A droll, all-too-plausible contemporary thriller pulls a mismatched trio of stressed-out 30-somethings into underground guerilla warfare against a sinister conspiracy to own the information superhighway.
On one side of the world, you have Leila Majnoun, an increasingly jaded operative for a global nonprofit agency struggling to do good deeds despite the brutal, stonewalling autocrats who run Myanmar (Burma). On another side is Mark Deveraux, a self-loathing self-improvement guru living a glamorous and debt-ridden lifestyle in the promised land of Brooklyn. Somewhere in the middle (Portland, Oregon, to be precise) is Mark’s old school chum Leo Crane, a misanthropic poor-little-rich-kid grown into a trouble-prone, substance-abusing and seedily paranoid adult. The destinies of these three lost souls are somehow yoked together by an international cabal of one-percenters who want to create something called “New Alexandria,” where all the information available (or even unavailable) online will be in their money-grubbing control, thereby making the recent real-life National Security Agency abuses of power seem like benign neglect. Shafer’s arch prose, comedic timing and deft feel for shadowy motives in high places are reminiscent of the late Richard Condon (The Manchurian Candidate), only with sweeter, deeper characterizations. At times, you wish he’d move things along a wee bit faster and make his menace more tangibly scary than it is here. But it’s also possible that Shafer is remaking the international thriller into something more humane and thus more credible than what fans of the genre are accustomed to.
An edgy, darkly comedic debut novel whose characters and premise are as up-to-the-minute as an online news feed but as classic as the counterculture rebellions once evoked by Edward Abbey and Ken Kesey.
DI Tom Thorne escorts a convicted serial killer to a remote Welsh island with predictably eventful results.
Twenty-five years after teenage car thief Simon Milner disappeared from Tides House, a facility for young offenders on Bardsey Island, his mother still doesn’t know what happened to him. Now she has a chance at the closure she craves. Stuart Nicklin, a notorious murderer who put in his time at Tides House along with Simon, says he killed the boy he befriended and that he knows where he buried him. Since the topography of Bardsey—a real-life island reputedly home to the graves of countless saints—is tricky, Nicklin can’t just tell the coppers the location of Simon’s last resting place; he has to lead them to it, and he insists on taking along both Thorne, who put him away, and a more recent friend, history teacher Jeffrey Batchelor, who’s been imprisoned along with Nicklin for killing the young man who jilted Batchelor’s teenage daughter, which led to her suicide. The staff of Long Lartin prison takes all possible precautions in transporting the two prisoners to Bardsey, but Thorne knows that something will go terribly wrong, and of course, he’s right. Like the manipulative Nicklin, Billingham (The Dying Hours, 2013, etc.) delights in toying with his audience, and most readers’ nerves will be shredded long before the sadistic import of Nicklin’s deep-laid plot finally becomes clear.
Thorne’s 12th is a tour de force of suspense that dares you to guess the secrets of a magician who’s made his intentions perfectly clear from the very beginning.
Against all odds, Prisoner 5995—a former professor wrongly convicted of murder—escapes a high security Chinese facility after 20 torturous years. Having concocted a plan to flee China and establish a new identity, he finds an unlikely ally in Mangan, a veteran British journalist based in Beijing.
In his former life, the escapee was employed by British intelligence under the code name Peanut. After he finds a place to lay low and recover from the physical abuse he suffered at the prison camp, he tracks down a one-time fellow academic and spy who is now a well-off military researcher; he forces his old colleague to make copies of secret documents by threatening to expose his past—and by beating him to a pulp. When he hears about Mangan, a famous British reporter who lives in the area, Peanut passes the documents to him and asks that Mangan give them to his contacts in the British Embassy. Though he thrives on danger, the last thing Mangan wants is hot papers in his possession; he's already under close scrutiny by state security for a story he wrote on a cult after sneaking into the blockaded town it was occupying. After Mangan is talked into working for British intelligence, all manner of reversals, betrayals, arrests and killings have him and Peanut running for their lives. Brookes, a one-time China correspondent for the BBC, knows this turf exceedingly well and translates that knowledge into a novel that is as strikingly different as it is thrilling. In hinting at China's capabilities as a cyberenemy, the author may be giving us a clue about the subject of his next novel. One can't wait to read it.
