The Real Book Spy’s Top 10 Thrillers From the First Half of 2019

To celebrate reaching the half-way point of 2019, here’s a look back at my 10 highest-rated thrillers so far this year. 

Believe it or not, though there’s been a ton of great thrillers released already, in a way, things are just starting to heat up . . .

To truly make this the 10 top books released in the first half of 2019, the cutoff date for making this list was mid-June. That means top-notch thrillers like Brad Thor’s Backlash, Daniel Silva’s The New Girl, Mark Greaney’s Red Metal, Kyle Mills’ Lethal Agent, Jack Carr’s True Believer, Ben Coes’ The Russian, Rob Hart’s The Warehouse, and Matthew Betley’s Rules of War—all of which have received high scores on our rating scale—didn’t even have a chance of placing here. Though, I’d keep an eye out for those titles to dominate another list later this year.

So, without further ado, here are my highest-rated thrillers of 2019 so far.


Daughter of War smallDaughter of War by Brad Taylor

Release Date: January 8th

Book Spy rating: 9.0/10

Former Special Forces Officer and New York Times bestselling author Brad Taylor delivers a heart-pounding thriller featuring Taskforce operators Pike Logan and Jennifer Cahill as they come face to face with a conspiracy where nothing is as it seems.

Hot on the trail of a North Korean looking to sell sensitive US intelligence to the Syrian regime, Pike Logan and the Taskforce stumble upon something much graver: the sale of a lethal substance called Red Mercury.

Unbeknownst to the Taskforce, the Syrians plan to use the weapon of mass destruction against American and Kurdish forces, and blame the attack on terrorists, causing western nations to reassess their participation in the murky cauldron of the Syrian civil war.

Meanwhile, North Korea has its own devastating agenda: a double-cross that will dwarf the attack in Syria even as it lays the blame on the Syrian government. Leveraging Switzerland’s fame for secrecy and its vast network of military bunkers, now repurposed by private investors for the clandestine storage of wealth, North Korea will use Red Mercury to devastate the West’s ability to deliver further sanctions against the rogue regime.

As the Taskforce begins to unravel the plot, a young refugee unwittingly holds the key to the conspiracy. Hunted across Europe for reasons she cannot fathom, she is the one person who can stop the attack–if she can live long enough for Pike and Jennifer to find her.

From my review:  “Nobody delivers quite like Brad Taylor. Ripped from the headlines and packed with plenty of suspense and nonstop action every step of the way, Daughter of War is the first must-read action thriller of 2019.”

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The Night Agent smallThe Night Agent by Matthew Quirk

Release Date: January 15th

Book Spy rating: 8.5/10

To find a Russian mole in the White House, an FBI agent must question everything. . . and trust no one

To save America from a catastrophic betrayal, an idealistic young FBI agent must stop a Russian mole in the White House in this exhilarating political thriller reminiscent of the early novels of John Grisham and David Baldacci.

No one was more surprised than FBI Agent Peter Sutherland when he’s tapped to work in the White House Situation Room. From his earliest days as a surveillance specialist, Peter has scrupulously done everything by the book, hoping his record will help him escape the taint of his past. When Peter was a boy, his father, a section chief in FBI counterintelligence, was suspected of selling secrets to the Russians—a catastrophic breach that had cost him his career, his reputation, and eventually his life.

Peter knows intimately how one broken rule can cost lives. Nowhere is he more vigilant than in this room, the sanctum of America’s secrets. Staffing the night action desk, his job is monitoring an emergency line for a call that has not—and might never—come.

Until tonight.

At 1:05 a.m. the phone rings. A terrified young woman named Rose tells Peter that her aunt and uncle have just been murdered and that the killer is still in the house with her. Before their deaths, they gave her this phone number with urgent instructions: “Tell them OSPREY was right. It’s happening. . . “

The call thrusts Peter into the heart of a conspiracy years in the making, involving a Russian mole at the highest levels of the government. Anyone in the White House could be the traitor. Anyone could be corrupted. To save the nation, Peter must take the rules into his own hands and do the right thing, no matter the cost. He plunges into a desperate hunt for the traitor—a treacherous odyssey that pits him and Rose against some of Russia’s most skilled and ruthless operatives and the full force of the FBI itself.

