The Innocent by David Baldacci

  In The Innocent, David Baldacci’s latest suspense thriller, a government assassin is teamed with a teenaged girl and an FBI agent to determine the connections between several murders and to keep themselves alive in the process. Will Robie is the agent who assassinates enemies for the government–he is a loner and is careful and plans for any and every possibility that something could go wrong, trusting no one but himself. But an assignment goes wrong when he is told to kill a woman and her children–his refusal makes him a target and he is on the run, the hunter becoming the hunted. While fleeing from the scene, he crosses paths with Julie Getty, a 14 year old runaway who witnessed the murder of her parents. He saves her life and the two team up to try to discover the reason for the murders. They encounter Agent Vance when she is involved in investigating the murders and she eventually believes in Will and Julie and wants to help them solve the cases, but circumstances create more questions than answers. More killings, a plot with twists and turns and more turns, strong  and complex characters, and wonderful descriptions of characters and settings combine to make this a story that is hard to put down. If you enjoy the Jack Reacher series by Lee Child or the Jason Bourne series by Robert Ludlum, The Innocent is a book you will enjoy!

 

The Orphan Master’s Son

This political thriller by Adam Johnson deservedly gets starred reviews from BookList, Publishers Weekly, and Library Journal. The Orphan Master’s Son takes place in modern-day North Korea. The book follows the life of Pak Jun Do, from an orphanage, to a tunnel soldier, kidnapper, hero, starving prisoner, and impersonator.  I had difficulty putting this book down even though I knew there were most likely horrors waiting around the corner. It was like watching a train wreck about to happen but being unable to take your eyes off of it. Reading about some of the physical and mental torture, starving people, and other brutalities inflicted on individuals was hard to stomach. To give a further sense of living under a dictatorship, the book is interspersed with narration by the national radio station that spouts propaganda all day long. As people are starving and living in constant fear, the national broadcasts paint a rosy picture of North Korea while portraying western nations as villainous. Some of the propaganda is so darkly funny that I would almost catch myself  laughing at its absurdity. And of course the “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il is ever present, if not physically then always in thought. The reader gets a real sense of the fear that the North Korean constantly lives under, where one misspoken word from yourself, lie from another, or bad luck can spell doom for yourself and your family. Amidst all the tragedy, there are some very touching moments and the love story is truly heartwarming. Obviously, don’t pick up this book if you’re looking for a light, feel-good read, but if you want a book that is intense and thought provoking, that will keep you thinking long after you have finished reading it, put this on your to-read list for 2012.

Think of a Number by John Verdon

>Dave Gurney, retired NYPD Homicide Detective, is lured from retirement by an old college acquaintance, Mark Mellery. Mellery has received threatening notes in the mail, the most recent of which asked him to Think of a Number. When a letter with his number appears, Mellery is convinced that the threats  are authored by someone who can read his mind. Gurney is a master at unraveling puzzles and becomes deeply involved in the case, much to the dismay of his wife– they are supposed to be enjoying retirement. Mellery is found murdered and the criminal leaves behind very specific clues–but are they leading police on a false trail and taunting them for their ineptness? Gurney realizes that the murder is part of a series committed by a serial killer and the hunt is on. Verdon has created interesting characters with depth and complexity. The suspense unfolds as Gurney  follows the clues of the crimes with a  thoughtful and methodical process that leads to a final confrontation with the killer. This is a thriller that will keep you guessing until the end. The next title in the Dave Gurney series is
Shut Your Eyes Tight.

A Walk Across the Sun by Corban Addison

>17 year old Ahalya and her 15 year old sister Sita are made homeless orphans when a tsunami sweeps through their town in coastal India, killing everyone they know. As they try to make their way to a convent school in another town, they are abducted and sold to a brothel owner in Mumbai, leaving the girls caught up in the brutal world of sex trafficking.
After losing a high-profile case, Washington, D.C. attorney Thomas Clarke has fallen out of grace at his law firm and elects to take a sabbatical at a non-profit agency in India, with the hopes of re-connecting with his Indian-born wife as well as escaping his job. Clarke is faced with the horrors of human trafficking at his NGO, and with the corrupt systems that allow it to flourish. Becoming involved with the cases of Ahalya and Sita, he attempts to locate the girls and free them from their enslavement.

This is a compelling thriller whose plot has many twists and turns with well-defined, strong characters. Addison has offered eye-opening insights into the horrific world of the international sex slavery trade, but he also offers hope and redemption through the portrayals of the characters who work tirelessly in dangerous situations to free enslaved women, often under dangerous circumstances, and offer them a better life.  A Walk Across the Sun is a riveting, thought-provoking novel that depicts both the worst that can be found in humanity as well as the resilience and hope that can be found in the human spirit despite the most awful circumstances. This is a story that will remain with you long after reading the last page.