One of the best and most compulsively readable spy-fiction debuts in years.
In her second pseudonymous outing as Galbraith, J.K. Rowling continues her examination of fame—those who want it, those who avoid it, those who profit from it.
Cormoran Strike, Rowling’s hard-living private eye, isn’t as close to the edge as he was in his first appearance, The Cuckoo’s Calling (2013). His success at proving supermodel Lula Landry was murdered has brought him more clients than he can handle—mostly businessmen who think their lovers are straying and divorcing wives looking for their husbands’ assets—and he’s even rented a small apartment above his office near Charing Cross Road. His accidental temp–turned-assistant, Robin Ellacott, is dying to stretch her investigative muscles, but she has to deal with her fiance, Matthew, who still wishes she’d taken that better-paying job in human resources. Then odd sad-sack Leonora Quine comes in asking Strike to find her missing husband, Owen, a fading enfant terrible novelist. Strike soon discovers that Owen had written a baroque fantasy novel in which he exposed the secrets of everyone he knows—including his editor, publisher and a famous writer with whom he had a falling out years earlier—and his agent had just sent it out for consideration. Rowling has great fun with the book industry: Editors, agents and publishers all want to meet the detective, but only over lunches at fancy restaurants where he’s expected to foot the bill. It’s no big surprise when Strike finds the writer’s dead body—though it’s certainly gruesome, as someone killed him in the same extravagantly macabre way he disposed of the villain of his unpublished book. As Strike tries to figure out who murdered Owen, the writer is splashed across the front pages of the tabloids in a way he would have loved when he was alive, while the detective tries to play down his own growing fame.
Rowling proves once again that she’s a master of plotting over the course of a series; you can see her planting seeds, especially when it comes to Robin, which can be expected to bear narrative fruit down the line. It will be a pleasure to watch what happens.
A hint of the supernatural spices the latest from a mystery master as two detectives try to probe the secrets teenage girls keep—and the lies they tell—after murder at a posh boarding school.
The Dublin novelist (Broken Harbor,2012, etc.) has few peers in her combination of literary stylishness and intricate, clockwork plotting. Here, French challenges herself and her readers with a narrative strategy that finds chapters alternating between two different time frames and points of view. One strand concerns four girls at exclusive St. Kilda’s who are so close they vow they won’t even have boyfriends. Four other girls from the school are their archrivals, more conventional and socially active. The novel pits the girls against each other almost as two gangs, with the plot pivoting on the death of a rich boy from a nearby school who had been sneaking out to see at least two of the girls. The second strand features the two detectives who spend a long day and night at the school, many months after the unsolved murder. Narrating these chapters is Stephen, a detective assigned to cold cases, who receives an unexpected visit from one of the girls, Holly, a daughter of one of Stephen’s colleagues on the force, who brings a postcard she’d found on a bulletin board known as “The Secret Place” that says “I know who killed him.” The ambitious Stephen, who has a history with both the girl and her father, brings the postcard to Conway, a hard-bitten female detective whose case this had been. The chapters narrated by Stephen concern their day of interrogation and investigation at the school, while the alternating ones from the girls’ perspectives cover the school year leading up to the murder and its aftermath. Beyond the murder mystery, which leaves the reader in suspense throughout, the novel explores the mysteries of friendship, loyalty and betrayal, not only among adolescents, but within the police force as well.
Everyone is this meticulously crafted novel might be playing—or being played by—everyone else.
Abducted by a child pornography ring when she was 6 and held captive for five years, Kick Lannigan, 21, has turned herself into a lean, mean fighting machine. When a boy named Adam is reported missing, she springs into action to save him.
