy Rating: 6.5/10
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NightblindNightblind by Ragnar Jonasson

Northern Icelandic police officer Ari Thór Arason returns in Ragnar Jonasson’s Nightblind, the second novel in his Dark Iceland series.

Police inspector Herjólfur is the top cop in Siglufjörður, a small fishing village in northern Iceland. Ari Thór Arason, still relatively new to the area, is his right-hand man, though the two aren’t particularly close. One night, while Ari is home battling the flu, Herjólfur covers his shift. Outside of a house with a violent past, Herjólfur is gunned down in cold blood. 

In the aftermath of the shooting, Siglufjörður is reeling. Tómas, Ari’s old boss, is brought in to help find the killer. Things have changed for Ari, though, since the last time he worked under Tómas. He’s now an experienced officer, capable of seeing things on his own and, more importantly, in different ways than his superior. 

As the murder case evolves, Jonasson takes time to also develop his characters. Ari grows not only as a cop, but also as a father to his newborn son, who lives with him and his girlfriend. Siglufjörður again plays a major role. The small town is dark, depressing, and, due to its secluded nature, borderlines on claustrophobic. The setting alone sets the tone perfectly early on, as Jonasson slowly builds towards a twist that caps off plenty of suspense and a satisfying conclusion.

Coming in at just over two hundred pages, Nightblind is a quick read with steady pacing, but never feels rushed. Readers would be better off reading the first book, Snowblind, but can jump in here without missing too much. (It’s important to note that, technically, Nightblind is the sixth book in Jonasson’s series, but it’s only the second book translated into English.)

Noir to its core, Nightblind is another chilling, top-notch thriller from Ragnar Jonasson, who is quickly developing one of the better crime series in print right now.

Book Details

Author: Ragnar Jonasson
Pages: 240 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 125009609X
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Release Date: December 5, 2017 
Book Spy Rating: 6.5/10 
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Tuesday, December 26th

The wanted `The Wanted By Robert Crais (Featured Selection)

Concerned about her son, single mother Devon Connor hires Private Investigator Elvis Cole to look into things, which turn out to be much worse than she ever imagined in Robert Crais’ new novel, The Wanted.   

At first, the case sounds fairly simple. A mother is worried about her teenage son, and Cole is brought in to provide some answers. But during their first meeting to discuss the investigation, things take an interesting turn when Cole hears why, exactly, the woman is concerned about her teen. 

It turns out that Tyson, Devon’s only child, has anxiety issues and hates going to school. Subsequently, he was previously expelled from two different high schools before his mother enrolled him in an alternative school as a way to help make sure he received some form of education. Behavioral and attitude problems aside, it was something else that caused Mrs. Connor to question him. 

Devon tells Cole that she first started growing concerned about her son when he came home wearing new designer shirts from Barney’s, a store she cannot afford to shop at. Tyson, like any teenager, was quick to come up with a plausible story and claimed that one of his friend’s parents runs a wardrobe department and got them the new threads for pennies.

Unfortunately for Tyson, his mother isn’t buying what he’s selling. Mother’s intuition told Devon something else was going on, and she was right. 

Over time, new shirts turned into an Xbox, a new computer with three monitors, and a stash of hidden cash totaling tens of thousands of dollars. But the real standout item in Tyson’s collection of valuable stuff is a white-faced Cosmograph Daytona Rolex, which boasts a price tag north of twenty grand. It’s obvious that Tyson is doing something illegal, but what?

Cole thinks the kid might just have sticky fingers, while Devon is worried her son is dealing drugs. Either way, Elvis Cole is going to find out what, exactly, is going on. 

Thankfully, the Rolex offers a solid lead to follow up on. Enlisting the help of his old girlfriend, Sherri Toyoda, who owns a watch shop in Santa Monica, Cole gives her the model and serial numbers to see if the watch has been reported stolen. The story takes its first shocking turn when the watch comes back registered to someone named Doctor Richard Slauson, with a note to immediately call the police–who have their own reasons for hoping the timepiece shows up. 

The story moves forward at blazing speeds, bouncing between Elvis Cole and two hired killers, Harvey and Stems, allowing the plot to develop from alternate points of view. Each time the narrative shifts, readers get a new piece to the puzzle, though Crais saves plenty for a bigger reveal later on. 

It doesn’t take long for Cole to figure out that Tyson and his buddies have been carrying out a number of high-end burglaries. In fact, Tyson, working with two accomplices, has been part of more than a dozen robberies. At one point, they even made off with eighteen thousand dollars of property from one home, a lucky score that left them with more loot than they knew what to do with.  The teenagers’ luck ran out, though, when they inadvertently stole the wrong thing from a very dangerous man.

As the case starts to come together, one of the young accomplices is murdered, which leads to Tyson suddenly disappearing. Realizing he’s caught in a bigger game than he initially realized, Cole calls on Joe Pike and Jon Stone for backup, and soon the three of them find themselves going toe-to-toe with a pair of ruthless killers in what’s easily Elvis Cole’s most dangerous case to date. 

