Elyse Discher

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When she was 8 years old, Hazel Sharp came to Mirror Lake, North Carolina, with her mother, a grifter who, in the span of six years, married the local police detective, embezzled money from her brother-in-law and vanished, leaving Hazel behind. Hazel spent her adolescence balancing relief that her stepfather still loved her with suspicion surrounding her mother’s crimes and disappearance.

After her stepfather dies, Hazel is shocked to learn that he left her his lake house. Her two stepbrothers are similarly stunned and immediately suspicious of Hazel. Her curious inheritance comes with its own mysteries, like lights turning on by themselves, shadowy figures appearing in photos and cryptic messages left behind by her stepfather. Then, Hazel’s world is thrown into even more chaos when a relentless drought causes the murky waters of Mirror Lake to recede and reveal two sunken cars. One of the cars is the vehicle her mother allegedly fled in.

Megan Miranda’s last thriller, The Last to Vanish, danced with adding gothic elements to its remote Appalachian setting. In Daughter of Mine, the bestselling author fully embraces the gloom. The tone is decidedly oppressive, as if a noxious secret is waiting to envelop Hazel and Mirror Lake like a fog. The other residents’ open hostility to Hazel, who was after all just a child when her mother’s embezzlement occurred, doesn’t seem so much unrealistic as it does befitting of the threatening atmosphere. Another chilling element is how Hazel’s stepfather appears to be communicating with her from beyond the grave, both in extremely creepy notes left on the fridge—check the basement, check the crawl space, check the attic—and the fact that he left the house entirely to Hazel rather than his biological children, as if he knew only she can uncover the secrets it keeps. Hazel is something of an unreliable narrator, but not because she’s dishonest: Her memories of the summer her mother disappeared are understandably clouded by the fact that she was only 14 when it happened.

In Daughter of Mine, Miranda commits to her flirtation with the gothic, embracing all things creepy, unexplainable and unreliable as the mystery unravels.

In Daughter of Mine, Megan Miranda commits to her flirtation with gothic elements, embracing all things creepy, unexplainable and unreliable.
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Veronica Speedwell, Deanna Raybourn’s lepidopterist turned sleuth, returns for the ninth time with all of her signature wit, wry observations and keen detective work.

A Grave Robbery finds Veronica and her lover, Stoker, faced with a strange and unsettling case on their home shores of England. When their patron, a collector of natural wonders and (occasionally) unnatural curiosities, acquires a lifelike wax model, he assigns Stoker the task of inserting a clockwork mechanism into his “Sleeping Beauty” so that she will appear to breathe. Much to their horror, Stoker and Veronica discover that the model is not a waxwork at all, but a meticulously preserved cadaver: a young woman who was pregnant at the time of her death. The pair embark on a quest to discover Beauty’s true identity, ascertain the means of her demise and determine if foul play could have been involved.

As with the other novels in her series, Raybourn revels in the minutiae of the Victorian era, this time providing readers with an ever-fascinating study of the period’s rituals—and technological advances—regarding mourning and the preservation of the dead. Nods to Mary Shelley as well as Burke and Hare compliment the macabre subject matter, which lends a darker spin to the proceedings this time around.

Longtime readers of the series will be pleased, and perhaps relieved, to find Veronica and Stoker in lockstep in this installment, with any romantic conflict set aside for the time being. As in prior books, their relationship offers a delightful counterpoint to the tension of the central mystery. An abundance of secondary characters, including fan favorites like J.J. Butterworth and Lady Rose, make frequent appearances (which may overwhelm readers who haven’t started from book one). Raybourn also introduces a young mortician named Plumbtree, who may become a series regular from hereon.

Fans of the Veronica Speedwell series certainly won’t be disappointed with this latest, more gothic mystery—and they’ll be thrilled to see Veronica and Stoker happily in love.

Fans of the Veronica Speedwell mysteries certainly won’t be disappointed with this latest, more gothic installment—and they’ll be thrilled to see Veronica and Stoker happily in love.
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Tracy Sierra’s debut novel is so terrifying that it can easily be considered horror-adjacent. A claustrophobic examination of the “freeze” response to trauma (as opposed to “fight” or “flight”), Nightwatching follows a mother desperate to protect her two young children amid unthinkable circumstances.

