The Real Book Spy’s August 2020 Reading Guide

Happy August, everyone!

2020 has been brutal this year, but things are about to get a little better. Not only are there some great books hitting stores this month, but with each passing day we’re getting that much closer to September, when some of the biggest names in the thriller genre are set to return—including Mitch Rapp, who stars in Kyle Mills’ Total Power, my highest-rated thriller of the year.

As always, we’ve chosen a few thrillers to spotlight, and this month’s Featured Selections are A Private Cathedral by James Lee Burke, Thick as Thieves by Sanda Brown, and David Joy’s When These Mountains Burn. Read more about those titles, and a bunch of other great books, below.

Happy Reading!

 


 

Tuesday, August 4th

 

Under Pressure by Robert Pobi

A series of deadly explosions rock the city of New York and with too many victims and no known motive, the F.B.I. turns once again to Dr. Lucas Page in Robert Pobi’s Under Pressure.

On a beautiful October evening, New York City’s iconic Guggenheim Museum is closed for a tech company’s private gala. Until an explosion rocks the night, instantly killing 702 people, including every single attendee―yet the damage to the building itself was minimal.

An explosion of that precision was no accident and, in response, the FBI mobilizes its entire team — but the sheer number of victims strains their resources. Were all 702 victims in the wrong place at the wrong time, or was there only one target and 701 unlucky bystanders? That many victim files is a staggering amount of data to sort through and Brett Kehoe, Special Agent in Charge of Manhattan, decides that he can’t do this without more computational power.

Dr. Lucas Page, astrophysicist, university professor, and former FBI agent, is uniquely gifted for the task at hand―he can visualize a crime scene as if he was a bystander and can break down any set of data at a glance. Even though Page wants nothing to do with the FBI, with his city under attack and his family at risk, he steps in to find a killer in a haystack before they strike again.

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The Wicked Sister by Karen Dionne

She thought she’d buried her past. But what if it’s been hunting her this whole time?

From the bestselling and award-winning author of The Marsh King’s Daughter comes a startling novel of psychological suspense as two generations of sisters try to unravel their tangled relationships between nature and nurture, guilt and betrayal, love and evil.

You have been cut off from society for fifteen years, shut away in a mental hospital in self-imposed exile as punishment for the terrible thing you did when you were a child.

But what if nothing about your past is as it seems?

And if you didn’t accidentally shoot and kill your mother, then whoever did is still out there. Waiting for you.

For a decade and a half, Rachel Cunningham has chosen to lock herself away in a psychiatric facility, tortured by gaps in her memory and the certainty that she is responsible for her parents’ deaths. But when she learns new details about their murders, Rachel returns, in a quest for answers, to the place where she once felt safest: her family’s sprawling log cabin in the remote forests of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

As Rachel begins to uncover what really happened on the day her parents were murdered, she learns–as her mother did years earlier–that home can be a place of unspeakable evil, and that the bond she shares with her sister might be the most poisonous of all.

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The First to Lie by Hank Phillippi Ryan

USA Today Bestselling and award-winning author and investigative reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan delivers another twisty, thrilling cat and mouse novel of suspense that will have you guessing, and second-guessing, and then gasping with surprise.

We all have our reasons for being who we are―but what if being someone else could get you what you want?

After a devastating betrayal, a young woman sets off on an obsessive path to justice, no matter what dark family secrets are revealed. What she doesn’t know―she isn’t the only one plotting her revenge.

An affluent daughter of privilege. A glamorous manipulative wannabe. A determined reporter, in too deep. A grieving widow who must choose her new reality. Who will be the first to lie? And when the stakes are life and death, do a few lies really matter?

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The Palace by Christopher Reich

In his greatest challenge yet, international spy Simon Riske must face a ring of ruthless masterminds and foil a plot with global implications as he becomes the world’s most wanted man.

Life is good for Rafael de Bourbon. The forty-year-old Spaniard recently married to a wealthy English beauty, and is days away from opening a luxury boutique hotel off the southern coast of Thailand. But when the Royal Thai Police storm the hotel and arrest him for blackmail and extortion, “Rafa” is thrown into Bangkok’s most notorious jail. In desperation, he reaches out to the one man who can prove his innocence.

Simon Riske, ex-con and now “private spy,” owes Rafa his life. Once he and De Bourbon were the closest of friends, until a woman came between them. Riske rushes to Bangkok to secure his friend’s release and overnight, finds himself caught up in a web of intrigue larger and more dangerous than he could imagine. In hours, it is Riske who finds himself the wanted man.

