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Posts Tagged ‘suspense’

Creep me out. Silvia Moreno-Garcia sure does in her new novel Mexican Gothic, (Ballantine, purchased e-book), lacing classic gothic tropes by way of Bronte with a little Lovecraftian horror. In 1950s Mexico City, chic socialite Noemi reluctantly travels to the remote mountain villa of High Place after her newlywed cousin Catalina sends a mysterious missive that her husband Virgil Doyle’s ancestral home “is sick with rot, stinks with decay, brims with every single evil and cruel sentiment.”  Noemi, who hopes to pursue a graduate degree in anthropology, is skeptical, but High Place, built next to an old silver mine by British aristocrats, is decidedly unwelcoming. Steely Aunt Florence and handsome Virgil supervise her limited visits with sickly Catalina; the dead-eyed servants don’t speak; windows won’t open; and the whole moldering mansion is presided over by ancient family patriarch Howard, a corpse-like figure fond of discussing eugenics. Noemi’s one possible ally is Virgil’s wan cousin Francis, who picks mushrooms in the cemetery and makes detailed botanical drawings of the abundant fungi. Then the hallacinatory nightmares begin, and the dread escalates as a woman’s voice whispers, “Open your eyes.” Who or what is terrorizing Noemi? Turn the page…

In Eve Chase’s atmospheric The Daughters of Foxcote Manor (Putnam, review copy), the titular house is tucked away in the Forest of Dene, covered with vines and shadowed by trees. After the Harrington family home in London goes up in flames in 1971, young nanny Rita Murphy nervously drives mom Jeannie Harrington and her two children, 13-year-old Hera and six-year-old Teddy, to Foxcote while dad Walter remains in town. Still recovering from a breakdown after losing a baby in childbirth, Jeannie retreats to bed, leaving “Big Rita” to contend with the kids, Foxcote and local busybody Maggie. Then Walter’s macho best friend Don shows up at Foxcote and Hera discovers a baby in the woods. Gunshots ring out. Forty years later in London, middle-aged Sylvie deals with her soon-to-be ex-husband, her 18-year-old daughter and her beloved mother, comatose after a fall. Then unexpected news from her daughter sends her down the rabbit hole of old family secrets to Foxcote Manor in 1971. Chase shifts between the two time periods as she pieces together an intriguing puzzle. If some pieces click into place a little too neatly, the overall is as complicated as a Kate Morton tale and just as satisfying.

Something weird is going on at Catherine House (HarperCollins/Charter House, digital galley), a literary gothic from Elisabeth Thomas with shades of The Secret History and Never Let Me Go. For starters, Catherine House is not a house but an elite liberal arts and research college in rural Pennsylvania. Graduates go on to positions of power and influence, but students must first agree to three years of seclusion on the campus. Troubled Ines at first revels in hedonistic pleasures and pays little attention to her studies, the opposite of her roommate Baby, who threatens to crack under the academic pressure. An enforced stint at the “Restoration Center” may be the cure for both of them. Or not. Thomas is great with world-building, the strange hothouse atmosphere in which secrets thrive. She could do more with  character development. Teachers and students blur together, with the exception of outsider Ines, who eventually dares to challenge the establishment.

Riley Sager puts his trademark spin on the haunted house tale while paying homage to The Amityville Horror in Home Before Dark (Dutton/Penguin, digital galley). Maggie Holt is surprised when her father dies and leaves her Baneberry Hall, a dilapidated Victorian in small-town Vermont where she briefly lived with her parents when she was a child. Ewan Holt later wrote a best-selling book, House of Horrors, about how the family fled Baneberry in the wake of supernatural events. He always claimed the book was nonfiction, but Maggie thinks it’s a hoax, that her father took advantage of the house’s reputation as the scene of a gruesome crime. Chapters of Ewan’s book are interspersed with Maggie’s suspenseful present-day account of returning to Baneberry to restore the house and lay to rest its ghosts. Best read this one with the lights on.

Past events also play into the present in Megan Miranda’s involving The Girl from Widow Hills (Simon and Schuster, digital galley). When hospital administrator Olivia Meyer moves to North Carolina from Kentucky, she’s hoping no one will recognize her as Arden Maynor, the six-year-old who was swept away in a storm 20 years ago and miraculously rescued from a drainpipe three days later. Liv remembers little of what happened, but she is still haunted by bad dreams and occasionally sleepwalks. That’s what she’s doing when she stumbles across a dead body between her rental house and her reclusive landlord’s home. Soon, police detective Nina Rigby is asking Liv probing questions even as Liv is investigating on her own. Is she really being stalked, or is it her overactive imagination? Miranda offers up a number of suspects in her twisty guessing-game story.

