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Janice Hallett has worked as a journalist, magazine editor and government speechwriter in her native England. Now she’s adding novelist to her CV with The Appeal, an inventive and darkly funny epistolary mystery set in the drama-filled world of amateur theater. In this Q&A, Hallett revisits her own theatrical experiences and reveals what it was like to construct a story with no fewer than 15 viable suspects.

The many plausible suspects in The Appeal make it great fun to play amateur sleuth while reading. Was it fun to write? Did you change your mind as you went along, in terms of who you wanted the murderer to be, or did you always know whodunit?
It was huge fun, not least because I wrote it entirely on spec, with no deadline except a vague feeling I didn’t want to spend longer than a year working on it. At the start, I had no idea who the victim or murderer was going to be. I let the story evolve as it went along, then did some intricate reverse engineering to make what I wrote in the end fit the beginning.

Before writing this book, you’ve written and directed plays. Did that give you the confidence to dive right into an epistolary novel with lots of layers and complexities and characters?
My scriptwriting background played into The Appeal for sure. A stage play is a bunch of characters interacting before your eyes. An epistolary novel is the exact same, but in your mind’s eye. I have to say the greatest confidence-building aspect of playwriting is its immediacy. The performance is live—you have actors giving their skill and energy to bring your characters to life—and the audience is live—watching and listening to the story you wrote. There is no hiding place. If it doesn’t work, you and everyone else in the room will know it. If it does work . . . let’s just say nothing will ever beat the moment that first audience laughed at the first joke in my first play. I was hooked from that day on.

“At the start, I had no idea who the victim or murderer was going to be.”

How did you keep track of all of the messages, notes, transcripts, etc., that you created? Were there pushpins, sticky notes, whiteboards and/or spreadsheets involved? Did you harken back to any of your own correspondence as you created your characters’ varied communication styles?
Strangely, I made very few notes. I did a lot of scrolling back and forth though, and paid particular attention to how each character opened and signed off, so I had a lot of information to keep in my head. I most certainly took inspiration from 20 years of email correspondence, both professional and personal. Email communication is a great leveler. What we don’t write speaks just as loudly as anything we do. What’s exposed are aspects of your true self, such as your empathy, your attention to detail and how you really feel about the person you’re “speaking” to. I’m quite sad to see texting and messaging take over from good old-fashioned email.

You chose to not include correspondence from certain characters, such as enigmatic newcomers Sam and Kel. Instead, we learn about them through others’ impressions and opinions. What motivated you to reveal versus conceal particular characters or events in your story?
This was a happy accident, but it ended up being the aspect of The Appeal I am most proud of. When I first decided to write a novel, I’d had a vague idea for a TV series (I was working as a TV writer at the time) about a couple who return from overseas volunteering and whose experiences there inform their suspicions about a local fundraising campaign. When I started the novel, I thought why not take the same story but present it as emails that fly back and forth—“offstage” so to speak—between minor players. That’s why we don’t hear from the three main characters, and I think it’s one of the most effective devices in the book.

The Fairway Players is a close-knit theater troupe presided over by Martin and Helen Hayward. When the power couple shares that their granddaughter has been stricken with a rare cancer, the group fundraises like mad in hopes of paying for pricey experimental treatments. What made you want to explore crowdfunding?
When I started the novel in 2018, I’d noticed a proliferation of crowdfunding campaigns on Facebook raising money for drugs or medical treatments abroad. It struck me how enthusiastically people pull together and how fast money can be raised that way. But at the same time, money is like blood: It attracts sharks, like drug companies who capitalize on families’ desperation, or even ordinary people who have debts to pay or simple terminal greed and a complete lack of morals. Cases in which someone has blatantly lied about their child’s (or their own) illness to raise money from friends and family have appalled and fascinated me in equal measure.

“What we don’t write speaks just as loudly as anything we do.”

Tight bonds are formed in theater troupes, whether via growing into roles together, shared nervousness as the premiere approaches or camaraderie after a show well done. What drew you to exploring what happens when such a strong bond begins to fray?
A drama group becomes like a family, with emotional bonds among the members—and just like in a family, the stakes can suddenly become much higher. Even when things are falling apart, you can’t just walk away: The show must go on.

