The Real Book Spy’s April Reading Guide

Happy April, thriller fans! 

March was a huge month for big releases, and readers can expect plenty of suspense, action, and headline-beating plots this month, too. 

To everyone who took part in The Real Book Spy Book Club last month (the pick was Jack Carr’s The Terminal List), thank you so much for making the first book club a success. Jack and I had a great time talking about his book and discussing it with readers on Facebook Live. . . and I cannot wait to do it again this month with Kimberley Howe when her second Thea Paris novel, Skyjack, hits bookstores. 

We’re still hammering out the details (it looks like Howe and I will connect with readers and have the online book club sometime in late April), but Skyjack is definitely the pick and I cannot wait for readers to get their hands on it April 10th. I absolutely loved it, and I’m confident Book Spy followers will too. 

I’ve gotten a lot of comments, messages, emails, and DM’s from people asking how they can help make the book club bigger. Well, the easy answer is: tell people about it and make sure the author and their publisher knows you’re excited about it! That’s critical because when I call up the publisher to notify them that one of their titles has been selected for a book club, the more people there are participating, the more leverage I have to ask them for more giveaways and prizes. 

Already, Howe has agreed to sign an advance copy to one lucky winner on Twitter (back when I asked followers to guess which book would be selected for the April book club), and the winner of the random drawing (who was actually the first person to correctly guess Skyjack) is Brian Costello

Congrats, Brian! 

Featured Selections

This month’s featured selections are David Ricciardi’s Warning Light and Twisted Prey by John Sandford.

Last month, Jack Carr burst onto the scene with his Vince Flynn-like debut thriller. This month, fans are in for another treat when Ricciardi introduces readers to Zac Miller, an inexperienced CIA analyst who is forced to think and act like a field operative on the fly. . . in one of the most dangerous places on the planet. Warning Light is a gripping, high-octane thriller, and Zac Miller might be the most Jack Ryan-like character since Clancy published The Hunt for Red October.  This debut is absolutely awesome. Trust me, you do not want to miss it! 

After a long and successful career, John Sandford is still finding ways to get it done. Lucas Davenport has a new job, a new team. . . but a familiar enemy. Even with his new badge, the feel of the books and the types of cases Lucas takes on are similar enough to older plotlines that it’s not jarring for readers, yet it’s fresh enough that it provides a subtle change of pace and opens new doors moving forward. I loved last year’s Deep Freeze (the latest Virgil Flowers book), and I think Twisted Prey might be the best Davenport thriller in several years. 

Tuesday, April 3

The Way I Die by Derek Haas

Following the events of A Different Life (2015), Columbus, Derek Haas’ veteran assassin, returns inThe Way I Die. 

The killer once known as the Silver Bear and by the name Columbus, is now going by Copeland. When readers catch back up with Haas’ beloved antihero, Columbus is living on Mackinac Island, a remote island off the northern Michigan coast, minding his own business. He spends his days avoiding noisy neighbors and thinking of death. More specifically, Columbus considers all the ways in which he could die. He’s been riddled with guilt and pain ever since losing his family, and his mind often drifts to dark places. 

Columbus’s plan to live out his remaining days quietly changes when Archie Grant, an old colleague of his, tracks him down and offers him a job.

Having burnt himself out not only physically, but also mentally and emotionally, Columbus is initially not interested in anything to do with his old line of work — nor does he need the money. Financially, he’s well set and able to throw around cash in order to buy his own privacy and anonymity. More than anything, the job in question offers Columbus the chance at finding something money cannot buy: redemption. 

Rather than kill again, Grant wants Columbus to protect a software designer named Matthew Boone. Someone has put out a hit on Boone and his children, and while the tech genius has security, Archie knows it’s inadequate and that an upgrade is badly needed if the man is to survive the threat lurking in the shadows. Columbus would be one heck of an upgrade, and it doesn’t take long for him to embarrass Max Finnerich, Boone’s head of security, by penetrating his defenses with relative ease. Columbus also bonds with Boone (well, as much as someone like Silver Bear can possibly bond with someone) and eventually earns the man’s trust when he’s forced to show off his lethal set of skills in a real, life-threatening situation.

As the story unfolds, Columbus settles into his new role, reshaping Boone’s protection detail and dealing with threats as they pop up. Instead of ending lives, Silver Bear is now trying to save lives, but the former assassin eventually comes to realize that sometimes the best defense is a great offense — and the only way he’ll ever truly be able to protect Boone and his kids is to find out who accepted the hit on him (as well as who issued it) and deal with them directly. . . 

As Sandra Bullock taught us in the movie Minions (2015), sometimes it can feel so good to be bad. And in a genre filled to the brim with over-the-top superman-like heroes, following Columbus, an antihero in the vein of Tom Wood’s Victor the Assassin, is both refreshing and insanely fun. Author Derek Haas understands what readers are looking for, and he serves up a heaping helping of unputdownable action and suspense. Haas, the co-creator of the hit television show Chicago Fire, can really write. Visually, he captures Columbus’s surroundings (especially early on, when readers will feel like they’re walking the fudge-scented streets of Mackinac Island), allowing readers to feel like they’re inside Silver Bear’s world. Likewise, Haas manages to develop his protagonist, and readers will feel Columbus’s pain throughout, making him the kind of guy you can’t help but root for — even if he’s done some pretty questionable stuff.  

Derek Haas does it again — The Way I Die is another hard-hitting, well-written novel from one of the best storytellers on the planet. . . Someone better warn the rest of the genre, because the Silver Bear is officially out of hibernation! 

