It’s Christmastime in the U.K., and all the cops are hoping that maybe this will be the year they’ll get to spend the holidays with their families. It is not to be. “Everything is slack, unurgent. It all smacks of too late,” one of the detectives muses as they pull up to the crime scene. Someone at the scene comments, “She’s been more than killed. She’s more than dead.” And it was then, a scant 17 pages in, when I realized that I would not be putting this book down until I had reached the end. The detectives at the center of Patrick McGuinness’ Throw Me to the Wolves, narrator Ander and his partner Gary, could scarcely be more unalike. Ander is sensitive and introspective, while Gary is a throwback to an earlier time, when beating a suspect or drinking on the job, while not publicly condoned, was not privately condemned either. The suspect is a retired boarding school teacher, someone Ander knew from his school days a lifetime ago, a man seemingly incapable of such a heinous killing. Thus, two parallel narratives emerge, one about the investigation of the murder and a second about events of times long past. McGuinness delves into current events (Brexit, et al.) and lobs numerous digs at the tabloid media, all while delivering a first-rate whodunit. It’s only May, but Throw Me to the Wolves looks like a strong candidate for mystery of the year. Or any year.
Jeffery Deaver already has two major suspense series to his credit, and now he’s starting another with The Never Game, which features arguably the most unusual protagonist of his career thus far: itinerant reward seeker Colter Shaw. An expert tracker thanks to his survivalist father, Shaw travels the U.S. in a Winnebago in search of missing persons. In Berkeley, California, he undertakes an investigation into the disappearance of a teenage girl, a case the local authorities are treating as a simple runaway. It turns out to be anything but. The search leads Shaw to team up with a young female gamer, and it begins to dawn on them that the disappearance bears a striking resemblance to level one of a popular internet survival game called “The Whispering Man.” When a second disappearance occurs, their suspicions seem to be confirmed, except now the unidentified perpetrator has ramped up the difficulty level with an altogether more dangerous and potentially lethal set of outcomes. I would characterize Deaver’s previous novels as mysteries, but The Never Game occupies thriller territory, and it has film adaptation written all over it.
Young Carline Darcy appeared to have it all. Presumptive heir to Darcy Therapeutics, the largest pharmaceutical company in Ireland, by all rights she should have lived a charmed life. But early on, it all went sideways. First, there was her parents’ vitriolic divorce, fueled largely by her selfish and vindictive mother. Then her father was killed in a skiing accident, forcing her to live out her teen years with the unfeeling mother she had rarely seen over the course of her childhood. This personal history comprises the first chapter of Dervla McTiernan’s The Scholar, setting the stage for what’s to come. Fast-forward eight years, and Carline is a university student and researcher. One evening when Darcy Therapeutics medical researcher Emma Sweeney is returning home, she comes upon the dead body of a young woman, the apparent victim of a hit-and-run. Emma summons her boyfriend, Detective Cormac Reilly, to the scene. They are shocked to discover that the ID card carried by the corpse identifies her as Carline Darcy. And if they are shocked, it doesn’t hold a candle to the media frenzy about to be set loose. As the evidence mounts, it becomes increasingly clear that there is involvement on the part of Darcy Therapeutics and perhaps even Emma, whose “discovery” of the body is entirely too convenient for some people to swallow. Cormac must walk the fine line between loyalty to his lover and loyalty to the force, a path liberally strewn with land mines by the fiendishly clever McTiernan.
“Stone mothers” was a Victorian epithet for mental institutions, implying that within their stone walls help and nurturing could be found for those in need. In reality, of course, the opposite was often true. Stone Mothers is also the title of Erin Kelly’s latest thriller, set in and around a now-closed mental institution in the remote fictional town of Nusstead, England. Marianne Thackeray is no stranger to mental illness–her mother suffers from dementia, and her daughter hovers on the brink of mental instability as well. Marianne grew up in the shadow of Nazareth Mental Hospital, but she left some 30 years ago and made a good life for herself and her family. Now she is being dragged back to the town she escaped, first to assist her mother, then (rather more ominously) as a blackmail victim for a long-ago act that she thought would never again see the light of day. Before long, a former lover will become an enemy, a former enemy will become an unlikely ally, and the reader will be exposed to institutional horrors that make One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest look as inviting as Disneyland. It’s disturbing to the max, but hey, that’s what we read thrillers for, right?