Megan Goldin uses the popularity of true-crime podcasts to good effect in The Night Swim (St. Martin’s Press, digital galley). Rachel Krall is known for her podcast Guilty or Not Guilty, but she maintains a low personal profile. So she’s surprised to keep finding anonymous letters left for her in Neapolis, N.C., where she’s covering the controversial trial of champion swimmer Ryan Blair, accused of raping teen Kelly Moore. Excerpts of Rachel’s authentic-sounding podcast about the trial alternate with the revealing letters, in which a girl who calls herself Hannah begs Rachel to investigate the long-ago murder of her older sister. Rachel’s intrigued enough to look into the alleged crime but soon discovers that it was closed as an accidental drowning. Hannah herself proves maddeningly elusive, and the trial heats up as the town takes sides. Rachel claims her podcast puts listeners “in the jury box,” and readers will feel they are there, too, even as they wonder about possible connections with the cold case. Tense and timely.

 

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The snow is falling hard and the surprises keep coming in Taylor Adams’ page-turner No Exit (HarperCollins, digital galley). A fierce blizzard causes college student Darby Thorne to pull over at a remote rest stop in the Colorado mountains. Stranded with four strangers, she ventures outside to get a cell signal but instead discovers a kidnapped child hidden in the van parked next to her. Who among her fellow travelers has locked the little girl in a dog crate? What Darby does in the next few hours will determine all their lives. Gripping and cinematic, Adam’s tale is destined for the movies, but why wait when you can read it now.

There’s snow and ice and a car plunging into a dark river in The Current (Algonquin, review copy), Tim Johnston’s riveting second novel after the very good The Descent. It’s the dead of a Minnesota winter when state troopers recover an SUV and two young women from the Black Root River. Audrey Sutter is half-frozen but alive; her friend Caroline has drowned. With echoes of a similar incident in which a young woman drowned in the same river a decade ago, this new tragedy is no accident. Audrey discovers the townspeople she thought she knew — the father of the first dead girl, a suspect who was a teenager at the time, her father the former sheriff — are harboring secrets and regrets. The plot is layered, Johnston’s writing evocative. The Current carries you along inexorably, the way good stories do.

Watcher in the Woods (St. Martin’s Press, digital galley), like other entries in Kelley Armstrong’s Casey Duncan series, is set in the isolated community of Rockton in the wilds of the Canadian Yukon. But don’t look for it on any map. It’s a safe haven for both criminals and victims, who pay a corporation big bucks to stay off the grid. Casey is the town’s detective, and her boyfriend Eric Dalton is the sheriff. When a U.S. Marshal shows up looking for a resident and is subsequently shot, the two have to figure out not only the murder but also how the marshal found Rockton in the first place. Could be it has something to do with Casey’s estranged sister, April, secretly flown in to assist on a medical case. Atmospheric, tightly plotted and smartly paced, the book delves more deeply into Rockton’s mysterious past. There’s more than one watcher in the woods.

Seraphine Mayes has long wondered why she looks different from her twin brother Danny and their older brother Edwin, and looks for answers in Emma Rous’ twisty The Au Pair (Penguin Berkley, digital galley). An old photo of her mother, who fell to her death from the Norfolk cliffs shortly after Seraphine and Danny were born, shows her mother holding a single newborn. The picture was taken by Edwin’s young au pair at the time, Lauren Silviera. As Seraphine searches for Lauren in the present, the narrative alternates with Lauren’s story in the past. Threatening notes, secret lovers, family quarrels and village gossip of changelings contribute to the murky puzzle. You’ll have to decide if the solution — given the outlandish premise — makes sense.

Maureen Johnson is at her most devious in The Vanishing Stair (HarperCollins, library hardcover), the second in her wickedly entertaining Truly Devious series. In the first book, readers met Stevie, an Ellingham Academy student obsessed by the unsolved murder and kidnapping case at Ellingham in 1936. Stevie thought she was making progress, but then one of her classmates died and another disappeared, and Stevie’s parents yanked her out of the alternative boarding school. She’s totally miserable as the second book begins, but then hated politician Edward King pulls some strings and Stevie’s back at Ellingham. Her story alternates with that of two students from the 1936 Ellingham class, who fancy themselves as a stylish crime couple like Bonnie and Clyde. What do “Frankie and Eddie” have to do with the Truly Devious case? Secret tunnels, hidden doorways and peculiar riddles abound as Stevie works with an eccentric true crime writer and tries to figure out her relationship with classmate David, Edward King’s son. It’s all great fun and nail-biting suspense right up to the very last page — and another cliffhanger ending. Maureen Johnson, you’re killing me!

