The best brutal thriller books with heart

Who am I?

There's something about broken people trying to do good that has always resonated with me. In basic training, a drill sergeant with debilitating PTSD told us what combat would be like through a storm of choking sobs and a haze of tears. He needed us to know. Even if it broke him. Working as an investigator in Denver and Washington, I watched people with complicated pasts and uncertain futures fight tooth and nail (sometimes literally) to put human traffickers behind bars. Literature has always been a bridle for that wildness I saw in the world. A tool for taking the ghashing, stomping, unruliness of the human experience and making it rideable, relatable, survivable.

I wrote...

Flash Bang

By Kellen Burden,

Book cover of Flash Bang

What is my book about?

Dishonorably Discharged Army CID Agent Sebastian Parks finds bad men. He digs into their lives and uncovers their faults and once he's locked his jaw, there is no shaking him off. With the help of John Harkin, a former Army Ranger, and Navy medic Eric "Etch" Echevarria, Parks drags Denver's most wanted felons, flailing and wailing, back behind bars.

When the body of a local Muslim teenager is found outside a Denver nightclub, the boy's father turns to the only man unrelenting enough to promise him justice. "Find the man who killed my son. Find him and kill him."

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Beat the Reaper

Kellen Burden Why did I love this book?

A savage, icepick of a hitman novel that will bury itself in your cerebellum. It’s a slippery, sexy book about the making and subsequent unmaking of a contract killer, complete with all the usual trappings and a few resolutely unusual ones. halfway through this novel, I realized that there weren't any rules to this. That you just built humans from scratch and turned them loose in your world and whatever they did, they did.  A guy stabs someone with his own fibula in this book. Eat that Macgyver. 

By Josh Bazell,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Beat the Reaper as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Doctor will see you now....

Meet Peter Brown, a young Manhattan ER Doctor who has a past he'd prefer to stay hidden. When a figure from the old days emerges it looks increasingly unlikely that his secret will stay intact.
Nicholas LoBrutto, aka Eddy Squillante, is given three months to live, and it's clear to Peter that the clock is ticking for both of them. He must do whatever it takes to keep him - and his patient - alive.

It's time to beat the reaper....

Book cover of Hell Is Empty

Kellen Burden Why did I love this book?

This one is a standout of the Longmire series. A bus full of serial killers mashes its potatoes into the side of a mountain during a whiteout and it’s up to Absaroka County Sheriff Walt Longmire to get rounded them up. There’s an epicness about this story that leaves you feeling like you’re riding a literary wave into the pilings and Craig Johnson paints the whole debacle with a Hillerman-esque mysticism and his own singular brand of stoic humor. 

By Craig Johnson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hell Is Empty as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The seventh book in the New York Times bestselling Longmire series, featuring Sheriff Walt Longmire.

Raynaud Shade, an adopted Crow Indian and one of the country's most dangerous sociopaths, has just confessed to murdering a boy twenty years ago and burying him deep within the Bighorn Mountains. Absaroka County Sherriff Walt Longmire must escort Shade through a snowstorm to the site, but the mission turns personal when Walt learns whom the dead boy's family is.

Guided only by Indian mysticism and a battered paperback of Dante's Inferno, Walt braves the icy hell of the Cloud Peak Wilderness Area, cheating death…

Book cover of Dark of the Moon

Kellen Burden Why did I love this book?

The first of the Virgil Flowers novels, which is an offshoot of the (also spectacular) Lucas Davenport series. The story follows BCA investigator Virgil Flowers through the Minnesota backwoods as he works an arson/murder case. This book is different from a few of the others on this list in that it isn’t going to ruin you emotionally. It’s funny. Hell, its just fun. The hero is a well-meaning horndog who regularly forgets to bring his gun to work. The case is twisty and satisfying and the characters are so well fleshed out that when it’s over you just want to pick up your phone and invite them out for a burger. I eat this series like candy. 

By John Sandford,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dark of the Moon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14.

What is this book about?

The first Virgil Flowers novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author John Sandford.

"Virgil Flowers, introduced in bestseller Sandford's Prey series, gets a chance to shine...The thrice-divorced, affable member of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), who reports to Prey series hero Lucas Davenport, operates pretty much on his own.."*

He's been doing the hard stuff for three years, but he's never seen anything like this. In the small rural town of Bluestem, an old man is bound in his basement, doused with gasoline and set on fire. Three weeks before, a doctor and his wife were murdered.…

Book cover of No Country for Old Men

Kellen Burden Why did I love this book?

A man finds money. The cartels want it back. If anyone but Cormac McCarthy wrote it, it would be a played-out concept, but because Cormac McCarthy wrote it, it cores you out like a mealy apple and leaves a hole in you for life to fill with lessons. There is a western noir quality to this novel that is ruthless and poetic and unforgettable. He builds this despotic world full of all the different kinds of evil and you just sit there with your jaw in your lap and watch it tear itself apart. Beautiful.

By Cormac McCarthy,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked No Country for Old Men as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Llewelyn Moss, hunting antelope near the Rio Grande, instead finds men shot dead, a load of heroin, and more than $2 million in cash. Packing the money out, he knows, will change everything. But only after two more men are murdered does a victim's burning car lead Sheriff Bell to the carnage out in the desert, and he soon realizes that Moss and his young wife are in desperate need of protection. One party in the failed transaction hires an ex-Special Forces officer to defend his interests against a mesmerizing freelancer, while on either side are men accustomed to spectacular…

Book cover of Flight

Kellen Burden Why did I love this book?

A Native American teen goes on a terrible spirit quest. Every teenager should have to read this book. It captures a stilted, youthful, rage in a way that is bracing and it examines it unapologetically but without glorification. Then, when you are lost in the woods of all that, Alexie takes your hand and leads you back out of it. Builds a perspective out of a kaleidoscope of violence that is cathartic and memorable.

By Sherman Alexie,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Flight as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the National Book Award–winning author of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, the tale of a troubled boy’s trip through history.

Half Native American and half Irish, fifteen-year-old “Zits” has spent much of his short life alternately abused and ignored as an orphan and ward of the foster care system. Ever since his mother died, he’s felt alienated from everyone, but, thanks to the alcoholic father whom he’s never met, especially disconnected from other Indians.
After he runs away from his latest foster home, he makes a new friend. Handsome, charismatic, and eloquent, Justice soon persuades Zits…

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Book cover of The Saucer-Heads

George Bixley

New book alert!

What is my book about?

Hired to track down Finley, the missing boyfriend of tech worker Truax, investigator Slater Ibáñez soon discovers that the job isn’t really what he was asked to do.

The search for Finley leads him to an arcane book and the flying-saucer subculture, where a deep dive takes Slater out into the Mojave Desert, leaving him unsure of the precise boundaries of reality itself. With input from Doris and his operatives, and begrudging help from his romantic partner, Pike, to weasel him out of a jam, Slater cuts a dogged path to sort out what Truax really wants, and what Finley is really up to, all the while juggling high explosives, navigating his deepening narrative complex with Pike, and never failing to throw that punch.

5 book lists we think you will like!

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