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All Suspense Coverage

To enjoy James Patterson and Dolly Parton’s Run, Rose, Run (10.5 hours) to the fullest, you must listen to the audiobook. Not only is it a necessary companion to Parton’s album of the same title (featuring songs inspired by the novel), but the cultural icon also voices one of the main characters, veteran country music star and bar owner Ruthanna Ryder.

With her unmistakably sweet Southern drawl (which she once cheekily described in Rolling Stone magazine as “a cross between Tiny Tim and a nanny goat”), Parton imparts wisdom and warnings alike through Ruthanna’s character. Up-and-coming singer-songwriter AnnieLee Keyes, expertly voiced by country pop singer Kelsea Ballerini, brings youthful exuberance and hopeful naivete to the story, providing a counterpoint to Ruthanna’s sage advice about navigating the music industry.

AnnieLee’s pursuit of country stardom in Nashville, from the dive bars on lower Broadway to the business-minded studio executives on Music Row, is a familiar story, but Parton’s involvement as author and performer elevates Run, Rose, Run a thousand times over. Additional characters come to life through the voices of Soneela Nankani, James Fouhey, Kevin T. Collins, Peter Ganim, Luis Moreno, Ronald Peet, Robert Petkoff, Ella Turenne and Emily Woo Zeller, creating an ensemble experience for book listeners to enjoy.

With narration from country stars Dolly Parton and Kelsea Ballerini, Run, Rose, Run is a must-listen ensemble audiobook.

Some people deserve to die. At least, that’s Ruby Simon’s mindset. The protagonist of Sascha Rothchild’s Blood Sugar isn’t your typical suspected murderer. She’s a Yale graduate and a successful psychologist in her home city of Miami, and she was happily married until her diabetic husband, Jason, passed away. Now Ruby is accused of Jason’s murder, with plenty of time to think back on her checkered history as she waits in a police station. What follows is a Promising Young Woman meets “Dexter” thriller that’s both highly suspenseful and strangely empowering.

Ruby’s always been a Type A personality, pulling top grades and volunteering with animal rescues even during her wild teen years of club-hopping, snorting cocaine and hooking up with older men. Every now and then, she’s brought it upon herself to correct the injustices she saw around her. When Ruby was 5, she made sure her older sister’s bully drowned beneath powerful ocean waves. In high school, she fought back against her friend’s father, whose hands would never wander again after that. But Ruby genuinely loved Jason, a gentle Georgia native she met at an antique shop—so why is she under suspicion for his untimely demise? Could it have something to do with Jason’s aptly named mother, Gertrude, who has never hidden her disapproval of their marriage?

Rothchild is both a memoirist and an Emmy-nominated screenwriter for shows such as “The Bold Type,” “The Baby-Sitters Club” and “GLOW.” Her debut thriller successfully executes all the elements of a crackling mystery: page-turning plot beats, snappy dialogue (especially between Ruby and Roman, her narcissistic college bestie-turned-defense attorney) and vividly drawn characters. Readers will root for Ruby’s acts of vigilante justice toward toxic male figures while also questioning her reliability as a narrator. For those who love a fascinating, complicated female lead with more than one ax to grind, Blood Sugar is an absolute must.

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

Portrait of a Thief by Grace D. Li is an enticing and stimulating escape: a heist novel that follows a group of young Chinese Americans in their quest to return stolen pieces of art to China. With a caper at its center and rebellion in its heart, Li’s debut is like Ocean’s Eleven meets Olga Dies Dreaming, a diaspora story wrapped up in a thriller.

When art history student Will Chen witnesses the theft of precious Chinese artifacts from the Harvard museum, it upends his life. Instead of revealing everything he knows to the authorities, he grabs a priceless carving for himself, and one of the thieves hands him a business card. He’s soon enlisting his sister and friends as his crew and flying first class to Beijing to meet the visionary behind a scheme to reclaim art plundered by Western governments. Chinese billionaire Wang Yuling offers Will $50 million to liberate five sculptures from museums across Europe and America.

A cinematic heist thriller with a social conscience, Portrait of a Thief is immediately appealing. But as this vivid and precisely crafted novel goes on, readers will be fascinated with the characters and their relationships as well as impressed by Li’s multifaceted exploration of Chinese American identity. The close third-person narration centers one of five characters in each chapter: Will; his tightly wound but charismatic sister, Irene; Daniel, a longtime family friend; Lily, a mechanical engineer and occasional street racer; and Alex, a software engineer who dropped out of MIT after her parents’ rent doubled. In addition to unique skills, each character has a distinct personality, motivations and perspective on being a child of the Chinese diaspora.

