Having escaped certain death in Indiana's scariest caves in Last Words (2015), private investigator Mark Novak returns to his old haunts in Montana in pursuit of the man who murdered his wife in Cassadaga, Florida—a strange town known for its psychics.
The suspected killer, Garland Webb, released from a sexual-assault prison sentence on technicalities, has joined a crackpot cult in Montana bent on bringing down the electrical grid—and blaming it on Islamic terrorists. The group, which has a misguided reverence for alternating-current legend Nikola Tesla, includes Novak's long-estranged mother, Violet, a psychic reader who claims she has Native American blood. Arriving in the mountains, where other members of his loopy, boozing, troublemaking family live, Novak encounters Jay Baldwin, a former lineman whose wife, Sabrina, has been abducted by the messianic villain Eli Pate, the cult's leader. Pate threatens to kill her unless Jay takes apart selected high-voltage lines—a dangerous task made more frightening by Jay's memory of his brother and fellow lineman getting electrocuted on such a climb. After a female Pinkerton agent Novak is working with is captured and chained to the wall next to Sabrina, the PI turns for help to his Uncle Larry, Violet's shotgun-bearing brother. Like most of the characters, Larry is a lot more interesting than the flatly affected Novak. But as with his spellbinding 2014 effort, Those Who Wish Me Dead, Koryta employs the desolate Montana setting with such mastery and deep sense of mystery that it's a compelling character itself. And with an intriguing coda that reverberates with themes of family, myth, and psychic possibility, this new novel leaves us keenly anticipating the next installment of the Novak saga.
Again proving himself one of today's top thriller writers, Koryta creates edgy suspense not with trickery but with characters who test the limits of their courage.
In his debut novel, Dinh explores the complicated world of aid workers and the many ways people can be drawn to work that is dangerous, demanding, and often thankless.
When an earthquake destroys the city of Bhuj, India, the international aid community begins convening immediately. Among the many people trying to bring assistance to the region are four men with varying degrees of connection to each other: Dev is a Delhi-based doctor who heads an HIV clinic; Ted is his one-time lover who now works with USAID. Piotr, Ted's colleague, is a seasoned aid worker who does his best to maintain a distance between himself and his surroundings. Andy is an untested British firefighter anxious to do his part and prove his muster. As the situation grows more and more chaotic and resources become scarce, all four men grapple with their pasts, the things that made them decide to pursue careers in disaster relief, and the true impact they are having on the people around them. The author deftly communicates the urgency facing the teams on the ground but also moves seamlessly between the past and present, illuminating the many desires and regrets pulling each character in varied directions. This novel doesn’t shy away from uncomfortable truths about the nature of aid work or the flaws in those we often see as heroes. Shocking, engaging, and moving, this novel embraces humanity in all its messy, thrilling complexity.
A strong debut from an author capable of immersing the reader in a foreign world.
The world teeters on the brink of destruction once more in this spiritual sequel set in the same world as Wendig’s wetwork horror story Zer0es (2015).
After the events of the last novel, FBI Agent Hollis Copper is understandably spooked by a world that’s becoming increasingly threatened by expanding technology. To help him push back against the things going bump in the night, he’s seconded futurist Hannah Stander to his department to help shine a light on bleeding-edge tech gone awry. She’s suitably intrigued when he calls her with a dilemma: “I’ve got a cabin on the lake with more than a thousand dead bodies in it....Think of it like a riddle.” What she finds in rural New York is a dead man with no skin, surrounded by hundreds of dead ants. Hannah’s investigation leads her to Ez Choi, a punk-rock Asian-American entomologist. Ez discovers that the ants weren’t just unleashed, but engineered, and they bear the same genetic markers employed by biotech billionaire Einar Geirsson, a reclusive Icelandic billionaire operating a secret biotech lab off the coast of Hawaii. If the setup sounds very Crichton-esque, it is, but Wendig puts his own stamp on this propulsive techno-thriller with his signature action set pieces, a deeply damaged heroine, and a pervasive threat that will give all but the most hardened readers the creepy-crawlies. The book makes some very salient points about the ethics of genetic engineering but doesn’t forego action as the book culminates in a biological catastrophe, not to mention a deadly cat-and-mouse chase on the treacherous Kalalau Trail on the North Shore of Kauai. Hannah Stander is a standout heroine—raised by survivalists and gifted with an unparalleled ability for predictive analysis. Think Thomas Harris’ Will Graham and Clarice Starling rolled into one and pitched on the knife’s edge of a scenario that makes Jurassic Park look like a carnival ride.
Another rip-roaring, deeply paranoid thriller about the reasons to fear the future.
Constance Kopp’s real-life adventures as “New Jersey’s first lady deputy sheriff” again make savory grist for Stewart’s fictional mill (Girl Waits with Gun, 2015, etc.).
