Slowly emerging from the coma she's been in since a black cargo van rammed the car she was using to transport a visiting professor, killing him, Maine college senior Tara Beckley is targeted by a ruthless young hit man.
After the driver of the van admits his guilt, police rule the collision a simple wreck. But it doesn't take long for insurance investigator Abby Kaplan, a former racer and stunt driver who knows how cars behave at high speeds, to determine that this was no accident. She responds emotionally to Tara and her family; Abby's boyfriend in Los Angeles was left in a coma after a reckless joy ride she took him on ended badly. The bad news for the bad guys, who are desperate to get their hands on a device that was in the professor's possession, is that Tara is now conscious and alert and able to communicate by moving her eyes. Dax Blackwell, the boyish, creepily calm gunman (whose father, Jack, an Australian assassin, died in Koryta's Those Who Wish Me Dead), must not only get past Abby to get to Tara, he also has to contend with Tara's fiercely protective sister, Shannon. It's a measure of how good this book is that the chilling, masterfully sustained suspense is only one of its standout achievements. Koryta never brushes off anyone's death; he makes you feel for the victims. The relationship between Tara and her sibling is beautifully nuanced, full of revealing details going back to their childhood. And Koryta’s (How It Happened, 2018, etc.) fans will surely appreciate the suggestion of a sequel.
Koryta has never been better than with this knuckle-biting thriller.
The latest by the author of the Stevens and Windermere series and the maritime thriller Gale Force (2018).
When Mason Burke is released from a Michigan prison after serving 15 years for murder, he has no skills and no money. Near the end of his sentence, he worked with a rescue pit bull mix named Lucy in an experimental program. They weren't supposed to bond, but you know how men and dogs are. Upon his release, Burke knows he can never have Lucy back, but he simply wants to know she's doing well. From a photo he correctly guesses that she’s been sent to tiny Deception Cove, Washington, so he borrows money and follows her there. Lucy has been a companion for widowed ex-Marine Jess Winslow, whose psyche remains badly shaken by combat in Afghanistan: “She couldn’t survive without Lucy.” But when a corrupt deputy sheriff gives Jess trouble, Lucy bites him in the butt. Authorities take umbrage—and Lucy—and plan to destroy her. Jess’ dead husband, Ty, had something the crooked cops want, and they hold Lucy hostage until Jess coughs up information she doesn’t have. When Mason and Jess meet, they are two troubled people connected only by a homely, comforting dog. Jess’ nightmares make her scream, and Lucy’s slobbery tongue on her face calms her down. For his part, Mason’s time in prison was well spent with reading and reflection on his screw-ups. Once they meet, the story escalates quickly. Springing Lucy from death row is job No. 1, after which all three are in deep trouble. Jess and Mason carry equal weight in this story as they learn to trust and rely on each other. Her marksmanship skills come in handy, while “the most decent man she’d ever met in her life” has much to learn. But decency is his strong suit, and it serves him well. And Lucy shows them both a fierce loyalty. If the novel ever becomes a movie, she’ll be a strong candidate for best supporting dog.
Laukkanen’s thrillers go beyond bloodshed and giving bad guys their due. His protagonists show a level of humanity that makes his stories a real pleasure.
A cannibal is recruited to help catch a serial killer.
Much as it hurts him to admit it, and for reasons he does not divulge, Timothy Blake will tell you he's a cannibal. In fact, his dietary preference, such as it is, informs his livelihood: He disposes of bodies for Charlie Warner, one of Houston's toughest gangsters. In the course of celebrating this marriage of food and function, Blake happens upon an unauthorized corpse right where he was to receive his next assignment from Charlie; he puts it in his freezer, and things rapidly spin out of control. First, Charlie sends two of her heaviest heavies to fetch Blake for questioning. Why had he left the drop-off location, leaving a large corpse in the trunk of the wrong car? Well, it's because of that other corpse, but Blake doesn't want Charlie to know about that. And then Reese Thistle from the FBI shows up to ask him to help investigate a disappearance, and Blake soon realizes the missing man is the body in his freezer. Thistle, it turns out, was Blake's "handler" when he worked for the FBI, and in fact their history goes back to their days in foster care. Blake at one time had feelings for Thistle but had pushed her away lest his appetites get the better of him. Her reappearance is unsettling, and the two dance uneasily through an investigation that gets sidetracked in several ways. Charlie is not happy her corpse-disposal officer is swanning with the FBI and threatens to terminate Blake's employment permanently; Blake realizes that the corpse in his freezer could convict him of murder; and the investigation uncovers evidence of other murders. A messy kidnapping-for-porn subplot occupies Blake and somewhat distracts him from the FBI's agenda. And, oh yes! He and Thistle reconnect in conventionally fleshly ways. Told with energy and humor, this dark narrative is a bit overstuffed with dire twists, but the characters of Blake and Thistle are sweetly tough and naïve.