There are insiders and outsiders in The Appeal, which makes for lots of tension bubbling under the surface as the players jockey for social dominance. What about that sort of group dynamic fascinates you most?
Like most writers, I’m a natural outsider. In fact, when I attend writerly events, and I’m in a room full of outsiders, I’m still the outsider, so that dynamic is very familiar to me. But I’m truly fascinated by people who are the opposite: natural socializers, witty and funny, able to hold the attention of a crowd and get them onside. Charisma is magical. It can elevate someone through the social hierarchy by osmosis.

In The Appeal, there are characters whose social standing is earned by their proximity to the alpha family. When you arrive in a strong, tightknit community like that, it can be hard to find your place in it. Sam and Kel slowly work their way in, but Issy, who has been there much longer, struggles to be accepted by anyone. The social hierarchy can be horribly unfair, as can individuals, who might choose to ally themselves with the strongest character, rather than the nicest or most deserving person in the group.

The Appeal is often very funny, with sharp insights into the ways in which certain types of people ingratiate themselves, manipulate a situation or gleefully gossip. Does writing humor come naturally to you? Do you consider yourself a funny person?
If you want to empty a room in double-quick time, get me to tell a joke. While I wouldn’t say I’m funny in person, I gravitate toward comedy when I’m writing. Making people laugh is a powerful tool to help you engage them with your story. Having said that, if you’re writing a thriller in which the aim is to build tension, you have to be very careful how you use humor, because laughter in that instance will disperse the tension immediately. It’s a tricky balance!

Read our review of ‘The Appeal.’

Can you share with us a bit about the significance of having your fictional Fairway Players stage a production of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons?
The Raglan Players staged All My Sons in 2010. It was one of the more serious, grittier plays we did over the years, among many light comedies and farces. It was a huge challenge I’m proud to say we rose to. I think if you’re familiar with the play, there will be an added layer of intrigue. It’s about the death of a couple’s son, which the audience grows to suspect is either directly or tangentially their fault. It has a very strong female lead role, that of a woman who lives in a world of her own. I’ll say no more!

What’s next for you? Any upcoming books or other projects you’d like to tell us about?
My second novel, The Twyford Code, launched in the U.K. in January 2022. It’s about a former prisoner who, at the suggestion of his probation officer, sets out to investigate the disappearance of his teacher on a school trip in 1983. It will be published by Atria in the U.S. in 2023. I’m currently writing my third novel, and there’s a fourth percolating in my mind at this very moment.

Author photo by Gaia Banks.

Author Janice Hallett revisits her theatrical experiences and shows how they helped her construct her darkly funny epistolary mystery, The Appeal.

The cozy renaissance is upon us, gothic thrillers are about to be everywhere and historical mystery lovers are going to have a truly fantastic year.

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The Goodbye Coast by Joe Ide
Mulholland | February 1

Modern master of mystery Ide will be updating one of the most iconic detectives of all time: Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. It’s a perfect pairing—a figure that couldn’t exist anywhere but Los Angeles, brought to the present day by one of the city’s most acclaimed writers. 

A Game of Fear by Charles Todd
William Morrow | February 1

The Inspector Rutledge series represents the best of what historical mystery has to offer, and A Game of Fear, Rutledge’s 24th case, has a particularly intriguing hook: Lady Benton claims she witnessed a murder, carried out by Captain Nelson. But there’s no body, no blood and Captain Nelson has been dead for several years. Charles Todd is a mother-son writing duo, and the death of Caroline Todd last year gives this mystery an extra poignancy.

Cherish Farrah by Bethany C. Morrow
Dutton | February 8

Morrow—who has shown so much range as a writer, from her bestselling contemporary YA fantasy with sirens (A Song Below Water) to her reimagining of Little Women (So Many Beginnings)—makes her adult debut with this slow-burning tale of power and manipulation, following a Black girl who ingratiates herself to her Black best friend’s adopted white family. 

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Our American Friend by Anna Pitoniak
Simon & Schuster | February 15

After writing a novel (The Futures) and a thriller (Necessary People), Pitoniak is splitting the difference with her third book, a decades-spanning espionage thriller that follows glamorous, mysterious Lara Caine, a Russian model who eventually becomes the first lady of the United States (Remind you of anyone?).  

The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley
William Morrow | February 22

Foley’s big breakout, The Guest List, was absolutely everywhere in 2020. The Paris Apartment is another glamorous mystery with a sprawling, secretive cast—namely, the inhabitants of the titular apartment complex.

