Behind TRBS Blog #2: What I’m Reading, a Few Book Recommendations, and More

Let’s blog!

Real quick, though, is that the right way to start a blog post? I’m honestly not sure.

Welcome back to the Behind TRBS Blog!

No, that feels forced.


Okay, I’m adding this to my list of things to figure out, but for now, let’s just get into the random ramblings of a thriller critic/author . . .

So today is Thursday, August 24th (though this ma, and the last couple of weeks have been an adventure, to say the least. In fact, last night was the first time since July 28th that I’ve slept more than four hours consecutively. (I’m not complaining, so bear with me, and you’ll see how this all ties into books and stuff, promise!)

As many of you know, my second novel, Lethal Range, came out on August 8th. That was an exciting time, but now that pub day has come and passed, I will admit that the lead-up to the release wasn’t quite how I imagined. Then again, neither was last year when Fields of Fire came out. Actually, that day—the very day that my debut novel came out, a moment I’ve dreamed out my whole life (that’s not true; I just wrote that for dramatic effect because, in reality, I didn’t know I wanted to be a writer until I was an adult)—I woke up and tested positive for COVID.

That sucked. And for sure made putting my first book out much, much harder. Book signings were canceled. I couldn’t go to Bouchercon. Interviews were pushed back. So, yeah. Difficult. But, hey, that’s the world we live in now, right?

Anyways, leading up to Lethal Range, as things ramped up in June and July, I swore I would live like a hermit and ended up putting myself in a Luke Skywalker-like self-imposed exile in order to hide and distance from any bug, virus, or potential injury ahead of the book’s release. And it almost worked.


(That was dramatic, too. I can’t help it, honest. It’s the thriller writer in me.)

In reality, my plan didn’t account for those around me not getting sick, etc., and on July 28th, my whole world briefly stopped. I won’t go into all the details now, though I might later and will probably talk about it when I’m live on Twitch sometime.

My wife, Melissa, who is my rock, best friend, and biggest supporter, got some pretty shocking medical news when recent tests revealed the source of her months-long chronic back pain was, indeed, far more than just a muscle strain. She’s going to be okay and is receiving the best care possible, but she does have a forthcoming surgery that we sure never saw coming. But prior to her medical team figuring out exactly what we’re dealing with here, we spent several long nights in the Emergency Room, and as my world was spinning and I found myself struggling to sleep or relax, I did what I’m sure many of you have done too. I turned to books to fill the time and keep me distracted.

See, that’s the great thing about fiction. I’ve met so many people who, when they find out I cover and write thrillers for a living, tell me they only read nonfiction. But they always, like, say it in a condescending, I’m-better-than-you way. I don’t know for sure how to describe it except to say that it’s the exact same look that you get when you admit to someone that you still eat McDonald’s sometimes. (If you still indulge in fast food here and there, then you know what I’m talking about.) And then they tell me how fiction is just a waste of time because it’s not real.

Think about how stupid that is for just a second.

I have so many questions.

Do these people who are too good for fiction not watch TV or movies? Or listen to certain types of music?

Back to my point . . .

I love thrillers and mysteries because they provide an escape. The truth is, real life can be hard. Like, hard, hard. I’m sure you already know that, though. So many people are hurting and dealing with things that nobody knows anything about. Not to preach, but this is truly why I try to treat everyone with kindness because we have no idea whatsoever what others are dealing with or hiding behind a forced smile. So many people are carrying things that nobody sees. And being pleasant and decent really isn’t that hard, you know?

(Okay, writing this, I feel like I should confess I have my moments too. And if the person driving the faded blue Honda Civic, whom I had some choice words for the other day because they were going 30 mph in a 55 mph zone, is somehow reading this . . . my bad.)

I’d also point out that you absolutely can learn a lot from fictional stories. The reason we refer to what Brad Thor writes as “faction” is because it’s impossible to tell where the facts stop and the fiction begins sometimes. Also, Brad Meltzer. Just Google him and buy any of his books, and you’ll see what I mean. Same with Steve Berry and many others, too.

I’m not what you would consider great at talking about things and hardships as they’re still being dealt with, so as things were just coming to light with my wife’s medical situation, there were a ton of people who offered to lend an ear and let me vent my fears, frustrations, and whatnot. And I appreciate that more than I can say. I’m just bad at it, so instead, I hopped in my Chevy Tahoe—the same one you might find in Lethal Range (how many times can I plug my own book in this one post?)—and drove to my local Barned & Noble in search of a stack of books that would help me get my mind off of things for a while. To take me to a different universe with characters I love to follow.

Normally, I go for thrillers. But to be frank, I needed something else. I read and/or write thrillers all day, every day for work. So, instead, I was targeting mysteries. Now, in my last post, I mentioned I’ve been reading all of Agatha Christie’s books, and I did grab five more of her titles to read. They’re all fantastic. But then I headed for the “H” section, looking for Anthony Horowitz’s name. I’m a huge fan of his stuff, especially his James Bond books, Sherlock Holmes novels, and his Detective Hawthorne series. But for some odd reason, I was never sent Magpie Murders (2017) or Moonflower Murders (2020) for review or coverage back when they came out. So, I bought both.

Before we go any further, had they sent me a copy of Magpie Murders, I would have scored that a 10/10, and it would have been my first ever perfect grade ahead of me scoring Don Winslow’s The Force that same rating. It’s that good.