We open with an unnamed single mother half-asleep during a blizzard, listening for signs that her sleepwalking daughter may be wandering their old farmhouse. What she hears instead is an intruder ascending their creaky staircase, and the next several scenes unfold with horrifying slowness. Our main character can barely see the intruder in the dark, but feels an eerie sense of familiarity with him. With exquisite care, she manages to smuggle her two young children downstairs and into a secret compartment built into the old house, where they wait like cornered animals.

We never learn the name of our narrator, but she pulls the reader into the story with a point of view so close it nearly lapses into stream of consciousness. As she waits silently, comforting her petrified children and trying to keep them quiet, we see flashes of her life. In the past, she has always responded to shock and crisis with silence, making herself smaller, invisible. When she’s startled by a college boyfriend playfully tackling her from behind, she collapses, unable to make a sound. When her abusive father-in-law slaps her while in a rage, she’s unable to sever their relationship, instead trying to find fault in herself.

Sierra argues that there is value and bravery in the freeze response, showing how her protagonist’s ability to stay small and quiet protects her children with as much valor as a confrontation. But when she’s pushed beyond her limits, our heroine goes to extraordinary lengths to protect her family and advocate for herself, even when the police later question her story. Gaslighting and misogyny, evidenced not only by law enforcement but by the broader society around her, threaten the narrator’s family almost as much as the intruder, who vanishes as mysteriously as he came. Convinced he will return, she tries to make the police see and believe the threat against her and her children, despite her wavering voice.

Nightwatching is best suited for the thriller reader with nerves of steel—while rarely violent, it is a truly scary book. The intense plunge into the main character’s traumatic experience feels incredibly real and immediate, and the suspense doesn’t let up until the last moments of the novel.

Nightwatching is best suited for the thriller reader with nerves of steel—while rarely violent, it is a truly scary book.
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Ariel Lawhon’s expertly researched and immediately gripping The Frozen River transports readers to 1789 Maine, where a midwife must solve a murder to get justice for both a rape survivor and the deceased.

Martha Ballard is the midwife of the town of Hallowell, a position that also makes her the town’s unofficial keeper of secrets and women’s advocate. When pastor’s wife Rebecca Foster is violently raped by two men, Martha acts as her witness, hoping to help get justice for a crime that is notoriously difficult to prove.

The Frozen River begins four months after Rebecca’s assault, when one of the accused, Joshua Burgess, is found dead in the titular body of water. Martha acts in the capacity of a medical examiner, determining that Burgess was beaten and hanged, and she testifies to such in court. This places Martha in a perilous position, as the man she is testifying to is Colonel North, the second rapist and someone who certainly had motive to see his accomplice dead.

This historical mystery explores the inner lives and societal pressures of women in colonial America with nuance and complexity. Martha is a precise and knowledgeable healer, who chronicles her forensic insights in her precious journal. Her occupation affords her protection and status in her community; however, Hallowell is still a place where the word of a female victim has little weight and where mothers who give birth out of wedlock are fined for the crime of fornication—while the fathers are not.

Even as Martha bristles at the inequity women in her town face, she still seeks justice for Burgess, even if he was a violent criminal himself. All of this puts her at odds with men in seats of power—primarily Colonel North as well as a doctor who doesn’t respect her practice—and puts her livelihood and family at risk.

Atmospheric, unique and elegantly written, The Frozen River will satisfy mystery lovers and historical fiction enthusiasts alike.

Atmospheric, unique and elegantly written, The Frozen River will satisfy mystery lovers and historical fiction enthusiasts alike.
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The Professor, Lauren Nossett’s sophomore mystery, is a deep dive into the world of academia, where ivy-covered walls hide forbidden love affairs, deadly competition and plenty of secrets.

Former police detective Marlitt Kaplan is still reeling from the events of The Resemblance, which saw her removed from the force. Living with her parents and trying to find her way, she agrees to help when one of her mother’s colleagues at the University of Georgia finds herself the subject of a Title IX investigation.

