Good company, beautiful scenery, false pretenses and uninvited guests make for nerve-rattling, riveting armchair travel in these two thrillers.
At the beginning of Kimberly McCreight’s Friends Like These, five friends reunite for a bachelor party in the Catskills. The sixth member of their group, Alice, died by suicide in college, and they’ve kept secrets about the events surrounding her death ever since. But the trip has a more serious purpose that’s yet another secret to keep: The group plans to hold an intervention to convince one of their number, Keith, to check into rehab.
But when the weekend is over, someone is missing, someone is dead and Julia Scutt, a local detective, is tasked with prying the truth from people so insulated by privilege, they’re shocked to find themselves affected by anything, let alone a tragedy of this caliber. And Julia has a tragedy in her own past that may be clouding her judgment.
The community where the party’s host, Jonathan, owns an opulent country house is in an economic slump, which results in a tense dynamic where “weekenders” like this group are both hated and needed. It can be hard at first to distinguish the individual members of the clique; the specifics of their relationships and connections could fill a wall chart with connecting strings. But their collective self-absorption makes it that much more satisfying when some comeuppance is finally distributed.
An intricate resolution involves performance art, the mafia, armchair detectives addicted to true crime podcasts and three big twists. (The third is a doozy.) As each character narrates their version of events, new pieces of information bring you closer to the truth . . . if only there weren’t so many lies mixed in. The false leads and big cast of characters make Friends Like These an entertaining puzzle. Take this book on your vacation and be glad you’re not on their vacation.
Getaway drops three women, two of them sisters, into the Grand Canyon for some adventurous hiking and unforeseen terror. Sisters Imogen and Beck have made the trip before with their family, but in the intervening years, Imogen suffered two major traumas that have turned her focus inward. Beck hopes the trip will restore her sister’s courage and also help mend Imogen’s rift with their mutual friend Tilda, a less experienced hiker who waits until they’re well into the hike to tell them as much. That would be bad enough, but soon all three women begin to have the sneaking suspicion that they are not alone on the trail.
Author Zoje Stage (Baby Teeth) gives this horror-tinged thriller emotional depth through a careful layering of big themes and tiny details. Stage has hiked the Grand Canyon herself, and her characters’ descriptions of the hike have an immersive, absorbing effect. The violence in this novel is truly frightening, more so because of how it contrasts with the beauty of the canyon’s vistas, sounds and silences.
Something as insignificant as a sliver of granola bar wrapper in an unexpected location can actually mean a great deal, but only if the people you’re traveling with and counting on listen to and believe you when you point it out. When there are three people in a challenging setting, two are almost always aligned while the third feels left out, and that can shut down communication and make it difficult to solve problems. Empathetic Imogen has the sense that she knows what’s really going on and how best to help, but there’s a chance her compassion is blinding her to how dire their situation really is.
Getaway plays with shifting loyalties, old hurts and the potential for reconciliation in a way that’s emotionally affecting but never slows down the plot. A truly devilish thriller, it balances gut-twisting suspense with heartfelt connection.