Book Details

Author: Derek Haas
Series: Silver Bear #5
Pages: 224 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 1681776626
Publisher:  Pegasus Books
Release Date: April 3, 2018
Book Spy Rating: 8.0/10

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Cave of Bones by Anne Hillerman

“New York Times bestselling author Anne Hillerman brings together modern mystery, Navajo traditions, and the evocative landscape of the desert Southwest in this intriguing entry in the Leaphorn, Chee, and Manuelito series.

“When Tribal Police Officer Bernadette Manuelito arrives to speak at an outdoor character-building program for at-risk teens, she discovers chaos. Annie, a young participant on a solo experience due back hours before, has just returned and is traumatized. Gently questioning the girl, Bernie learns that Annie stumbled upon a human skeleton on her trek. While everyone is relieved that Annie is back, they’re concerned about a beloved instructor who went out into the wilds of the rugged lava wilderness bordering Ramah Navajo Reservation to find the missing girl. The instructor vanished somewhere in the volcanic landscape known as El Malpais. In Navajo lore, the lava caves and tubes are believed to be the solidified blood of a terrible monster killed by superhuman twin warriors.

“Solving the twin mysteries will expose Bernie to the chilling face of human evil. The instructor’s disappearance mirrors a long-ago search that may be connected to a case in which the legendary Joe Leaphorn played a crucial role. But before Bernie can find the truth, an unexpected blizzard, a suspicious accidental drowning, and the arrival of a new FBI agent complicate the investigation.

“While Bernie searches for answers in her case, her husband, Sergeant Jim Chee juggles trouble closer to home. A vengeful man he sent to prison for domestic violence is back—and involved with Bernie’s sister Darleen. Their relationship creates a dilemma that puts Chee in uncomfortable emotional territory that challenges him as family man, a police officer, and as a one-time medicine man in training.

“Anne Hillerman takes us deep into the heart of the deserts, mountains, and forests of New Mexico and once again explores the lore and rituals of Navajo culture in this gripping entry in her atmospheric crime series.”

Book Details

Author: Anne Hillerman
Series: A Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito Novel #3
Pages: 320 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 0062391925
Publisher:  Harper
Release Date: April 3, 2018
Book Spy Rating: 7.0/10

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Greeks Bearing Gifts by Philip Kerr

“A vicious murder puts Bernie Gunther on the trail of World War 2 criminals in Greece in this riveting historical thriller in Philip Kerr’s New York Times bestselling series.

“Munich, 1956. Bernie Gunther has a new name, a chip on his shoulder, and a dead-end career when an old friend arrives to repay a debt and encourages “Christoph Ganz” to take a job as a claims adjuster in a major German insurance company with a client in Athens, Greece.

“Under the cover of his new identity, Bernie begins to investigate a claim by Siegfried Witzel, a brutish former Wehrmacht soldier who served in Greece during the war. Witzel’s claimed losses are large, and, even worse, they may be the stolen spoils of Greek Jews deported to Auschwitz. But when Bernie tries to confront Witzel, he finds that someone else has gotten to him first, leaving a corpse in his place.

“Enter Lieutenant Leventis, who recognizes in this case the highly grotesque style of a killer he investigated during the height of the war. Back then, a young Leventis suspected an S.S. officer whose connection to the German government made him untouchable. He’s kept that man’s name in his memory all these years, waiting for his second chance at justice…

“Working together, Leventis and Bernie hope to put their cases–new and old–to bed. But there’s a much more sinister truth to acknowledge: A killer has returned to Athens…one who may have never left.”

Book Details

Author: Philip Kerr
Series: Bernie Gunther #13
Pages: 428 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 039917706X
Publisher: Marian Wood Books/Putnam
Release Date: April 3, 2018
Book Spy Rating: 7.0/10

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All The Beautiful Lies by Peter Swanson

“From the acclaimed author of Her Every Fear and The Kind Worth Killing comes a diabolically clever tale of obsession, revenge, and cold-blooded murder—a sly and brilliant guessing game of a novel in the vein of Ruth Ware, Paula Hawkins, and Patricia Highsmith.

“Harry Ackerson has always considered his stepmother Alice to be sexy and beautiful, in an ‘otherworldly’ way. She has always been kind and attentive if a little aloof in the last few years.

“Days before his college graduation, Alice calls with shocking news. His father is dead and the police think it’s suicide. Devastated, Harry returns to his father’s home in Maine. There, he and Alice will help each other pick up of the pieces of their lives and uncover what happened to his father.

“Shortly after he arrives, Harry meets a mysterious young woman named Grace McGowan. Though she claims to be new to the area, Harry begins to suspect that Grace may not be a complete stranger to his family. But she isn’t the only attractive woman taking an interest in Harry. The sensual Alice is also growing closer, coming on to him in an enticing, clearly sexual way.

“Mesmerized by these two women, Harry finds himself falling deeper under their spell. Yet the closer he gets to them, the more isolated he feels, disoriented by a growing fear that both women are hiding dangerous—even deadly—secrets . . . and that neither one is telling the truth.”

Book Details

Author: Peter Swanson
Pages: 304 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 0062427059
Publisher: William Morrow
Release Date: April 3, 2018
Book Spy Rating: 6.0/10

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Too Close to Breathe by Olivia Kiernan

“Olivia Kiernan’s tautly written debut novel immerses readers in a chilling murder case . . . and the tantalizing, enigmatic victim at the center of it all.

