Three female-led literary thrillers explore the ways in which love (both romantic and familial) can nurture or destroy, and how devastating the consequences can be when it does the latter. With excellently placed twists, clever metafictional elements and chilling conclusions, these three books are the standouts of this season’s thriller shelves.
In Roz Nay’s debut, Our Little Secret, a young woman stuck in a police interview room takes a detective on a meandering journey down memory lane, revealing the history of her first love, how they parted and what happened next.
Angela Petitjean and her high school sweetheart, Hamish “HP” Parker, still live in their Vermont hometown. Over the years, HP married a woman named Saskia and had a child, and now Saskia is missing. Detective Novak just wants Angela to answer some questions. Angela just wants Novak to realize that the story she’s telling will give him all the answers he needs.
Angela’s delicious narration spins a tale of heady high school love, an idyllic year of study at Oxford University and the stale monotony born of unfulfilled potential. Our Little Secret takes the unreliable narrator trope and ramps it up: Angela is a fantastic liar, but she might not realize that her lies can be just as revealing as the truth. With a slow-burning plot and solid characters, this novel introduces a promising new author with a range of strengths.
MOTHER, MAY I?
Another debut novel, Aimee Molloy’s The Perfect Mother, melds traditional suspense fare—a missing child—with a nuanced portrayal of women during the early days of motherhood. Brought together by their similar due dates, the women of a Brooklyn “mommy group” known as the May Mothers forge tentative friendships and share support. When they decide to have a night out, Winnie isn’t sure. But Francie, Colette and Nell are worried Winnie is feeling the stress of single motherhood, and they insist she join them. What starts out as a fun evening turns into a nightmare when Winnie’s infant son, Midas, goes missing. As the police investigation stalls out and the media coverage reaches a frenzy, Winnie’s three friends are determined to help. But with each dead end, the women are forced to wonder if something darker than kidnapping could have happened that night.
With multiple narrators and a clever construction that plays on readers’ assumptions, The Perfect Mother is an impressive and satisfying domestic thriller. Particularly interesting is its depiction of female insecurities, as well as its open interrogation of the expectations placed on mothers. This gripping and fresh novel will provoke as much thought as it does excitement.
THE POOL INCIDENT
In The Elizas, the first adult novel from Sara Shepard (author of the bestselling Pretty Little Liars YA series), a young woman grapples with memory gaps and paranoia after she is found at the bottom of a hotel pool. Eliza Fontaine is certain someone pushed her in, but her family isn’t convinced; Eliza has survived several suicide attempts involving water. Plus, she was drunk that night, and a storm knocked out the pool security cameras.
Although Eliza wants to find out the truth, she is also occupied with the upcoming publication of her first novel, The Dots, about a girl’s relationship with her troubled aunt. Demands from her editor and agent contend with Eliza’s increasing anxiety over lost memories and the certainty that someone is following her. Why is her family unwilling to discuss the pool incident? Why do they seem like they’re hiding something? And why do people keep insisting that they’ve seen Eliza around town in places she knows (does she know?) she never went?
Narrated by Eliza and interspersed with chapters from The Dots, The Elizas is more of a satisfying puzzle than a shocking thriller, as readers will piece together the truth well before the final pages. But it’s enjoyable to parse the well-paced clues, and readers will root for the likable, yet sometimes worrying Eliza. Equal parts fun and disturbing, The Elizas delivers a heavy dose of psychodrama and a punchy, contemporary voice.
This article was originally published in the May 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.