Viciously funny and compulsively readable, Baker’s first adult novel is a feminist thriller for the #MeToo era.
In their years working in-house at Dallas sportswear company Truviv, Sloane, Grace, and Ardie, all three high-powered lawyers, have become not only friends, but a de facto support group, because they are, by their gender, perennial outsiders. Not that anyone would say as much, not explicitly. They are not oppressed; they are achieving. They have good degrees. Their husbands, if they have them, are nice and supportive. They blow-dry their hair. And yet theirs is an uphill battle, because they are perennial outsiders in a corporate culture built for men. They aren’t all bad men. “But even the good ones—especially the good ones?—pretended not to notice the lines: how much more deference they earned on the phone for having a male voice,” explains Baker’s Greek workplace chorus. “Or how their height and stature and morning stubble gave an authoritative weight to their ideas that ours never had.” The bad ones—the ones who cross lines—are discussed only in whispers; the stakes are too high to do anything else. Until the women catch wind of a spreadsheet that’s circulating: The BAD Men List, shorthand for “Beware of Asshole Dallas Men,” an anonymous document with male names and misdeeds, ranging from the uncomfortable to the predatory. When Truviv’s CEO dies and their immediate good ol’ boy boss, Ames Garrett, is put up for the job, Sloane can’t sit by and do nothing, watching him do to other, younger associates what he once did to her. But when she adds his name to the list, she can't possibly anticipate what will come next. Deliciously campy, the novel is part whodunit and part revenge fantasy, and Baker’s (This Is Not the End, 2017, etc.) fondness for over-the-top foreshadowing only serves to enhance the delightfully ominous mood. It’s a breezy page-turner of a book, which is the brilliance of it: Under the froth is an unmistakable layer of justified rage.
A woman risks everything for her child in Beck’s (Here and Gone, 2017) latest.
Libby is enjoying a well-deserved vacation with her 3-year-old son, Ethan, to celebrate her book contract. At the resort, she can pamper herself and enjoy spending time with her little boy, things that have been hard to do since her husband left them when Ethan was a baby. It was a long, difficult path to motherhood for Libby, and in the end, Mason just couldn’t deal with it. But she has Ethan now, and he is all she needs to feel complete. But when Ethan disappears while Libby literally has her back turned, her worst nightmare comes true. Because Ethan isn’t abducted by just anyone, but by someone who knows him and who calls him “Little Butterfly.” What is the true story of Ethan’s parentage? What secrets has Libby buried deep in the past? And who is willing to do anything to get revenge? There is a lingering sense of unease established in the very beginning of the novel—because the reader knows it’s a thriller, yes, and so something is going to go wrong—but even more because of Libby’s personality. She’s established as an overstressed single mom desperately worrying about everything. Her tight hold on Ethan can’t end well for either one of them—but the truth is completely mind-blowing. No spoilers here: The twists and turns are not only masterfully paced and layered, but so is the emotional impact. Once another perspective is offered within the narrative, this other character captures the reader’s sympathy—but it’s also true that while we may not always like Libby, she has our understanding, too. Beck plays both characters off one another until close to the end, unspooling tension to an almost unbearable breaking point.
An adrenaline-pumping, anxiety-inducing thriller built around a core so sentimental it just might make you cry.
Four people answer an ominous summons from human resources only to be deliberately trapped in an elevator in Goldin’s debut thriller.
In the highflying world of finance, Vincent, Sam, Jules, and Sylvie used to be superstars, but recently they’ve failed to close too many lucrative deals, and they know their jobs are hanging by a thread. Called to a Friday evening meeting at an office building under construction, they become trapped in the steel elevator, which has been rigged to emulate an escape room. If they solve the clues, perhaps they can find their way out. At first, they assume it’s just the worst team-building exercise ever—but the clues point them toward a much darker possibility. How much do they know about the deaths of two young associates? Will they be able to solve the mystery and escape—or is the whole system rigged against them? There’s a Spanish proverb used by Tana French in The Likeness: “ 'Take what you want and pay for it,’ says God.” The main characters in Goldin’s novel should probably have paid more attention to the second half of that saying. Powerful, attractive, and unbelievably wealthy, they truly believe that their security and success are worth protecting at any cost. Despite the unsavory characters—or perhaps even because of them—this novel is pure entertainment. Offering a modern take on the classic locked-room mystery, Goldin strings the reader along by alternating chapters set in the past and in the present and by peppering the present chapters with riddles and word games. This is a commentary on the cutthroat, hypocritical world of finance, where one must sacrifice everything to stay on top. It provides us with antagonists we love to hate as well as a sympathetic heroine who pays the ultimate price for survival: her own sense of goodness and fair play.
Cancel all your plans and call in sick; once you start reading, you’ll be caught in your own escape room—the only key to freedom is turning the last page!
A Byzantine web of lies surrounds a fatal fire at an unusual treatment facility in this taut legal drama.
Kim, a former trial lawyer who turns 50 the same week her debut novel is published, does not make it easy on the reviewer charged with describing her book. This is a complicated and unusual story—though when you are reading it, it will all seem smooth as silk. The Yoos, an immigrant family from Korea, own a hyperbaric oxygen therapy tank in a town called Miracle Creek, Virginia. (In a characteristically wry aside, we learn that "Miracle Creek didn't look like a place where miracles took place, unless you counted the miracle of people living there for years without going insane from boredom.") HBOT treatment, which involves sitting in a chamber breathing pure, pressurized oxygen, is believed to be effective in remediating autism and male infertility, and those conditions are what define the group of people who are in the "submarine" when a fire, clearly set by an arsonist, causes it to explode. Two people are killed; others survive paralyzed or with amputations. The novel opens as the murder trial of the mother of a boy who died in the fire begins. As we come to understand the pressures she has been under as the single mother of a special needs child, it does not seem out of the question that she is responsible. But with all the other characters lying so desperately about what they were doing that evening, it can't be as simple as that. With so many complications and loose ends, one of the miracles of the novel is that the author ties it all together and arrives at a deeply satisfying—though not easy or sentimental—ending.
Intricate plotting and courtroom theatrics, combined with moving insight into parenting special needs children and the psychology of immigrants, make this book both a learning experience and a page-turner. Should be huge.
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.