Force of Nature
Jane Harper
(MacMillan $32.99)

Harper's debut The Dry - set in the Australian outback - was one of the best thrillers of 2017 and set high expectations for the Melbourne-based, British born, writer's follow-up.

Anyone who has suffered through the peculiar hells of a corporate team-building retreat will find plenty of vicarious pleasure here. None of the five women who turn up to spend three days in the wilderness really want to be there and the one who fails to return is the least liked of the group.

The Dry's Aaron Falk, a Federal Agent with a troubled past, is back - as is another of Harper's wonderfully malevolent landscapes; this time the rugged Giralang Ranges, known for an Ivan Milat–like serial killer, whose son is rumoured to still haunt the area.

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Force of Nature is another crisply written, character-centric thriller, that ticks all the thriller boxes while zeroing in on the everyday darkness which lurks inside us all.

Sophomore slump? Not a chance.

Red Sparrow
Jason Matthews
(Simon & Schuster $17.99)

Spies writing spy novels is nothing new - Graham Green, John Le Carre, Stella Rimington spring to mind and Matthews' 2013 debut - rereleased on the back of the Jennifer Lawrence movie is a worthy addition to the genre, this time from an American perspective. Matthews started writing after a long career with the CIA and this experience and knowledge of tradecraft and the compelling settings and characters make this a fascinating insight into real-world ops.

Dominika is an ex ballerina recruited by the SVR - modern-day KGB - by her venal Uncle. The title refers to a "whore school" - apparently once a real thing in Russia - where selected men and women recruits were taught the art of the "honey-trap".

The running of agents, the tedious self-serving bureaucracy, the dead drops, foot pursuits and embassy parties – all the standbys of espionage fiction are here, including, bizarrely, recipes at the end of each chapter.

Matthew's isn't the prose stylist of Le Carre but that doesn't stop Red Sparrow from being enormously entertaining. The good news? The third and final Sparrow book - The Kremlin's Candidate - has just been released, but start here and clear the weekend. Highly recommended.

Crystal Reign
Kelly Lyndon
(Remnant Press $34.99)

"This is the book I wanted to read but could not find..." - says Auckland- based author Lyndon - who usually publishes Romance fiction under a pseudonym. This is quite a change of direction. The opening chapter, detailing an Antoine Dixon-like machete attack - plunges the reader right into the crazy, violent, present-day world of meth addiction.

While it has thriller elements its focus is on how addiction impacts on those around them - this is not another addict's misery memoir - but a chilling and all-too-real chronicle of meth's power to destroy the lives of those who have never even taken the drug.

The addict here is half Indian/half British beauty Chrissie – a successful, upper middle class mother, with a thriving business until meth enters the picture.

But the focus is on her martial arts trained husband Dave who has to pick up the pieces once her addiction takes hold.

Soon Chrissie disappears altogether and Dave's search sees him descend into Auckland's meth underworld, while fighting his own battle with the booze.

A timely, powerful and heart-breaking novel, as wickedly addictive as the drug it decries.

Nothing Bad Happens Here
Nikki Crutchley ($29.99)

Crutchley's crisply written debut is set in the small, fictional Coromandel Town of Castle Bay where – yes, you guessed it "nothing bad happens". And then the body of missing tourist Bethany Haliwell is found and Auckland reporter Miller Hatcher (who sharpened her investigative skills at the much missed The Aucklander apparently) is dispatched to report on the story.

Hatcher has the requisite drinking problem but she's feisty and has added impetus to get the scoop as a promotion is on the line.

Crutchley's great at capturing the small-town setting and has assembled a compelling rag-bag of Kiwi characters - a dope-growing caretaker, an odd mayor and equally enigmatic wife, a suspicious orchard owner and Hatcher's fellow guests at a health and well-being retreat.

The violent finale might strike some as a step too far, but Crutchley's a promising local thriller talent to watch.

(Available on Amazon and at the author's website)