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All Mystery Coverage

Jordan Manning is a crime reporter at the top of her game, but staying there is proving increasingly exhausting. When she moved to Chicago from her home state of Texas, she hit the ground running in four-inch stiletto heels—which didn’t deter her from being first on the scene of a steady stream of crimes in the Windy City. As a Black woman, Jordan is the only woman of color at News Channel 8, and she’s the only reporter in her newsroom with journalism and forensic science degrees. Her experience and savvy serve her well, as does her empathy—a trait that isn’t always present in the highly competitive news business.

Because of Jordan’s empathy, plus her finely tuned intuition, the disturbing case of Masey James—a smart, well-liked Black teenager found dead in a park—just won’t let Jordan go. She had already been frustrated by the police’s unwillingness to declare Masey missing, and now authorities are in a rush to arrest someone instead of conducting a thorough investigation. Jordan is determined to not only ethically and comprehensively report on the case but also help solve it.

Read our interview with Tamron Hall about her series launch.

As the Wicked Watch is a compellingly realistic and timely first entry in Tamron Hall’s new mystery series starring the ambitious and fabulous Jordan, a woman not unlike her creator. Hall was an award-winning anchor on NBC and MSNBC, was the first Black woman to host “TODAY” and now hosts the Emmy-winning “Tamron Hall Show.” Her fiction takes on racism, sexism, media ethics and institutional bias, offering a fascinating inside look at the intricate ballet that is a live newscast.

Readers spend much of the story inside Jordan’s very busy head. The naturalistic narrative reveals her investigative strategies, conflicting emotions and minimonologues about everything from Chicago restaurants to her quest for a healthy personal life as she works to earn the trust of Masey’s family and neighbors, and edges ever closer to the truth about the killer she believes might strike again. It’s a dangerous pursuit, but to Jordan it’s just part of “a calling and a purpose larger than myself.” As the Wicked Watch is a promising start to a series sure to appeal to fans of badass women with mysteries to solve and something to prove.

Tamron Hall’s debut is a promising start to a series sure to appeal to fans of badass women with mysteries to solve and something to prove.

Straddling the line between suspense and historical fiction, Lori Rader-Day’s Death at Greenway is an unsettling murder mystery that gives readers a nuanced look into life on the British homefront during World War II. 

Student nurse Bridget “Bridey” Kelly made a horrible mistake on duty, resulting in the death of an officer in her care. Her only hope for redemption is to take an assignment caring for 10 children who are being evacuated from London and sent to Greenway House, the country home of Agatha Christie. Christie makes only the briefest of appearances, although her library of books on murder makes for a chilling backdrop.

Like the children, Bridey experiences the effects of PTSD, so she struggles to care for them, especially when her fellow nurse, Gigi, proves to be less than enthusiastic (or knowledgeable). From the moment they settle into Greenway House, things feel amiss. Items go missing, and one of the children reports seeing a man lurking outside at night. After a body washes up in the quay, Bridey is asked to help and realizes the victim’s injuries were the result of homicide, not accidental drowning. All the while, the mysterious Gigi’s stories of her life before Greenway House fail to add up. When she goes missing, Bridey knows something foul is afoot.

Told from multiple perspectives (even those of individual children), Rader-Day’s novel is in many ways a portrait of grief and trauma. Each character is suffering due to displacement, rationing and German bombings. There are no real monsters, just people forced into circumstances they never thought possible. Bridey is a particularly compelling character—the reluctant detective, longing to move on with her life, but unable to let sleeping dogs lie.

Far from a cozy mystery, Death at Greenway is as taut as a bow string, with every character capable of snapping at a moment’s notice. 

Far from a cozy mystery, Death at Greenway is as taut as a bow string, with every character capable of snapping at a moment’s notice.

A glamorous dinner party goes horribly wrong in Tess Little’s debut novel, The Last Guest. The host, ostentatious director Richard Bryant, ends up dead and all the guests are suspects. So far, so Agatha Christie, but Little draws from the novel’s setting in the Hollywood Hills to cinematic effect, using the tropes of classic film noir and more modern, surrealist thrillers to create something entirely her own. If you find yourself wanting to watch a movie after finishing The Last Guest, Little has five perfect pairings in mind. 


