Best of 2018 “Thriller / Suspense” Category

“Head Wounds” by Dennis Palumbo (Poisoned Pen Press; February 6, 2018):

Psychologist Dr. Daniel Rinaldi consults with the Pittsburgh Police. His specialty is treating victims of violent crime—those who’ve survived an armed robbery, kidnapping, or sexual assault, but whose traumatic experience still haunts them. “Head Wounds” picks up where Rinaldi’s investigation in “Phantom Limb” left off, turning the tables on him as he, himself, becomes the target of a vicious killer.

“Miles Davis saved my life.” With these words Rinaldi becomes a participant in a domestic drama that blows up right outside his front door, saved from a bullet to the brain by pure chance. In the chaos that follows, Rinaldi learns his bad-girl, wealthy neighbor has told her hair-triggered boyfriend Rinaldi is her lover. As things heat up, Rinaldi becomes a murder suspect.

But this is just the first act in this chilling, edge-of-your-seat thriller. As one savagery follows another, Rinaldi is forced to relive a terrible night that haunts him still. And to realize that now he—and those he loves—are being victimized by a brilliant killer still in the grip of delusion. Determined to destroy Rinaldi by systematically targeting those close to him—his patients, colleagues, and friends—computer genius Sebastian Maddox strives to cause as much psychological pain as possible, before finally orchestrating a bold, macabre death for his quarry.

How ironic. As Pittsburgh morphs from a blue-collar town to a tech giant, a psychopath deploys technology in a murderous way.

Enter two other figures from Rinaldi’s past: retired FBI profiler Lyle Barnes, once a patient who Rinaldi treated for night terrors; and Special Agent Gloria Reese, with whom he falls into a surprising, erotically charged affair. Warned by Maddox not to engage the authorities or else random innocents throughout the city will die, Rinaldi and these two unlikely allies engage in a terrifying cat-and-mouse game with an elusive killer who’ll stop at nothing in pursuit of what he imagines is revenge.


Suspense Magazine (S. MAG.): Hollywood pitches are very brief. How would you pitch your book to the movies in ten words or less?

Dennis Palumbo (D.P.): Psychologist battles brilliant psychopath who killed hero’s wife years before. (Boy, that wasn’t easy. Even elevator pitches are longer than ten words!)


MAG.: Do you have a memorable fan experience you can share?

D.P.: A reader who is a city planner in Pittsburgh said she loved my books, but that the route I used to describe my hero’s commute to and from his office was inefficient, especially at rush hour. So she sent me a better route, and, starting with the fourth book in the series, “Phantom Limb,” it’s now the way that Daniel Rinaldi commutes to work! I even gave her an acknowledgement at the front of the book.


MAG.: Is there a book, written by another, that you wish you’d written?

D.P. Yes. “The Poet,” by Michael Connelly. Still his masterpiece, in my view, and one of the best mystery thrillers ever written.


“Every Wicked Man” by Steven James (Penguin Publishing Group; September 4, 2018):

A criminal mastermind’s chilling terrorist plot forces FBI Special Agent Patrick Bowers to the brink in the latest thriller from bestselling novelist Steven James.

When a senator’s son takes his own life and posts the video live online, Agent Bowers is drawn into a complex web of lies that begins to threaten the people he loves the most. As he races to unravel the mystery behind the suicide and a centuries-old code that might help shed light on the case, he finds a dark pathway laced with twists and deadly secrets that touch a little too close to home.


Suspense Magazine (S. MAG.): Hollywood pitches are very brief. How would you pitch your book to the movies in ten words or less?

Steven James (S.J.): FBI agents attempt to stop a string of live-streamed suicides.


MAG.: Do you have a memorable fan experience you can share?

S.J.: At a recent conference a guy said to me, “I don’t really read anything you write because I don’t read in your gender.” Huh. I didn’t know I wrote in any particular gender.


MAG.:If you could write a message to future aspiring authors and place it in a time capsule to read years later, what would you write?

S.J.: Burn your outlines and trust the story. Don’t ask, “What should this character do?” but “What would this character do if I got out of the way?” And then do it. Cut their leashes and set them free to roam on the page.


“Jar of Hearts” by Jennifer Hillier (St. Martin’s Press; June 12, 2018):

When she was sixteen years old, Angela Wong—one of the most popular girls in school—disappeared without a trace. Nobody ever suspected that her best friend, Georgina Shaw, now an executive and rising star at her Seattle pharmaceutical company, was involved in any way. Certainly not Kaiser Brody, who was close with both girls back in high school.

But fourteen years later, Angela Wong’s remains are discovered in the woods near Geo’s childhood home. And Kaiser—now a detective with Seattle PD—finally learns the truth: Angela was a victim of Calvin James. The same Calvin James who murdered at least three other women.

To the authorities, Calvin is a serial killer. But to Geo, he’s something else entirely. Back in high school, Calvin was Geo’s first love. Turbulent and often volatile, their relationship bordered on obsession from the moment they met right up until the night Angela was killed.

