Looking for some hot reads to get you through some cold winter nights? Then look no farther. These books have just the right mix of action, mystery, intrigue, and fascinating protagonists to see you through to spring.
The Widows – Jess Montgomery
Sugar Run – Mesha Maren
Certain places have a tremendous power to influence people, informing their choices and inspiring their lives, past and present. For the lead characters in two remarkable novels from Jess Montgomery and Mesha Maren, the Appalachian Mountains hold sway.
In Montgomery’s The Widows, the coal mining industry of Rossville, Ohio, in 1925 serves as the ominous backdrop to the lives of Lily Ross and Marvena Whitcomb. The story opens with a catastrophic mining explosion of methane gas that kills Marvena’s husband, John, which is soon followed by the death of Lily’s husband, Sheriff Daniel Ross, at the hands of an escaped inmate.
While Marvena fights to unionize mine workers for safer conditions and better wages, Lily assumes the mantle of acting sheriff in order to track down and apprehend her husband’s killer.
Inspired by the real lives of Ohio’s first female sheriff, Maude Collins, and community organizer Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, The Widows is told in alternating chapters from the two women’s points of view. This is the first book published by author Sharon Short under the pseudonym Jess Montgomery, and her writing is brisk, yet it lingers long enough to indulge readers with beautiful prose along the way.
In Maren’s debut novel, Sugar Run, characters looking for a fresh start are also drawn to the Appalachian Mountains, specifically a tiny village in rural West Virginia, where fracking and drug running have all but replaced coal mining and moonshining.
The novel follows two eras in the life of Jodi McCarty, with the bulk of the story set in 2007 as she tries to acclimate to freedom after 18 years in prison for manslaughter.
An accomplished short story writer, Maren makes her debut count with emotionally charged prose and a sense of the yearning we all have for home.
Read the full reviews at BookPage.
Scrublands – Chris Hammer
In Chris Hammer’s explosive thriller, Scrublands, a mass shooting committed by a preacher, around whom rumors of child sexual abuse swirl, and the discovery of two murdered backpackers a year later add up to an enthralling mystery for reporter Martin Scarsden.
Amid the blistering heat of the Australian outback, Martin’s initial assignment is to write about how the community of Riversend has endured the year following preacher Byron Swift’s five-person killing spree on the front steps of his church. But as soon as Martin begins asking questions, he soon realizes that previous reports about Byron’s motive—that he was a pedophile—were wrong.
The drought-stricken town and its denizens harbor dark secrets, all of which slowly begin to come to light the further Martin’s investigation takes him.
An award-winning journalist himself, Hammer skillfully guides Martin through a series of interviews with the reluctant townsfolk to get to the truth.
Read the full review at BookPage.
The Last Breath – Danny Lopez
Take a deep breath and hang on. Danny Lopez’s new novel, The Last Breath, is a riveting, old-school whodunnit/private investigator novel that’ll leave you gasping for air.
Set on Siesta Key, one of the barrier islands off the coast of Sarasota, Fla., the novel once again revolves around down-and-out journalist-turned-investigator Dexter Vega, who made his debut in The Last Girl.
Lacking a steady paycheck and desperate for work, Vega is easily convinced to turn his journalistic nose for news into investigative work for a private client, eccentric real estate mogul Bob Fleming, who believes his son, Liam, was murdered.
Lopez’s prose is fast-paced and addictively fun. Vega comes across as a typically cynical journalist, a terrible father to his daughter, and is easy to dislike, but he quickly grows on you the more you get to know him.
Read the full review at Killer Nashville.
Fugitive Red – Jason Starr
Jack Harper isn’t the brightest protagonist you’ll meet in a crime novel this year. In fact, he makes a lot of bone-headed decisions that serve only to get him into deeper and deeper trouble — like being suspected of murder, for instance. Yet for all of that, readers of Fugitive Red, the new novel from Jason Starr, will want to stick with his story just to see if he gets what he deserves or if he can somehow wriggle out of the fix he’s in.
Seeking something that can restore his happiness, Jack stupidly seeks solace through a digital online dating site and a fantasy relationship with a woman known only as the titular Fugitive Red. At first, his “fling” amounts to nothing more than flirting. But the more he becomes fixated on Red, the more his desire for a real relationship grows. Red entices him further when she suggests a real-life, clandestine rendezvous, a proposal Jack readily accepts.
But when Jack gets to the arranged meeting spot, he’s shocked to discover the object of his affections has been brutally murdered.
Starr, who has written fourteen previous crime thrillers as well as stories for Marvel and DC Comics, keeps the action quick and the twists plentiful in this suspenseful read.
Read the full review at Killer Nashville.