"The Kill Room"

By Jeffery Deaver

Part of the joy in watching an ace baseball pitcher throw a perfect game is that every toss is different and the batter can't figure out what's coming next. Jeffery Deaver has written an ace thriller to keep readers guessing and gasping with his latest Lincoln Rhyme thriller, "The Kill Room." A master magician with words, Deaver misdirects with one tale while what's really going on is just off the reader's radar.

A U.S. citizen visiting the Bahamas is shot and killed. Why would Rhyme, a detective with a brilliant mind capable of deciphering even the tiniest forensic clue, be interested in such a case? For starters, the "million-dollar bullet" was fired from almost a mile away. And the shattering glass from the shot killed two other people in the room. But what persuades him most of all is New York Assistant District Attorney Nance Laurel, who believes the killing was ordered by a government agency. She hopes, with Rhyme's help, to prosecute both the person who ordered the killing and the shooter himself.

What Rhyme and his team don't realize is that they are dealing with an individual who knows their every move. He is able to get inside information on their progress and decides to cover his tracks and eliminate any and all witnesses.

The numerous twists and turns in "The Kill Room" are so fast and furious that by the novel's end, the reader will be dizzy - and clamoring for more.

Jeff Ayers, The Associated Press

"If You Were Here: a Novel of Suspense"

By Alafair Burke

Alafair Burke has written another puzzling and captivating tale with "If You Were Here."

McKenna Wright, a writer for New York City magazine, is investigating a corrupt judge when she hears of a woman rescuing a teen who had fallen onto subway tracks. After the woman pulled him to safety, she ran away. Cameras in the area malfunctioned, and the only video Wright sees is from a shaky cellphone.

Watching the blurry images, McKenna believes the woman is her friend Susan Hauptmann. However, that would be impossible, because Susan disappeared 10 years ago.

The more McKenna looks into what happened, the more she appears to be thwarted. The cellphone video vanishes, and the article she was writing about the judge blows up in her face. Her husband doesn't believe her. Neither do the police. With nowhere to go, McKenna decides the answers are 10 years in the past.

What she finds will not be pleasant.

Alafair Burke excels in writing compelling character-driven stories mixed with baffling mysteries. It's difficult at times to understand why Susan was McKenna's best friend and how their friendship endured under such bizarre circumstances, but that's a minor quibble. The questions raised - such as how the individual matters in the overall grand scheme of things and how one person can influence many lives - will have introspective readers looking in the mirror while they try to solve the mystery.

"The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics"

By Daniel James Brown

Before March Madness and the Super Bowl ever existed, the big-time sports that mattered to most Americans included boxing, horse racing and, yes, collegiate rowing. Tens of thousands of spectators would line the Hudson River at Poughkeepsie, N.Y., for the national championships, which drew coverage that matched the Kentucky Derby, the Rose Bowl or the World Series.

The greatest eight-oar crew may well have been the scrappy underdogs from the University of Washington who won the 1936 championship and went on to take the gold medal in the 1936 Olympics in a thrilling competition in Adolf Hitler's Berlin.

Daniel James Brown's account of how blue-collar oarsmen with roots in lumber mills, dairy farms, shipyards and mining camps prevailed over teams from elite Eastern colleges and went on to the Olympics is set against the grim realities of the Great Depression and the rise of Nazi Germany. This riveting and inspiring saga evokes that of Seabiscuit, another upstart who came out of the West.

The central figure is Joe Rantz, who endured a Dickensian childhood before being abandoned by his impoverished family and left to fend for himself. Rowing provided an antidote to life's hardships and imbued Rantz with a sense of purpose and the opportunity for a college education.

"The brutal afternoon workouts left him exhausted and sore but feeling cleansed, as if someone had scrubbed out his soul with a wire brush," writes Brown, who met and interviewed Rantz as he was dying of heart disease at the home of his daughter, a neighbor of the author.

Other characters who come to life include Al Ulbrickson, the Huskies coach whose quiet demeanor didn't mask his determination to win Olympic gold, a feat that archrival University of California had accomplished twice. There is also the team's mentor, British-born George Yeoman Pocock, the renowned designer of racing shells who offers valuable lessons about rowing and life to Rantz and other team members.

Brown identifies crew as the toughest of all sports, one that tests the limits of human endurance. His fast-paced book skillfully lays out the mechanics of rowing, the secrets of boat design and the blend of power, stamina, will and intellect required to produce a champion. Above all is the need for teamwork, the ability of the crew to work in unison and achieve that degree of perfection known as "swing," where everyone on the boat is in sync.

Readers need neither background nor interest in competitive rowing to be captivated by this remarkable and beautifully crafted history. Written with the drama of a compelling novel, it's a quintessentially American story that burnishes the esteem in which we embrace what has come to be known as the Greatest Generation.

Jerry Harkavy, The Associated Press

Jeff Ayers, The Associated Press