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Blood Sugar by Sascha Rothchild

Promising Young Woman meets “Dexter” in this highly suspenseful and strangely empowering thriller from an Emmy-nominated screenwriter.

Blood Sugar jacket

The Cage by Bonnie Kistler

Part locked-room mystery, part legal thriller, The Cage is tailor-made to be read in one breathless session.

The Cage jacket

Geiger by Gustaf Skördeman

Geiger is a truly excellent first novel: deeply researched, painstakingly crafted and thrilling on every page.

Geiger jacket

The Half Life of Valery K by Natasha Pulley

With unexpected twists, a paranoid atmosphere and a fascinating narrator, The Half Life of Valery K is a superb work of historical fiction and an excellent mystery.

The Half Life of Valery K jacket

Lavender House by Lev AC Rosen

Mystery lovers will be thoroughly entertained by this thoughtful noir that examines midcentury LGBTQ+ life through a cast of dynamic characters.

Lavender House jacket

Little Sister by Gytha Lodge

A teenage girl covered in blood interrupts Detective Chief Inspector Jonah Sheens’ afternoon pint—and Gytha Lodge’s mystery only gets more unpredictable from there.

Little Sister jacket

Sometimes People Die by Simon Stephenson

Simon Stephenson’s darkly hilarious Sometimes People Die harks back to classic English satire a la Kingsley Amis or Evelyn Waugh—just with more murder.

Sometimes People Die jacket

Winter Work by Dan Fesperman

Dan Fesperman’s intense post-Cold War mystery savvily addresses both the personal and political pressures facing an East German spy.

Winter Work book cover

The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill

Readers are treated to an inventive and expertly crafted mystery-within-a-mystery in Sulari Gentill’s The Woman in the Library.

The Woman in the Library jacket

You’re Invited by Amanda Jayatissa

This thoroughly satisfying and beautifully plotted thriller deconstructs the trope of the crazy ex-girlfriend.

You're Invited jacket

Discover more of BookPage’s Best Books of 2022.

2022 was a year marked by meta mysteries, Cold War thrillers and complicated women.
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Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six

If I had to sum up Lisa Unger’s Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six in 10 words, I would say “Cast of ‘Friends,’ dark and stormy night, soundtrack by Disturbed.” This friend group is much more disturbed than Ross, Chandler, Monica, et al., but there are parallels: a sister/brother pair; a female friend from the past; some canoodling that is, shall we say, detrimental to the group dynamic. Siblings Hannah and Mako are celebrating Christmas at their parents’ house when their father finds an unusual gift under the tree: DNA genealogy kits for the whole family, from an anonymous Santa. A few months later, when Hannah, Mako, their respective spouses and another couple head up to a remote cabin to unplug, the other shoe drops. Some of them did the kit and were unexpectedly proven to be the progeny of the same man, and they are not happy to know who (and what) their biological father was. Secrets abound in this psychological thriller; even the cabin itself harbors a hidden history, giving off unnerving vibes to renters and readers alike. At 400 pages, it’s a long book for a one-sitting read, but you’ll be sorely tempted.

1989

1989 is Val McDermid’s second installment of a trilogy (which this reviewer hopes will become a quadrilogy or even a quintology) featuring Scottish investigative reporter Allie Burns. The series began with 1979, and in the sequel, readers are mired with Allie in the late ’80s, when mobile phones were the size of lunchboxes, when AIDS was ravaging the U.K., when a jetliner was bombed out of the sky over Lockerbie, Scotland, and when the Soviet Union was on the verge of collapse. All in all, not a time to be nostalgic for, and true to form, McDermid spins the tale without a whiff of sentimentality. Allie works for media mogul Ace Lockhart, who bears more than a passing resemblance to newspaper publisher Robert Maxwell (father of Ghislaine, of Jeffrey Epstein-associate infamy): flamboyant, bullying and destined for disgrace. Lockhart, who has a number of business ventures based in the Eastern bloc, senses the upcoming upheaval and sends his daughter to secure his interests in the changing political landscape. When she is kidnapped in East Berlin, Lockhart sends Allie Burns on a rescue mission, and in short order, things careen out of control. You don’t need to read 1979 to hit the ground running with 1989, but you will want to have Wikipedia open to look up all the fascinating historical and cultural moments McDermid references along the way.

Viviana Valentine Gets Her Man

Emily J. Edwards’ Viviana Valentine Gets Her Man is, hands down, this month’s most entertaining mystery. Set in 1950 New York City, it chronicles the adventures of a plucky Pennsylvania country girl, the titular Viviana Valentine. Upon arriving penniless in the Big Apple, Viviana sweet-talks her way into a girl Friday job for Tommy Fortuna, a Philip Marlowe-esque private investigator who calls her dollface. But after Tommy goes MIA and a dead body is found on his office floor, Viviana is forced to take the helm of the agency, clear Tommy’s name and crack the case he was working on. Whatever she lacks in experience, Viviana more than makes up for with her in-your-face attitude, wicked sense of humor and snappy one-liners. Her friends and acquaintances include high society debutantes, models, mobsters, cops both arrow-straight and morally flexible and a host of other ’50s types that would slot neatly into a black-and-white detective film. Edwards nails the tone, with dialogue and milieu evocative of classic noir, and presents the era warts and all: conversations that are a bit politically incorrect; men behaving toward women in ways that are borderline or flat-out predatory; and a towering amount of smoking and drinking.