For fourteen years, Geo knew what happened to Angela and told no one. For fourteen years, she carried the secret of Angela’s death until Geo was arrested and sent to prison.

While everyone thinks they finally know the truth, there are dark secrets buried deep. And what happened that fateful night is more complex and more chilling than anyone really knows. Now the obsessive past catches up with the deadly present when new bodies begin to turn up, killed in the exact same manner as Angela Wong.

How far will someone go to bury her secrets and hide her grief? How long can you get away with a lie? How long can you live with it?


Suspense Magazine (S. MAG.): Hollywood pitches are very brief. How would you pitch your book to the movies in ten words or less?

Jennifer Hillier (J.H.): Orange is the New Black meets Sharp Objects.


MAG.:Finish this sentence: If I wasn’t an author, I would be ___________.

J.H.: Working at Sephora. They take all my money, anyway—I could use the discount.


MAG.: Is there a book, written by another, that you wish you’d written?

J.H.: “You” by Caroline Kepnes is as perfect a psychological thriller as I’ve ever read. It’s Caroline’s debut novel, but it still manages to be a master class in voice, suspense, and character.


“The Forbidden Door” by Dean Koontz (Random House Publishing Group; September 11, 2018):

“We’re rewriting the play, and the play is this country, the world, the future. We break Jane’s heart, we’ll also break her will.”

She was one of the FBI’s top agents until she became the nation’s most-wanted fugitive, a happily married woman before becoming a devastated widow. Now Jane Hawk may be all that stands between a free nation and its enslavement by a powerful secret society’s terrifying mind-control technology. She couldn’t save her husband, or the others whose lives have been destroyed, but equipped with superior tactical and survival skills—and the fury born of a broken heart and a hunger for justice—Jane has struck major blows against the insidious cabal.

But Jane’s enemies are about to hit back hard. If their best operatives can’t outrun her, they mean to bring her to them, using her five-year-old son as bait. Jane knows there’s no underestimating their capabilities, but she must battle her way back across the country to the remote shelter where her boy is safely hidden . . . for now. As she moves resolutely forward, new threats begin to emerge: a growing number of brain-altered victims driven hopelessly, violently insane. With the madness spreading like a virus, the war between Jane and her enemies will become a fight for all their lives—against the lethal terror unleashed from behind the forbidden door.



“Hellbent” by Gregg Hurwitz (St. Martin’s Press; January 30, 2018):

When there’s nowhere else to turn . . .

His name is Evan Smoak. Taken from a group home at age twelve, he was raised and trained as an off-the-books government assassin: Orphan X. After breaking with the Orphan Program, Evan disappeared and reinvented himself as the Nowhere Man, a man spoken about only in whispers and dedicated to helping the truly desperate. Now, the person in need of help is Jack Johns, the man who raised and trained him, and the only father Evan has ever known. Secret government forces are busy trying to scrub the remaining assets and traces of the Orphan Program and they have finally tracked down Jack. With little time remaining, and an elusive new enemy on his trail, Jack gives Evan his last assignment: to find and protect his last protégé and recruit for the program—or die trying . . .






“Then She Was Gone” by Lisa Jewell (Atria Books; April 17, 2018):

Ellie Mack was the perfect daughter. She was fifteen, the youngest of three. She was beloved by her parents, friends, and teachers. She and her boyfriend made a teenaged golden couple. She was days away from an idyllic post-exams summer vacation, with her whole life ahead of her.

And then she was gone.

Now, her mother Laurel Mack is trying to put her life back together. It’s been ten years since her daughter disappeared, seven years since her marriage ended, and only months since the last clue in Ellie’s case was unearthed. So when she meets an unexpectedly charming man in a café, no one is more surprised than Laurel at how quickly their flirtation develops into something deeper. Before she knows it, she’s meeting Floyd’s daughters—and his youngest, Poppy, takes Laurel’s breath away.

Because looking at Poppy is like looking at Ellie. And now, the unanswered questions she’s tried so hard to put to rest begin to haunt Laurel anew. Where did Ellie go? Did she really run away from home, as the police have long suspected, or was there a more sinister reason for her disappearance? Who is Floyd, really? And why does his daughter remind Laurel so viscerally of her own missing girl?

Suspense Magazine (S. MAG.): What is the best book you read in 2018?

Lisa Jewell (L.J.): The best book I have read this year, so far (there’s still a few days left!) was probably “Snap” by Belinda Bauer. It’s a thriller/drama about a young boy whose mother disappears, leaving him and his two young siblings in a car on the side of the motorway. Years later as a troubled teenager he finds an object in a house he’s just broken into that sends him on a frantic mission to uncover the truth. It’s delicately told but utterly gripping.


MAG.: What can fans expect to see from you in 2019?

L.J.: I am halfway through my seventeenth novel. It’s about a family in London in the 1980’s whose lives are taken over by a sociopath who moves into their house. Years later, adoptee Libby Jones inherits said house from her birth parents, both of whom, she learns, died in the house in a suicide pact with another couple. But what happened to their children? Libby’s brother and sister? They vanished without a trace. I’m set to deliver it in the new year.


