2017 Thriller Award-winners, Reviewed

The International Thriller Writers announced the winners of the 2017 ITW Thriller Awards on Saturday at the Thrillerfest banquet. Find their Booklist reviews below. For a complete list of finalists, click here.  To read Best Young Adult Novel-winner A. J. Hartley’s explication of his influences—a Booklist Reader exclusive—click here.


Best Hardcover Novel 

 Before the Fall, by Noah Hawley

On a foggy August night, a private plane flying from Martha’s Vineyard to New York City crashes into the ocean 16 minutes after takeoff, killing nine of the 11 persons aboard. The corporate jet was being used by David Bateman, multimillionaire founder of 24-hour news network ALC, traveling with his wife, Maggie; their children, Rachel, nine, and J. J., four; their friends Ben and Sarah Kipling; a Bateman security guard; a crew of three; and last-minute passenger Scott Burroughs, an artist friend of Maggie’s. Because Burroughs had recently turned his life around and resumed swimming, in which he excelled as a youth, he survives, along with J. J.. As the narrative weaves between the aftermath of the crash to the backstories of those who died, conspiracy theories abound about Bateman’s fame and wealth (which led to Rachel’s being kidnapped as a toddler), Kipling’s pending indictment by the SEC, even the catastrophic scenes that are the subjects of Burroughs’ recent paintings. Hawley ramps up suspense as the investigation into the crash proceeds, along with the level of the commentary by ALC headliner Bill Cunningham, who goes to illegal ends to gather information. A pulse-pounding story, grounded in humanity. —Michele Leber



Best First Novel

The Drifter, by Nicholas Petrie

Lieutenant Peter Ash is attempting to accommodate the intense claustrophobia he developed after returning from Afghanistan by living out of a backpack in the Cascades when he learns that his sergeant, Jimmy Johnson, has committed suicide. Disturbed by the thought that he wasn’t there for his best friend, Peter invents a Marine Corps program that provides repairs to veteran’s homes and heads to Milwaukee to look after Jimmy’s family on the sly. During the demolition of Dinah Johnson’s rotten front porch, Peter finds a suitcase full of cash and plastic explosives that Dinah claims to know nothing about. Peter can’t leave Jimmy’s family until the suitcase and the black SUV he’s noticed casing Dinah’s house are sorted out, so he begins methodically piecing together Jimmy’s last days to find answers. Peter’s sharply intelligent, witty voice strikes the right tone for an honest exploration of the challenges returning veterans face, and while this wandering veteran will remind some of Jack Reacher, Peter’s struggle to overcome PTSD sets him apart. An absorbing thriller debut with heart. —Christine Tran


Best Young Adult Novel 

 Steeplejack, by A. J. Hartley

Seventeen-year-old Anglet Sutonga is the only female steeplejack in the Seventh Street Gang. She’s also the best. When a routine steeple repair job results in the death of a new gang member, Anglet realizes he was murdered. At about the same time, the Bar Selehm city beacon—a large, luminescent luxorite stone—is stolen from its high perch above the market. Anglet is convinced the murder and theft are connected, and she is secretly hired by a rich politician to find evidence, if she can do so before civil war erupts in the city. Skillful writing, masterful pacing, and a capable and quite likable female detective are just a few of the things to love about this fantasy-adventure set in what seems to be a Victorian-era South Africa. The author has a flair for world building, not settling for vivid descriptions of sights and smells but also utilizing social customs to ground Anglet’s story. In addition to the detective angle, Hartley thoughtfully explores such issues as racial relations, inter- and intra-, as Anglet deals with the censure of her own community, and class as she attempts to work outside the political system to solve the murder. This one won’t stay on the shelf long. —Cindy Welch



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