“In a quiet Dublin suburb, within her pristine home, Eleanor Costello is found hanging from a rope.

“Detective Chief Superintendent Frankie Sheehan would be more than happy to declare it a suicide. Four months ago, Frankie’s pursuit of a killer almost ended her life and she isn’t keen on investigating another homicide. But the autopsy reveals poorly healed bones and old stab wounds, absent from medical records. A new cut is carefully, deliberately covered in paint. Eleanor’s husband, Peter, is unreachable, missing. A search of the couple’s home reveals only two signs of personality: a much-loved book on art and a laptop with access to the Dark Web. 

“With the suspect pool growing, the carefully crafted profile of the victim crumbling with each new lead, and mysterious calls to Frankie’s phone implying that the killer is closer than anyone would like, all Frankie knows is that Eleanor guarded her secrets as closely in life as she does in death. 

“As the investigation grows more challenging, Frankie can’t help but feel that something doesn’t fit. And when another woman is found murdered, the same paint on her corpse, Frankie knows that unraveling Eleanor’s life is the only way to find the murderer before he claims another victim . . . or finishes the fate Frankie only just managed to escape. 

“Engrossing, complex, and atmospheric, Olivia Kiernan’s debut novel will leave readers breathless.”

Book Details

Author: Olivia Kiernan
Pages: 304 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 1681776626
Publisher: Dutton
Release Date: April 3, 2018
Book Spy Rating: 6.0/10

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Tuesday, April 10

Skyjack by K.J. Howe (Book Club Selection)

K.J. Howe follows up her brilliant debut novel (The Freedom Broker, 2017) with another heart-stopping thriller starring kidnap and ransom specialist Thea Paris.

For twelve-year-old Jabari and his nine-year-old brother, Ayan, their first time flying turns into an absolute nightmare. Having previously witnessed their parents being killed by members of Boko Haram, the brothers were forced into becoming child soldiers against their will. With Thea’s help, the boys ended up being adopted, and it’s now her job to escort them from Africa to London, where they will meet their new parents. 

Things don’t go according to plan, though, and Thea once again becomes an unwilling participant in a much larger game. 

Trying to remain calm as the 737 experiences major turbulence, Thea is also simultaneously attempting to keep one eye on her blood sugar and one eye on the brothers, when she notices that another passenger is in distress. A large man in front of her suddenly slumps over in his seat and appears in need of medical attention. Thea, a diabetic, knows all too well the annoyance of a sudden medical issue rearing its ugly head during an already high-pressure situation. She goes to help the man, as does the co-pilot, who’d slipped out of the cockpit to relieve himself. The two agree that the plane should make an emergency landing, but the co-pilot reveals to her that he’s been locked out of the cockpit, and doesn’t know why. 

A short while later, the 737 lands somewhere in the Libyan desert. Thea discovers that the pilot had previously been approached by mysterious men who threatened the safety of his loved ones in order to strong-arm him into landing the plane at specific coordinates provided to him. Thea is tricked off of the plane, which then takes off without her, before coming face-to-face with Prospero Salvatore, the head of the Sicilian Mafia and Thea’s longtime nemesis. 

Salvatore proposes a trade, offering Thea the brothers — along with the rest of the hostages on board the 737 — in exchange for her help with a job.

The job, as it turns out, is to intercept a truck full of Syrian refugees who are en route to Budapest. Seeing no other viable option, Thea agrees to the terms — then ropes in her team at Quantum International Security to help her not only locate the truck but to also figure out Salvatore’s true intentions. . . which turn out to be more sinister than she previously imagined.

With a limited amount of time to act and multiple moving parts, Thea once again has her work cut out for her as author K.J. Howe dazzles readers with her deftly plotted, expertly-written story that’s packed with action and intrigue. 

Howe, one of the top debut writers of 2017, burst onto the thriller scene in a big way last year by introducing readers to Thea Paris, who is perhaps the strongest female protagonist in the genre right now. In Skyjack, Howe continues to develop her heroine, who is complex and layered, giving her more soul, while also filling readers in on more of her backstory. All of this, of course, is in addition to the hard-hitting action and multiple plot threads (some of which involve characters from her last book) that weave their way together to reveal a shocking conspiracy. No matter what type of thriller you typically enjoy, there’s a little something for everyone here — including an awesome HALO skydiving scene that tops the bungee jump over the Zambezi River in The Freedom Broker.

In a genre that predominantly features alpha male characters, K.J. Howe re-writes the rulebook by making her protagonist a strong female operative with a medical condition, adding realism without sacrificing any of the action. Thea Paris can throw down with the very best the genre has to offer, and so can Howe.

From start to finish,  Skyjack is one wild, twisting, and flat-out entertaining thrill ride. If you’re searching for a great new series to jump into, look no further. 

Book Details

Author: K.J. Howe
Series: Thea Paris #2
Pages: 400 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 1681443015
Publisher: Quercus
Release Date: April 10, 2018
Book Spy Rating: 8.5/10

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The Sixth Day by Katherine Coulter and J.T. Ellison

“Special agents Nicholas Drummond and Michaela Caine take on a ruthless mastermind in the fifth highly anticipated thriller in the New York Times bestselling A Brit in the FBI series.

“When several major political figures die mysteriously, officials declare the deaths are from natural causes. Then the German Vice-Chancellor dies on the steps of 10 Downing Street, and a drone is spotted hovering over the scene. The truth becomes clear—these high-profile deaths are well-constructed assassinations, and the Covert Eyes team is tasked to investigate.

