A lonely woman in New York spends her days guzzling merlot, popping pills, and spying on the neighbors—until something she sees sucks her into a vortex of terror.
“The Miller home across the street—abandon hope, all ye who enter here—is one of five townhouses that I can survey from the south-facing windows of my own.” A new family is moving in on her Harlem street, and Dr. Anna Fox already knows their names, employment histories, how much they paid for their house, and anything else you can find out using a search engine. Following a mysterious accident, Anna is suffering from agoraphobia so severe that she hasn't left her house in months. She speaks to her husband and daughter on the phone—they've moved out because "the doctors say too much contact isn't healthy"—and conducts her relationships with her neighbors wholly through the zoom lens of her Nikon D5500. As she explains to fellow sufferers in her online support group, food and medication (not to mention cases of wine) can be delivered to your door; your housecleaner can take out the trash. Anna’s psychiatrist and physical therapist make house calls; a tenant in her basement pinch-hits as a handyman. To fight boredom, she’s got online chess and a huge collection of DVDs; she has most of Hitchcock memorized. Both the game of chess and noir movie plots—Rear Window, in particular—will become spookily apt metaphors for the events that unfold when the teenage son of her new neighbors knocks on her door to deliver a gift from his mother. Not long after, his mother herself shows up…and then Anna witnesses something almost too shocking to be real happening in their living room. Boredom won’t be a problem any longer.
Crackling with tension, and the sound of pages turning, as twist after twist sweeps away each hypothesis you come up with about what happened in Anna’s past and what fresh hell is unfolding now.
In this hard-edged thriller set in the gold rush country of Northern California, the daughter of a murderous meth dealer finds that escaping the life of crime her notorious father has trained her for will be more difficult than she imagined.
"My childhood wasn't bikes and swim parties, it was full metal jackets and other men's blood crusted beneath Duke's fingernails," recalls 22-year-old Harley McKenna, referring to her father. In flashbacks, we learn that she was 8 the first time she saw Duke kill a man and that a few weeks later, her mother was killed in a meth lab explosion. Harley was 12 the first time she pulled a gun on someone and 17 the first time she shot a man. "I'm what Duke made me," she says. "There's no running from it. There's only facing it." How the conscience-torn Harley faces it—and faces up to Duke's sworn nemesis—will impact the lives of many people, including Will, the good-hearted childhood friend with whom she has fallen in love (and whose mother also died in the explosion). Early on, the novel tends to go over the same ground too many times and takes too many narrative beats to reach a conclusion. But it has a welcome, powerful feminist sensibility—Harley is closely involved with a shelter for abused women and children—and with its relentless intensity, gritty atmosphere, and compelling father-daughter psychology (as much of a monster as Duke is, he loves his "Harley-girl," and she can't shake her family pride), this promises to be one of the best books of 2018.
Sharpe's first adult novel, following her gritty young-adult effort Far From You (2014), introduces a major talent to the crime fiction genre and, with a sequel all but promised, an exciting protagonist.
An angry ex-wife is stalking a young, innocent fiancee who is a carbon copy of her former self…or so it seems.
The use of a multiviewpoint, chronologically complex narrative to create suspense by purposely misleading the reader is a really, really popular device. Two words: Gone Girl. While we are not the fools we once were and now assume immediately that we are being played, the question is whether we still take pleasure in the twists and revelations that follow. Pekkanen (The Perfect Neighbors, 2016, etc.) and Hendricks’ debut collaboration falls into the first wife/second wife subgenre of this type of story (e.g., The Girl Before, The Last Mrs. Parrish). In all of these, an unbelievably handsome, wildly successful, secretive, rigid, orderly, and controlling husband—here it’s Richard, a 36-year-old hedge fund manager with “a runner’s wiry build and an easy smile that belied his intense navy-blue eyes”—marries the same type of woman more than once, sometimes more than twice. Of course, he’s not who he seems. Perhaps the female characters are not, either. Here, we meet Nellie, an adorable New York preschool teacher who is not quite sure she wants to give up the fun, shoestring, highly social lifestyle she shares with her roomie to move to a sterile suburb with Richard. But the wedding date—of course he hasn’t even told her the location, just “buy a new bikini”—draws ever closer. Something bad happened to Nellie in Florida a long time ago that has made her anxious and hypervigilant. Meanwhile, Vanessa, the spurned wife, lives with her artist Aunt Charlotte (a great character), is boozing heavily, and is about to lose her job at Saks. She’s stalking Nellie, determined to prevent the marriage at all costs. Since you know there’s got to be more to it than this, the fun is in trying to figure it out before they tell you. We didn’t! One of the subplots, the one about the bad thing in Florida, was fresher than the main plot—maybe Hendricks and Pekkanen should have written a whole book about that.
