A Calamity of Souls by David Baldacci

A Calamity of Souls by David Baldacci

David Baldacci amazes me. He straddles different genres and series seamlessly and is never afraid to go bold. Which is exactly what he does in “A Calamity of Souls” (Grand Central), a bold and bracing tale destined to go down as one of his best books ever.

Set in the racial hotbed year of 1968, Baldacci’s latest introduces us to white southern lawyer Jack Lee. Against his better judgment, Lee agrees to represent Jerome Washington who’s accused of brutally murdering a rich older white couple. Good thing he ends up teaming with Desiree DuBose, a Black wunderkind attorney who rightfully sees the case as a defining moment for the Civil Rights era but mostly believes Washington is innocent and wants to see justice done. The result is a brilliant courtroom thriller that out-Grishams Grisham as well as a masterpiece of social commentary.

“A Calamity of Souls” reads like a post-modern version of the Harper Lee classic “To Kill a Mockingbird,” rife with racial issues and brave enough to rip the scabs off old wounds. Staged in the same year that gave us the murders of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., along with the calamitous Democratic convention in Chicago, this is historically-based writing of the highest order from a master storyteller at the absolute top of his game.


Extinction by Douglas Preston

Extinction by Douglas Preston

Doug Preston has been writing books like “Extinction” (Forge, 384 pages, $29.99) for a long time and both he, and they, keep getting even better and timelier.

The aptly titled “Extinction,” for example, envisions a zoo-like park where previously extinct species, including Wooly mammoths, roam the grounds freely thanks to genetic manipulation. We all know the costs of messing with nature thanks to a certain book by Michael Crichton later made into a hit film by Stephen Spielberg, and once again the villains here are immoral humans, who are not at all averse to murder. The Colorado Rocky Mountains make for a magnificent setting and backdrop but the characters, including a state investigator and local sheriff, are plenty interesting too.

Michael Crichton is gone and very much missed, leaving Preston as undisputed king of the speculative science thriller. “Extinction” is “Jurassic Park” for a new generation. A thriller extraordinaire and an absolute must read.


Four Minutes by Brian Andrews and Jeff Wilson

Four Minutes by Brian Andrews and Jeff Wilson

Brian Andrews and Jeff Wilson are back with the most original tale of the year in “Four Minutes” (Blackstone).

Imagine being able to spend four minutes, and only four minutes, in the future to gather intelligence about looming attacks on the United States. That’s the charge of Task Force Omega, a special ops team whose training manual includes at least a rudimentary understanding of quantum mechanics. Our hero is Navy SEAL Tyler Brooks. Tasked with leading the new team of “future” warriors, Brooks find himself dealing with politics as much as technology, even as the stalwart team under his command seeks to prevent a catastrophic attack on the country.

Time travel stories, obviously, are nothing new. The classic TV show the “Twilight Zone” featured at least one or two per season and, years later, the movie “The Final Countdown” resonated through pop culture. The difference here is how “Four Minutes” makes the concept credible and relevant in a contemporary high-stakes thriller. Andrews and Wilson have crafted a masterpiece of form and function that’s destined, ahem, to stand the test of time.


Next of Kin by Samantha Jayne Allen

Next of Kin by Samantha Jayne Allen

Call me a fan of Samantha Jayne Allen’s terrific Annie McIntyre series of rural, backwoods noir thrillers that continues with “Next of Kin” (Minotaur).

Annie’s a private investigator now, but still sorting through suitably dark threats and the kind of bad guys the vast majority of us are spared ever crossing. Her latest case starts out simply enough when she’s hired to find a rising music star’s biological parents. Little does she know that some things are better left alone, in this case because, it turns out, one of the musician’s parents was actually a criminal. A murder follows, sending Annie into the dark underbelly of rural Texas to do what she does best: find the killer and uncover the mystery.

Nobody does more with a little than Allen and her latest further cements her status as a true master of big, bad things happening in small towns, just as the great S. A. Crosby has staked his claim to the urban thriller. “Next of Kin” should be the next must-read on your list.