The Devil’s Blaze

In the same fashion that Sean Connery is the quintessential James Bond for many cinema aficionados, Basil Rathbone is widely regarded as the definitive silver screen Sherlock Holmes, even though the most famous films in which he took on the role are not set in the original Victorian and Edwardian eras but smack in the middle of World War II. Author Robert J. Harris expands upon those midcentury films with his Sherlock Holmes in WWII series, the second volume of which (after 2021’s A Study in Crimson) is The Devil’s Blaze. The Germans have developed a truly insidious weapon to use against their English adversaries, a death machine of some sort that causes people to spontaneously erupt into flames. As usual, there are only two people in England clever enough (or devious enough, depending on your point of view) to approach a mystery of this magnitude: Sherlock Holmes (natch) and his longtime archnemesis, Professor James Moriarty. There is certainly no love lost between the pair, but they are forced to forge an uneasy alliance to try and save England from this terrifying new weapon. Harris never lets readers forget that this is a Sherlock Holmes novel, with the narrative turning on a dime—or a twopence, if you prefer—such that only an experienced fishmonger would be able to sort through all the red herrings. Holmes is as cerebral and arrogant as die-hard fans would expect, and Watson hews closely to actor Nigel Bruce’s portrayal in the Rathbone films: thoughtful, taciturn and usually a step behind his mentor. And Moriarty, well, he should be giving TED Talks on the subject of villainy.

Lisa Unger will make you think twice about dabbling with DNA ancestry kits, plus Val McDermid returns with a new Allie Burns novel in this month’s Whodunit.

There comes a time in every hit man or woman’s life to hang up the garrotte and stow away the guns. The assassin protagonists of these books are understandably world- and work-weary, but old habits die hard when you’re a killer for hire.

It’s impossible not to like Billie, Mary Alice, Natalie and Helen, even if Deanna Raybourn’s Killers of a Certain Age makes it abundantly clear that the quartet could easily kill someone and get away with it if they so desired. After all, they’ve done just that many, many times during their 40-year careers as elite assassins for an international organization called the Museum.

The women are smart and funny, each with a specialty (poison, bombs, weapons) and all with extensive training in planning and carrying out assassinations. As Billie quips, “Our job is to eliminate people who need killing.” So it’s quite a shock when, before they’ve even had a chance to enjoy the all-expenses-paid retirement cruise arranged by the Museum, the women realize someone has decided that they need killing—someone who just might be on the board of their former employer. The women take a moment to indulge their anger like any longtime employee would (“We’ve given forty years to those assholes and this is how they repay us.”) and then surge into action, joining forces to figure out who’s after them and why.

Raybourn, an Edgar finalist and bestselling author of the Veronica Speedwell historical mystery series, has created a group of protagonists who are as reliably charming as they are impressively badass. It’s fascinating to follow along as they map out routes, create disguises, work their connections and improvise weapons. They handle it all with practiced aplomb, even if they occasionally groan with aggravation after battles to the death leave them feeling achier than they used to. But the four “avenging goddesses” are also able to use sexism and ageism to their strategic advantage, given that the combo renders them virtually invisible.

Ingenuity and instinct combine with deadly determination in this memorable thriller that celebrates friendship, ponders the meaning of loyalty, and offers plenty of action-packed entertainment among all the, well, killing.

In contrast to the ladies’ collaborative approach, there can only be one top-notch killer in the world of Seventeen. Screenwriter John Brownlow’s debut novel gives that number one spot to his brashly confident narrator, a man known only as Seventeen.

To achieve assassin supremacy, you must kill your predecessor—but Sixteen suddenly disappeared eight years ago. He’s the first assassin in 100 years to have done so, making Seventeen the only one who hasn’t truly earned his spot, according to his handler (who, of course, goes by “Handler”). Seventeen’s a consummate professional nonetheless, with a practical approach to his work: “I’m not saying what I do is a public service exactly, but actions have consequences.”

Now, though, it seems Seventeen himself may have begun to suffer the consequences of his chosen career path. After a multitarget assignment gets a bit messy, and he completes two subsequent jobs in Berlin without his usual finesse, he worries he might be losing his touch, and it seems like Handler might agree. When he informs Seventeen his next job is to find Sixteen and take him out, Seventeen’s hunch intensifies. Can he find and finish Sixteen before Handler sends someone else to finish him, too?

Brownlow’s snappy prose and brief chapters will have readers eagerly flipping the pages. Sixteen may be off the grid, but he’s not going to be off his game: He’s too smart to let his guard down, and he’s got 20 years of experience on Seventeen. As the ultimate showdown nears, compelling secondary characters add to the darkly humorous fun, intense action scenes amp up the suspense, and Seventeen reflects on the tragic childhood events that set him on his ruthless career path. That exploration of the far-ranging effects of trauma, as well as forays into geopolitics and governmental corruption, bolster the cleverly constructed, propulsive thrill ride that is Seventeen.

Can an assassin ever truly retire? The characters in these two thrillers are about to find out.
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international mysteries
STARRED REVIEW

July 2022

6 thrilling international mysteries

Have your passports and alibis ready—your ultimate summer getaway awaits.

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When something seems too good to be true, it probably is. In her U.S. debut, Miss Aldridge Regrets, British author Louise Hare illustrates that idea with deliciously suspenseful, Agatha Christie-esque results. 

The year is 1936, the place is Soho, London, and the star of the show is 26-year-old Lena Aldridge. She has a regular gig at the Canary Club, owned by sleazy criminal Tommy Scarsdale. When she’s not singing, she goes on dates with her married lover and tries not to think about how much she misses her late father, Alfie.

Every day, Lena wonders: Will her big break ever come? The future’s looking bleak, but then a stranger named Charles Bacon appears with an astonishing proposal. His employer, an old friend of Alfie’s, is offering Lena a role in his Broadway play, and he’ll pay for first-class passage to New York City aboard RMS Queen Mary. Lena is thrilled and trepidatious, but then her boyfriend dumps her. And then Tommy’s murdered. After deciding that fate is urging her to exit stage right, Lena sets sail. 

Readers will be enchanted by the period charm of Hare’s ocean liner setting and will swoon as Lena gets to know Will, a Black musician. Will notices right away that Lena is also Black, even though she’s been successfully passing as white for years. Lena knows that being Black will be even more of an issue in America than it was in England, a big change she’s not sure she’s ready for.

She’s also not ready for what happens on the Queen Mary: Someone murders one of the Abernathys, a wealthy family that Charles insisted Lena spend time schmoozing. As the ship glides across the Atlantic, its posh sheen gradually dulls in the wake of destructive secrets and even more murders. Everyone’s a suspect, and the red herrings pile up as an alarmed Lena thinks, “I felt as though I were trapped inside my own detective novel.” Readers will enjoy playing sleuth, racing to figure out who did it, how and why, even as they ponder the ultimate question: Will Lena survive the trip to New York unscathed?