MAG.:Finish this sentence: If I wasn’t an author, I would be ___________.

L.J.: A midwife. Babies being born is about the most consistently remarkable thing going on in the world. I would love to be involved in that all day long. Alternatively, I would also love to be an editor.


“The Woman in the Window” by AJ Finn (William Morrow; January 2, 2018):

It isn’t paranoia if it’s really happening . . .

Anna Fox lives alone—a recluse in her New York City home, unable to venture outside. She spends her day drinking wine (maybe too much), watching old movies, recalling happier times . . . and spying on her neighbors.

Then the Russells move into the house across the way: a father, a mother, their teenage son. The perfect family. But when Anna, gazing out her window one night, sees something she shouldn’t, her world begins to crumble—and its shocking secrets are laid bare.

What is real? What is imagined? Who is in danger? Who is in control? In this diabolically gripping thriller, no one—and nothing—is what it seems.





“We, the Jury” by Robert Rotstein (Blackstone Publishing; October 23, 2018):

On the day before his twenty-first wedding anniversary, David Sullinger buried an ax in his wife’s skull. Now, eight jurors must retire to the deliberation room and decide whether David committed premeditated murder-or whether he was a battered spouse who killed his wife in self-defense.

Told from the perspective of over a dozen participants in a murder trial, “We, the Jury” examines how public perception can mask the ghastliest nightmares. As the jurors stagger toward a verdict, they must sift through contradictory testimony from the Sullingers’ children, who disagree on which parent was Satan; sort out conflicting allegations of severe physical abuse, adultery, and incest; and overcome personal animosities and biases that threaten a fair and just verdict. Ultimately, the central figures in “We, the Jury” must navigate the blurred boundaries between bias and objectivity, fiction and truth.

 Suspense Magazine (S. MAG.): Hollywood pitches are very brief. How would you pitch your book to the movies in ten words or less?

Robert Rotstein (R.R.): Twelve Angry Men meets Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying” updated.


MAG.: What can fans expect to see from you in 2019?

R.R.: I’m writing a novel about two lawyers, a husband and wife, who travel the country taking on clients in need, usually in controversial, high-profile cases. In this story, their client is a pregnant woman who’s made a seemingly inexplicable medical decision that threatens the life of her unborn twins. The State’s attempt to intervene raises important civil-liberties issues and also forces the main characters to confront their own dark and painful secrets.


MAG.: If you could be a superhero, which one would you be? And what is that one special gift of his/hers you want to have and why?

R.R.: I love this question, because it strikes a personal note. My wife, author Daco Auffenorde—who also designed the cover for “We, the Jury”—wrote “Electromancer,” a campy, thrilling novel about a kickass, electric (literally) superhero. The novel’s co-star is superhero Blue Arrow, who, among other things, can throw a protective cloud around those oppressed by the forces of evil. I’d definitely choose Blue Arrow and his power to protect.


“The Cutting Edge” by Jeffery Deaver (Grand Central Publishing; April 10, 2018):

In the early hours of a quiet, weekend morning in Manhattan’s Diamond District, a brutal triple murder shocks the city. Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs quickly take the case. Curiously, the killer has left behind a half-million dollars’ worth of gems at the murder scene, a jewelry store on 47th Street. As more crimes follow, it becomes clear that the killer’s target is not gems, but engaged couples themselves.

The Promisor vows to take the lives of men and women during their most precious moments—midway through the purchase of an engagement ring, after a meeting with a wedding planner, trying on the perfect gown for a day that will never come. The Promisor arrives silently, armed with knife or gun, and a time of bliss is transformed, in an instant, to one of horror.

Soon the Promiser makes a dangerous mistake: leaving behind an innocent witness, Vimal Lahori, a talented young diamond cutter, who can help Rhyme and Sachs blow the lid off the case. They must track down Vimal before the killer can correct his fatal error. Then disaster strikes, threatening to tear apart the very fabric of the city—and providing the perfect cover for the killer to slip through the cracks.


Suspense Magazine (S. MAG.): Hollywood pitches are very brief. How would you pitch your book to the movies in ten words or less?

Jeffery Deaver (J.D.): Please produce my book or I will be very sad.


MAG.: Do you have a memorable fan experience you can share?

J.D.: A teenager came up to be at a signing and asked if I’d sign his books. I said, “Of course.” He handed me a Grisham, a Stephen King and a Dean Koontz. There was a humorous beat, and then he and his parents explained that he’d never read a book of fiction outside of school until his dad gave him “The Bone Collector.” It turned him on to reading and the three other authors he brought were the first books he read after “The Bone Collector.” I was very moved.


MAG.:What does having your book chosen as a “Best of” by Suspense Magazine mean to you?

J.D.: It means the world to me! The reputation of Suspense Magazine is known throughout the world; it’s a vibrant gathering place for authors, editors, publishers and, of course, readers. To be so recognized by such a community is beyond thrilling!

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