Three cat-and-mouse stories are served with a side of simmering rage.
We all know it’s not good to suppress our feelings. These thrillers offer deliciously terrifying examples of what can happen when unresolved grief, anger and longing collide.
In Ellery Lloyd’s People Like Her, the life of Britain’s biggest “mumfluencer” is a grand and glam one. Emmy Jackson’s million-plus followers compliment her every post as she adorably bumbles her way through new motherhood while capably juggling lucrative endorsements.
But Emmy’s online persona is, as her husband Dan puts it, “bullshit.” Unlike most influencers, Emmy doesn’t pretend her life is easier than it is. Instead, as @the_mamabare, she pretends it’s more difficult, because she realizes there’s big money in appearing more hapless and less polished.
It’s a strange state of affairs, and it’s taking a toll on their marriage. Although Dan knows that Emmy’s cleverly crafted fabrications pay the bills, he’s jealous that her posts garner more praise than his first novel (he’s struggling to complete a second) and uneasy about how she increasingly uses their kids as props. And Emmy wishes Dan were more appreciative of her business acumen. What’s the big deal if she posts photos of the kids, as long as she’s paying the bills and ramping up her career?
As readers gradually realize, Dan’s not the only one with doubts. Somewhere out in the real world, an unnamed person is planning to exact revenge on @the_mamabare for living a life she doesn’t deserve. There’s also a new Instagram account posting stolen photos, which feels like a threat: If they have access to her personal pictures, what else do they know about Emmy?
Lloyd (a pseudonym for husband and wife writing team Paul Vlitos and Collette Lyons, interviewed on the facing page) skillfully turns up the tension as the delectable creepiness intensifies. People Like Her is a smart and sobering wake-up call for the internet-dependent that makes an excellent case for keeping a sharp eye on the line between admiration and obsession.
Lila Ridgefield lives with her husband, Aaron Payne, in a lovely house in a pretty town outside Ithaca, New York. Everyone in town loves Aaron, and they think Lila is . . . all right. She’s beautiful, but she’s a little stand- offish, they say, unaware that she’s barely keeping it together after years of Aaron’s controlling behavior and unrepentant gaslighting behind closed doors.
When Darby Kane’s Pretty Little Wife opens, Lila has just discovered that Aaron’s been doing something criminally terrible, and he violently attacks her after sneering that he feels no remorse. So, she kills him.
But that’s not the most shocking part of this story. First of all, Lila is nonplussed when Aaron is declared missing, not dead. Apparently, his body isn’t where she left it, and she has no idea if he’s still alive and plotting her demise. She struggles to appear distraught while eagle-eyed detective Ginny Davis questions her, knowing that one misstep could make her an even more viable suspect than she already is. Ginny knows something’s amiss with Lila, but she can’t prove it yet—and she suspects that Lila is using her skills as a former criminal defense lawyer to bury the investigation in red herrings.
Breathlessly short chapters keep things moving as various games of cat and mouse grow more complex and dangerous. A parade of suspects, all with plausible alibis and motives, will keep readers guessing as the book builds toward its disturbing, nay horrific, conclusion.
Pretty Little Wife explores the consequences of unacknowledged trauma and dares to ask whether murder is ever justified. It’s an exciting departure for HelenKay Dimon, the bestselling romance author for whom Darby Kane is a pseudonym. There’s certainly no guarantee of a happily ever after, though there is hope for hard-won redemption.
Readers who enjoy an atmospheric gothic tale will thrill to Emma Rous’ The Perfect Guests, in which orphaned 14-year-old Beth Soames arrives at Raven Hall in the summer of 1988. She’s been brought to the grand lakeside manor, which “smelled of wood polish and lavender and safety,” as a potential companion for Leonora and Markus Averell’s similarly aged daughter, Nina.
Beth is hopeful the arrangement will prove better than her group foster home, but she’s also exceedingly nervous. Will they like her? Will they let her stay? Those questions underlie her every interaction as she assimilates into the family. She’s constantly aware that one wrong move could mean she’ll be sent away, so she plays along, pretending not to notice when Leonora and Markus begin to act strangely and even acceding to their requests to participate in the occasional fraught charade.
In 2019, Sadie Langton’s acting career just isn’t paying the bills. Her mood lifts when she’s offered a gig at a murder mystery event held at fancy Raven Hall, which has stood empty on the Norfolk coast these last 30 years. High pay seals the deal, and she joins a motley group at the manse, where an elaborate scenario and a fancy meal are soon underway. There’s someone else orbiting the mansion, too, who feels that Raven Hall is destined to be theirs, no matter how they obtain it. Rous lays out clues to this person’s identity with tantalizing judiciousness.
Should Beth follow her instincts about the Averells and flee Raven Hall, or is she overreacting? Is Sadie silly for thinking the murder mystery feels a little too real? Who does Raven Hall belong to, really? Timelines collide and secrets are revealed in gasp-inducing fashion in this Clue meets Agatha Christie page turner from the bestselling author of The Au Pair.