Professor Verena Sobek has been struggling. A Turkish German woman, Verena is not what her students expect in a German language professor. Every day is plagued by anxiety: Her students are distant and often cutting in their remarks, and then there’s the relentless nature of academia’s “publish or perish” mindset. The one student who shows her kindness is Ethan Haddock. But when Ethan shocks everyone by killing himself, leaving behind an apology to Verena, rumors of a scandalous affair begin to swirl.

Marlitt agrees to investigate Ethan to help clear Verena’s name—and to ease her own mounting boredom—but she finds the case to be anything but straightforward. Posing as a student and moving into Ethan’s old room in an off-campus apartment he shared with some peculiar roommates, Marlitt immerses herself in a world that is as adversarial and alienating for students as it is for professors. Although older, Marlitt finds that she, discomfitingly, has a lot in common with the students. Unmoored after her dismissal from the police force, she is also transitioning between phases of her life, and given her current reliance on her parents, she lacks the independence of most people her age.

Nossett is a professor herself, and her portrayal of UGA is immersive and filled with real-life details. A whodunit with dark academia undertones, The Professor can be read as standalone, but readers may find themselves immediately seeking out The Resemblance after finishing Nossett’s impressive mystery.

Lauren Nossett’s The Professor is an immersive and impressive whodunit with dark academia undertones.
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Veronica Speedwell returns in A Sinister Revenge, the eighth mystery in a series best described as Agatha Christie in the world of Victorian science and natural history.

Natural historian and butterfly hunter Veronica has been separated from Stoker, a fellow scientist who had become her sleuthing partner and lover. But Stoker’s brother Tiberius, Lord Templeton-Vane, reunites the couple by giving them a dangerous new case to solve. 

In his youth, Tiberius ran with a group of students who called themselves the Seven Sinners, but then tragedy struck at his family’s Devon estate when one member of their party died in an accidental fall while trying to claim a fossil from a cliffside. During the following years, two other members also met an early demise, and now a threatening letter has Tiberius believing that they may all have been murdered by one of their own—and that he might be the next victim. In a Christie-esque conceit, Tiberius invites the remaining members of the Seven Sinners to an elaborate house party, where he plans to confront them and, hopefully, where Veronica and Stoker will uncover the murderer. 

As the house party unfolds, it becomes apparent that the history of the Seven Sinners is more complex than Tiberius let on, with secret affairs and bitter jealousies complicating the past. Even as Veronica untangles the web of complex relationships, she struggles to reconcile Stoker’s distance from their own romantic partnership. As usual, Veronica’s keen observations and sharp wit contrast with her own occasional lack of self-awareness (especially when it comes to romance), making for a delightful read. Longtime readers of the series will be pleased to see regulars such as intrepid reporter J.J. Butterworth and ingenious chef Julien d’Orlande return. But ultimately, Raybourn’s masterful entanglement of Veronica and Stoker’s love story with the mystery at hand makes A Sinister Revenge a standout entry in an already excellent series.

Deanna Raybourn’s masterful balance between romance and mystery makes A Sinister Revenge a standout entry in an already excellent series.
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Jacqueline Winspear, author of the beloved Maisie Dobbs series, has created a new character for readers to admire. Part Agatha Christie, part “The Equalizer,” The White Lady follows Elinor White, a former World War II operative unafraid to leverage her past to help those who cannot help themselves.

It’s 1947, and Elinor has settled into a home in the British countryside, one granted to her by the government as thanks for her classified service to the nation. Her bucolic life is missing one thing, though: the sense of purpose that came with her wartime career. But when Elinor sees her neighbors Jim and Rose Mackie being violently harassed by Jim’s criminal family, she decides to use her skills to protect them. 

The White Lady alternates between Elinor’s quest to bring down the Mackie crime family in 1947, her work during World War II and her initiation into espionage as a Belgian teenager during World War I. Winspear’s writing is especially effective when conveying the incredible danger Elinor and her sister, Cecily, face as they work to undermine the German military, and the wrenching moral decisions that come with such work. 

