Mysteries That Truly Thrill | Hallie Ephron, Jamie Freveletti, James Rollins

A fair number of thrillers cross my desk, tempting me with clichéd promises that my heart will race and that the pages will turn so fast the book itself might burst into flame. While I have yet to have a mystery spontaneously combust, I have recently read three thrillers that have, to a greater or lesser degree, the ability to thrill.

Never Tell A Lie

It’s not often that I feel I have a rooting interest in whether or not a book is any good. I, of course, have favorite authors and could be disappointed if one of them were to offer up a book I didn’t enjoy, but I seldom feel the anxious flutter I might experience when, say, the St. Louis Cardinals need to push home one more run in the ninth inning.

But I found myself rooting for Hallie Ephron, author of the thriller Never Tell A Lie. After all, Ephron is a fellow book reviewer. Happily, her novel is, by and large, a winner.

The author of the “On Crime” reviews for the Boston Globe, Ephron has put her knowledge to good use as she tells the story of Ivy Rose, a woman whose innocent yard sale is the catalyst for a frightening series of events that will threaten her marriage, her life, and her unborn child.

While the book stretches credulity at several points, Never Tell A Lie does generate a fair amount of suspense. Ivy’s quest to conquer her fears and untangle the web that has ensnared her keeps the reader flipping pages at a good clip.

Ephron exploits the fear engendered when one isn’t sure a loved one can be trusted. She doesn’t flinch from the idea that once a seed of doubt is planted, nothing is ever quite the same.

Running from the Devil

Jamie Freveletti has a time management problem. As a result, her debut thriller, Running from the Devil, isn’t as thrilling as it might have been.

Freveletti’s novel features Emma Caldridge, a chemist and ultramarathon runner who finds herself on the run from a host of bad guys in the Colombian jungle after her flight is hijacked. Determined to complete the project that brought her back to Colombia—a project that is scarcely hinted at until halfway through the book—she uses her knowledge of the medicinal properties of various plants, her impressive endurance, and her hefty supply of gumption to evade or escape trouble.

Freveletti’s strong suit is character creation. Emma and her friends and foes are well drawn, even when they are simply sketched from a characteristic or two. It’s easy to root for the good guys and against the bad guys.

The author is less successful, however, when it comes to controlling the clock. For much of the book, it is difficult to determine how much time has passed, which becomes a problem as the story shifts back and forth between Columbia and the United States.

Late in the book, Freveletti does introduce a race against time that ups the ante a bit. But even then, the “deadline” is a moving target, undermining the tension somewhat. All in all, Running from the Devil is a promising first effort.

The Doomsday Key

I was prepared to mock James Rollins’ recently released suspense novel, The Doomsday Key. After all, the opening pages include one of those melodramatic statements—“Within the pages of this novel lies an answer. . . . Most frightening of all, it’s true.”—that seldom bode well.

But Rollins delivers just about everything one could ask for in a thriller: a mysterious and convoluted connection between the distant past and current events, a dedicated team sniffing out a shadowy conspiracy all over the globe, uneasy allies and enemies, and plenty of explosions.

The Doomsday Key is the sixth book in Rollins’ “Sigma Force” series, but it works well as a standalone novel. The members of Sigma work frantically to uncover the secrets and ambitions that threaten the world’s food supply. To solve the mystery, they must unravel several centuries’ worth of interwoven religious imagery.

Rollins handles the twists and turns of his narrative well, shifting perspectives and locales with seeming ease. He is also a skilled manipulator of the clock, setting up a gripping series of immediate dangers along the route to addressing the more pervasive danger. That knack provides cover for the occasional plotline head scratcher.

The action rarely flags and Rollins expedites the necessary expository scenes. Occasionally (and distractingly), diagrams or sketches provide shortcuts for the author, literally showing the reader rather than telling. But it is clear that no one needs to draw Rollins a diagram for how to build an effective thriller.

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