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Thrillers: Pick Up the Unputdownable

Books that will be chilling bones, tingling spines, and sending heartbeats racing this fall. 

The definition of a "thrill" is "a sudden rush of excitement," and so the thriller genre is one in which such rushes are a fundamental part of the reading experience. How writers go about creating these thrills is what makes each book unique, but the most successful employ a mix of suspense, fast pacing, and crazy plot twists that keep readers on the edge of their seats (or beds) the whole way through.

"I couldn't put it down," is how most readers describe it when a writer employs these thrills just right. 

The following are books that will be chilling bones, tingling spines, and sending heartbeats racing this fall. 


Book Cover Place of Shining Light

The Place of Shining Light, by Nazneen Sheikh

About the book: Three men race against time to take possession of a sacred 5,000-year-old Buddhist sculpture: Khalid, a leading Pakistani antiquities dealer, arranges for the illegal importation of the statue from neighbouring Afghanistan. Ghalib, a wealthy art collector with political aspirations, has purchased the statue for his private collection. Adeel, a highly recommended ex-military officer, is hired by Khalid to transport the sculpture to its final destination.

When Adeel first views the statue in a cave in Bamiyan—known as “the place of shining light”—he has a profound spiritual reaction and decides to steal the sculpture for himself. When Khalid and Ghalib realize their prized possession is missing, they conspire to do whatever it takes to have it returned—before it’s lost forever.

Why we're taking notice: In a recent Toronto Star review, the novel was found to be less thrilling than "stirring and thought-provoking." We think this isn't necessarily a bad thing...


Book Cover Black Feathers

Black Feathers, by Robert J. Wiersema

About the book: Sixteen-year-old runaway Cassie Weathers is utterly alone, living on the streets of Victoria as winter sets in. She meets Skylark, a girl who draws her into a community of street dwellers, a rag tag group led by the charismatic Brother Paul.

Cassie begins to find friendship and a tentative sense of belonging within the group, though everyone is on edge when the city is rocked by the news that a number of young prostitutes have been murdered. Cassie is haunted by dreams and the secrets that she fled from at home. What is real from her past and what exists only in her night terrors? How did the darkness of her dreams slip into her life back then, and why does it seem to be happening again? Under the spectre of a serial killer and questioning her own violent nature, Cassie spirals into complex dreamworlds where her past blurs with her present and nothing can be trusted.

Why we're taking notice: We've been marvelling at Wiersema's storytelling since Before I Wake nearly a decade ago. Not to mention that he's part of the 49th Shelf family. His Shelf Talkers column featuring indie booksellers' monthly picks is one of the most popular series on our site. 


Book Cover Experimental Film

Experimental Film, by Gemma Files

About the book: Fired at almost the same time as her son Clark's Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis, former film critic turned teacher Lois Cairns is caught in a depressive downward spiral, convinced she's a failure who's spent half her adult life writing about other people's dreams without ever seeing any of her own come true. One night, however, she attends a program of Torontonian experimental film and emerges convinced she's seen something no one else has-a sampled piece of silver nitrate silent film footage whose existence might prove that an eccentric early 20th century Ontario socialite who disappeared under mysterious circumstances was also one of Canada's first female moviemakers.

Why we're taking notice: Files' work is internationally acclaimed and she deserves to be better-known in her home country. She has previously won the International Horror Guild Award and the Black Quill Award. She has been nominated for the Lambda, the Stoker, and the Shirley Jackson Awards.


Book Cover Playing With Fire

Playing With Fire, by Gail Anderson-Dargatz

About the book: Small-town journalist Claire Abbott has a sixth sense, what the fire chief calls a “radar for crime.” When a string of suspicious fires breaks out in town, Claire thinks she knows who the firebug is. Or does she? She finds there is much more to the story than she imagined. Worse, no one will believe her. The firebug is getting bolder, and the fires he sets more dangerous. Claire is now in a race against time to catch the arsonist in the act before he takes a life.

Why we're taking notice: Gail Anderson-Dargatz (The Cure for Death by Lightning) is one of Canada's most celebrated authors. This is her second Claire Abbott Mystery, part of Orca Books' series of short books for adults targeted at ESL students, reluctant readers, adults who struggle with literacy and anyone who wants a high-interest quick read.


Book Cover Open Season

Open Season, by Peter Kirby

About the book: A Guatemalan journalist is kidnapped, and the only message from her kidnappers is the murder of her lawyer. In a race against time, Luc Vanier sets about reconstructing her life, through the sordid world of human trafficking, the secretive underbelly of a multinational mining corporation, and the hiding places of desperate refugees. When Vanier is brutally warned off the investigation, he throws away the rule book and goes after the villains with a vengeance.

Why we're taking notice: This is Kirby's third Luc Vanier novel; all three have been critical acclaimed. And how could we not be taking notice of a book about desperate refugees considering recent news headlines? 


