The minutiae of everyday life turn sinister for two women in this taut, fraught tale.
In her sophomore novel, Lane (Alys, Always, 2012) alternates between the perspectives of Nina and Emma, two 40-something women who’ve taken different routes through motherhood. Both Nina and her second husband have teenage daughters from their first marriages, but except for a bit of adolescent surliness, the throes of child-rearing are well behind them. Nina can afford to dress with chic simplicity, to keep an elegant home and to avoid her father’s invitations to summer in the south of France. Ever since his wandering eye (and probable philandering) broke up his marriage to Nina’s mother, Nina has resented Paul. His attentions never settle on her, so why bother with the charade of a happy luncheon, much less a family vacation? Emma, on the other hand, is saddled with a demanding toddler and expecting another baby. She knows she ought to be a doting mother, but desperate words underscore her thoughts: “All this buttoning and unbuttoning.” She longs for respite from the endless laundry and meal production but knows they’ll have to rely on Ben’s paycheck until the kids are in school. After Nina finds and returns Emma’s wallet, which she oddly lost at the greengrocer’s shop, the women strike up an uneasy friendship. Emma sees in Nina the woman she wishes she could be: cultured and smartly dressed. What draws Nina to Emma is murkier. Nina, in fact, recognizes Emma, although Emma seems to have no memory of a past friendship. With chilling precision, Lane narrates the re-entwining of these two women’s lives through domestic details. Afternoon teas, disastrous shopping trips, cluttered homes and even well-populated playgrounds begin to seep with danger. And the net inexorably tightens.
A Sherlockian pastiche without Holmes and Watson? Yes indeed, and it’s a tour de force quite unlike any other fruit from these densely plowed fields.
It is 1891. Holmes and professor James Moriarty are both presumed dead after hurtling over Reichenbach Falls, though the only body that’s been recovered is thought to be that of a chef at the Englischer Hof. The Pinkerton Detective Agency has sent operative Frederick Chase to England to investigate rumors that Clarence Devereux, fresh from his triumphantly lucrative scheme to manipulate stock prices by sending false information over Western Union wires, has come to join Moriarty in an Anglo-American criminal empire—and, finding the Napoleon of crime deceased, has stayed to become his successor. Joining forces with DI Athelney Jones, whose admiration of Holmes is just this side of idolatry, Chase tries to trace the agoraphobic Devereux through his lieutenants Edgar and Leland Mortlake and safecracker Scotchy Lavelle. The only results of their search are a series of violent reprisals, and when they finally catch up with Devereux at a function hosted by American legate (and president’s son) Robert Todd Lincoln, he turns the tables on them with insolent ease, leaving them both scurrying to hang on to their jobs. Since Jones talks and acts just like Holmes and Chase is every bit as enterprising as Dr. Watson, they seem likely to run their quarry to earth, with pauses along the way for lightning deductions and a drastically compressed sequel to “The Red-Headed League.” But canny Sherlock-ian Horowitz (The House of Silk, 2011, etc.) still has more tricks up his sleeve.
Readers who aren’t put off by the Hollywood pacing, with action set pieces less like Conan Doyle than the Robert Downey Jr. movies, are in for a rare treat, a mystery as original as it is enthralling.
Desperate to find lives more fulfilling than her own, a lonely London commuter imagines the story of a couple she’s only glimpsed through the train window in Hawkins’ chilling, assured debut, in which the line between truth and lie constantly shifts like the rocking of a train.
Rachel Watson—a divorced, miserable alcoholic who’s still desperately in love with her ex-husband, Tom—rides the same train every day into London for her dead-end job, one she unsurprisingly loses after one too many drunken outbursts. Continuing her daily commute to keep up appearances with her roommate, Rachel always pays special attention to a couple, whom she dubs “Jess and Jason,” who live a seemingly idyllic life in a house near her own former home. When she sees a momentary act of infidelity, followed soon after by news that Jess—whose real name is Megan Hipwell—has disappeared, Rachel is compelled to share her secret knowledge, becoming enmeshed in the police investigation, which centers on Megan’s husband, Scott. Further complicating matters is the fact that the night Megan vanished, Rachel has a hazy memory of drunkenly stumbling past the Hipwell home and seeing something she can’t quite recall. Hawkins seamlessly moves among Rachel’s present-day story as the investigation into Megan’s disappearance widens, Megan’s own life leading up to her disappearance, and snippets about Anna, the woman for whom Tom left Rachel.
Even the most astute readers will be in for a shock as Hawkins slowly unspools the facts, exposing the harsh realities of love and obsession’s inescapable links to violence.