 

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I needed a night light after reading Meg Gardiner’s scary good UNSUB (Dutton, digital galley), which was inspired by the infamous Zodiac Killer. This “unknown subject” was dubbed the Prophet when he first terrorized the Bay Area 20 years ago with a series of grisly killings, mutilating 11 corpses with the sign of Mercury. When he vanished before being caught, he also claimed Detective Mack Hendrix’s sanity and career. But now, when new bodies with the Mercury sign are discovered in an Alameda cornfield, Mack’s daughter Caitlin gets herself reassigned from narcotics to homicide. She may be the rookie on the squad investigating the case, but her resolve and research prove invaluable when the Prophet strikes again. Or is this a copycat? The narrative moves swiftly as the detectives try to discern the cryptic clues left for them, and it’s to Gardiner’s credit that the fast pace continues once a pattern emerges. Caitlin may know the Prophet’s playbook, but that doesn’t stop the killer from toying with her and those closest to her. The countdown to the finale is a nail-biting nightmare. There will be blood. But also a sequel, so keep the lights on.

Young men for whom money has never been a problem discover otherwise in Christopher Bollen’s silky The Destroyers (HarperCollins, digital galley), which brings to mind both Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley novels and Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun. A shocking prologue kicks off the action, but then Bollen moves into a more digressive mode. Disinherited by his father, Ian Bledsoe skips out on the funeral, helps himself to some family funds and flees to the Greek island of Patmos, where his childhood pal Charlie Konstantinou, heir to a shipping fortune, is living with his movie star girlfriend and other hangers-on. It takes Ian a few hedonistic days in the hot glare to realize Patmos has its dark side: A monastery whose monks hold silent sway over the tourists and pilgrims; religious hippies on the beach who take in wide-eyed wanderers; the blackened remains of a taverna near the ferry dock, where a springtime bomb killed two Americans. Charlie hires Ian as an assistant for his island-hopping yacht business, then disappears. Many people come looking for Charlie, including his older brother. There’s a fatal accident, and then a murder. The police take more than a polite interest. Ian reflects on his shared past with Charlie and the boyhood game where they concocted perilous scenarios and risky escape plans. He is distracted by his college girlfriend, on vacation in Patmos before law school. He still can’t find Charlie. Look for The Destroyers to be a movie.

Looking for a tricksy plot and an unreliable narrator, something like Gillian Flynn or Megan Miranda might cook up? Then check out Riley Sager’s Final Girls (Dutton, digital galley), a well-constructed thriller whose title comes from the old horror film trope where one girl survives a mass murder. In Sager’s tale, Quincy Carpenter has rejected the tabloid moniker and moved on in the years since her college friends were massacred in a cabin in the Pennsylvania woods. She has a successful baking blog and a live-in lawyer boyfriend, and it helps that she has almost no memory of the murders and appeases her survivors’ guilt by regularly checking in with Coop, the cop who saved her life. But then another Final Girl — Lisa, who survived a sorority house attack — is found dead, believed to be a suicide — and Samantha Boyd, who fought off a mass murderer in a Florida motel, shows up at Quincy’s door. As troubled Sam provokes Quincy to tap into her buried anger and memories, interspersed chapters flash back to the fateful Pine Cottage weekend, generating menace and suspense. Readers may think they know where the story is headed, and maybe they do, but they also may be in for a shock. Quincy sure is.

The first buried secret that propels Fiona Barton’s  new novel of domestic intrigue, The Child (Berkley, digital galley), is an infant’s skeleton found by workers tearing down London houses. Barton quickly connects four women to the old bones and then alternates perspective among them. Kate Roberts is the seasoned reporter who writes the initial story, “Who is the Building Site Baby?” Emma is the book editor who struggles with depression and who used to live on the street where the bones were found. Both she and her narcissistic mother Jude, still looking for Mr. Right after all these years, see the story, as does Angela, whose baby was stolen from the maternity ward years ago. She’s convinced the skeleton is her daughter, Alice, but she’s been wrong before. As Kate diligently tracks clues to the baby’s identity, more secrets surface, leading to the book’s other question: How long can you live with a lie that has shaped your life in untoward ways? Like Barton’s previous novel The Widow, this one offers interesting answers.