This Might Hurt by Stephanie Wroebel
Berkley | February 22

I will never, ever get tired of complicated sister relationships or cults, and lucky for me, the Darling Rose Gold author’s sophomore thriller goes all in on both. Natalie Collins’ sister, Kit, has been sucked into Wisewood, a cult operating on a private island off the coast of Maine. When Natalie receives a threatening email from someone in the cult, she sets out to save Kit. 

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Tripping Arcadia by Kit Mayquist
Dutton | February 22

All I have ever wanted is a revival of the romantic, gothic thriller, and thanks to the incredible success of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic, I may have finally gotten my wish. 2022 is replete with creepy tales of degenerate families in crumbling manors, and Mayquist’s is one of the most promising of the lot. In this modern take on the subgenre, med school dropout Lena takes a job as an assistant to the rich and powerful Verdeau family. But when she learns that they are the ones ultimately responsible for her family’s poverty, she decides to get revenge.

The Verifiers by Jane Pek
Vintage | February 22

A particularly pleasing recent development is that publishers seem to have finally realized the allure of the cozy, or cozy-adjacent, mystery. Could the cozy be due for a critical reevaluation a la the romance novel? (Please say yes!) All this to say, we expect more books like Pek’s hilarious, utterly winning debut in the near future. Claudia Lin has stumbled into what she believes is her perfect job: working at an online-dating detective agency. She’s content with her duties of ferreting out catfishers and tracking down ghosters, but when a client disappears, the mystery novel-obsessed Claudia jumps at the opportunity to solve a real case.

The Club by Ellery Lloyd
Harper | March 1

There are a lot of thrillers out there that incorporate social media and try to have Something to Say about our current digital reality. But very few of them were as smart or nuanced as Lloyd’s 2021 debut, People Like Her. For their next trick, the husband-and-wife writing duo tackles the world of exclusive celebrity clubs. Set on a private island off the English coast, this is the thriller for you if you’re anxiously awaiting the next season of “The White Lotus.”  

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Give Unto Others by Donna Leon
Atlantic Monthly | March 15

Commissario Guido Brunetti is one of those urbane, witty sleuths that people want to be as much as they love to read about. See also: Martin Walker’s Bruno and Louise Penny’s Gamache. A new case with Leon’s clever Venetian sleuth is always cause for celebration, but this one is especially intriguing as it purports to contain new and startling information about Brunetti’s past.

Under Lock & Skeleton Key by Gigi Pandian
Minotaur | March 15

Is it too early to hand out the award for most creative cozy premise? Because I highly doubt anyone’s going to come close to Pandian’s new Secret Staircase mysteries. When Tempest Raj returns home to San Francisco after losing her job, she ends up working for the family business, Secret Staircase Construction, which makes hidden passageways, incredible treehouses and any other whimsical creation a client’s heart desires. And then, of course, someone is found dead in a supposedly sealed passageway. 

Nine Lives by Peter Swanson
William Morrow | March 15

Swanson has a gift for not only crafting a killer premise, but also creating characters that are just as intriguing. In his latest mystery, nine people receive a list of names, and one of those names is their own. And then those nine people start getting picked off, one by one. 

Secret Identity jacket

Secret Identity by Alex Segura
Flatiron | March 15

A mystery set in the comic book industry in 1975? Say no more! Billed as a mash-up between The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and the novels of Patricia Highsmith, this book sounds like the coolest, nerdiest neo-noir you’ll ever read.   

Shadow in the Glass by M.E. Hilliard
Crooked Lane | April 5

Hilliard’s Greer Hogan series started with a bang last year; The Unkindness of Ravens was “moody and tense, literary and urbane, and an edgy delight to read,” according to our cozy column. This time around, librarian Greer faces that most iconic of cozy scenarios—a wedding disrupted by murder, with an entire guest list’s worth of suspects. 

Insomnia by Sarah Pinborough
William Morrow | April 12

You may have heard of Pinborough due to a little book (and later Netflix miniseries) entitled Behind Her Eyes, which boasts one of the most go-for-broke, completely wild final twists of, honestly, maybe all time? So who even knows what’s going on in her next thriller, which follows Emma, a woman whose mother committed a horrible act when she turned 40. Now on the cusp of her own 40th birthday, Emma is consumed with fear that the same fate awaits her. 

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Blood Sugar by Sascha Rothchild
Putnam | April 19

Something about me that I am very comfortable admitting is that I love a charismatic murderer. You want to tell me how you got away with it and why they had it coming for an entire novel? I’m all ears! So I’m especially excited for Rothchild’s debut, which introduces readers to Ruby, who is being accused of her husband’s death. She didn’t do it (and she’s not a sociopath, okay?), but she has killed three other people before. 

The Mad Girls of New York by Maya Rodale
Berkley | April 26

An acclaimed romance author, critic and advocate for the genre, Rodale is one of several authors who recently made the Gilded Age one of historical romance’s hottest and most interesting settings. She’s bringing all that expert knowledge to bear in her mystery debut, the launch of a series that follows trailblazing female journalist Nellie Bly. Rodale’s first mystery starring Nellie will depict one of her most famous real-life stunts: going undercover at an insane asylum.

Harlem Sunset by Nekesa Afia
Berkley | May 3

The Harlem Renaissance-set Dead Dead Girls was one of last year’s best mysteries, and it looks like amateur sleuth Louise Lloyd’s next case will not only delve into the secrets of her own past, but also jeopardize her future with her girlfriend, Rosa Maria. 

The Hacienda jacket

The Hacienda by Isabel Cañas
Berkley | May 10

This historical gothic thriller has a priest who is also a witch, and I don’t really think there’s anything else to be said. But, if you insist: Cañas’ debut is set right after the Mexican War of Independence and boasts a creepy house, a handsome but mysterious man and what just might be the ghost of his first wife.  

The Murder Rule by Dervla McTiernan
William Morrow | May 10

The acclaimed author of the Cormac Reilly mystery series is releasing her first standalone novel, which follows a young law student who seems like a passionate anti-death row advocate, but is really out to get one of the supposedly innocent men her organization is defending.

Renovated to Death by Frank Anthony Polito
Kensington | May 31

HGTV shows leave me completely cold, but even I think this book sounds like the coziest thing imaginable. Peter Penwell is a bestselling mystery author and his husband, JP, is an actor who used to star on a cop show. The couple recently became reality TV stars while chronicling the renovation of their home, but their second season gets off to a murderous start when they find one of the owners of their new project dead at the foot of a staircase. 

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A Rip Through Time by Kelley Armstrong
Minotaur | May 31

Armstrong is the acclaimed writer behind the gritty, addicting, yet still somehow heartwarming Rockton series, which is set in an off-the-grid town in the Canadian wilderness. She’s one of the last authors you’d expect to write an Outlander-style timeslip mystery. Which only makes her new series, where a modern-day homicide detective wakes up in the body of a Victorian maid, all the more intriguing.   

Last Call at the Nightingale by Katharine Schellman
Minotaur | June 7

The author of the Regency-era Lily Adler mysteries jumps forward to the (very hot right now) 1920s, and will hopefully bring her previous series’ perfectly balanced blend of escapism and social commentary to this tale of a working-class woman who stumbles upon a dead body at her favorite speakeasy.

The Lies I Tell by Julie Clark
Sourcebooks Landmark | June 21

Clark’s second novel, the runaway bestseller The Last Flight, was exactly what you want in a summer thriller: snappy but smart, fast-paced but with characters that felt like real people. So my expectations were high even before I learned that Clark will be taking on one of my very favorite crime novel archetypes—the con artist. Meg Williams ruined Kat Roberts’ life, and Kat’s been bent on revenge ever since. But when she finally catches up to Meg 10 years later, she begins to doubt everything, including whether Meg really should be the target of her ire. 

The Half Life of Valery K by Natasha Pulley
Bloomsbury | June 28

In my humble opinion, one of the most underrated historical settings for a mystery or thriller is Soviet Russia. It’s bleak, it’s cold and almost everyone has a reason to lie or a secret to keep. So I was delighted to learn that acclaimed, idiosyncratic historical fantasy author Pulley’s first thriller would be set in 1963 Siberia. The Half LIfe of Valery K will follow a former nuclear specialist who is freed from a gulag, only to be taken to a mysterious town that seems to be absolutely suffused with dangerous radiation.

The Ruins jacket

The Ruins by Phoebe Wynn
St. Martin’s | July 5

The last gothic on our list, Wynn’s sophomore novel takes its cues from Patricia Highsmith as much as it does from Daphne du Maurier. You’ve got wealthy, messed up people, the disgustingly gorgeous backdrop of the Mediterranean coast and a creeping suspicion that something is about to go terribly wrong. But in an intriguing little twist, The Ruins seems to wed those Ripley influences with the more modern template of a feminist coming-of-age tale. 