Nothing But the Bones by Brian Panowich

Nothing But the Bones by Brian Panowich

Speaking of noir, look no further than Brian Panowich’s searing and scintillating “Nothing But the Bones” (Minotaur).

This time out, Panowich’s dark vision takes us to a rural Georgia county where underworld kingpin Gareth Burroughs oversees crime and pretty much everything else. He owes a hefty measure of his reign to an enforcer named Nelson McKenna, one of those noble thugs that Quentin Tarantino movies feast on. Only McKenna’s conscience and sense of morality leads him to kill a man for reasons other than business. The fact Burroughs can’t extract him from this particular mess sends McKenna on the run along Southern back roads leading to Florida where he will face his ultimate fate.

Panowich’s lyrical prose, reminiscent of James Lee Burke and especially John Hart, is magical in its simplicity, the perfect complement to this character-driven story about the quest for nobility in an ignoble world. “Nothing But the Bones” sets its storytelling ambitions high, realizing each and every one of them.


Death and Glory by Will Thomas

Death and Glory by Will Thomas

My column wouldn’t be complete without a terrific historical thriller added to the mix and this month’s features is that much and more in Will Thomas’ “Death and Glory” (Minotaur).

Though historical in nature, the plot-line has strong modern-day echoes, in large part because it involves a 1894 plot to revive and/or reconstitute the Confederacy. Another standout feature here is that the action takes place not in the United States, but in England, thanks to the fact that the conspirators are banking on the British government making good on a thirty-year-old promise to supply the South with a fearsome warship. Good thing crack Scotland Yard investigators Cyrus Barker and Thomas Llewelyn are on the job to prevent a long-awaited delivery that might ignite a second Civil War.

While this is no doubt a thinking person’s thriller, it contains just enough Clive Cussler-like speculative thrills to appeal to a mainstream audience. Nobody writes this kind of book better than Will Thomas, the period-perfect nature of his latest reminding me of David Morrell’s superb trilogy featuring Thomas de Quincey.


First Squad, First Platoon by Rod Serling

First Squad, First Platoon by Rod Serling

The “Strand Magazine” deserves huge kudos for including previously unpublished short stories by masters across multiple genres but credit “Strand” editor Andrew Gulli for his latest gem by none other than “Twilight Zone” creator Rod Serling, a short story called First Squad, First Platoon (Strand Magazine).

It may not have been written with the classic TV show he created in mind, but Serling’s immense talent as a writer and storyteller are on display. As the title indicates, the story is set in the Asian theater during World War II. It’s comprised of individual vignettes linked by the common themes of bravery, duty, loyalty, and something else I don’t want to give away. 

“First Squad, First Platoon” is a celebration of Serling as much more than a TV writer, as we’re treated to brilliant prose and depictions of the harshness of war comparable to the likes of Herman Wouk and James Jones. The incredible talents of Serling, who also penned the screenplays for movies like “Seven Days in May” and the original “Planet of the Apes”, are all on display here in a fitting testament to a master storyteller who doesn’t get the credit he deserves.


Jon Land

Jon Land

Jon Land is the bestselling author over 25 novels. He graduated from Brown University in 1979 Phi Beta Kappa and Magna cum Laude and continues his association with Brown as an alumni advisor. Jon often bases his novels and scripts on extensive travel and research as well as a twenty-five year career in martial arts. He is an associate member of the US Special Forces and frequently volunteers in schools to help young people learn to enjoy the process of writing. Jon is the Vice-President of marketing of the International Thriller Writers (ITW) and is often asked to speak on topics regarding writing and research. In addition to writing suspense/thrillers, Jon is also a screenwriter with his first film credit in 2005. Jon works with many industry professionals and has garnered the respect and friendship of many author-colleagues. He loves storytelling in all its forms. Jon currently lives in Providence, Rhode Island and loves hearing from his readers and aspiring writers.