Elyse Discher

Straddling the line between suspense and historical fiction, Lori Rader-Day’s Death at Greenway is an unsettling murder mystery that gives readers a nuanced look into life on the British homefront during World War II. 

Student nurse Bridget “Bridey” Kelly made a horrible mistake on duty, resulting in the death of an officer in her care. Her only hope for redemption is to take an assignment caring for 10 children who are being evacuated from London and sent to Greenway House, the country home of Agatha Christie. Christie makes only the briefest of appearances, although her library of books on murder makes for a chilling backdrop.

Like the children, Bridey experiences the effects of PTSD, so she struggles to care for them, especially when her fellow nurse, Gigi, proves to be less than enthusiastic (or knowledgeable). From the moment they settle into Greenway House, things feel amiss. Items go missing, and one of the children reports seeing a man lurking outside at night. After a body washes up in the quay, Bridey is asked to help and realizes the victim’s injuries were the result of homicide, not accidental drowning. All the while, the mysterious Gigi’s stories of her life before Greenway House fail to add up. When she goes missing, Bridey knows something foul is afoot.

Told from multiple perspectives (even those of individual children), Rader-Day’s novel is in many ways a portrait of grief and trauma. Each character is suffering due to displacement, rationing and German bombings. There are no real monsters, just people forced into circumstances they never thought possible. Bridey is a particularly compelling character—the reluctant detective, longing to move on with her life, but unable to let sleeping dogs lie.

Far from a cozy mystery, Death at Greenway is as taut as a bow string, with every character capable of snapping at a moment’s notice. 

Far from a cozy mystery, Death at Greenway is as taut as a bow string, with every character capable of snapping at a moment’s notice.

Cottonwood Estates seems like an idyllic neighborhood to raise a family in. It’s affluent, populated by overworked dads and over-involved moms, and thanks to the gossipy monthly book club, everyone knows everyone else’s business. In The Neighbor’s Secret, author L. Alison Heller scratches away at this suburban facade to reveal secrets that are slowly bringing the small community to the verge of collapse.

Through brief, interstitial passages, the reader learns that not only is a murder about to be committed, but also that another one was covered up years ago. The question remains: Who are the killers?

Annie is harboring a secret from 15 years ago and worrying that her eighth grade daughter, Laurel, might be destined to repeat it. Laurel is acting out, getting drunk with friends at the annual Fall Fest and keeping secrets from her ever-vigilant mother. Jen is similarly worried about her young son, Abe, with good reason: Abe has been expelled from school and diagnosed as a sociopath. Jen struggles with fear of her own son and guilt over her abilities as a parent, all while hiding his diagnosis from the teachers at Abe’s new school as well as from her friends and neighbors. Finally, there is Lena. A widow and empty nester, Lena watches the neighborhood but keeps apart from it socially. She understands that nothing in their peaceful community is what it seems. When a vandal begins targeting homes, the petty property crimes set off a chain of events that will end in one explosive, deadly night.

Heller excels at the complex characterization required to engage readers, resulting in a book that’s truly impossible to put down. The myriad anxieties her characters feel—fear for their children, their reputation, their community—are entirely relatable. A sense of dread and foreboding permeates the narrative. We know a murder is coming; Laurel, Abe and Lena all seem on the verge of imploding. With such a wonderful buildup and a truly surprising finish, The Neighbor’s Secret is a delight to read.

Cottonwood Estates seems like an idyllic neighborhood to raise a family in. It’s affluent, populated by overworked dads and over-involved moms, and thanks to the gossipy monthly book club, everyone knows everyone else’s business.

College freshman Chloe Sevre has two secrets: 1) She’s a psychopath, and 2) she’s plotting to kill frat boy Will Bachman. Chloe has no sense of empathy or remorse, but she is acutely aware of being wronged.

Chloe thought Will was her friend, but he hurt her in an especially devastating way when she was just 12 years old, and she’s spent years plotting her revenge. Chloe got into Adams University, the same college Will attends, by enrolling in a special study. Along with seven other students who have been diagnosed as psychopaths, Chloe will get a free ride if she agrees to group therapy and biometric monitoring. For Chloe, this is purely a means to an end—access to Will—until someone begins murdering the students in the group. Suddenly, Chloe is in a cat-and-mouse game with a killer, even as she continues with her own murderous plot for justice.

While Chloe isn’t empathetic per se, she is vicariously fun to read about in a way that brings to mind Villanelle from “Killing Eve,” and author Vera Kurian gives readers two equally suspenseful plotlines to follow. First is Chloe’s mission to kill Will. Even though her actions are illegal and morally wrong, Will’s crime is so heinous that it’s not hard to understand why Chloe would resort to murder rather than turn to an unreliable justice system.

And then there’s the catch-me-if-you-can secondary plot of Chloe trying to discover who is killing members of the study she belongs to. She aligns with two other members of the group to flush out the killer, but her companions are as untrustworthy as she is. The fact that Never Saw Me Coming has multiple characters that lie and manipulate without issue makes detecting its central killer all the more challenging. All of this adds up to a unique reading experience: Even though there aren’t necessarily any “good guys” to root for, Kurian compels her readers to be deeply invested in Chloe’s success regardless.

With a satisfying (if bloodthirsty) quest for vengeance and a twisty mystery to solve, Never Saw Me Coming will tempt readers into staying up all night to get answers.

College freshman Chloe Sevre has two secrets: 1) She’s a psychopath, and 2) she’s plotting to kill frat boy Will Bachman. Chloe has no sense of empathy or remorse, but she is acutely aware of being wronged.