Though they don’t overshadow Portrait of a Thief’s strengths, some weaknesses are also evident. The gang often contemplates their Chinese heritage, but the content of their contemplations rarely evolves, which can make these reflections feel repetitive. More importantly, for such smart people, their approach to the heist is a bit thick. Watching Ocean’s Eleven for tips is ironic and funny, but a Google Doc for planning? Fortunately, rooting for these underdogs is tremendous fun, and the novel has a great sense of humor. While debating whether to move forward, the would-be thieves break out the whiteboard and do a quick pros and cons analysis: “There were just three bullet points. Making history, it read. China gets its art back. A shit ton of money.”

Portrait of a Thief is an unlikely heist story made even richer through excellent writing, indelible characters and an engaging anti-colonialist message.

With a heist at its center and rebellion in its heart, Grace D. Li’s debut is like Ocean’s Eleven meets Olga Dies Dreaming.

What does it mean to be known? For a group of women in the South American art world, that seemingly simple question leads to more questions. In María Gainza’s Portrait of an Unknown Lady, unknown ladies abound—the nameless narrator, her enigmatic late boss and a long-gone painter—but only one ties them together: a master forger who may or may not still be alive, whom the narrator has vowed to track down. As Gainza follows her on her quest, she also offers a spare but vivid peek inside a female-dominated environment that’s both fascinatingly specific and deeply universal.

Thanks to family connections, the 25-year-old narrator lands a job in a prestigious Buenos Aires auction house and is immediately fascinated by her employer, Enriqueta Macedo. A nationally renowned expert in art authentication, Enriqueta runs the narrator ragged at work but also takes her to the spa on weekends. Enriqueta soon confides a major secret of her success: She sells certifications of authentication for artworks that she knows are forgeries. “Can a forgery not give as much pleasure as the original? . . . Isn’t the real scandal the market itself?” she asks the narrator in justification.

After finding Enriqueta dead of natural causes, the narrator’s grief-fueled breakdown inspires a covert mission. Donning Enriqueta’s black fur coat, the narrator checks into a hotel in hopes of locating Renée, a forger best known for her replications of the works of Mariette Lydis, a portraitist from the 1920s with her own colorful past. Enriqueta hadn’t seen Renée in over a decade, and as the narrator follows leads from Enriqueta’s and Renée’s ex-classmates and colleagues, she asks herself what she is really hoping to find, and why.

For these women, art is less occupation and more religion. Mariette, Renée, Enriqueta and the narrator have their own reasons for creating and selling art, as well as their own obstacles to fulfillment, but it’s the art itself that unites them. Through catalog descriptions, court transcripts and the narrator’s own introspective voice, acclaimed Argentine author Gainza, an art critic herself, deftly explores the quest for truth, both in brushstrokes and within oneself. Portrait of an Unknown Lady offers no easy answers but provides immense pleasure in the journey to find them.

This spare but vivid peek inside the South American art world is both fascinatingly specific and deeply universal.

★ Shadows Reel

I have been a fan of C.J. Box’s Joe Pickett mysteries since the outset of the series. The 22nd offering, Shadows Reel, narrows in on Pickett’s pal, outlaw falconer Nate Romanowski, as he hunts down the thieves who killed some of his prized raptors and stole the rest of them. Romanowski is a sidekick in the mold of Spenser’s Hawk or Elvis Cole’s Joe Pike: hardboiled, loyal to a fault and probably tougher than the nominal hero of the tale. That said, Romanowski’s quarry is easily as well trained as he, and younger and stronger to boot, which is a potentially lethal combination for the aging warrior. Meanwhile, a Nazi relic creates quite a buzz in the town of Saddlestring, Wyoming—especially after its owner, a crusty old fishing guide, gets murdered most gruesomely. It will not be the last relic-related murder, as the killer has instructions to let nothing stand in his way, and he takes these instructions very literally. A recurring theme in these books is Pickett’s struggle with his deep-seated “cowboy code” morality, which is juxtaposed against the often frustrating legalities of the situations he comes up against. This time out, that conflict will give Pickett’s conscience a world-class workout. 