“With the help of Dr. Isabella Marin, a young expert in the enigmatic Voynich Manuscript and cryptophasia (twin language), Nicholas and Michaela home in on Roman Ardelean, a wealthy cybersecurity genius and a descendant of fifteenth-century Romanian Vlad the Impaler—often romanticized as Dracula. Ardelean believes the Voynich Manuscript will unlock the secret to curing his severely ill twin brother’s blood disorder and is willing to murder anyone who gets in his way, including Nicholas and Michaela.

“Along with MI5, the Covert Eyes team must race against the clock to find Ardelean before he unleashes a devastating attack on London intended to destroy those he believes betrayed him.

“With heart-pounding tension and gripping suspense, New York Times bestselling authors Catherine Coulter and J.T. Ellison ‘are really on an amazing roll with their outstanding A Brit in the FBI series’ (RT Book Reviews).”

Book Details

Author: Coulter & Ellison 
Series: A Brit in the FBI #5
Pages: 528 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 1681776626
Publisher: Gallery
Release Date: April 10, 2018
Book Spy Rating: 7.5/10

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After Anna by Lisa Scottoline 

Scottoline’s latest standalone thriller deals with grief and family issues, topics everyone can relate to. 

Maggie Ippoliti was once happily married to Florian Desroches, a tech guru, and the two had a daughter together named Anna. Their marriage and happy life were cut short when the couple divorced, and Maggie, dealing with psychological issues, lost custody of her baby girl when she was only a few months old. 

Seventeen years later, Maggie is finally happy again. She’s now married to Noah Alderman, a well-respected pediatric allergist, and lives with him and his son. Again, for the second time in two decades, her life is unexpectedly shaken up when Anna, who she hasn’t seen or spoken to since leaving all those years ago, calls her from boarding school to inform her that her father and his new wife and kids all died in a plane crash.

With no one else to turn to, Anna asks Maggie if she can come live with her — and Maggie, overjoyed to hear from her daughter, cannot say yes fast enough. But what begins as a dream to reconnect with her long-lost daughter soon turns into an unbelievable nightmare. 

Anna, it turns out, is a defiant teenager who manipulates those around her. Her triumphant return upsets Noah, who is frustrated that Maggie is willing to overlook her daughter’s bad attitude and actions, in an effort to bond with the seventeen-year-old. It doesn’t take long for Anna to come between Maggie and Noah, especially after she complains to her mother that Noah has been coming onto her sexually. A short while later, Anna is found dead, and Noah becomes the prime suspect in her murder.

Though he’s adamant he’s not guilty, Noah is arrested and charged. . . and even Maggie turns on him, fully believing he killed her daughter. But as the story unfolds, Maggie starts talking to people from Anna’s past and private life, uncovering enough troubling evidence to suggest that there’s more going on than she ever imagined. 

Scottoline has had a long and storied career for a reason, and she remains one of the finest mystery-thriller writers on the planet. Her ability to speak to issues that are both current and relatable is what makes her unique, and After Anna perfectly captures the truth behind people’s penchant to let love cloud their judgment. It’s easy to overlook shortcomings and flaws in the name of love, but sometimes, like in Maggie’s case here, it only leads to pain and heartbreak. . . and one heck of a mystery. 

Emotional, gripping, and filled with nail-biting suspense, After Anna is another winner from veteran thrill master Lisa Scottoline. 

Book Details

Author: Lisa Scottoline
Pages: 400 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 125009965X
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Release Date: April 10, 2018
Book Spy Rating: 7.5/10

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The Cutting Edge by Jeffery Deaver 

 
“Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs return to New York City to confront a killer terrorizing couples at their happiest–and most vulnerable.
 
“In the early hours of a quiet, weekend morning in Manhattan’s Diamond District, a brutal triple murder shocks the city. Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs quickly take the case. Curiously, the killer has left behind a half-million dollars’ worth of gems at the murder scene, a jewelry store on 47th street. As more crimes follow, it becomes clear that the killer’s target is not gems, but engaged couples themselves.
 
“The Promisor vows to take the lives of men and women during their most precious moments–midway through the purchase of an engagement ring, after a meeting with a wedding planner, trying on the perfect gown for a day that will never come. The Promisor arrives silently, armed with knife or gun, and a time of bliss is transformed, in an instant, to one of horror.
 
“Soon the Promiser makes a dangerous mistake: leaving behind an innocent witness, Vimal Lahori, a talented young diamond cutter, who can help Rhyme and Sachs blow the lid off the case. They must track down Vimal before the killer can correct his fatal error. Then disaster strikes, threatening to tear apart the very fabric of the city–and providing the perfect cover for the killer to slip through the cracks.”
Book Details

Author: Jeffery Deaver
Series: Lincoln Rhyme #14
Pages: 448 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 1455536423
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing 
Release Date: April 10, 2018
Book Spy Rating: 6.5/10

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Shoot First by Stuart Woods 

“In the latest nonstop adventure from #1 New York Times bestselling author Stuart Woods, Stone Barrington must defend a woman whose business–and life–are under threat.

“Stone Barrington is enjoying a round of golf in Key West when the game is violently interrupted–and it seems as if the target of the disturbance may have been one of his playing companions, the brilliant businesswoman behind a software startup on the cutting edge of technology. Soon, it becomes clear that this incident is only the first thrust in a deadly scheme to push the beautiful young woman out of the way and put her company’s valuable secrets up for grabs. 

