Also on the bookstand are Peter James’ “Need You Dead,” Meg Gardiner’s “Unsub,” David Bell’s “Bring Her Home,” and Billy Lyons’ “Blood and Needles.”
C.J. Box gives his stalwart series staples Joe Pickett and Nate Romanowki a book off, but Cassie Dewell proves to be every bit their equal in the perfectly plotted “Paradise Valley” (Minotaur, $27.99, 352 pages).
Cassie is lead investigator for the Bakken County Sheriff’s Department, located in the hinterlands of western North Dakota, a sleepy area until oil bubbled to the surface and drastically changed its landscape, literally and figuratively. Those changes include the presence of a serial killer known as the “Lizard King,” who’s claimed, among others, Cassie’s own fiancé. Her pursuit of him through badlands both old and new is replete with the expected twists and turns, as well as unexpected political ramifications she must confront along the way.
The personal touch alone makes “Paradise Valley” a treat for crime thriller aficionados. Box’s trademark Hemingway-esque minimalist prose is on keen display as usual, and in Cassie Dewell he’s created a female protagonist every bit the equal of more traditional male genre staples. Riveting and relentless.
Like C.J. Box, Kathy Reichs ventures outside her comfort zone in the tumultuously terrific “Two Nights” (Bantam, $28, 320 pages). And, also like Box, the result is a spectacular success.
The brightness of Temperance Brennan’s (the series that inspired the TV series “Bones”) scientific lab is replaced here by a noirish journey into the darkest depth of the human heart, the secretive and shadowy Sunnie’s in particular, as she wrestles with her own demons even as she tries to free others from theirs. She’s a kind of minister without portfolio, operating in the same netherworld as Andew Vachss’ Burke or even John D. MacDonald’s Travis Magee. Everything’s personal for Sunnie, including her latest case involving a missing young girl which, as it happens, ends up hitting very close to home when the secrets she turns up leads to a consideration of her own past and plight.
The result is Reichs’ greatest literary achievement yet. Bold, bracing and brilliant.
Peter James sticks to what he does best in “Need You Dead” (Pan Macmillan, $27.95, 400 pages), the 13th entry in his superb Detective Superintendent Roy Grace series. And he does it better than ever here, throwing two new wrinkles into his already savory storytelling mix.
First, Grace has to deal with the fact that the murder of a woman in Brighton, England, seems be linked to someone in his own department. No stranger to ruffling feathers, Grace finds his own reputation and status at stake, as he probes beneath the surface, poking at things that poke back. Second, in addition to burying his own first wife, he finds himself forced to raise a young son he didn’t know existed.
As always, James handles these dual elements with skill and aplomb, making every bit as good as the entries in PBS’ “Prime Suspect” series. This is police procedural writing of the highest order, as politically charged as Roderick Thorpe’s classic “The Detective” and as emotionally taut as Harlan Coben’s recent “Home.”
Serial killers have long been a thriller genre staple. But in the deft grasp of Meg Gardiner all that’s old feels new again and especially terrifying in “Unsub” (Dutton, $27, 384 pages) which introduces us to new (potential) series hero Caitlin Hendix.
Gardiner makes Caitlin’s debut a stunner, pitting the novice detective against a Hannibal Lecter-like monster whose taunts nearly destroyed her father. Twenty years later, the killer known as “the Prophet” returns to his former Bay Area haunts in a fashion that would make the real life Zodiac killer proud. Caitlin’s quest to stop him escalates from the professional to the personal in no time at all.
This is psychological suspense of the highest order, as Gardiner elevates herself to the level of Jeffery Deaver, Thomas Harris and Lawrence Sanders.
David Bell writes so well that even the dark world he creates in “Bring Her Home” (Berkley, $16, 464 pages) shines under the light of his talent for bringing to life the seedy side of small town America.
That unsavory underbelly people love to pretend doesn’t exist, in both fact and fiction, springs to life in the form of Bill Price, a kind of thriller everyman who’s already lost his wife to tragedy when his daughter disappears. Once she’s found, nearly beaten to death, it opens the doors to terrible truths Price never imagined he’d have to face, as he’s left to confront the reality of much of what he held dear has been a lie.
Bell imagines a suburban world where no one really knows what’s happening behind all those drawn blinds. In Bell’s take, though, even the people inside don’t really know what’s happening. That’s where his brilliance, and the brilliance of “Bring Her Home,” rests.
Vampires, you might say, are the ultimate junkies, needing their daily “fix” of human blood to survive. Well, “Blood and Needles” (Intrigue Publishing, $14.95, 234 pages) by Billy Lyons blazes bold new ground by presenting us with a junkie who is a vampire.
She’s also the love interest, for better or worse, of Steven. Turns out the would-be girl of his dreams Anna Marie is mired in a vampire clan power struggle in which he ends up with a personal stake (no pun intended) in the action. The result is a fast-paced romp through the shadows of both light and darkness that seeks to redefine the meaning, and limits, of humanity.
“Blood and Needles” is written for the pop culture generation that grew up with vampires walking around in daylight, casting smoking hot reflections, and even having children. Call it an evolving mythology that Lyons effortlessly masters in creating a hybrid tale of societal dysfunction staged within a deft and daring paranormal thriller.