On the run in a foreign country, pursued by powerful unseen forces who will stop at nothing until he is killed, Riske must stay alive long enough to uncover the truth behind an international conspiracy that threatens to wreak carnage across the glittering capitals of Europe. From Bangkok to Singapore and ultimately to Cannes, Riske enlists the help of a daring investigative reporter, a rogue Mossad agent, and his own band of home-grown specialists, to thwart the cabal behind the plot, only to learn its very origins are frighteningly close to his past.

Frighteningly timely, diabolically clever, and ever so stylish, The Palace is Christopher Reich’s sharpest and most exciting book yet.

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The Silent Wife by Karen Slaughter

“If you’re into mystery thrillers, then you’re into Karin Slaughter.” —THESKIMM

He watches. He waits. He takes. Who will be next . . .

THE SILENT WIFE

The New York Times bestselling author of Pieces of Her and The Last Widow returns with another electrifying thriller.

Investigating the killing of a prisoner during a riot inside a state penitentiary, GBI investigator Will Trent is confronted with disturbing information. One of the inmates claims that he is innocent of a brutal attack for which he has always been the prime suspect. The man insists that he was framed by a corrupt law enforcement team led by Jeffrey Tolliver and that the real culprit is still out there—a serial killer who has systematically been preying on women across the state for years. If Will reopens the investigation and implicates the dead police officer with a hero’s reputation of wrongdoing, the opportunistic convict is willing to provide the information GBI needs about the riot murder.

Only days ago, another young woman was viciously murdered in a state park in northern Georgia. Is it a fluke, or could there be a serial killer on the loose?

As Will Trent digs into both crimes it becomes clear that he must solve the cold case in order to find the answer. Yet nearly a decade has passed—time for memories to fade, witnesses to vanish, evidence to disappear, and lies to become truth. But Will can’t crack either mystery without the help of the one person he doesn’t want involved: his girlfriend and Jeffrey Tolliver’s widow, medical examiner Sara Linton.

When the past and present begin to collide, Will realizes that everything he values is at stake . . .

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Tuesday, August 11th

 

A Private Cathedral by James Lee Burke (Featured Selection)

After finding himself caught up in one of Louisiana’s oldest and bloodiest family rivalries, Detective Dave Robicheaux must battle the most terrifying adversary he has ever encountered: a time-traveling superhuman assassin.

The Shondell and Balangie families are longtime enemies in the New Iberia criminal underworld and show each other no mercy. Yet their youngest heirs, Johnny Shondell and Isolde Balangie, rock and roll-musician teenagers with magical voices, have fallen in love and run away after Isolde was given as a sex slave to Johnny’s uncle.

As he seeks to uncover why, Detective Dave Robicheaux gets too close to both Isolde’s mother and the mistress of her father, a venomous New Orleans mafioso whose jealousy has no bounds. In retribution, he hires a mysterious assassin to go after Robicheaux and his longtime partner, Clete Purcel. This hitman is unlike any the “Bobbsey Twins from Homicide” have ever faced. He has the ability to induce horrifying hallucinations and travels on a menacing ghost ship that materializes without warning. In order to defeat him and rescue Johnny and Isolde, Robicheaux will have to overcome the demons that have tormented him throughout his adult life—alcoholism, specters from combat in Vietnam, and painful memories of women to whom he opened his heart only to see killed.

A Private Cathedral, James Lee Burke’s fortieth book, is his most powerful tale, one that will captivate readers—mixing crime, romance, mythology, horror, and science fiction to produce a thrilling story about the all-consuming, all-conquering power of love.

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Dead Man Dancing by John Galligan

In this sequel to the “gritty, brash, and totally gripping” (The Real Book Spy) thriller Bad Axe County, Sheriff Heidi Kick is investigating an illicit cage fighting ring with ties to white nationalism when her husband suddenly goes missing.

It’s a time for celebration in Bad Axe County as the town gathers for the annual Syttende Mai—or Norwegian Independence Day—festival. During this rollicking family-oriented event filled with dancing and food, Sheriff Heidi Kick discovers a dark and shocking event—a migrant worker has been savagely beaten but refuses to explain what happened. Then, a sudden murder of a band member shatters the festival. Something is deeply wrong in Bad Axe County.

As she looks for answers, Heidi plunges into a secret underworld where high-stakes cage fights double as combat training for the White Nationalist movement. Then all hell breaks loose for Heidi when her husband disappears and a secret he’s been keeping from Heidi is revealed.