“From the sun-soaked Florida shores to an idyllic English country retreat, Stone embarks on a quest to protect his lovely new companion while searching for the mastermind behind the plot against her. But he may find that her enemy is far more resourceful–and dangerous–than he could have anticipated.”

Book Details

Author: Stuart Woods
Series: Stone Barrington #45
Pages: 368 (Hardcover)
ISBN:  0735217203
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Release Date: April 10, 2018
Book Spy Rating: 6.5/10

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Tuesday, April 17

Warning Light by David Ricciardi (Featured Selection)

It’s baptism by fire for Zac Miller, one of the genre’s top young heroes, in this high-stakes debut thriller from David Ricciardi.

Due to severe mechanical issues, a commercial flight heading to Singapore is forced to make an emergency landing in Iran.

While not the Iranians’ first choice, the only runway the Airbus is capable of landing on happens to be located at a military base. As the passengers deplaned, Zac Miller, a twenty-eight-year-old American technology consultant, uses his cell phone to take a photo of the pink sunset blanketing the mountains in the background. While the other passengers think nothing of Miller’s momentary photography session, the move was witnessed by several Iranian soldiers.

Moments later, Zac finds himself in an interrogation room staring down an intense colonel of the Revolutionary Guard, who accuses him of being a spy.

While not technically trained as a spy, Zac Miller is actually a low- to mid-level analyst working with the CIA on a top-secret mission called Operation SNAPSHOT. The plane’s mechanical failures, while very real to the pilots and flight crew, were all staged. The entire operation was designed to get an asset on the ground in Iran to take photos of a mountainside where the CIA believes the Iranians are hiding something dangerous.

Just before the operation was ready to launch, however, the agent tasked to the mission was found to be known to the Iranians. With the operational window closing, Zac begged his superiors to send him instead — a request he soon regrets.

Armed with basic hand-to-hand combat skills — thanks to a month of training he underwent at the CIA’s clandestine operations training facility at Camp Perry, Virginia — and strong instincts, Zac escapes captivity, only to find himself on the run in the desert and pursued by armed soldiers. 

Making matters worse, unbeknownst to Zac, the Iranians put an agent posing as Miller on the plane, which eventually lands in Singapore. The double commits various crimes, including murder, leaving behind Zac’s DNA, which causes his superiors at the CIA to question whether he’s gone rogue.

Desperate to get back home and deliver the evidence he obtained, Zac must make his way across the desert, navigate the open sea, and somehow zigzag his way through Europe. It’s an incredible journey filled with many twists and turns, as David Ricciardi takes readers along for the relentless ride.

From the heart-pounding opening chapters to the satisfying ending, Ricciardi relies on his acute attention to even the smallest details to add realism to his debut novel. When readers first meet Zac, he’s an unproven, untested, and a realistically flawed character. Over the course of his journey, Ricciardi masterfully develops him into a solid protagonist reminiscent of a young  Jack Ryan.

Forged through fire and battle-tested, The Zac you see on the final page is a different man than the character you meet on page one. Ricciardi treats readers to an exhilarating front-row seat view of the entire maturation process that his young operative is forced to undergo through the most grueling circumstances imaginable, delivering a thoroughly enjoyable reading experience along the way. 

The next must-read espionage thriller series is finally here — if you don’t know who David Ricciardi is already, you will soon. Told with breakneck pacing and nail-biting suspense, Warning Light is an early favorite for best debut thriller of the year.

Book Details

Author: David Ricciardi
Pages: 336 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 0399585737
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: April 17, 2018
Book Spy Rating: 7.5/10 

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Liar’s Candle by August Thomas

A July 4th attack on an American embassy in Ankara, Turkey kills just over 250 American and Turkish employees. Among the survivors is Penny Kessler, a twenty-one-year-old intern with the State Department, whom officials deem an important witness to the carnage after a photo of her, bloodied and wrapped in an American flag, goes viral on the internet and various media outlets around the world.

The problem, though, is that young Penny doesn’t remember much about the attack, and what she can recall doesn’t seem to be of any help to the investigation. 

The state department sends Frank Lerman and his mysterious assistant to question Penny, who is still in the hospital. Many of their questions have to do with Zachary Robson, a fellow American, and her relationship with him. In truth, Penny had feelings for Zac, that she knows — everything else is murky at best. Evidentally, Zac went missing right around the same time that a bomb planted by Hashashin terrorists detonated. His whereabouts are critical to Lerman’s investigation, and as Penny’s the only link to him, she quickly finds herself in hot water. 

Things worsen for Penny when the Turkish prime minister invites her to recover at the presidential palace under the care of the finest doctors in the country. Penny and the state department are initially reluctant but ultimately give in, only for her to discover that she’s less of a patient and more of a prisoner, forcing her to attempt a daring escape. On the run, Penny realizes her best shot at connecting all the dots is to locate Zac, but that’s a big task for the summer intern, who puts on her best Mission: Impossible act, navigating her way through a foreign country with few friends and even fewer resources. 

As the story unfolds, Penny uncovers one shocking twist after another, as nobody is quite who they first appeared to be — including Frank Lerman’s assistant, whom she discovers may actually be a CIA operative. Same goes for Zac, but the closer Penny gets to him, the more trouble she finds. Eventually, Penny realizes she’s smack-dab in the middle of a dangerous political game, and one wrong move could cost her everything. . . 