Peter knows that the wider a secret is broadcast, the more dangerous it gets for the people at the center. With the fate of the country on the line, he and Rose must evade seasoned assassins and maneuver past jolting betrayals to find the shocking truth—and stop the threat from inside before it’s too late.

From my review: “Matthew Quirk delivers the first high-stakes, nail-biting political thriller of 2019 with The Night Agent, setting the pace early for what promises to be an exciting year of new releases.”

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Out of the DarknessOut of the Dark by Gregg Hurwitz 

Release Date: January 29th

Book Spy rating: 9.0/10

When darkness closes in―he’s your last, best hope. Evan Smoak returns in Gregg Hurwitz’s #1 international bestselling Orphan X series in Out of the Dark.

Taken from a group home at age twelve, Evan Smoak was raised and trained as part of the Orphan Program, an off-the-books operation designed to create deniable intelligence assets―i.e. assassins. Evan was Orphan X. He broke with the Program, using everything he learned to disappear and reinvent himself as the Nowhere Man, a man who helps the truly desperate when no one else can. But now Evan’s past is catching up to him.

Someone at the very highest level of government has been trying to eliminate every trace of the Orphan Program by killing all the remaining Orphans and their trainers. After Evan’s mentor and the only father he ever knew was killed, he decided to strike back. His target is the man who started the Program and who is now the most heavily guarded person in the world: the President of the United States.

But President Bennett knows that Orphan X is after him and, using weapons of his own, he’s decided to counter-attack. Bennett activates the one man who has the skills and experience to track down and take out Orphan X―the first recruit of the Program, Orphan A.

With Evan devoting all his skills, resources, and intelligence to find a way through the layers of security that surround the President, suddenly he also has to protect himself against the deadliest of opponents. It’s Orphan vs. Orphan with the future of the country―even the world―on the line.

From my review: “The kind of game-changing thriller that’ll have people talking about it long after turning the final page.”

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Mission CriticalMission Critical by Mark Greaney

Release Date: February 9th 

Book Spy rating: 9.0/10

From Mark Greaney, the New York Times bestselling author of Gunmetal Gray and a coauthor of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan novels, comes a high-stakes thriller featuring the world’s most dangerous assassin: the Gray Man.

Court Gentry’s flight on a CIA transport plane is interrupted when a security team brings a hooded man aboard. They want to kick Gentry off the flight but are overruled by CIA headquarters. The mystery man is being transported to England where a joint CIA/MI6 team will interrogate him about a mole in Langley.

When they land in an isolated airbase in the U.K., they are attacked by a hostile force who kidnaps the prisoner. Only Gentry escapes. His handlers send him after the attackers, but what can one operative do against a trained team of assassins? A lot, when that operative is the Gray Man.

From my review: “Mark Greaney continues his dominant run with Mission Critical, his most impressive novel yet and the clear-cut early favorite for best thriller of the year.”

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THe Border smallThe Border by Don Winslow

Release Date: February 26th

Book Spy rating: 10/10

ONE OF THE MOST ACCLAIMED BOOKS OF THE YEAR

The explosive, highly anticipated conclusion to the epic Cartel trilogy from the New York Times bestselling author of The Force

What do you do when there are no borders? When the lines you thought existed simply vanish?  How do you plant your feet to make a stand when you no longer know what side you’re on?

The war has come home.

For over forty years, Art Keller has been on the front lines of America’s longest conflict: The War on Drugs. His obsession to defeat the world’s most powerful, wealthy, and lethal kingpin―the godfather of the Sinaloa Cartel, Adán Barrera―has left him bloody and scarred, cost him the people he loves, even taken a piece of his soul.

Now Keller is elevated to the highest ranks of the DEA, only to find that in destroying one monster he has created thirty more that are wreaking even more chaos and suffering in his beloved Mexico. But not just there.