A timely portrait of the deep divisions and simmering tensions brewing in our country today, Dead Man Dancing takes you into the dark heart of a movement defined by violence and hate. Featuring John Galligan’s signature “striking prose, engaging characters” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review), and unforgettable twists and turns, Dead Man Dancing is a breathless thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

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Fire in the Blood by Perry O’Brien

“A tremendously compelling debut of rare skill” (Phil Klay, author of Redeployment) about a soldier who goes AWOL from Afghanistan and returns home to unravel the mystery of his wife’s death.

When Coop—a U.S. Army paratrooper serving in Afghanistan—is called urgently to his Captain’s office, he fears he’s headed for a court martial. Coop has been keeping a terrible secret from his fellow soldiers, and worries he’s been discovered. Instead, his life is devastated in a different way: his wife, Kay, has been killed in a hit-and-run.

Given a brief leave to fly back to New York and attend to Kay’s affairs, Coop is increasingly disturbed by the suspicious circumstances of his wife’s death. He decides to go AWOL, using his military training to uncover the real story behind Kay’s fatal accident. As he circles in on the truth, Coop must distinguish ally from enemy among a cast of players in the Bronx underworld: Albanian heroin smugglers, shady cops, corrupt rehab doctors, and his wife’s family, a powerful clan of financial elites. Navigating this new battlefield, he’ll have to find justice for Kay while also seeking his own redemption.

Humming with mystery and grief, Fire in the Blood is a compulsively readable thriller about the wars we fight, whether overseas, in our city streets, or in the depths of our own hearts.

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Lone Jack Trail by Owen Laukkenen

A veteran Marine and an ex-convict find themselves on opposite sides of the law in this propulsive new thriller from award-nominated suspense master and “damn fine storyteller” Owen Laukkanen (Kirkus Reviews).

Could your closest friend be a killer?

When a body washes up outside Deception Cove, Washington, Jess Winslow-once a US Marine, now a trainee sheriff’s deputy-is assigned to investigate. But when she realizes it’s “Bad” Brock Boyd, a hometown celebrity lately fallen from grace, things become complicated. The last person seen with Boyd was her own boyfriend, Mason Burke.

An ex-convict and newcomer in town, Mason is one of the only people who can understand Jess’s haunting memories of her time in Afghanistan-and her love for Lucy, her devoted service dog. Finding one another in Deception Cove has been the best thing to happen to either of them in years. So Jess knows Mason could never be guilty of murder-doesn’t she?

As the facts of the case point ever more squarely at Mason, Jess must face that everything she thinks she knows about him might be wrong. A thrilling sequel to Deception Cove, and a heart-pounding adventure all its own, Lone Jack Trail pushes Jess and Mason to a shocking confrontation and will test everything they’ve come to love and trust in Deception Cove.

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Then She Vanished by T. Jefferson Parker

What if the client who’s hired you can’t be trusted…and the woman you’re looking for doesn’t want to be found? With Then She Vanished, three-time Edgar Award winner and New York Times-bestselling author T. Jefferson Parker delivers a new and pulse-pounding thriller.

Private Investigator Roland Ford has taken a job for a fellow Marine and a rising politician, Dalton Strait. Strait is contending with unexplained bombings of government buildings in his district…but that is not why he hired Ford. Strait’s wife, Natalie, has gone missing, leaving behind a cryptic plea for help. Strait has made many enemies during his time in politics–including some of his own family members–all of whom could be looking for revenge. But as Ford digs into the details of a troubled marriage, Natalie’s disappearance becomes more and more complicated.

Meanwhile, the bombings in the city intensify, with a mysterious group known only as the Chaos Committee claiming responsibility. Ford soon learns that the seemingly random attacks may be connected to the case he’s on–and suddenly, his hunt for a missing woman might decide the fate of an entire city.

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Tuesday, August 18th

 

Blood Victory by Christopher Rice

On a cross-country journey to hell, fear is the engine and vengeance is the destination as Christopher Rice’s Amazon Charts bestselling series continues.

As the test subject of an experimental drug, Charlotte Rowe was infused with extraordinary powers. As the secret weapon of a mysterious consortium, she baits evil predators and stops them in their tracks. But it takes more than fear to trigger what’s coursing through Charlotte’s blood. She needs to be terrorized. Serial killer Cyrus Mattingly is up to the task.

Cyrus is a long-haul truck driver, and his cargo bay is a gallery of horrors on wheels. To stop his bloodshed, Charlotte will become his next victim, reining in her powers so she can face each of his evils in turn.

