When a childhood game takes on grown-up dimensions, you just know that things aren’t going to go well. So it is in this latest thriller of the 1 percent by Interview editor Bollen (Orient, 2015, etc.).
Ian Bledsoe once had aspirations to be Richie Rich, but when a seethingly hateful dad failed to deliver on his deathbed, he’s wound up without drachmas or pesos to rub together. It’s a good thing, then, that he’s found a niche in the world doing humanitarian work in the rubble left by the class war, the war on drugs, the war on terror, and every other struggle imaginable. Longtime friend Charalambos Konstantinou—“Charlie” to his non-Greek friends—has different troubles: someone may be gunning for him, given that a bomb has gone off near his yacht and given that his various enterprises seem to involve some of the rubble-making mayhem that Ian has seen up close. So it is that just before the two get together for the first time in five years, Ian finds himself thinking of something Charlie once said: “The only redeeming quality left in a New Yorker is their ability not to take up space.” The erstwhile New Yorker proves adept in not taking up space indeed: he disappears, and Ian follows clues through swaths of Greeks, Turks, Cypriots, Arabs, and Eurotrash, encountering testy Orthodox monks, grim Interpol suspects, and a heaving-breasted former schoolmate (“her palm prints are etched on my rib cage as if I were a window she was frantically trying to open”). Nobody depicts disaffected rich people quite as well as Bollen (“It’s still too hot for Kraków and there’s so much August left. I was thinking Stromboli, or Biarritz, or maybe Sharm el-Sheikh. A friend has a house in Tenerife”), an eminently worthy heir to Patricia Highsmith. If the story goes on a touch too long and has perhaps one too many supporting characters to follow, it makes for a satisfying, literate thriller.
At once gritty, sandy, and silky—good reading for the beach or a yacht, too.
Startling and stunning and compulsively strange, Lacey’s (The Art of the Affair, 2017, etc.) sophomore novel is a haunting investigation into the nature of love.
“I’d run out of options,” reflects Mary Parsons, a young woman with a haunted past. “That’s how these things usually happen.” After a year and a half overcome with sickening, inexplicable pain—headaches, back aches, strange lumps, broken ribs—Mary is desperate for relief in any form she can find it. And she does find it, in something called Pneuma Adaptive Kinesthesia—PAKing, for short. But while searching for a second job to pay for the treatment (“neuro-physio-chi bodywork” is pricey), Mary stumbles upon a mysterious ad for a high-paying, low-time-commitment “income-generating experience.” After several increasingly bizarre interviews, she finds herself embroiled in narcissistic actor Kurt Sky’s “Girlfriend Experiment”—a supposedly scientific inquiry designed to uncover and perfect the mechanisms of romantic love. Mary will be playing the role (though it is not, the researchers are clear, an acting job) of “Emotional Girlfriend,” one of a cadre of themed Girlfriends—Anger Girlfriend, Maternal Girlfriend, Intellectual Girlfriend—each assigned to handle a single facet of partnership. Her job: listen, ask questions, touch the actor’s hand at appropriate intervals. After five weeks, exchange keys; after two to four months, say “I love you” after “an emotionally intimate moment.” Observant and almost pathologically self-contained, Mary is an unusually good fit for the gig. But when Kurt’s attachment intensifies, Mary becomes increasingly entangled in his unsettling quest as the boundaries between them grow increasingly less stable. Far from distilling love, the experiment only complicates it, as the possibility of perfect connection seems to slip ever further out of reach. With otherworldly precision and subtle wit, Lacey creates a gently surreal dreamscape that’s both intoxicating and profound.
The unlikely friendship between a canny widow and a scholarly vicar sets the stage for this sweeping 19th-century saga of competing belief systems.
Widow Cora Seaborne knows she should mourn the death of her husband; instead, she finally feels free. Eschewing the advice of her friends, Cora retreats from London with her lady’s maid, Martha, and strange, prescient son, Francis. The curious party decamps to muddy Essex, where Cora dons an ugly men’s coat and goes tramping in the mud, looking for fossils. Soon she becomes captivated by the local rumor of a menacing presence that haunts the Blackwater estuary, a threat that locks children in their houses after dark and puts farmers on watch as the tide creeps in. Cora’s fascination with the fabled Essex Serpent leads her to the Rev. William Ransome, desperate to keep his flock from descending into outright hysteria. An unlikely pair, the two develop a fast intellectual friendship, curious to many but accepted by all, including Ransome’s ailing wife, Stella. Perry (After Me Comes the Flood, 2015) pulls out all the stops in her richly detailed Victorian yarn, weaving myth and local flavor with 19th-century debates about theology and evolution, medical science and social justice for the poor. Each of Perry’s characters receives his or her due, from the smallest Essex urchin to the devastating Stella, who suffers from tuberculosis and obsesses over the color blue throughout her decline. There are Katherine and Charles Ambrose, a good-natured but shallow society couple; the ambitious and radical Dr. Luke Garrett and his wealthier but less-talented friend George Spencer, who longs for Martha; Martha herself, who rattles off Marx with the best of them and longs to win Cora’s affection; not to mention a host of sailors, superstitious tenant farmers, and bewitched schoolgirls. The sumptuous twists and turns of Perry’s prose invite close reading, as deep and strange and full of narrative magic as the Blackwater itself. Fans of Sarah Waters, A.S. Byatt, and Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things should prepare to fall under Perry’s spell and into her very capable hands.
