Hot thrillers in time for the holidays

Posted at 9:50 AM, Nov 26, 2012
and last updated 2012-11-26 09:50:00-05

By Christian DuChateau

(CNN) — Some of the biggest names in publishing and many of the most eagerly anticipated titles of the year are hitting bookstore shelves just in time for the holiday shopping season. So if you’re searching for a gift for a loved one or just looking for a good book to curl up with on the couch, here are four novels out this week for anyone looking for a page load of thrills.

Michael Connelly, “The Black Box” Michael Connelly has been a favorite among crime fiction fans for two decades. His books have sold 45 million copies worldwide, and he’s won every award given to mystery writers. This year, he celebrates a major milestone: the publication of his 25th novel in 20 years. “The Black Box” features Connelly’s best known character, LAPD Detective Harry Bosch, back on the case.

This time out, Bosch is tracking down a killer in a 20-year-old unsolved murder. The victim is a young female photojournalist shot during the infamous 1992 Los Angeles riots. At first, Bosch has little to go on beyond a shell casing from the missing murder weapon. But the determined detective continues to dig, searching for the so-called black box of the title, the one piece of evidence that brings the crime into focus and pulls the case together. Connelly’s plot is packed with procedural detail but moves quickly, taking several unexpected turns along the way. And while he’s grown older, Bosch hasn’t slowed down; he continues to grow more interesting and reveal new levels of depth behind his badge.

With the case coming to a climax, Bosch is forced to battle the bureaucracy of the LAPD as well as the bad guys, but readers won’t be disappointed as Connelly proves again that neither he nor Bosch has lost his touch.

Eliot Pattison, “Mandarin Gate” At first glance, Inspector Shan Tao Yun of Eliot Pattison’s latest, “Mandarin Gate,” couldn’t be more different from Harry Bosch. He’s a former police inspector from Beijing who lost his job, his family and his freedom after pursuing a case that implicated high-ranking members of China’s communist regime. As punishment, Shan was sentenced to years of hard labor in a Tibetan work camp.

Now, in Pattison’s seventh novel featuring Shan, the former inspector has been unofficially released but is still unable to return to his former home. A man without a country and no official identity, he’s forced to take shelter with a group of outlawed Buddhist monks in the remote mountains. Working a menial job as a ditch inspector, he stumbles across a gruesome crime scene: Three people, including a Tibetan nun, have been murdered at an old Buddhist temple.

Like Harry Bosch, Shan is a man of passion and principle; the murders reignite old instincts, and Shan begins a dangerous search for the truth. His investigation quickly uncovers what could be a coverup by Chinese authorities, and Shan knows that solving the case could land him right back in prison.

The Edgar award-winning Pattison portrays the oppression of the Tibetan people with dramatic delicacy and rich insight. While “Mandarin Gate” is set in a locale farther away than most readers will ever dare venture, this mystery brings the plight of Tibet into sharp focus, weaving the region’s cultural, social and political conflict into a compelling narrative.

“City of Dark Magic” by Magnus Flyte The genre-bending “City of Dark Magic” is difficult to describe, and that’s a good thing. An entertaining mix of magic, mystery and romance, it’s one of the most original novels released this year.

Musicologist and Beethoven expert Sarah Weston receives an unexpected invitation to travel to Prague, where she spends the summer working for a wealthy family, researching and cataloging the world-famous composer’s manuscripts at their private museum. Soon after she arrives, strange things start to happen. Weston discovers that her academic mentor may have been murdered, and she uncovers a mystery that reaches all the way back to the 16th century.

To reveal much more would spoil the fun, but author Magnus Flyte, a pseudonym for authors Meg Howrey and Christina Lynch, has taken the “kitchen sink” approach to the plot. The authors packed their debut novel with page after page of unexpected twists. There’s an ex-CIA agent, a handsome prince, a Cold War-era plot, time travel, hell portals and a 400-year-old dwarf with an attitude. Prague, with its rich, mysterious history, is the perfect backdrop for the story. Fans of classical music will appreciate the trivia-like detail on Beethoven and the search for his “Immortal Beloved.”

This all may sound a bit scattered, but Weston is an appealing heroine, and the over-the-top story doesn’t take itself too seriously. Howrey and Lynch say they wrote the book via e-mail, alternating chapters, and it certainly reads like they had a good time putting it together, even leaving the door open for a sequel.

“Cold Days” by Jim Butcher There’s much more magic in Jim Butcher’s newest, “Cold Days.” This is his 14th novel featuring the immensely popular Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard and private investigator. Equal parts Sam Spade and Gandalf the Grey, Harry is dead at the beginning of the book — mostly, anyway.

Wait, what?

Fans needn’t worry. Although Harry was murdered in the last installment of the best-selling series, he is brought back to life by a powerful being called Mab, Queen of Air and Darkness. Now, Harry is no longer a mere mortal; he has become the Winter Knight, with a slew of newfound powers. The catch? Harry is indebted to Mab, eternally. Her word is his command, literally, and what she has planned for him makes death look like a holiday.

While the story could be classified as pure fantasy, written from Harry’s wisecracking point of view, the book is thrilling fun and, like “City of Dark Magic,” not too self-important. For readers searching for something different, “Cold Days” will cast a spell over many who might not typically opt for a fantasy title.

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