A pleasing romp through a fetid swamp, but not for weak stomachs.
DI Tom Thorne (The Killing Habit, 2018, etc.) is convinced that a woman who threw herself under a train at the Highgate station wasn’t a routine suicide. He’s absolutely right, but not at all for the reasons he thinks.
Mary Fulton knows perfectly well why her sister, university lecturer Philippa Goodwin, killed herself: Because she’d been fleeced, dumped, and ghosted by Patrick Jennings, who’d bilked her out of 75,000 pounds before he took his departure from her life and her cellphone records. While he’s waiting to see if Jennings has any record of having done this before, as he surely must have done, or has left any traces the Met can follow up, Thorne is pulled into another case: the murder of 17-year-old Kevin Deane on Margate Beach. The surveillance cameras that have redefined the turf of contemporary British mysteries indicate that Kevin was bashed to death very shortly after he had sex with a woman who’s vanished as completely as Patrick Jennings. In fact, as Billingham reveals at a moment guaranteed to catch the savviest readers off guard, the two fugitives have found each other and are locked in a larcenous folie à deux bound to claim more victims, including perhaps each other. The development of their unholy union, which has more layers than an onion, is so compelling that it shunts Thorne and his mates to supporting roles and virtually guarantees an anticlimactic ending. But Billingham, sweating both logistical and psychological details, creates a deepening sense of nightmarish surrealism along the way until Thorne has to acknowledge that “there was very little about this case that wasn’t weird.”
An object lesson in how to take an established series into shockingly deep waters without losing the thread that keeps the franchise going. The detection that normally drives each entry is the least of this one’s dark appeal.
CIA agent Jake Keller’s drone nearly starts World War III, and he puts his life on the line to prevent it in this nonstop thriller.
Let’s get this out of the way first: Zac Miller, the hero of Ricciardi's Warning Light (2018), has changed his name to Jake Keller, but he’s still a badass. With colleague Curt Roach, they launch a drone called Drifter-72 against an al-Qaida terrorist in Saudi Arabia. But it escapes their control, flies to Mecca, and obliterates 3,000 Muslims on the last day of the Hajj at “the holiest site in all of Islam.” Suddenly, the whole world hates the United States. Keller convinces his bosses that the drone had been hijacked, but by whom? Apparently, by someone who wants to drive a permanent wedge between America and Muslims. The backlash is ferocious, with many small groups of terrorists infiltrating the U.S., shooting up civilians and blowing up fuel storage facilities. Bad guys hire an old freighter bound for Texas and load a container holding a nuke. Saudi Arabia’s king professes faith in America’s innocence, but that may get him killed. America’s strong suspicion for the Hajj attack turns to China, the only other country with the technical ability to reprogram someone else’s drone in flight. That could well mean a full-blown conflict between two big, angry countries with nukes. If the U.S. believes China “attacked another nation in their name, then there will be war,” states China’s President Chéng. Obviously, Keller and company had better sort this out PDQ. This yarn has a Category 5 hurricane in the Caribbean, a nasty sandstorm and a pitched battle in a Roman coliseum in Libya, and of course the proverbial ticking clock. Plenty of bodies fall from high-velocity lead poisoning, and the tension in this well-plotted thriller continues right to the end.
Fun fare by a talented storyteller. Let's just hope Ricciardi's hero doesn't change his name again.
A young girl is exiled from her family after she reveals her brothers’ involvement in a brutal crime.
