Ruby Todd’s dazzling debut, Bright Objects, is a riveting literary thriller of obsession, vengeance and astronomy, but its most poignant gift may be its depiction of trying to make sense of life after tragedy.
Ruby Todd’s dazzling debut, Bright Objects, is a riveting literary thriller of obsession, vengeance and astronomy, but its most poignant gift may be its depiction of trying to make sense of life after tragedy.
All good mysteries must have a fiendishly compelling plot, but truly great mysteries place their central puzzle in an equally fascinating setting.
All good mysteries must have a fiendishly compelling plot, but truly great mysteries place their central puzzle in an equally fascinating setting.
Akira Otani makes her English language debut with The Night of Baba Yaga, plus the latest from Donna Leon and Harlan Coben in this month’s Whodunit column.
Akira Otani makes her English language debut with The Night of Baba Yaga, plus the latest from Donna Leon and Harlan Coben in this month’s Whodunit column.

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Joseph Nightingale, nicknamed Fearless after a moment of heroism during the Bosnian conflict, is a British war photographer who was in Nairobi during the August 1998 attack on the U.S. Embassy. While he was away, his pregnant girlfriend, an award-winning investigative journalist, was killed in an automobile accident. As Praveen Herat’s gripping debut political thriller, Between This World and the Next, opens, Fearless has accepted his old friend, Alyosha Federenko’s invitation to Cambodia, arriving overwhelmed by grief and guilt.

Federenko stashes Fearless at the Naga, a gathering place for the gangs and soldiers of fortune set loose upon the world after the collapse of the Soviet Union. One of the chilling pleasures of this book is Herat’s vivid, knowledgeable portrait of this threatening netherworld, from outposts like the Naga to breakaway states like Transnistria, where money is exchanged for advanced weaponry and private armies are assembled to rule in feudal power.

Federenko himself resides at a luxury hotel while he wheels and deals in an attempt to gather money and power to work himself back into the upper echelons of the new Russian elite. Fearless at first forgives the acquisitiveness of a man he knows was born in chaos and poverty. But as events unfold, and people get hurt and killed, Fearless’s worldview of engaged empathy collides with Federenko’s selfish, transactional view of human interactions.

Also at the Naga is Song, a young Cambodian woman enslaved as a cleaner. As children, she and her twin sister were sold into prostitution. Song’s face has since been ravaged by an acid attack, and her soul is deflated by loss of contact with her sister. She cares for the young children who are brought to the Naga by adult predators and whose gruesome abuse is recorded on video. The existence of one of these videos, handed off to Fearless, sets the elaborate plot rolling with increasing velocity.

The final chapters of Between This World and the Next are breathtaking in their descriptive power and imaginative reach, and the novel’s ending is very satisfying. But some threads still dangle and not all questions are answered—which makes one hope for a sequel.

Praveen Herat’s prizewinning debut thriller, Between This World and the Next, paints a vivid, knowledgeable portrait of a threatening political netherworld, including breakaway states like Transnistria.
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A fatal accident, a cosmic visitor and a mysterious stranger all come together in a small Australian town in Ruby Todd’s dazzling debut, Bright Objects.

Young widow Sylvia Knight is recovering from the car accident that killed her husband and left her with serious injuries, both physical and psychological. Profoundly lonely, Sylvia works at the local mortuary, keeps her husband’s grave tidy and puts on a cheerful face for her mother-in-law, Sandy, whom she visits weekly. But she is haunted by sketchy memories of the night of the accident. Although another car was involved, nobody was arrested, but Sylvia believes she knows who was responsible. When word comes through her friend Vince that the police are closing the case, she falls into a deep depression and plans to take her own life. However, the appearance of a rare comet proves a distraction. When the comet’s discoverer, American astronomer Theo St. John, walks into the mortuary one day, Sylvia’s life takes a turn. Sylvia and Theo begin to find connection through shared meals and trips to the observatory to view the comet.

As the comet’s path draws closer to Earth, the mood in town shifts from celebratory to ominous. Joseph Evans, local meditation teacher and the heir of a wealthy family, sees the comet as a divine messenger and begins a series of mystical lectures that attract a cultlike following. He is eager to involve both Sylvia and Sandy, and Sylvia is distressed to see her mother-in-law drawn in by his promises. Conflicted in her feelings towards Theo and still wrestling with suicidal ideation, Sylvia finds her obsession with uncovering her husband’s killer pushing her to the edges of her sanity.

Bright Objects is a riveting literary thriller of obsession, vengeance and astronomy, but its most poignant gift may be its depiction of trying to make sense of life after tragedy.