When we reconnect with Constance in the summer of 1915, she's casually toting a revolver and collaring a male perp, as strong-minded and strong-armed as ever. Constance loves her new job and is grateful to liberal Sheriff Heath for making it possible for her to support her sister, Norma, and 18-year-old Fleurette, who thinks she's their sister but is in fact Constance’s illegitimate daughter. It’s a grievous disappointment to learn that the law enabling women to become police officers doesn’t necessarily apply to sheriff’s deputies and that until Sheriff Heath finds legal precedent for hiring Constance, she’s stuck in a stopgap position as matron at the local jail. Summoned to Hackensack Hospital to translate for Herman von Matthesius, a German-speaking prisoner taken there for allegedly suffering dire symptoms, Constance is at first glad for the excitement but then mortified when he slips away while she guards his door. Not only has she justified the sexist slurs of her former male colleagues, but her slip-up could send Sheriff Heath to jail. Constance determines to track down von Matthesius herself, giving straight-laced Mrs. Heath one more reason to disapprove of her, alongside the possibly accurate suspicion that the lady officer’s feelings for the sheriff are warmer than professional. As was the case in Girl Waits with Gun, plot details are less compelling than our rooting interest in Constance out-detecting all the men (which she does) and in the evocative period atmosphere, this time centered on the mean streets of early-20th-century New York City, where von Matthesius and his confederates lurk. Sharp-tongued Norma and pretty, stage-struck Fleurette head a vivid supporting cast, and the von Matthesius case and a subordinate mystery are satisfyingly wrapped up to Constance’s credit.
Smart, atmospheric fun, with enough loose ends left dangling to assure fans there will be more entries in this enjoyable series.
Hoover’s (November 9, 2015, etc.) latest tackles the difficult subject of domestic violence with romantic tenderness and emotional heft.
At first glance, the couple is edgy but cute: Lily Bloom runs a flower shop for people who hate flowers; Ryle Kincaid is a surgeon who says he never wants to get married or have kids. They meet on a rooftop in Boston on the night Ryle loses a patient and Lily attends her abusive father’s funeral. The provocative opening takes a dark turn when Lily receives a warning about Ryle’s intentions from his sister, who becomes Lily’s employee and close friend. Lily swears she’ll never end up in another abusive home, but when Ryle starts to show all the same warning signs that her mother ignored, Lily learns just how hard it is to say goodbye. When Ryle is not in the throes of a jealous rage, his redeeming qualities return, and Lily can justify his behavior: “I think we needed what happened on the stairwell to happen so that I would know his past and we’d be able to work on it together,” she tells herself. Lily marries Ryle hoping the good will outweigh the bad, and the mother-daughter dynamics evolve beautifully as Lily reflects on her childhood with fresh eyes. Diary entries fancifully addressed to TV host Ellen DeGeneres serve as flashbacks to Lily’s teenage years, when she met her first love, Atlas Corrigan, a homeless boy she found squatting in a neighbor’s house. When Atlas turns up in Boston, now a successful chef, he begs Lily to leave Ryle. Despite the better option right in front of her, an unexpected complication forces Lily to cut ties with Atlas, confront Ryle, and try to end the cycle of abuse before it’s too late. The relationships are portrayed with compassion and honesty, and the author’s note at the end that explains Hoover’s personal connection to the subject matter is a must-read.
Packed with riveting drama and painful truths, this book powerfully illustrates the devastation of abuse—and the strength of the survivors.
The author of One Mile Under (2015) changes genres with a heart-pounding thriller set in the bowels of Auschwitz.
In Washington, D.C., in early 1944, Capt. Peter Strauss learns that Polish Dr. Alfred Mendl has been sent with his family to Auschwitz and confirms he’s still there and possibly still alive. Mendl is an electromagnetic physicist believed to have knowledge key to America’s secret efforts to build an atom bomb. Strauss proposes the impossible: have someone sneak in, get Mendl out, and bring him to America. So OSS translator Nathan Blum is carefully trained for “one of the most vital undercover missions of the war.” FDR himself commands Blum, Do not fail. Meanwhile, the Nazis don’t kill Mendl because his fluent German comes in handy to them. They also don’t kill 16-year-old Leo Wolciek, the camp’s chess champion, because he’s so entertaining to watch. Mendl learns that Leo has an astonishing memory and secretly convinces him to memorize a vast amount of scientific information—Mendl fears he will die and hopes that somehow Leo may get his critical knowledge into Allied hands. It’s the thinnest of hopes. (It’s unclear how Mendl knows he has precisely what the Allies sorely need, but no matter.) Either man could be clubbed to death by a guard or a kapo at any time. The camp is run by the Lagerkommandant, whose wife is amused to watch Leo play chess. Meanwhile, the stench of human waste and wasted humans pervades the camp. Yet in the midst of all the tension and horror, there are faint flickers of hope—and humanity from a most unexpected source. But the escape will probably fail, and evil will probably exact its toll yet again. So don’t bet on the outcome of this one, and do keep your tissues handy.