It would be impossible to distinguish all the influences on any novel—as impossible as unmixing paint or lifting brushstrokes from the canvas. But those that had the greatest impact will always loom large in the writer’s mind. My debut novel, The Last Guest, is set in Los Angeles, and so I often reached for films while seeking inspiration. Who could paint a portrait of that city without wielding the color and texture of cinema?

The Invitation (2015), directed by Karyn Kusama

The Invitation is a masterful, slow-burning character study that explores grief, survival and unravelling social norms. As a horror film, it largely differs from my novel, a murder mystery. But their premises mirror each other closely—a home perched in the Hollywood Hills, an intimate dinner party, the mounting tension and creeping dread. As I was writing The Last Guest, my thoughts kept returning to the winding road in the opening scene, leading the protagonist towards his ex-wife’s house and the horrific night awaiting him there.

Mulholland Drive (2001), directed by David Lynch

Darker and more surreal than Sunset Boulevard, neo-noir Mulholland Drive was another film that sat with me as I wrote. The Last Guest is less of a dreamscape, more firmly rooted in reality, but the rich colors, underlying unease and ugly Hollywood truths of Lynch’s masterpiece were hanging over me nonetheless.

The Octopus (1928), directed by Jean Painlevé

If the 2020 runaway hit documentary My Octopus Teacher had been released before I wrote The Last Guest, it would certainly have provided inspiration for Persephone—the giant Pacific octopus who appears in the novel. As it was, I had to search for the creatures elsewhere, and found the silent, underwater films of French director Jean Painlevé online. In The Octopus, the strange anatomy of this alien animal is presented in black and white, tight close-ups giving a detailed study of how octopuses crawl, climb and jet through the water, how their siphons inflate to breathe and how their skin cells change color to camouflage.

Play it as it Lays (1972), directed by Frank Perry

Joan Didion’s spare, exacting prose has long served as an example for my own writing, and so too did Play it as it Lays, the film based on her novel of the same name. Protagonist Maria drifts through LA in an existential emptiness, taking long, lonely drives, much as my novel’s narrator, Elspeth, does. The sun is shining, as are the cars, the teeth, the oversized shades—but it all means nothing to Maria.

Sunset Boulevard (1950), directed by Billy Wilder

Any thriller set in LA will naturally be inspired by classic film noir, and Sunset Boulevard has everything you could want from the genre: a body floating in the swimming pool, a decaying mansion, directors and former silent movie stars playing themselves, even a chimpanzee funeral. While The Last Guest doesn’t feature an oil painting that lifts to reveal a cinema screen or a dead chimp, my own version of 10086 Sunset Blvd. does contain a pet octopus—and a projector screen that rolls down over its aquarium.

Tess Little’s sumptuous debut thriller takes as much inspiration from Agatha Christie as it does from its setting in the Hollywood Hills. Here’s what to watch after reading 'The Last Guest.'

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:


SiracusaSiracusa by Delia Ephron

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 FallBefore 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 AirlinesUnderground 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.

 


Not a SoundNot a Sound by Heather Gudenkauf

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 ForgottenAll 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 WaterBlood 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.

 


A Great ReckoningA Great Reckoning by Louise Penny

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 10The 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.

 


Behind Closed DoorsBehind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

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.

 


Redemption RoadRedemption Road by John Hart

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.

Is your book club ready to try something different after another round of literary fiction? Branch out with one of these mystery and suspense picks for your next book club meeting.

Daughter of the Morning Star, the 17th book in Craig Johnson’s riveting mystery series, proves that Sheriff Walt Longmire does his best work on the page, even compared to the acclaimed Netflix adaptation of the series, “Longmire.”

Longmire walks a fine line, serving the predominantly white populace of Absaroka County, Wyoming, as well as the members of the Cheyenne Indian Nation who live on the local reservation. When Chief Lolo Long of the Cheyenne Tribal Police asks for his assistance in investigating death threats against her niece, Jaya Long, the standout star of the Lame Deer Lady Stars high school basketball team, Longmire’s penchant for justice makes it easy to say yes.

With the help of his best friend, Henry Standing Bear, Longmire begins an intensive investigation that he believes is tied into the disappearance of Jaya’s older sister, Jeanie, a year ago. Jeanie was with friends on her way back from a party in Billings, Montana, when their van broke down. While repairs were being made, she wandered off, never to be seen again.