Barrera’s final legacy is the heroin epidemic scourging America. Throwing himself into the gap to stem the deadly flow, Keller finds himself surrounded by enemies―men who want to kill him, politicians who want to destroy him, and worse, the unimaginable―an incoming administration that’s in bed with the very drug traffickers that Keller is trying to bring down.

Art Keller is at war with not only the cartels, but with his own government. And the long fight has taught him more than he ever imagined. Now, he learns the final lesson―there are no borders.

In a story that moves from deserts of Mexico to Wall Street, from the slums of Guatemala to the marbled corridors of Washington, D.C., Winslow follows a new generation of narcos, the cops who fight them, street traffickers, addicts, politicians, money-launderers, real-estate moguls, and mere children fleeing the violence for the chance of a life in a new country.

A shattering tale of vengeance, violence, corruption, and justice, this last novel in Don Winslow’s magnificent, award-winning, internationally bestselling trilogy is packed with unforgettable, drawn-from-the-headlines scenes. Shocking in its brutality, raw in its humanity, The Border is an unflinching portrait of modern America, a story of—and for—our time.

From my review: “Don Winslow’s iconic trilogy represents the most epic crime saga of our time, all told in a way that only he could deliver . . .  while it’s sad to see this series come to an end, Winslow sends it out with a bang that readers won’t soon forget.”

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Wolf PackWolf Pack by C.J. Box 

Release Date: March 12th

Book Spy rating: 9.5/10

Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett encounters bad behavior on his own turf–only to have the FBI and the DOJ ask him to stand down–in the thrilling new novel from #1 New York Times-bestselling author C.J. Box.

The good news is that Joe Pickett has his job back, after his last adventure in The Disappeared. The bad news is that he’s come to learn that a drone is killing wildlife–and the drone belongs to a mysterious and wealthy man whose son is dating Joe’s own daughter, Lucy.

When Joe tries to lay down the rules for the drone operator, he’s asked by the FBI and the DOJ to stand down, which only makes him more suspicious. Meanwhile, bodies are piling up in and around Joe’s district in shocking numbers. He begins to fear that a pack of four vicious killers working on behalf of the Sinaloa cartel known as the Wolf Pack has arrived. Their target seems to be the mystery man and everyone–including Joe, Nate, and others–who is associated with him.

Teaming up with a female game warden (based on a real person, one of the few female game wardens at work in Wyoming today) to confront these assassins, Joe finds himself in the most violent and dangerous predicament he’s ever faced.

From my review: “C.J. Box’s Joe Pickett franchise is good enough to go toe-to-toe with any other series in print today, regardless of genre . . . and Wolf Pack is the most unexpected, relentless, and action-packed novel he’s ever written.”

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The Persian Gamble by Joel C. Rosenberg

Release Date: March 12th

Book Spy rating: 9.0/10

The instant New York Times, USA TODAY, and Publishers Weekly bestseller from NYT bestselling author Joel C. Rosenberg!

In the follow-up to the New York Times bestselling Kremlin Conspiracy, Rosenberg’s latest international thriller tracks a terrifying nuclear alliance among three world powers―Russia, Iran, and North Korea―and the deadly mission former US Secret Service Agent Marcus Ryker must risk to halt their deadly strategy.

Shot out of the air in enemy territory in the middle of the greatest international crisis since the end of the Cold War, former U.S. Secret Service agent Marcus Ryker finds himself facing an impossible task. Not only does he have to somehow elude detection and capture by Russian special forces, but he must convince his own government to grant safe harbor to the one man responsible for the global mayhem―Russian double agent and assassin Oleg Kraskin. While frantically negotiating with his contacts in the White House, Marcus learns that the unstable North Korean regime plans to use the international chaos as a smokescreen to sell nuclear weapons to Iran. With the fate of the entire free world on the line, Marcus makes a deal with the U.S. government―he will go back to work as an international operative and track down the WMDs before they end up in the hands of those with the determination and the means to use them. Marcus and Oleg worked together once before to avert a world war. Can they now find a way to stop world destruction?

From my review: “With his ripped-from-the-headlines approach and stunning ability to survey the geopolitical landscape, Joel C. Rosenberg continues to mix his unique blend of prophetic fiction and nonstop action unlike anyone else working today.”