Stuffed with smarts and storytelling sorcery, this is a work of astonishing breadth and brilliance.
A deadly game of hide-and-seek is set inside a darkened menagerie.
Joan and her 4-year-old son, Lincoln, are playing with action figures in the Dinosaur Discovery Pit when several small explosions echo through the zoo. Joan is puzzled by the noise, but it’s nearly closing time and she doesn’t want to get locked inside, so she ushers Lincoln toward the exit. Near the gate, dead bodies litter the ground, and an armed man is entering the women's bathroom. Joan grabs Lincoln and flees into the heart of the park, searching the shuttered buildings for a place to hide while attempting to explain the situation without frightening him. The duo hunkers down, but it's not long before stress and hunger take their toll. With at least one active shooter on the hunt and an increasingly cranky child in tow, Joan faces a series of heartbreaking decisions. Phillips’ (A Little Bit of Spectacular, 2015, etc.) latest is expertly structured to maximize tension and emotional impact. The siege unfolds in real time, with each chapter noting the hour and minute. Joan’s inner monologue provides the bulk of the narration, her thoughts a rolling storm of tangents that relate history and inform motivation while governing pace and tone. Phillips’ characters are exquisitely rendered, her prose is artful and evocative, and the restraint she practices with regard to on-screen carnage grants weight to every shot fired and corpse discovered.
Poignant and profound, this adrenaline-fueled thriller will shatter readers like a bullet through bone.
The electrifying story of a cinema owner who finds herself living another woman’s life whenever it storms.
Something strange is happening to Rose Bowan, a woman in her mid-30s who, with her mother, runs the old Toronto repertory movie theater they inherited from Rose’s father. Every time a thunderstorm rolls in Rose finds herself transported into the body of another woman, a “small, kinetic” book editor named Harriet Smith, who Rose quickly ascertains is having an affair with a ruggedly sexy married man with whom she works. Harriet’s moodily dramatic, mildly dangerous life could not be more different from Rose’s. Rose lives with her mother, whose symptoms of dementia are rapidly increasing, and has been dating the same unexciting boyfriend for years, a shorter-than-she-is meteorologist with a lazy eye who is 10 years Rose's senior and resembles the singer Paul Simon. Gowdy (Helpless, 2007, etc.) describes Victor as “much the same” as Rose in that he's “a serious, steady person, a person of strict routines.” But Rose’s equilibrium is completely upset by her recurring episodes, and she finds herself drawn not only to them, but to searching for Harriet outside of them as well. What’s going on? Are Rose’s out-of-body (and into another) episodes a side effect of “silent migraines,” as Victor posits? Are they extremely and eerily vivid dreams? Or are they something harder to explain? And what, if anything, do Rose’s episodes have to do with the childhood death of her younger sister, Ava? Gowdy sucks readers into this suspenseful, supernatural story like a strong wind in a squall. We are right there with Rose as she tries to piece together her disconnected experiences as Harriet into a cohesive picture and to take action on Harriet’s behalf. Ultimately, the episodes lead Rose to more clearly understand her own experiences and to act on her own behalf as well.
This imaginative, alluring novel from an acclaimed Canadian author unspools steadily and grippingly and may earn Gowdy many new fans stateside.