The first book in a new series by Cain captures the age of the Amber Alert with hard-edged insight. All these years removed from her ordeal, Kick is the most viewed subject on porn sites. Still struggling with psychological baggage, she's dedicated herself to martial arts and marksmanship (she packs a Glock). She also is working at perfecting skills her abductor taught her, including picking locks. When the mysterious John Bishop, a wealthy former gun dealer working with the FBI, drops into Kick's life and demands that she go with him to the site of the latest abduction, she fiercely resists. But she slowly learns to trust him. Except for her tech-geek friend James, with whom she was held captive, she doesn't care about anyone else. Her mother, who wrote a best-seller about her daughter's abduction, is still milking the story as an expert on TV. With Bishop, a taciturn stud with his own painful secrets (and a private plane and helicopter at his disposal), Kick returns to places she was held as "Beth." Her unnerving confrontation with her abductor exposes a horribly complicated relationship. Distinguished by a wealth of details about how child porn rings operate, this is a gripping thriller in which Kick must apply everything she's learned, and things she's forgotten, to survive again.
An unsettling, near-perfect effort by Cain (Let Me Go, 2013, etc.) that leaves you eagerly awaiting the next installment.
Against all odds, Kelly’s novelization of the eponymous British TV series, now being remade for U.S. television as Gracepoint, works as both a classic puzzle and an unnerving portrait of a little English town wracked by a young boy’s murder.
No one in Broadchurch can imagine why anyone would have wanted to kill Danny Latimer. No one can even imagine what the 11-year-old was doing out on his own in the middle of the night when he was strangled to death. His murder is a particular blow to DS Ellie Miller, whose son Tom was Danny’s best friend. Ellie’s just returned from a Florida vacation to find that the promotion she’d assumed would be hers has actually gone to DI Alec Hardy, an outsider whose last case, another child killing, ended with the presumed murderer going free—something he’s not exactly eager to advertise. What he is eager to do, it seems, is model a frigidly disengaged attitude and lecture Ellie about her need to do the same, even though she’s known everyone involved in the case forever. Clearly, the killer is someone she doesn’t know nearly as well as she thought. Suspicion falls in turn on Danny’s father, Mark, a plumber who can’t give a convincing alibi for the night his son was killed; phone engineer Steve Connolly, who hears voices that provide clues to the mystery; newsagent Jack Marshall, who employed Danny as a paper boy; young vicar Paul Coates; truculent Susan Wright, who’s got Danny’s missing skateboard hidden away; and Mark’s helper and would-be alibi Nige Carter. As journalists circle Hardy ready to expose his connection to his scandalous last case, Ellie reels under the sickening sense that each new suspicion is more devastating than the last.
Kelly (The Burning Air, 2013, etc.) folds a loving portrait of rural Dorset and a well-made whodunit into a painstaking account of the grief and unimaginable pain that follow in the wake of one child’s murder.
Hiding a teenage murder witness among a bunch of delinquent kids in a survival-training program in Montana seemed like a good idea. But when two coldblooded killers track him there from Indiana, everyone's life is at grave risk.
The program is run by Air Force veteran Ethan Serbin, who lives with his wife, Allison, in a mountain cabin. She distrusts Jamie Bennett, a federal marshal and former trainee of Ethan's who shows up in the middle of the night, having recklessly driven into a blizzard, to plead for their help. Jamie says the boy, Jace Wilson, is too hot for even a witness protection program. When Jace arrives, it's anonymously, under the name Connor Reynolds. He's badly lacking in confidence but proves adept in handling himself outdoors. Just as he's settling in, though, the killers—two brothers with a creepy way of conversing with each other even as they're about to commit an atrocity—infiltrate the mountain community. Knowing what they're capable of, Jace/Connor drifts away from the pack, teams up with a female fire ranger who feels responsible for her boyfriend's accidental death and fervently hopes an escape route he devised as part of his training will lead them to safety. Having joined the ranks of the very best thriller writers with his small-town masterpiece, The Prophet (2012), Koryta matches that effort with a book of sometimes-unbearable tension. With the exception of one plot turn you'll likely see coming from a mountain pass away, this novel is brilliantly orchestrated. Also crucial to its success is Koryta's mastery of the beautiful but threatening setting, including a mountain fire's ability to electrify the ground, radiate a lethal force field—and create otherworldly light shows.
In Malerman's chilling debut, an apocalyptic reality befalls a Michigan river community—and who knows how much of the rest of civilization—in the form of creatures that cause people who merely look at them to go mad and kill themselves.
