The Real Book Spy’s May 2020 Reading Guide

Well, it’s late, so let’s call this a May wrap-up, but with publishing and release dates in a state of flux due to the impact of COVID-19, we held off on posting our Reading Guide until we knew for sure which books were really coming out this month.

As always, we chose two books to highlight, and this month, those Featured Selections are Fair Warning by Michael Connelly and The Wrath of Posiden by Clive Cussler and Robin Burcell. Read more about those titles, and others, below.

Happy reading!

 


Tuesday, May 5th

 

Close UpClose Up by Amanda Quick

Welcome to Burning Cove, California where 1930s Hollywood glamour conceals a ruthless killer…

Vivian Brazier never thought life as an art photographer would include nightly wake-up calls to snap photos of grisly crime scenes or headshots for aspiring male actors. Although she is set on a career of transforming photography into a new art form, she knows her current work is what’s paying the bills.

After shooting crime scene photos of a famous actress, the latest victim of the murderer the press has dubbed the “Dagger Killer,” Vivian notices eerie similarities to the crime scenes of previous victims—details that only another photographer would have noticed—details that put Vivian at the top of the killer’s target list.

Nick Sundridge has always been able to “see” things that others don’t, coping with disturbing dreams and visions. His talent, or as he puts it—his curse—along with his dark past makes him a recluse, but a brilliant investigator. As the only one with the ability to help, Nick is sent to protect Vivian. Together, they discover the Dagger Killer has ties to the glitz and glamour of Hollywood royalty and high society. It is a cutthroat world of allure and deception that Vivian and Nick must traverse—all in order to uncover the killer who will stop at nothing to add them to their gallery of murders.

Why you should check it out: Quick, a pseudonym for Jayne Ann Krentz, brings her strong prose and superb character developmental to this series, which is already four books deep. If you haven’t picked ’em up yet, now’s a great time to jump in.

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Hard Cash Valley

Hard Cash Valley by Brian Panowich

Return to McFalls County and Bull Mountain in Hard Cash Valley, where Brian Panowich weaves another masterful tale of Southern Noir.

Dane Kirby is a broken man and no stranger to tragedy. As a life-long resident and ex-arson investigator for McFalls County, Dane has lived his life in one of the most chaotic and crime-ridden regions of the south. When he gets called in to consult on a brutal murder in a Jacksonville, Florida, motel room, he and his FBI counterpart, Special Agent Roselita Velasquez, begin an investigation that leads them back to the criminal circles of his own backyard.

Arnie Blackwell’s murder in Jacksonville is only the beginning – and Dane and Roselita seem to be one step behind. For someone is hacking a bloody trail throughout the Southeast looking for Arnie’s younger brother, a boy with Asperger’s Syndrome who possesses an unusual skill with numbers that could make a lot of money and that has already gotten a lot of people killed―and has even more of the deadliest people alive willing to do anything it takes to exploit him.

As Dane joins in the hunt to find the boy, it swiftly becomes a race against the clock that has Dane entangled in a web of secrets involving everyone from the Filipino Mafia to distrusting federal agents to some of hardest southern outlaws he’s ever known.

Why you should check it out: Panowich is a strong storyteller who writes with authority. His first two books were both critically acclaimed, winning all kinds of awards. He reminds me of a younger James Lee Burke, and though his style is a fair bit darker, he too uses the story’s setting brilliantly, making it an intricate part of the plot.

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The Lincoln ConspiracyThe Lincoln Conspiracy by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch

The #1 bestselling author of The First Conspiracy, which covers the secret plot against George Washington, now turns his attention to a little-known, but true story about a failed assassination attempt on President Lincoln

Everyone knows about Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, but not everyone knows there was also a conspiracy to kill him four years earlier in 1861, literally on his way to Washington, DC, for his first inauguration. The conspirators were part of a secret society that didn’t want an abolitionist in the highest office. They planned an elaborate scheme to assassinate the brand new President in Baltimore as Lincoln’s Inauguration train was headed to the Capital. The plot was foiled thanks to famed detective Allan Pinkerton, who infiltrated the group with undercover agents, including one of the first female private detectives in America. Had the assassination succeeded, there would have been no Lincoln presidency, and the Civil War would’ve had a potentially far different ending. This is the story of the secret plot that nearly changed history.