Miss Aldridge Regrets' 1930s ocean liner setting will enchant mystery readers even as author Louise Hare seeds disquiet and red herrings amid all the glam.

Daniel Nieh’s Take No Names is a blast from start to finish, a classic crime thriller that shifts into an over-the-top action romp.

Chinese American Victor Li is keeping a low profile in Seattle after being wrongfully accused of killing his father, who secretly worked for a Chinese criminal syndicate (the plot of Nieh’s 2019 debut, Beijing Payback). Drinking buddy Mark Knox recruits Victor to his security tech business for Victor’s computer skills and ability to speak Chinese and Spanish. But it’s not long before Mark enlists Victor in a lucrative side job: breaking into a government storage yard to steal and then sell unclaimed items seized from deported immigrants. It’s on one of these ventures they discover a painite, a rare gem worth a cool $250,000. The pair smuggle the gem to a buyer south of the border, where they are soon embroiled in a scheme by a U.S. military contractor to derail construction of a new Chinese-built airport in Mexico City.

Along the way, the two men form uneasy alliances with Victor’s estranged sister, Jules, and Sun Jianshui, who once worked for the same criminal syndicate as Victor’s father—and was the person who actually killed him. The interactions among all four main characters lead to both humorous and emotionally charged moments as they try to worm their way out of the mess they’ve gotten themselves into. Victor and Mark are particularly likable, a pair of outcasts who have forged a unique and unexpected friendship.

Nieh, who has lived in the United States, China and Mexico, maintains a steady balance of humor, action and thrills, while also making some barbed commentary on American capitalism and Chinese globalization. The twists and turns come often, keeping the intrepid Victor and Mark on their toes as they run for their lives from one chapter to the next. What starts as a Joe R. Lansdale-esque crime thriller morphs halfway into an espionage caper à la Mission Impossible. If it sounds a bit over the top, it is—but that’s what makes Take No Names such an irrepressibly fun read.

Daniel Nieh's Take No Names is a blast from start to finish, a classic crime thriller that shifts into an over-the-top action romp.

What better to read on a hot summer day than a chilling thriller set in, well, Iceland? In Outside, Reykjavik native and internationally bestselling author Ragnar Jónasson turns the snowy “fjord-indented coastline [and] reindeer-haunted wilderness” of the Nordic island’s eastern highlands into an antagonist just as dangerous to the book’s central characters as the murderer (or perhaps murderers?) in their midst.

At first, there’s no thought of life-threatening peril when four college friends reunite for a woodsy weekend hike to hunt ptarmigan and catch up on one another’s lives. There’s Daniel, an aspiring actor who lives in London; Gunnlaugur, an argumentative lawyer; Helena, an inscrutable engineer; and Ormann, a wealthy tour company owner and leader of their trip.

An unexpected blizzard catches the quartet off guard, its fierce winds and zero visibility sending them into survival mode. Ormann knows of a hut they can hole up in until the worst of the weather passes—but just getting there is onerous as the snow piles higher, the air gets colder and the mostly amateur hikers’ nerves become frayed.

Once they get to the cabin, things get even scarier as frustration transforms into fear and life-or-death decisions are made more difficult by years-old resentments boiling up to the surface. Their paranoia grows in the cabin’s suffocatingly small space as Helena thinks to herself, “Guns, isolation, fear, and uncertainty—they were such an explosive cocktail.”

Jónasson inspires fast page turns via quick cuts among the four characters as they reflect on the past (so many secrets!) and frantically strategize about the present. Mini cliffhangers keep the story humming along; the author doesn’t shy away from ending chapters with lines like, “He had never been so afraid in his life.”

Spare prose and brisk pacing make for an immersive read that’s less about the individual characters and more about what they become when they’re forced together, no longer able to dissemble or hide. Will they work together to save themselves before it’s too late? Can they? Outside is an intriguing study of isolation, claustrophobia and the particular menace to be found in beautiful yet unforgiving terrain.

Outside is an intriguing study of isolation, claustrophobia and the particular menace to be found in beautiful yet unforgiving terrain.
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The Drowning Sea is an atmospheric procedural starring a detective at a crossroads in her life.

Retired Long Island homicide detective Maggie D’arcy is spending the summer in West Cork, Ireland, with her Irish boyfriend, his son and her teenage daughter. They vacation in the picturesque village of Ross Head, but the idyllic trip is cut short when human remains wash up on the shore near their cottage. The body is that of Polish immigrant Lukas Adamik, whose disappearance months earlier led many in Ross Head to assume that he had returned to Poland. But when the police determine that the body was only recently deceased and rule out an accident or suicide, the mystery of where Lukas has been—and what happened to him—consumes the small community.

In addition to that, Maggie’s hostess, Lissa Crawford, asks her to look into the disappearance of her childhood governess, Dorothea. The Crawfords were once the owners of the local manor, Rosscliffe House, which Lissa sold after her family was beset by unfortunate circumstances. Chief among them was her father’s tragic suicide on the cliffs, after which Dorothea vanished. As Maggie investigates what happened to Dorothea, she realizes her case may be linked to the murder of Lukas.

The previous two Maggie d’Arcy mysteries have been set in both Ireland and Long Island, but The Drowning Sea completely immerses readers in Ross Head. Author Sarah Stewart Taylor creates a rich and slightly gothic atmosphere, with the ocean beating against the treacherous, wind-swept cliffs as Rosscliffe House looms over it all. Despite this subtle shift in tone, The Drowning Sea continues the series’ exploration of the inner life of its main character: Maggie becomes increasingly obsessed with the case, her dogged detective work serving as a distraction from the reasons for her retirement and the question of whether to uproot her and her daughter’s lives by permanently moving to Ireland.

The Drowning Sea‘s gorgeous backdrop and stalwart sleuth will satisfy and impress mystery readers, particularly fans of traditional whodunits.

