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Posts Tagged ‘suspense’

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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The headline writer in me wanted to call this post “Catch and release,” but I realized I was diminishing the subject just to get your attention. “The one who got away” doesn’t really work either because Laura Lippman’s new novel is not just about a woman who survived a serial killer’s abduction as a teenager.  It’s also the story of Elizabeth Lerner (then), Eliza Benedict (as she’s now known), her family, her abductor, his advocate, the mother of a girl who didn’t get away. It’s about how we all shape our memories, and how we are shaped by them. I’d Know You Anywhere is its perfect title.

Lippman, too, is pitch-perfect. She has honed her storytelling skills with her long-runnning Tess Monaghan series and with a handful of stand-alone tales of psychological suspense, including the superior What the Dead Know. This new book is right up there with that 2007 novel as she again explores questions of truth and identity through the prism of the perceived past.

“I’d know you anywhere.” That seemingly innocent, even cheery phrase takes on creepy, possibly menacing overtones when it appears in a letter to Eliza from Walter Bowman, who abducted her the summer she was 15 and held her hostage for almost six weeks. Walter has been on Virginia’s death row for the last 22 years for the rape and murder of another teenage girl, Holly Tackett, his final victim.

That Walter wants to talk to her before his impending execution turns Eliza’s carefully ordered suburban life upside down. Of course, her husband Peter knows about her past — she refuses to sleep with the windows open — but her own touchy teenage daughter Iso and sweet-natured son Albie don’t know. Eliza would like to keep it that way. But she’s afraid if she ignores Walter, he, or his odd advocate and go-between, Barbara, will keep up the pressure, perhaps bring in the media. Walter hints that he’s still witholding information about other girls he killed. Eliza is being forced back into “Elizabethland.”

Once Eliza cautiously responds to Walter’s overtures, the pace picks up as Lippman fluidly moves between past and present, and the perspectives of  the main characters — Eliza, still wondering why Walter let her live; Walter, whose years in prison have given him time to think; Barbara, who believes Walter’s real agenda  meshes with hers; Trudy Tackett, whose grief for her dead daughter occupies her every waking moment and who blames Eliza for Holly’s abduction; and fact crime author Jared Garrett, who has always been skeptical about Eliza’s testimony and victimhood.

All are convincing because they are so sure of their own motives and narratives. What Eliza fears most is that “her past would become present, truth and lie would mingle, and she would spend the rest of her life explaining herself.” Her older sister Vonnie already is reminding her of some truths of their shared girlhood she has forgotten, or chosen to forget. How reactive she still is, how willing to relinquish control. And Eliza does remember how it was with Walter:

 “She dreamed of rescue, hoped for it, prayed, but she believed it would have to be something that happened to her, not because of her.”

Lippman writes in an author’s note that this book, like others she has written, was inspired by a true crime, but not one she is going to detail and turn into a guessing game. “The bottom line is that there once was a man who raped and killed his victims, with one exception, and that man was put to death for his crimes.” Lippman started thinking one day about the exception, “the sole living victim.” 

I’m pretty sure she then asked herself, “What if?” That’s what novelists do. Inspiration leads to imagination, the search for the truth in fiction, the mystery of memory.

Open Book: I knew Laura Lippman from her books and mutual friends before we met some years ago. We keep in touch these days mostly through Facebook. Her publisher sent me an uncorrected galley of I’d Know You Anywhere (William Morrow/HarperCollins) earlier this summer. I’ve read it twice now, and in between, I reread What the Dead Know.

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