As much as they know about Cyrus—his method of selecting victims, his prolonged rituals—there is something they don’t. What happens on the dark and lonely highways is only the journey. It’s the destination that’s truly depraved. Before she can unleash vengeance on a scale this killer has never seen, Charlotte and her team will have to go the distance into hell.

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Assassin’s Strike by Ward Larsen

USA Today bestselling author Ward Larsen’s globe-trotting, hard-hitting assassin, David Slaton, returns for another breathless adventure in Assassin’s Strike!

In a Syrian palace, the presidents of Russia and Iran undertake a clandestine meeting. No staff or advisors are permitted in the room. No records are kept. By necessity, however, there are two witnesses: the interpreters. The Russian, Ludmilla Kravchuk, returns to her hotel room burdened by what she has heard. When her Iranian counterpart is murdered before her eyes, Kravchuk fears she is next and goes into hiding in Syria.

The CIA gets word of the defection. Desperate to uncover the purpose of the meeting, they task their newest off-the-books operator―legendary assassin David Slaton―to undertake a daring rescue. Deep inside Syria’s war-torn borders, what Slaton finds is a plot that will tear the Middle East apart. And one that only he can stop.

“Highly reminiscent of Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne series.” ―David Hagberg, New York Times bestselling author

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When these Mountains Burn by David Joy (Featured Selection)

Acclaimed author and “remarkably gifted storyteller” (The Charlotte Observer) David Joy returns with a fierce and tender tale of a father, an addict, a lawman, and the explosive events that come to unite them.

When his addict son gets in deep with his dealer, it takes everything Raymond Mathis has to bail him out of trouble one last time. Frustrated by the slow pace and limitations of the law, Raymond decides to take matters into his own hands.

After a workplace accident left him out of a job and in pain, Denny Rattler has spent years chasing his next high. He supports his habit through careful theft, following strict rules that keep him under the radar and out of jail. But when faced with opportunities too easy to resist, Denny makes two choices that change everything.

For months, the DEA has been chasing the drug supply in the mountains to no avail, when a lead–just one word–sets one agent on a path to crack the case wide open . . . but he’ll need help from the most unexpected quarter.

As chance brings together these men from different sides of a relentless epidemic, each may come to find that his opportunity for redemption lies with the others.

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Tuesday, August 25th

 

Thick as Thieves by Sandra Brown (Featured Selection)

In this tantalizing thriller from a #1 New York Times bestselling author, a woman uncovers lifelong secrets as she searches for the truth behind her father’s involvement in a heist gone wrong.

Twenty years ago in the dead of night, four seemingly random individuals pulled the ultimate heist and almost walked away with half a million dollars. But by daybreak, their plan had been shot to hell. One of them was in the hospital. One was in jail. One was dead. And one got away with it.

Arden Maxwell, the daughter of the man who disappeared all those years ago — presumably with the money, after murdering his accomplice — has never reconciled with her father’s abandonment of her and her sister. After countless personal setbacks she decides to return to her family home near mysterious Caddo Lake, and finally get answers to the many questions that torment her. Little does she know, two of her father’s co-conspirators — a war hero and a corrupt district attorney — are watching her every move.

Ledge Burnet, a rebellious teen at the time of the heist, evaded his jail sentence by enlisting in the army. Now he’s back in town to care for his ailing father — and to keep his eye on the county’s corrupt district attorney, whom he suspects was the real murderer. Although the two are bound to silence because of the crime they committed together, each has spent years waiting and hoping that the other will make a fatal misstep. But the arrival of their elusive accomplice’s daughter, Arden, who may know more about the missing money than she’s telling, sets them both on red alert. She ignites Ledge’s determination to expose the D.A.’s treachery . . . and sparks a desire he wishes to deny.

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Shadows of the Dead by Spencer Kope

The best tracker in the world, a man with a secret and a special set of skills, must find two nearly untraceable killers before time runs out for their victims, in Spencer Kope’s Shadows of the Dead.

A woman―abducted and found in the trunk of a car after a high-speed chase―regains consciousness in the ICU to reveal two crucial pieces of information: the man who kidnapped her is not the same as the man who left her in the woods, and she’s not the first victim―in fact, she is number eight.

Magnus “Steps” Craig is part of the elite three-man Special Tracking Unit of the FBI. Known for his ability to find and follow trails over any surface, Steps is called in on cases that require his unparalleled skills. But there’s a secret to his talent. Steps has a kind of synesthesia where he can see the ‘essence’ of a person―what he calls ‘shine’―on everything they’ve touched.

