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Posts Tagged ‘domestic suspense’

An isolated hotel in the Swiss Alps, a small number of guests and staff on hand, then a body in the water tank. Sounds like the set-up for an Agatha Christie closed-circle mystery, but there’s a twist — a big one — to Hanna Jameson’s The Last One (Atria, digital galley).  Historian Jon Keller is at an academic conference when word reaches the hotel that there’s a world-wide nuclear war. In the ensuing panic, many of the guests take off for the nearest airport in hopes of escape but about 20 elect to stay at the hotel, which has power and supplies. But cell service and wi-fi soon disappear, and Jon can’t reach his wife and two daughters in California, or anyone else for that matter. He and the others are cut off from civilization, provided it even exists.

As far as dystopian thrillers go, The Last makes for provocative reading. The group dynamics are interesting, as are the details of day-to-day survival. Toothpaste is hoarded, bullets go missing, strangers hook up, water is rationed. The water situation and paranoia are heightened when a girl’s corpse is found in one of the hotel’s reserve tanks, and Jon begins an investigation that he includes in his daily chronicle of events. This murder mystery is the least effective part of the plot, though. and its eventual resolution kind of a jumble. But other secrets will keep you turning pages to find out Jon’s fate — and that of the world.

In Alafair Burke’s new domestic suspense tale, The Better Sister (HarperCollins, digital galley), the relationship between sisters Nicky and Chloe is more than a little complicated. Growing up in Ohio, they were chalk and cheese. Wild child Nicky married lawyer Adam and had baby Ethan, but when she started drinking too much, Adam turned to sensible Chloe for help in getting custody of toddler Ethan. Several years later, with both Adam and Chloe living in New York, they marry. Now Adam works for a corporate firm, Chloe’s a successful magazine editor, and Ethan is a gangly 16-year-old. Nicky’s still in Ohio, supposedly sober and selling jewelry on Etsy. But everything quickly changes when Chloe finds Adam’s body in their weekend home and Ethan is then arrested for the murder. Nicky shows up, and the two sisters work together to free their son.

Burke puts her own experiences as an attorney to good use, but her writing skills are on full display as she artfully doles out pieces of the puzzle from the main characters’ perspectives. Nicky, Chloe and Ethan all have secrets, and the neatly timed revelations up the suspense as one surprise follows another.

Angie Kim is a former trial lawyer whose first novel, Miracle Creek (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, digital galley) is a layered courtroom drama that thoughtfully explores themes of family and forgiveness. Korean immigrants Young and Pak Woo and their teenage daughter Mary live in the small Virginia community of Miracle Creek, where they have started a hyperbaric oxygen therapy business in the barn behind their house. An explosion at book’s beginning kills two patients and injures Pak and Mary. A year later, both are among the witnesses at the murder trial of Elizabeth Ward, the mother of an autistic son who died in the explosion. Elizabeth, who took the night off from the therapy session and was smoking by the creek, is thought to have started the fire that led to the tragedy, although some want to point the finger at Pak and Young who stand to profit from the insurance.

Miracle Creek is itself divided by the tragedy and trial. Advocates for special needs kids who are anti-HBOT were protesting at the facility the day of the explosion and are on hand for the trial. So are the patients who escaped, including a doctor who knows more about the mysterious note found on the scene than he has told anyone. Young, always the obedient wife, does what her husband tells her but wishes she knew what her daughter is hiding. Elizabeth, formerly seen as a perfect, loving mother, is a stoic enigma. The result is a story as twisty as the creek providing its name.

 

 

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hushPrivate investigator Tess Monaghan was once dubbed “an accidental detective” by the Baltimore paper where she had worked as a reporter. Now, in Laura Lippman’s 12th book in the award-winning series, Hush Hush (Morrow, digital galley and ARC), Tess is a seasoned pro at the detective stuff but worries she’s “an accidental mother.” She adores her willful three-year-old Carla Scout but thinks her parenting skills aren’t as good as her boyfriend Crow’s. She’s also still figuring out the balancing act between family and work.

Both Tess’s vulnerabilities and strengths as a mom are integral to Hush Hush as she reluctantly takes on Melisandre Harris Dawes as a client. More than a decade ago, Melisandre left her infant daughter to die in a locked car but was eventually found not guilty by reason of insanity, specifically postpartum psychosis. She then gave up custody of her two other daughters to her ex-husband and moved  to Europe. Now, however, the wealthy Melisandre is back in Baltimore with a documentary filmmaker and plans to reunite with her estranged teenagers, 17-year-old Alanna and 15-year-old Ruby. Tess and her new partner, Sandy Sanchez, are hired to assess her security. Death threats, a poisoning incident and a murder further involve Tess in the case of the manipulative mother, as does a stalker who knows way too much about Tess and Carla Scout.

Lippman cleverly shifts perspectives among the major players and includes revealing transcripts from interviews for the documentary. And as in previous Tess books (The Sugar House) and stand-alones (Every Secret Thing), she proves once again how well she knows the wiles and worries of teenage girls. Alanna and Ruby, living with their father and his  new wife and baby son, are a tangle of mixed emotions as they react to the prospect of  their mother’s return. Lippman also portrays the relationship between Tess and Carla Scout with a sure hand, as when the toddler throws a tantrum in the supermarket or berates her mother for saying a bad word. These interactions don’t distract from the story but enhance it, and it’s no accident that clues to its serious puzzles are found in the color of crayons, worn children’s books and the trans fat content of certain name-brand cookies.

carrierSophie Hannah’s domestic suspense procedurals feature married British cops Charlie Zailer and Simon Waterhouse. But the duo is almost lost in the byzantine plots of The Carrier (Putnam/Penguin, digital galley), and they’re overshadowed by the unpleasantness of the other characters, all of whom are caught up in dysfunctional relationships of one kind or another.

Where to begin? Hannah starts off with smart, sophisticated tech developer Gaby having to endure the company of provincial, grammar-deficient Lauren after their flight from Germany to England is canceled by bad weather. But when Lauren lets slip something about an innocent man in prison for murder and then flees their grimy airport hotel, Gaby begins to suspect that meeting Lauren is no accident. The innocent man turns out to be Gaby’s lost love Tim, who has confessed to killing his invalid wife Francine but won’t say why. Gaby, who has been living with another man, is so certain Tim is lying that she walks out on her current lover and inserts herself into the investigation. Simon and Charlie are also perplexed by the “Don’t Know Why Killer,” even though Tim’s confession is backed up by his best friends, as well as by Lauren, who is Francine’s caregiver, and her thuggish husband.

Complicated enough for you? Now consider that victim Francine was a thoroughly despicable woman who separated poetry-loving Tim from Gaby and trapped him in a loveless marriage. Why he stayed with her is a puzzle to everyone. Several kinds of crazy are apparently at work here because supposedly brilliant people like Gaby and Tim behave stupidly.

Hannah is relentless in mining everyone’s motives and mindsets, and fans who stick with the story will be rewarded with a conclusion that makes sense in retrospect. I think.

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