2018 was a great year.
Here’s to making 2019 even better!
To those who’ve followed this site for a while now, you might remember the 2018 note I wrote last year (has it really been a year already?!) thanking followers for visiting The Real Book Spy, talking about thrillers with me on social media, swapping emails, and taking the time to follow along as I flood your feeds and inboxes with random tidbits about the year’s best books.
Once again, I’d like to thank you all.
This year, I read over 250 books for review (and that doesn’t include the books I worked on as an editor, which I still do full-time on the side), wrote over 150 book announcements, posted umpteen interviews, and tweeted more times than I can count. Between January 1st and the last week in December, I posted 491 articles at an average of 1,007 words per post. That’s a total of 494,424 words typed in 2018.
For comparison’s sake, the average thriller is around 100,000 words.
That’s almost five books.
But don’t tell the people at Apple’s Genius bar that. I blew out the keyboard on my main MacBook a few weeks ago, and they questioned how often I use it before finally just replacing the darn thing.
For those paying attention to Twitter, I made a personal announcement earlier in the year when I tweeted a photo of a large stack of papers with the title blacked out and only the words: “By Ryan Steck” visible. After years of covering the genre and editing thrillers, I finally completed my own manuscript that I had been working on for quite some time.
Actually, the genesis of that story began in high school, when an intern assigned my creative writing class a project that allowed us the freedom to use cursing and any other content we could dream up for a paper we had to write, without punishment. I had at it, delivering a short story so intense and filled with “adult language” that unbeknownst to me, my parents were contacted and asked to come to the school for a meeting by my very concerned principal.
For those wondering how that situation played out, I got an A+ on the paper.
I also go a two-day suspension. For real. (But that intern was the best teacher I ever had!)
Since then, the character I created my junior year in high school has been in my head all these years, begging for me to put him down on paper. So, between running the site, working with CrimeReads, and editing manuscripts for writers on the side, I did just that. While I can’t say much yet, I’m thrilled to announce that I signed with a top agent and will have more news on all of that very soon. I can’t wait to tell you all about it!
I mentioned CrimeReads above, who I’m now working with as a monthly columnist (and advisor of sorts for all things thriller). They’ve been terrific, and I encourage you all to check out their site too. It’s fantastic! During my first phone call with the editor I now report to over there (a great guy, by the way), they made a comment that stuck with me. “You’re one of the very few people who get to do this full-time and make a living out of it,” they noted during our call, which is something that I never really considered before. But I guess they’re right, and I have you all– my followers and fellow readers–to thank.
For the life of me, I cannot figure out why anyone cares what I think about a book. I know readers won’t always agree with my take–publishing is the most subjective business in the world, after all–but I sure try hard to report on all the new releases Book Spy followers might be interested in . . . and maybe a few that wouldn’t otherwise be on your radar. And it was a GREAT year for thriller fans!
Daniel Silva delivered what I think is the best spy thriller since John le Carre’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold with his latest Gabriel Allon novel, The Other Woman. For my money, he’s the best in the game right now and one of the most iconic spy novelists the genre has ever known. Likewise, you won’t find a better political thriller writer on the planet than Brad Thor. Spymaster, his latest, is another balls-to-the-wall thriller which, come on, we totally expect from Thor after a long and successful career beating headlines and dazzling readers. What I didn’t expect, though, was the wicked cliffhanger he ended on, setting up his next Scot Harvath thriller, Backlash, one of the most anticipated books of 2019.
Mitch Rapp continues to be the most badass character in print thanks to Kyle Mills. Over the past four years, Mills has proven he’s the only writer capable of stepping in and filling the enormous void left by Vince Flynn. Red War is awesome, and while I’ve heard plenty of feedback from readers who wish there was less focus on the Russians and more on Rapp, I honestly think it’s one of the best books in the series . . . and that this series has soared to new heights under Mills’ guidance. Bottom line: Mitch Rapp fans are lucky to have him.
C.J. Box is my favorite living author. I’ve read him longer than any other writer, and just when I start to think he’s shown us his very best, he proves me wrong every single time. The Disappeared is phenomenal, and taking Joe Pickett out of Saddlestring and into Saratoga for a book was brilliant, especially with all the changes the Pickett family is forced to deal with after the ending of Vicious Circle (2017). Ordinarily, I’d make a note right here about how Box’s next book, Wolf Pack, is the book I’m most excited to read in 2019. However, that one happened to arrive on my doorstep the day before Thanksgiving. I swore to myself I’d read it slowly, savoring it. But I read it cover-to-cover in under five hours. As you’ll all see in March, it really is Box’s best book yet. I’m still stunned just thinking about it . . .
There are a lot of other noteworthy books from 2018 too. Mark Greaney, one of the best guys in the business, cranked out another high-powered Gray Man book with Agent in Place. I’m a huge fan of his work. Matthew Betley continues to top himself every year, which he did again with Field of Valor (which is also one of my favorite titles of the year). Joel Rosenberg launched a great new series with The Kremlin Conspiracy, Ted Bell brought Lord Alex Hawke back in style with Overkill, Nick Irving and A.J. Tata teamed up for Reaper: Ghost Target, one of the most entertaining and action-packed books of the year, and Meg Gardiner scared me enough that I honestly contemplated pulling a Motel 8 and leaving the light on thanks to Into the Black Nowhere.