The Drowning Sea's gorgeous setting and stalwart sleuth will satisfy and impress mystery readers, particularly fans of traditional whodunits.
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In Julie Mayhew’s Greek island-set thriller, Little Nothings, little cuts do lasting damage and friendships are as intense and heartbreaking as romantic relationships.

Thanks to her friendless childhood and dysfunctional family, Liv Travers never felt like she belonged. Even getting married to her husband, Pete, and giving birth to a daughter, Ivy, didn’t fundamentally change how she felt. But bonding with Beth and Binnie at a singalong music class for mothers and babies radically shifted her perspective.

So when an interloper comes along and rocks their happy triad, it’s intolerable. The new girl, Ange, is shinier and bossier than Liv’s other friends. Soon she has them all in her thrall, and the vibe shifts from supportive and homey to acquisitive and competitive, like a suburban London version of “Keeping Up with the Kardishians.” Regular group outings now take place at fashionable restaurants with bills totalling hundreds of pounds a pop. Every part of the group’s lifestyle gets an upgrade, and everyone is expected to conform. It’s hard to keep up financially, and even worse, Ange seems to want to run Liv off. Liv is excluded from group events with flimsy excuses, and no one else notices the manipulation. All the “little nothings,” the cuts and insults delivered so casually, add up, and the hostilities increase during an expensive group vacation to the Greek island Corfu. How far will Liv go to protect her found family, and what will she risk?

Rather than follow a chronological timeline, Mayhew uses flashbacks to reveal what pushed Liv and her friends to the brink. It’s an effective, psychologically driven structure, with each flashback being triggered thematically by an event in the present. As the full picture emerges, it’s easy to wonder if any friendship is worth all that drama, especially as neither Beth nor Binnie really seems to have Liv’s back. But to Liv, these women aren’t just friends, they’re soulmates; Mayhew even likens the intimacy of these female friendships to marriage. In a way that’s reminiscent of both Nikki May’s thriller Wahala and the novels of Patricia Highsmith, the intense relationships are vital to the women’s sense of their own identities. Vowing to not be that lonely girl again, Liv in particular hangs on with the fervor of a person in a rocky marriage warding off divorce.

Anchored by a deliciously layered and desperately unreliable narrator, Little Nothings enriches the familiar setup of an intruder shaking up a happy idyll with a compelling, creative structure and distinctive voice. It’s obvious that what Liv needs are better friends and a truckload of therapy, but singular obsessions make for seductive and fun reading, even if the depth of Liv’s interiority makes the other characters look thin and shabby by comparison. A good choice for fans of relationship-driven stories with a sinister edge, Little Nothings hits the same sweet spot as the works of Lucy Foley and Liane Moriarty.

With her Greek-island set thriller, Little Nothings, Julie Mayhew hits the same seductive sweet spot as writers like Lucy Foley and Liane Moriarty.

Nothing ever happens in Ebbing—until one horrific weekend. Local Gone Missing follows a variety of residents in the tiny English seaside town, from an inquisitive cleaning lady with a dark past to vacationers with a secret agenda. It all comes to a head during a chaotic musical festival, one that ends with dual overdoses, a possible murder and a host of spilled secrets. Hopping back and forth before and after the incidents, New York Times bestselling author Fiona Barton spins a tangled web of dirty money, bloodshed and deceit.

For Dee Eastwood, a cleaning woman and wife of a recovering addict, it’s business as usual until one of her clients, the demanding Pauline, asks if Dee has seen Pauline’s husband, Charlie. The retired, formerly wealthy couple are living in a trailer until they have the money to fix up their crumbling estate, and Charlie has been struggling to pay the residential facility fees for his adult daughter, Birdie, who incurred a brain injury after a home invasion decades ago. Meanwhile, Detective Elise King, newly in remission from breast cancer, recalls seeing Charlie pre-disappearance at Ebbing’s first music festival—right before two young people overdosed on drugs of unknown origin. Are the two events related? When Elise finds Charlie’s decomposing body, even more questions arise.

Though Local Gone Missing‘s plot is wonderfully twisty with a surprising and satisfying conclusion, it’s the characters who stand out. Ebbing’s weekenders have their own complex motivations—especially a mild-mannered gay caterer and a middle-age father who are mysteriously connected to each other, and maybe to Charlie as well—but it’s the locals who will really draw readers in. Foremost among them is the compelling and well-drawn Elise, who’s struggling to adjust to life back on the force after returning from medical leave. Her retired librarian neighbor Ronnie, who’s eager to play amateur sleuth and surprisingly adept at sussing out clues, provides much-needed comic relief in this intense story of greed gone terribly wrong. Thanks to Barton’s airtight plotting and impeccable characterization, a minibreak by the sea will never seem relaxing again.

Using airtight plotting and impeccable characterization, Fiona Barton spins a tangled web of dirty money, bloodshed and deceit in Local Gone Missing.

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Have your passports and alibis ready—the ultimate summer getaway awaits.

Daniel Nieh’s Take No Names is a blast from start to finish, a classic crime thriller that shifts into an over-the-top action romp.

Chinese American Victor Li is keeping a low profile in Seattle after being wrongfully accused of killing his father, who secretly worked for a Chinese criminal syndicate (the plot of Nieh’s 2019 debut, Beijing Payback). Drinking buddy Mark Knox recruits Victor to his security tech business for Victor’s computer skills and ability to speak Chinese and Spanish. But it’s not long before Mark enlists Victor in a lucrative side job: breaking into a government storage yard to steal and then sell unclaimed items seized from deported immigrants. It’s on one of these ventures they discover a painite, a rare gem worth a cool $250,000. The pair smuggle the gem to a buyer south of the border, where they are soon embroiled in a scheme by a U.S. military contractor to derail construction of a new Chinese-built airport in Mexico City.

Along the way, the two men form uneasy alliances with Victor’s estranged sister, Jules, and Sun Jianshui, who once worked for the same criminal syndicate as Victor’s father—and was the person who actually killed him. The interactions among all four main characters lead to both humorous and emotionally charged moments as they try to worm their way out of the mess they’ve gotten themselves into. Victor and Mark are particularly likable, a pair of outcasts who have forged a unique and unexpected friendship.

