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Wait for the next dark and stormy night to dive into John Fram’s No Road Home. This twisty murder mystery, rife with cleverly employed elements of horror and the supernatural, comes to a head during a mighty deluge.

As in his debut, The Bright Lands, a BookPage Best Book of 2020, the Texas-born Fram sets this darkly dramatic, gothic tale in the Lone Star State. He draws readers into Ramorah, an expansive compound home to the uber-wealthy Wright family, presided over by patriarch Jerome Jeremiah Wright, a fire-and-brimstone televangelist.

Things are off-kilter at the estate these days: Jerome has been making increasingly fatalistic prophecies, and the Wrights are worried about the future of their family business. It doesn’t help that threatening messages in blood-red paint have begun appearing on the mansion’s bedroom doors.

Toby Tucker has no inkling of the danger that awaits him when he sets out to visit Ramorah with his son, Luca, and brand-new wife, Alyssa, Jerome’s granddaughter. Luca is a sweet child, who “wore his hair long and dressed in lots of pink and mauve and called himself a boy, which was fine with Toby.” This combination is not, Toby soon realizes, fine with the Wrights, who stare at and mutter derogatory comments about Luca despite Alyssa’s assertion that “[her] family’s too rich to be bigoted.”

Toby’s already-present desire to flee Ramorah multiplies a thousandfold when Jerome is found murdered, but floodwaters make that impossible. As the storm rages outside and the Wright clan whispers that their newest visitor may to be blame for Jerome’s death, Toby resolves to solve the murder, clear his name and get himself and Luca the hell out of there—especially since Luca claims to have seen a ghost, and Toby believes him. 

Fram expertly ratchets up the tension as Toby and Luca desperately search for allies and answers as the devious Wrights circle around them. Fans of everyone’s-a-suspect stories will be riveted as long-held secrets float to the surface, twisted motivations are revealed and revelations of generational trauma and abuse prompt them to consider whether the most outwardly pious might just be the biggest sinners of all.

Set at a televangelist’s compound as floodwaters rise, John Fram’s No Road Home is a darkly dramatic murder mystery-thriller hybrid.
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Joseph Nightingale, nicknamed Fearless after a moment of heroism during the Bosnian conflict, is a British war photographer who was in Nairobi during the August 1998 attack on the U.S. Embassy. While he was away, his pregnant girlfriend, an award-winning investigative journalist, was killed in an automobile accident. As Praveen Herat’s gripping debut political thriller, Between This World and the Next, opens, Fearless has accepted his old friend, Alyosha Federenko’s invitation to Cambodia, arriving overwhelmed by grief and guilt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Night of Baba Yaga

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

Think Twice

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

Like Mother, Like Daughter

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

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

A trio of chill-inducing summer thrillers

Ghosts haunt the pages of this summer’s best thrillers: figures out of memory, history and—just maybe—the Great Beyond.
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Book jacket image for Final Act of Juliette Willoughby by Ellery Lloyd

The Final Act of Juliette Willoughby

The Final Act of Juliette Willoughby is a twisty and compelling exploration of power and obsession, secrecy and surrealism, artifice and art.
Read more
Book jacket image for Middle of the Night by Riley Sager

Middle of the Night

Riley Sager’s Middle of the Night dances tantalizingly on the edge of horror without ever totally crossing the line.
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Book jacket image for Things Don't Break on Their Own by Sarah Easter Collins

Things Don’t Break on Their Own

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

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Recent Features

Ghosts haunt the pages of this summer’s best thrillers: figures out of memory, history and—just maybe—the Great Beyond.
STARRED REVIEW
June 17, 2024

The 17 best mysteries & thrillers of 2024—so far

The biggest takeaways from our case notes? The police procedural is enjoying a surprising renaissance, and thrillers of all modes are flourishing.
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Book jacket image for Where You End by Abbott Kahler