Why you should check it out: Brad Meltzer does it all. Adult fiction. Nonfiction. Kids’ books. Comics. TV shows. Seriously, is there anything he can’t do? (He even predicted the biggest spoiler about Rey’s parentage in the new Star Wars trilogy. For real!) Anyways, what I love about him is that he’s a great writer who understands his craft and knows how to make nonfiction just as fun as, say, one of his thrillers. That’s incredibly hard to do, which is probably why he’s one of the only authors doing it.

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The PaladinThe Paladin by David Ignatius

When a daring, high-tech CIA operation goes wrong and is disavowed, Michael Dunne sets out for revenge.

CIA operations officer Michael Dunne is tasked with infiltrating an Italian news organization that smells like a front for an enemy intelligence service. Headed by an American journalist, the self-styled bandits run a cyber operation unlike anything the CIA has seen before. Fast, slick, and indiscriminate, the group steals secrets from everywhere and anyone, and exploits them in ways the CIA can neither understand nor stop.

Dunne knows it’s illegal to run a covert op on an American citizen or journalist, but he has never refused an assignment and his boss has assured his protection. Soon after Dunne infiltrates the organization, however, his cover disintegrates. When news of the operation breaks and someone leaks that Dunne had an extramarital affair while on the job, the CIA leaves him to take the fall. Now a year later, fresh out of jail, Dunne sets out to hunt down and take vengeance on the people who destroyed his life

Why you should check it out: Those looking for a new age CIA thriller, add this one to your list. It’s less Brad Thor and more Matthew Quirk, for what that’s worth, so expect some misdirection along the way.

his best work with this new series, and have been really impressed so far.

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Grudge MatchRobert B. Parker’s Grudge Match by Mike Lupica

Robert B. Parker’s beloved PI Sunny Randall returns on a case that blurs the line between friend and foe…and if Sunny can’t tell the difference, the consequences may be deadly.

When Sunny’s long-time gangster associate Tony Marcus comes to her for help, Sunny is surprised–after all, she double-crossed him on a recent deal, and their relationship is on shakier ground than ever. But the way Tony figures it, Sunny owes him, and Sunny’s willing to consider his case if it will clear the slate.

Tony’s trusted girlfriend and business partner has vanished, appears to have left in a hurry, and he has no idea why. He just wants to talk to her, he says, but first, he needs Sunny to track her down. While Sunny isn’t willing to trust his good intentions, the missing woman intrigues her–against all odds, she’s risen to a position of power in Tony’s criminal enterprise. Sunny can’t help but admire her, and if this woman’s in a jam, Sunny would like to help.

But when a witness is murdered hours after speaking to Sunny, it’s clear there’s more at stake than just Tony’s love life. Someone–maybe even Tony himself–doesn’t want this woman on the loose…and will go to any lengths to make sure she stays silent.

Why you should check it out: Lupica did a terrific job bringing Sunny Randall back in 2019 with Blood Feud, so expectations were high for this one. Grudge Match is the eighth book in the series, and more so than any of the other writers working to keep Parker’s fleet of characters alive and well, Lupica has proven to be the closest to Parker’s voice and style. Once again, he deliverd a compelling, page-turning read with this one.

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Tuesday, May 12

 

The Goodbye ManThe Goodbye Man by Jeffery Deaver

A thrilling new Colter Shaw adventure by the master of suspense, Jeffery Deaver.

In pursuit of two young men accused of terrible hate crimes, Colter Shaw stumbles upon a clue to another mystery. In an effort to save the life of a young woman–and possibly others–he travels to the wilderness of Washington State to investigate a mysterious organization. Is it a community that consoles the bereaved? Or a dangerous cult under the sway of a captivating leader? As he peels back the layers of truth, Shaw finds that some people will stop at nothing to keep their secrets hidden.

All the while, Shaw must unravel an equally deadly enigma: locating and deciphering a message hidden by his father years ago, just before his death–a message that will have life-and-death consequences.

Why you should check it out: I know it hovers on blasphemy to suggest that Colter Shaw might be a better character than Lincoln Rhyme, but I’m willing to go there. Honestly, I think Deaver’s doing some of his best work with this new series, and have been really impressed so far.

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THe Last TrialThe Last Trial by Scott Turow

In this explosive legal thriller from New York Times bestselling author Scott Turow, two formidable men collide: a celebrated criminal defense lawyer at the end of his career and his lifelong friend, a renowned doctor accused of murder.

At 85 years old, Alejandro “Sandy” Stern, a brilliant defense lawyer with his health failing but spirit intact, is on the brink of retirement. But when his old friend Dr. Kiril Pafko, a former Nobel Prize winner in Medicine, is faced with charges of insider trading, fraud, and murder, his entire life’s work is put in jeopardy, and Stern decides to take on one last trial.