Remember when “active shooter” wasn’t part of our everyday vocabulary? I didn’t think I was up for Laurie R. King’s new standalone Lockdown (Bantam, digital galley), no matter how timely, having seen way too much of the real thing on the evening news. But King delivers more than a tick-tock countdown of Career Day at Guadalupe Middle School, which begins with the high hopes principal Linda McDonald has for her diverse student body. The school bubbles with “hormones and suppressed rage, with threats all around it,” and is currently troubled by a murder trial involving student gang members and the mysterious disappearance of a seventh-grade girl. Readers are aware of a more ominous hazard headed toward the school — a heavily armed white van — but not who is driving. As the minutes go by, King switches among many perspectives — various students and teachers, the principal, her husband, the school janitor, a cop on duty at the school, parents preparing to participate in career day — and a number of backstories emerge. Perhaps there are too many, given that several could have made books on their own. Still, by the time the action really begins, readers are invested in a handful of sympathetic characters who may not survive lockdown.

Hallie Ephron goes Southern Gothic in You’ll Never Know, Dear (William Morrow, advance copy), disguising the Lowcountry South Carolina town of Beaufort as Bonsecours, where the Spanish moss-draped live oaks hide dark secrets from the past. The reappearance of a homemade porcelain doll may hold the clue to the 40-year-old kidnapping of a 4-year-old girl. Her mother, dollmaker Miss Sorrell, has always believed Janey would come home, and when Janey’s long-lost doll turns up, she just knows Janey will be next. Her daughter Lis and her next-door neighbor and fellow dollmaker Evelyn, are not so easily convinced, but then a kiln explosion sends Miss Sorrell and Lis to the hospital, and Lis’s grad student daughter Vanessa returns home to help out and do some detecting. Coincidences pile on, complications ensue, plausibility departs. Oh, dear.

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“On a Tuesday in May, in her thirty-fifth year, Rachel shot her husband dead.”

That’s the humdinger first line of the prologue to Since We Fell (Ecco, digital galley), Dennis Lehane’s new thrill ride of a novel that is as slick and unexpected as black ice. It reads almost like two books, with the first charting Rachel Childs growing up with a bitter single mother who refuses to divulge her father’s identity. After her mother dies when she’s in college, Rachel continues to look for her father, even as she becomes a successful TV news reporter in Boston and marries her producer. Then comes an on-air meltdown while on assignment in Haiti, and Rachel loses her career and her marriage. Debilitating anxiety attacks turn her into a shut-in until a chance encounter with a one-time private investigator she had briefly hired. Brian Delacroix is now a successful businessman who understands Rachel like no one else. She falls hard for him, and he for her. They marry and everything is going well, with Rachel gradually making solo trips into the city. It’s on one such foray that she spots Brian across the street in the rain. But Brian is on a flight to London. Isn’t he?

Uh-oh. This is a Dennis Lehane novel, after all. Remember Mystic River? Shutter Island? Gone, Baby, Gone? The reversals of fortune can make your head spin and your heart ache, and Since We Fell is no exception. Reflective Rachel must give way to action-figure Rachel as she finds herself caught in a conspiracy where nothing is what it seems. Nothing and no one. Trust me.

Megan Miranda’s The Perfect Stranger (Simon & Schuster, digital galley) is another of those twisty thrillers pivoting on questions of identity and appearances. Reporter Leah Stevens has to resign her newspaper job after her sources are questioned in a story about college suicides. She fortuitously runs into her former roommate, Emmy Grey, who suggests Leah accompany her to rural Pennsylvania for a fresh start as a high school teacher. Then a woman who resembles Leah is found bludgeoned at a nearby lake, and Emmy goes missing. Questioned by a police detective, Leah admits to being stalked by a fellow teacher and is drawn into the investigation, especially when she realizes how little she really knows of Emmy and how much of it is lies. Miranda, author of the very good All the Pretty Girls, gets a bit bogged down in Leah’s back story and a few too many coincidences, but this is smartly written psychological suspense.

So many more mysteries and thrillers out there. Don’t miss Fallout (HarperCollins, digital galley), in which Sara Paretsky sends the intrepid V.I. Warshawski and her golden retriever to Kansas on the trail of a young fillmmaker and an aging black actress. In Lawrence (where Paretsky grew up), V.I. finds evidence of long-ago crimes seeping into the present, both in the university town and a in nearby decommissioned missile silo. Agatha Christie fans will appreciate the locked-room aspects of G.M. Maillet’s Devil’s Breath (St. Martin’s Press), even though the room in this case is a luxury yacht. British spy-turned-Anglican priest Max Tudor comes on board after the body of a glamorous actress washes ashore. Everyone, it seems, had a motive for murder. Plum Sykes launches a comic murder series set in 1980s Oxford with Party Girls Die in Pearls (HarperCollins, digital galley), featuring freshman sleuth Ursula Flowerbottom and her new BFF, American Nancy Feingold. Ursula’s discovery of the body of a fashionable classmate sends the duo on a round of parties where they can look their best while looking for a killer. Supremely silly fun and clothes to die for. In the surprising Long Black Veil (Crown, digital galley), Jennifer Finney Boylan offers a secretive leading character on a collision course with the past after the bones of a former classmate are discovered on the eerie grounds of an abandoned prison. And old bones also turn up in Sycamore (HarperCollins, digital galley), Bryn Chancellor’s interesting but overworked first novel. When word gets out about the skeletal remains found in a wash outside a small Arizona town, residents immediately think of 17-year-old Jess Winters, who disappeared 18 years ago. Chancellor moves back and forth in time and among various voices to explore the mystery of Jess herself and how her disappearance affected the town. Chancellor nails her teenagers but is less successful with the older characters, turning them elderly before their time.

