The Martian by Andy Weir
A great first novel for fans of science fiction or thrillers. This book grabbed my attention from the first page and never let go. Imagine waking up on Mars, alone. That’s what Ares 3 astronaut Mark Watney experiences after a powerful dust storm forces his fellow astronauts off-planet. They think he’s dead, and with communications down, he is stuck. He is very resourceful, being a botanist and a mechanical engineer, and figures out how to generate enough water and breathable air to survive in the canvas habitat, for a while. But it will be years before the Ares 4 crew arrives, and his food will run out before then. NASA gradually realizes he’s alive, and Mark takes a rover to retrieve Pathfinder and the Sojourner rover in an attempt to communicate. Mark and NASA get creative in looking for solutions to the many problems that occur, but most of the time Mark is on his own. The Ares 3 crew on the spaceship Hermes also have ideas, when NASA finally decides to tell them that Mark is still alive. Very suspenseful, and even funny in spots, as Mark likes to joke around, much to NASA’s displeasure.
Never Go Back by Lee Child
Never Go Back is good advice for Jack Reacher, though he’s unlikely to take it. This is the fourth book connected to the events in 61 Hours, a great place to start reading the Jack Reacher thrillers. There are now eighteen books in the series, plus a couple of short stories. Reacher has finally made it from South Dakota to the Washington, D. C. area to meet Susan Turner, the voice on the other end of the phone in the previous books. Major Turner has Reacher’s old job as commanding officer of the 110th Military Police unit. Oddly, but not coincidentally, Turner has been arrested just before he arrives, and Reacher is recalled to military service and threatened with a very old crime and a paternity suit. He’s innocent of one and curious about the other, although I kept thinking the paternity suit could have been settled quite easily. I also wondered about the irregular recall to the army. The army brass thinks he’ll run, but Reacher is more interested in proving Turner’s innocence and concerned about the incompetence of her temporary replacement. He and Turner head to Los Angeles for answers, with soldiers in hot pursuit. For most of the book, it reads more like a mystery than a thriller, with little violence until action kicks into high gear, with Susan Turner along for Reacher’s quest for answers and justice. Dick Hill is the excellent narrator for the Reacher audiobooks.
The Cabinet of Curiosities by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
Natural history fans that are willing to suspend their beliefs and delve into the supernatural world, mixed with some horror, may really enjoy this fast paced and entertaining thriller. FBI Special Agent Aloysius X. L. Pendergast, a rather dark, yet nonthreatening and serene character, persuades archaeologist Dr. Nora Kelly to suspend her work at the American Museum of Natural History in order to help him investigate the mysterious serial killings from 130 years ago that have just come to light. Pendergast, Kelly, and William Smithback (Kelly’s boyfriend, a journalist for the New York Times) become obsessed with solving this historical case once they become certain that recent, similarly gruesome serial killings are related. As the plot thickens and the investigation goes beyond their wildest expectations, their own lives are threatened by what appears to be a mad scientist who is hell-bent on concocting an elixir for the greater good of mankind even if it means torturing innocent, human beings. At the beginning of the book, I skeptically focused on the stereotypical attributes that the characters were assigned—yet the fast pace and natural history theme kept me engaged. Almost seamlessly, the characters were later developed into complex beings that I didn’t want to leave behind when I set my book down for the day. Although the story involves the supernatural, the twists and turns that take place as new evidence is introduced during the investigation make perfect sense and chances are you will not be disappointed in the story’s end. Terms that best describe this book are: page-turner; character driven; and conclusive. Readers of this fantasy, investigative series may also enjoy the Harry Dresden series by Jim Butcher, or if the fictional interplay between different centuries and the archaeological aspect intrigues you, give Timeline by Michael Crichton a try.
Discover more on the authors’ website.
