The best books to take you to unfamiliar places and raise your blood pressure

Ellen Frankel Author Of The Deadly Scrolls: Volume 1
By Ellen Frankel

Who am I?

I’ve been fascinated by mysteries since I was little. I've also always loved puzzles and brain-teasers. I’ve been a student of Jewish folklore, including folktales, superstitions, mystical ideas, and supernatural creatures all my life. I look for books that challenge my ability to unravel tangles and take me out of my everyday experience. I love mysteries that morph into thrillers, changing the question from “Whodunit” to “What’s at stake?” I read incessantly and obsessively, always on the lookout for new exotic locales, some history that I don’t know, eccentric characters, clever plotting. My own writing traces these same paths, and I love learning from new masters of the genre as well as newbies.

I wrote...

The Deadly Scrolls: Volume 1

By Ellen Frankel,

Book cover of The Deadly Scrolls: Volume 1

What is my book about?

A professor’s murder reveals his discovery of a lost Dead Sea Scroll, whose text encodes the secret hiding places of the lost Second Temple Treasures. Israeli intelligence agent Maya Rimon races against time to stop a religious extremist from launching a terrorist attack at the next Blood Moon, triggering the Apocalypse. The story centers around a genuine historical artifact, the Copper Scroll, whose secrets still remain undeciphered by contemporary scholars and treasure hunters. 

Laced with clever spycraft, encrypted electronic files, mysterious ancient puzzles, plastique explosives, car chases, and Sherlockian ratiocination, The Deadly Scrolls explores the timely theme of fanaticism: among Christian millennialists, Jewish messianists, Islamic terrorists, Israeli politicians, Orthodox Jews, conspiracy theorists, devout Zionists—and spies. In other words, it’s a Jewish Da Vinci Code!

The books I picked & why

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Blacktop Wasteland

By S.A. Cosby,

Book cover of Blacktop Wasteland

Why this book?

This is a high-octane thriller that never lets you relax—and I enjoyed every thrilling minute of it. Beauregard Montage, the fastest driver you’ll ever meet in prose, tries to get ahead through one daring con after another, and has us rooting for him all the way. I loved the slick, urbane, Southern voice of the narrator, the dizzying pace of the narrative, and the heartfelt passion of all the characters. It’s a joy ride I’ll never forget!

Harlem Shuffle

By Colson Whitehead,

Book cover of Harlem Shuffle

Why this book?

Colson Whitehead takes us into the bowels of 1960s Harlem, where slick operators, ruthless conmen, and aspiring citizens rub shoulders. I liked Ray Carney as soon as I met him and felt bad that life kept tossing him curveballs. Like his cousin Freddie, who dragged him into a life of crime and high anxiety. The book is funny, poignant, fast-paced, and utterly absorbing. And the prose, like all of Whitehead’s writing, dazzles and delights.

Red Bones

By Ann Cleeves,

Book cover of Red Bones

Why this book?

I’d like to recommend the whole Shetland series by Ann Cleves, which has been made into a gripping TV series. But if I had to pick one book, it’s Red Bones, about an archaeological find of human remains on one of the Shetland Islands. What I most like about this series is the atmospheric vibes given off by the Shetland Islands, so remote and unfamiliar to most readers that it’s like traveling to a foreign planet. And Cleeves’ detective hero, Jimmy Perez, whose Spanish name immediately marks him as an exception to any rules on the islands, pursues his investigations with a singular integrity and humility that makes his success as a detective all the more remarkable.

When a young archaeologist discovers a set of human remains, the locals are intrigued. Is it an ancient find—or a more contemporary mystery? Then an elderly woman is fatally shot and Ann Cleeves's popular series detective Jimmy Perez is called in. As claustrophobic mists swirl around the island, Inspector Perez finds himself totally in the dark.

The First Rule of Ten

By Gay Hendricks, Tinker Lindsay,

Book cover of The First Rule of Ten

Why this book?

It’s great to find a first mystery novel written by an author who’s established himself previously in non-fiction. Like me, that is. The protagonist of this series, Tenzing Norbu, is a Tibetan monk turned cop turned private investigator, who brings his spiritual training to bear as he pursues bad guys. But Tenzing is no pious monastic. He loves cats (especially his own cat named Tank), beautiful women, cold beer, and fast-paced adventure. I love the combination of humor and action in the narrative, and the quirky character that Ten meets, employs, and captures. Definitely a different spin on the detective genre!

The Dry

By Jane Harper,

Book cover of The Dry

Why this book?

After watching Australia burn up recently from a series of catastrophic wildfires, I’ve come to appreciate what drought means Down-under. In this mystery, Jane Harper sets the narrative against a background of dry tinder, making the reader feel both parched and anxious. The writing is sophisticated and evocative. I don’t have to travel to Australia to feel that I’ve been there and witnessed its menace and charm.

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