Easy to read, smoothly put together. A good airport book.
Preston and Child’s (The Obsidian Chamber, 2016, etc.) eccentric FBI special agent A.X.L. Pendergast is still on his boss's bad side, which means his next assignment is to aid in what seems to be a routine, albeit bloody, New York City murder investigation.
The victim is Grace Ozmian, a tech billionaire’s daughter, and she’s been decapitated. She was a coke-fueled party girl, and her father has a reputation as “a world class prick,” so there should be plenty of suspects. Then, the killer soon to be known as the Decapitator takes more victims: a shady mob lawyer; a married couple scamming people with distressed mortgages; and, oddly, a Nigerian woman who had won the Nobel Peace Prize. Donning his handmade John Lobb shoes and strapping on a Les Baer 1911 Colt .45, Pendergast joins Lt. Cmdr. Detective Squad Vincent D’Agosta, a regular cohort, in the investigation. Interference comes from a believably sketched reporter with the WASPy name of Harriman, credentialed by Choate and Dartmouth, who’s attempting to resurrect his career with a tabloid column. Series newcomers may stumble over the minimal back story provided on the brilliant loner that is Pendergast, all pale skin and gaunt frame, and might be somewhat confused by his Riverside Drive mansion, three apartments in the Dakota, and vintage Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith driven by a taciturn factotum named Proctor. Set in the weeks before Christmas, the book has a nice sense of chilly city winds and snow-piled streets, but the atmosphere grows far more foreboding when Pendergast tracks the killer to an abandoned psychiatric hospital on Long Island.
One of the best in the series—tense and tightly wound, with death relentlessly circling, stalking, lurking behind every shadow.
Another Brown (Inferno, 2013, etc.) blockbuster, blending arcana, religion, and skulduggery—sound familiar?—with the latest headlines.
You just have to know that when the first character you meet in a Brown novel is a debonair tech mogul and the second a bony-fingered old bishop, you’ll end up with a clash of ideologies and worldviews. So it is. Edmond Kirsch, once a student of longtime Brown hero Robert Langdon, the Harvard symbologist–turned–action hero, has assembled a massive crowd, virtual and real, in Bilbao to announce he’s discovered something that’s destined to kill off religion and replace it with science. It would be ungallant to reveal just what the discovery is, but suffice it to say that the religious leaders of the world are in a tizzy about it, whereupon one shadowy Knights of Malta type takes it upon himself to put a bloody end to Kirsch’s nascent heresy. Ah, but what if Kirsch had concocted an AI agent so powerful that his own death was just an inconvenience? What if it was time for not just schism, but singularity? Digging into the mystery, Langdon finds a couple of new pals, one of them that computer avatar, and a whole pack of new enemies, who, not content just to keep Kirsch’s discovery under wraps, also frown on the thought that a great many people in the modern world, including some extremely prominent Spaniards, find fascism and Falangism passé and think the reigning liberal pope is a pretty good guy. Yes, Franco is still dead, as are Christopher Hitchens, Julian Jaynes, Jacques Derrida, William Blake, and other cultural figures Brown enlists along the way—and that’s just the beginning of the body count. The old ham-fisted Brown is here in full glory (“In that instant, Langdon realized that perhaps there was a macabre silver lining to Edmond’s horrific murder”; “The vivacious, strong-minded beauty had turned Julián’s world upside down”)—but, for all his defects as a stylist, it can’t be denied that he knows how to spin a yarn, and most satisfyingly.
The plot is absurd, of course, but the book is a definitive pleasure. Prepare to be absorbed—and in more ways than one.
A husband, horrified at his beloved wife's disappearance, begins to question their entire marriage, and his very reality, in Bell’s assured debut.