“Secret members, stolen notebooks, pilfered writing ideas—it was all so ridiculous!” So rages Jääskeläinen’s exasperated heroine, and she does have a point.
Mystery is the thing in this strange, dreamlike fantasy that explores the power of stories and those who write them and what happens when the buried secrets of an exclusive group of authors threaten to overtake the laws of nature. In the town of Rabbit Back, revered children’s novelist Laura White has taken nine writers under her wing as the mysterious Rabbit Back Literary Society, and she chooses Ella Milana, a young literature teacher, to take the coveted 10th spot in the group. But at the party to celebrate Ella’s membership, White suddenly disappears as her house fills with snow. Children in town soon report disturbing nightmares about White’s body showing up to read her stories to them, and Ella determines to use her ties to the Literary Society to research the true story of White’s life and the fate of the original 10th member, who died years ago. But the rules of The Game, a ritual dictated by the society’s members, require that every confession be a two-way street. At its best, the novelgives a compelling view of the strangeness that lurks beneath the most “normal” places and people, and it draws on elements of myth, fairy tale and ghost story to increase the scary factor. Sometimes, Jääskeläinen hits the right creepy note to make the hairs on the neck stand up, but sometimes the story crosses the line into just too weird.
Has some Twin Peaks moments even if it tries a little too hard. Still, read with all the lights on!
In his second novel of 2014 (the other being Mr. Mercedes), veteran yarn spinner King continues to point out the unspeakably spooky weirdness that lies on the fringes of ordinary life.
Think of two central meanings of the title—a religious awakening and bringing someone back to life—and you’ll have King’s latest in a nuthouse. Beg pardon, nutshell, though of course it’s madness that motivates all his most memorable characters. In this instance, a preacher arrives in a small New England town—always a small New England town—with an attractive wife and small child. Soon enough, bad things happen: “The woman had a dripping bundle clasped to her breast with one arm. One arm was all Patsy Jacobs could use, because the other had been torn off at the elbow.” And soon enough, the good reverend, broken by life, is off to other things, while our protagonist drinks deep of the choppy waters of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll. “My belief had ended,” Jamie Morton says, simply—that is, until Rev. Jacobs turns up in his life again, after having spent time at the horrifying North Carolina amusement park that is Joyland (for which see King’s 2013 novel of the same name) and mastered not just the carney’s trade, but also the mysterious workings of “secret electricity.” Well, as Victor Frankenstein learned, electricity can sometimes get away from a fellow, and though young Jamie pleads with the bereaved pastor to get himself back on the good foot (“The newspapers would call you Josef Mengele.” “Does anyone call a neurosurgeon Josef Mengele just because he loses some of his patients?”), once it sets to crackling, the secret electricity can’t be put back into the bottle. Faith healing run amok: It’s a theme that’s exercised King since Carrie, and though this latest is less outright scary and more talky than that early touchstone, it compares well.
No one does psychological terror better than King. Another spine-tingling pleasure for his fans.
Survivors and victims of a pandemic populate this quietly ambitious take on a post-apocalyptic world where some strive to preserve art, culture and kindness.
In her fourth novel, Mandel (The Lola Quartet, 2012, etc.) moves away from the literary thriller form of her previous books but keeps much of the intrigue. The story concerns the before and after of a catastrophic virus called the Georgia Flu that wipes out most of the world’s population. On one side of the timeline are the survivors, mainly a traveling troupe of musicians and actors and a stationary group stuck for years in an airport. On the other is a professional actor, who dies in the opening pages while performing King Lear, his ex-wives and his oldest friend, glimpsed in flashbacks. There’s also the man—a paparazzo-turned-paramedic—who runs to the stage from the audience to try to revive him, a Samaritan role he will play again in later years. Mandel is effectively spare in her depiction of both the tough hand-to-mouth existence of a devastated world and the almost unchallenged life of the celebrity—think of Cormac McCarthy seesawing with Joan Didion. The intrigue arises when the troupe is threatened by a cult and breaks into disparate offshoots struggling toward a common haven. Woven through these little odysseys, and cunningly linking the cushy past and the perilous present, is a figure called the Prophet. Indeed, Mandel spins a satisfying web of coincidence and kismet while providing numerous strong moments, as when one of the last planes lands at the airport and seals its doors in self-imposed quarantine, standing for days on the tarmac as those outside try not to ponder the nightmare within. Another strand of that web is a well-traveled copy of a sci-fi graphic novel drawn by the actor’s first wife, depicting a space station seeking a new home after aliens take over Earth—a different sort of artist also pondering man’s fate and future.
