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Posts Tagged ‘Gillian Flynn’

accidentWife, mom and CIA agent Kate Moore from Chris Pavone’s trippy first thriller The Expats has a cameo in his entertaining new novel The Accident (Crown, digital galley), but her boss, Berlin operative Hayden Gray, has a star turn. He’s trying to squash — by any means necessary — an anonymous manuscript before it can be published and its secrets revealed. New York literary agent Isabel Reed has the only known copy, a thick stack of pages titled “The Accident,” and she’s aware that she’s holding a future bestseller and a likely bombshell. The biography of global media mogul Charlie Wolfe alleges a Chappaquiddick-like accident in his past, a cover-up involving his best friend, and ties to covert U. S. intelligence operations. Before Isabel gives it to her old friend, editor Jeffrey Fielder, she swears him to secrecy, as well as her assistant. But copies of the manuscript soon begin to proliferate — a sexy sub-rights agent reads it on a flight to LA, where she’ll pitch it to a movie producer; a publisher trying to hold on to the family business sees it as a ticket to success, but he wants a veteran copy editor to fact-check it asap. All of these people are in grave danger; some will die. Meanwhile in Zurich, the anonymous author is pursuing his own agenda, including plastic surgery and hidden bank accounts. Pavone, who previously worked in publishing, offers a clever secret agent/book agent tale that benefits from his insider knowledge. But pay attention. As in The Expats, he’s quite the trickster. The body count is high.

weightIf you’re missing the rural noir of HBO’s True Detective or wishing Gillian Flynn would hurry up with a new thriller, check out Laura McHugh’s first novel, The Weight of Blood (Spiegal & Grau/Random House, digital galley). Set in the secluded “hollers” of the Ozark Mountains, the novel focuses on the close-knit Dane family — teenage Lucy, her father Carl, his older brother Crete — and the mysterious disappearances of two girls a generation apart. When the body of Lucy’s old school pal Cheri turns up creekside near Dane property, Lucy feels guilty for not having been a better friend, and she begins asking questions of the locals after finding a necklace in a trashed trailer. At the same time, she wonders about her mother Lila, a lovely outsider who disappeared 15 years ago. She might as well poke a nest of snakes. Secrets begin slithering out.  McHugh shifts the narrative voice among the main characters in the present and Lila in the past; eventually, they intersect. Lila proves the most riveting storyteller, but others such as midwife Birdie provide local color and perspective. It’s Birdie who tells Lucy: “You grow up feeling the weight of blood, of family. There’s no forsaking kin. But you can’t help when kin forsakes you or strangers come to be family.”

wivesWhen plastic surgeon John Taylor dies in a Palo Alto hotel, his secret comes out — he had three different wives in three different cities. In Alice LaPlante’s character-driven A Circle of Wives (Grove Atlantic, digital galley), the narrative rotates among the three women who loved the charismatic and compassionate Taylor and the young detective investigating Taylor’s suspicious death. Detective Samantha Adams has to fight her superiors to keep her on the case, but she’s certain the wives — or at least one of them — was responsible for the good doctor’s death. Was it status-conscious Deborah, the first wife who knew of her husband’s bigamy and even assisted in his complicated living arrangements? Or is it Mother Earth-type MJ, with an affinity for gardening and a troubled brother? Or pehaps it’s Helen, the most recent wife, a reserved pediatric oncologist with a secret? Sam’s investigation casts a shadow on her own so-so relationship with graduate student Peter, and then everything changes when a glamorous woman comes forward claiming that she was Taylor’s fiancee, for whom he was willing to disavow all his wives. LaPlante crafts a satisfying puzzle.

outcastCrimes of the past appear to bleed into the present in Elly Griffiths’ intriguing The Outcast Dead (Houghton Mifflin, digital galley), which is often the case with forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway. After uncovering the grave at Norwich Castle of the notorious Victorian murderess Mother Hook, hanged in 1867 for killing orphans in her care, Ruth is asked to participate in a TV series “Women Who Kill.” Ruth is reluctant — she’s decidedly not the put-together TV star type — but she’s persuaded by the program’s history consultant, an attractive American professor. DCI Harry Nelson, the married father of Ruth’s toddler daughter, doesn’t much like the professor, but he’s involved in two disturbing cases. One is a mother suspected of killing her infant children under the guise of crib death; the other a kidnapper known as “The Childminder.” One of these plots would be enough for most writers, but Griffiths deftly ties them together, along with the mystery of Mother Hook, and ratchets up the suspense when a child close to Ruth and Nelson is kidnapped.

littlegirlA kidnapper is also at work in Brian McGilloway’s Little Girl Lost (Harper Impulse, digital galley), the involving first entry in a new series featuring police detective Lucy Black of Derry, Northern Ireland. The title could refer to the shivering girl found in the midst of a snowy midwinter woods with someone else’s blood on her hands. Traumatized by her experience, the unidentified child bonds with Lucy, who would rather be working the McLaughlin case. Teenage Kate McLaughlin, daughter of a local real estate tycoon, is another missing girl, apparently kidnapped. The police force is concentrating all its efforts on finding Kate, even though Lucy suspects the cases are connected. But Lucy, at heart, is also a little girl lost, coping with her divorced dad’s dementia and her conflicted feelings about her mother, who is not just her boss but boss of the force. Two more Lucy Black thrillers are on the way. I’ll read them.