Nieh, who has lived in the United States, China and Mexico, maintains a steady balance of humor, action and thrills, while also making some barbed commentary on American capitalism and Chinese globalization. The twists and turns come often, keeping the intrepid Victor and Mark on their toes as they run for their lives from one chapter to the next. What starts as a Joe R. Lansdale-esque crime thriller morphs halfway into an espionage caper à la Mission Impossible. If it sounds a bit over the top, it is—but that’s what makes Take No Names such an irrepressibly fun read.

Daniel Nieh's Take No Names is a blast from start to finish, a classic crime thriller that shifts into an over-the-top action romp.
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The Hidden One

Lapsed Amish police chief Kate Burkholder returns in The Hidden One, the 14th entry in Linda Castillo’s popular series. This time, church elders call on Kate after the police unexpectedly make an arrest in a high-profile murder case that dates back more than a decade. It’s a little outside Kate’s bailiwick, but special circumstances apply: The suspect is Jonas Bowman, her first-ever boyfriend. He’s accused of killing Amish bishop Ananias Stoltzfus, whose remains have been unearthed in a recently cleared field. The murder weapon, an antique rifle found buried alongside the deceased, belonged to Jonas, a fact he freely admits while maintaining he had nothing to do with the crime. Kate’s nosing around brings to light some disturbing information about Ananias, suggesting that he had not been the upright individual one might have expected a bishop to be. And thus the suspect list lengthens, and then lengthens some more, as stories surface about Ananias’ malicious actions toward some of his parishioners. With great suspense, well-drawn characters and a totally unexpected ending, The Hidden One is a standout installment in a rightfully beloved series.

Vera Kelly: Lost and Found

The titular character in Rosalie Knecht’s Vera Kelly: Lost and Found is a PI (and ex-CIA operative) who lives with her girlfriend, Max, in Brooklyn in the early 1970s. When Max’s wealthy parents summon her to their home in Los Angeles, Vera joins her for moral support, although Max’s homophobic family would more likely refer to it as immoral support. Max disappears the next morning, and her parents’ cluelessness about what could have happened to her seems highly suspect to Vera. Seeing as she’s already persona non grata, Vera liberates Max’s Avanti sports car from the garage and sets off in search of her missing lover. And then, as they say, hijinks ensue. In addition to providing a fascinating and spot-on look at the LA of the 1970s and the lifestyles of the wealthy, entitled and dysfunctional, Vera Kelly: Lost and Found also contains my favorite line of the month: “To my surprise, I saw she was trying not to cry. It was like watching watercolor wick through paper.”

Hatchet Island

Paul Doiron returns with Hatchet Island, a new adventure featuring Maine game warden investigator Mike Bowditch. As the tale opens, Mike and his girlfriend, Stacey Stevens, are en route by kayak to Baker Island, home of the Maine Seabird Initiative, a project to restore puffin habitats and protect endangered avian species. It seems that the project manager, an irascible woman named Maeve McLeary, has gone missing, perhaps because of her anti-lobster fishing activism and the threats that followed. Three other researchers share the island with Maeve. In the following days, two of them are murdered and the third, Garrett Meadows, disappears. It is unclear whether Garett is another victim or the perpetrator, and the fact that he is the lone Black man in the lily-white community does not improve his prospects for vindication. Doiron paints a complex portrait of coastal Maine, where residents are caught up in uneasy alliances and squabbles among the townsfolk, the fishing community, eco-activists and the wealthy summer residents. It is a comparatively rare thing for tensions to rise to murderous levels, but when they do, it is a mighty fine thing to have a Mike Bowditch on hand to sort things out. Fans of C.J. Box’s Joe Pickett mysteries will particularly enjoy this gripping tale. 

Little Sister

Detective Chief Inspector Jonah Sheens has just settled in for a pint of lager in the garden of the Spreading Oak pub when a teenage girl covered in blood emerges from the trellised gateway adjacent to the road. Concerned, he asks if she needs some help. She replies, “I don’t. But maybe Nina does.” When queried as to Nina’s current whereabouts, the girl replies enigmatically, “Oh, I’m not going to tell you yet, detective. That would be too easy.” And thus begins Gytha Lodge’s Little Sister, a cat-and-mouse game between the seasoned DCI and the girl, Keely, while the life of Nina, her younger sister, may hang in the balance. The story unfolds at a tantalizing and deliberate pace, especially in the first-person chapters from Keely’s perspective that detail years of abuse in the English foster care system. Jonah and his team begin to notice small discrepancies in Keely’s narrative that they take for clues, despite worrying that these breadcrumbs might just be clever manipulations on her part. And the clock ticks on. . . . Despite its borderline improbable premise, Little Sister is suspenseful to the nth degree as Lodge raises the bar for twists and turns to lofty nosebleed heights and saves a deliciously diabolical surprise for the very end. 

A PI searches for her missing girlfriend in 1970s California and an Amish bishop has some dark secrets in this month's Whodunit column.

A decade ago, Kat Roberts was an L.A. Times rookie, part of a team working on a high-profile news story about a predatory high school principal. In hopes of jump-starting her career, Kat decided to conduct her own secret side investigation and wow her new boss with the results. But things went terribly wrong, and to this day, she blames the person who sparked her interest in the side story: a young woman named Meg.

Fifteen years ago, Ron Ashton rendered a teenaged Meg Williams homeless. Her mother fell in love with the successful real estate developer and was grateful when he agreed to help refinance their beloved home. Alas, he lied about the documentation as well as about his intentions; Meg’s mom died not long after, leaving her daughter alone to deal with unresolved grief and sudden housing insecurity. 

But an incandescently angry Meg determinedly clawed her way to solvency one con job at a time, with impeccably thorough research as her secret weapon and terrible men as her favored targets. She’s become very, very good at conning people: As she asserts in the opening pages of Julie Clark’s intricate and engrossing The Lies I Tell, “By the time you’re saying nice to meet you, I’ve already known you for months. Does this worry you? It should.” 

Why Julie Clark refuses to write unreliable female narrators.