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zigzagSo many mysteries the last month or so. A popular author kicks off a new series, while another chooses to end a longtime favorite. Star turns by trusted detectives, past crimes leading to present-day puzzles, procedurals, capers, a serial killer — or two.

Elly Griffiths, whose Ruth Galloway series is known for its engaging characters, introduces another memorable cast in The Zig Zag Girl (Houghton Mifflin, digital galley), set in 1950 Brighton. Police detective Edgar Stephens and magician Max Mephisto both served in a special ops/disinformation group known as the Magic Men during World War II and reteam as sleuths when someone starts killing people by restaging famous magic tricks. Atmospheric, clever and appropriately tricky. Encore, please.

longlandWith the evocative Long Upon the Land (Grand Central, library hardcover), Margaret Maron brings her long-running Deborah Knott series to a close by circling back to Deborah’s complicated family history as bootlegger Kezzie Knott’s daughter. She marries a contemporary mystery about a dead man found on Kezzie’s North Carolina farm to one with roots in World War II, when Deborah’s mother Susan befriended both a young soldier and widower Kezzie. In both cases, Deborah needs answers from her many older brothers, her aunt and her father, as well as others with long memories. Sweet and bittersweet.

raggedLand is also at the heart of Last Ragged Breath (St. Martin’s Minotaur, advance reading copy), Julia Keller’s fourth entry in her excellent series featuring prosecutor Bell Elkins. A native of the hardscrabble West Virginia mountain town of Acker’s Gap, Elkins is familiar with the area’s history, even if the disastrous 1972 Buffalo Creek flood was before her time. Royce Dillard was only two when he survived the rushing waters that claimed the lives of his parents and more than a hundred other souls, but now the solitary dog-lover’s life is imperiled once again. He is on trial for the murder of an outside developer on his land. The circumstantial evidence points to Dillard, but Elkins has her doubts, well aware of the passions aroused by the dead man and his plans that could forever change Acker’s Gap. Like her protagonist, Keller knows the landscape and its residents. Unlike Elkins, though, she also knows dogs. I fell hard for Goldie.

natureofA boy cries wolf once too often in Louise Penny’s The Nature of the Beast (St. Martin’s Press, library hardcover), a stunning addition to her Inspector Gamache series. I was disappointed by the last one (choppy writing, digressive plot), but this one took my breath away as the isolated Quebec village of Three Pines is invaded by suspicion and betrayal with far-reaching moral consequences. All the familiar characters are on hand, including Henri the dog and Rosa the duck, as Gamache resists peaceful retirement in his search for answers. What little Laurent finds in the woods is real and fearsome.

xgraftonThe only problem with Sue Grafton’s X (Penguin Putnam, digital galley) is that it means we’re nearing the end of her alphabetically titled series starring PI Kinsey Millhone. As always, it’s a treat to watch Kinsey using the old-fashioned tools of the trade circa 1989 to catch criminals. Here, knocking on doors, using library reference books and looking at public records in person has Kinsey figuring out frauds large and small, even as the private files of a late colleague lead to a trail of missing women and a serial killer. Yikes! The colorful characters include a wily divorcee, a slick sociopath and annoying new neighbors for Kinsey and her elderly landlord Henry.

susansThe plot of Julia Heaberlin’s thrilling Black-Eyed Susans (Random House/Ballantine, digital galley) reminds me of an episode of Criminal Minds but minus most of the gory details. In 1995, 16-year-old Tessa was found buried alive under a blanket of black-eyed Susans in a Texas wheat field that served as a grave for three other girls. Tessa, who only has flashes of memory of her traumatic experience, nevertheless testified at the trial of the presumed killer, who was sent to Death Row. Now, with his execution only days away, Tessa reluctantly agrees to help a defense attorney and a forensics expert trying to free the condemned man by finally identifying the other victims. Heaberlin alternates between past and present, piling on the red herrings, and Tessa struggles to recover her memory. The ending’s a bit muddled and unevenly paced, but Heaberlin’s third book will keep you up all night.