In a case that will provide the defining coda to both men’s accomplished lives, Stern probes beneath the surface of his friend’s dazzling veneer as a distinguished cancer researcher. As the trial progresses, Stern will question everything he thought he knew about his friend. Despite Pafko’s many failings, is he innocent of the terrible charges laid against him? How far will Stern go to save his friend, and–no matter the trial’s outcome–will he ever know the truth? Stern’s duty to defend his client and his belief in the power of the judicial system both face a final, terrible test in the courtroom, where the evidence and reality are sometimes worlds apart.

Full of the deep insights into the spaces where the fragility of human nature and the justice system collide, Scott Turow’s The Last Trial is a masterful legal thriller that unfolds in page-turning suspense–and questions how we measure a life.

Why you should check it out: I wasn’t a fan of his last book, which was clunky and underwhelming, but overall, Turow has long proven to be one of the top legal thriller novelists in the game, and boy, did he ever bounce back with this one. Fans of John Grisham won’t want to miss this one.

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Tuesday, May 19th

 

The Ballad of Songbirds and snakesThe Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

Ambition will fuel him.
Competition will drive him.
But power has its price.

 
It is the morning of the reaping that will kick off the tenth annual Hunger Games. In the Capitol, eighteen-year-old Coriolanus Snow is preparing for his one shot at glory as a mentor in the Games. The once-mighty house of Snow has fallen on hard times, its fate hanging on the slender chance that Coriolanus will be able to outcharm, outwit, and outmaneuver his fellow students to mentor the winning tribute.
 
The odds are against him. He’s been given the humiliating assignment of mentoring the female tribute from District 12, the lowest of the low. Their fates are now completely intertwined — every choice Coriolanus makes could lead to favor or failure, triumph or ruin. Inside the arena, it will be a fight to the death. Outside the arena, Coriolanus starts to feel for his doomed tribute . . . and must weigh his need to follow the rules against his desire to survive no matter what it takes.

Why you should check it out: A prequel to Collins’ iconic Hunger Games trilogy is pretty big news, even if it is set more than sixty years before Katniss Everdeen volunteered as tribute to save her sister—igniting a rebellion in the process. Due to COVID-19, this title seemed to fly in under the radar, but don’t let that fool you, it’s a fun, compelling read that revisits one of the biggest YA franchises in recent memory.

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Tuesday, May 26th

 

Fair WarningFair Warning by Michael Connelly (Featured Selection)

The hero of The Poet and The Scarecrow is back in the new thriller from #1 New York Times bestselling author Michael Connelly. Jack McEvoy, the journalist who never backs down, tracks a serial killer who has been operating completely under the radar–until now.

Veteran reporter Jack McEvoy has taken down killers before, but when a woman he had a one-night stand with is murdered in a particularly brutal way, McEvoy realizes he might be facing a criminal mind unlike any he’s ever encountered.

McEvoy investigates—against the warnings of the police and his own editor—and makes a shocking discovery that connects the crime to other mysterious deaths across the country. But his inquiry hits a snag when he himself becomes a suspect.

As he races to clear his name, McEvoy’s findings point to a serial killer working under the radar of law enforcement for years, and using personal data shared by the victims themselves to select and hunt his targets.

Called “the Raymond Chandler of this generation” (Associated Press), Michael Connelly once again delivers an unputdownable thriller that reveals a predator operating from the darkest corners of human nature—and one man courageous and determined enough to stand in his way.

Why you should check it out: Some fans will be bummed out that this isn’t a Bosch book, but if you’ve read Connelly’s The Poet or The Scarecrow, you know what a great character Jack McEvoy is. I’m thrilled to see him back, and as a bonus, we’re getting another Mickey Haller book this fall, likely sometime in October. As for this one, the less you now about it the better, trsut me. Just jump on in, and you’ll quickly realize why Connelly is one of the best writers of our time.

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Eagle StationEagle Station by Dale Brown

In this thrilling geopolitical technological adventure from New York Times bestselling legend Dale Brown, Brad McLanahan and the Space Force must fight to preserve America’s freedom when a pair of ruthless enemies forge an unlikely alliance to control not only the earth, but the moon and beyond.

Because its enemies never stop trying to undermine the United States’ security, the men and women who serve to protect America must always be vigilant. Few know this better than warriors Brad McLanahan and Nadia Rozek. Newly married, the two are just beginning to settle into their new life together when they are called back into action.