Where You End

A woman loses her memory and the only person she can trust is her twin sister in Abbott Kahler’s scary, tense and provocative debut thriller.
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Book jacket image for Ilium by Lea Carpenter

Ilium

Ilium is a masterful literary novel posing as a spy novel, and succeeds brilliantly on both levels.
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Book jacket image for The Princess of Las Vegas by Chris Bohjalian

The Princess of Las Vegas

Chris Bohjalian’s latest thriller, The Princess of Las Vegas is a thrilling symphony of run-down casinos, teenage hackers and royal impersonators with multiple mysteries at ...
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Book jacket image for Close to Death by Anthony Horowitz

Close to Death

Close to Death offers a supremely engrossing and expertly plotted whodunit that will challenge and delight even the most well-read mystery fans.
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Tell Me Who You Are by Louisa Luna jacket

Tell Me Who You Are

Louisa Luna crafts a boldly, unapologetically unlikable protagonist in Tell Me Who You Are—but is Dr. Caroline Strange also unreliable?
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BookPage enewsletter

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Recent Features

The biggest takeaways from our case notes? The police procedural is enjoying a surprising renaissance, and thrillers of all modes are flourishing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Final Act of Juliette Willoughby is a twisty and compelling exploration of power and obsession, secrecy and surrealism, artifice and art.
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Bestselling author Riley Sanger’s latest spooky thriller, Middle of the Night, is reminiscent of a ghost story told around a crackling campfire. This missing-person mystery dances tantalizingly on the edge of horror without ever totally crossing the line.

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

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

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

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

Riley Sager’s Middle of the Night dances tantalizingly on the edge of horror without ever totally crossing the line.
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The Last Murder at the End of the World

In Stuart Turton’s post-apocalyptic thriller, The Last Murder at the End of the World, the world as we know it came to a cataclysmic end some 90 years back, when a malevolent insect-infested fog engulfed the globe, killing everything in its amorphous path. Only a handful of survivors on a remote Greek island are still alive. The leader of the island is an older (17 decades’ worth of older) woman named Niema, who developed the means to keep the fog at bay, albeit too late for everyone in the world save for the island’s 122 villagers and two of her fellow scientists. And there they sit, living out the peaceful existence that somehow eluded humanity in all the millennia leading up to the end times. But there is trouble in paradise, as the narrator (a disembodied female voice eerily reminiscent of HAL the computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey) lets the reader know from early on. The unthinkable is about to happen on the island—a murder, the resolution of which is key to saving the island from the fog, which has begun to penetrate the defenses that Niema set up all those years ago. If you like some sci-fi with your murder, or conversely, some murder with your sci-fi, you have come to the right place. It’s a locked-room mystery expanded to island-sized dimensions, with a narrator who may be putting a finger on the scale that will determine the continuing existence of humankind: Y’all ain’t seen nothin’ like this before.

The Last Note of Warning

Call it the Jazz Age, the Prohibition era, the Roaring ’20s; whatever you call it, it’s Vivian Kelly’s golden ticket to the naughtiness and revelry denied by her strict Irish upbringing before she emigrated to America. Her venue of choice is the Nightingale speak-easy, where she works pouring drinks for the high society clientele. The Last Note of Warning marks Vivian’s third appearance in Katharine Schellman’s popular series, in which atmosphere doubles as a character and murder abounds. This time out, the murder hits rather closer to home: The prime suspect is none other than Vivian Kelly herself, the damning evidence being wealthy businessman Buchanan’s dried blood on her hands. Luckily for her, some well-placed friends come to her rescue, but the best deal they can broker puts Vivian in the unenviable position of having to serve up the real killer within seven days’ time. The mystery grows, um, mysteriouser when Vivian starts to suspect that someone intentionally framed her for Buchanan’s death. And heaven knows there is no shortage of shady types hanging around the Nightingale. The characters are colorful, the story is deliciously well-spun and the ambiance will make you wish that you too had been a-struttin’ in the Jazz Age.