In present-day Los Angeles, a Google alert lets Kat know that Meg’s returned to town, right in the middle of Ashton’s run for state senate. A strong researcher herself, Kat has some idea of Meg’s backstory, plus her current false identity as a real estate agent. Kat resolves to use that information to launch a con of her own: She’ll pose as a potential buyer, befriend Meg and twist trust into revenge. Or will she?

It’s an exciting premise, bolstered by intriguingly detailed descriptions of Meg’s various ruses, compelling character growth and lots of slow-building tension via complex manipulation. Clark, author of New York Times bestseller The Last Flight, has yet again crafted a fascinating pair of women who wrestle with trauma, sexism, identity and whether it’s ever okay to do bad things for good reasons.

Julie Clark's intricate and engrossing suspense novel is the story of a con artist, a reporter and whether it's okay to do bad things for good reasons.

Meg Williams, the magnetic central character of Julie Clark’s new novel, The Lies I Tell, is a highly intelligent woman with a gift for transforming social graces into social engineering. She’s always learning, adept at innovating on the fly. But unlike other “disruptors,” such as the tech bro founders of hot new startups, Meg is a con artist with 10 years of experience (and counting).

Despite that decidedly dodgy resume, Meg makes for a compelling protagonist as she attempts to right both personal and systemic wrongs, one awful man at a time. Her methods are strategic and well tested: She trawls social media to ascertain things like a target’s wealth, trusted friends or favorite coffee shop. Then she insinuates herself into their life in a way that seems casual but is absolutely calculated, playing whatever role is required to breach their boundaries and defenses.

As The Lies I Tell begins, Meg is back in California after many years away, and she has set her sights on Los Angeles politician Ron Ashton, who tricked Meg’s mother out of their family home some 15 years ago, a life-altering injustice Meg has long wanted to rectify.

In a call to her home in Santa Monica, California, Clark says her deep dive into the world of chicanery and subterfuge involved research on everything from business development to the California real estate market to the typical mindset of the successful grifter. “I learned about the psychology of it, the different types of cons and con artists throughout history,” she says.

Clark is familiar with con women prominent in the current zeitgeist, too, from the likes of disgraced Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes to the imprisoned faux socialite Anna Delvey. But Clark says that The Lies I Tell‘s Meg is a very different type of person. “I didn’t want her to be working with a team of people; she needed to be isolated and on her own,” she says. “But I also wanted her to be likable. And I wanted her to not leave destruction and despair in her wake.”

“I love it when you can root for somebody who’s doing something wrong and still want them to succeed.”

Whether she’s writing about two women who make a spur-of-the-moment decision to swap identities in a busy airport (the plot of her 2020 New York Times bestseller, The Last Flight) or pitting Meg against her dauntless rival, journalist Kat Roberts, Clark nimbly avoids misogynistic stereotypes. “That’s just not what I do as a writer,” she says. “The women that I write, they’re strong, they’re savvy, they’re quick on their feet.”

Kat is convinced that Meg is the reason her life went terribly awry ten years ago, when Kat’s investigation into a predatory high school principal resulted in a deeply traumatic experience. Meg is the person who started Kat down that path, and once Kat realizes the con artist is back in California, she decides it’s time for a reckoning. She figures she’ll take a page from Meg’s playbook and gain her trust before making her pay for what she’s done.

Readers who admired the alternating points of view in The Last Flight will be happy to know that Clark returns to that structure in The Lies I Tell. Details of the pain and injustice that drive both women toward retribution—their origin stories, if you will—unspool across the pages, and both characters struggle to maintain their relentless sense of self-righteousness, even as they deceive others with relative ease. 

The Lies I Tell by Julie Clark jacket

The process of gradually realizing, scam by scam, layer by layer, what compels Meg to lie, cheat and steal is as captivating as the beguiling con artist herself, and Kat comes to a similar realization as she spends time in close proximity to the woman she thinks is the locus of all her miseries. “I want to climb inside Meg’s mind, inside her life, and piece it all together, dot by dot,” Kat muses. “Take something from her, the way she took everything from me.” But what Kat doesn’t anticipate is that they will end up becoming friends of a sort, establishing an easy (albeit lie-saturated) camaraderie. There is a delicious tension as they circle each other, probing for the truths that lie beneath each other’s facades, determined to get what they want before they’re found out or somebody skips town.

“At the beginning of the book,” Clark says, “Kat thinks she knows what she wants, which is to expose Meg, get her career back on track, be the writer she wanted to be when everything was pulled out from under her. But by the end of the book, she realizes she needs something different.”

It’s a theme the author often returns to in her work. “I talk a lot about an emotional third rail,” she says, “the way the characters grow and change as a result of trying to get what they want and what they need. And what they want and what they need are often not the same thing. I think that is the heart of every book I’ve written so far and probably will continue to be part of every book that I write.”

Clark gets a lot of practice identifying and exploring characters’ evolutions in her other job as a fifth grade teacher. “At the end of every book we read, my students have to answer the question, what is this book really about? What is it that the author wants you thinking about when you’re done?” she says. “I have to answer that same question with every book that I write. . . . With The Last Flight, it was about female empowerment, it was about trauma, it was about reclaiming your voice, it was about getting a second chance. And then with The Lies I Tell, it’s about justice, it’s about taking back what you think belongs to you.”

As Meg says in the book, “The difference between justice and revenge comes down to who’s telling the story,” and it’s important to Clark that readers feel some empathy for and identify with her central con woman. “That doesn’t mean there aren’t moments where you won’t trust what she’s saying or wonder what her motivation is—but at the same time, you’re still rooting for her,” she explains. “That’s what I wanted more than anything. I love it when you can root for somebody who’s doing something wrong and still want them to succeed.”

Read our review of ‘The Lies I Tell’ by Julie Clark.

It’s particularly easy to root for Meg when she encounters sexism everywhere and doesn’t let her justifiable anger keep her from adroitly turning it to her advantage. Smugness and condescension from men, she realizes, can have its benefits. “She realizes that it’s actually really easy for her to [con people] because she’s a woman, because people don’t take women seriously,” Clark says.