Oates (Mysteries of Winterthurn, 2018, etc.) has often found her fictional subject matter in the lives of girls and young women struggling with the aftermath of trauma. This time her main character is Violet Rue Kerrigan, youngest of seven siblings in a close-knit, working-class Irish Catholic family living on Oates’ upstate New York turf in the early 1990s. It’s a family imbued with sexism and racism, led by an angry father and a mother who teaches her three daughters compliance as a way to survive such men; as Violet says: “If you do not antagonize them, if you behave exactly as they wish you to behave, they will not be cruel to you.” Violet learns the terrible consequences of noncompliance when she’s 12. Her two oldest brothers have already evaded punishment for a gang rape when, one night, out drinking, they encounter a lone black teenager and beat him savagely. Violet is the only one who knows their secret. After the boy dies, she panics and tells her school principal and nurse what she knows. She’s put in protective custody—one brother has injured her as a threat—but is utterly shocked to learn that her family doesn’t want her back. Oates follows Violet for more than a decade as, marked by the traumas of her exile and her upbringing, she is targeted by a series of male predators. Her mental stability sometimes deteriorates into the fever-dream state Oates can evoke so well; the author shifts point of view among first, second, and third person as if Violet can’t even get a grip on her own identity. Violet’s fraught relationship with her family moves to an explosive climax, but there are signs of redemption as well, for her at least.
Oates explores the long echoes of violence born of sexism and racism in one young woman’s life in this deft psychological thriller.
The Russians are here—and they're deeply embedded in the most powerful echelons of the United States government.
FBI Agent Stephanie Maddox has made a career of putting the bad guys away, starting with organized crime in Chicago and moving up to internal affairs in Washington, D.C. No one knows that she's driven by a trauma from her own past and that trying to outrun this pain has consistently caused her to prioritize her job over the raising of her son, Zachary. Now 17 and about to graduate from high school, Zachary suddenly seems like a stranger to Steph. When a colleague approaches her with the news that Zachary has some links to a domestic anarchist group, she fears the worst, yet she can’t help but keep some faith in her son. Drawn deeper and deeper into the web of lies that has been created around Zachary, and desperately fearful for her family’s safety, Steph realizes that the Russians have infiltrated the FBI at the highest levels, and they are planning an imminent attack. Now if she can only find someone to believe her....The Russian connection is, of course, both a classic spy trope and also a fear plucked from our daily headlines; Cleveland excels at twisting her plots so tightly that the “big reveal” in the end truly is a surprise. The writing, sadly, isn’t as sharply honed as the action, but in a novel like this, few fans will complain as they’re swept along by the multilayered plot.
While at times it feels overdramatic, Cleveland's (Need to Know, 2018) second political thriller rings plausible enough to keep the most faithful—or eager—conspiracy theorists reading along.
A prequel to The Darkness (2018) that picks up Inspector Hulda Hermansdóttir in 1997, 15 years before her unplanned retirement, and finds her already just as lonely, resentful, and driven to succeed against all odds.
Ten years after the death of Katla, a young woman who was murdered on Ellidaey Island, an uninhabited scrap of rock off the remote southwest coast of Iceland, four friends of hers return to the island. It’s not entirely clear why securities trader Dagur, farmer’s daughter Alexandra, or perennially unemployed Klara, who mostly aren’t close to each other, have accepted the invitation of software company founder Benedikt to the scene of Katla’s murder. But it’s soon very clear that the reunion was a seriously bad idea. When one of the four not-quite-friends ends up at the bottom of a cliff, the others make appropriately mournful sounds. But the discovery of marks on the victim’s throat indicates that this new death is another murder and raises the uncomfortable question of which of the three survivors—there’s literally no one else on the island—is the killer. Hulda, who’s been off in America seeking her birth father from among a short list of GIs named Robert who could possibly have impregnated her mother during a tour of duty in Reykjavik, returns in time to grab the case from under the nose of Lýdur, the former professional rival who’s now her boss after having risen swiftly through the ranks, his rise propelled in no small part by his work 10 years ago in identifying Katla’s killer, who suddenly doesn’t look so guilty after all.