When We Were Silent

Auspicious debut alert: Fiona McPhillips’ When We Were Silent is the strongest first novel I have read in ages, right up there with Attica Locke’s Black Water Rising, my go-to example of first-timer excellence. If you attend Dublin’s prestigious Highfield Manor private school, the first thing you learn is “What happens at Highfield stays at Highfield,” even if it involves episodes that border on the unspeakable. Louise Manson is haunted by one such episode, even though it’s been nearly 40 years since her time at the school. By most measures, she didn’t really belong at Highfield. She was working class, inhabiting the same hallowed halls as the elite by virtue of a scholarship, not old money and familial connections. And she was not there for the prestige: She was there to exact revenge for her best friend’s suicide and to take down those she deemed responsible. Not to give away anything here, but this endeavor did not go too well. Spectacularly badly, in fact, and decades later Louise is still dealing with the fallout. But now in the modern day, thanks in part to that unwritten Highfield code of silence, she may have a second chance at retribution—or she may face fallout that far surpasses that first time around. When We Were Silent is not always a comfortable read, but you didn’t come here for comfortable, did you?

Farewell, Amethystine

Easy Rawlins is 50?? How the hell did that happen? When we think of him, we think of a young Denzel Washington from the film Devil in a Blue Dress, adapted from the book that introduced Walter Mosley’s iconic private investigator to the world way back in 1990. But hey, even Denzel is past 50 now. As Farewell, Amethystine opens, the 50-year-old Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins of 1970 is, by comparison to his younger days at least, less the firebrand and more the respectable businessman. That said, when a gorgeous young Black woman with a sad story enters his office, an event that has taken place with some regularity over the years, he can still be coaxed into action, and it is a fair bet that he will acquit himself much as he did in his younger days. Amethystine Stoller is missing one husband, and she appears convinced that Easy Rawlins is the go-to guy to find him. Which, of course, he does in short order, but the husband is sadly quite dead. Normally, Easy would tap his cop buddy, Melvin Suggs, to give him a hand with the parts of an investigation that only the police have access to. But at the moment, Suggs is in the wind with problems of his own. Do those problems include another beautiful woman? Well, yes. And will those disparate story lines have some points of connection? Seems likely. And will Mosley wrap it all up better than pretty much anyone else in the field? A resounding yes on that.

The iconic author’s latest Easy Rawlins mystery is another winner, plus our mystery columnist crowns the best new thriller writer since Attica Locke.

Anyone who’s ever wondered “What’s my therapist really thinking?” will be fascinated by Louisa Luna’s foray into the mind of the wholly compelling Dr. Caroline Strange. 

In Tell Me Who You Are, her seventh book and first standalone thriller in nearly 20 years, Luna—known for her Alice Vega series, including 2023 Edgar Award-winner Hideout—introduces an unapologetically confident and cynical New York City psychiatrist who favors white Alexander McQueen suits (“It’s not a fucking square dance; it’s work”) and lives in a wealthy Brooklyn neighborhood where “botox meets craft butchery, and even the homeless people can do a mean upward-facing dog.”

As Dr. Caroline breezily explains, she’s accustomed to deconstructing all manner of human flaws and foibles, hence the snarky nicknames she (privately) gives her patients: Deluded Delia, Bilious Byron, Pouty Petra and more. So it’s just another day at work when a new patient named Nelson Schack tells her he’s probably going to kill someone they both know. A seemingly unfazed Dr. Caroline is surprised when NYPD detectives arrive soon after, indicating they consider her a suspect in the missing-persons case of Ellen Garcia, a journalist who named her one of the “Top Ten Worst Doctors in Brooklyn.” Dr. Caroline is convinced that Nelson has somehow framed her for Ellen’s disappearance, and she soon embarks on her own covert investigation.

