Summer Beach Read Thrillers: 'Boy Nobody,' 'Out of Range' and 'The Watcher in the Shadows' (Review)

Authors Allen Zadoff, Hank Steinberg and Carlos Ruiz Zafón have new releases that offer action and excitement with varying success.
Authors Allen Zadoff, Hank Steinberg and Carlos Ruiz Zafón have new releases that offer action and excitement with varying success.

Summer is here and in full swing, and with that comes vacations, road trips and many hours well spent at the beach, thus creating the need for a (if not multiple) page-turner.  

PHOTOS: 11 Buzzy Beach Reads


Fortunately, there are a slew of thrillers (action, political, mystery, etc.) ripe for the picking. Which ones are worth the read? Get the breakdown here:

Boy Nobody by Allen Zadoff (Little, Brown and Company, 337 pages)

Boy Nobody is a first try at action from comedic writer Zadoff (Food, Girls and Other Things I Can't Have; Hungry). It takes readers into the world of a teen assassin tasked with the seemingly impossible mission of killing the mayor of New York City.

The novel resembles the Bourne series in its subject matter, and likens itself to the ruthlessness of teen violence in another young adult series (you might have heard of it?): The Hunger Games

Boy Nobody is a gripping page-turner that leaves the reader wanting to know more: Will Zach (the title character) defy the program that trained him? Will he confront the man who murdered his parents? Will he complete his mission despite his hesitations?

But with these questions of intrigue, also come questions of doubt. The biggest question being: Can a girl (the mayor’s daughter) whom Zach — remember he’s a trained and professional assassin — just met really cause him to doubt and potentially destroy his mission in just a matter of days?

For all its faults (cheesy cliffhangers, weak character relationships) the novel shines in its action scenes, and its ending is satisfying in that it doesn’t take the easy way out.  

Out of Range by Hank Steinberg (William Morrow, 346 pages)

Out of Range, from the creator of the hit TV show Without a Trace, is gripping from the start: Journalist Charlie and his very pregnant humanitarian wife, Julie, nearly die in a protest gone wrong in Uzbekistan. 

Six years later, Charlie, Julie and their two children find themselves settled into suburban Los Angeles, and while Charlie is happy to be safe and out of harm’s way, Julie finds herself feeling suffocated. After “visiting her sister in New York,” Julie returns to Los Angeles only to be kidnapped, tasking Charlie with finding his wife and figuring out what she’s been hiding. 

It sounds good in theory, though at some points it is a bit unbelievable (a journalist single-handedly taking down trained military men, really?).

The action scenes make the book a quick read, but just as Julie was bored with her suburban life, many readers will lose interest with Charlie’s repeated contemplations of what went wrong in his marriage and his new life in Los Angeles. Not to mention, the antagonist was almost as concerned with his love life, making him seem somewhat unconvincing as a villain.

Understandably, love and marriage are big parts of the plot; they’re crucial to Charlie’s motives for saving his wife, and a driving force of the book. But these marital problems weigh down the narrative, making it less interesting than it could have been.

Out of Range had a promising start, so when it fell short, it fell harder, causing the reader to (not always, but at times) identify with Julie, the bored housewife.

The Watcher in the Shadows by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (Little, Brown and Company, 262 pages) 

The Watcher in the Shadows, penned by The New York Times best-selling author of The Shadow of the Wind is a classic ghost story: It’s mysterious, dark and suspenseful. And  like his previous books, it is a page-turner (it can be finished easily in a day), but the story and characters felt underdeveloped and flat.

The romantic relationships were not very convincing because there simply was not enough time to see them develop. Similarly, the characters lacked a clear persona. The reader never really saw who they were, and their identity was muddled, so it was difficult to sympathize with their problems. At a slim 262 pages, the book was hindered by its length.

Even the plot twist felt predictable. From the very beginning, it was easy to piece at least part of it together. Oh, and the ending felt like a hackneyed cop out. The book would have been better without the last few pages. 

In his introduction, Zafón explains that though this is a young-adult novel, he hopes that his book will cross generational boundaries. It doesn't offer much appeal to adults, but from a young-adult perspective, The Watcher in the Shadows is a thrilling, mysterious read that shines in its chase scenes. It's a perfect light read for the beach. 

  • C. Molly Smith