Emily Bartlett Hines

“I'm just a guy passing through. . . . [I’m] a coincidence.” That's how Jack Reacher explains his presence in the tiny Oklahoma town of Mother’s Rest. A laconic ex-military detective with no fixed address, Reacher got off the train with no deeper motivation than a desire to know the source of the town’s strange name. Once there, he finds a reason to stay—Michelle Chang, a private detective on the hunt for her missing partner. The sleuth disappeared shortly after calling her to Mother’s Rest for help on a case. But what mystery could he have been solving in the middle of nowhere? Was it really dangerous enough to cause his disappearance? And just why are the townspeople in such a hurry for Reacher to leave?

The pair team up to find answers. To do it, they’ll have to track down the mysterious client who hired Chang’s partner just before he went missing. Their search will take them to from Oklahoma City to Chicago to LA, and bring them into contact with strange characters, like a genius computer programmer who’s obsessed with searching the dark web. The closer they get to the truth, the more people want to keep them away from it—from Ukranian crime bosses to angry hog farmers. None of them particularly scare the effortlessly competent Reacher; his opponents may be armed and dangerous, but, as he points out, “only temporarily.”

Though this is the 20th Jack Reacher novel, newcomers will be won over by the pleasures of identifying with a noirish-badass hero who can outthink, out-punch, out-shoot and out-quip a bad guy at lightning speed. Lee Child is brilliant at generating suspense, but amid all the heart-stopping action scenes, Make Me also offers flashes of deadpan wit and captures the spare, dusty rhythms of Oklahoma farm life. The book’s opening coincidence is just the first of many ingenious plot devices, and a series of masterfully timed revelations will lay bare the chilling truth about Mother’s Rest.

“I'm just a guy passing through. . . . [I’m] a coincidence.” That's how Jack Reacher explains his presence in the tiny Oklahoma town of Mother’s Rest. A laconic ex-military detective with no fixed address, Reacher got off the train with no deeper motivation than a desire to know the source of the town’s strange name. Once there, he finds a reason to stay—Michelle Chang, a private detective on the hunt for her missing partner.

Most readers probably imagine their favorite author as thoughtful and deep—someone bursting with insight into life and empathy for all creation. From the outside, that’s what Henry Hayden appears to be. Modest despite the five-and-counting bestsellers that bear his name, he seems to be devoted to his wife, loyal to his friends and eager to sign books for the fans who travel to his remote village just to meet him. But he’s a fraud: Every word of his novels was written by his publicity-shy wife, Martha. His role is to take the credit—and enjoy the mansion, Maserati and mistresses that come with fame.

Then Henry’s girlfriend tells him she’s pregnant. Desperate to protect his perfect life, he commits a violent act that turns out to be a huge mistake. Now Martha is missing, and he must prove he’s not to blame. To do so, he’ll have to use his manipulative charms on an entire cast of amoral schemers—including Betty, the mistress who hopes to wed him; Gisbert, the sad-sack ex-schoolmate who can’t forgive Henry’s childhood cruelty; and Obradin, the brooding Serbian best friend who’d do anything in the name of loyalty. As the carnage piles up, the truth about Henry’s past threatens to close in on him.

The Truth and Other Lies is told from Henry’s point of view and incisively presents the mind of a narcissist—a man who can commit murder, yet pat himself on the back for “doing good and feeling good at the same time.” Henry’s cynical worldview provides flashes of mordant humor: Fearing arrest, he takes the scenic route to the morgue because “he wanted to make the most of his last opportunity to drive the Maserati.” And his schemes result in ironic plot complications that rival those of “his” acclaimed thrillers. Henry may lack literary talent, but as a criminal he authors an unfolding catastrophe that readers will relish.

Most readers probably imagine their favorite author as thoughtful and deep—someone bursting with insight into life and empathy for all creation. From the outside, that’s what Henry Hayden appears to be. Modest despite the five-and-counting bestsellers that bear his name, he seems to be devoted to his wife, loyal to his friends and eager to sign books for the fans who travel to his remote village just to meet him. But he’s a fraud: Every word of his novels was written by his publicity-shy wife, Martha.