Ruby Todd’s dazzling debut, Bright Objects, is a riveting literary thriller of obsession, vengeance and astronomy, but its most poignant gift may be its depiction of trying to make sense of life after tragedy.
Behind the Book by

A woman is standing beside me at the swings. I can see the exact expression on her face; I can hear her voice as she chats with her son. Her name is Tessa, and she isn’t real.

Like all readers, I’m familiar with the way reality and fiction can blur together. I remember visiting Edinburgh, Scotland, and walking around feeling absolutely giddy at being surrounded by, basically, characters from Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series. I sometimes find myself wondering about Rachel, from Caroline O’Donoghue’s The Rachel Incident, the way I might if we’d been friends in college. And I find it easy to forget that Karamat Lone, from Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire, is not an actual British politician. I’m used to being haunted by characters, and Tessa has been a very stubborn ghost. 

“It’s still hard for me to believe that Tessa doesn’t exist, in some corner of Dublin, just out of sight.”

I first wrote about Tessa and her sister, Marian, in Northern Spy. After turning in the book, I noticed that Tessa’s story kept spinning in my head. Her relationships with her family, her former handler and the IRA kept shifting with new complications and revelations. I wanted to write them all down, and I loved returning to her voice in Trust Her

As a reader, I appreciate when authors return to characters or settings. I love the deep familiarity of a duology or trilogy or a long series, the heft that comes from sticking with a detective across 10 or 20 books, as a career shifts, relationships fall apart or come together, children grow. I’m fascinated by Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series, and the way each installment twists the kaleidoscope, revealing a different view of past events. That sort of casting back offers so much energy for a plot. I don’t outline my books, which means spending a lot of time wondering if what I’m writing will make any sense. There is a big twist near the end of Trust Her. When I checked back in Northern Spy, all of the clues were in place, like I’d been writing toward that moment all along. 

Read our starred review of ‘Trust Her’ by Flynn Berry.

I wanted Trust Her to echo with Northern Spy, but also to be its own complete story, with its own specific landscape. For research, I spent time in Dublin wandering around Tessa’s neighborhood, walking up and down her road in Ranelagh, hearing the Luas light-rail trams go past behind her back garden. I had breakfast at The Fumbally, a restaurant Tessa visits in The Liberties. I browsed the shelves in Hodges Figgis, her favorite bookshop, and sat on the top deck of the bus she takes home from work. I rode another bus out of the city towards the Dublin Mountains, looking out at the snow on the rooftops after a rare winter storm. Following Tessa has brought me to places I’d never have seen otherwise. It brought me into the politicians’ canteen hidden inside the Irish Parliament, and, earlier, into a production booth at the BBC during a live radio broadcast. 

It’s still hard for me to believe that Tessa doesn’t exist, in some corner of Dublin, just out of sight. Maybe she does, and I’m the one who has been haunting her.

Photo of Flynn Berry by Sylvie Rosokoff.

Why Flynn Berry wrote Trust Her, a surprise sequel to her 2021 bestselling suspense novel, Northern Spy.

When Daniel Lohr’s and Leah Auerbach’s eyes meet as they wait to board the SS Raffaello, their connection is instant and electric. The year is 1939, and they’ve both booked first-class passage on a weekslong journey from Trieste, Italy, to Shanghai. But while the cruise liner is massive in size and gorgeous in design, its opulence stands in sharp contrast to what the vessel really is to Daniel, Leah and their fellow Jewish passengers: a veritable lifeboat carrying them away from the horrors of Nazism in Europe to the great unknown (at least, for them) of the Far East.

In his fascinating and elegantly written new crime thriller, Shanghai, Joseph Kanon once again whisks readers back to World War II—as he did in previous bestselling novels including Alibi, The Good German and Leaving Berlin—immersing them in a pivotal time and place he describes as a “wonderful open window” offering the possibility of survival for those hoping to make a new start even as the world they knew crumbled around them.

“I thought, what would be more embarrassing than a publisher who can’t write? So I never told anybody that I was doing it . . .”

As the author explains in a call with BookPage from the upper Manhattan home he shares with his wife, “for about a year, Shanghai was the one place in the world that anybody could go without a visa, and it was a lifesaver” for approximately 20,000 European Jews, many of them hailing from Germany, like Daniel, and Austria, like Leah and her mother. 

Kanon learned about prewar Shanghai’s unique role in world history on a 2019 vacation to China. “I hadn’t known about, or if I did I just marginally knew about, the Jewish refugees who came from Europe after Kristallnacht [in 1938]. What an extraordinary story! I don’t know that it’s as well-known as it might be.” 

His fans are sure to spread the word: The internationally bestselling author’s books have been published in more than 24 languages. That massive readership originated with his first book, 1997’s Los Alamos, a New York Times bestseller and winner of the 1998 Edgar Award for Best First Novel.