This is Gross' best work yet, with his heart and soul imprinted on every page.
A kidnapped girl, missing for eight years, shows up on her parents’ doorstep…but is it really her?
Houston, Texas, literature prof Anna Whitaker lives in an etiolated reality where she has to get out of bed every morning “to face a world where the worst thing has already happened and somehow I am still alive.” In the eight years since her 13-year-old daughter, Julie, was abducted, she has given up hope, watching numbly as her marriage and her relationship with her other daughter, who witnessed the kidnapping, are strained to the breaking point. But in Chapter 2, Julie shows up on the front porch, having narrowly escaped from a human trafficking ring and the man she was sold to. The chapters that follow narrate Anna’s experience as the shock and euphoria wear off and she comes to suspect that this blonde, blue-eyed young woman is not really her daughter. These alternate with sections that follow what seem to be one or more runaway girls through various scenarios of sexual abuse, life on the streets, foster homes, and other miseries. “By the time she got to San Francisco, she’d lost track of the men who got her there, but at least she remembered their names. Their names were Pete. Two Petes in the bus station. A Pete in the bathroom of a Diamond Shamrock gas station.…She turned 14 between Petes, but she wasn’t sure when exactly the day passed, and anyway to Petes she was 16, to police, 18.” These back-and-forth points of view which eventually dovetail in the big reveal (and the big reversal) are a popular tactic for the emotional thriller, especially since the success of Gone Girl, at which this book’s title seems to consciously take aim.
Debut novelist Gentry delivers on genre expectations with crisp, unobtrusive writing and well-executed plot twists.
Bowen, who knows a thing or two about how the sausage is made (Service Dress Blues, 2009, etc.), follows 30 tumultuous days in the life of a Washington fundraiser who’s been put on the spot.
Why are the Maryland police interested in Josephine Robideaux Kendall, of the Majority Values Coalition? Let us count the reasons. She’d been trying to raise a million dollars from crony capitalist Jerzy Schroeder when he was shot. She’d had a fling with her potential client, something both the cops and her husband, literary agent/consultant/navigator Raphael Kendall, take for granted, though neither knows for certain. And she’d been standing 4 feet from Schroeder when he shifted from vertical to horizontal. Sniffing an affair they can’t prove, the cops suspect first Josie, then Rafe, and it’s clear that the pair need to work together on a strategy for damage control, extricating themselves from the embrace of law enforcement and incidentally finding some way of replacing the fat fee Schroeder would have brought MVC. The first and apparently more consequential of these activities is no more than workmanlike, but the second is consistently delightful. Bowen lovingly details the process by which Josie seeks to peddle MVC’s donor file on Schroeder to his ex-wife, Ann DeHoic, who’s every bit as cagey as Josie, and her inspired long-term plan for capitalizing on an attempted burglary at the MVC office by launching a YouTube video designed to entice a most unlikely client.
The high-speed exposition leads to a brightly disillusioned tour of D.C. institutions that shine more vividly than the people who represent them in Bowen’s ebullient antidote to election-season blues.
A young couple’s plan to flip a house in Southern California goes awry and old wounds in their marriage reopen in this dark novel of unrelenting tension.
Nick and Phoebe are living in Boston when they notice other “young married professionals buying and selling houses for six-figure profits.” But it’s clear from the word “underwater” on the opening page that their dream is foundering. McGinniss (The Delivery Man, 2008) presents a smooth combination of present-time narrative and extensive flashbacks to reveal two lives wracked by more than just mortgage woes. Their marriage has been haunted by an affair Phoebe had with her mentor, JW, while on the fast track at a financial-services firm in Boston and an accident she had while “high on Klonopin” with their toddler in the car. Moving to California doesn’t improve matters. Nick learns on the eve of heading west that his new job there has evaporated. In their LA suburb, housing prices quickly go south after the couple takes out a heavy mortgage and plows all their money into renovations. Nick finds work as a kind of repo man with other underwater homes. Phoebe is a rep for a drug firm while maintaining a steady high with Klonopin and wine. Then JW resurfaces and Phoebe hopes to use him to get back on the fast track and somehow fix the family. Doomed and doughty, she’s a lexicon of contradictions, a kind of update on Maria Wyeth of Joan Didion’s Play It as It Lays. McGinnis also recalls Nathanael West’s Day of the Locusts in depicting their road, Carousel Court, as a catalog of strangeness and dangers: from coyotes and marauding home invaders to weird neighbors and crying, screaming cicadas.
McGinniss covers familiar territory in the marketplace and marriage but injects it with an urgency, a sense of constant, inescapable threat that all adds up to a taut page-turner.