Book Cover Broken Promise

Broken Promise, by Linwood Barclay

About the book: After his wife's death and the collapse of his newspaper, David Harwood has no choice but to uproot his nine-year-old son and move back into his childhood home in Promise Falls, New York. David believes his life is in free fall, and he can't find a way to stop his descent.

Then he comes across a family secret of epic proportions. A year after a devastating miscarriage, David's cousin Marla has continued to struggle. But when David's mother asks him to check on her, he's horrified to discover that she's been secretly raising a child who is not her own—a baby she claims was a gift from an "angel" left on her porch.

When the baby's real mother is found murdered, David can't help wanting to piece together what happened--even if it means proving his own cousin's guilt. But as he uncovers each piece of evidence, David realizes that Marla's mysterious child is just the tip of the iceberg.

Other strange things are happening. Animals are found ritually slaughtered. An ominous abandoned Ferris wheel seems to stand as a warning that something dark has infected Promise Falls. And someone has decided that the entire town must pay for the sins of its past ... in blood.

Why we're taking notice: Do you even need to ask? Read that book description. BUT, also Barclay is an internationally renowned bestselling author, and a previous winner of the Arthur Ellis Award. 


Book Cover Those Girls

Those Girls, by Chevy Stevens

About the book: Life has never been easy for the three Campbell sisters. Jess, Courtney, and Dani live on a remote ranch in Western Canada where they work hard and try to stay out of the way of their father's fists. One night, a fight gets out of hand and the sisters are forced to go on the run, only to get caught in an even worse nightmare when their truck breaks down in a small town. Events spiral out of control and a chance encounter with the wrong people leaves them in a horrific and desperate situation. They are left with no choice but to change their names and create new lives.

Eighteen years later, they are still trying to forget what happened that summer when one of the sisters goes missing and they are pulled back into their past.

This time there's nowhere left to run.

Why we're taking notice: Stevens' debut, Still Missing, was a runaway success. We're always interested in whatever she's writing.


Book Cover Executor

Executor, by Louise Carson

About the book: When the poet Eleanor Brandon dies, an apparent suicide, Peter Forrest, her former student, sometime lover and now a married professor, is asked to be her literary executor. He agrees, although he makes it clear that he is only interested in bringing her poetry to publication, not in dealing with the legacy of her social activism on behalf of Chinese dissidents. But after a trip to China, where he and his wife are adopting a third Chinese orphan, Peter finds himself drawn into not only the politics so dear to Eleanor, but a life-threatening plot.

Why we're taking notice: Who wouldn't want to read a thriller by an award-winning poet whose talents range so wide that she's sung in the choir of the Canadian Opera Company? "As contemporary as it is chilling, Executor delves into the dark world of transplant tourism and shows how well-meaning families get drawn into the nefarious dealings of multinational corporations and corrupt regimes." 


Book Cover Captive

Captive, by Claudine Dumont

About the book: In the spirit of Emma Donoghue’s international bestseller RoomCaptive throws readers into the mind of a woman who wakes to find herself in a terrifying and surreal situation: she’s confined to a small grey room and she has no idea why she’s there.

Emma has an unremarkable life, a mundane job, and very little contact with her family and friends. Night after night she drinks to forget until one evening she’s jolted out of her routine. She wakes up in a concrete room furnished with only a mattress and a ceiling lamp. Emma is seized by terror. She feels real emotion for the first time in a long time. She tries to make sense of what is happening to her, where she is, who has taken her, and why. As the days, weeks, and possibly months pass she develops a routine that helps her survive her circumstances. But just as Emma begins to find comfort in her routine she receives another terrifying jolt and she must adapt to new circumstances. Her mysterious captors subject her to various tests that push her to her limit and make her question everything about herself, including her will to survive.

Why we're taking notice: The book has already received great reviews. Ian McGillis in the Montreal Gazette writes, " Everything hinges on Dumont’s ability to make you feel Emma’s confusion, panic and anger, and happily ... that’s exactly what she does, aided by David Scott Hamilton’s translation."


Book Cover Exceptional Circumstances

Exceptional Circumstances, by James Bartleman

About the book: Autumn, 1970: Hostage-taking separatists in Quebec abduct a foreign diplomat and a cabinet minister and threaten violence across the country. As fear sets in, the government turns to Luc Cadotte, a specialist on international terrorism and veteran of the clandestine struggles in Latin America. 

From the jungles of Colombia to Montreal under siege, former diplomat James Bartleman plots a turbulent thriller based on events he witnessed first-hand. Swerving between fanatical ideologues and crass careerists with bloody hands, Cadotte has to choose sides when they all seem dirty, and put everything on the line in a crisis that puts all that he stands for to the test.

Why we're taking notice: As a retired diplomat and author of acclaimed works including As Long as the Rivers Flow, Bartleman is well placed to write this novel exceptionally well.  

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