While his writerly career certainly got off to a rollicking start, it isn’t something Kanon had pined for. Rather, the former publishing executive (he held top positions at both Houghton Mifflin and E.P. Dutton) says, “I never wrote when I was working as a publisher. I didn’t have manuscripts secretly in drawers or anything like that. I enjoyed publishing and enjoyed what I was doing, and I didn’t really anticipate this life change.” 

But then came the summer of 1995. “I was with my wife in the Southwest, just as a tourist . . . . I’d always been interested in World War II and we were so near Los Alamos that I said, let’s go and see it. And I was absolutely floored by it and so intrigued: This was once the most secret place on the Earth, in the world, and you can go there.” As the site’s history and mystery sank in, he says, “I thought, gee, what would’ve happened if there had been a crime? How would they go about solving that, since it’s a place that technically doesn’t exist?”

Book jacket image for Shanghai by Joseph Kanon

With his publisher hat still firmly in place, Kanon says, “I thought, this is actually a neat idea. Who can I give it to?” Fortuitously, there were no takers—and he couldn’t shake his fascination with the notion of a crime occurring at such an extraordinary place in such an extraordinary time. “It just got me hooked, and I decided I would write the book. I’d never written anything, and I thought, what would be more embarrassing than a publisher who can’t write? So I never told anybody that I was doing it, and it became my secret book.”

Of course, word eventually got out in what he describes as “a sort of Cinderella ending, because the book worked and I discovered that I loved doing it. And so I was a poster child for career change: I was 50 when I started writing.” When asked what winning the Edgar Award meant to him, Kanon says, “Oh, it’s great, I won’t pretend otherwise. It’s fantastic! And you think, well, gosh, I guess I really am a writer.” 

As evidenced by the 10 subsequent novels he’s written, Kanon has fully immersed himself in his surprise second career. “To do anything creative and live inside your head, which writing requires, is a special luxury and I’m so grateful it’s happened,” he says. “I enjoy the process.” 

That process has reliably begun with “some spark of interest, usually in a place” because “I like stories that could not have taken place anywhere else, where the place is actually determinative.” Intensive research that includes books, news media, maps, photos, etc., about and from the time and location in question is de rigueur, as well as bouts of on-the-ground “location scouting,” as he puts it. 

Kanon says that, as he crafted Shanghai, it was top of mind that “here we have these people who have literally escaped with their lives. . . . No passport, no citizenship, no money, no language and nowhere to go . . . and I thought, now what do you do? How did people survive? Of course, that led to looking at the city that they had docked in as a port of last resort.” It was a place that became, he adds, “a byword for vice, like Chicago in the 1920s or Weimar Berlin, filled with gangsters and brothels and gambling clubs and jazz clubs with chorus lines.” 

“I like stories that could not have taken place anywhere else . . .”

And 1930s Shanghai was, Kanon says, “obviously a place where you can sink really fast, and morally you’re going to be compromised almost from the get-go. I wanted to combine both those worlds: I wanted to write about the nightclubs and the vice, the sort of seedy glamour of it, and how it’s glamorous on the one hand and terrible on the other. There were people who would die in the streets of hunger; it was a really extreme kind of situation.” 

Despite the tragic circumstances of the Jewish refugees who did not survive their stay in the city, Kanon says, “most people did make a life for themselves. There were community organizations that were formed, there were soccer teams and some attempt to have a normal life to get through this period.” Shanghai “constituted a kind of refuge because the Japanese just didn’t take over. They just let it be,” thus rendering the city largely self-governing in practice. 

In this volatile place, characterized by a “mixture of crime and politics and gang warfare,” the SS Raffaello passengers must forge a new life. After the ship docks at the mouth of the Yangtze River, Daniel and Leah emerge from the romantic, staving-off-reality bubble they’d inhabited while on the high seas and go their separate ways on unfamiliar terra firma. “We’re all going over the edge,” Leah frets, “and there’s nothing we can do.”

Leah and her mother are taken to refugee shelters called “heime” (German for “homes”) established by charitable organizations, while Daniel enters his uncle Nathan’s domain in the Shanghai underworld. Additional characters to watch include Florence Burke, an American whose vivacious exterior belies hidden depths, and the ever-calculating Colonel Yamada, a member of the Japanese Kempeitai (or as Daniel puts it, “their Gestapo”).

And then there’s Uncle Nathan who, in Kanon’s deft hands, is at once appealing and appalling. He bankrolled Daniel’s passage and offers him a well-paying job in Shanghai, a place where so many are penniless—but he also has no compunction about putting Daniel in danger via dealings with Chinese gangsters and other unsavory sorts. 

Read our starred review of ‘Shanghai’ by Joseph Kanon.