The Expats: A Novel by Chris Pavone
Kate Moore leaves her State Department job when her techie husband Dexter gets a job offer from a private bank in Luxembourg. Now an expat American, she takes their two young sons, Jake and Ben, to private school, hangs out with the other expat moms, and waits for Dexter to come home from the office or yet another business trip. They do enjoy occasional weekend trips with the boys to other cities in Europe. Kate is bored and lonely, and becomes suspicious of their new American friends, Bill and Julia. Guiltily, Kate contacts a former colleague to make inquiries, and learns that her husband is under suspicion of stealing millions of Euros. Kate has her own secrets: she worked for the CIA, not the State Department, and was an operative in Mexico and Central America until shortly after Jake was born. Will Kate’s or Dexter’s pasts catch up with them, what secrets will be uncovered, and will love or money win the day? A building unease and suspense keep the pages turning, with the reader trying to figure out who’s telling the truth. But underneath is still a couple who love their sons and enjoy living in Europe. The author is a former cookbook editor who spent some time living in Luxembourg with his wife and twin sons, so the settings and scenes of family life ring true. A first novel, Expats was just awarded an Edgar Allan Poe award for best first mystery by an American author.
The Rook by Daniel O’Malley
This is a supernatural thriller, and quite fun to read. It’s the first in a series about the Checquy, a secret British spy agency staffed with people with a variety of supernatural abilities or unique physical characteristics, along with normal assistants. The opening sets the tone: Myfanwy Thomas (she pronounces it Miffany) finds herself in a park in London, surrounded by bodies wearing latex gloves, and with no memory. Her former self has left her a letter, however, giving her two options and a safe hideout. Clearly there is a traitor within the Checquy agency. The reader and Myfanwy learn that she is an executive with a desk job at the agency, but is occasionally called on to oversee the Checquy response to supernatural emergencies, such as a building covered with purple fungus that has swallowed the first team sent to investigate screams from inside. Her normal assistant Ingrid is invaluable as Myfanwy tries to get up to speed on her job while looking for the traitor. Lots of action and suspense, along with humor, plenty of eccentric characters, and unique settings including a boarding school for supernaturally gifted children make for a page-turner. I can’t wait to see what O’Malley, a first novelist from Australia, comes up with next. For more information and a video book trailer, visit his website.
The Cassandra Project by Jack McDevitt and Mike Resnick
In 2019, NASA is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first man on the moon, while its current budget has the space program on hold. NASA’s Public Affairs director Jerry Culpepper is stunned when a routine release of old records brings up the possibility of an earlier landing on the moon. A recording of Sydney Myshko, orbiting the moon in an early 1969 mission (not Apollo 9 or 10), suggests he’s preparing to descend. A cryptic diary entry of astronaut Aaron Walker, on another 1969 spaceflight, indicates that he also walked on the moon. Does President Cunningham know the truth, and what secret could need to be kept for 50 years? Is it even possible that the truth could be kept from future presidents, and from NASA? As Jerry investigates the clues, including the possibility that 1969 photos of the far side of the moon have been doctored, he is pressured to stop. Billionaire entrepreneur Bucky Blackstone is planning to launch a private spaceship to land on the moon, and promises to reveal all. The authors have dreamed up a fantastic near-future adventure, fast-paced and believable.
Immobility by Brian Evenson
Josef Horkai is a new breed of human. He has super human strength and is able to miraculously heal from any sustained injury. Nature, or rather human folly has singled him out in a new and perilous world. The Planet (Earth) has sustained a catastrophic annihilation event. Most ordinary humans didn’t survive and the ones that did live in a post-apocalyptic world. Survivors hole up in small buildings that endure in a ravaged landscape. Because he is able to live in a world where ordinary humans die of exposure in minutes, he is a valuable commodity to the competing factions that fight over what little that is left. I won’t tell you what these factions are or their purpose, but the book A Canticle for Leibowitz by William M. Miller comes to mind. Another novel also comes to mind: The Road by Cormac McCarthy, which I have not read but I did see the movie. Josef strives to prevail in a world that he has little knowledge of since he has been cryogenically frozen for the past thirty years and sent on a mission that he understands little about.