As a chase around the city gets underway, Luna layers in the perspectives of a young Caroline’s neighbor Gordon Strong (hinting at horrors in the good doctor’s past) and Ellen, who’s losing hope for rescue. Progressively shorter chapters will elevate page-flipping readers’ heart rate as the past inches closer to the present and Luna’s characters contend with mounting danger. 

Dr. Caroline herself is no stranger to trauma. It’s what motivated her to become a psychiatrist, and what comes back to haunt her. She may well be unlikable—but is she also unreliable? Luna expertly keeps her cards close to her chest until nearly the nerve-wracking end of this engrossing, twisty character study of a complicated woman.

Louisa Luna crafts a boldly, unapologetically unlikable protagonist in Tell Me Who You Are—but is Dr. Caroline Strange also unreliable?
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Missing White Woman

Kellye Garrett’s stark Missing White Woman offers a Black woman’s perspective on the investigation of, and public reaction to, the disappearance and subsequent murder of a white woman. Jersey City, New Jersey, may not sound like a dream destination for a romantic weekend with your sweetheart, but it does serve up some lovely views of the Manhattan skyline after dark. At first, it is idyllic for Breanna Wright and her boyfriend, Tyler Franklin, offering Bree a break from her humdrum daily life in Baltimore. And then on the last day, the idyll is totally ruined: Bree pads downstairs and finds the bloodied, badly battered and quite dead body of a blond white woman, and Tyler is nowhere to be found. Then the investigation begins, recounted to us by Bree, and it becomes painfully clear that a) the attention and dedication put in to solving the disappearance and subsequent murder of a white woman is quite intensive, much more so than if the victim had been Black, and b) when there are Black people central to—or even peripheral to—the investigation, they receive a lot more unwanted attention from the police than white people. Clear-headed and opinionated, Breanna is a compelling guide through the morass. The troubling, eye-opening but still highly entertaining Missing White Woman would be a superb choice for a book club, guaranteed to stimulate lively discussion among the participants.

Death and Glory

One would not necessarily expect a detective novel set in 1894 London to be concerned with unfinished business regarding the U.S. Civil War, a conflict that had been over for the better part of 30 years. But author Will Thomas does not let any of that stand in his way in his latest historical mystery, Death and Glory. Private enquiry agents Cyrus Barker and Thomas Llewelyn have been called in by Scotland Yard and the crown. Their assignment? Arrange face time with the prime minister and four former Confederate leaders. Elements of the Confederacy are still alive and well in Central America, itching for a chance to rewrite history, and the four representatives hope to hold the prime minister to a past promise. In the closing months of the war, the Confederacy ordered and paid for an ironclad warship along the lines of the Merrimack and the Monitor; Great Britain was officially neutral, so it presented no diplomatic problems to take the order. However, the war drew to a close before delivery could be made. Now these so-called envoys must be dealt with in some form or fashion—a task riddled with pitfalls, some of which are deadly and not the least of which is determining if they truly are who they say they are. Fans of Thomas’ depiction of Victorian-era London and his delightful use of surprising, off-the-wall cameos by historical figures will have their expectations repeatedly exceeded.

Lost Birds

Anne Hillerman took over the Leaphorn & Chee mystery series after the death of her father, renowned Western author Tony Hillerman. The title of her latest, Lost Birds, refers to hundreds of Native American children who, under the midcentury Indian Adoption Project, were adopted by white families and separated from their tribal communities and heritage. Retired Navajo Tribal Police Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, now a private investigator when the mood strikes him, has been retained to find the family and birth identity of a woman who possesses nothing more in the way of clues than an old photo of a Southwestern rock formation and a hand-woven baby blanket. (Note: Have a box of tissues ready. Seriously.) Meanwhile, married Navajo cops Jim Chee and Bernadette “Bernie” Manuelito pursue an investigation of their own: a huge explosion at a school and the concurrent disappearance of its caretaker, a longtime acquaintance of Leaphorn. Subplots abound, weaving the main characters together and displaying their near-supernatural bonds with one another, with their Navajo Nation home and with their history. Hillerman has shown endless respect for the work of her father in her writing, but also brings a female perspective to the stories, featuring Bernie more prominently and offering a look at the issues facing Native American women today. Tony’s legacy is in safe, loving hands.