This type of tantalizing push-pull resonates through Shanghai, building tension and suspense via Leah’s determination to maintain her dignity despite moral concessions she makes in order to eke out a living, and Daniel’s conflicted feelings about the last remaining member of his family. Kanon says, “What I tried to do in this [book] is to show the duality, the good and bad sides at once. Uncle Nathan on one level can be charming, and he’s certainly loving, and I think he very much wants to be a father figure to Daniel,” in the absence of Daniel’s father, Eli, a decorated veteran and judge who died in Sachsenhausen concentration camp. 

“There’s a lot about [Nathan] that’s appealing in the same way there’s a lot about Tony Soprano that’s appealing; he’s a mensch in some ways,” Kanon explains. “On the other hand, I wanted to make perfectly clear that he’s also involved in running brothels and is obviously destroying the lives of the people who are in them. . . . And for Daniel to see that there are two sides to this coin, and one of them may be marginally appealing, but the other sure isn’t.” Daniel is deciding what he’ll do both out of duty to Nathan and in keeping with his own desire to build a not-yet-imagined future, Kanon says. “If it means getting involved in crime, if it means getting involved in really morally compromised positions, he’s going to do it. But how long is he going to do it, and how far will he go?”

By twisted necessity, Daniel’s new existence does trade in danger—both threatened and actual—that affects him and those he cares about. Although it may have its own dark logic, Daniel doesn’t take it lightly. Rather, he muses after he witnesses a violent altercation, “the bullet didn’t stop. It kept on going, into all the lives that surrounded it, tearing through one after another, so that you never killed just one person. The bullet didn’t stop.” 

Kanon says that as he sifts through history, unearthing stories and creating his own, he strives to emphasize that we shouldn’t lose sight of the “chain reaction,” the seemingly endless reverberation of violence and war. 

” . . . every book has the right to bring up questions, and I would be pleased to think that my books made people think . . .”

And that, he says, is what draws him time and again to the questions at the heart of his body of work. He notes, “In [2012’s] Istanbul Passage, one of the characters said, ‘What do you do when there’s no right thing to do? Just the wrong thing,’ and I think we’re confronted with decisions like that every day in our lives. To be able to highlight that in a dramatic way is one of the things books can do. And I think they should. It’s one of their roles.”

Of course, he says, that’s “a lot of freight for a thriller to carry, and I’m not trying to suggest that each of these books is War and Peace. But I think that every book has the right to bring up questions, and I would be pleased to think that my books made people think, one way or another.”

Regarding Shanghai in particular, he says, “I would love people to take away how hard it was for these people, but also how easy it is to slide, how we need to be alert to the moral aspects of what we’re doing.” 

But, he adds with a laugh, “when I say that, it sounds so sobering. I also want people to have a good time reading this! To me, the most fascinating part of the book is crime and politics being flip sides of the same coin . . . and ultimately, you really want people to take away a sense of the characters. Did these people live for you during the period when you were spending time with them? That’s what it’s about.”

Photo of Joseph Kanon by Chad Griffith.

The author’s latest thriller takes place in the titular city in the 1930s, when it was a volatile hotbed of crime—and a sanctuary for Jewish refugees.
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A Refiner’s Fire

Hard to believe though it may be, Commissario Guido Brunetti has survived 32 hair-raising adventures thus far, and is back for number 33 in Donna Leon’s sophisticated police procedural series set in Venice, Italy. As A Refiner’s Fire opens, members of two rival gangs have been herded into the police station following a late-night dust-up in a town square. One by one, the parents of the teenagers pick up their unruly offspring until only one boy is left. Orlando Monforte explains to Commissario Claudia Griffoni that his father never answers his phone when sleeping. In the interest of expediency, Griffoni decides to accompany the boy home; it is a decision that will come back to bite her. Meanwhile, Brunetti has been tasked with the vetting of one Dario Monforte, a onetime hero of the Carabinieri, the Italian military police, and, coincidentally, the father of the aforementioned Orlando. As his investigation proceeds, Brunetti is troubled by the ambiguities of Monforte’s supposed heroism, most particularly by the fact that he never received any sort of medal or commendation, seemingly because he was under investigation for antiquities theft. Tangentially, Brunetti’s friend and co-worker Enzo Bocchese, a collector of antiquities, is badly beaten and his collection is vandalized, likely by a particularly nasty gang member who lives in his building. The cases begin to dovetail as Brunetti and Griffoni uncover disturbing connections to the highest levels of the government. The grand finale is truly inspired, explosive in every sense of the word and perhaps the best of Leon’s long career. 