I won’t go into all the details on Magpie Murders, but I will say that it was exactly what I needed at a time when I needed it most. Suddenly, I wasn’t thinking about hospital stays, traveling to meet with specialists, or feeling the stress that had filled me. Nope, I was totally engrossed in Horowitz’s story, and without question, that is one of my favorite books ever written. I cannot rave about it enough.

(Side note: If anyone has a signed copy, or you’re with a bookstore selling signed copies or have a way of ordering a personalized copy—please email me at because I would love to add a signed hardcover to my private collection.)

Anothony Hororowitz is another one of my literary heroes. He’s just such a prolific writer, and the man can write anything. Case in point, his Bond novels are fantastic. Better, in fact, than some of Ian Flemming’s even. (Yeah, I said it.) Then you pick up Magpie Murders, and it’s a phenomenal whodunit wrapped in another whodunit. I know that might not make sense reading it here in my blog post, but just check the book out, and you’ll see what I mean. Horowitz is one of the most gifted writers I have ever covered, and now I’m dying to see what he does next.

After knocking out those seven mystery novels, I jumped back into the world of Lord Alexander Hawke. His creator, New York Times bestselling author Ted Bell, was a dear friend of mine. Ted, way back when I was just getting into reviewing books and working on them as a freelance editor, was a mentor of mine and, in fact, the first author to really support and champion what I was doing with The Real Book Spy when it first launched. Sadly, Ted passed away this past January, and I have missed him ever since.

So, with more time to kill, I picked his series back up and read a few of my favorites. I started with Warlord and then Phantom, which is probably my favorite pair of back-to-back Hawke books. Then I knocked out his final four books: Patriot, Overkill, Dragonfire, and Sea Hawke. Those were some fun re-reads, and boy, could Ted really write. I know I already said that, but not for nothing, James Patterson also said that about Ted. And it’s true. That man oozed talent, and Hawke is such a fun character. If you’ve not read his stuff, I certainly encourage you to do so.

I’m also currently actively working on reviews for several titles right now.  They are:

Ressurection Walk by Michael Connelly

The Secret by Lee Child and Andrew Child

Hercule Poirot’s Silent Night by Sophie Hanna

Dirty Thirty by Janet Evanovich

And a couple of other titles . . .

All of the books I just mentioned are fantastic and for different reasons. Connelly’s latest is my favorite of his books since The Wrong Side of Goodbye came out in 2016. I couldn’t put it down and nearly read it in a single sitting. He’s one of the best for a reason, and he shows that yet again in this one.

I’m a massive fan of Andrew Grant/Child and was so excited when it was announced years back that he was coming on to co-write with his brother, Lee. In my opinion, Andrew is just what this series needed, and I’m thrilled that Reacher is in such good hands moving forward. The Secret is fantastic, and I mean, like, really good. You’ll see why and get my thoughts in my forthcoming review, but it’s probably one of the best books I’ve read this year.

Sophie Hanna. We talked about her in the last blog post (I said “we” like we’re having a discussion here; is that weird?), and she deserves another shoutout here. First, I’d just say that Magpie Murders, mentioned above, actually mentions Sophie by name. I’ve long respected and enjoyed her work, but I’ll be honest, I’ve started referring to her as one of my favorite authors because, well, she is. And if it wasn’t true before, her latest Poirot mystery sealed the deal.

I’d just like to say that, as an author, I cannot imagine the pressure she must have felt taking on Agatha Christie’s series. But she’s nailed it every step of the way, and Hercule Poirot’s Silent Night is just incredible. I constantly found myself both racing to the end but also trying to savor it. If you know me in real life, then you know that’s the book I’ve been talking about (well, that and Magpie Murders) pretty much anytime I’m not mentioning Lethal Range or doing interviews for my own book.

I’m curious to know what others are reading right now. Please drop me a comment below or tag me in a social media post to let me know. And in the meantime, stay tuned for a lot more coverage of not only the books I’ve mentioned here in this post but so many others, too.

In my next blog post, I’ll get into all things Mitch Rapp and my thoughts on the job Kyle Mills has done since taking over for the late Vince Flynn. I’ll also write a bit about my buddy Don Bentley because I am really eager and excited to see what he does with the Rapp books moving forward. Kyle will be missed, but Don is super talented too. I think Rapp is in good hands.

To close this out, I want to offer my sincerest thanks to everyone who has already purchased a copy of  Lethal Range and helped make pub day so very special for me. An even bigger thanks to those who’ve taken the time to leave a review online, especially on Amazon. If it’s not too much to ask, please consider leaving a review there (even if you didn’t purchase the book on Amazon) because it really does help. Far more than you know. Plus, I want to hear your thoughts! I welcome feedback and try to respond to every tweet, post, and email I get from readers. So, again, thank you.

Oh! Before I go . . . don’t forget that the last three words of Lethal Range reveal the title of my third book, which comes out on June 4th, 2024. There will be a full announcement and cover reveal for that soon enough, and I can’t wait to tell you more. But if you bought the book, don’t miss out on that easter egg. I put it in there on purpose and wanted my readers to be the first to know the title before it’s plastered all over Amazon, TRBS, and elsewhere.

Happy reading, and see you next week!




Ps. In case you were keeping track, I only mentioned Lethal Range six times (well, now seven), so that’s not nearly as bad as I though! 



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 is building a growing community on Twitch. His debut thriller, FIELDS OF FIRE, which #1 New York Times bestselling author Jack Carr says “will leave you speechless and begging for more,” is now available. His second novel, LETHAL RANGE, comes out on August 8th. For more information, be sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook. And to take part in free, exclusive BOOK CLUBS each month, join The Real Book Spy on Discord.


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