Jónasson, who could give lessons on how to sustain a chilly atmosphere, sprinkles just enough hints of ghostly agents to make you wonder if he’s going to fall back on a paranormal resolution to the mystery. Don’t worry: The solution is both uncanny and all-too-human.
In Crouch’s sci-fi–driven thriller, a machine designed to help people relive their memories creates apocalyptic consequences.
In 2018, NYPD Detective Barry Sutton unsuccessfully tries to talk Ann Voss Peters off the edge of the Poe Building. She claims to have False Memory Syndrome, a bewildering condition that seems to be spreading. People like Ann have detailed false memories of other lives lived, including marriages and children, but in “shades of gray, like film noir stills.” For some, like Ann, an overwhelming sense of loss leads to suicide. Barry knows loss: Eleven years ago, his 15-year-old daughter, Meghan, was killed by a hit-and-run driver. Details from Ann’s story lead him to dig deeper, and his investigation leads him to a mysterious place called Hotel Memory, where he makes a life-altering discovery. In 2007, a ridiculously wealthy philanthropist and inventor named Marcus Slade offers neuroscientist Helena Smith the chance of a lifetime and an unlimited budget to build a machine that allows people to relive their memories. He says he wants to “change the world.” Helena hopes that her mother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s, will benefit from her passion project. The opportunity for unfettered research is too tempting to turn down. However, when Slade takes the research in a controversial direction, Helena may have to destroy her dream to save the world. Returning to a few of the themes he explored in Dark Matter (2016), Crouch delivers a bullet-fast narrative and raises the stakes to a fever pitch. A poignant love story is woven in with much food for thought on grief and the nature of memories and how they shape us, rounding out this twisty and terrifying thrill ride.
A death-defying Bolivian adventure in the primordial forest...starring a homeless teenager from Boston who just might be a shaman.
Sleeping late isn't an option in the jungle. By the time the sun is up, it's "already ricocheting with the calls of monkeys, parrots, frogs, all going at it molto vivace, shrieking and squawking as if the world were waking up in pain, the jungle giving birth to itself each morning." The setting of Ferencik's (The River at Night, 2017) second female-driven adventure thriller is hair-raisingly vivid, replete with tarantulas, piranhas, jaguars, and electric eels. We experience them all through the eyes of Lily Bushwold, 19, "a half-starved, high strung wild child who lived out of a backpack, homeless since [she] was thirteen." Lily thought she had landed a dream job in South America but arrived to find herself the victim of a scam; she's living on shoplifted bananas in Cochabamba when she meets Omar, a handsome hunter from a remote jungle village who has come to try his luck in the big city. He and Lily have already fallen in love when he learns that his 4-year-old nephew back home has been eaten by a jaguar; when he returns to seek revenge, Lily goes with him. What does she have to lose, right? She finds out pretty quickly during the most terrifying plane flight in recent literary history. After a near crash and a water landing, it's welcome to Ayachero—Omar's jungle home, where everybody except one little cross-eyed boy immediately hates the gringa. "A burnt-meat smell, the reek of stale water, and a stray sweet whiff of pig dung merged with a humid, breathless heat." Among the unwelcoming locals are two missionaries named Harriet and a female shaman named Beya, an outcast from a rival tribe who lives in the woods nearby. When Beya is able to save Lily from death by coaching her telepathically through an electric eel encounter, her next question is, "Are you the only shaman in Boston?" Even with the telepathy, Lily's experience feels almost real—then, in the final chapters, takes a wild turn into superhero territory.
The closest thing to an actual hell ride you'll ever experience (one hopes). Thrilling, bloody, and ferocious.
“It is a dangerous time to be alive.” Indeed, as this fast-paced thriller by seasoned mysterian Pavone (The Travelers, 2016, etc.) proves.