Alexandra and Marc Southwood have a wonderful marriage of 13 years and two beautiful little girls, Charlotte and Lizzie. When Alex doesn’t come home one night, Marc is flummoxed. The North Yorkshire Police aren’t immediately concerned, but when she hasn’t returned a day later and they uncover her bloody clothing, Marc fears the worst. As the police investigate, they turn up shocking things that Marc never knew about Alex, leading him to do some investigating of his own. The book is narrated entirely by Alex: she makes it clear that what she’s writing, presumably while in captivity, are guesses about Marc’s actions based on how well she knows him as well as her access to things like a recording of Marc's phone call to the police and his credit card statement; she also gives us glimpses into the early days of their marriage. Interspersed with Alex's narration are letters from Amelia Heldt, an old friend and performance artist in New York who expresses an undeniable yearning for Alex. Bell paints a convincing portrait of a woman struggling with society’s tendency to put a man’s needs and desires over those of women and the guilt that accompanies a mother’s longing for fulfillment outside of marriage and children. Alex is passionate and complex, and her almost aggressive idealism can grow tiresome, but her yearning to be something “more” is palpable, leading her to blur the lines between life and art. For readers into controversial performance art, which Alex especially admires, and art in general, there’s a lot to chew on, but even if not, the truth behind Alex’s disappearance is a doozy, and the finale is satisfying while offering plenty of food for thought. Is Alex an unreliable narrator? Of course she is, but this is no bait and switch. Bell gives us all the clues and dares us to follow them to the shocking end.
This smart, mirror maze of a thriller bristles with sharp edges, twisting familiar Gone Girl themes into Bell’s own intense creation.
A woman finds her husband dead behind their house and then realizes he was not at all the man she thought she knew in Kent’s (The Crooked House, 2016, etc.) gripping domestic thriller.
Fran and Nathan Hall have recently moved with their two young children to a farm near the small, run-down village in eastern England where Nathan grew up. Fran is aware of a growing tension in the marriage, exacerbated by her isolation as a stay-at-home mother and her husband’s lack of sexual interest, but when she finds Nathan murdered one night, she has no idea what mysteries will surface during the investigation. Providing some flashbacks to explain how the two met and married, the novel focuses on Fran and her conflict with the provincial, misogynist local police as they try to get to the bottom of the matter. The mystery is a slow-burn but is startlingly effective at this pace. The gradual unfolding of truth allows Kent to also explore Fran’s stages of grief, her perspective of a world turned completely upside down, first by murder, then by the faintly sinister investigators, and then by the power of the secrets in Nathan’s life and in her own. Fran seems utterly, heartbreakingly alone in her loss and in her world, but she maintains a driving sense of self that becomes stronger in the face of adversity. The novel’s other great strength is its raw, wild setting. The rough blankness of the landscape serves to emphasize the characters’ struggles; this is no bucolic vision but a stark, depressing look at an insular rural area.
While the plot, and even the characters, may sound borderline cliché, there is something about Fran’s complexity that sets this one apart and makes for a truly chilling, absorbing read.
Suspense queen Ware's (The Woman in Cabin 10, 2016, etc.) third novel in three years introduces four women who have been carrying a terrible secret since their boarding school days, a secret that is about to be literally unearthed.
Isa Wilde, happy in her life as a new mother, receives a text one morning that simply reads, I need you, and hours later, she boards a train bound for the coastal village of Salten with her infant daughter in tow. She has come at her friend Kate’s summons, and soon they are joined by two other women who received the same text, Thea and Fatima. Fifteen years earlier, all four were best friends at Salten House, sneaking off campus on the weekends to spend time with Kate’s father, an art teacher, and her handsome, mysterious brother, Luc. Their school days ended in tragedy and scandal, however, and the four haven’t been back to Salten since they were expelled. Now, a bone has been found in the marshes, and Kate has called the others back in a panic. They know more about the body than they should, but even they don’t know the truth. Ware’s third outing is just as full of psychological suspense as her earlier books, but there is a quietness about this one, a slower unraveling of tension and fear, that elevates it above her others. Though there's still a fair dash of drama, it doesn’t veer into the realm of melodrama, developing consistently with the characters and with their personalities and pasts. Isa is a sympathetic narrative voice though her obsession with the concerns of new parenthood may put some readers off.
Cancel your plans for the weekend when you sit down with this book, because you won’t want to move until it’s over.