★ The Harbor

Katrine Engberg’s third mystery featuring Copenhagen cops Anette Werner and Jeppe Kørner perfectly balances a mysterious disappearance with the no less intriguing domestic concerns of its two investigators. At the start of The Harbor, Oscar Dreyer-Hoff, the teenage son of a wealthy family, has gone missing, perhaps kidnapped, and clues are thin on the ground. The family boat is missing, and Oscar’s backpack has turned up near the vessel’s harbor mooring. His girlfriend says she has no idea where he is and in general acts very unconcerned about the whole thing. Some time back, scandal rocked the Dreyer-Hoff family, triggering some threatening letters that must be reconsidered in light of Oscar’s disappearance. In the background, home life in the Werner and Kørner households has become less than optimal. Anette is considering an affair with a person of interest in the case, and Jeppe struggles to balance the demands of work and his new lover, whose children are none too happy about their mom’s beau. Engberg is a must read for fans of Nordic noir, and two more books starring Anette and Jeppe will soon be translated into English.

★ Girl in Ice

Erica Ferencik’s Girl in Ice is an excellent, thrilling mystery set against a quasi-science fiction backdrop. Linguist Valerie “Val” Chesterfield has accepted an unusual assignment: She’s traveling to Greenland to meet a girl rescued from an ice field who initially appeared to have frozen to death but has somehow survived. The girl speaks no known language, and Chesterfield is one of only a few scholars with sufficient knowledge of archaic Northern European languages to try and communicate with her. But there is a more pressing connection for Val: Her twin brother, Andy, died at the same Arctic outpost not so long ago, and try as she might, she cannot make any sense of his death. The novel veers into speculative territory as Wyatt, the team leader, begins to entertain the idea that the girl is not a recent freezing victim but rather is from another epoch entirely, having been cryogenically preserved using technology lost to the ages. With its fascinating science and compelling characters (one or more of whom may be a murderer), Girl in Ice demands to be read in one sitting.

★ The Berlin Exchange

It’s rare for an espionage novel’s protagonist to be a traitor, but author Joseph Kanon quite successfully breaks that unwritten rule in his 10th novel, The Berlin Exchange. As a physicist on the controversial Manhattan Project, the U.S. military program that introduced the world to atomic warfare, Martin Keller was privy to top-secret design and implementation information. Motivated by dubious idealism, Keller shared some intelligence with the opposing team and received a lengthy sentence when his subterfuge was found out. Fast forward to 1963: A prisoner exchange has been arranged, and Keller finds himself set free in East Berlin. It is a freedom that is fraught with terror from the get-go. As he passes the checkpoint, he narrowly escapes being killed by a sniper, and it will take all the resources at his disposal to stay one step ahead of whoever is trying to kill him in this chilly, elegant and consistently excellent espionage thriller.

It’s a great month for mysteries: All four of the books in our Whodunit column received a starred review!

Lena Gereghty had a rough go of it in medical school, where burnout and mounting debt drained her motivation. When her Aunt Clare, a renowned specialist in medieval botany, offered her an internship in Italy, Lena pounced on the chance to escape and heal. For two glorious years she felt purpose, joy and even a flickering of renewed passion for medicine.

Alas, those halcyon days suffer an abrupt end at the beginning of debut author Kit Mayquist’s Tripping Arcadia when floundering family finances draw Lena back to Boston. Her father was injured at and fired from work, and her parents desperately need her help. She’s primed to take the first position offered, despite a parade’s worth of red flags at the weirdest job interview ever—assistant to Dr. Prosenko, family physician for the powerful Verdeau family..

Lena soon realizes the Verdeau family secrets go far beyond rich people-eccentric into the realm of downright depraved. While she’s ostensibly meant to help the doctor tend to Jonathan, heir to patriarch Martin’s massive fortune, Lena is soon on duty for debauched parties at the family’s Berkshires mansion. The outfits are stunning, the food plentiful, the drugs slipped into attendees’ drinks so liberally that there’s a room just for treating overdoses.

Lena struggles with culture shock heavily tinged with disgust and frustration: Martin is often cruel yet never challenged; Jonathan is quite ill yet drinks heavily; and his sister, Audrey, is magnetically appealing yet aloof. But Lena’s well paid so she goes along, despite becoming increasingly horrified at what she learns about the Verdeaus.

As Lena plots poisonous revenge (who says internships aren’t useful?), Mayquist embraces the gothic genre with delicious glee, peeling back a shimmery overlay of glamour to expose the rot beneath. With Tripping Arcadia, he has crafted a tale that thrums with eat-the-rich vibes and the exhilarating prospect of a have-not prevailing over the have-everythings. Its reckoning with the state of work in a capitalist society will energize readers, and they’ll be rooting for the flawed yet captivating Lena through every creative twist and dark detail.

Kit Mayquist’s debut is a gothic thriller that thrums with eat-the-rich vibes and the exhilarating prospect of a have-not prevailing over the have-everythings.

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