Is your book club ready to try something different after another round of literary fiction? Tired of reading the same titles as every other book club in town? Branch out with one of these mystery and suspense picks for your next book club meeting. The books on our list were screened with these criteria in mind:
• Issues, characters and/or moral dilemmas worthy of group discussion
• Suspense paired with great writing
• Books that stand alone and don't require knowledge of earlier entries in a series
• Recently (or soon-to-be) available in paperback
Here are our top 10 recommendations:
Book clubs will find plenty of fodder for discussion in Ephron's psychological thriller about two American couples whose Italian vacation dissolves into a swirl of acrimony and infidelity. Told in alternating viewpoints by the participants, Ephron's finely paced tale exposes some raw truths about betrayal and jealousy. A reading group guide is available online.
Before the Fall by Noah Hawley
Creator of the FX television series "Fargo" and "Legion," Hawley won the 2017 Edgar Award for Best Novel for this riveting mystery about a plane crash off the coast of Martha's Vineyard that claims the lives of nine well-to-do passengers. Only two aboard survive: struggling painter Scott Burroughs and the 4-year-old son of a wealthy media titan. A reading group guide is included in the paperback edition.
Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters
Not your typical thriller, Winters' book tackles a deadly serious topic: America's legacy of slavery and the ways in which it still affects our culture. Described by the author as "an alternate history that wasn't alternate enough," this fast-paced novel depicts a present-day U.S.A. where slavery is legal in four states in the South. Victor, a black bounty hunter who tracks down escaped slaves, is on the trail of an escapee known as Jackdaw, and his pursuit will take many dramatic twists and turns.
Amelia Winn, the protagonist of this compelling novel, has two characteristics that distinguish her from run-of-the-mill mystery characters: She's a nurse, and she's deaf. Struck by a hit-and-run driver, Amelia loses her hearing—and her marriage—as a result of the crash. Two years later, as she attempts to rebuild her life, she finds the body of a fellow nurse in the river near her remote cabin. Gudenkauf, who is hearing-impaired, blends a straightforward and illuminating portrait of Amelia's disability into this riveting tale.
All Is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker
Optioned for film by Reese Witherspoon, Walker's novel has an intriguing concept: Jenny Kramer, the teenage victim of a brutal rape, is given a controversial drug that erases all her memories of the assault. The reaction of Jenny's parents to the crime, the treatment by her psychiatrist and the secrets that surface in her Connecticut hometown all offer rich areas for discussion by reading groups.
Blood Salt Water by Denise Mina
Though this is the fifth book in the Detective Alex Morrow series, newcomers should have no problem diving into this watery mystery by the masterful Scottish crime writer. Already under police surveillance for possible money laundering, Roxanna Fuentecilla disappears from her Glasgow home and turns up dead in the waters of Loch Lomond. Morrow's investigation will take her to the scenic seaside town of Helensburgh, which may harbor dark secrets beneath its quaint exterior. Mina's sharp writing and finely drawn characters have won her numerous awards and an international following.
Though we don't have the space to enumerate all the qualities that make Penny's Armand Gamache mysteries worth reading, two stand at the top of our list: the powerful writing and rich setting in the charming Quèbec village of Three Pines. In this outing, which earned a spot on several 2016 best books of the year lists (including our own), Gamache investigates the murder of a sadistic professor at the police academy. Discussions questions are included in the paperback edition.
The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
Ware follows her hit debut, In a Dark, Dark Wood, with the gripping story of travel journalist Lo Blackstock, who thinks she's lucky to snag a press pass for a luxury cruise from London to Norway. The idyllic cruise takes a frightening turn on the first night when Lo hears a scream from the next cabin and then a loud splash. There's no sign of a crime, however, and ship security assures Lo that the cabin wasn't occupied. Book club topic number one: Are Lo's concerns overlooked because she's a woman with a history of anxiety and panic attacks? More questions are available in an online reading group guide.
A handsome and successful English lawyer, Jack Angel shows admirable concern for domestic violence victims by representing battered women. But his personal life tells a different story: Jack's treatment of his wife, Grace, is cruel and deeply disturbing. After a whirlwind courtship and marriage, Grace has become virtually a prisoner in their home, not allowed any unsupervised contact with the outside world. As Grace prepares for the arrival of her sister, Minnie, who has Down syndrome, she's faced with a terrifying choice.
Hart, a talented writer who won back-to-back Edgar Awards for Down River and The Lost Child, covers thought-provoking territory in his latest thriller, his first in five years. Two powerful stories are interwoven here, both involving police officers: Det. Elizabeth Bank is under investigation after fatally shooting two black teens who were raping a white girl. Meanwhile, former policeman Adrian Wall is released from prison after serving 13 years for a murder he didn't commit. As you might expect from the book's title, the nature of redemption is one of the topics that should generate group discussion.