The Night of Baba Yaga

The Night of Baba Yaga, the English language debut of Japanese writer Akira Otani, features all the elements you could hope for from a crime thriller set in the Land of the Rising Sun: a heroine spiritually descended from samurai stock; two pairs of lovers on the run; a beautiful and spoiled young woman treated like a hothouse flower by her doting father; and a yakuza presence that is gloriously, gratuitously violent, well beyond the traditional chopping off of a pinky finger for perceived insubordination. Both the dialogue and the prose, translated by Sam Bett, are staccato and to the point; there are no wasted words. In that regard, the story is very akin to Japanese illustrated novels (only without the illustrations, which would almost certainly be too graphic for Western sensibilities). Baba Yaga, for those of you unfamiliar with her, is a legendary Russian witch who lives in the forest, in a house built on gigantic chicken legs that would raise and lower upon her command. She is noted for her cruelty, her rather bizarre sense of humor and her occasional kindness to those who are pure of heart, few though they may be. She figures strongly in Otani’s narrative, which is nicely done, indeed.

Think Twice

When the feds pay a visit to sports agent Myron Bolitar, he is more than a little surprised by the reason: They want to know the whereabouts of Myron’s nemesis-turned-friend, former basketball star Greg Downing. Problem is, Greg Downing has been dead for three years; Myron delivered the eulogy. The second problem is that Downing’s DNA has been found under the fingernails of someone who was just murdered, so now Myron is a person of interest in the investigation. Think Twice is the 12th installment of Harlan Coben’s popular series featuring Myron and his uber-wealthy and mysterious sidekick, Windsor Horne Lockwood III (aka “Win”), and the mystery is much more than a possible case of a faked death. The authorities suspect that the recent murder was but one of a series of homicides all perpetrated by the same person, a serial killer who then artfully and seamlessly framed someone close to the victim. The difference with this latest case is that the perp apparently got a bit sloppy and left DNA at the scene: Greg Downing’s DNA. And now the FBI is closing in on Downing (who may indeed be dead) and his known associates. First-person accounts by the as-yet-unidentified murderer appear here and there throughout the narrative, with “How I did it” details that are both inventive and jarring. Cool story, cool characters, tasty twist ending. What’s not to like?

Like Mother, Like Daughter

Anyone who ever had issues with a controlling and overprotective mother will empathize with Cleo, and anyone who ever had issues with a rebellious teenage daughter will certainly empathize with Cleo’s mother, Kat. But their fraught relationship is about to change in ways neither could predict, within pages of the opening of Kimberly McCreight’s new thriller, Like Mother, Like Daughter. It’s been a while since they met; they’re not exactly estranged, but are nonetheless distant. Kat has extended an olive branch, however, in the form of a homemade dinner and a promise not to be contentious. But when Cleo arrives, Kat is nowhere to be found. Food is burning on the stovetop and in the oven, and a bloody canvas shoe suggests foul play of some sort. Chapters alternate between Kat’s and Cleo’s perspectives, sometimes in flashback to each of their childhoods, but more often cutting back to the week leading up to Cleo’s discovery that her mom has gone missing, and then moving through the investigation. We learn that Kat’s law firm job was quite a bit more convoluted than she lets on, that Cleo was a part-time drug courier, that several million dollars have mysteriously gone missing from Kat’s bank account, and that Cleo’s exceptionally bad choices in lovers threaten to bring things to a very unpleasant denouement. And we also learn that Kat’s rigidity has at times been tempered by a dangerous rebellious streak, while Cleo’s fierce individuality can be overshadowed by an equally fierce protective urge, given the right circumstances. Like Mother, Like Daughter is intense, thought-provoking and completely unputdownable.

Akira Otani makes her English language debut with The Night of Baba Yaga, plus the latest from Donna Leon and Harlan Coben in this month’s Whodunit column.
July 1, 2024

A trio of chill-inducing summer thrillers

Ghosts haunt the pages of this summer’s best thrillers: figures out of memory, history and—just maybe—the Great Beyond.
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Ghosts haunt the pages of this summer’s best thrillers: figures out of memory, history and—just maybe—the Great Beyond.

Broken Harbor

In addition to her beautiful language and intricately constructed characters, one of Tana French’s great skills is her knack for an evocative setting. Think the deceptively quaint mountain village of Ardnakelty in The Searcher and The Hunter, or the siren call of cozy, idyllic Whitethorn House in The Likeness. But Broken Harbor is perhaps French’s finest achievement in terms of the setting as microcosm for the work at large. A luxury seaside development, Brianstown was supposed to represent the ultimate in upper-middle-class achievement for the Spain family, most of whom were murdered in their home by an unknown intruder. But a burst housing bubble left Brianstown’s construction only halfway completed: The neighborhood looks more like the decrepit cityscapes of Inception than the idyllic capitalist dream on the brochure, and instead of being part of a thriving community, the Spains were some of the only inhabitants of the urban equivalent of a sandcastle disintegrating on the beach. Things get even eerier when you get inside their house, which is literally full of holes, some of which have baby monitors placed next to them. There is an answer as to what the Spains were looking for, but the point is that they couldn’t stop searching, that materialistic striving can so quickly turn into paranoia, even as the walls literally crumble around you.