“I was too angry to take my own life,” muses the protagonist of Sharon Bolton’s Little Black Lies. “Unless, of course, I could take Rachel’s first.” Readers expecting a conventionally likable heroine may be taken aback by Catrin Quinn, a woman too consumed by grief to feel much empathy for anyone around her. Catrin is a wildlife conservation expert in the Falkland Islands, a remote 2,000-person settlement in the south Atlantic. Until three years ago, she was a married mother of two. Then her best friend, Rachel, left her sons unattended in a car by the side of a cliff, allowing them to roll to their deaths.  

The tragedy ended Catrin’s marriage, as well as her affair with sexy ex-soldier Callum Murphy. It also left Catrin bitter, hopeless and preoccupied with revenge. When a visiting tourist’s young son goes missing, joining in the search brings her anguish even closer to the surface. She believes the child simply wandered away from his parent and drowned—but this is the third such disappearance in three years, and islanders are starting to wonder if there could be a killer in their midst. Then Rachel’s son disappears, and Catrin’s neighbors start to wonder if that killer might be her.

Lies evokes the wild landscape of the Falklands—a place where whale and seal sightings are common, wrecked ships lurk just off the coast and abandoned mines from the ’80s-era war still pose a threat. It also deftly portrays the mental states of its three narrators: Catrin; Callum, the ex-lover who still hopes to win her back; and Rachel, the accidental killer who uses pills and alcohol to numb her guilt. Each is deeply damaged and difficult to love, but this fast-paced and expertly plotted thriller forces readers to question whether any of them are capable of murder.

“I was too angry to take my own life,” muses the protagonist of Sharon Bolton’s Little Black Lies. “Unless, of course, I could take Rachel’s first.” Readers expecting a conventionally likable heroine may be taken aback by Catrin Quinn, a woman too consumed by grief to feel much empathy for anyone around her.

As The Strangler Vine opens, William Avery is a typical young soldier in 1830’s colonial India: deep in debt, disdainful of Indian “barbarity,” stalled in his career and desperate to make it back to Devonshire before the cholera picks him off. His prospects change drastically when British East India Company officers give him a mission: He will accompany Special Inquiry Agent Jeremiah Blake on a 700-mile journey into the heart of India to find missing poet Xavier Mountstuart.

Avery idolizes Mountstuart, a Byronic figure who disappeared while researching a long poem on the murderous Thuggee cult. But he doesn’t exactly hit it off with his traveling companion. Blake is an enigmatic political operative and linguistic genius who has spent years “[living] as much as he could as a native.”  He’s unimpressed by Avery’s naive faith in the benevolence of British rule. And as the pair journey further into the countryside, they seem to have no leads. The Company members they encounter are mysteriously tight-lipped about Mountstuart’s fate. Did the writer fall victim to Thuggee ritual murder—or is there more to the story?

The Strangler Vine immerses the reader in an India of jungles, bandit attacks, tiger hunts and Rajahs’ opulent courts, but it’s also a meticulously researched portrait of an era. First-time novelist M.J. Carter depicts a cultural climate in which colonizers are increasingly contemptuous and hostile toward a civilization they once admired. A real historical figure even appears: Major William Sleeman, who led a brutal campaign to repress the Thuggee menace (and, in doing so, legitimate British power). This suspenseful tale of intrigue skillfully portrays Avery’s dawning realization that “everyone calls barbarity what he is not accustomed to.”

As The Strangler Vine opens, William Avery is a typical young soldier in 1830’s colonial India: deep in debt, disdainful of Indian “barbarity,” stalled in his career and desperate to make it back to Devonshire before the cholera picks him off.

Readers can expect major entertainment in two paranormal thrillers that bridge the gap between mystery and horror, starring a couple of detectives who are in way over their heads.

How do you fight evil when the evil is part of you? That’s the dilemma faced by detective Zach Adams in Andrew Klavan’s Werewolf Cop. Zach works for the Extraordinary Crimes Unit, a top-secret federal task force dedicated to stopping a shadowy crime syndicate that has caused chaos throughout Europe. To do so, Zach and his partner will have to take down reclusive kingpin Dominic Abend.

But Abend is no ordinary crime boss: He’s hunting down his old connections in search of an ancient dagger said to have otherworldly powers. When Zach travels to Germany to learn more, he gets a terrifying taste of what those powers involve. Deep in the Black Forest, he’s attacked by an impossibly huge and powerful wolf. He returns home convinced it was all a fever dream—but then the full moon rises.