Though the Russians were badly defeated by Brad and the Iron Wolf Squadron in their previous bid for world dominance, they are back and doubling down on their quest for control of outer space. In addition to their cutting-edge weaponry, they have a formidable new ally: China’s energetic and ruthless leader, President Li Jun.

To protect America and the rest of the free world from the Russians and the Chinese, the Americans plan to mine the moon’s helium-3 resources, which will allow them to fully exploit the revolutionary fusion power technology Brad and his team captured from the Russians aboard the Mars One weapons platform.

But Leonov and Li have devised a daring plan of their own. They are building a joint secret base on the moon’s far side fortified with a powerful Russian plasma rail gun that can destroy any spacecraft entering lunar orbit. If the heavily armed base becomes operational, it will give America’s enemies control over the world’s economic and military future.

As this latest skirmish in the war for space accelerates, Brad, Nadia, and their compatriots in the Space Force must use their cunning and skill—and America’s own high-tech weaponry—to derail the Sino-Russian alliance and destroy their lunar site before it’s too late for the U.S. . . . and the entire world.

Why you should check it out: Brown was one of the first writers to work Trump’s newly formed Space Force into his books, and the result has paid off nicely, giving Brown’s series a shot of adrenaline that it needed. That’s not to say other books weren’t good, but when a franchise has hung around this long, a change is often needed in order to keep it fresh—and he sure found that, and now continues it here.

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Wrath of PoseidonWrath of Poseidon from Clive Cussler and Robin Burcell (Featured Selection)

Husband-and-wife team Sam and Remi Fargo come up against an old enemy while searching for a treasure that has been lost for centuries in this exciting adventure in the bestselling series by the Clive Cussler, Grand Master of Adventure.

Ten years ago, a chance meeting at the Lighthouse Café in Redondo Beach led Sam Fargo and Remi Longstreet on the adventure of a lifetime, hunting the legendary riches stolen from the Persian King Croesus in 546 B.C. But they weren’t the only ones. Someone else is after the gold, and he’s willing to kill anyone who gets in his way.

When Sam and Remi run afoul of a criminal drug-running operation, their hopes of finding the treasure are dashed. But with Sam’s ingenuity and Remi’s determination, they survive their confrontation with the drug runners, and manage to send one of the key players to prison. Though the cache of gold is never found, life goes on. Sam and Remi marry–and years later return to Greece to find the one treasure that got away.

Time becomes their enemy when the kingpin they helped send to prison over a decade ago is released–and he has two goals in mind. Find the legendary hoard of King Croesus, and kill Sam and Remi Fargo. The Fargos know that as long as this gold is out there, no one is safe. They return to Greece for a final showdown–and one last chance to find that elusive treasure.

Why you should check it out: Burcell was, by far, the most talented co-author the late Cussler was working with at the time of his passing, and their last book togethr is a sure must-read for all fans of the genre.

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HideawayHideaway by Nora Roberts

A family ranch in Big Sur country and a legacy of Hollywood royalty set the stage for Nora Roberts’ emotional new suspense novel, Hideaway.

Caitlyn Sullivan had come from a long line of Hollywood royalty, stretching back to her Irish immigrant great-grandfather. At nine, she was already a star―yet still an innocent child who loved to play hide and seek with her cousins at the family home in Big Sur. It was during one of those games that she disappeared.

Some may have considered her a pampered princess, but Cate was in fact a smart, scrappy fighter, and she managed to escape her abductors. Dillon Cooper was shocked to find the bloodied, exhausted girl huddled in his house―but when the teenager and his family heard her story they provided refuge, reuniting her with her loved ones.

Cate’s ordeal, though, was far from over. First came the discovery of a shocking betrayal that would send someone she’d trusted to prison. Then there were years spent away in western Ireland, peaceful and protected but with restlessness growing in her soul.

Finally, she would return to Los Angeles, gathering the courage to act again and get past the trauma that had derailed her life. What she didn’t yet know was that two seeds had been planted that long-ago night―one of a great love, and one of a terrible vengeance . . .

Why you should check it out: Roberts never disappoints, and she hasn’t gotten this far without knowing what her readers are looking for. Once again, she delivers here.

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Praised as “One of the hardest working, most thoughtful, and fairest reviewers out there” by #1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa Scottoline, Ryan Steck 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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2 comments

  1. Just finished “walk the wire“. It was too convoluted for me. Very difficult to follow, and complicated beyond reason. Not his best work. Rated it 3 1/2 stars. I was pleased that Robie was included as part of this work.

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