This is a grim, ultra dark thriller that hooks you from the first page. It is a fast read, but a real nightmare to think about. Other books by Brian Evenson are Windeye, Fugue State, and The Open Curtain.
A Wanted Man by Lee Child
I listened to the latest Jack Reacher thriller on a Playaway in the car, which made for a very interesting listening experience. Ex-military policeman Reacher is hitching a ride in Nebraska, and much of the action takes place on long car rides. Reacher has a badly broken nose before the book begins, so it’s harder than usual for the 6’5” man to hitch a ride, and the narrator, Dick Hill, uses a muffled voice for much of the narration. Reacher gets a ride towards Iowa in a car with two men and a woman, all wearing matching shirts. Two roadblocks later, Reacher discovers that the woman, Karen, is being kidnapped in her own car. Back in Nebraska, a county sheriff and FBI agent Julia Sorenson are investigating the killing of an unidentified man at an old pumping station, and the state police have set up the roadblocks looking for a car with two men. When the CIA shows interest in the victim’s fingerprints and more FBI agents show up, things get really interesting. There is layer on layer of secrets, with undercover agents and multiple plot twists. Reacher, a loner who travels around the country finding trouble and helping the innocent, must use his statistical knowledge and insight into human nature to help discover what is really going on, aided by Sorenson. Unlike most books in the series, most of the action and violence occurs later in the book, and there is no romance this time. What is left is a trip into the heartland of America and a thrilling ride that never lets up on the tension. As I was listening on a Playaway, I never knew how close to the end of the book I was. Interested? Start with The Killing Floor, and see Kay’s post describing the rest of the series here.
The Third Gate, by Lincoln Child
Ghost Busters meets the Mummy. Jeremy Logan is an “enigmalogist”, a fancy name for a ghost hunter. He is very good and well known for what he does. He meets up with Porter Stone, a world famous archaeologist, who is deep into his latest “dig”. The dig is the tomb of the first pharaoh, King Narmer, who united the upper and lower kingdoms of ancient Egypt. The dig is not going well. The tomb is located under 30 feet of mud choked swamp called the “Sud”, an area of the Nile that spreads out hundreds of miles in south Sudan. This is a very high tech dig involving huge flat boats and drilling platforms, a logistical nightmare. And also a real nightmare as an ancient curse set upon the tomb, that really bad things will happen to anyone that disturbs it, appears to be coming true. This is why Jeremy is called in to try and defuse the curse.
The body count rises as Jeremy teams with Jennifer Rush a woman who has had an NDE or “near death experience” that lasted 15 minutes, and has unusual psychic abilities. She has been communicating with a malevolent spirit that has been plaguing the dig site. Will the curse doom them all? Will Porter Stone become the most famous archaeologist ever, by finding the mother of all Egyptian tombs?
I really enjoyed this thriller. I like books that entertain and that can educate you at the same time. This author has written a lot of thrillers such as Deep Storm, Terminal Freeze, Death Match, Utopia He is also part of the team of Douglass Preston and Lincoln Child who wrote the Pendergast series. (Relic, Reliquary) etc. You can visit them at their website.
Triggers, by Robert J. Sawyer
In near future Washington, D.C., president Seth Jerrison is giving an anti-terror speech at the Lincoln memorial on the eve of a secret military operation. At a nearby hospital, researcher Ranjip Singh is conducting a memory modification experiment with a young Iraq War veteran. When a bomb goes off, no one dies, but a group of people, including the president and Secret Service agent Susan Dawson, are linked in a chain, each able to access the memories of another person. Dawson and Singh rush to find out who has access to the president’s highly classified memories. Parts of the books are thrilling; Sawyer is quite a storyteller. The reactions and interactions of the memory linked people are fascinating, but to me the ending was not quite as good.
While this is science fiction, I think thriller fans would enjoy this book. Find out more about Canadian writer Robert Sawyer here.