A siren wails in Paris, a once-rare sound often heard in these times of terror. It’s gone off because a jihadi has strapped a bomb to himself and is standing in front of the Louvre, “in the epicenter of Western civilization,” waiting for his moment. But is he a jihadi? Who’s put him up to this dastardly deed, and why? That’s for Kate Moore, deep-cover CIA agent, “sidewalk-swimming in a sea of expat moms,” to suss out. Kate lives in a shadow world, so hidden away that even her hedge-fund-master husband doesn’t have a clue about what she does: “Dexter has been forced to accept that she’s entitled to her secrets,” Pavone writes, adding, “He’s had plenty of his own.” Indeed, and in the shadowy parallel world of speculative finance, he’s teamed up with a fast-living entrepreneur who wants nothing more than to become superrich and run off with his “assistant-concubine.” Hunter Forsyth is about to announce a huge deal, but suddenly he’s disappeared, whisked away by shadowy people who, by the thin strings of suspense, have something to do with that bomb across town. So does a vengeful young mom, strapped to a useless husband and bent on payback for a long-ago slight. All this is red meat to Kate, who’s tired of the domestic life, no matter how much a sham, and is happier than a clam when “running her network of journalists, bloggers, influencers, as well as drug dealers, thieves, prostitutes, and cops, plus diplomats and soldiers, maitre d’s and concierges and bartenders and shopkeepers.” With all those players, mercenaries, and assorted bad guys thrown into the mix, you just know that the storyline is going to be knotty, and it resolves in a messy spatter of violence that’s trademark Pavone and decidedly not for the squeamish.
A satisfying puzzler, one to shelve alongside le Carré, Forsyth, and other masters of foreign intrigue.
A first date takes a sinister turn for a troubled young woman in Walker’s third psychological thriller.
It’s the day after Laura Lochner’s date with a man she met online, and she hasn’t returned to the Connecticut home of her sister, Rosie, her brother-in-law, Joe, and their little boy, Mason, where she’s been staying after a bad breakup. Rosie fears the worst, but Joe advises caution. After all, Laura is an adult and can have some fun, right? But Rosie has a bad feeling. Laura won’t answer her phone, and Rosie only has more questions after poking around online for info on Laura’s date, Jonathan Fields. Rosie eventually calls the police, and events begin to cascade like dominoes. Interspersed with Rosie’s attempt to trace Laura’s movements and get a handle on the guy she went out with is Laura’s first-person account of the actual date as well as enlightening snippets of sessions between Laura and her therapist. Laura’s is the most compelling part—a tormented, often prickly piece of storytelling by a woman carrying the pain of a horrible event that happened in high school and feelings of abandonment by a father who always seemed to love Rosie more. Laura’s desire to be loved is all-consuming, but her conviction that she is not worthy of love is heartbreaking. She sees subterfuge in nearly everything Jonathan says and does. Meanwhile, Rosie must come to terms with some ugly surprises of her own as she digs into their past. As the timelines inevitably converge, Walker’s clever misdirection paves the way to a truly chilling finale, and she has plenty of insightful things to say about the blame placed on women by society and themselves for the idiotic, careless, and sometimes downright evil things men do.
When a corporate lawyer who divorced his first wife and married her more successful sister is found dead in his home in the Hamptons, his teenage son goes on trial for murder.
The fans who put Burke's (The Wife, 2018, etc.) last domestic thriller on the bestseller list are going to be happy with this one, a gimmick-free murder mystery with a two-stage surprise ending and uncommonly few credibility-straining plot elements. No double narrator! No unreliable narrator! No handsome psychopaths from central casting! And though there's usually at least one character in this type of book who isn't quite three-dimensional, most of the players here feel like they could have worked in a domestic novel without a murder, which is a kind of test for believability and page-worthiness. The star of the show is Chloe Taylor, a woman's magazine editor-in-chief who has become a hero of the #MeToo movement and a target of misogynist haters on social media. The lumpy area beneath the surface of her smooth, pretty life is the fact that she married her boozy, unstable, maternally incompetent sister's ex-husband and has been raising her nephew, Ethan, as her own son. When his father turns up dead, Ethan tells so many lies about his doings on the evening in question that despite the fact that he's obviously not a murderer, he ends up the No. 1 suspect. As soon as he's arrested, his real mom, Nicky, swoops into town and the sisters form an uneasy and shifting alliance. You'll think you have this thing all figured out, but a series of reveals at the eleventh hour upend those theories. Most of the important people in this novel are women—the head cop, the defense attorney, the judge—and their competent performances create a solid underpinning for the plot.