Omega Canyon by Dan Simmons
Little, Brown | November 1

It’s been seven years since the acclaimed author of The Terror released a novel, and this new historical thriller sounds heartbreaking and addicting in equal measure. Paul Haber fled Nazi Germany and has devoted his scientific abilities to the American quest for the atomic bomb. But when a German spy tells him that his wife and child, whom he thought died in a concentration camp, are actually still alive, he’s faced with the terrible choice of whether to save his family or betray his newly-adopted country to fascism.

Check out our most anticipated titles of 2022 in every genre!

Grab your magnifying glasses and notepads, and get ready for 2022.

Many novels conclude with the wedding of characters we care about, but Crimes and Covers, the fifth book in Amanda Flower’s Magical Bookshop Mystery series, begins with one: the Christmastime union of Violet Waverly, the charming owner of Charming Books in the charming village of Cascade Springs in upstate New York, to the drop-dead gorgeous police chief, David Rainwater.

Among the guests are Violet’s energetic Grandma Daisy, the village mayor and former “caretaker” of the magic-infused bookshop; Violet’s warmhearted friend Sadie; and, to the bride’s astonishment, her elusive dad, Fenimore. But alas, the newlyweds don’t get to make merry post-ceremony because murder most rude pushes all else aside.

Blame Henry David Thoreau. As in previous volumes in this series, a literary classic lies at the mystery’s center. The murder victim is a strange woman who tried to sell Violet a signed first edition of Walden. Violet is an English professor, Thoreau scholar and bookseller, so she was able to discern that the book actually belonged to someone else, Imogene “Thoreau,” whose life is devoted to establishing her blood relationship to the author. Would Imogene spill blood to prove her claim?

Violet puts her honeymoon on hold and dives into a search for answers, some of which come from “the essence,” the magic that oozes from the ancient birch towering in the middle of the bookshop. Along with ensuring that the right books land in just the right hands (Violet’s customers are always so impressed with her recommendations!), the essence conveys clues to help Violet in her amateur sleuthing. (The bookshop’s star tenants, Faulkner the sharp-tongued crow and Emerson the tuxedo cat, also help.) Copies of Walden periodically float through the air, opening to pages that offer transcendental words of wisdom.

Crimes and Covers hits the right cozy notes: an appealing setting (with snow to boot!), a close community and a credible yet unchallenging plot that includes romance and deaths that break few hearts. Although not all the characters are fully drawn, threads occasionally dangle in ways that don’t feel intentional, and moments of tension or heart-stopping thrills are few, this is a satisfying read, providing hours of quiet pleasure rather than the “quiet desperation” Thoreau speaks of. The whimsical touches of bookshop magic are skillfully balanced by plot lines with more gravitas, like the publish-or-perish element in Violet’s academic community and the challenges of relationships, particularly between parents and children. Most importantly, Violet herself is a winning character and narrator: warm, witty, principled and smart, someone you’d enjoy meeting again. So if the tall birch in my backyard, stubbornly short on essence, were to toss another Magical Bookshop Mystery my way, I would be, well—charmed.

Crimes and Covers hits the right cozy notes and will provide hours of whimsical pleasure.

Mystery novelist and amateur sleuth Lady Amy Lovell is back in The Mystery of Albert E. Finch, the latest installment in Callie Hutton’s Victorian Book Club Mystery series.

The novel kicks off with Amy’s wedding to Lord William Wethington, a fellow member of the Mystery Book Club of Bath. During the celebratory wedding breakfast, Amy’s cousin, Alice Finch, is poisoned and collapses face-first into her meal. There’s no reviving Mrs. Finch, and soon the Wethington wedding reception is declared a crime scene.

Local detectives charge Mrs. Finch’s husband, Albert, with her murder, but Amy isn’t sure that he’s guilty. With their honeymoon on hold, Amy and William put their sleuthing skills to the test and begin their own investigation. When a second body turns up, the newlyweds must race to figure out who is poisoning their wedding guests—and why.

Hutton’s Victorian-era Bath is a delightful setting, even given the murders taking place in its streets. And it’s easy to root for the newlywed sleuths, whose relationship is clearly rooted in friendship and respect. Though the story takes a humorous turn when several of Amy’s relatives unexpectedly move into the couple’s home, The Mystery of Albert E. Finch also addresses issues like misogyny and classism with grace and heart.

There’s a running joke about William’s disappointment in his delayed honeymoon that goes on for a bit too long and loses steam, but overall, Hutton’s writing is sharp and witty. Amy and William are in top form, and readers will enjoy reuniting with them and the rest of the Mystery Book Club in this consistently pleasurable cozy mystery.

The latest Victorian Book Club Mystery takes on issues like misogyny and classism with grace and heart.

Love gone terribly wrong is at the heart of two paranoid thrillers that ask: Is a fresh start possible if you don’t fully reckon with the past? Two female protagonists contend with corrosive lies, nefarious intentions and gaslighting galore as they struggle to drag long-buried secrets into the light.

Reading Darby Kane’s The Replacement Wife is like looking at the world through a window that’s blurry with the lingering fingerprints of traumas past and suspicions present.

Narrator Elisa Wright spends her days feeling fragile and distressed, still reeling from a horrific event at her workplace 11 months ago. But things have been looking up: She’s focusing on caring for her son, Nate, and has even ventured out of the house for an occasional errand or lunch with her husband, Harris.

Despite these improvements, Elisa grapples with a disturbing question that her gut won’t let her push aside. Is her brother-in-law Josh a good guy with very bad luck . . . or is he a charming sociopath with a penchant for murdering women he professes to love? 

Elisa knows it’s a wild-sounding train of thought, one Harris is extra-loath to entertain because his and Josh’s lives are so enmeshed. But she’s always wondered if there was more to the story Josh told them when his fiancée, Abby, disappeared seven months ago, leaving without a goodbye to Elisa, her close friend. Now Josh has a new girlfriend named Rachel with whom he’s already quite serious. Does Rachel know about Abby—or Candace, Josh’s wife who died in an accident at home? 

Determined to protect Rachel, Elisa struggles to appear supportive of the new relationship while searching for clues and clarity. It isn’t easy, especially with everyone looking askance at her whenever she wants privacy (read: an opportunity for serious snooping). She can’t tell if she’s paranoid, or getting close to a terrible reality.

Kane has created a compellingly claustrophobic thriller rife with gleeful misdirects, possible gaslighting and plenty of damaging secrets. Readers will feel dizzy and disoriented right along with Elisa as she tries to discern whether her instincts are steering her in the right direction or putting her in the path of danger, all while hoping against hope that she’ll figure it out before it’s too late for Rachel—or herself.

The three women in Leah Konen’s The Perfect Escape venture farther from home than Elisa does, but not as far as they’d like. 

Sam, Margaret and Diana don’t know each other that well, but they’ve bonded over a few months of intense venting and drinking sessions concerning the sad state of their respective relationships. A Saratoga Springs girls’ weekend, complete with spa treatments and margaritas, sounds like a logical next step in their quest to shake off the tarnish left by love’s demise. What could go wrong?

The trio merrily sets off from New York City, but just a couple of hours north in the small town of Catskill, Margaret loses the keys to their rental car. No others are available nearby, so Diana suggests a pivot: They’ll rent a house for the night, go out for some fun and figure out the rest of their trip in the morning. 

It’s not what they had planned, but it’ll distract them from their crumbling relationships nonetheless, so they go to a local bar called Eamon’s for booze and adventure. Sam is especially enthused; she knows her ex-husband, Harry, lives in Catskill and is likely to see a strategically tagged Instagram post. In the meantime, Margaret grooves with a sexy local guy named Alex, and Diana sashays out to the patio.

The next morning, Sam and Margaret awake to hangovers and confusion as they realize Diana is missing. To their horror, they learn that blood has been found at Eamon’s—and suddenly, skeptical police officers are asking questions the women don’t want to answer.

Konen pulls the reader into Margaret’s and Sam’s perspectives in turn as they reluctantly reveal their sad backstories and unseemly secrets and try to figure out just who they should be scared of. This twisty, creepy and increasingly disturbing story has a delicious, unhinged energy, hinting at all manner of suspects as the women’s motives are gradually revealed to be even deeper—and perhaps darker—than they first seemed.

Love gone terribly wrong lies at the heart of two paranoid thrillers.