The “final girl” is a trope familiar to film scholars and horror-movie fans. She’s the young woman who makes it out of the slasher flick alive, the one who lives to tell the tale. After she survives a mass murder, the media tries to make Quincy into a final girl, but she refuses to play that part. Instead, she finishes college, finds a great boyfriend, and builds a comfortable life for herself on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. She’s managed to bury her trauma under a mountain of Pinterest-ready sweets—she runs a successful baking blog—and psychological repression. Then another final girl, a woman who's tried to be a mentor to Quincy, dies of an apparent suicide, and the cracks in her carefully constructed world begin to show. Reporters come looking for her. So does Samantha Boyd, another survivor. It’s clear that Sam is trouble, but precisely what kind of trouble is one of the mysteries of this inventive, well-crafted thriller. Quincy might look like a model survivor, but that’s only because she’s managed to conceal both her reliance on Xanax and her penchant for petty theft. Quincy is convinced that she and Sam can help each other, but Sam’s bad habits mesh a little too neatly with Quincy’s own. As she begins to lose control, Quincy starts to doubt Sam as she gets ever closer to truths she’s managed to suppress. While most of the book is written from the heroine’s point of view, Sager weaves scenes from the night Quincy’s friends were slaughtered into the narrative. This is a clever device in that it gives readers information that Quincy can’t access even as it invites readers to question her claims of memory loss. Also, knowing the outcome of this horrible event makes watching it unfold nerve-wracking. This is not to say that readers can feel secure about knowing what they think they know. Sager does an excellent job throughout of keeping the audience guessing until the final twist.
Steiner’s (Missing, Presumed, 2016, etc.) intrepid, dysfunctional detective, Manon Bradshaw, returns on a case that quickly becomes personal.
When we last saw Manon, she had adopted Fly, an orphan closely related to her last case, and they were moving in with Manon’s sister, Ellie, and her toddler, Solomon, in London. A year or two has passed, and the unlikely family unit has moved back to the familiar world of Cambridgeshire, where Manon is stuck working cold cases—and she’s five months pregnant, having decided to give up the wait for “Mr. Right” and take matters into her own hands. She’s concerned about Fly, now one of the only black kids in the neighborhood, and the fact that he’s 12 going on 20. When a wealthy London banker is found stabbed in nearby Hinchingbrooke Park, Davy and Harriet, Manon’s friends and co-workers, quickly discover that he's Ellie’s ex-boyfriend—and Solomon’s father. But before they can fully investigate this connection, their Chief Superintendent shuts them down and strongly suggests, instead, that they arrest Fly, who's been caught on camera walking through the park at the time of the murder. As in her previous novel, Steiner does not shy away from exploring the racist aspects of the justice system; this only works because she has crafted such complex and believable characters. There is no doubt that Manon is barely making it from day to day, but her heart is always in the right place, and for all her awkwardness, she once again proves to be a great cop—and a fierce mother.
A second adventure that strikes all the right notes—layered mystery, incisive cultural context, and a delightful protagonist who deserves a place alongside other beloved literary detectives.
Two barely-20-somethings from opposite sides of the tracks fall in frantic love amid the lush grit of New York City in the 1980s in Libaire’s (Here Kitty Kitty, 2004) new novel.
For three months, Elise Perez has been living in a cheerfully dilapidated apartment in New Haven after her roommate (then a stranger) found her sleeping in his car. Next door, Yale junior Jamey Hyde, beautiful, wealthy, from a family of note, is rapidly veering off his proscribed path. She’s a high school dropout who ran away from public housing in Bridgeport: half white, half Puerto Rican, "not lost and not found, not incarcerated, not beautiful and not ugly and not ordinary.” He is her opposite: born and bred in New York City, son of a starlet and an investment banker (acrimoniously divorced), polished and well-mannered, with a job at his father’s namesake firm preordained upon graduation. And against the warnings of everyone around them, they are entranced by each other. Their relationship is obsessive and charged and not entirely pleasant, but their hunger is unstoppable: “She can often tell something’s wrong, since after sex he usually hates her and wants her to disappear or die,” Libaire writes. “But then he comes back the next night, or the night after, and that’s all that matters.” Jamey brings Elise with him to New York for the summer—he has an internship at Sotheby’s—and then for longer, living together in passionate free fall, severing ties to the lives they knew before. Jamey is willing to sacrifice everything he came from for love—but it’s a choice that comes at grave cost. For the most part, Libaire manages to rescue her somewhat familiar characters from the jaws of cliché, but the real strength of the novel is its Technicolor atmosphere: Libaire’s New York is a glittering whirlwind, raw and sweaty and intoxicating.
A page-turning whirlwind steeped in pain and hope.
A preternaturally brainy novel within a novel that’s both a pastiche and a deconstruction of golden-age whodunits.
