Hot thrillers in time for the holidays

Story highlights

  • Michael Connelly brings back hard-boiled detective Harry Bosch in "The Black Box"
  • Eliot Pattison chronicles mysterious investigator Shan Tao Yun in "Mandarin Gate"
  • "City of Dark Magic" by Magnus Flyte is a genre-busting novel of magic and mystery
  • "Cold Days" is Jim Butcher's 14th novel featuring the popular Harry Dresden character

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.

Read an excerpt from "The Black Box"

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.

Read an excerpt from "Mandarin Gate"

"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.

Read an excerpt from "City of Dark Magic"

"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.

Read an excerpt from "Cold Days"

Like CNN Living on Facebook

      Catching up with authors

    • 'Better Nate Than Ever'

      Author Tim Federle has just wrapped a long day at the Atlanta Junior Theater festival, working with several thousand boys and girls who dream of stardom on the Broadway stage. Count these kids as lucky; they've found the perfect mentor.
    • Novelist loses dog, finds heroine

      There's good and bad news regarding Robert Crais' new novel, "Suspect." First, the bad: There's no sign of uber-popular, crime-fighting duo, Elvis Cole and Joe Pike. Now the good: There is a dog.
    • Robert Butler, author of "The Hot Country."

      'The Hot Country' is a cool trip

      In "The Hot Country," U.S. troops invade a foreign country where oil interests are at stake, a rising foreign power is looking to derail U.S. forces using cloak and dagger tactics, and there's a gunfight in the desert against insurgent enemies.
    • Think like Sherlock Holmes'

      This week super fans from around the world are gathering in New York to celebrate the 159th birthday of the legendary consulting detective Sherlock Holmes.
    • The two Mikes of mystery

      Fans of crime fiction know the names Connelly and Koryta well. Two Mikes. Two generations. Two masters of their craft.
    • Crime classic Parker is back in black

      Crime fiction fans know the name Parker, a single-named anti-hero of the 1960s. As a character, he's a career criminal, hired gun and professional thief, a pulp-fiction prince of America's seedy underworld.
    • 'Talulla Rising' a howling good read

      Werewolves are usually the stuff of B-movies and bad novels, but last year British author Glen Duncan did the unthinkable in literary circles, crafting a howling good tale out of the weary werewolf myth.
    • Thriller fans enlist for 'Mission to Paris'

      Best-selling author Alan Furst has made a career of capturing the classic cloak-and-dagger days leading up to World War II, bringing the era to life like a literary version of "Casablanca."
    • Rich Roll: From fat dad to ultra-fit father

      The night before he turned 40, Rich Roll had what he calls a "moment of clarity." Overweight and out of shape, Roll had to stop to catch his breath while walking up the stairs of his Southern California home. Roll, now a father of four, feared he was close to a heart attack.
    • 'Longmire' gallops from page to screen

      Craig Johnson looks like he could have stepped out of the pages of one of his own best-selling Western novels. With the late-day sun behind him, he could even pass for his fictional hero, Sheriff Walt Longmire.
    • "The Ball" details how a simple invention has come through time to stake an unrivaled claim on our passions.

      Behind 'The Ball': Why we play

      It's one of our simplest yet most enduring inventions. While the games have evolved, the ball in all its various forms continues to play a key role in different cultures around the world.
    • Marcia Clark, former O.J. Simpson case prosecutor, has become a crime novelist.

      Clark trades courtroom for crime fiction

      Former O.J. Simpson trial prosecturo Marcia Clark became a household name as the lead prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson murder trial. Clark is still mining her past, only now as a successful crime novelist.
    • New fiction releases promise to be thrilling this spring.

      Three must-read thrillers for spring

      Bookshelves are bursting with a bevy of great new titles this spring but we wanted to highlight a trio of new thrillers that truly bring history to life.
    • James Patterson co-wrote his latest, "Guilty Wives," with David Ellis.

      The world's busiest best-seller

      James Patterson may be the top-selling writer in the world; he might very well be the busiest, too. Patterson has three books near the top of the bestseller lists right now.
    • Olen Steinhauer's latest spy thriller involves popular character CIA agent Milo Weaver.

      Author uncovers 'An American Spy'

      Muffled gun shots and squealing tires. A secret midnight meeting in a dark alley. Everyone recognizes the classic elements of a good cloak and dagger story.
    • New releases for the month of March shine a spotlight on history.

      Must-reads for March

      History, from ancient Greece to hopscotching across time, plays a prominent role in March's best books.
    • Esi Edugyan's novel "Half-Blood Blues" is a portrayal of black jazz musicians in Nazi Germany.

      Author plays the 'Half-Blood Blues'

      Imagine a smoke-filled jazz club, dark and crowded. The sounds of a trumpet solo echo on stage, while a piano, bass and drums pound out a finger-snapping groove.
    • Robert Crais gives private detectives Elvis Cole and Joe Pike a new kind of crime to solve in "Taken."

      Crais fans 'Taken' on thrilling ride

      We should all be so lucky to have friends like Elvis Cole and Joe Pike. Private detectives in modern-day Los Angeles, they're the stars of best-selling author Robert Crais' award-winning series of crime novels.
    • Author Elmore Leomard returns to one of his favorite characters in "Raylan."

      Elmore Leonard returns to "Raylan"

      Elmore Leonard is something of a living legend among lovers of crime fiction. A favorite of millions of readers, a hero to scores of writers, he's been called "America's greatest crime writer."