August Thomas, using vibrant descriptions and careful wording, takes readers into Turkey from the comfort of their reading chair. Her careful attention to detail really does place the reader in theatre with Penny, creating a level of excitement but also making the story more tension-filled. Her writing is not only top-notch, but it is very similar to early works from Gayle Lynds, the reigning queen of espionage thrillers, with a dash of Charles Cumming’s storytelling style. Parts of the plot might seem a tad over-the-top at times, but Thomas does a terrific job reigning things back in, and her strong prose is enough to persuade any reader to suspend their disbelief for the sake of the story. 

2018 is shaping up to be an epic year for debut thriller authors, and August Thomas’ name deserves to be near the top of the list. . . The Liar’s Candle is exciting, complex and full of intrigue. Penny Kessler has the makings of a strong protagonist moving forward, but Thomas is the name to watch closely, as the twentysomething former Fulbright Scholar turns in a brilliant first novel that’ll have readers dying to know what she’ll do next.

Book Details

Author: August Thomas
Series: Penny Kessler #1
Pages: 320 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 1501172840
Publisher: Scribner
Release Date: April 17, 2018
Book Spy Rating: 8.0/10

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The Fallen by David Baldacci

“‘Decker is one of the most unusual detectives any novelist has dreamed up.’ –-Washington Post

“Amos Decker is the Memory Man. Following a football-related head injury that altered his personality, Decker is now unable to forget even the smallest detail–as much a curse as it is a blessing. And in #1 New York Times bestselling author David Baldacci’s gripping new thriller, Decker’s life might be about to change again…

“Something sinister is going on in Baronville. The rust belt town has seen four bizarre murders in the space of two weeks. Cryptic clues left at the scenes–obscure bible verses, odd symbols–have the police stumped.

“Amos Decker and his FBI colleague Alex Jamison are in Baronville visiting Alex’s sister and her family. It’s a bleak place: a former mill and mining town with a crumbling economy and rampant opioid addiction. Decker has only been there a few hours when he stumbles on a horrific double murder scene. 

“Then the next killing hits sickeningly close to home. And with the lives of people he cares about suddenly hanging in the balance, Decker begins to realize that the recent string of deaths may be only one small piece of a much larger scheme–with consequences that will reach far beyond Baronville. 

“Decker, with his singular talents, may be the only one who can crack this bizarre case. Only this time–when one mistake could cost him everything–Decker finds that his previously infallible memory may not be so trustworthy after all…”

Book Details

Author: David Baldacci
Series: Amos Decker #4
Pages: 432 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 1681776626
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Release Date: April 17, 2018
Book Spy Rating: 8.0/10

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The First Family by Michael and Daniel Palmer

“The President’s teenaged son is threatened by a potentially fatal illness that is rooted in dark secrets from a long-buried past.

“President Geoffrey Hilliard and his family live in the ever-present glare of the political limelight, with relentless scrutiny of their daily lives. The White House is not an easy place to grow up, so when the President’s son Cam, a sixteen-year-old chess champion, experiences extreme fatigue, moodiness, and an uncharacteristic violent outburst, doctors are quick to dismiss his troubles as teen angst. But Secret Service agent Karen Ray, whose job is to guard the president’s family with her life, is convinced Cam’s issues are serious – serious enough to summon her physician ex-husband for a second opinion.

“Dr. Lee Blackwood’s concerns are dismissed by the president’s team – until Cam gets sicker. Lee must make a diagnosis from a puzzling array of symptoms he’s never seen before. His only clue is a patient named Susie Banks, a young musical prodigy who seems to be suffering from the same baffling condition as Cam. Hospitalized after an attempt on her life by a determined killer, Susie’s jeopardy escalates as Cam’s condition takes on a terrifying new dimension.

“Is someone trying to murder the President’s son?

“As Lee and Karen race for a cure to Cam’s mysterious and deadly disease, they begin to uncover betrayals that breach the highest levels of national security.

“Returning to the same Washington, DC setting of The First Patient, which former President Bill Clinton said ‘captured the intense atmosphere of the White House,’ The First Family is a riveting new medical drama from acclaimed novelist Daniel Palmer, in the tradition of his late father, New York Times bestselling novelist Michael Palmer.”

Book Details

Author: Michael and David Palmer
Pages: 352 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 1250107423
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Release Date: April 17, 2018
Book Spy Rating: 6.0/10

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The Elizas by Sara Shepard

“New York Times bestselling author of Pretty Little Liars Sara Shepard makes her mark on adult fiction with this Hitchcockian double narrative composed of lies, false memories, and a protagonist who must uncover the truth for survival.

“When debut novelist Eliza Fontaine is found at the bottom of a hotel pool, her family at first assumes that it’s just another failed suicide attempt. But Eliza swears she was pushed, and her rescuer is the only witness.

“Desperate to find out who attacked her, Eliza takes it upon herself to investigate. But as the publication date for her novel draws closer, Eliza finds more questions than answers. Like why are her editor, agent, and family mixing up events from her novel with events from her life? Her novel is completely fictional, isn’t it?

“The deeper Eliza goes into her investigation while struggling with memory loss, the closer her life starts to resemble her novel, until the line between reality and fiction starts to blur and she can no longer tell where her protagonist’s life ends and hers begins.

