Pages & Paws

Writing, Reading, and Rural Life With a Border Collie

4 Mystery/Suspense Titles: 1 Winner


A legal thriller and a sports novel. Both by the same well-known author. Two murder mysteries.

Four distinct titles. Three are by well-established, “international best-selling” authors: John Grisham and James S. Murray. The fourth book, Mystery In The Hill, is by a newbie: Aaron Qualilo. Which one rises to the top? Here’s our take:

The Stowaway

By James S. Murray and Darren Wearmouth

St. Martin’s Press, 2021

Genre: Thriller/Suspense/Murder Mystery

Maria Fontana is no pushover. She’s the head of the Psychology Department at Columbia University. A mother of two. And one of 12 jurors who sat on one of the most repulsive, heinous murder cases to ever hit a court room.

Alleged serial and antique-watch restorer Wyatt Butler was set free after one juror voted Not Guilty. The media and the young victims’ families have hounded jurors ever since, trying to sniff out the lone holdout that freed a brutal monster. Two years later, the case and its after math still simmer on a slow boil.

Trying to escape the post-trial trauma, Maria decides to take a two-week transatlantic cruise to Southampton with her family. Then dead bodies start showing up with Wyatt’s “signature” calling card. Maria faces a perilous ticking clock. Is a copycat murderer on board? Or did she make a terrible mistake and is consequently trapped at sea with a bloodthirsty psychopath?

Taut and tense, The Stowaway is an absorbing page turner from the get-go as it frames and follows a high-stakes game of cat-and-mouse aboard a luxury cruise ship. It includes a few didn’t-see-that-coming plot twists here. But we had the killer pegged by chapter four.

Even so, you may not want to start this book late at night. It’ll have you thinking twice before booking that next cruise. Overall, however, it’s just too macabre for our taste.


By John Grisham

Doubleday, 2021

Genre: Fiction

The king of courtroom thrillers, John Grisham, takes readers to a different kind of court in this lightning-quick, absorbing read about a young basketball phenom from South Sudan.

Eighteen year old Samuel “Sooley” Sooleyman goes from dribbling on dirt courts in South Sudan to leading a U.S. basketball team to the Final Four. How he got there and what he left behind is masterfully engineered and revealed in this riveting read.

Sooley dreams of playing basketball in the States. When he’s invited to join a Sudanese team for a showcase tournament in the U.S., Sooley jumps at the opportunity -and he has an amazing vertical leap. A gifted athlete, Sooley also has lightning quick speed. But the rest of his game needs work. American scouts aren’t exactly impressed.

During the tourney, Samuel receives word that marauding rebels have torched his village in war-torn Sudan. His father is dead. His sister is missing. His mother and younger brothers wind up in a Ugandan refugee settlement.

Reeling from the news, Sooley is offered a scholarship to North Carolina Central. He spends the first part of the basketball season on the bench. But Sooley’s determination to succeed and nail down an NBA contract is fueled by another goal: bringing his family to America. When injuries sideline a starter, Sooley is called in off the bench. And the legend begins.

The Rooster Bar

By John Grisham

Doubleday, 2017

Fiction/Legal Thriller

Gritty and gripping, The Rooster Bar is a deep dive into the world of greed and corruption of some “for-profit” law schools. Aka: “diploma mills” whose “law degrees” are almost as worthless as the schools that sign them.

This book follows shell companies, off-shore accounts, money laundering, loan sharks, massive student debt incurred to finance worthless degrees from substandard law schools and corruption galore. Think The Sting and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. On steroids. It all comes to a head when three law school students face the suicide of a friend.

Mark, Todd, and Zola are third year law students. They attend a D.C. law school so lousy, it practically takes an Act of God for its graduates pass the bar exam. Even worse, Foggy Bottom Law School grads land good jobs with the frequency of Hailey’s Comet.

All three friends borrowed heavily to finance their law school dreams. Drowning in student debt, it doesn’t take long for the trio long to realize they’ve been had. But when their friend and fellow law student Gordy dies, they find a trail of clues that leads to a scam of the century. Can they find a way out without getting indicted themselves?

Mystery in the Hill

Dorrance Publishing, 2021

By Aaron Qualio

Fiction/Murder Mystery


Truth? I almost gave up on this book.  So not into the whole foul-mouthed macho high school dudes who spend most of their time either blitzed or looking to get blitzed. So I stashed it on a shelf and ignored it for awhile. But I told the author I’d read and review his book. So I felt duty-bound to follow through.

Was I ever surprised.

What begins as a murky murder mystery as seen through the eyes of four potty-mouthed high schoolers suddenly blooms into an intense and sturdy story with enough plot twists to rival the tilt-a-whirl at the county fair. It’s all about a murder from the WWII era. And a few other things. Including a big did-not-see-that-coming ending that makes the whole read worthwhile.

In fact, of the four titles mentioned here, Mystery in the Hill is The Standout. Give it some time. It takes a little while to hit its stride. But once it does, this artfully crafted suspense thriller will keep you turning pages until the very end.



4 thoughts on “4 Mystery/Suspense Titles: 1 Winner

  1. All nice reviews. I’m so glad the new author won the day.

  2. Can’t thank you enough for the kind words. Glad you enjoyed Mystery in the Hill. Take care.

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