Longmire and Bear take the usual route of interviewing all of Jeanie’s contacts, hoping to find something the police or FBI missed. Some of the witnesses are helpful enough; some, not so much. A farmer, Lyndon Iron Bull, claims to have seen her singing in a snowstorm and warns of an ancient Cheyenne legend known as Wandering Without, “a spiritual hole that devours souls.”

Writing from Longmire’s point of view for the entirety of this fast-paced mystery, Johnson uses crisp prose and sharp dialogue to create a sense of immediacy as the investigation moves toward its inevitable, thrilling conclusion. The case also allows Johnson to incorporate horrifying statistics about how young Native American women are substantially more likely to be murdered, to be sexually assaulted or to commit suicide than the national average. Longmire knows that what happened to Jeanie and what’s threatening Jaya lie anywhere along that spectrum, and that’s what scares him. As readers, you’ll be scared too.

Daughter of the Morning Star, the 17th book in Craig Johnson’s riveting mystery series, proves that Sheriff Walt Longmire does his best work on the page, even compared to the acclaimed Netflix adaptation of the series, “Longmire.”

It’s been nearly a year since Defending Jacob, William Landay’s third novel, was published—but this chilling psychological thriller doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. After months on the New York Times bestseller list, it recently came in at a whopping #3 on our Readers’ Choice list of the Best Books of 2012. (There’s also a movie in the works from Warner Brothers.)

Like John Grisham and Scott Turow, Landay is a former attorney who turned to writing crime fiction. Also like those superstars, he is adept at crafting an irresistibly suspenseful tale. Defending Jacob is about an assistant D.A. in an affluent suburban Massachusetts town whose life is completely turned upside down when his 14-year-old son is accused of murder. So what does he do next? The father sets out to defend his own son in court.  

If you are one of the many readers who got hooked on Defending Jacob, I hope you’ll enjoy these suggestions for what to read next.


Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton

Novels like Defending Jacob are so compelling, in part, because they make us think about how life can irrevocably change in a single moment. In Lupton’s second novel (after 2011’s Sister), that moment is the outbreak of a fire at an elementary school—where Grace’s son is enrolled as a student and her teenage daughter works as a teaching assistant. Was it arson? And how are Grace’s children involved? Like Defending Jacob, this is a family-centered thriller that focuses on the great lengths a parent will go to protect his or her child.


Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon

It may initially seem that a thriller and a massive nonfiction book have little in common—but in fact they address similar themes. How does a child grow up to commit criminal acts? How do parents react to major unforeseen life events? How do they move on after these events, if such a thing is even possible? For one chapter in his book, Solomon interviewed (and spent hundreds of hours with) the parents of Dylan Klebold, one of the perpetrators of the Columbine massacre. This chapter is incredibly thought-provoking and sobering and would make an appropriate supplement to Defending Jacob—especially in light of the tragedy in Newtown, CT. (Solomon has written thoughtfully about that event, as well.)


Midwives by Chris Bohjalian

Bohjalian’s 1997 book about a midwife accused of murder (by performing an emergency c-section) is one of my favorite courtroom novels of recent memory, pitting doctors against midwives and townspeople against one another—all the while raising plenty of ethical dilemmas. Like Defending Jacob, this novel takes place in a small community and shows what it’s like for a family after a criminal accusation.


We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

 Defending Jacob begs comparison to Shriver’s 2003 Orange Prize-winning novel, in which a teenager commits a grotesque act of violence against his classmates. As you read descriptions of parental anguish and the violent actions of a disturbed boy, you will want to cover your eyes. For better or worse—this book may give you nightmares—you will be unable to stop reading thanks to Shriver’s clever plotting.


The Good Father by Noah Hawley 

This is another natural pick for readers who enjoyed Defending Jacob. In both novels, the narrator is a father who is unable to believe that his son committed murder—though in this case, the son is an adult, and the victim is a prominent presidential candidate. Why did the son do what he did? Could his parents have prevented the act of violence? A harrowing (and heartbreaking) story.

It’s been nearly a year since Defending Jacob, William Landay’s third novel, was published—but this chilling psychological thriller doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. After months on the New York Times bestseller list, it recently came in at a whopping #3 on our Readers’ Choice list of the Best Books of 2012. (There’s also a movie in the […]

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