“Fans of Pretty Little Liars, S.J. Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep, and Ruth Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10 will be drawn to the drama of feeling like no one is on your side, the high tension of not knowing who you can trust, the hair-raising truths hidden among lies, and a faceless, nameless presence controlling Eliza’s life from the shadows. “

Book Details

Author: Sara Shepard
Pages: 352 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 1681776626
Publisher: Atria Books
Release Date: April 17, 2018
Book Spy Rating: 6.5/10

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Whispers of the Dead by Spencer Kope 

Magnus “Steps” Craig and his partner, Jimmy Donovan, both members of the FBI’s Elite Tracking Unit, return in Spencer Kope’s (Collecting the Dead, 2016) latest thrillerWhispers of the Dead

When Judge Jonathan Ehrlich wakes up to find a cooler stuffed with ice and two severed feet in his El Paso home, the FBI dispatches their elite tracking unit to figure out who the feet belong to, who cut them off and packaged them in ice. . . and why the heck they were left for the judge to find. 

Steps Craig and Jimmy Donovan, fresh off a successful case in Washington, head to El Paso to find the killer dubbed “The Ice Box Killer.” Steps, for those who didn’t read Kope’s first book, has a very rare condition that allows him to see colors left behind by people on surfaces and even other individuals. Essentially, each person gives off their own signature — almost like their own unique DNA — that Steps can see in colors and textures. It’s an ability he’s harbored ever since he was clinically pronounced dead as a child before being brought back to life. 

Obviously, Steps’ condition lends itself nicely to his job, as he is quite literally paid to track people down. The problem is that nothing he does is technically admissible in court, which means that while he can follow a trail to the killer, an arrest can’t be made without hard evidence — which is where Donovan comes in. The two work well together, and it doesn’t take them long to start following the killer’s trail in El Paso, which leads them to another victim, indicating that a serial killer is on the loose. That changes the stakes considerably, and it’s up to Steps and Donovan to not only find the murderer. . . but to uncover enough evidence along the way to lock up whoever is behind the heinous killings. 

In all likelihood, readers’ ability to enjoy this novel will ultimately come down to whether or not they can buy into Steps’ tracking abilities. In some ways, it’s not all that different from what Dominika Egorova (who can see colors coming off of people) displays in Jason Matthews’ New York Timesbestselling Red Sparrow trilogy. The main difference, though, is that from a creative perspective, Kope’s job is significantly easier thanks to the abilities he’s given his lead character. When the plot hits a snag, Steps is able to figure things out just by looking around and following what he calls “shine.” 

Personally, I found the story to be entertaining and think Steps is a unique character. Sure, you have to suspend your disbelief a little bit, but that’s true with most thrillers, and by doing so readers will open themselves up to all kinds of fun along the way. 

It might not necessarily be for everyone, but overall Spencer Kope’s Whispers of the Dead is a solid page-turner that reads lightning-fast. . . and is a perfect fit for fans of John Connolly.

Book Details

Author: Spencer Kope
Series: Steps #2
Pages: 400 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 1250072883
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Release Date: April 17, 2018
Book Spy Rating: 6.5/10

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The Saint of Wolves and Butchers by  Alex Grecian

“From the bestselling author of The Yard comes a chilling contemporary thriller about an enigmatic hunter on the trail of a Nazi who has secretly continued his devilish work here in America.

“Travis Roan and his dog, Bear, are hunters: They travel the world pursuing evildoers in order to bring them to justice. They have now come to Kansas on the trail of Rudolph Bormann, a Nazi doctor and concentration camp administrator who snuck into the U.S. under the name Rudy Goodman in the 1950s and has at last been identified. Travis quickly learns that Goodman has powerful friends who will go to any length to protect the Nazi; what he doesn’t know is that Goodman has furtively continued his diabolical work, amassing a congregation of followers who believe he possesses Godlike powers. Caught between these men is Kansas State Trooper Skottie Foster, an African American woman and a good cop who must find a way to keep peace in her district–until she realizes the struggle between Roan and Bormann will put her and her family in grave peril.”

Book Details

Author:  Alex Grecian
Pages: 400 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 039917611X
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Release Date: April 17, 2018
Book Spy Rating: 6.5/10

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Tuesday, April 24

Twisted Prey by John Sandford (Featured Selection

In Twisted Prey, the 28th book in John Sandford’s #1 bestselling franchise (following Golden Prey, 2017), Lucas Davenport locks horns with an old nemesis who now has more power than ever before. 

Still adjusting to his new role as a U.S. Marshall, Lucas Davenport is contacted by Senator Porter Smalls, who was run off the road on his way back to Washington from a quick stay in his West Virginia cabin. After a horrific crash, Porter managed to walk away relatively unharmed. However, his political consultant and secret lover, Cecily Whitehead, wasn’t so fortunate. 

Porter reaches out to Davenport because he’s convinced that the wreck was part of an assassination attempt ordered by Taryn Grant. Sandford’s longtime readers will remember Grant, the beautiful, rich sociopath who was already plotting out her pathway to the presidency as far back as Silken Prey (2013), when she was first introduced. Since then, she’s won a narrow senate race, which Grant views as little more than a stepping stone to the Oval Office. Porter Smalls has already had one go-around with Grant, and it ended very badly for him. Before he climbs into the ring for round two, he wants Lucas Davenport in his corner. 

Davenport eventually agrees to investigate things, even after local police rule it a single-car accident. Grant, meanwhile, deploys her henchman to take Lucas out of play, with strict orders to kill him if all else fails. But as fans of Lucas Davenport know, killing a seasoned pro like Lucas isn’t easy — especially once he has an old enemy like Taryn Grant in his crosshairs.