Death of a Master Chef

Police Commissaire Georges Dupin returns in Jean-Luc Bannalec’s latest mystery, Death of a Master Chef. Dupin is visiting the Breton port town of Saint-Malo to attend an meeting about advancing cooperation among various local police forces (yawn). In a local food market where Dupin is judiciously sampling the wares, a murder takes place virtually right under the commissaire’s nez. Although he gives chase, he quickly loses sight of the suspect. But no matter; everyone knows that the murder victim was well-known chef Blanche Trouin, and everyone also knows that the killer was Lucille Trouin, Blanche’s sister and a famed chef in her own right. The pair had long stoked the fire of the longest running sister-feud since Joan Fontaine and Olivia de Havilland. This will not be the last murder: The victim’s husband meets his untimely demise soon after, followed in short order by a close friend. The case(s) will give the various Breton police departments a textbook opportunity to test out their skills at working together—let’s just say that Commissaire Dupin is not best pleased about that element of the investigation. French mysteries are like French cars (I know this from experience via my elderly but well-loved Peugeot convertible), cushy and tres confortable, a bit slow from a standing start, charmingly quirky. With Death of a Master Chef, Bannalec delivers on all counts.

A Black woman discovers the internet’s latest obsession dead in her vacation home in Missing White Woman. Plus, excellent new entries from Will Thomas, Anne Hillerman and Jean-Luc Bannalec in this month’s Whodunit column.
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Set in India, Parini Shroff’s The Bandit Queens tells the story of Geeta, who struggles to earn a living as a jewelry maker after her violent husband leaves her. Gossiping villagers believe that she killed her husband, and Geeta realizes she has entered dangerous territory when other women approach her for help in getting rid of their abusive spouses. Shroff’s compassionate portrayal of oppressed wives is enlivened by touches of comedy. Themes like domestic violence and the dynamics of marriage and family will inspire thoughtful dialogue among readers.

In Soon Wiley’s When We Fell Apart, Min, a young Korean American man, seeks clarity after the sudden death of his girlfriend, Yu-jin. When Min learns that she apparently committed suicide, he is determined to find out why. A dedicated student with bright prospects, Yu-jin seemed to be thriving, but she had secrets. As Min delves into her past and the circumstances surrounding her death, he comes to terms with his own sense of self. Wiley’s hypnotic thriller is a standout thanks to nuanced characters and a rich portrayal of the experience of being caught between two cultures.

Mia P. Manansala’s Arsenic and Adobo is narrated by Lila Macapagal, a young woman who returns home to Illinois to help with her aunt’s Filipino restaurant, Tita Rosie’s Kitchen. A disagreeable food critic—and old flame of Lila’s—has been giving Tita Rosie’s bad reviews. When he dies after eating there, suspicion falls on Lila. With the backing of her meddlesome but well-meaning aunts, Lila tries to solve the mystery of his death. The first entry in Manansala’s delightful Tita Rosie’s Kitchen series, Arsenic and Adobo is seasoned with humor, drama and tasty culinary references.

In Kismet by Amina Akhtar, sinister goings-on at a glamorous wellness retreat cause an uproar in the community. Ronnie Khan’s life changes when she meets wellness influencer Marley Dewhurst, who convinces her to leave New York and spend time at a retreat in Sedona, Arizona. At first, Ronnie enjoys the healthy lifestyle, but her visit takes a terrifying turn when local influencers are murdered. Akhtar crafts a clever thriller that’s also a funny sendup of wellness culture. Book clubs will enjoy exploring topics such as self-image and ideas of perfection.

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month! In honor of the occasion, we’ve gathered four mysteries by AAPI authors. Book clubs will love digging in to these suspenseful reads.

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