Magpie Murders, bestselling author Alan Conway’s ninth novel about Greek/German detective Atticus Pünd, kicks off with the funeral of Mary Elizabeth Blakiston, devoted housekeeper to Sir Magnus Pye, who’s been found at the bottom of a steep staircase she’d been vacuuming in Pye Hall, whose every external door was locked from the inside. Her demise has all the signs of an accident until Sir Magnus himself follows her in death, beheaded with a sword customarily displayed with a full suit of armor in Pye Hall. Conway's editor, Susan Ryeland, does her methodical best to figure out which of many guilty secrets Conway has provided the suspects in Saxby-on-Avon—Rev. Robin Osborne and his wife, Henrietta; Mary’s son, Robert, and his fiancee, Joy Sanderling; Joy’s boss, surgeon Emilia Redwing, and her elderly father; antiques dealers Johnny and Gemma Whitehead; Magnus’ twin sister, Clarissa; and Lady Frances Pye and her inevitable lover, investor Jack Dartford—is most likely to conceal a killer, but she’s still undecided when she comes to the end of the manuscript and realizes the last chapter is missing. Since Conway in inconveniently unavailable, Susan, in the second half of the book, attempts to solve the case herself, questioning Conway’s own associates—his sister, Claire; his ex-wife, Melissa; his ex-lover, James Taylor; his neighbor, hedge fund manager John White—and slowly comes to the realization that Conway has cast virtually all of them as fictional avatars in Magpie Murders and that the novel, and indeed Conway’s entire fictional oeuvre, is filled with a mind-boggling variety of games whose solutions cast new light on murders fictional and nonfictional.
Fans who still mourn the passing of Agatha Christie, the model who’s evoked here in dozens of telltale details, will welcome this wildly inventive homage/update/commentary as the most fiendishly clever puzzle—make that two puzzles—of the year.
A tragedy thrusts a mourning father into peculiar, otherworldly corners of New York City.
When Apollo and Emma have their baby, Brian, it feels like both reward and challenge for the new dad. Apollo, the son of a single mother, had been scraping by as a bookseller who hunts estate and garage sales for rare first editions, so even the unusual circumstance of Brian's birth (in a stalled subway train) seems like a blessing, as does the way Apollo stumbles across a first edition of To Kill a Mockingbird (inscribed by Harper Lee to Truman Capote, no less) shortly after. But after some young-parent squabbles and inexplicable images on their smartphones foreshadow trouble, the story turns nightmarish: Apollo finds himself tied up and beaten by Emma, then forced to listen to the sounds of Brian’s murder. LaValle has a knack for blending social realism with genre tropes (The Ballad of Black Tom, 2012, etc.), and this blend of horror story and fatherhood fable is surprising and admirably controlled. Though the plot is labyrinthine, it ultimately connects that first edition (“It’s just a story about a good father, right?”), Emma’s motivations, and the fate of their son, with enough room to contemplate everyday racism, the perils of personal technology, and the bookselling business as well. Built on brief, punchy chapters, the novel frames Apollo’s travels as a New York adventure tale, taking him from the basements of the Bronx to a small island in the East River that’s become a haven for misfit families to a seemingly sleepy neighborhood in Queens that’s the center of the story’s malevolence. But though the narrative takes Apollo to “magical places, where the rules of the world are different,” he’s fully absorbed the notion that fairy tales are manifestations of our deepest real-world anxieties. In that regard, LaValle has successfully delivered a tale of wonder and thoughtful exploration of what it means to be a parent.
A smart and knotty merger of horror, fantasy, and realism.
A rookie New Orleans cop discovers that regular rules don't apply during Mardi Gras, when a shooting sets off a cascading series of violent events.
Officer Maureen Coughlin knows working the parade route during Mardi Gras week is unlike any assignment she’s had, and as the only newbie to the city’s biggest party, she wants to make a good impression not only on her fellow officers, but on the public. Loehfelm (Let the Devil Out, 2016, etc.) simmers the various tensions—racial, police versus civilians, power struggles with the NOPD—like the finest of cooks stirring a pot of gumbo with a bomb in it. The first sign of trouble appears when a young man, high and dressed only in neon leggings, runs directly into an SUV. When Coughlin and her team try to ascertain what he's tripping on, their attention is diverted by the sounds of nearby shots. Reaching the scene, they find carnage: a man bleeding out in the street, a little girl hit in the leg, and an elderly woman drenched in blood on the curb. Making matters worse, there's an omnipresent camera crew, a bunch of YouTube documentarians trying to capture the “real” Mardi Gras. Once a suspect is identified and Coughlin takes off after him, the true mayhem begins, when she realizes the person she proudly apprehends is a known offender but an easy arrest is complicated by an unexpected death on the parade route, in-fighting within the department, and a crowd that's as ready to party as it is to beef with police.
Loehfelm doesn't need showy murders or gory scenes to writes crime stories with grit that stay lodged in your brain and get under your skin in the best possible way.