Cari Mora by Thomas Harris

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ It may not have the re-readability of the author’s best books, but it’s a great ride while it’s happening.

🖋 🖋🖋🖋 The writing style has a clinical, “true crime” feel that fits the subject matter perfectly, and the set pieces are juggled with precision. The character development is also quite good, although it feels less than the sum of its parts.


Published May 21, 2019 by Grand Central Publishing

ISBN: 978-1538750148

Genre: Fiction, Suspense, Crime, Serial Killers, Psychological Thriller

🔪🔪🔪🔪🔪 Many gun battles, references to child soldiers in South America, human trafficking, as well as various serial killer details (descriptions of body disposal, etc.).
💋💋💋💋 There is only one sex scene in the book and it’s described with limited detail. There are various scenes of women being threatened, references to teen pregnancy and sadomasochistic activity (bondage bars, sexual fantasies).
🚩 🚩 🚩 🚩 🚩 This book follows characters who have lived in war zones (recollections of battle gore, abuse), as well as characters who have serial killer pathologies (kinky sexual obsessions, bizarre behavior).


Years ago in her home country, Cari Mora saw terrible things. Now she works in Miami, a caretaker for at an occasionally-rented mansion that belonged to Pablo Escobar. Hans-Peter Schneider knows that there is more to this house than meets the eye: Escobar’s friends left something there that any man would kill to have. All Hans-Peter must do is get into the house, and take care of some locals who are “watching the home” for a certain man in South America. He thinks this lovely housekeeper may be just what he needs …
It’s hard to read a new Thomas Harris novel without considering his legacy. He started his career with three excellent crime novels (Black Sunday, Red Dragon, Silence of the Lambs). The latter two books featured the iconic Dr. Hannibal Lecter, making Harris wealthy and acclaimed. However, his follow-up Lecter novels (Hannibal, Hannibal Rising) left much to be desired, and there’s a 13-year gap between Hannibal Rising and Cari Mora. So, this is a book by an author who has shown his mastery, if not consistency.
The book starts well, pulling readers immediately into its high stakes plot and exotic setting. It becomes clear that Harris is using the “Beast obsessed with Beauty” motif that appears in his other books, but gives readers a new angle on it. Cari’s backstory is dramatic but not overdone, and her struggles as a Temporary Protected Status refugee makes her a different kind of heroine than Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs. The scenes of her navigating a male-centric crime world create some interesting drama (especially since some of the men are smart enough to take her seriously). Hans-Peter Schneider is a serial killer like many other Harris villains, but with unique obsessions. Some scenes showing Hans-Peter’s “tools and toys” are quite inventive, showing that Harris has stayed current on technology that humans can use for terrible purposes.
However, even though Cari is fascinating and Hans-Peter is disturbing, neither of them add up to what they could be. Harris’ best heroes have potent images or details that feel specific to them, urges that only they can fill. His best villains have their own urges, ones that complement the heroes in unexpected ways, generating primal competitions to see who survives. Cari has a sympathetic backstory, some interesting images, but no unique drive that sets her apart from other refugee survivor characters. Hans-Peter is creepy but has no vision that drives his crimes, and no special reason why Cari attracts him. Thus, this book has great elements, but they never coagulate into something iconic. It’s well worth reading once, but lacks the “extra something” that made Harris’ best work unforgettable.


Reviewed by G. Connor Salter

G. Connor Salter is an award-winning journalist, freelance writer and storyteller. His short story series “Tapes from the Crawlspace” is available to watch on YouTube, as are various pieces published by Tall Tale TV. He has published over 300 book reviews in publications like Aphotic Realm and The Waynesdale News. He will read anything once, but prefers thrillers, fantasy and horror.

Run Away by Harlan Coben

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ I’d give this book four stars for incredible pacing, mystery, and plot. My only disappointment is that as focused as the story was on Paige, I didn’t feel her story was woven through the resolution well enough to leave me satisfied in regard to her. But the rest of the plot was phenomenal.