The traumas of the past, especially the difficulty of leaving violence behind, are constant refrains throughout the novel. Elinor is haunted by the premature loss of her childhood innocence and, eventually, her family, while Jim and Rose struggle to escape Jim’s criminal birthright. Elinor’s quest to bring down the Mackie family is prompted by her affection for Jim, Rose and especially their young daughter, Susie, but it also provides her with a way to seek absolution for the terrible things she did as a spy.

The White Lady doesn’t shy away from dark subjects, and historical mystery readers searching for a bit of grit and a complex main character will admire its uncompromising storytelling.

Historical mystery readers searching for a complex main character will admire the uncompromising storytelling of Jacqueline Winspear’s The White Lady.
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Jonathan Darcy and Juliet Tilney, amateur sleuths and the children of two of Jane Austen’s most beloved couples, return to solve another mystery together in The Late Mrs. Willoughby by Claudia Gray. 

Jonathan Darcy is attempting to fit in at a house party thrown by his former schoolmate and bully, Mr. Willoughby. Jonathan’s idiosyncrasies and difficulty with social situations made him an easy target at school, so he’s not exactly thrilled to see Willoughby again. However, he’s desperate to prove to his parents, Pride and Prejudice’s iconic Lizzy and Darcy, that he can make and maintain friendships. 

Willoughby is newly wed, although the marriage is already strained. His wife, Sofia, has realized her husband only married her for her fortune, and she is suffering from the simultaneous insults of his illegitimate child with a nearby village woman and his still-burning infatuation with his neighbor, Marianne Brandon.

Juliet, the daughter of Catherine and Henry Tilney from Northanger Abbey, is visiting Marianne, having befriended her during the first installment in the series, The Murder of Mr. Wickham. Marianne is still traumatized by the events of that book, but she’s doing her best to reenter society, even if that means attending a dinner party with her much loathed former beau and his new wife. Unfortunately, it’s at this very dinner that Mrs. Willoughby dies of poisoning, right in front of Juliet and Jonathan. 

Jonathan and Juliet once again set out to find the killer. Jonathan’s analytical mind and Juliet’s facility for observing and understanding others make them a powerful crime-busting pair, despite being confined by the social strictures of their time. They quickly realize that Mrs. Willoughby may not have been the intended victim, given that her husband has no shortage of enemies.

Gray firmly establishes that Jonathan is autistic in The Late Mrs. Willoughby, having hinted at such in The Murder of Mr. Wickham. While Juliet does not always understand his quirks, her easy acceptance of them is heartwarming. This also allows romance to begin slowly blossoming between the pair, which will thrill fans who picked up on Jonathan and Juliet’s chemistry in the first book.

The familiar conventions of Austen’s world, cameos from beloved characters and a potential new romance will make The Late Mrs. Willoughby a sure hit for historical mystery fans.

With cameos from beloved Jane Austen characters and a potential new romance, The Late Mrs. Willoughby is sure to be a hit for historical mystery fans.
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It’s supposed to be a day of celebration for botany professor Julia Bennett: move-in day for her daughter, Cora, as she starts her first year at tiny Anderson Hughes College. Instead, horror unfolds when a sniper opens fire into a crowd, killing Cora’s stepmother and wounding Cora. If not for Julia’s quick reflexes, Cora would have died. But Julia doesn’t believe that this awful event was a random shooting. Burdened with a terrible secret and a dark past, she trusts her instincts as she digs into the reason behind the attack, desperate to protect the daughter she believes may have been the real target.

Ren Petrovic is a professional assassin who works alongside her husband, Nolan. The pair always tell each other about their respective assignments, but Ren had no idea Nolan took a job at Anderson Hughes. She’s a planner, a meticulous woman who prefers poison to guns, and it appears that without her input, Nolan botched the job. Newly pregnant Ren is determined to protect her growing family, which means figuring out who hired Nolan and why. As her investigation unfolds, she finds herself intrigued by Julia, who is a far more capable adversary than Ren expected.

The cat-and-mouse game between Ren and Julia is the crux of Heather Chavez’s Before She Finds Me, and their interactions are intense and often surprising. Both women are determined to protect their children at all costs, even as larger forces conspire to put them in danger. They are dark reflections of each other, prompting readers to ponder how even the smallest change in circumstances can lead to vastly different lives. Chavez slowly reveals the terrible event that shaped Julia, pushing her in a direction that has honed her reflexes and fearlessness to make her nearly as lethal as the assassin she’s evading.