Brought in to track the driver through a dense forest after the bloodhounds have lost his trail, Steps and his partner Jimmy find the driver laughing maniacally, babbling about souls, and hiding a pristinely maintained box of eight posed rats. Now the Special Tracking Unit must chase two villains―through not just the real world, but the dark web as well―tracking an enemy they can’t see, as time runs out for the unknown victims.

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The Annihilation Protocol by Michael Laurence

Michael Laurence delivers The Annihilation Protocol, the follow-up to The Extinction Agenda, in a series described as “Jack Reacher falling into a plot written by Dan Brown” (James Rollins, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Crucible).

For centuries, a mysterious syndicate known as the Thirteen has staged a silent coup, infiltrating governments and manipulating the course of world events. It’s more powerful than any nation, deadlier than any army. The time has come for it to emerge from the shadows and claim the entire world as its own. And only FBI Special Agent James Mason and his longtime friends stand in its way.

After narrowly preventing a global pandemic, Mason and his team discover an even deadlier threat has already been set into motion. An unknown adversary has produced enough of a lethal nerve gas to wipe every major city off the face of the world, and their only clue to finding it lies in a cryptic message written in the blood of a man found entombed behind a concrete wall. It isn’t until another victim appears―right in the heart of Central Park―that Mason realizes the murders are personal in nature, and figuring out the connection between them is the key to averting catastrophe.

Eight million lives hang in the balance and their only chance of surviving lies in the hands of Mason, his old friends, and a new partner he’s not entirely sure he can trust. Can his team track down a sinister agent codenamed Scarecrow before toxic gas fills the streets of New York City, or will the true power pulling the strings from behind the scenes―the Thirteen―succeed in enacting its genocidal agenda?

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The Buffalo Pilot by Larry Colby

From Lawrence A. Colby, #1 Amazon Bestselling author of The Black Scorpion Pilot and The Devil Dragon Pilot comes another high-octane thriller where blackmail, aviation, and brotherhood meet.  For fans of Brad Taylor, Vince Flynn, and Mark Greaney, hold on for the unbelievable ride!

With pulse-stopping adventure and a dose of the human condition comes a saga where crime, aviation, and brotherhood meet.

With a story so distressingly genuine and real, you’ll mistake it for today’s present-day headlines…military veteran Lawrence A. Colby may give us his best work yet in Book 3.

Intrigued with the mysterious news about best friend Wu Lee, learning to lead a squadron in his new aircraft, and defending the Air Base’s pending shutdown from Washington…how will Air Force Reserve’s hero pilot deal with a killer among them? Can his past clandestine connections with the Defense Intelligence Agency help him in Western New York?

Newly promoted Major Ford Stevens ratchets up his fighting skills and steps up to the most sensitive national security task he has ever taken on: keeping the Air Base open against Congress’ wishes while hunting down a saboteur who is crashing planes and killing aircrew.
 
 As the throttle-gripping story unravels, we learn of Wu Lee’s fate and Ford’s uphill journey of where crime, aviation, and brotherhood meet. It’s the unbelievable story of blackmail, shock, and betrayal that just may push the Stevens’ brothers to the breaking point.

With an unexpected touch of the human condition and national security realism comes Book 3 from Lawrence A. Colby. Writing with an authenticity that could only come from someone who has flown real-world operational missions and worked the corridors of power in Washington, Colby generates another rousing thriller of jet-fueled action and intensity!

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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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5 comments

  1. “Near Dark“ was a disappointment. I would not classify this book as one of the authors better efforts. I was not satisfied with the development of the subject matter, too much extraneous material, and I felt that the presentation of the ending, and the ending itself, left a lot to be desired. I normally love Brad Thor’s books, but I felt that the final chapters of this one were just done to conclude it. 3 1/2 stars.

  2. “Home before dark“, best ghost story I’ve read in years. Excellent development of subject matter,and chacters.Four stars.

  3. Robert B Parker’s fools paradise.The author did an excellent job of continuing the saga of Jesse stone, demons and all. Good character and subject matter development. I especially liked the crossover with Sunny Randall,and will look forward to the relationship continuing in his next book.Four stars.

  4. “When these mountains burn”, four stars.I enjoyed the book, and found it very comforting. The mountains, and the mountain people were delightful to read about. The author did a good job developing the subject matter, and the characters of his story.I will continue to read his books, and will look forward to the next one.

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