While other characters may not take the novel’s leading ladies at their word, it’s important to Clark that readers do. “When I sat down to write [these] female characters . . . it just didn’t feel right to me to portray them as unreliable. I love the unreliable narrator as a reader! It’s super fun to figure out! But I’m not really inclined to perpetuate that stereotype for women, being a woman myself.”

Fortunately, Clark says, “people have been really receptive. I haven’t had a single reader say, ‘I wish you would’ve made them more unreliable.’ In fact, I get the opposite.” She adds, “I think people are hungry for that. I think they like to see characters they can count on. A character doesn’t always have to be 100% honest with the reader’we’re not 100% honest with people in our lives or even with ourselves’but the intention has to be good.”

Clark says that she feels an obligation to herself, her sons and her readers to portray women in an empowering and positive way. “We’re hardworking, sane, determined people who are not going to back down from a challenge. Those are the women that I know,” she says. “So that’s who you’re going to get when you pick up a book from me.”

Photo of Julie Clark © Eric A. Reid Photography

The author of 2020's blockbuster thriller The Last Flight doesn't need unreliable narrators to keep fans frantically turning the pages of her follow-up novel.
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The characters in Chris Pavone’s thrillers often find themselves trying to bury the past in an effort to begin anew. In his latest novel, Two Nights in Lisbon, Ariel Price thinks she has successfully left her old life behind. But after she wakes up in their Lisbon hotel room to find that her husband has vanished without a trace, she is confronted with all the secrets he was apparently keeping from her. We talked with Pavone about this ongoing theme, his approach to creating characters and his transformation from book editor to novelist.

What was the initial inspiration for this novel, and why did you choose Lisbon as the setting?
A few years ago my family spent a handful of nights in Lisbon, in a sun-flooded suite facing a charming square, an absolutely beautiful place to start the day, and I thought: This is almost too perfect, something horrible should happen here. I love novels that seem at first like one type of story, then turn out to be something very different, and I developed a vision of this perfect-looking hotel room as the launching pad for characters who seem extremely lucky but aren’t; for a story that looks romantic then isn’t (but then ultimately is); for a narrative that looks like it’s about a missing man but is about something else entirely.

The plot of the book began to develop when the “Access Hollywood” tape revealed that Donald Trump seemed to have committed sexual assault regularly, as a sort of hobby. To me this wasn’t a question of politics. I simply could not understand what it was about these sex crimes that made it so easy for people to excuse them as so-called locker room talk, to dismiss them as partisan attacks. I despaired about what was so broken with our society, and what could be done about it.

“I thought: This is almost too perfect, something horrible should happen here.”

Anyone who reads one of your books knows that you keep chiseling away at your characters over the course of the story. Two Nights in Lisbon’s Ariel is particularly surprising. Did any of her secrets come as a shock to you?
I needed to know all of Ariel’s skeletons from the get-go, because her secrets are the underlying framework of the whole story, and their reveals needed to be organized in a way that supported everything else without being coy or blatantly withholding. I think one of the greatest challenges of writing suspense fiction is to withhold in a way that’s not too obvious. If you’re flagrant, it erodes the reader’s ability to suspend disbelief and makes the whole thing feel contrived and the ultimate revelations unearned.

Ariel often thinks about status signifiers and the way she’s perceived by others. Do you think we worry too much about how people perceive us?
I’m definitely not qualified to be prescriptive about how all of humanity should behave. But I do wish we could somehow reconsider how we value one another. We heap tremendous rewards on dubious achievements, not to mention things that aren’t achievements at all; being young, rich and beautiful is the opposite of an achievement, it’s just luck. It’s probably unavoidable for most people to envy good fortune, but should we admire it?

Our culture increasingly celebrates fame for its own sake, completely divorced from any talent or skill or contribution to anything, while at the same time encouraging women to pursue careers in being beautiful, creating a dangerous dynamic of objectification and self-objectification that to me looks both exhausting and terrifying. Just walking down the street, getting a coffee, browsing in a bookstore—you’re always about to be ogled, accosted, propositioned. And that’s not the worst of it. Not by a long shot.

If you scratch beneath the ticking clock thriller plot of Lisbon, these are some of the themes you’ll find. But you can also just tear through the pages to see what the hell happens. This isn’t homework.

Read our review of ‘Two Nights in Lisbon’ by Chris Pavone.

At one point in the novel, Ariel says she and John don’t participate in social media because it’s ruining the world. Do you share her opinion?
I think social media has made it way too easy—irresistible, for some people—to lie with impunity, to fabricate alternate realities, eroding the very idea of truth. One of the things that seems most broken about America now is that we all exist in hermetically sealed echo chambers, driven largely by social-media feedback loops that reinforce opinions we already have and keep out any evidence to the contrary. A lot of us now refuse to leave our comfort zones altogether, and there are fewer and fewer shared cultural touchstones, less and less agreement on the fundamental facts of the world.

I think every time someone posts a picture of themselves in a fake private jet, they’re contributing to this insidious erosion of truth, one that’s just as dangerous as a disinformation campaign by a hostile foreign power. We’re losing the capacity to distinguish between truth and lies and, even worse, the ability to care.

I don’t participate in social media very assiduously. I’m there mainly for videos of dogs, for photos of my friends’ adorable children and to keep in touch with people. I’m pretty sure that I won’t end up on my deathbed wishing I’d been more self-promotional on Instagram.

“The world doesn’t need more novels. I think what readers truly want are better novels.”

Two Nights in Lisbon

As a former book editor, do you find yourself editing your own drafts? What advice do you have for writers who struggle to prioritize production over perfection?
I edit constantly. I edit every day while I’m writing a first draft; that’s how I start the writing day. After I eventually type “the end,” I spend more time editing and revising subsequent drafts than I did writing the first.

I don’t accept the idea that writers should prioritize production over perfection. The world doesn’t need more novels. I think what readers truly want are better novels. Or at least that’s what I want—not more choices but better choices. This isn’t journalism, and there’s no clock on it. The crucial thing is to write a great novel, not just to write a novel.