marrykissWith its snappy dialogue and cinematic scenes, Marry Kiss Kill (Prospect Park Books, digital galley) reads like a rom-com caper TV movie — no surprise since author Anne Flett-Giordano’s writing and producing credits include Frasier and Hot in Cleveland. With the glitzy Santa Barbara film festival as backdrop, police detective Nola MacIntire and her partner, Tony Angellotti, try to solve the case of a murdered street artist while also looking into the suspicious death of a wealthy businessman. Nothing especially original here, but appealing characters and a spritz of name-dropping make for fast-paced fun.

pargeterKeeping up with so many series means I hardly ever run out of new mysteries to read. A shout-out to the Witness Impulse imprint that introduced me to several excellent writers from across the pond, including Brian McGilloway, whose Lucy Black series is set in Northern Ireland; Mari Hannah, whose Kate Daniels series takes place in Northumbria; and Alison Bruce, whose Gary Goodhew procedurals are set in Cambridge. I also count on British publisher Severn House for witty new tales from Simon Brett, who writes the Charles Paris series and the Mrs. Pargeter books. Severn also publishes new mysteries from American writers (and Facebook friends) Clea Simon and Sarah Shaber.  Recommended all.

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brushbackThe heat is on, so I’m hibernating in the AC under the ceiling fans. But I really can’t complain about summer. There’s almost always a baseball game on TV, a friend just brought me one of her delicious peach pies and I’ve been binging on crime novels. Sara Paretsky knocks it out of the park with the aptly named Brush Back (Putnam’s, digital galley), No. 18 in her V.I. Warshawski series. Never one to be intimidated, Vic is only encouraged by the threats she receives after taking a case in her old South Side Chicago neighborhood. Her 80-year-old client even takes a swing at her, and that’s before she begins digging up secrets about a 25-year-old murder case that possibly implicates her late cousin, Boom-Boom, a star player for the Blackhawks. Finding the real culprits leads Vic to rigged construction sites, corrupt politicians, local fixers and territorial cops, as well as to the bowels of Wrigley Field. Real inside baseball, tense and action-packed.

speakingbonesKathy Reichs’ involving Speaking in Bones (Bantam, digital galley) is also the 18th novel featuring forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan who, this go-round, follows the lead of a websleuth on a cold case. Brennan is initially skeptical of Hazel “Lucky” Strike’s claim that the remains found in rural North Carolina are those of young Cora Teague, whose ultra-religious family thinks ran off with her boyfriend. But it’s the delusions of true believers that prove especially dangerous for Brennan and her colleagues.

murderdcFor more nitty-gritty city crime, check out Neely Tucker’s Murder D.C. (Viking, digital galley), set in the nation’s capital, and Ingrid Thoft’s Brutality (Putnam, library hardcover), set in Boston. In Tucker’s follow-up to The Ways of the Dead, metro reporter Sully Carter’s investigation into an apparent drug-related death has him dealing with low-life power wielders  and high-up power brokers. Street-smart dialogue and details boost a plot complicated by race, class and money.

 

brutalityThoft’s Fina Ludlow, investigator for her family’s infamous law firm, takes on a case of her own in the third book in the series. When Liz Barone, a former collegiate soccer player, is assaulted in her kitchen and left with life-threatening injuries, her mother hires Fina with the grudging consent of Liz’s husband. Fina, as snarky as ever and downing more junk food than Brenda Johnson of The Closer, suspects the attack on Liz may have been motivated by her lawsuit against New England University, where Liz played soccer and now works as a researcher. She’s not wrong, but many people have a stake in Liz’s allegations that her recent memory loss resulted from playing soccer with a concussion.

PrettyisWhen it comes to novels about kidnap survivors, Laura Lippman’s 2010 I’d Know You Anywhere is the gold standard for me. But Maggie Mitchell’s first novel Pretty Is (Henry Holt, digital galley) captured my attention with its insights about the secret life of girls and female friendship. When Carly May and Lois are 12, they are kidnapped by a handsome stranger they call Zed and are held for two months in a remote mountain cabin before being rescued. Some 20 years later, spelling bee champ Lois is a college professor and junior beauty queen Carly May has become Hollywood actress Chloe Savage. They are eventually reunited after Lois writes a thriller about two kidnapped girls, and Chloe accepts the part of a detective in the movie based on Lois’ book. Before that, though, a creepy student stirs up Lois’ memories about that summer, while Chloe dwells on the differences between Lois’s book — part of which is embedded in Pretty Is — and what she remembers. But it isn’t until they are together again that they are forced to confront the truth of their shared experience.