Having lost her sister to this horrific fate, a young woman, Malorie, finds sanctuary with a group of strangers in a small house with covered windows. Like her co-inhabitants, she learns to perform essential outdoor tasks and even travel distances blindfolded. After discovering she's pregnant, she'll do anything to find a safer place to live. The novel (named after a collection of caged birds that coo whenever anything approaches) cuts back and forth between Malorie's life in the strangers' house, where only an analog phone promises contact with the outside world, and her escape four years later with her unnamed Boy and Girl. In both parts, she lives in fear. At any moment, one or both of the kids could remove their blindfolds and perish. And who's to say whether one of the men, upon returning from an expedition for food or supplies, was exposed to a creature or will usher one into the house? Malerman, leader of the appropriately named rock band The High Strung, keeps us tinglingly on edge with his cool, merciless storytelling. Just when you think he's going to disappoint with a Twilight Zone–like twist, he douses his tale in poetic gloom. One especially unsettling scene involves blasts of lightning, a dog barking wildly at the night, footsteps on creaky attic stairs and two women giving birth, unattended.
An unsettling thriller, this earns comparisons to Hitchcock's The Birds, as well as the finer efforts of Stephen King and cult sci-fi fantasist Jonathan Carroll.
Marwood’s second novel tells a taut, fascinating tale that’s not for the weak of stomach.
Lisa, also known as Collette, is on the run after witnessing her shady boss, Tony, beat a man to death at the Nefertiti Men’s Club. Now her mother is dying in a nursing home and she wants to be nearby, so she rents a room in a boardinghouse that's one step up from a homeless shelter. The shabby home, subdivided into apartments, is owned and managed by a grossly obese man who takes advantage of his down-and-out residents: Hossein, who's seeking political asylum in England; Vesta, who's lived in the basement apartment all her life; Cher, a 15-year-old who's slipped the reins of social services; and two single men, Thomas and Gerard. While Collette uses the money she has left, about £100,000, to evade Tony and his henchmen, the residents are dealing with backed-up drains that smell awful. Unknown to the other residents, one of the men has been making a habit of killing young women, including Nikki, the former resident of Collette’s apartment, and what he does to them afterward is beyond horrible. Now the killer is looking for new blood; when something terrible happens to bring the boarders together, things only grow more dangerous. Marwood, a British journalist writing under a pseudonym, not only creates a cast of memorable characters, but also ratchets up the suspense, leaving readers to dread what might be around the next corner. Many writers shine at characterization or at creating tension; the trick is in successfully combining the two. In this case, readers will care what happens to Collette and the rest of the boarders while simultaneously waiting for the literary axe to fall.
Marwood—whose first novel, The Wicked Girls (2013), won an Edgar Award—proves she’s got staying power in this addictive tale.
Fourteen years after Princess Diana died in a Paris automobile accident, the date of her death still casts a long shadow over the Strathclyde Police, in the fourth book featuring detective Alex Morrow.
Rose Wilson, already an experienced prostitute at 14, celebrates Diana’s death by killing two of the many males who’ve used her:Pinkie Brown, the boy she dreams about from another group home, and her pimp, Sammy McCaig. Despite her apathetic confession, she’s released after a short prison term to become the nanny to the household of Julius McMillan, the lawyer who schemed to shield her from a stiffer sentence for reasons of his own. The death of the long-ailing McMillan traumatically reopens his affairs. Rose, still in the family’s employ, grieves over the only person who’s ever shown her any kindness. McMillan’s son, Robert, convinced that paid assassins are hunting him, runs off and leases a castle to die in. And detective Alexandra “Alex” Morrow—after testifying against Michael Brown, who’s spent most of his life in prison ever since he was convicted of killing his older brother, Pinkie, in Rose’s place—has to deal with the discovery of Brown’s fingerprints at the demolition site where charitable organizer Aziz Balfour was killed three days ago, even though Brown, clapped up for months, has the best of all possible alibis. While fighting off the flirtatious advances of Brown’s defense attorney, Alex racks her brain over possible ways Brown could have left his prints at a murder scene miles from his prison, as Mina (Gods and Beasts, 2013, etc.), conscientious to a fault, casually dispenses further calamities, from clinical depression to Parkinson’s disease, among the cast.
In addition to the usual indelible character studies, Mina provides the most compelling plot of Alex’s four cases to date, with a new round of revelations that makes the Glasgow cops the most corrupt since Philip Marlowe looked under all those rocks in Bay City, Calif.
A deftly plotted novel that probes the deepest mysteries: sin, redemption, love, evil, the human condition.
After he seemingly brought Harry Hole back from the dead in his last novel (Police,2013), Norway’s Nesbø gives his popular protagonist a breather, shelving the detective in favor of a stand-alone novel that plunges deeply into the religious allegory that has frequently framed his work (The Redeemer, 2013). In fact, the symbolism might initially seem laid on pretty thick for readers looking to solve a satisfying whodunit. Sonny Lofthus, the son of the title, is introduced as a prisoner with “healing hands,” one who was “prepared to take your sins upon himself and didn’t want anything in return.” Like Christ, he suffers for the sins of others and offers redemption. He is also a hopeless junkie. His back story suggests that Sonny was a boy of considerable promise, a champion wrestler and model student, proud son of a police officer. Then, when he was 18, he was devastated by the suicide of his father, who left a note confessing his corruption as the mole within the department, and the subsequent death of his heartbroken mother. After Sonny turned to drugs, he found himself in a web of evil; if he would confess to murders he hadn’t committed, the corrupt prison system would keep him supplied with heroin. Then a fellow prisoner comes to him for confession and reveals a secret that turns Sonny’s world upside down, inspiring him to kick his habit, plot an ingenious escape and turn himself into an “avenging angel,” delivering lethal retribution. The inspector obsessed with the case had a complicated relationship with Sonny’s father, and it remains uncertain until the climax (in a church, naturally) whether he wants to be Sonny’s captor or his collaborator. It’s a novel in which one character muses on “how innocence walks hand-in-hand with ignorance. How insight never clarifies, only complicates.”
One of Nesbø’s best, deepest and richest novels, even without Harry Hole.
Armand Gamache, former chief inspector of homicide for the Sûreté du Québec, is settling into retirement in the idyllic village of Three Pines—but Gamache understands better than most that danger never strays far from home.
With the help of friends and chocolate croissants and the protection of the village’s massive pines, Gamache is healing. His hands don’t shake as they used to; you might just mistake him and his wife, Reine-Marie, for an ordinary middle-age couple oblivious to the world’s horrors. But Gamache still grapples with a “sin-sick soul”—he can’t forget what lurks just beyond his shelter of trees. It’s his good friend Clara Morrow who breaks his fragile state of peace when she asks for help: Peter, Clara’s husband, is missing. After a year of separation, Peter was scheduled to return home; Clara needs to know why he didn’t. This means going out there, where the truth awaits—but are Clara and Gamache ready for the darkness they might encounter? The usual cast of characters is here: observant bookseller Myrna; Gamache’s second in command, Jean-Guy Beauvoir; even the bitter old poet, Ruth, is willing to lend a hand to find Peter, an artist who’s lost his way. The search takes them across Quebec to the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, toward another sin-sick soul, one fighting to claw his way out of jealousy’s grasp. Penny develops the story behind Peter’s disappearance at a slow, masterful pace, revealing each layer of the mystery alongside an introspective glance at Gamache and his comrades, who can all sympathize with Peter’s search for purpose. The emotional depth accessed here is both a wonder and a joy to uncover; if only the different legs of Peter’s physical journey were connected as thoughtfully as his emotional one.
Gamache’s 10th outing (How the Light Gets In, 2013, etc.) culminates in one breathless encounter, and readers may feel they weren’t prepared for this story to end. The residents of Three Pines will be back, no doubt, as they’ll have new wounds to mend.
Robinson’s latest Inspector Banks novel is an English murder mystery sure to please lovers of the genre.
The body of Gavin Miller shows up on a lonely pathway beneath a railroad bridge in the Yorkshire countryside. Was it an accident? Or suicide? Or murder? The dead man has £5,000 in his pocket, so robbery seems an unlikely motive. DCI Alan Banks heads the investigation, which leads him and his team to ask unwelcome questions of some rich and powerful people. Banks digs deeply, learning about radical political pasts dating back to the 1960s and '70s, when people read Karl Marx, talked of revolution and did plenty of dope. Today they think that’s all in the past, and the past won’t return to haunt them. In any event, Miller had seemed like a shabby loser and a drunk—so what was he doing with all that money? Responding to outside pressure, Banks’ boss tells him to back off the investigation, which of course a good fictional detective doesn’t do. He and fellow detectives Cabbot and Winsome are smart and determined, with just the right amount of attitude to make them likable. Readers who grew up in the age of bands like The Doors and Led Zeppelin will appreciate the frequent references to the rock music of that era. Robinson’s descriptions are rich and beautifully done, although now and then the detailed scene-setting slows the pace too much. This is a mystery that depends less on action than on DCI Banks’ thought process. It's well-plotted and satisfying right to the end.
Robinson has won many awards for his Detective Banks novels (Watching the Dark, 2013, etc.), and with this latest, he demonstrates his mastery of the craft.
Now that he’s survived the dark forces that were arrayed against him in Corrupt Practices (2013), tongue-tied Los Angeles attorney Parker Stern is ready to defend the world’s most elusive client in a libel suit.
Like Rupert Murdoch, William H. Bishop, dubbed “the Conqueror” because he’ll do anything to get his own way, owns a chain of newspapers, television stations and media outlets that circle the globe. But he won’t be happy till he crushes Poniard, the pseudonymous video game designer whose latest production, “Abduction!,” recaststhe 1987 disappearance of bipolar actress Felicity McGrath as a kidnapping at the hands of the Conqueror’s goons. Even though Parker is now working for Judicial Alternative Dispute Solutions, whose members try to resolve legal disputes through mediation, Poniard is determined to drag him back into the courtroom. And Poniard’s equally determined not to appear there himself. He doesn’t need to answer Bishop’s libel charge in person, Poniard airily assures Parker via email. In fact, Parker doesn’t even need to know his client’s real name or whereabouts. Understandably reluctant to represent such a will-o’-the-wisp, Parker changes his mind when Poniard threatens to make Parker’s past as a child movie star public knowledge and when he sees a chance to go up against his former girlfriend, ex–porn actress Lovely Diamond, in court. Although the suit is a civil action, Poniard’s defense—that “Abduction!”isn’t libelous because Bishop really did have Felicity McGrath killed—opens up a criminal dimension that produces more fresh corpses in the present the harder Parker looks into the past.
Endless novelties, endless twists, endless complications, endless surprises in and out of the courtroom. Whatever you read legal drama for, it’s here, along with a whole lot of other stuff you never thought to ask for.
A genuinely unsettling—in all the best ways—blend of suspense and the supernatural makes this a serial-killer tale like you’ve never seen.
Set in a crumbling contemporary Detroit, Beukes’ fourth novel (The Shining Girls, 2013, etc.) seamlessly alternates between the points of view of a single mother homicide detective; her 15-year-old daughter; a wannabe journalist; a homeless man; and an artist with deep-seated psychological issues. At the scene of the crime, Detective Gabriella Versado can’t remember the last time she’s seen something so brutal: The top half of 11-year-old Daveyton Lafonte is fused with the hind legs of a fawn in a hideous display of human taxidermy. While it’s obvious that the five storylines will eventually join together, Beukes never takes the easy route, letting each character develop organically. Versado’s daughter, Layla, cautiously navigates high school in the digital age; homeless scavenger Thomas “TK” Keen warily patrols the streets; Detroit transplant Jonno Haim tries to make a name for himself by chronicling first the city’s art scene and then the hunt for the killer dubbed the Detroit Monster; and sculptor Clayton Broom’s creations begin to take on lives of their own. Versado’s dogged pursuit of the killer, under the glare of the media spotlight, is as compelling a police procedural narrative as Broom’s descent into madness and the horrors of his dream world are a truly terrifying horror story.
Beukes gave us a time traveling serial killer in The Shining Girls, and the monsters in her latest tale, whether they’re real or imagined, will keep you up all night.