Find Me

Three women take center stage in Alafair Burke’s latest thriller, Find Me: NYPD detective Ellie Hatcher, attorney Lindsay Kelly and amnesiac Hope Miller, who remembers nothing of her life prior to a devastating car crash she survived 15 years ago—or so she says. Now, sans ID or history, Hope works under the radar for a real estate agent, getting paid under the table to stage houses for prospective buyers. Then, as often happens in novels about amnesiacs, a random aha! moment triggers a memory, and we’re off to the races. Hope disappears, blood is spilled and the DNA found at her last-known location matches that of unidentified blood found at an old crime scene halfway across the country. The crime in question is one of a spate of killings thought to be the work of a serial killer, and the case was supposedly solved 15 years ago. Lindsay, who has been Hope’s friend ever since her accident, begins to investigate her disappearance and eventually draws Ellie into the fray. Ellie’s father, who was also a cop, was assigned to the same serial killer case that’s somehow connected with Hope’s disappearance. The two women feverishly piece together the disparate parts of the story, and Burke’s masterful control over pacing and plot reveals will make readers just as anxious to uncover the truth. 

A Narrow Door

Joanne Harris’ darkly humorous and deliciously evil A Narrow Door is a quintessential and unputdownable English mystery. Rebecca Buckfast, headmistress of noted Yorkshire boarding school St. Oswald’s and one of the first-person narrators of this tale, is nothing if not straightforward. She recounts the steps she had to take to become the first female head of the school in its 500-year history. Rebecca doesn’t sugarcoat anything, including the two murders she committed (“one a crime of passion, the other, a crime of convenience”), and yet it is difficult not to respect her motivations and even like her. Sort of. Meanwhile, a parallel tale is offered up by St. Oswald’s teacher Roy Straitley, in the form of a diary that outlines the discovery of what appears to be human remains in a construction site on the school grounds. As Roy’s and Rebecca’s stories unfold, both of the narrators take satisfaction in the secrets they are hiding from each other—or, more precisely, the secrets they think they are successfully concealing. A Narrow Door is an exceptionally good novel, such a masterpiece of storytelling that when Rebecca likens herself to a modern-day Scheherazade, it doesn’t feel like hyperbole in the slightest.

Silent Parade

By all accounts, 19-year-old Saori Namiki was on track to become the next big thing in the world of J-pop music. And then, inexplicably, she vanished, and stayed missing until her remains were discovered three years later in a suburban Tokyo neighborhood. Another body is found at the same place: Yoshie Hasunuma, an unremarkable woman save for her stepson, Kanichi, who is widely believed to have skated away from a murder charge years ago and looks pretty good for this latest double homicide as well. In the same way that Scotland Yard Inspector Lestrade often sought the assistance of supersleuth Sherlock Holmes, Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department Chief Inspector Kusanagi regularly summons brainiac physicist Manabu Yukawa, known as Detective Galileo, to consult on particularly difficult homicides. Keigo Higashino’s Silent Parade showcases the fourth such pairing, and is in many ways the most intricate. Detective Galileo must reconsider his theory of the crime again and again, tweaking it repeatedly until he is more or less satisfied with his assessment. He is a very clever man, smart enough to stay a step or two ahead of the police department, the perpetrator (or perpetrators?) and the reader, and that is no mean feat.

BOX 88

The title of Charles Cumming’s latest espionage thriller, BOX 88, refers to a fictional clandestine ops organization that is jointly operated by the United States and the United Kingdom. BOX 88 does not possess a license to kill a la James Bond, but the management certainly utilizes a “license to look the other way” on occasions when wetwork is required. BOX 88 begins a series starring Scottish spy Lachlan Kite, who in this book must come to grips with a very cold case: the 1988 downing of PanAm Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Close to half the narrative consists of flashbacks to immediately after the plane crash, when Lachlan was a green recruit. In the present day, Lachlan lets down his guard at the funeral of his old friend, with disastrous results. He is kidnapped by an urbane-seeming Iranian man who turns out to be anything but urbane when it comes to securing intelligence from a perceived enemy combatant. Worse yet, the kidnapper’s team has also captured Lachlan’s very pregnant wife. If torture will not get them what they want, perhaps threats to Lachlan’s family will do the trick. Despite his mistake at the funeral, Lachlan is a seasoned operative and, if anything, more dangerous to his captors than they are to him. Meanwhile, British intelligence agency MI5 is in hot pursuit, not to help Lachlan but rather to out him as an operative of a rogue agency. The suspense is palpable, the characters flawed but sympathetic in their own ways and the story gripping. In a month of really excellent reads, BOX 88 is a clear standout.

In a month overflowing with superb mysteries and thrillers, a deliciously evil boarding school-set thriller and a pitch-perfect espionage novel rise to the top.

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