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Run AwayRun Away by Harlan Coben 

Release Date: March 19th

Book Spy rating: 8.5/10

A perfect family is shattered in RUN AWAY, the new thriller from the master of domestic suspense, Harlan Coben.

You’ve lost your daughter.

She’s addicted to drugs and to an abusive boyfriend. And she’s made it clear that she doesn’t want to be found.

Then, by chance, you see her playing guitar in Central Park. But she’s not the girl you remember. This woman is living on the edge, frightened, and clearly in trouble.

You don’t stop to think. You approach her, beg her to come home.

She runs.

And you do the only thing a parent can do: you follow her into a dark and dangerous world you never knew existed. Before you know it, both your family and your life are on the line. And in order to protect your daughter from the evils of that world, you must face them head-on.

From my review: “When it comes to misdirection and catching readers off guard, no one’s better than Harlan Coben, who continues to land unexpected twists and shocking reveals. Fast-paced and helplessly entertaining, Run Away is everything his readers have come to expect and then some.”

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Someone Knows 1Someone Knows by Lisa Scottoline 

Release Date: April 9th

Book Spy rating: 9.0/10

Bestselling and award-winning author Lisa Scottoline reaches new heights with this riveting novel about how a single decision can undo a family, how our past can derail our present, and how not guilty doesn’t always mean innocent.

Allie Garvey is heading home to the funeral of a childhood friend. Allie is not only grief-stricken, she’s full of dread. Because going home means seeing the other two people with whom she shares an unbearable secret.

Twenty years earlier, a horrific incident shattered the lives of five teenagers, including Allie. Drinking and partying in the woods, they played a dangerous prank that went tragically wrong, turning deadly. The teenagers kept what happened a secret, believing that getting caught would be the worst thing that could happen. But time has taught Allie otherwise. Not getting caught was far worse.

Allie has been haunted for two decades by what she and the others did, and by the fact that she never told a soul. The dark secret has eaten away at her, distancing her from everyone she loves, including her husband. Because she wasn’t punished by the law, Allie has punished herself, and it’s a life sentence.

Now, Allie stands on the precipice of losing everything. She’s ready for a reckoning, determined to learn how the prank went so horribly wrong. She digs to unearth the truth, but reaches a shocking conclusion that she never saw coming–and neither will the reader.

A deeply emotional examination of family, marriage, and the true nature of justice, Someone Knows is Lisa Scottoline’s most powerful novel to date. Startling, page-turning, and with an ending that’s impossible to forget, this is a tour de force by a beloved author at the top of her game.

From my review: “Lisa Scottoline shows once again why she’s the queen of suspense, delivering a relentless, gut-punch of a thriller that’s sure to stand among the year’s best.”

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The First Mistake by Sandie Jones 

Release Date: Jule 11th

Book Spy rating: 9/0/10

From Sandie Jones, the author of the Reese Witherspoon x Hello Sunshine Book Club Pick and New York Times bestseller The Other Woman, comes an addictively readable new domestic suspense about a wife, her husband, and the woman who is supposedly her best friend.

THE WIFE: For Alice, life has never been better. With her second husband, she has a successful business, two children, and a beautiful house.

HER HUSBAND: Alice knows that life could have been different if her first husband had lived, but Nathan’s arrival into her life gave her back the happiness she craved.

HER BEST FRIEND: Through the ups and downs of life, from celebratory nights out to comforting each other through loss, Alice knows that with her best friend Beth by her side, they can survive anything together. So when Nathan starts acting strangely, Alice turns to Beth for help. But soon, Alice begins to wonder whether her trust has been misplaced . . .

The first mistake could be her last.

From my review: The Other Woman was a special debut, but with her latest, Sandie Jones proves that she’s one of the best writers the genre has to offer . . . and The First Mistake is a must-read for fans of Gillian Flynn, Greer Hendricks, and Shari Lapena.”

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Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck (“The Godfather of the thriller genre” — Ben Coes) has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). Steck also works full-time as a freelance editor and pens a monthly thriller column for CrimeReads. For more information, be sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook. He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children. 

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