Coping with a new alter ego is bad enough, but things get even more complicated: A months-ago act of infidelity threatens to destroy Zach’s marriage, and he’s starting to suspect that his trusted partner, Goulart, is taking bribes from bad guys. As Zach closes in on Abend, he struggles to control the appetite of the werewolf inside him—while knowing it may be the only thing that can stop the gangster’s rise to power.

Despite portentous themes of sin and redemption, Werewolf Cop is ultimately a fast-paced page-turner that delivers all the gory thrills its title promises.

Lupine sleuthing may be hard work, but it’s downright glamorous in comparison to the daily grind of Thomas Fool, the beleaguered everyman in Simon Kurt Unsworth’s debut, The Devil’s Detective.

This hardboiled thriller is set in a “frayed and dirty” hell—think less sulfur and lakes of fire, more Soviet-style bureaucracy. Food is scarce, violence is ubiquitous, and the legions of damned don’t even know what they’re being punished for. Humans exist as a permanent underclass, brutalized by the demons who were hell’s first inhabitants.

Fool is leading an especially uninspiring afterlife: He’s is an Information Man, tasked with solving the underworld’s many demon-on-human murders. But with no resources or training, his three-person crew doesn’t stand a chance.

The status quo starts to shift when a series of bodies turns up stripped of their souls. As Fool’s investigation gathers momentum, his self-doubt is replaced by hope that he could actually serve justice. He becomes a rather unlikely folk hero, which naturally places him in serious danger.

Unsworth has created a vivid subterranean world, a place where men merge with plants, skinless demons lay claim to dumped bodies, and a delegation of visiting angels is none too pleased with the accommodations. While its relentlessly dark tone may chill some readers, this is a vivid and wildly inventive look at the banality of evil.

 

This article was originally published in the March 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Readers can expect major entertainment in two paranormal thrillers that bridge the gap between mystery and horror, starring a couple of detectives who are in way over their heads.

Of the dramatic plot twists that routinely occur in suspense fiction, one character in Harriet Lane’s Her complains that they are “unsatisfying . . . nothing like life, which—it seems to me—turns less on shocks or theatrics than on the small quiet moments, misunderstandings or disappointments, the things that it’s easy to overlook.” Lane’s novel, in which a vengeful woman infiltrates the life of an old acquaintance, features many potential shocks. But Her eschews cheap drama, instead building suspense by shedding light on two women’s inner worlds.

The story is set in motion when Nina Bremner, a 30-something artist, spots Emma Nash pushing a stroller down a busy London street. As a teen, Emma wreaked havoc on Nina’s life with a single thoughtless act. Now Emma doesn’t even remember her—but Nina is obsessed. Using a series of staged coincidences to win her trust, Nina finds the once-carefree blonde stressed and exhausted by the demands of new motherhood. Emma is dazzled by her new friend’s air of freedom and effortless glamour. But Nina’s friendship comes at a cost. She’s actually the ultimate underminer, rifling through Emma’s possessions, ruining her dinner parties and even staging the disappearance of her child.

Narrated in turns by the two women, the book subtly conveys the psychological currents that attract them to each other. Emma longs for a break from the endless small stressors of parenting a difficult toddler—“the headlong conscientious dawn-to-dusk rush to feed and entertain and bathe.” Meanwhile, Nina, whose own life isn’t as perfect as it appears, feels a queasy sense of triumph at seeing a former teen queen reduced to wiping up snot. As the two women grow closer, readers wait to discover the true reason for Nina’s hatred—and how far her revenge will go.

Of the dramatic plot twists that routinely occur in suspense fiction, one character in Harriet Lane’s Her complains that they are “unsatisfying . . . nothing like life, which—it seems to me—turns less on shocks or theatrics than on the small quiet moments, misunderstandings or disappointments, the things that it’s easy to overlook.” Lane’s novel, in which a vengeful woman infiltrates the life of an old acquaintance, features many potential shocks. But Her eschews cheap drama, instead building suspense by shedding light on two women’s inner worlds.

Sign Up

Stay on top of new releases: Sign up for our enewsletters to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres.

Trending Features

Sign Up

Sign up to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres!