The creator of Wyoming Fish and Game Warden Joe Pickett (Wolf Pack, 2019, etc.) launches a new series starring a female private eye who messes with a powerful family and makes everyone involved rue the day.
Cassie Dewell’s been taking a monthly retainer from Bozeman attorney Rachel Mitchell for investigations of one sort and another, but she really doesn’t want to look into the case of Rachel’s newest client. That’s partly because Blake Kleinsasser, the fourth-generation firstborn of a well-established ranching family who moved to New York and made his own bundle before returning back home, comes across as a repellent jerk and partly because all the evidence indicates that he raped Franny Porché, his 15-year-old niece. And there’s plenty of evidence, from a rape kit showing his DNA to a lengthy, plausible statement from Franny. But Cassie owes Rachel, and Rachel tells her she doesn’t have to dig up exculpatory evidence, just follow the trail where it leads so that she can close off every other possibility. So Cassie agrees even though there’s an even more compelling reason not to: The Kleinsassers—Horst II and Margaret and their three other children, John Wayne, Rand, and Cheyenne, Franny’s thrice-divorced mother—are not only toxic, but viperishly dangerous to Blake and now Cassie. Everyone in Lochsa County, from Sheriff Ben Wagy on down, is in their pockets, and everyone Cassie talks to, from the Kleinsassers to the local law, finds new ways to make her life miserable. But Cassie, an ex-cop single mother, isn’t one to back down, especially since she wonders why anyone would take all the trouble to stop an investigation of a case that was as rock-solid as this one’s supposed to be.
An appealing new heroine, a fast-moving plot, and a memorably nightmarish family make this one of Box’s best.
A real-life racial incident is transfigured into a riveting thriller about two families’ heartbreaking struggles to confront and transcend rage and loss.
It is the late summer of 2019, but no matter how many years have passed, Shawn Matthews, a black ex-convict now working for a Los Angeles moving company, is burdened by memories of the early spring of 1991, when his teenage sister Ava was shot to death by a Korean woman who mistakenly believed she was stealing from her convenience store. The shooting and the resulting trial—in which the woman was convicted and received no jail time, after which she relocated to another part of LA—fed into racial tensions already festering back then from the Rodney King trial. And the city’s reactions to a present-day shooting death of an unarmed black teen by a police officer indicate that those racial animosities remain close to the boiling point. In the midst of the mounting furor, Grace Park, a young Korean woman, is shaken from her placid good nature by the sight of her mother being wounded in a drive-by shooting. “What if she is being punished?” her sister Miriam says, revealing a shocking fact about their mother's past that Grace hadn't known. An LAPD detective asks Shawn if he has an alibi for the drive-by (which he does). Nonetheless, the most recent shooting upends his fragile sense of security, and he starts to wonder where his cousin, Ray, himself just released from prison, was when Grace’s mother was shot. Cha, author of the Juniper Song series of detective novels (Dead Soon Enough, 2015, etc.), brings what she knows about crafting noir-ish mysteries into this fictionalized treatment of the 1991 Latasha Harlins murder, blending a shrewd knowledge of cutting-edge media and its disruptive impact with a warm, astute sensitivity toward characters of diverse cultures weighed down by converging traumas.
Cha’s storytelling shows how fiction can delicately extract deeper revelations from daily headlines.
The small towns and coulees of southwest Wisconsin might not sound like a typical setting for a noir crime novel, but some very dark deeds propel this one.
Galligan (The Wind Knot, 2011, etc.) builds the complex plot of this intense novel around three strong central characters. Heidi Kick is interim sheriff of rural Bad Axe County, tapped after the death of her corrupt predecessor. Besides dealing with workplace sexism and the seemingly endless crimes generated by pervasive poverty and substance abuse, she’s still trying to solve the deaths of her parents 12 years ago, wrongly (she believes) written off as a murder-suicide. Bad Axe native and one-time local baseball hero Angus Beavers walks out of spring training in Florida to return to his family’s junkyard when he hears the old sheriff is dead, pursuing a mysterious mission involving a long-frozen corpse. Teenage Pepper Greengrass arrives in the Bad Axe town of Farmstead in the van of a pimp, having run away from her home in the Wisconsin Dells and her abusive stepfather. She’s armed with lots of attitude but might have underestimated how much danger awaits her. In well-crafted prose, Galligan alternates among them until their stories crash together in a mystery driven by savage misogyny and human trafficking. His portrait of life in the rural Midwest is about as far from bucolic as possible but vividly convincing. The book pulls no punches in its nightmarish depictions of violence, an essential part of its plot. In its early chapters, the book’s mordant humor, female sheriff, and quirky minor characters echo the movie Fargo, but Galligan raises the stakes beyond the comic. And indomitable Heidi, fiercely smart Pepper, and Angus, goodhearted despite his dreadful upbringing, are characters worth caring about.
Striking prose, engaging characters, and a searing story of crimes rooted in the heartland power a darkly irresistible thriller.
A timely novel set in the furthest reaches of Australia by the author of The Dry (2017) and Force of Nature (2018).
The three Bright brothers are the overseers of 3,500 square kilometers of land in Queensland, with hours between each of their homes. It’s a vast, unforgiving environment, and no one ever goes far without a full complement of supplies. When 40-year-old Cameron sets out on his own, ostensibly to fix a repeater mast, he never comes home. His body is eventually spotted, via helicopter, curled up by the stockman’s grave, the source of plentiful, and persistent, local ghost stories. Cam’s older brother, Nathan, and their baby brother, Bub, are as perplexed as the cop who’s come all the way from Brisbane to investigate. What was Cam doing by the grave, and what was his Land Cruiser doing nine kilometers away, still fully stocked with supplies, with the keys left neatly on the front seat? The Brights' mother, Liz, is devastated, and Cam has also left behind his wife, Ilse, and two young daughters, Sophie and Lo. They’re pragmatic folks, though, and there’s a funeral to be planned, plus Christmas is just around the corner. Everyone seems to assume that Cam took his own life, but Nathan isn’t so sure, and there’s a strange dynamic in Cam's home that he can’t put his finger on. Cam had been acting strangely in the weeks before his death, too. But Nathan’s got his own problems. He’s eager to reconnect with his teenage son, Xander, who's visiting from Brisbane, and he has a complicated history with Ilse. In the days leading up to the funeral, family secrets begin to surface, and Nathan realizes he never really knew his brother at all. Harper’s masterful narrative places readers right in the middle of a desolate landscape that’s almost as alien as the moon’s surface, where the effects of long-term isolation are always a concern. The mystery of Cam’s death is at the dark heart of an unfolding family drama that will leave readers reeling, and the final reveal is a heartbreaker.
A twisty slow burner by an author at the top of her game.
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.
Thirty-three-year-old Nikki adores motorcycles—and books. In fact, she owns a quaint little bookstore in Berkley called The Brimstone Magpie. She’s also a private eye who takes on the usual cases, such as infidelity, and a former first responder who would meet victims of domestic violence at the scene of the crime, no matter where. Now she has an interesting side hobby: Word of mouth has established her as the person to see if you’re a woman being abused. Nikki’s happy to pay a free visit to your abuser for a calm discussion about the situation. Actually…not so much. Nikki’s visits involve physical violence, but just enough to teach the perpetrator a potent lesson, and these are the kind of guys who would sooner lose a limb than go to law enforcement and admit that a girl got the drop on them. For Nikki, this isn’t just about dispensing a satisfying kind of justice—it satisfies violent urges she’s had since suffering a horrific childhood tragedy that led her beloved younger brother, Brandon, into a life of addiction. Nikki’s extracurriculars can get in the way of her love life, but she seems resigned to that until she meets Ethan, whose sweet demeanor has her immediately hooked. One day she’s approached by Gregg Gunn, CEO of Care4, a child care tech company, who offers her $20,000 to follow Karen Li, an employee supposedly engaged in corporate espionage. Nikki gets one glimpse at Karen and smells a rat. It’s soon obvious that Karen is wrapped up in something much more dangerous than stealing company secrets, setting Nikki on a collision course with some very bad guys—good thing she's more than up to the task. Nikki’s fight scenes are satisfying, clever, and exciting (because Nikki is clever and exciting), and though it’s a crackling thriller, the book also tackles the aftermath of grief, and the scenes between Nikki and the sweet-natured, utterly lost Brandon are heartbreaking. On a lighter note, bookworms will love the references to classic novels, and Lelchuk winks at Nikki’s similarities to a certain well-known literary vigilante; a bookshop regular even calls her Lisbeth.
Baltimore in the 1960s is the setting for this historical fiction about a real-life unsolved drowning.
In her most ambitious work to date, Lippman (Sunburn, 2018, etc.) tells the story of Maddie Schwartz, an attractive 37-year-old Jewish housewife who abruptly leaves her husband and son to pursue a long-held ambition to be a journalist, and Cleo Sherwood, an African-American cocktail waitress about whom little is known. Sherwood's body was found in a lake in a city park months after she disappeared, and while no one else seems to care enough to investigate, Maddie becomes obsessed—partly due to certain similarities she perceives between her life and Cleo's, partly due to her faith in her own detective skills. The story unfolds from Maddie's point of view as well as that of Cleo's ghost, who seems to be watching from behind the scenes, commenting acerbically on Maddie's nosing around like a bull in a china shop after getting a job at one of the city papers. Added to these are a chorus of Baltimore characters who make vivid one-time appearances: a jewelry store clerk, an about-to-be-murdered schoolgirl, "Mr. Helpline," a bartender, a political operative, a waitress, a Baltimore Oriole, the first African-American female policewoman (these last two are based on real people), and many more. Maddie's ambition propels her forward despite the cost to others, including the family of the deceased and her own secret lover, a black policeman. Lippman's high-def depiction of 1960s Baltimore and the atmosphere of the newsroom at that time—she interviewed associates of her father, Baltimore Sun journalist Theo Lippman Jr., for the details—ground the book in fascinating historical fact.The literary gambit she balances atop that foundation—the collage of voices—works impressively, showcasing the author's gift for rhythms of speech. The story is bigger than the crime, and the crime is bigger than its solution, making Lippman's skill as a mystery novelist work as icing on the cake.
The racism, classism, and sexism of 50 years ago wrapped up in a stylish, sexy, suspenseful period drama about a newsroom and the city it covers.
The redoubtable Locke follows up her Edgar-winning Bluebird, Bluebird (2017) with an even knottier tale of racism and deceit set in the same scruffy East Texas boondocks.
It’s the 2016 holiday season, and African American Texas Ranger Darren Matthews has plenty of reasons for disquiet besides the recent election results. Chiefly there’s the ongoing fallout from Darren’s double murder investigation involving the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas. He and his wife are in counseling. He’s become a “desk jockey” in the Rangers’ Houston office while fending off suspicions from a district attorney who thinks Darren hasn’t been totally upfront with him about a Brotherhood member’s death. (He hasn’t.) And his not-so-loving mother is holding on to evidence that could either save or crucify him with the district attorney. So maybe it’s kind of a relief for Darren to head for the once-thriving coastal town of Jefferson, where the 9-year-old son of another Brotherhood member serving hard time for murdering a black man has gone missing while motorboating on a nearby lake. Then again, there isn’t that much relief given the presence of short-fused white supremacists living not far from descendants of the town’s original black and Native American settlers—one of whom, an elderly black man, is a suspect in the possible murder of the still-missing boy. Meanwhile, Darren’s cultivating his own suspicions of chicanery involving the boy’s wealthy and imperious grandmother, whose own family history is entwined with the town’s antebellum past and who isn’t so fazed with her grandson’s disappearance that she can’t have a lavish dinner party at her mansion. In addition to her gifts for tight pacing and intense lyricism, Locke shows with this installment of her Highway 59 series a facility for unraveling the tangled strands of the Southwest’s cultural legacy and weaving them back together with the volatile racial politics and traumatic economic stresses of the present day. With her confident narrative hands on the wheel, this novel manages to evoke a portrait of Trump-era America—which, as someone observes of a pivotal character in the story, resembles “a toy ball tottering on a wire fence” that “could fall either way.”
Locke’s advancement here is so bracing that you can’t wait to discover what happens next along her East Texas highway.
For every child kidnapped, another must be taken. Otherwise The Chain will be broken.
Thirteen-year-old Kylie is waiting for the school bus on Plum Island, Massachusetts, when a man and a woman pull up wearing ski masks. Her brain tells her to run, but she doesn’t make the correct split-second decision, and she is taken at gunpoint. Her mother, Rachel, then receives a call that she is now part of The Chain. She must pay a ransom and kidnap another family’s child, and then that family must do the same for her daughter to be released. No law enforcement, no politicians, no journalists. The Chain cannot be broken or the children—her child, her Kylie—will be executed. While Rachel scrambles to get the money together (even though it isn’t about the money, she is told) and pick a child to steal, it becomes clear that she is being tracked and her every move is being monitored. She can’t do this, she must do this, she is now a completely different person who has done this. Inspired by the “exchange kidnappings” that take place in Mexico and the old-school chain letters of his childhood, crime novelist McKinty (Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly, 2017, etc.) takes what at first seems like a fantastical scenario and imbues it with all the terror, stress, trauma, and messiness of reality. At once a commentary on social media, greed, revenge, love, and true evil, and written with an almost lyrical quality, this book will have readers searching for more McKinty titles to devour.
Inspector Harry Hole’s 12th case is his most grueling to date. And considering his history on and off the Oslo Police (The Thirst, 2017, etc.), that’s quite a claim.
Back on the bottle since his wife, human rights executive Rakel Fauke, threw him out, Harry wakes up one morning with no idea how he’s spent the last two days. Even before he can sober up, he’s hit by a tornado: Rakel has been murdered, and Harry’s colleagues want him to stay out of the case, first because he’s the victim’s husband, then because they can’t rule him out as her killer. The preliminary evidence points to Svein Finne, whose long career of raping women and later stabbing them to death unless he’s gotten them pregnant, hasn’t been slowed down just because he’s spent 20 years in prison and is now pushing 80. The elusive Finne, the very first killer Harry ever arrested, is driven by the need to avenge his own son’s death: “For each son I lose, I shall bring f-five more into the world.” Captured after Harry unforgivably uses his latest rape victim as bait, Finne blandly confesses to Rakel’s murder, but the unshakable alibi he produces sends the inquiry back to square one. A series of painstaking investigations identifies first one plausible suspect, then another, each one of whom might have been designed specifically to immerse Harry more deeply in his grief. And even after each of these suspects, beginning with Finne, is cleared of complicity in Rakel’s death, they continue to hover malignantly over the landscape, ready to swoop down and wreak still further havoc. Long before the final curtain, most readers will have joined Harry, shut out of the official investigation and marginalized in ever more harrowing ways, in abandoning all hope that he can either close the case or enjoy a moment of peace again.
The darkest hour yet for a detective who pleads, “The only thing I can do is investigate murders. And drink”—and a remarkable example of how to grow a franchise over the hero’s most vociferous objections.
Young boys from poor families in Buenos Aires are being lured into lethal games of chicken on the railroad tracks. Investigating the story, dedicated magazine reporter Veronica Rosenthal faces threats of her own.
The deadly games pit one boy against another. The last to jump away from the onrushing train to safety is paid 100 pesos—the equivalent of $2 American but a huge sum to these kids. The deaths have cast a pall on train travel, traumatizing drivers. One tormented engineer who also ran over three suicidal adults violently kills himself. Other drivers, including Lucio, who becomes Veronica's guide through this underworld, can't put aside their hatred for the victims for messing up the drivers' lives. Lucio, a married man who becomes Veronica's lover and partner in punishing sex, helps her track down the families of the young victims—and potential victims, including 10-year-old Peque. Accepted into a neighborhood soccer club by a coach out to program him as a train jumper, he survives his first bout and quickly spends the money on candy, chips, and Coke. Even after the deadliness of the game sinks in, he can't stay away—just as Veronica can't stay away from Lucio and the emotional perils he represents. It takes a while to adjust to Olguín’s flat narrative style and neutered tone, both of which may owe something to the translation. (Published in Spanish in 2012, this is the first of Olguín’s novels to be translated into English.) But the story is so gripping and Veronica is such a fascinating departure from crime fiction convention—she's 30, Jewish, brazen, and openly flawed—that the book becomes difficult to put down. Also a very good novel about journalism, it's the first installment of a trilogy.
An unusual, intoxicating thriller from Argentina that casts deeper and deeper shadows.
Troubled psychologist Cyrus Haven has to evaluate a girl without a past while finding out who killed a rising young figure skater.