Sandford continues to work current events into his stories, giving them a timely feel. This time, he’s churned out a suspense-filled plot about a power struggle between two members of the Washington Elite. Certain chapters read like stories currently all over CNN and Fox News, and readers will no doubt see those parallels and likely wish real-life played out closer to how things go when Lucas Davenport is on the case. 

Lucas Davenport might have a new job, but the end result is the same. . . Twisted Prey is another top-notch read from one of today’s most beloved storytellers.

Book Details

Author: John Sandford
Series: Lucas Davenport #28
Pages: 400 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 0735217351
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Release Date: April 24, 2018
Book Spy Rating: 8.0/10

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Shattered Mirror by Iris Johansen 

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author comes Shattered Mirror, a new explosive thriller featuring forensic sculptor Eve Duncan.

“Forensic sculptor Eve Duncan is once again thrown into a deadly game of intrigue when she receives a cryptic package containing a skull and a two-sided mirror. Eve is determined to reconstruct the skull and uncover the mystery of the person’s identity, and when she does, the face of a beautiful woman begins to emerge. But who is she?

“As Eve gets closer and closer to finding the answer, she becomes swept up in a lethal chase that spans continents and threatens to destroy the family that she has worked so hard to bring together. Eve and her team must work quickly to discover who is behind the murder – and maybe even prevent more loss of life. But how do you fight a killer who is willing to destroy anyone as a means to an end?

“No one is safe in #1 New York Times bestselling author Iris Johansen’s next explosive, high-stakes thriller that will keep readers on the edge of their seat through every heart-pounding chapter.”

Book Details

Author: Iris Johansen 
Series: Eve Duncan #23
Pages: 352 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 1250075866
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Release Date: April 24, 2018
Book Spy Rating: 8.0/10

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The Hellfire Club by Jake Tapper

“The debut political thriller from Jake Tapper, CNN’s chief Washington correspondent and the New York Times bestselling author of The Outpost— 1950’s D.C. intrigue about a secret society and a young Congressman in its grip

“Charlie Marder is an unlikely Congressman. Thrust into office by his family ties after his predecessor died mysteriously, Charlie is struggling to navigate the dangerous waters of 1950s Washington, DC, alongside his young wife Margaret, a zoologist with ambitions of her own. Amid the swirl of glamorous and powerful political leaders and deal makers, a mysterious fatal car accident thrusts Charlie and Margaret into an underworld of backroom deals, secret societies, and a plot that could change the course of history. When Charlie discovers a conspiracy that reaches the highest levels of governance, he has to fight not only for his principles and his newfound political career…but for his life.”

Book Details

Author: Jake Tapper
Pages: 352 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 031647231X
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Release Date: April 24, 2018
Book Spy Rating: 8.0/10

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Necessity by D.W. Buffa

“The riveting new thriller from bestselling Edgar Award nominee D.W. Buffa!

“It was a strange case, a great case, a case that, once it got to trial, might well change forever the history of the United States. Other presidents had been murdered, but no one who had killed a president had ever been brought to trial. I did not want any part of it.

NECESSITY is the riveting new thriller from bestselling Edgar Award nominee D.W. Buffa in which criminal defense attorney Joseph Antonelli finds himself embroiled in the most controversial and explosive trial in American history, representing the man accused of murdering the President.

“When renowned lawyer Joseph Antonelli–the defense attorney who has never lost a case–takes on the most shocking and controversial case of his storied career, he has no idea of the depths of trouble he’s about to get into. A man has murdered the President of the United States, but has invoked the “Law of Necessity,” which states that a crime is justified if it serves the greater good and thus prevents a greater harm from occurring.

“As the nation watches the trial of the century, Antonelli must try a case with all eyes on him…and his own life on the line.

“NECESSITY will enthrall half of the country and infuriate the other half. Everyone, however, will want to read it.”

Book Details

Author: D.W. Buffa
Pages: 352 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 1947993089
Publisher: Polis Books
Release Date: April 24, 2018
Book Spy Rating: 7.0/10

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Reset by Brian Andrews 

The human mind has always been unhackable…until now.

“Deep in the Afghan mountains, Sergeant Michael Pitcher discovers an object with powers that defy explanation. After interacting with it, he suffers a traumatic seizure and is flown home for evaluation.

“Cleared by the doctors, Michael goes home to his relieved wife, Josie. But he’s a changed man. The once-loving husband is now coldly withdrawn. After emptying the couple’s bank account, he disappears into the night.

“When a team of scientists connected to Sergeant Pitcher vanishes without a trace, CIA agent Dean Ninemeyer comes to him for insight—only to find that the recovering soldier has also disappeared.

“Dean and Josie must now join forces in a desperate race against time, searching for answers in an ever-twisting mystery. What they uncover is a chilling conspiracy that already has the fate of the world in its grip.”

Book Details

Author: Brian Andrews 
Pages: 382 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 1503954269
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Release Date: April 24, 2018
Book Spy Rating: 7.0/10

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Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck is the editor-in-chief of The Real Book Spy, and one of the thriller genre’s most well-recognized critics. He currently lives in southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children. For more information, make sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook

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9 comments

  1. #RealBookSpyReadingChallenge From this months guide. I plan on reading Whispers of the Dead and
    Warning Light.

  2. Finished “under cover of daylight“. Not my kind of book. Just couldn’t wrap my head around it

  3. Just finished “Burning Bright“. Good book but not as good as his other two. I will continue to read his books, and look forward to his next one.

  4. I read Skyjack, The Sixth Day, and The Hellfire Club. Tapper’s book was my favorite of April.

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