By Stephen Hunter

New York: Mysterious Press, 2021. $23.95


By Jaime Lynn Hendricks

New York: Scarlet, 2021. $25.95


By Scott Shepherd

New York: Mysterious Press, 2021. $25.95

These three new books from Mysterious Press and Scarlet, offer three different approaches to the thriller—a wartime tale of espionage, a domestic noir with a twist, and a hunt for a serial killer. All are entertaining reads.

Basil’s War by Stephen Hunter is an enthusiastic romp through the brighter aspects of World War II espionage, as the title character, who enjoys the company of famous women and alcoholic beverages, has to track down a clue that may be vital to breaking a seemingly impenetrable code. Every chapter is fun and often breezy, moving from adventure to adventure with a bunch of cameo appearances by actual historical figures. It’s pleasant and closer to some of the James Bond movies with Sean Connery or Roger Moore than the grittier spy tales of John le Carré. One minor complaint is the ending, which feels a bit rushed, but otherwise it’s a terrific diversion.

Jaime Lynn Hendricks’s Finding Tessa is clearly inspired by Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl (2012), starting with the same basic premise. The story alternates between the perspectives of a husband and wife. The wife vanishes suddenly, and the husband is the primary suspect. For the first third of the book, the narrative is predictable and uninvolving, as the husband seems to blunder around and the wife describes her horrific upbringing and her chain of devastating relationships with abusive men. It’s rough going at first, as the characters aren’t particularly likable or involving, but I kept going, noticing the carefully chosen language and expecting a big twist.

As the second third of Finding Tessa begins, the anticipated major reveal flips the script, and from that point forward, I found one of the major characters way more interesting, and the narrative started to get a lot more engaging. It’s a solidly crafted thriller, with particularly shrewd language choices in the early chapters. Readers who are familiar with the genre will likely predict all the major twists and turns, as I did, but the expected “surprises” are well delivered, and it’s a very competent debut novel.

In The Last Commandment by Scott Shepherd, a Scotland Yard inspector a few weeks away from retirement comes up against a serial killer who numbers his victims. An observation by someone close to the inspector leads to the realization that each victim has broken one of the Ten Commandments, and he has to try to save the lives of seven more potential victims.

It’s a good thriller that cuts between scenes like a briskly edited movie, and it’s very effective entertainment despite a few problems. The first is that although they’re enjoyable, some of the major plot twists will be predictable for the experienced reader of thrillers. Also, there are some errors regarding the phrasing and order of the Ten Commandments. The way Catholics, most Protestants, and Jews phrase and order them is, in fact, distinct to each faith; this book seems to confuse all that. The third problem is the relationship between the Scotland Yard inspector and his daughter. They’re estranged at first, and one of the major themes of the book is the repairing of that relationship, but the reasons for the estrangement, revealed late in the book, are unconvincing. Nevertheless, it’s an entertaining book, and I enjoyed most of it.

Mystery fans will find all three of these novels worthwhile.

—Chris Chan