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All Thriller Coverage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find Me

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

A Narrow Door

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

Silent Parade

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

BOX 88

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

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

Whatever one may think of Anthem, Noah Hawley’s latest literary thriller, no one could ever accuse the author and award-winning creator of the television series “Fargo” of skimping on plot. His action-stuffed follow-up to Before the Fall is an exciting cautionary tale that addresses just about every social ill facing Western civilization.

The action begins calmly enough: In 2009, a white judge named Margot Nadir and her second husband, a Black man named Remy, are watching their 9-year-old daughter, Story, sing the national anthem at a recital near their Brooklyn home. In a nice bit of foreboding, the Nadirs (one of the novel’s broad touches is their name) say they’re proud to “belong to the party of Lincoln” and feel that “the desire to belong, to be something, doesn’t make that dream come true.” As readers soon discover, their ambition, including Margot’s nomination to the Supreme Court, doesn’t shield them from real-world complexities and tragedies they could not have foreseen.

Hawley shifts the narrative a few years into the future, when a plague afflicts the world. As Hawley, one of the more skilled writers of pithy lines, puts it, “The summer our children began to kill themselves was the hottest in history.” Soon the crisis spreads worldwide, with more and more 12- to 25-year-olds taking their lives. Markets tank. Thousands die each day. And every victim scrawls “A11” near the site of their death.

Among them is Claire Oliver, the 17-year-old daughter of a pharmaceutical titan. Her death devastates her younger brother, Simon, who is sent to the Float Anxiety Abatement Center, where he hyperventilates into his omnipresent paper bag and contemplates the meaning of existence.

Hawley has further complications in store for Simon, and for the reader. An enigmatic Float resident who calls himself the Prophet tells Simon that God “has a mission for you”: to help build a new utopia. “The adults are lost. We, their children, are starting over.”

And that’s only the start. Anthem touches on just about every contentious topic one could name, from gun culture and climate change to race relations, extremist politicians and the “yelling box” that is the internet. The novel would have been stronger if Hawley had blended his themes more seamlessly into the narrative rather than letting his characters give speeches, but many of his painstakingly crafted scenes read like an action movie in book form. “We choose our reality,” one character says. Hawley’s novel reminds us to choose wisely.

“We choose our reality,” a character in Noah Hawley’s novel says. Anthem is a reminder to choose wisely.

Conflicting memories of the past converge like a fever dream in Flora Collins’ riveting debut thriller, Nanny Dearest.  

Though only in her mid-20s, Sue Keller is an orphan. Her mother died when she was a child, and after the loss of her father, Sue descends into a depressive funk.  She struggles to leave the house, relying on delivery and work from home options. On a rare outing she meets a woman named Annie, who recognizes Sue and claims to have been her childhood nanny—but Sue has no memory of her at all. Craving a connection to her lost parents, Sue continues to meet with Annie, desperate for stories about a period of her childhood her mind has mysteriously blacked out.

Toggling between Sue’s present and Annie’s past, Nanny Dearest explores how the need for family and connection can become toxic, even deadly. Annie longs to escape her abusive father, so a live-in nanny position with the Keller family seems like the perfect escape. Mr. Keller is a successful novelist, sequestered away as he works on his latest book, and Mrs. Keller is focused on a career of her own, as well as her position as a socialite. So Annie and young Sue are left largely to themselves, leading Annie to bond immediately with her young charge, to the extent that she will do anything to remain with the Kellers indefinitely.

Decades later, Sue can’t figure out why she has no memory of Annie. Her former nanny’s photographs and stories confirm she was Sue’s caregiver, but Sue obviously can’t ask her late parents why Annie left almost immediately after Mrs. Keller’s death or why her father never talked about Annie in the years after her mother’s death. When Annie’s grasp on Sue’s life begins to feel suffocating, Sue launches to research her past in a desperate search for answers.Collins, a lifelong New Yorker who based her story partially on her own experience with a childhood babysitter, leans on the intense psychological drama of the caregiver-child relationship to keep the reader turning pages, never depicting violence on the page. The perfect choice for those who want thrills without the gore, Nanny Dearest is as compelling as it is unnerving.

Conflicting memories of the past converge like a fever dream in Flora Collins’ riveting debut thriller, Nanny Dearest.

Why are a bunch of airplane passengers being rousted by the FBI and the CIA? Their only commonality is that they were on an exceptionally turbulent flight from Paris to New York City. A few chapters into Hervé Le Tellier’s Prix Goncourt-winning novel, The Anomaly, we learn that it’s because their plane did not land where and when it should’ve and so triggered something called Protocol 42. Furthermore, it’s not the only plane of its kind, but the other plane landed in China and the Chinese government isn’t talking.

The passengers of Air France Flight 006 are the types of people you’d expect on a transcontinental flight—or maybe you wouldn’t. There’s the wife of an Afghanistan War veteran and her young children; a brilliant and ambitious lawyer who recently married the great love of her life; a translator who wrote a novel titled The Anomaly; a rapper who dreams of jamming with Elton John; and a man who leads a double life as a reliable father and hired assassin. And of course, there’s the pilot, who finds that the mess he’s in may, ironically, give him a second chance at life.

First published in France, The Anomaly is pleasingly Gallic, with chapters weaving together comedy, melancholy, tragedy and a strand of noir. Lovers and would-be lovers have their hearts broken. The stone-cold assassin seems right out of a Jean-Pierre Melville movie. Only the children on the plane seem to take things in stride, as children often do. A battalion of scientists, government agents, philosophers and clergy members struggle to figure out what happened, but there’s simply no good explanation.

No doubt you’ll find yourself wondering how you would react if you were a passenger on Flight 006. Would you find your situation intolerable? Would you try to live with this new reality to the best of your ability? It is to Le Tellier’s credit that these questions linger long after you turn the last page.

In Hervé Le Tellier’s Prix Goncourt-winning novel, the passengers of Air France Flight 006 must learn to live with a life-altering situation.

Bestselling author Erik Larson’s first work of fiction, No One Goes Alone (7.5 hours), is a ghost story that’s available only on audio. In 1905, experts from the Society for Psychical Research arrive on a remote island to investigate the disappearance of a vacationing family. The researchers are immediately beset upon by strange occurrences, from the seemingly mundane to the deadly serious. The investigators offer scientific explanations for the increasingly bizarre happenings, but an abundance of disconcerting events edge closer to the paranormal.

British actor Julian Rhind-Tutt narrates in a smooth, even tone. Adding twinges of doubt and fear at just the right moments, he delivers a performance so convincing that the listener is likely to believe the impossible before all is said and done.

This eerie turn-of-the-century adventure will please fans of haunting tales like “The X-Files” and listeners nostalgic for radio dramas.

For Erik Larson’s audio-only work of fiction, narrator Julian Rhind-Tutt is so convincing that the listener is likely to believe the impossible.

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