In a city without a name, somewhere in Western Europe, atrocities are becoming the norm. At the opening of Donato Carrisi’s The Whisperer, the cops have found five left arms that appear to belong to five missing girls, buried in a clearing where someone would obviously find them. While the police scramble at the scene, the arm of a sixth girl emerges as well. Thanks to forensic evidence, it appears that this girl is different from the rest in one major respect: She may still be alive. Profiler Mila Vasquez and criminologist Goran Gavila race headlong against time, following obscure and elaborate clues laid out by a serial killer who seems almost prescient; whichever way the police turn, their quarry seems forever one step ahead, taunting them. Thanks to Carrisi’s intricate plotting, the criminal also keeps at least one step ahead of the seasoned mystery reader, ensuring a couple of major surprises as the novel draws to a close. The Whisperer has already won several literary awards abroad and has been a bestseller all over Europe. I predict no less for it here.

John Burdett’s string of thrillers featuring Royal Thai Police Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep is one of the finest series in contemporary crime fiction. Sonchai is a strangely pure character, a devout Buddhist who finds it necessary from time to time to take convoluted detours off the Road to Enlightenment. Vulture Peak, the fifth in the series, finds Sonchai once again at the whim of his boss, one Colonel Vikorn, who is corrupt to a degree almost unimaginable to Western minds. To refuse Vikorn would mean disgrace (and likely death), so Sonchai acquiesces rather more than he would like to. Vikorn’s latest scheme involves his personal political aspirations, and Sonchai is conscripted into the high-profile investigation of an illicit organ-trafficking operation. It really doesn’t matter whether Sonchai uncovers anything, though; he just has to make Vikorn look good for the voters. But things start to unravel when Sonchai is forced to strike a deal with the Vultures, a pair of beautiful and deadly Chinese twins whose perversity knows few bounds. Vulture Peak is insightful, disturbing, funny and bizarre—an excellent addition to a do-not-miss series.

When I reviewed Taylor Stevens’ first Vanessa Michael Munroe novel, The Informationist, I said that it “pushed every one of my buttons: exotic locale, sassy and competent protagonist, crisp dialogue and nonstop action.” I’m happy to report there’s no slowdown in Stevens’ follow-up, The Innocent. If anything, the pace has been ramped up to borderline illegal levels, as the intrepid self-employed spy infiltrates a dangerous religious cult known as “The Chosen.” Her client is longtime best friend Logan, who for years has harbored a closely held secret: Although he is openly gay, he has a daughter, and she has fallen into the hands of The Chosen. Along with Logan and a handful of knowledgeable escapees from the cult, Munroe sets off for Argentina in search of the girl. Impersonating a supplicant, she hopes to breach the cult’s heavy security; what she doesn’t count on is the involvement of some of South America’s most ruthless criminals, an oversight that may torpedo not only the assignment, but her very life. The Innocent is bound to appeal to fans of Lee Child, Robert Crais and Andrew Vachss. It is gritty, lightning-paced and oh-so-satisfying.

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a 7 questions interview with Taylor Stevens for The Innocent.

Author T. Jefferson Parker has been in the Top Pick in Mystery winner’s circle more times than I can think of (see: Silent Joe and California Girl); he can certainly claim time-share rights here! In fact, Parker took the honors in January of last year with The Border Lords, which featured L.A. Sheriff Charlie Hood, on loan to the ATF. Well, Hood is back with a vengeance in The Jaguar. In the story, beautiful singer-songwriter Erin McKenna has been kidnapped by notorious Mexican drug lord Benjamin Armenta; McKenna’s husband, a crooked sheriff, wants her back badly—and Charlie Hood stars in the rescue operation. Armenta’s ransom demands are simple, albeit pricey: one million U.S. dollars plus a narco­corrido. The million is recompense for the trouble McKenna’s husband has caused the drug lord. The narco­corrido, a folk ballad to be written about Armenta by Erin McKenna, will secure his position in the annals of Mexican outlaw history. That’s the plan, anyway. The plan does not, however, account for several twists, including: the hurricane, the loose-cannon son of an outlaw, the pedophile priest or the derringer taped to the inside of McKenna’s thigh. Let the games begin!

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