Phryne Fisher fans will fall in love with Kiki Button, the gossip columnist and sleuth of Autumn Leaves, 1922 by Tessa Lunney. While this historical mystery can easily be read as a standalone, odds are readers will immediately seek out Kiki’s first adventure, April in Paris, 1921, after being enchanted by Lunney’s charismatic heroine.

Kiki has returned to her beloved Paris after a year spent sorting through her late mother’s estate in Australia. Kiki is struggling under the weight of her grief, both for the mother she never really understood and for a world that’s still recovering from the traumas of World War I. As a wartime nurse and spy, Kiki personally witnessed indescribable suffering, and those images have stayed with her.

She’s looking forward to returning to her glamorous life, reporting on parties and society scandals, but she finds herself pulled back into the world of espionage by her former handler, Fox. Fox holds evidence that could clear Kiki’s childhood friend and current lover from charges of desertion and treason, and he uses this to force Kiki back into his shadowy world. Using her society connections, Kiki must diffuse a scandal related to the growing fascist movement in Europe, which could implicate the Prince of Wales.

As engaging and suspenseful as Kiki’s mission is, Lunney makes the mystery of the mother Kiki barely knew equally fascinating. As she reads her late mother’s diaries, Kiki realizes that the woman who always seemed cold and distant was actually living a secret life not unlike Kiki’s own.

Kiki rubs shoulders with artists, deposed Russian princes and expats like Ernest Hemingway, all while keeping a bevy of lovers on standby. Seemingly living on a diet consisting solely of cigarettes and champagne, she navigates high society, the bohemian art scene and the Paris underworld with ease. Lunney’s prose is beautifully atmospheric, capturing a collective sense of postwar trauma but also hope as Europe enters a new age.

Phryne Fisher fans will fall in love with Kiki Button, the gossip columnist and sleuth of Autumn Leaves, 1922 by Tessa Lunney.

Set amid the incarceration and subsequent displacement of Japanese Americans during World War II, Clark and Division is as much about communal trauma as it is about the anguish of the Ito family, who are at the story’s center. The grief of the Japanese community in Chicago infuses the atmosphere of this novel, offering a compelling, nuanced tale of loss.

Aki Ito and her family have been in a Japanese incarceration camp in California since shortly after Pearl Harbor was bombed. When the Itos are forced to resettle in Chicago in 1944, Aki’s outgoing, dynamic sister, Rose, is sent to the city a few months before the rest of the family arrives. The unfailingly resilient Rose has endured incarceration with the least visible distress, so Aki is shocked when they arrive in Chicago and find that Rose took her own life two days prior. 

Aki refuses to believe her sister would kill herself, and in between a bleak job search and caring for her now frail parents, she seeks out answers about her sister’s death. Amateur sleuth Aki must navigate her insular community, which is insulated for depressingly good reasons, as well as overt racism from the wider world as she learns that some people would prefer she let the matter rest. 


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: How Naomi Hirahara used a crime novel to "cut through to the truth."


Edgar Award-winning author Naomi Hirahara explores trauma on multiple scales in this mystery. On a micro level, Aki struggles to accept the loss of her vibrant sister and watches her father, once a successful businessman, decline into alcoholism. Her family’s home and business back in California have been stolen from them, forcing her parents, deeply proud immigrants, to take whatever jobs they can find. 

On a macro level, everyone in the predominantly Japanese American neighborhood of Clark and Division (named for two nearby streets) is struggling to find their place in a world where they are unfairly seen as the enemy. Some members of the community enlist in the military in order to prove their loyalty to the United States, some turn to crime to earn a living and some are so boxed in by deeply racist socioeconomic structures that they give up entirely.

Yet for Aki, hope is still present, if tarnished. Her journey to make peace with Rose’s death is also a journey to reconcile herself to her new life, while still refusing to forget Rose or their family’s history.

The grief of the World War II-era Japanese community in Chicago infuses the atmosphere of this mystery, offering a compelling, nuanced tale of loss.

With twists worthy of a season finale of “Law & Order: SVU,” The Damage explores a family’s struggle in the aftermath of a sexual assault.

College student Nick Hall meets a handsome stranger in a bar and leaves with him for a one-night stand, only to find himself the victim of a violent attack. Hospitalized and in shock, Nick turns to his much older brother, Tony, for support. Tony and his wife, Julia, have always been parental figures to Nick, and they find themselves reeling from the reality of his rape.

Overwhelmed by shame and trauma, Nick sinks into a suicidal depression while Tony, desperate for a sense of control and justice, turns his rage toward the man arrested for attacking Nick. Julia, a former defense attorney, sees her family fracturing and realizes she must go to extreme lengths to save them all.

Unlike a traditional mystery, we know who Nick’s attacker is within the first few chapters. The real mystery in The Damage is what happens after the assault. The book jumps between the months after the 2015 attack to 2019, when the detective assigned to the case, now facing a terminal diagnosis, looks for answers as to what really happened in the aftermath. The man suspected of Nick’s attack has long since vanished, and the detective believes Julia may know the truth.

The Damage stands out for its depiction of the still taboo subject of male rape. Female sexual assault victims are commonplace in thrillers, but there is still a stigma surrounding male victims of sexual violence. Nick is aware of this stigma, and we see him work through the toxic shame surrounding his attack as he struggles to accept that he was not at fault for what happened to him.

This study of a family in crisis is empathetic and never gratuitous, but still doesn’t shy away from the realities of sexual violence. The Damage carefully and expertly captures the collective trauma of a close-knit family when one of its members is victimized, and the lengths to which they’ll go to find justice and healing.

With twists worthy of a season finale of “Law & Order: SVU,” The Damage explores a family’s struggle in the aftermath of a violent sexual assault.

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