—Savanna, Managing Editor

Still Life

Still Life, the first mystery in Louise Penny’s beloved Armand Gamache series, draws Chief Inspector Gamache of the Sureté du Québec to Three Pines, a remote village in the mountains of Québec, whose eclectic residents cherish their solitude. What more does one need than a bistro owned by a lovable gay couple, a solid boulangerie, a musty used bookstore and a volunteer fire department headed by a misanthropic old poet with a penchant for cursing out her adoring neighbors? Here, one of these neighbors is found dead in the forest—a hunting accident, say the authorities, as one does when death visits a woman in the woods. Rather than view Three Pines as a backwater town that time forgot (even connecting to the internet becomes a plot point), the morals-driven leader and ruthlessly clever Gamache is eager to get to know a community that is much more than the sum of its parts. As seen through his eyes, readers will be taken by the wholesome charms and stark beauty of the village, despite murder after murder occurring in the next 17 books of the series. The audiobook, read by the exceptional Ralph Cosham, is as delicious as the bistro’s warm ham and brie baguette. 

—Erica, Associate Editor

The Secret History of Twin Peaks

Speaking as a born-and-raised Washingtonian, there’s no place like the Pacific Northwest. In particular, there’s no place like the Pacific Northwest for setting a mystery. There’s something about the towering old-growth Douglas firs and the ever-present mist and drizzle that makes a cup of good diner coffee and a great slice of pie that much more comforting—and makes an unsolved case that much more bone-chilling. If you haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing the eerie beauty of western Washington in person, Mark Frost and David Lynch’s Twin Peaks will just about transport you there. And if you’re a super fan who’s already seen every episode more than once, you can move on to Mark Frost’s book The Secret History of Twin Peaks. It’s written as a dossier compiled by a mysterious “Archivist” with commentary from the FBI agent assigned to review the file and determine the Archivist’s identity. The photos, newspaper articles and journal entries begin in the 1800s and continue through the action of the TV series in 1989. Read it to feel a misty northwestern chill creep up your spine.

—Phoebe, Associate Editor

House of Roots and Ruin

The sequel to Erin Craig’s House of Salt and Sorrows, House of Roots and Ruin is a story of introspection, deception and supernatural enigmas. Verity Thaumas has struggled to find her place in the shadows of her successful older sisters, especially Camille, the duchess of their family estate, Highmoor. When Verity is offered a job from the Duchess of Bloem to paint a portrait of her son, Alexander, Camille panics and confesses that Verity sees ghosts and can’t differentiate them from real people, making her a liability to the family name if she were to go out on her own. Consumed with doubt, fear and resentment, Verity flees Highmoor later that night. With nowhere to go, she makes her way to Bloem, an ethereal region of lush scenery and bright colors; it’s a stark difference from the salty, dreary mood of her homeland. But it doesn’t take long for the dreamy Bloem estate, Chauntilalie, to expose its dark side, from Duke Gerard’s poisonous botanical experiments to the ghosts stuck in a time loop. Amid her growing love for Alexander, Verity confronts the challenges of her new home, all while trying to keep her abilities hidden. But if Verity isn’t careful, she might not only reveal her identity, but also uncover family secrets that could threaten Chauntilalie as a whole. Readers will relish how Craig juxtaposes eerie details with her extravagant setting in this gothic, fantastical and romantic story.

—Jena, Sales Coordinator

All good mysteries must have a fiendishly compelling plot, but truly great mysteries place their central puzzle in an equally fascinating setting.
June 17, 2024

The 17 best mysteries & thrillers of 2024—so far

The biggest takeaways from our case notes? The police procedural is enjoying a surprising renaissance, and thrillers of all modes are flourishing.
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The biggest takeaways from our case notes? The police procedural is enjoying a surprising renaissance, and thrillers of all modes are flourishing.
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Set aside some time once you start reading Trust Her, because after a page of what seems like an idyllic summer outing on the Irish coast, Tessa Daly is plunged into a nightmare: held hostage and forced back into a life she thought she had left behind forever. Flynn Berry fans will recognize Tessa as the heroine of Berry’s bestselling novel Northern Spy. In that book, Tessa’s sister, Marian, was an IRA member who was secretly feeding information to MI5 in hopes of fostering peace talks, and she recruited Tessa to help carry out this task. 

Berry’s crisp prose, artful plotting and short chapters make for another thrilling read. Trust Her takes place three years after Northern Spy’s explosive finale, with the sisters now living in Dublin and focusing on their young children. Narrator Tessa notes early on, “I’d stopped being scared of the IRA in the daylight. Stupid, unbelievable logic. . . . We should have seen this coming.” While the two mothers have been immersed in strep throat, croup and pickup times, Tessa notes, “The IRA haven’t gone away, after all. We’d only stopped thinking about them.” 