Mandel’s solid writing and magnetic narrative make for a strong combination in what should be a breakout novel.
The mind-boggling story of 33 Chilean miners trapped 2,000 feet underground for 10 weeks.
Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and novelist Tobar (The Barbarian Nurseries, 2011, etc.) spins a gripping narrative, taut to the point of explosion, of the 2010 story that made international headlines for weeks. He doesn’t rush a complex story with many strands: the men below and their cacophony of woes, the families above, the political maneuvering of the Chilean state, the tightfisted mine owners and the company of rescuers. The locale featured “harsh, waterless surroundings [that] serve as a laboratory for studying the possibility of life on other planets,” and the mine itself was a sweltering jackstraw of tunnels, some nearing 100 years in age and ripe for disaster, the rock groaning and hissing as the great tectonic plates collided deep below. Tobar’s depiction of the cave-in is cinematic: The ceiling and floor became “undulating waves of stone,” then the lights went out as colossal wedges of rock collapsed to seal the exits. The author fully invests readers in the men’s plight by portraying the crushing realization of the dire circumstances, individual acts of decency and pettiness, and moments of sublimity and madness. He also devotes sympathetic attention to the gathering tent city of relatives who refused to leave, certainly not until the bodies were recovered. When the first bore hole punched through, suddenly, “the devil is present in the mine, taking form in all the greed, the misunderstanding, the envy, and the betrayals between the men.” Ultimately, once the miners made it out alive, via a frightening escape vehicle, life was good—until all the other stuff that surfaced along with the miners began to bring many of them down.
An electrifying, empathetic work of journalism that makes a four-year-old story feel fresh.
The Russians are the bad guys once again in this spy-vs.-spy thriller.
Dunn comes with a pedigree of three previous Spycatcher novels (Slingshot, 2013, etc.) and a career in the British intelligence service MI6, and this new book exploits both experiences. Will Cochrane, perhaps the most caring, sensitive spy ever written, is on sniper duty in Norway, loathing this particular assignment as beneath his training and capabilities. But as things go wrong and Ellie Hallowes, the spook he's covering, is attacked by a gang of Russian thugs, he ignores orders to abort the mission, killing the Russian crew to save Ellie's life and triggering an international CIA manhunt for him. Why he did it, of course, is the tale. It's a chess game of egos: CIA, MI6, FBI, Russian SVR across Norway, Greenland, Canada and Washington D.C. Antaeus, the Russian spymaster, is pulling strings on a wide net of killers and traitors. He wants revenge against Will, who planted the car bomb that killed his family and disfigured him, but his motive is pure Cold War déjà vu—“to cause a major catastrophe and derail the United States.” As Will runs, he uncovers "Operation Ferryman," a labyrinth of moles and counterspies set by the CIA to use Russian intelligence to assassinate Cobalt, a financier who's funded much of the world’s terrorist activities, and the final trail leads to a Russian mole within the CIA itself. Just when you think you have this maze of double-dealing figured out—surprise, it isn’t what you think.
All the elements of a classic espionage story are here. The novel moves with relentless momentum, scattering bodies in its wake.
Pirates; serial killings; steamy, unrequited love: Pérez-Reverte (Pirates of the Levant, 2010, etc.) imbues the sensational with significance.
It's 1811, and as Napoleon’s army relentlessly shells the port of Cádiz, Spain, the city finds itself the target of a much more sinister presence. A shadowy figure is brutally murdering young women, and as amoral policeman Rogelio Tizón stalks this prey, he begins to realize that the murders and the French bombs are somehow intertwined. At the same time, the handsome Lolita Palma, upstanding owner of a shipping company, agrees to do business with corsair Pépé Lobo and soon finds herself drawn to his rough charms. And a mysterious taxidermist sends a secret carrier pigeon to a French captain, adding one more pin to his map of bombs. As Napoleon’s war rages on, the world finds itself in a vortex of change, with science competing against faith and tradition to help create a new world order. Pérez-Reverte begins with several different strands of story and weaves them into a rather impressive web. The level of detail is meticulous but also beautiful; his descriptions of the town and people of Cádiz capture colors, smells and personalities, making the page come to life, and he balances these sensory passages with dense observations about history, metaphysics, science and human nature. Whether the brutality of the murderer, and in fact of the war, is a result of “the imagination [running] out of control” or “atmospheric conditions” doesn’t ultimately matter to the story. Pérez-Reverte presents a chessboard on which the epic battle of science and fate becomes the story. In the end, it’s about “the dark chasms of the human mind,” a timeless theme if ever there was one.