🖋 🖋🖋🖋🖋 This book is expertly written and I enjoyed every part of it—the plot twists, the unveiling, and the mystery itself kept me guessing and on the edge of my seat.


Published March 12th, 2019 by Grand Central Publishing

ISBN: 9781538748466

Genre: Fiction, Suspense, Mystery

🔪🔪🔪 This book gets three knives for violence. There are quite a few murders, but the way they’re written (mostly) leaves the gore out of it. It’s very matter of fact and the violence is handled well. All in all, not as violent as would be expected from a book with hit men, drug dens, and murder mysteries.


Simon Greene’s daughter Paige has been missing for months. No matter how hard he tries, he can’t seem to track her down, until he finally gets a lead that she’ll be playing at Strawberry Fields at Central Park.

When that meeting goes wrong—leading to a few moments of unwanted viral fame as a video of Simon seemingly assaulting a homeless man takes over YouTube—he loses his only chance to save his daughter as she is sucked back into the drug addict life her boyfriend, Aaron, provides for her.

Not long after the internet craze has faded away, Aaron shows up dead in he and Paige’s apartment, and Simon sets out once more to find his daughter. But try as he might, Paige is in the wind, and now he’s a suspect in Aaron’s murder.

States away, Ash and Dee Dee continue down their hit list, taking out man after man until they draw too much attention to themselves and Ash has no other option than to return Dee Dee to the cult that acted as her home—to keep her safe from the police. Ash doesn’t know who hired them specifically, but someone in this cult wanted those men dead. And as long as he got paid, he didn’t care who died.

Private Investigator Elena Ramirez enters the scene in search of a missing boy named Henry Thorpe, and her investigations lead her to Aaron’s murder scene. Uncertain if the cases are connected but not wanting to miss any vital information, Simon and Elena begin comparing notes and sharing information.

But the question remains: how is Paige connected to these cult murders? Who killed Aaron? And where did Paige disappear to?

I really loved this book, all the way up until the end. Coben kept me on my toes, weaving the tapestry of the murders and the characters lives together so that even I, an experienced weaver myself, was left guessing. The final effect was one of a story where nothing is unbelievable—except for the plot thread that kept you reading in the first place. As I’ve already said, I was disappointed with the resolution for Paige’s character. I guess I had hoped she’d have a larger part to play in the murders, a larger part to play in the mystery. We spent much of the book trying to unravel her story, only to have her be connected to the main tension and plot by a very narrow thread that seems too weak to pull the weight.

I am a tough sell, and Coben had me gripped from paragraph one.


Reviewed by J. J. Hanna

J. J. Hanna is a writer from Littleton, CO. She has a B. S. from Taylor University in Professional Writing, and has worked in various roles in the publishing industry including literary agent, freelance writer, virtual assistant, and publicist. Her favorite genre is suspense, but she also enjoys Fantasy and SciFi. Connect with her online @authorjjhanna and http://www.authorjjhanna.com.

This review was originally published March 9, 2020.

All the Lost Things by Michelle Sacks

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ I’d give this book five stars for incredible writing, characterization, and plot. It’s a slow-burn suspense, and the first half of the book is more fun and lighthearted as Dolly pretends the bad stuff never happened.

🖋 🖋🖋🖋🖋 This book is a unique read. It takes a very skilled writer immersed in the voice of the characters to pull off what Sacks pulled off in this novel—telling the story from start to finish from the perspective of a seven-year-old. This is a suspense novel for those who love soap operas—more family drama than suspense, but with all the fixings of a good kidnapping novel.


Published June 4th, 2019 by Little, Brown and Company

ISBN: 9780316475457

Genre: Mystery, Suspense, Family Drama, Road Trip Novels

🔪 This book gets one knife for violence. Altogether, this is a fairly clean read. All violence is off screen and intentionally ignored by the narrator for most of the book. That said, if you’re sensitive to mentions of domestic abuse, be careful reading this book.