With its cinematic pacing and fascinating protagonists, Before She Finds Me is a fresh and surprising thriller.

In Heather Chavez’s fresh and surprising new thriller, a botany professor is nearly as lethal as the assassin she’s evading.
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PI Evander “Andy” Mills’ first adventure, Lavender House, was an intriguing mix of gothic and noir elements. In his second Andy Mills mystery, The Bell in the Fog, author Lev AC Rosen outdoes himself, while also firmly establishing the series in the tradition of noir detective novels. Set in 1952 San Francisco, The Bell in the Fog is not only a solid mystery but also a glimpse into the trauma and camaraderie that marked the LGBTQ+ experience of that era.

After being outed and losing his job with the police force in Lavender House, Andy is now offering his services as a detective to San Francisco’s queer community, who cannot seek justice or assistance through traditional means as their very lives are criminalized. Andy’s struggling to make ends meet when he finally lands a case substantial enough to cement his reputation as a trustworthy PI.

His former lover James, a closeted naval officer, is being blackmailed with photos of himself with another man. James is expecting a promotion to admiral, and needs Andy to track down the blackmailer and the photos in order to keep his life from imploding. For Andy, the case is bittersweet—James more or less ghosted him, giving him no explanation for the end of their relationship. His investigation uncovers a scheme targeting many of San Francisco’s queer residents, and when he finds one of the blackmailers dead, Andy is suddenly embroiled in a mystery worth killing over.

The Bell in the Fog brings readers to the underground LGBTQ+ scene of the 1950s and explores the habitual traumas, like police brutality, and ever-present fear of exposure that queer people endured. Rosen balances this by also showing how found families were created and how the community supported each other: Andy is assisted by Lee, a performer who would be understood as gender fluid today and whose network of friends brings Andy vital information, and he’s also given medical care by Gene, a bartender who would have been a doctor had he not been outed himself. The result is an atmospheric historical novel as well as a gritty noir mystery that will thrill both readers who already love Andy Mills and those meeting him for the first time.

The Bell in the Fog is an atmospheric historical novel, a gritty noir mystery and a worthy successor to author Lev AC Rosen’s Lavender House.
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Elly Griffiths’ third Harbinder Kaur mystery finds the detective inspector eager to prove herself after relocating from West Sussex to London. Her latest case begins when a reunion at the posh Manor Park School in Chelsea results in politician Garfield Rice’s murder. 

Griffiths alternates between Harbinder’s perspective and that of Cassie Fitzgerald, a former student at Manor Park who was a member of “The Group,” a clique of popular students. When they meet for their 21st class reunion, there is a fair amount of tension. Some of the friends have moved abroad, others have found fame in writing and popular music and some have gone into politics. Cassie is the odd duck: She became a police officer and now works under Harbinder.

This makes Cassie’s dark secret even more shocking: She committed a murder at age 18, and she can’t help but wonder if Garfield’s death is related. Harbinder, of course, doesn’t know that one of her subordinates is a killer, but readers can count on her to methodically unbury the past and untangle the crimes of the present.

The small, intimate collection of suspects makes this mystery perfect for fans of Agatha Christie: Rather than a wide-ranging hunt for a killer, Bleeding Heart Yard feels cozy and local. However, the book is also filled with unreliable narrators, as members of The Group struggle to determine which of their memories are real since they may have been tainted by time or trauma or lost to time all together. Old diaries offer clues, but many of the characters have the same amount of questions as Harbinder herself.

While this book is accessible for newcomers to the series, established fans will be especially pleased with how Harbinder grows as a character and becomes more comfortable in her own skin. Harbinder is a lesbian, and in previous installments, her sexuality was a source of tension, especially when it came to her conservative family. But living in a larger urban environment allows her far more freedom, and she is able to explore a liberated life on her own terms.

Solid plotting, an intrepid sleuth and a group of well-developed suspects make this whodunit a must-read.