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It’s not so much a case of “he said, she said” in Gillian Flynn’s stellar Gone Girl (Crown, digital galley via NetGalley) as “he lied, she lied.” Nick admits early on that he favors lies of omission, while his wife Amy is an expert revisionist. Maybe. That’s the marvel of this twisting tale that explores the old question of how well we ever really know someone, even our nearest and dearest. Nick begins by describing the disappearance of Amy on their fifth anniversary from their suburban Missouri home and how he quickly becomes the prime suspect. Amy, a native New Yorker and the inspiration for her parents’ best-selling series of “Amazing Amy” picture books, counterpoints with excerpts from her journal, detailing the couple’s courtship and marriage. Both are likable and credible, at least at first. Flynn’s first two novels were Sharp Objects and Dark Places; Gone Girl is both sharp and dark. It reminded me a bit of Tim O’Brien’s In the Lake of the Woods, but Flynn has her own audacious spin.

About two thirds of the way through an S.J. Bolton thriller, I get this almost-irresistible urge to flip to the last page and find out how she’s going to end things. I remember having to stop reading both Blood Harvest and Now You See Me and catch my breath, and the same thing happened with Dead Scared (St. Martin’s Press, digital galley via NetGalley). Oh, the suspense! Who or what is frightening  Cambridge University students to death? DC Lacey Flint of Now You See Me goes undercover as a vulnerable psychology student at DI Mark Joesbury’s behest, working with psychiatrist Evie Bolton of Blood Harvest to find possible links among a rash of gruesome suicides. Maybe it has to do with social networking or cyberbullying, but what of the vivid night terrors that the victims reported? The finely orchestrated finale — and don’t you dare skip ahead — is shattering in its evil ingenuity.

Wit and wickedness are both in play in Christopher Fowler’s The Memory of Blood (Bantam, digital galley via NetGalley), the most recent in the winning Peculiar Crimes Unit series headed up by the elderly and eccentric detective duo of Arthur Bryant and John May. This time, the puppet character Mr. Punch is at the center of a bizarre locked-room death involving the cast and crew of a murder play at the New Strand Theatre. As more bodies turn up, Bryant and May’s investigation takes on theatre history and curses, Victoriana, and the National Secrets Act. All in all, another stylish black tragicomedy. Bravo! Encore!

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I knew the thunderstorm was on its way last night, not only because of the pillowing dark clouds in the distance but also because of the sharp smell of ozone and damp earth carried on the wind. Nancy Pickard  aptly titles her atmospheric new mystery, The Scent of Rain and Lightning, as she brews a family drama on the Kansas plains.

It was on one stormy summer night in 1986, with the rain coming down in torrents, that Hugh-Jay Linder, eldest son of a prominent ranching family in small-town Rose, was shot dead in his house, and his pretty wife Laurie disappeared. The only good things to come out of that night were the survival of  three-year-old Jody, out at the ranch with her grandparents, and the quick arrest and conviction of local malcontent Billy Crosby. But now, just as grown-up Jody has returned to Rose to teach high school, word comes from her three uncles that Crosby’s getting out of prison and returning to Rose as well. His lawyer son Collin has convinced the governor that Billy was railroaded and should get a new trial.

Cue thunder, lightning, anger, fear. Pickard skillfully moves back and forth from that first summer to the present. If Billy Crosby is truly innocent, who shot good-hearted Hugh-Jay and made off with Laurie? Her body has never been found, only a bloodied sundress in an abandoned pick-up. As Jody searches for the truth, she (and readers) gradually become aware of several dark secrets in the Linder family’s past.

Pickard creates credible. complex characters, and the plot propels the action forward. Wary readers will spot the villain of the piece (too many red herrings for my taste) but the resolution rings true. Pickard also uses one of Kansas’ most striking geographic features — the towering Monument Rocks created by ice-age glaciers — to excellent effect. She calls them the Testament Rocks and moves them to a fictional but fully authentic location.

If The Scent of Rain and Lightning has the impact of a summer storm, then Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places comes on like a winter blizzard, chilling to the bone. Another gripping tale of  murder in Kansas, with overtones of  Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, it came out last year and is now available in paperback.

Narrator Libby Day was seven when she crawled out of a window of a rundown farmhouse and hid in the woods, thus becoming the sole survivor of “The Satanic Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas.” Little Libby’s testimony helped send her fifteen-year-old brother Ben to prison for the bloody murders of her mother and two older sisters in the mid-1980s. Now, a quarter century later, Libby’s an emotionally stunted and bitter woman in her early 30s wondering how she’s going to get by now that the financial kindness of strangers has finally run out.

Enter some new strangers — the very strange members of the Murder Club, who are obssessed with famous crimes. They’ll pay Libby to get in touch with people from her past — her no-good father Runner, her long-estranged aunt Diane, even Ben in prison, and his supposedly devil-worshiping, dope-smoking friends from long ago if she can find them.

Flynn’s compelling story shifts easily from Libby’s present to the events leading up to the murders told from various family members’ perspectives. But her take-no-prisoners, unflinching narrative can be as hard to read as it is to put down. Failing farms, boarded-up storefronts, seamy strip clubs, a homeless camp on a toxic waste dump, abandoned grain silos.  

Flynn’s first novel, Sharp Objects, featured a character scarred by cutting. She slices even deeper in Dark Places. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Open Book: I bought my copies of Nancy Pickard’s The Scent of Rain and Lightning (Random House) and Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places (Crown).

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