🚩 🚩 🚩 This book is a family drama fraught with memories of domestic violence and the conflicting feelings of a daughter toward her abusive father. It’s a picture of how abusive situations can slip through the cracks until it’s too late, and a depiction of how many kids learn to cope with trauma.


Dolly Rust likes dancing and playing pretend games with her best friend, Clemesta, a toy horse. (But if you asked Clemesta, you’d learn she was actually a magical horse queen, and also Dolly’s twin sister.) Clemesta and Dolly were in the middle of saving a stuffed lion’s life when her dad came and said it was time to go.

At first, they’re going on the best daddy-daughter adventure ever, and everything is amazing because Dolly has all of her dad’s attention and it’s a special trip just for them.

But the farther they drive, the less fun this special adventure becomes, and the more Clemesta insists that Dolly needs to remember the things she’s hidden away in the Secret Secret box of her brain.

Eventually, her dad starts acting strange, always checking behind them in the mirror and asking Dolly to wear a hat, cutting her hair and wearing glasses that he doesn’t need.

Will Dolly be able to ask for help before it’s too late and they’re too far lost?

This is an incredibly unique read. It takes a highly skilled writer to maintain an accurate voice of a seven-year-old narrator from start to finish, and to make a road trip where most of the time is spent in the back seat of a car with a toy horse interesting to read.

The suspense begins to ramp up about halfway through the book, and it doesn’t slow down after that. But even with a less suspenseful start, the plot’s mystery and the dramatic irony was enough to pull me through until I couldn’t put it down.

Dolly is an incredibly lovable character, in large part because of how she represents childhood. She has word slips and sporadic trains of thoughts and snippets of memory that reveal the drama of her home life bit by bit all the way up until the end. Some may feel this makes the story disjointed, but the longer I read in Dolly’s voice the more I got used to her thought patterns and was able to anticipate the narrative flow, which made it easier and easier to read as the book went along.


Reviewed by J. J. Hanna

J. J. Hanna is a writer from Littleton, CO. She has a B. S. from Taylor University in Professional Writing, and has worked in various roles in the publishing industry including literary agent, freelance writer, virtual assistant, and publicist. Her favorite genre is suspense, but she also enjoys Fantasy and SciFi. Connect with her online @authorjjhanna and http://www.authorjjhanna.com.

This review was originally published April 14, 2020.

Nightmare Alley by William Lindsay Gresham

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ Perfect for classic crime noir fans, and for readers seeking a well-developed psychological thriller.

🖋 🖋🖋🖋🖋 The author creates an almost cinematic style with strong images, tight plotting and careful pacing the suspense elements.


Published December 7, 2021 by New York Review of Books

Edition: Movie tie-in edition

Originally published in 1946.

ISBN: 978-1681376103

Genre: Fiction, Suspense, Crime

🔪🔪 One death by poisoning, a violent fight at the climax, various scenes of psychological suspense.
💋💋💋💋 Various sexual references in dialogue, and three to five brief sex scenes (all of which move the plot forward). None of the sex scenes include much detail, but one has quasi-violent undertones.
🚩 🚩 🚩 🚩 🚩 A Trigger Warning: this book has references to alcoholism, sex with masochistic dialogue.