Why Flynn Berry wrote a surprise sequel to ‘Northern Spy.’

Now the IRA demands that Tessa reconnect with her and Marian’s MI5 handler, Eamonn, to try to turn him into an informant. Tessa wants absolutely no part of this, but nonetheless, when she sees Eamonn again, their mutual attraction resurfaces. It’s a cat-and-mouse game of the best kind, interspersing plenty of high-octane, frightening moments with Tessa’s quotidian joys, concerns and exhaustion as a single mother to 4-year-old Finn. This juxtaposition is the rocket fuel of spy dramas, and Berry tackles both the mundane and the extraordinary equally well, with perfect pacing throughout. While this is a story full of long-held secrets and startling revelations, newcomers will have no trouble coming up to speed—even if they will likely want to read the book they’ve missed.

On top of her love-hate relationship with Eamonn, Tessa harbors complicated feelings toward Marian for drawing her into this web in the first place. Trust Her is brilliantly titled, gesturing towards “the long chain reaction” of personal ties and vendettas that led to political turmoil and splintered lives for so many families. As Tessa notes, “I know, in my bones, that the conflict won’t end in my lifetime. We’re all trapped in it, caught in lockstep.” Perhaps, at least, this might mean readers will be hearing more from Tessa and Marian Daly.

Set aside some time once you start reading Trust Her, because Flynn Berry’s return to the world of Northern Spy is nothing short of thrilling.

In Things Don’t Break on Their Own, Sarah Easter Collins goes straight for the gut and the heart with a tale of a dinner party gone awry, where repressed memories are unearthed and everyone at the table will be forever changed.

Suburban London, just before Christmas: Radiologist Robyn and her wife, Cat, put the kids to bed and welcome an array of dinner guests into their bustling, happy household. Among them is Willa, Robyn’s boarding school roommate and first love, now married to the boorish Jamie and still under the roof of the controlling father she tried to escape over two decades ago—after Willa’s 13-year-old sister, Laika, left for class one morning and never returned. When the psychologist date of Robyn’s brother, Michael, begins a conversation about memory, Robyn and Willa reflect on their shared past and wonder what happened to angry, vulnerable Laika. Can someone really disappear without a trace?

As artist and debut author Collins’ title suggests, many things can break (especially familial and romantic bonds), but as Robyn and Michael’s potter father once showed the then-teenagers, carefully repairing scattered shards can make a piece, and a person, stronger than ever. This literary thriller doesn’t simply titillate and scare; it thoroughly explores the complex journey of two bruised young women as they stumble through life before finding sure footing. Every character, from Robyn’s and Cat’s family members to Willa’s George Michael-loving mother to an enigmatic French yoga teacher named Claudette, is richly drawn and worth rooting for—except when they’re not. Like the handmade pot Willa throws during an unforgettable summer, Things Don’t Break on Their Own is a rare treasure, bursting with emotion and built to last.

Sarah Easter Collins’ literary thriller, Things Don’t Break on Their Own, is a rare treasure, bursting with emotion and built to last.

Bestselling author Ellery Lloyd has become deliciously adept at drawing readers into the world of the wealthy: redolent of privilege and glamour, and tainted by darkness and deceit.

In their third thriller, The Final Act of Juliette Willoughby, Lloyd (a pseudonym for married British authors Collette Lyons and Paul Vlitos) builds upon the contemporary social commentary that marked their previous books, People Like Her and The Club, by homing in on the past. 

In 1930s Paris, Juliette Willoughby is an up-and-coming British surrealist painter who’s fled her moneyed and terrible family, and is now living with her lover, fellow surrealist Oskar Erlich. Tragically, the two died in a fire shortly after their participation alongside Dali, Picasso, Man Ray, et al. in the 1938 International Surrealist Exhibition (a real event which Lloyd describes in fascinating historical detail). Juliette’s mesmerizing painting Self-Portrait as Sphinx was destroyed by the flames, too.

Or was it? In 1991 Cambridge, art history students Caroline Cooper and Patrick Lambert are encouraged by their advisor to include Self-Portrait as Sphinx in their dissertation research. After all, Juliette’s Egyptologist father curated a collection of art and artifacts that might prove useful, and Patrick’s family has strong ties to the Willoughbys. As the duo grow closer—and more fascinated by the Willoughby family’s strange history, including rumors of a curse—they make some amazing discoveries. Chief among them is Juliette’s journal, the contents of which suggest that the fire that killed her was no accident.