Detective Inspector Harbinder Kaur has to investigate one of her subordinates in Elly Griffiths’ must-read blend of thriller and police procedural.
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Inspired by true events, The Half Life of Valery K takes readers to 1963 Soviet Russia, where a secret project threatens nuclear disaster.

Scientist Valery Kolkhanov has spent years in a Siberian gulag focused only on his own day-to-day survival. When he is summoned for a special assignment, he assumes it will be his execution, but instead he finds himself in the strange community of City 40. The top-secret city is surrounded by a forest ravaged by radiation, and Valery’s former mentor wants him to assist her in studying the long-term effects of radiation on the environment.

Elated to be free of the gulag, Valery embraces his assignment at first, but eventually he begins to suspect he’s not being told the truth about City 40. The radiation appears to be much more severe than it’s said to be, and Valery believes the residents of the city and potentially the entire Soviet Union are in danger.

Valery’s every move is monitored by KGB agent Konstantin Shenkov, an enigmatic man who becomes an unlikely ally. As Valery uncovers more secrets surrounding City 40, he and Shenkov find themselves drawn together in a forbidden attraction.

Natasha Pulley reveals the secret Soviet towns that inspired ‘The Half Life of Valery K.’

Natasha Pulley expertly reveals the mysteries of City 40 piece by piece, along with the secrets Valery himself is keeping. Valery knows his feelings for Shenkov would get him thrown back in the gulag if discovered, and the two men play a dangerous game hiding both their relationship and their investigation from the authorities. Valery is also something of an unreliable narrator, often questioning his own sanity as the events around him become more bizarre. Readers will be forced to question whether his insights into City 40 are accurate or the result of a mind plagued by nightmares and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Based on the Kyshtym nuclear disaster of 1957, The Half Life of Valery K is a compelling window into a terrifying and lesser-known aspect of the Cold War. With unexpected twists, a paranoid atmosphere and a fascinating narrator, this novel is a superb work of historical fiction as well as an excellent mystery.

With unexpected twists, a paranoid atmosphere and a fascinating narrator, The Half Life of Valery K is a superb work of historical fiction and an excellent mystery.
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Megan Miranda knows how to land a twist, and her latest thriller demonstrates that to dizzying effect. Set in an isolated and hazardous pocket of the Appalachian Mountains, The Last to Vanish elegantly builds a near-gothic atmosphere as it tells the story of an inn with a troubled past and the locals who are keeping deadly secrets.

Abigail Lovett loves her quiet job at the Passage Inn in Cutter’s Pass, North Carolina. The inn butts up against the Appalachian Trail, catering to guests looking to lose themselves in nature. Unfortunately, Cutter’s Pass has a dark history of people becoming lost for good. Decades ago, a group of college students, dubbed the Fraternity Four, vanished while on a hike. Over the years, two women also disappeared. Most recently, a journalist named Landon West set out to write about the strange history of Cutter’s Pass only to disappear himself. Now Landon’s brother, Trey, has arrived at the Passage Inn to try and find clues to his brother’s whereabouts. Most of the town’s residents attribute the mysterious goings-on to accidents on the trail, but Landon’s disappearance unsettled Abby, and now she’s starting to wonder if they are all connected.

A pervasive sense of unease runs throughout The Last to Vanish, whether Abby is facing the dangers of the mountains or the sneaking suspicion that the locals are monitoring her every move. The Passage Inn is a character in itself with quirks, secrets and dark basement rooms. Facing all these strange happenings at what used to be her comforting, calm place of work further spooks Abby: The phones keep going down, and one of her co-workers quits with only a brief note explaining her departure.

As the novel progresses, Miranda slowly gives readers more information about Abby, which only leads to more questions: Where did she come from before she, rather suddenly, arrived in Cutter’s Pass, and why did she decide to live and work at the inn in the first place? She’s not quite an unreliable narrator but rather one whose personal details are revealed with careful precision by Miranda, who ensures that Abby is fascinating, not frustrating. 

A perfectly balanced cross between a cold-case mystery and a psychological thriller, The Last to Vanish‘s expert plotting and surprising twists will delight readers.

Megan Miranda's latest is a perfectly balanced cross between a cold-case mystery and a psychological thriller that features a fascinating amateur sleuth.

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