Stan Carlisle isn’t planning to spend the rest of his life as a low-level carnival lackey. He’s got plans, and a taste for stage magic which Madam Zeena helps him develop. Before long, the carnival isn’t big enough for Stan’s dreams, so he and his new wife Molly hit the road as a mentalist act. When Stan changes masks to become Reverend Carlisle, Spiritualist minister and counselor to those interested in the other side, Molly worries that they’ve gone beyond putting on a show for honest money. As Stan targets a wealthy new “client,” he nears the line that he may never return from.
This novel was a bestseller when it came out in 1945, then in and out of print for decades – this edition was released for Guillermo del Toro’s new movie version. C.S. Lewis fans may be familiar with it, since the author’s ex-wife Joy Davidman went on to marry Lewis (an unusual courtship captured in the movie Shadowlands). Like many noir novels, Nightmare Alley is an antihero story about a character’s lusts taking him into dark territory. Gresham makes Stan likeable enough that even as he descends, he’s still fascinating to watch. Molly increasingly becomes the moral voice, but the story balances her warnings and Stan’s hunger for more, making each compelling. The balance is helped by Gresham capturing the suspense in magic acts – the magician collecting or deducing information, pretending he’s struggling to get a reading, the climax as he shocks the audience. Like a great thriller novelist describing a heist, Gresham transports readers into these scenes, making each detail feel vital. Thus, even as it becomes hard to imagine how Stan can survive his journey, readers stay to see how he reaches his destination.
Stan isn’t the only fascinating character – Gresham describes the carnival and its inhabitants with vivid language. Many have compared the carnival scenes to Tod Browning’s 1932 movie “Freaks,” an inside look at circus performers that makes even the most unusual performers (the man with no legs, the conjoined twins) seem human. This helps the book enormously, keeping the “weird events at the carnival” setting from becoming garish or cliché.
Overall, Gresham tells a classic noir tale of someone flirting with forbidden things, a journey that feels preordained but can’t be missed. The characters walk dark paths, but the book never lands in nihilism. Readers see how characters lose their way, but the morals are implied rather than preached. Decades later, this gut-wrenching thriller still holds up.


Reviewed by G. Connor Salter

G. Connor Salter is an award-winning journalist, freelance writer and storyteller. His short story series “Tapes from the Crawlspace” is available to watch on YouTube, as are various pieces published by Tall Tale TV. He has published over 300 book reviews in publications like Aphotic Realm and The Waynesdale News. He will read anything once, but prefers thrillers, fantasy and horror.

Annabel Lee by Mike Nappa

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ If you like suspense and mystery novels, you’ll like this book.

🖋️🖋️🖋️🖋️ The plot was predictable at times, but altogether enjoyable even when I knew what was coming.


Published March 1, 2016 by Revell

ISBN: 9780800726447

Genre: Fiction, Suspense, Supernatural Suspense

🔪🔪🔪🔪 There are many deaths, though few are gruesome, and at least one dog attack.


Leonard Truckson was always a secretive man. Annabel knew he had secrets. She also knew she was one of those secrets. Why else would he need a German Shepherd trained to eat fingers?

None of that really prepared her for the day he woke her in the middle of the night, told her to get dressed, and brought her out to where that dog lived. She also wasn’t prepared for him to pull a  lever next to the dog house that revealed a secret bunker. She was least prepared to be locked in that bunker with that dog with the strict orders to not let anyone in unless it was him and he said the safe code.

Trudi Coffey and Samuel Hill had once been married, but his covert missions had put stress on their relationship and led to a divorce. So, when he shows up asking for a book he gave her years ago, she knows something is up. She’s even more suspicious when Dr. Jonathan Smith shows up and questions her as one used to receiving answers.

Driven by a need to discover the truth about Dr. Smith and the strange clues Leonard Truckson left in his absence, Trudi finds herself wrapped up in an intense plot involving the CIA and other secret societies. Soon, what began as a desire to know the truth becomes a race against Dr. Smith to get to Annabel first.

This is a binge-worthy read. Nappa has a wonderfully unique style and tone that plays into the way he crafts mysteries and characters.


Reviewed by J. J. Hanna

J. J. Hanna is a writer from Littleton, CO. She has a B. S. from Taylor University in Professional Writing, and has worked in various roles in the publishing industry including literary agent, freelance writer, virtual assistant, and publicist. Her favorite genre is suspense, but she also enjoys Fantasy and SciFi. Connect with her online @authorjjhanna and http://www.authorjjhanna.com.

This review was originally published March 25, 2019.