bradstreetThe slippery nature of memory also is explored in Robin Kirman’s lushly written Bradstreet Gate (Crown, digital galley), in which the murder of a Harvard student affects three of her classmates and the professor who becomes the prime suspect. Yes, it did remind me a bit of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, but Kirman apparently was inspired by the 1998 murder of Yale student Suzanne Jovin. The victim in her story is Julie Patel, and the history professor Julie challenged in class is Rufus Storrow,  a Virginia aristocrat and West Point grad with a background in military intelligence. Georgia Calvin is the beautiful, privileged student who has a furtive affair with Storrow. Charlie Flournoy, who struggles to bury his working-class roots, has a crush on Georgia and regards Storrow as a mentor. Their brilliant and fierce friend Alice Kovac, the daughter of Serbian immigrants, is the unpredictable, secretive outsider. Kirman concocts a heady mix of youthful ambition, desire and deceit, following her characters in the decade after the murder as suspicion shadows their lives in surprising ways.

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readingwomanWhen I first read in British novels about Oxbridge students’ reading parties, I was disappointed that they were really talking about study groups. “Reading party” sounds much more elegant, with everyone sitting around comfortably, inside or out, sipping an appropriate beverage, communing with their book of choice. My vision is no doubt influenced by the beautiful paintings reproduced in The Reading Woman calendar, which I gave my mother for Christmas.

I thought about reading parties when I heard that that this Saturday has been designated National Readathon Day by the National Book Foundation, with fundraising activities going on at bookstores, libraries, schools and universities across the country. The hosts are providing quiet areas where participants are asked to read from noon to 4 p.m. Oh my — what punishment! Please, please don’t throw me in that briar patch!

Still, four hours of non-interrupted reading time seems quite lovely, even for people like me who read like we breathe. A readathon sounds too much like work, though, or that you have to read while walking on a treadmill. So I’m planning my own reading party for Saturday afternoon, when I hope to make a dent in my towering TBR stack. Maybe I’ll invite some friends to join me. I have comfy chairs and, goodness knows, I have books, including these two involving novels.

traingirlThe hype regarding Paula Hawkins’  The Girl on the Train (Riverhead/Penguin, purchased e-book) is mostly well-deserved. It’s fast-paced, well-written psychological suspense with three unreliable narrators — hence the comparisons to Gone Girl — but I saw its twists coming, and you will, too, if you know your Hitchcock films and Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine books.

The titular narrator, Rachel Watson, is a mess: lonely, alcoholic, divorced, still in love with her ex, Tom. Although she was fired from her London job months ago, she still travels back and forth from the suburbs to London on the train, passing her old home where she sometimes sees her husband’s new wife Anna and baby. Just down the street are a golden couple that she imagines are everything she has lost, but her fantasies are shattered when she sees the pretty blonde wife kissing a dark, handsome stranger. Rachel’s drink-fortified decision to see what’s going on results in her waking the next morning with no memory of the night before, only to hear the news that the blonde woman, Megan, has gone missing. Megan is the book’s second narrator, and Anna is the third. Hawkins neatly splices their stories together, time-shifting so as to increase the suspense, piecing out what everyone is up to before and after Megan’s disappearance. Rachel, in hopes of recovering her memory, inserts herself into the investigation, which brings her into contact with the police, Megan’s husband Scott, a mysterious man who keeps showing up on the train, as well as Tom and Anna, who want no part of her. Rachel is undeterred.

“I feel like I’m part of this mystery, I’m connected,” she thinks to herself. “I am no longer just a girl on the train, going back and forth without point or purpose. I want Megan to turn up safe and sound. I do. Just not quite yet.”

pariswinterUnlike Hawkins’ tale, which hooks you from the first page, Imogen Robertson’s historical thriller The Paris Winter (St. Martin’s Press, paperback ARC) takes awhile to build up a head of steam. Young Englishwoman Maud Heighton is having a tough time in 1909 Paris as she struggles to pay the fees at a school for women artists. Her paintings won’t feed or clothe her during the coming winter, but she is befriended by the model Yvette and fellow student, Tanya, a Russian heiress. They direct her to a charity that helps her find a job with a French gentleman, Christian Morel, who needs a companion for his fragile sister, Sylvie. All is more than well, even after Maud discovers that Sylvie is addicted to opium, and she vows to keep the Morels’ secret while Sylvie tries to wean herself from the drug. But the Morels are playing a long game, and Maud becomes a pawn in a plot involving stolen jewels, secret identities and murder.

