Paul Tassi. Talos, $15.99 trade paper (498p) ISBN 978-1-945863-23-3

Tassi (the Earthborn Trilogy) successfully merges elements of The Hunger Games and Mission Impossible in this action-packed thriller set in a near future in which reality shows feature homicide as entertainment. Mark Wei survived an undercover assignment for the CIA inside China, but the aftermath cost him his wife and child. After a Supreme Court ruling shuts down the reality show Prison Wars, in which convicts battled to the death, its producer, the mega-rich Cameron Crayton, devises The Crucible. He invites fighters from across the U.S. to a tournament whose participants advance to the final rounds by killing their opponents. The winner will take home a billion dollars. Mark’s former handler, Gideon Gellar, who believes that Clayton has corrupted much of the U.S. government—possibly at the behest of the Chinese—persuades Mark to pose as a contestant to learn the truth. Tassi pulls no punches as he depicts Mark’s battle to survive the violent ordeal without completely losing his humanity in the process. Mark’s adversaries are fleshed out into real people, adding tension to the fights and getting readers invested in the story en route to a satisfying climax. Readers who can handle the explicit violence (and the contradiction of a book that showcases gory deaths while decrying media showcasing gory deaths) will enjoy this heart-pounding and ironically cinematic novel.(Aug.)