People like to throw around the advice that while you can edit a bad page, you can’t edit a blank page. Maybe so. But that philosophy only works if you do the necessary editing of the bad pages. It’s very hard to kill your darlings, especially for writers who don’t have a lot of experience with rigorous, ruthless editing.

With five books under your belt, would you say that your transition from editor to writer is complete, or are you still learning things? What’s something you wish you’d realized earlier on?
I’ve now been a full-time writer for a decade and a half, and it still feels largely new to me. I’ve accepted that imposter syndrome might be permanent. It seems so unlikely that I’m allowed to earn my living by sitting around and writing made-up stories; sometimes it seems impossible that anyone could be this lucky.

I wished I’d realized earlier how much revising I’d do, on everything. For my first couple of books, all this work felt sometimes like failure. Why do I have to keep fixing this goddamned manuscript? I thought I was doing something wrong, and I hoped that next time I’d nail the novel on the first draft, or even second. But revisions are apparently a big part of how I work. I can’t see what’s missing from a manuscript and which aspects could be much better until I get to the end and look back. I no longer think of this as a problem that I need to fix; it’s the way this process works for me, and it’s a luxury that I’m thankful to indulge.

“I’ve accepted that imposter syndrome might be permanent.”

Ariel says she wants to be a person without fear. What are you afraid of, and have you conquered those fears?
A novel is a very personal piece of creativity. It’s your voice, your worldview, your whole personality on the page, and publication is opening up that personality not only to reasonable professional criticism but also to deeply personal and sometimes irrational attacks, even the vitriolic hatred of strangers. (Thanks again, social media!) It’s a little bit like going to a giant party filled with everyone you’ve ever met, then having those people write reviews of you to be posted on the internet for everyone to see.

I used to be afraid of being hated, as both a real person in the real world and also as a writer of made-up stories. But I’ve accepted that there are many people out there with whom I disagree about nearly everything, so it makes sense that I’ll disagree with their judgment of my book, too, not to mention their judgment of me. I still don’t enjoy being hated, and I hope I never do. But I’m not afraid of it anymore.

What’s the next step in the evolution of Chris Pavone? Where do you go from here?
My twins are about to graduate from high school and go off to college, ending this long stage when parenting has been the organizing principle of my life. This makes me both ecstatic and morose, every single day. I have no idea where I go from here.

Picture of Chris Pavone © Sam McIntosh.

Two Nights in Lisbon dives into challenging topics such as the erosion of truth and the ambient misogyny that haunts women's lives, but don't worry, "This isn't homework."

“Those were the good old days” is a phrase people love to say as they wax poetic about bygone eras. It’s understandable to feel nostalgic given our current chaotic landscape, but as The Lunar Housewife points out, it’s not necessarily merited. Caroline Woods’ historical thriller, set in the final days of the Korean War and the onset of the Cold War, spins a tale of big-city intrigue as it follows a promising young waitress-turned-writer and the increasingly disturbing secrets she uncovers. The result is an addictive binge of a read that’s equal parts intelligent introspection and nail-biting suspense.

It’s 1953, and Louise Leithauser has come a long way from Ossining, New York. The 25-year-old daughter of a housecleaner is now rubbing elbows with the likes of Truman Capote and Arthur Miller in New York City as a writer for the hip literary magazine Downtown. Louise is writing political pieces for Downtown (under a male pen name, but why look a gift horse in the mouth?), dating the magazine’s handsome co-founder, Joe Martin, and penning a sci-fi romance novel, The Lunar Housewife, in her spare time. She’s also certain her twin brother, Paul, who is missing in action in Korea, will come home any day now. But when Louise overhears a conversation between Joe and his colleague Harry regarding mysterious surveillance and their magazine’s dangerous connections, she begins to wonder if anything in her carefully constructed existence is really what it seems.

Coming off her critically acclaimed debut Fräulein M., Woods takes the reader into the tangled web of American-Soviet relations and the dark secrets underneath the New York literary scene’s sparkling surface. Even Katherine, the protagonist of Louise’s novel-in-progress, isn’t immune. A former World War II pilot who voluntarily defected from the States to go on a groundbreaking mission to the moon, Katherine starts to suspect all is not well on Earth or in space. Both Louise and Katherine live in a world that is run by men, but these smart, capable women are not going down without a fight.

The Lunar Housewife will have readers thinking long and hard about how good the “good old days” really were.

The Lunar Housewife is an addictive read that's equal parts intelligent introspection and nail-biting suspense.

There comes a point in many people’s lives when they wonder, what if I could start over? What if I could be someone else, free of the baggage and the travails that have accumulated until now? In Chris Pavone’s suspenseful new novel, Two Nights in Lisbon, recently married couple Ariel Price and John Wright have shirked their former identities for new lives unfettered by past encumbrances.

Or so they think.

Only Pavone knows their secrets, and he reveals them slowly and deliberately, expertly seeding the novel with intrigue and suspense, one page at a time.

Chris Pavone on why no one gets a fresh start in his new thriller.

While accompanying John on a business trip to Lisbon, Portugal, Ariel awakes to an empty bed. She immediately reports John’s absence to the police and, when they don’t appear to be overly concerned, the American embassy. The authorities have plenty of questions for which she only has vague answers, because John has his own secrets; decades of his life are unknown to her. Her panic intensifies as his absence lengthens, and then her worst fears are confirmed with the arrival of a ransom note. As Ariel learns more about John, and Pavone reveals more of Ariel’s secrets, the collision of both characters’ pasts and presents fuels the increasingly thrilling tension.

“We tell ourselves stories about each other, about ourselves too, our pasts. We construct our narratives,” Pavone writes. “Maybe she doesn’t know her husband at all.” Pavone himself had to reinvent his life in 2015, when he left a successful career as a book editor to move to Luxembourg with his wife. His Edgar and Anthony Award-winning debut The Expats explored this territory, and Two Nights in Lisbon proves that it’s still fertile ground, packed with stay-awake-all-night thrills for readers.

Chris Pavone's latest novel is packed with stay-awake-all-night thrills as it follows a recently married couple with no shortage of secrets.

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