An Ordinary Spy by Joseph Weisberg

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Written like a CIA report, An Ordinary Spy tells the story of new spy Mark Ruttenberg as he learns the ropes and reality of life undercover.  Alternating between researching dusty documents and cultivating relationships with possible informants, Ruttenberg longs for the big break that will raise his status in the organization.  When one of his informants starts to share quality information as he is falling in love with her, he begins to wonder if any information is worth the methods used in gathering it. 

Weisberg uses a device that some will find amusing and some annoying.  Some of the text of the book is blacked out, supposedly by the censors, so we miss out on some details.  Even with some of the context missing, he has created a gripping tale that serves up plenty of intrigue and action while examining the conflicts of living life as someone else.

Portrait of a Spy

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by Daniel Silva
Gabriel Allon is an artist, restoring valuable pieces of art.  He is also a retired Israeli spy who travels with his wife, Chiara.  On one of his trips to England, he spots a possible suicide bomber and follows him with the intent of killing him before the detonator is pressed.  Just before he pulls the trigger, he is tackled by British police and the bomber kills eighteen innocent people.  Gabriel is pardoned for his attempt of murder only by working with the CIA to put a stop to terrorism.  He must convince Nadia, the daughter of the terriorist Gabriel killed 5 years earlier, to help them discover who the head man is.  Portrait of a Spy is number eleven in the Gabriel Allon Series.

Waking Hours

>by Lis Wiehl

Tommy Gunderson, former NFL linebacker, is taken down by the seemingly supernatural strength of an elderly woman who he finds trespassing on his property.  The woman appears to be a little crazy as she is gutting a frog and yelling at him in what sounds like Latin.  Later that night, Tommy is informed that a teen he’s been mentoring, is suspect of maliciously murdering a teenage girl.  Dani Harris, a forensic psychologist, is called to investigate the case.  Many of the East Salem’s teens were at the same party as the victim that night.  When the teens are questioned, none of them can remember what happened.  Tommy’s new passion is being a PI and he works with Dani to help solve the crime.  They both start having haunting nightmares, strangely wake at 2:13, and find items moved around when they awake.  There is definitely something sinister happening in New Salem, NY.  Waking Hours is the first book in the East Salem Trilogy by New York Times bestselling author Lis Wiehl.

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Still Missing  by Chevy Stevens
In her debut novel, Still Missing, Annie’s life is great: she has a handsome, attentive boyfriend; loyal friends; and a real-estate career on the upswing. Then, at an open house one sunny afternoon, a stranger with tousled blond hair and a pleasant manner kidnaps her, takes her to a remote cabin, rapes and enslaves her. It’s the beginning of her year-long ordeal.   Annie finally manages to escape. Afterward,  during sessions with her psychologist, Annie takes the reader back to her abduction and narrates how she struggled to survive during and after the horror.  Stevens’ dark, mesmerizing character study follows a twisted path from victim-hood toward self-empowerment.

In Chevy’s second novel, Never Knowing, the setup is tantalizing. Sara Gallagher has always known she was adopted, but she suddenly feels a sense of urgency about tracking down her birth parents. She is about to marry the love of her life and also because she is the mother of a six-year-old and would at least like to know her own medical history. Then Sara learns that her birth mother is the only surviving victim of the notorious Campsite Killer, who was never caught, and that the Campsite killer/rapist  is her father. When the news is leaked on the web, Sara’s life becomes surreal, especially after her birth father starts calling her.

Legend by Marie Lu

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The United States of America no longer exists. The western states are now known as the Republic and the east is known as the Colonies. The two have been fighting for as long as anyone in the Republic can remember and all resources are devoted to the war effort. June was born into privilege and had all possible advantages growing up. She is a military prodigy and will likely achieve a high military post when her training is completed. Day was born into the slums of Los Angeles and is now a wanted criminal for his activities hindering the military.

June and Day are thrown together when June’s first assignment is tracking and catching Day. June may be certain she wants to catch Day in the beginning, but as time goes on, it becomes less and less clear to her that the Republic is always right and Day is the one committing the most serious crimes.

Legend is Lu’s debut and is a taut dystopian thriller, the first in a planned trilogy. The book has received positive reviews from The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. This one will appeal to readers who liked the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld. Definitely a series to watch. Fast-paced, exciting, and has the potential to make a great trilogy.

The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler

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At a gruesome murder scene in Stockholm, a 15 year-old boy is found alive, despite his severe injuries. In order to obtain information about the attacker, police Detective Joona Linna asks Dr. Erik Marie Bark to hypnotize the victim. Bark hesitates but agrees, recalling one of his earlier cases when hypnotizing a patient went horribly wrong. The hypnotism of victim Joseph Ek provides information about the killer, but also sets in motion a series of violent and unpredictable acts against the doctor and his family. Linna and Bark must race to discover who is behind the violence before an innocent child is killed. The Hypnotist is a taut psychological thriller filled with action, suspense, unexpected twists and occasional intense violence. This is the first novel by Lars Kepler (actually a husband and wife writing duo), and the beginning of a planned series of novels featuring Detective Joona Linna.