In the present day, Caroline is now the foremost Juliette Willoughby expert and has traveled to Dubai to authenticate Self-Portrait as Sphinx, which seems to have resurfaced after all these years and is about to go on auction. Alas, Patrick—her ex-husband, now a gallery owner—is arrested for murder as decades-old mysteries bubble up to the surface. Is he guilty? Is the formerly lost painting authentic? Was the Willoughby curse real, or just an excuse for horrendous misdeeds? Is there more to Juliette’s story?

Readers will enjoy unraveling the threads of history and mystery alongside Caroline and Patrick as they soak up art-world atmosphere and intrigue across the decades. The Final Act of Juliette Willoughby is a twisty and compelling exploration of power and obsession, secrecy and surrealism, artifice and art.

The Final Act of Juliette Willoughby is a twisty and compelling exploration of power and obsession, secrecy and surrealism, artifice and art.

Internationally bestselling author and Edgar Award-winner Joseph Kanon is known for his elegantly written, impressively immersive World War II thrillers, and Shanghai is no exception. 

In his fascinating and tautly suspenseful 11th novel, the author transports readers to 1939 Shanghai, where his characters, still reeling from Kristallnacht, are seeking safety in the only port city that doesn’t require a visa (and which ultimately offered a haven to some 20,000 European Jewish refugees during WWII).

As the story begins, Daniel Lohr, a German Jew, is traveling first class on the SS Raffaello, a luxury liner departing from Italy. So is Leah Auerbach, as well as hundreds of other Jewish passengers seeking a new start after the world they knew crumbled around them. When the ship first left shore, “For a second [Daniel] felt a stab of panic, no country, no money, but then as the boat began to slide away relief swept through him. Europe was going to destroy itself and he’d escaped.” 

Joseph Kanon didn’t tell anyone he was writing his first book.

While at sea, Daniel and Leah disappear into a passionate love affair that helps them push aside their pain and grief. But reality knocks in the form of their menacing fellow passenger Colonel Yamada, a higher-up in the Nazi-allied Japanese military police occupying Shanghai, as well as Leah’s conviction that survival in the metropolis is not assured. Daniel’s fate is more assured than most, though: His uncle Nathan, a jazz club and casino owner, has guaranteed him work and lodging in his new city. 

Alas, while Nathan is charming and clever, he’s also heavily involved in the criminal underworld, and Daniel soon finds himself contending with gang violence and wrestling with his uneasy moral compass. As he gains power in Shanghai, is he losing himself? Sure, as Uncle Nathan says, “The first rule was to survive,” but at what cost? 

Kanon conjures up the city’s veneer of glamour, and the danger and desperation festering beneath, with his trademark skill and verve. Shanghai artfully balances violence, romance and edgy suspense in a layered and compelling tale of an extraordinary place and time in human history.

Joseph Kanon’s artful and compelling new thriller transports readers to 1930s Shanghai, the only city to let in Jewish refugees without a visa.
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Bestselling author Riley Sanger’s latest spooky thriller, Middle of the Night, is reminiscent of a ghost story told around a crackling campfire. This missing-person mystery dances tantalizingly on the edge of horror without ever totally crossing the line.

One summer night in 1994, 10-year-old Ethan Marsh invited his neighbor, Billy, over for a backyard sleepover. When Ethan woke up in the morning, the tent was slashed open and Billy was nowhere to be found. Until that moment, the Marshes’ suburban neighborhood was considered extremely safe, but Billy’s disappearance irrevocably changed the lives of everyone living on Hemlock Circle.

Now 40, Ethan is back in his childhood home, after his parents moved to Florida. He’s not alone either; various circumstances have brought the now-adult children of 1994 back to the cul-de-sac where they lived that fateful summer.

Ethan never recovered from Billy’s disappearance, and being in his childhood home has triggered PTSD symptoms like insomnia and nightmares. Then, in the middle of the night, messages start appearing that seem to be from Billy to Ethan. Ethan can’t help but wonder if Billy is somehow reaching out to him from the afterlife, and he becomes obsessed with solving the mystery, a quest that involves reaching out to the people he grew up with—some of whom want nothing to do with the case. There is also a matter of the Hawthorne Institute, an occult research center that Billy was obsessed with the summer of his death.

Despite its ghostly happenings and some genuine jump-scare moments, Middle of the Night never veers into full-on horror. Instead, Sager builds tension by casting doubt, never letting the reader forget that the shadows in the corner could be ghosts—but they could also be products of Ethan’s own mind, trying to protect him from an even more awful truth. Either way, this thriller unfolds with a frenetic, almost feverish pace that will keep readers hooked, even as Ethan’s own hold on reality seems ever-closer to breaking altogether.

Riley Sager’s Middle of the Night dances tantalizingly on the edge of horror without ever totally crossing the line.

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