Evie Cormac is an enigma. No one knew who she was when she was found in a secret room in a north London home, weighing less than a child half her age, which was determined to be 11 or 12. Only a few feet from her hiding place was the decomposing body of a man who had been tortured to death. Given a new name, she ended up in Nottingham’s Langford Hall, a high security children’s home, after a series of foster homes. Now, six years later, she’s eager to be declared an adult, so Cyrus must evaluate her for possible release. Evie is rude, unruly, self-destructive, prone to occasional violence, heartbreakingly naïve, and very, very broken. She also seems to be able to tell, with remarkable consistency, when someone is lying. This intrigues Cyrus, who wrote a thesis on human lie detectors, aka “truth wizards.” When Cyrus makes an impulsive choice to temporarily foster Evie, it brings a basket of challenges to his already complicated life. Meanwhile, Cyrus is assisting his mentor, Chief Inspector Lenny Parvel, in the investigation of the suspicious death and possible rape of 15-year-old Jodie Sheehan, who was called the “golden girl of British skating.” Some shocking revelations lead Cyrus and the police down a rabbit hole of dark family secrets, and Evie can’t help but involve herself in the investigation. It’s the careful and often poignant interplay between Cyrus and Evie that elevates this consistently stellar yarn. Cyrus’ parents and sisters were murdered when he was just a boy, and by all accounts Evie's childhood was nothing short of a hellscape. Trauma unites them, but Robotham (The Secrets She Keeps, 2017, etc.) seeks to show that together, they might begin to heal. Readers will adore the brilliant hot mess that is Evie, and more than a few moments are breathtakingly sad, such as Evie’s confusion about her wrinkly fingers during a long bath…because she’s never in her life had one.
Robotham is a master plotter at the top of his form, and readers will surely hope to see more of his complicated new characters.
In a debut novel by the creator of the television show The Killing, a serial killer in Copenhagen targets young mothers as part of a complex scheme that seems to have ties to the apparent murder of government minister Rosa Hartung's 12-year-old daughter, Kristine, a year ago.
The homicidal Chestnut Man, named after the chestnut and matchstick dolls he leaves behind, is a grisly operator who amputates the hands of the women he abducts while they're still alive. A pair of mismatched investigators are reluctantly on the case: Naia Thulin, a local cop who, tired of what she thinks of as "tedious" assignments with Major Crimes, eyes a promotion to the cybercrime unit, and Mark Hess, a disheveled Europol agent on temporary leave from the Hague to serve "penance for some blunder or other." The big complicating factor is the absence of proof that Kristine, who disappeared, is dead; when her fingerprints turn up on the chestnut dolls, hopes stir that she is, in fact, alive. It takes a little time for the novel to set itself apart from other such thrillers. What are the chestnut dolls if not an imitation of the diabolical snowmen in Jo Nesbø's The Snowman? But with its densely layered plot, chilling settings, and multiple suspects with murderous grudges, Sveistrup's epic rises above any such comparisons. This is a page-turner that will make you hesitate before turning the page, so unnerving is the violence. One of the best and scariest crime novels of the year, it adds to its rewards by promising us at least one sequel.
A tantalizing, un-put-down-able novel by an instant master of the form.
This complex psychological thriller digs deep into the layers of trauma that linger long after a terrible crime.
This is the 17th novel by Unger (Under My Skin, 2018, etc.), and it revisits one of her frequent themes: the indelible impact of violence on the survivors of crimes. The survivor at its center is Rain Winter, who at age 12 was one of three friends who became the victims of a monster. At first glance, Rain seems to have overcome that nightmare. She’s happily married and reveling in motherhood, although she vacillates between the joy she finds in 1-year-old Lily and the tug of the job she left as a hard-charging radio news producer. That tug increases when she hears that a man whose murder trial she covered, a man who was acquitted of killing his pregnant wife, has been found dead—killed in just the same way his wife was. Rain was sure he was guilty, so she feels some dark satisfaction, and her investigative instincts (and maybe something else) are aroused when a dark web mole, tipster, and blogger tells her off the record that there have been other, very similar revenge murders, and they might be the work of the same person. That wakes her own worst memories: “There weren’t many people who remembered Rain’s ugly history. It was big news once, but it had faded in the bubbling morass of horrific crimes since then.” Its aftermath included the children’s attacker being released from prison—and murdered. Chapters describing Rain’s pursuit of the story of a possible vengeful serial killer are intercut with chapters narrated by a mysterious person from her past, one who is closer to her in the present than she knows. Unger skillfully peels back the layers of Rain’s emotional scar tissue to expose the truth of what happened in her childhood and the fear, rage, and guilt it left behind, with a series of shocking consequences.
Surviving a crime is the beginning of the story, not the end, in this astute, engrossing thriller.