If the book’s first half is a leisurely stroll through belle epoque Paris, the second half is an action-packed adventure when Tanya and Yvette again come to Maud’s aid. As floods threaten to engulf the city, the three friends seek revenge in a fight for their futures. Hawkins is very good at evoking both the romance and squalor of the City of Light’s dark side.

 

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octoberI don’t care if the suspense is killing you. Do not — I repeat, do not — skip ahead to the finish of Jeffery Deaver’s oh-so-clever The October List (Grand Central Publishing, digital galley.) Not only will you ruin the end, you’ll also ruin the beginning — because Deaver tells his story in reverse.

So to begin with the end: A woman named Gabriela waits nervously in a Manhattan apartment for word that her kidnapped daughter Sarah has been safely rescued. A man named Sam waits with her; two of his colleagues, Daniel and Andrew, have gone to deliver the ransom money and “the October List” that kidnapper Joseph has demanded. Gabriela stares at a newspaper on the coffee table and tells Sam she has finally figured out what the October list means, but before she can say much more, the door opens. It’s not Daniel and Andrew. It’s Joseph. And he has a gun.

Ok, I’m not giving anything away here, but I expect after you finish the book, you’ll read this first-last chapter again, and maybe several more, marveling at how Deaver has manipulated his puzzle so that you have to reassess the facts over and over again. You’ll learn about a computer nerd who crushes  on Gaby, about two cops who question her about her boss Charles Prescott’s sudden disappearance with company funds; about Joseph’s telling Gabriela he’s got 6-year-old Sarah; about Gabriela meeting movie-star lookalike Daniel in a bar; about a shooting, a fatal accident, a robbery, the blood on Gabriela’s lip, something nasty in a stained plastic bag.  Maybe, just maybe you’ll figure it all out before Deaver pulls the last (or first) rabbit out of his hat. Maybe not. Either way, you’ll have fun. Tricks and treats.

identicalGreek mythology informs Scott Turow’s latest, Identical (Grand Central Publishing, digital galley), so if you’re familiar with the story of twins Castor and Pollux, you’ll be ahead of the game.

In 2008, attorney Paul Gianis is running for mayor of Kindle County while his twin brother Cass is being released from prison after serving 25 years for the murder of his girlfriend, Dita, party-hearty daughter of local tycoon and family friend Zeus Kronen.  But then Zeus’ son, Hal, decides that unlike his late father, he’s not satisfied with Cass’s guilt; he believes Paul was also involved in Dita’s death. Paul sues Hal for defamation, while Hal hires ex-FBI agent Evon Miller and retired homicide cop Tom Brodie to reinvestigate the killing. This unlikely but likeable pair are distracted by personal issues — Evon’s troublesome girlfriend, widower Brodie’s age and health — but prove discerning detectives. The narrative shifts back and forth in time as modern-day forensics and DNA testing mix with family drama and secrets a la Greek tragedy. Classic entertainment.

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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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Grace Covey appears asleep to family and friends at her hospital bed. To the doctors, Grace is in a coma after the traumatic injuries she suffered when she ran into a burning school to find her teenage daughter. To Grace herself, she apparently is having an out-of-body experience, aware of what’s going on around her but unable to communicate except with comatose daughter Jenny, who also is mysteriously out-of-body.

Don’t believe me? Fine. But in her compelling new novel Afterwards, Rosamund Lupton makes it easy to believe in Grace’s narration of events past and present.  First, the fire at the private school. She was outside for her 8-year-old son Adam’s sports day when the alarm sounded. But as soon as she realized Jenny was trapped on the third floor, Grace ran into the building.

“And as I dragged her, step by step, down the stairs, trying to get away from burning heat and raging flame and smoke, I thought of love. I held on to it. It was cool and clear and quiet.”

Love, of course, is at the heart of Lupton’s high-wire act of a novel: Grace’s love for her children and her husband, as well as her prickly sister-in-law Sarah, a cop investigating the fire; her own mother, who comforts young Adam; and her best friend Maisie, whose daughter is also in the hospital.

The book has as many or more narrative twists as Lupton’s first novel Sister, itself a roller-coaster of psychological suspense. Just when Grace thinks she has figured out who set the fire and why, another suspect and motive appears in an equally credible scenario. Increasing the tension is Jenny’s increasingly worsening condition. And will Grace ever wake up?

Open Book: I raced through a digital galley of Rosamund Lupton’s Afterwards (Crown Publishing via NetGalley),  then went back two weeks later and read it again.

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