Lethal by Sandra Brown

>Looking for a fast-paced thriller? Look no further than Lethal by Sandra Brown. Honor Gillette and her 4 year old daughter Emily are busy making preparations for a birthday party when their home is invaded by a strange man–Lee Coburn–who insists there is something in the house left there by her deceased husband. Coburn is the object of a manhunt as a suspect in a mass killing at a trucking warehouse where he was the only person left alive. He convinces Honor that whatever is hidden is a danger to all of their lives–a key to information that will identify the leader of a drug, weapons and human trafficking operation. The three of them are on the run in the swamps and bayous of Louisiana, unsure of who to trust in both the local police and FBI. The story races to it’s conclusion, all the while keeping the reader wondering–who are the good guys and who is behind all of the killings? With taut suspense and fascinating characters, Lethal will keep you guessing until the end! Brown has many other titles available at Manhattan Public Library, including Tough Customer and Smash Cut.

Feed by Mira Grant

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The people of the world are scared. Zombies are everywhere, and once you’ve been bitten, there’s no way to avoid becoming a flesh eating, brainless monster yourself. George and Shaun Mason are two of the few people in the world who actually seek out contact with zombies. It’s their source of income since they film and blog about the state of the world in 2039, 25 years after the Kellis-Amberlee virus made the dead stand up and walk. They’re good at their jobs and people trust them to bring them the news and an adrenaline rush, this is why they are asked to join the presidential campaign of Senator Peter Ryman to accompany and blog about his campaign.

Feed is set in a world where using zombies as a weapon is considered an act of terrorism and still carries the death penalty. This makes the acts of sabotage that plague the campaign and infect members of Senator Ryman’s camp even more unthinkable than they would otherwise be. George and Shaun are determined to get to the bottom of the attacks, even if they don’t survive to see the end of the campaign season.

Some other science-based horror novels worth reading: Peeps by Scott Westerfeld and The Passage by Justin Cronin.

Adrenaline by Jeff Abbot

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CIA Agent Sam Capra is in the middle of a meeting in London when he receives a call from his wife, urgently asking him to meet her outside—NOW. As he exits the building, an explosion rocks the area he just left, killing all of his coworkers, and he sees his wife Lucy speeding away in a car driven by a strange man. This begins the fast-paced thriller Adrenaline by Jeff Abbott. No one in the CIA believes that Lucy has been kidnapped; instead insisting she is a traitor and set up the bombing. They also believe Sam must have known of her plans—why else is he the only survivor? Sam begins a harrowing journey to outsmart the CIA and use his training to track down his wife and find clues to the puzzle of the bombing. This story is filled with non-stop action and violence. Sam is a man on a mission—resourceful, intelligent and committed to finding his family—a memorable character. Abbot weaves a complicated story that is hard to put down—a terrific beginning to what appears to be a new series.

A Time to Kill

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In a small town in Mississippi, a young black girl is brutally raped and tortured by two drunken rednecks. After her father, Carl lee Hailey, takes justice into his own hands and kills the two assailants, he turns to young attorney Jake Brigance, to be his defender. At first buoyed by the publicity connected to the case, Jake gradually realized the seriousness of the situation—the KKK is threatening everyone involved with the case, beatings and shootings have taken place and racial tension is rising. With all of these complications, Jake views the case through the eyes of a father—what would he do if this terrible thing had happened to his daughter? Though the odds are against him, Jake defends Carl Lee to the best of his ability. John Grisham has painted a vivid portrait of a southern town divided by race and violence. His characters are believable and story is fast paced. This is Grisham’s first novel—self-published in 1989 and not popular until after the publication of his bestseller The Firm. He has said that this is the favorite of his works. A Time to Kill is a gripping story and a superb legal thriller, well-written and one you won’t want to put down!

Back of Beyond by C.J. Box

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Author C. J. Box delivers a riveting mystery thriller in his new book Back of Beyond. Cody Hoyt, a troubled police detective and recovering alcoholic, is drawn into an investigation when his AA sponsor is found dead in a burned out house. The murder is staged to appear to be a suicide, but Cody’s careful investigation leads him to believe it is a homicide. Determined to solve the crime, Cody’s investigation leads him to a wilderness outfitter in Yellowstone National Park. The outfitter leads tourists on long treks into the Yellowstone back country and Cody is stunned to learn that his son is on the trip, along with his soon-to-be step father. Cody frantically races to catch up with the group as participants in the expedition are being murdered one by one. Full of interesting characters, vivid descriptions of the Yellowstone scenery and plot twists and turns that will keep you guessing until the end, Back of Beyond is a story that will keep you reading well into the night! C.J. Box is also the author of the award-winning Joe Pickett series, beginning with Open Season.