Robert Crais is in top form here as he expertly weaves together an entertaining but complex plot that starts with a bang and continues to pick up speed as the story unfolds. As the suspense ramps up, readers will find themselves glued to their chairs and flipping pages at a lightning-fast clip to find out how this one ends. 

Robert Crais reminds readers why he’s one of the very best in the business with The Wanted, a masterfully-crafted story that blows the competition away. There’s no question that this is the final must-read book of 2017 — if you’re not already a fan of Elvis Cole, it’s time to see what you’ve been missing out on.

Book Details

Author: Robert Crais
Series: Elvis Cole and Joe Pike
Pages: 336 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 0399161503
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Release Date: December 26th, 2017
Book Spy Rating: 8.5/10
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TataDirect Fire by A.J. Tata

Former brigadier general turned best-selling author A.J. Tata (Besieged, 2017) kicks off his fourth Jake Mahegan thriller with a powerful opening that introduces readers to Jackknife, a cold-blooded killer who serves as a worthy antagonist and a formidable opponent for Tata’s hero.

After slaughtering a billionaire banker and his family in the dark of the night, Jackknife turns his attention to the next name on his list–former Army paratrooper and ex-Delta Force operative, Jake Mahegan.

Meanwhile, upon receiving an urgent text from General Bob Savage over his secure Zebra communications app instructing him to meet former Delta teammates, Patch Owens and Sean O’Malley, Jake Mahegan heads to a rustic cabin in the middle of the Longleaf Pine Golf Resort located in North Carolina’s golf mecca, Moore County. There, Jake walks into a trap, which ends worse for those foolish enough to think they could trap an apex predator with nothing more than a few AR-15s. 

Armed with his trusty Sig Saur Tribal, Jake flees to General Savage’s “continuation of operations protocol command center,” better known as the COOP. There, he meets up with Alexandra “Alex” Russell, a JAG attorney and colleague of Savage who’s investigating the murder case involving the banker and his family.

When Jake recognizes the murder weapon in question as the same .45 Colt Ranger special that his unit gave to Savage, he realizes there’s a deeper plot hard at work behind the scenes. Unbeknownst to Mahegan and Alex, a terrorist hellbent on exacting revenge on America is secretly assembling terrorist cells in the Blue Ridge Mountains, which is just the tip of the iceberg. 

As Jake races to connect the dots and figure out the terrorists’ intended targets, Tata kicks the pacing into overdrive–making an already fun and compelling story certifiably unputdownable. 

Where Tata separates himself from the competition is with his unique and terrifying attack scenarios. The all-too-real feel of panic and suspense is critical to getting lost in the story, and Tata continues to improve as a writer, making it easier for readers to believe what’s happening as he brings it to life on the page. 

Likewise, Tata’s continued to develop his series protagonist, hitting all the right notes with the last two books especially. Direct Fire sees a slightly different Jake Mahegan, who finally displays the full effects of his ridiculously lethal skill set, and it’s awesome. 

Mahegan, a thirty-year-old Native American with a love for the ocean flowing freely in his blood and a call to duty seemingly written into his DNA, is a walking, talking weapon. More prone to brute force than surgical strikes, Jake is no doubt one of the baddest men in the thriller genre right now. While the blazing-fast plot is tight and on point, Tata’s real treat to readers is finally unleashing his operative, who continues living up to all the hype promised in past books, like they’ve never seen before. 

Evil men might be planning to bring the war on terror to America, but what they weren’t counting on is Jake Mahegan being there to greet them…

Jake Mahegan has officially arrived. Direct Fire is a relentless, action-packed thriller that screams with been-there-done-that authenticity, elevating A.J. Tata’s series to the likes of Brad Thor, Ben Coes, and Mark Greaney. 

Book Details

Author: A.J. Tata
Series: Jake Mahegan #4
Pages: 464 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 1496706641
Publisher: Kensington
Release Date: December 26, 2017
Book Spy Rating: 8.5/10
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WEB GriffinDeath at Nuremberg by W.E.B. Griffin

“Assigned to the Nuremberg war trials, special agent James Cronley, Jr., finds himself fighting several wars at once, in the dramatic new Clandestine Operations novel about the birth of the Central Intelligence Agency and the Cold War. 

When Jim Cronley hears he’s just won the Legion of Merit, he figures there’s another shoe to drop, and it’s a big one: he’s out as Chief, DCI-Europe. His new assignments, however, couldn’t be bigger: to protect the U.S. chief prosecutor in the Nuremberg trials from a rumored Soviet NKGB kidnapping, and to hunt down and dismantle the infamous Odessa, an organization dedicated to helping Nazi war criminals escape to South America.

It doesn’t take long for the first attempt on his life, and then the second. NKGB or Odessa? Who can tell? The deeper he pushes, the more secrets tumble out: a scheme to swap Nazi gold for currency, a religious cult organized around Himmler himself, an NKGB agent who is actually working for the Mossad, a German cousin who turns out to be more malevolent than he appears–and a distractingly attractive newspaperwoman who seems to be asking an awful lot of questions. Which one will turn out to be the most dangerous? Cronley wishes he knew.”

Book Details

Author: W.E.B. Griffin 
Series: Clandestine Operations #4
Pages: 448 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 0399176748
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Release Date: December 26, 2017
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