K.J. Howe showed the thriller world she’s far more than a one-hit wonder with Skyjack, her must-read second Thea Paris book. Joe Ide proved he might be the best California-based crime writer not named Michael Connelley with Wrecked, and Brad Taylor reminded us all that he’s the undisputed king of military thrillers with Operator Down. A year after Trap the Devil, which everyone said was the best thing he could possibly write, Ben Coes basically said, “here, hold my keyboard” and made us all look silly by absolutely crushing Bloody Sunday, proving he’s yet to hit his ceiling. Same goes to Mike Maden and Marc Cameron, who both received tons of praise in 2017 for their first books in the Tom Clancy’s Ryanverse, only to each top themselves this year with Tom Clancy Line of Sight and Tom Clancy Oath of Office, respectively.
Sandie Jones showed the finesse and honed skills of a boxer, slipping bunches and tossing jabs before landing a knockout blow with her debut, The Other Woman, which had maybe the best twist of the year. The Gray Ghost author Robin Burcell continues to make Clive Cussler’s Fargo Adventures his best franchise going, and Anthony Horowitz finally taught us why James Bond picked the 007 designation and why he likes his martinis shaken and not stirred in Forever and a Day.
Then there’s Jack Carr’s The Terminal List, the best debut thriller I’ve ever reviewed, and one of my very favorite books of the year. I love Vince Flynn’s series (my youngest son is named Mitchell after Mitch Rapp) and cannot help but cringe each time a new author is compared to him–or their character to Rapp. That changed with Carr, who is the only new author deserving of such lofty praise. In sports terms, Jack Carr is like the highly-touted quarterback you want to build your franchise around. This dude is the real deal, and if you aren’t reading his stuff you’re missing out in a big way.
Lisa Scottoline, another one of my favorite writers, put out two books in 2018, and both were incredible. After Anna kept me on the edge of my seat, while Feared had me cheering on Rosato and DiNunzio harder than ever before. Derek Haas, one of the best showrunners in television (Chicago Fire, FBI, etc.), brought back an old favorite of mine in the Silver Bear, made extra special by the fact that Columbus happened to be laying low on Mackinac Island, one of my family’s favorite vacation spots in my home state of Michigan, in The Way I Die. Speaking of favorites, Gregg Hurwitz‘s Evan Smoak did his thing again in Hellbent, killing all kinds of bad guys and setting up one of 2019’s most exciting thrillers, Out of the Dark, which is the best thing he’s ever written.
Andrews and Wilson, two of the coolest guys in the genre, started a new trilogy within their relentless John Dempsey series with American Operator, another must-read for fans of Brad Taylor and nonstop action. Nick Petrie officially became one of my go-to writers with Light it Up. When Lee Child is ready to ride off into the sunset, Petrie will take up the mantle, as his Peter Ash is the only character truly worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as Jack Reacher.
A couple of years ago, I lost a dear friend named Terry O’Hara to 9/11 esophageal cancer. Terry, a former sergeant with the NYPD, spent months at ground zero following the attacks on the Twin Towers. Like so many other brave men and women who lent a hand without any concern for their own personal safety, Terry later developed cancer from the toxins he breathed in. After fighting harder than anyone I’ve ever seen and encouraging thousands in the process, he passed away in early 2017. Before he died, he’d connected with Brad Meltzer, a truly special human being, who informed him that he’d be putting his name in his next book. That book, The Escape Artist, came out in 2018, and when I was reading my review copy, I had totally forgotten that Terry was going to be in the story. (Looking back, I vividly recall the moment he told me the big news. It was the same day Terry learned that his cancer was, in fact, terminal and that there was nothing else the doctors could do. He was a wreck, but at the same time he was elated and thrilled that Meltzer cared enough to honor him that way. I still have the text messages from him on my phone where he’s geeking out over it.) I was stunned when I saw his name, then took pictures and called his wife. It was a special moment.
Aside from Terry’s cameo, The Escape Artist is another must-read for other reasons. It’s Meltzer at his best, featuring one of his best characters to date. It’s also his first #1 New York Times bestselling novel (congrats, Brad!), earning rave reviews from readers and critics alike.
Honestly, I could go on and on. There are writers and books I forgot to mention, and I’m sure I’ll think of another twenty I wish I would have included the second I publish this note. To all my friends in the publishing world, especially the many publicists, editors, marketing peeps, and agents I rely on for info, insight, and early copies, thank you!
To all the readers who I’m lucky enough to interact with, HAPPY NEW YEAR. As good as 2018 was to us in terms of top-notch thrillers, if the thirty-or-so 2019 titles I’ve already read are any indication, next year is going to be even better . . . and I can’t wait to talk about all of them with you in the coming months.