The Best of Summer Reading: Thrillers!
The book that started it all was Linda Castillo’s Breaking Silence, which I read in one cross-country flight. The subject matter – murder in Amish country – is irresistible, and the story is filled with so many unexpected moments, I often found myself gasping, grateful that the passengers next to me were wearing headphones. I love reading about female investigators because they are strong and smart and brave, yet their tales are often filled with self-doubt and love-gone-wrong (stereotype much?) Police Chief Kate Burkholder is a compelling example of this, and I can’t wait to go back and read Castillo’s previous books about her.
Blind Fury by Lynda La Plante also features an appealing female investigator. Making her sixth thriller appearance, Detective Inspector Anna Travis is contacted by a killer she put in jail years ago, who insists he can help her solve a recent string of murders. The story’s polite British tone belies its depth of emotion and horror, making the shocking ending even more upsetting.
Another fascinating book whose style is beautifully incongruous with its disturbing content is In Malice, Quite Close by Brandi Lynn Ryder. This debut novel, whose title is taken from a Rimbaud poem, is sophisticated and rich – and the unraveling story is like a car wreck from which you can’t seem to turn away. French ex-pat Tristan Mouralt kidnaps young Karen Miller, truly believing he is saving her from a mundane life, and transforms her into Gisele, the belle of an exclusive art community. When she is found dead in a swimming pool, the who-done-it begins. Part Lolita, part art world expose, this book is truly a work of art itself.
The shady side of the art world is also explored in Alafair Burke’s Long Gone, which combines so many timely issues and plot twists, you’ll need to remember to come up for air even though you’ll just want to keep reading. Alice Humphrey dreams of opening a Manhattan gallery, and when she’s given that opportunity by a mysterious man who she later discovers lying on the floor – dead – she ends up in the middle of a police investigation, realizing she’s been set up. This is the kind of cautionary tale that makes you think about what you would do if you were in the same situation – and makes you sweat.
Everything about Mice by Gordon Reece scared me. The title alone gave me the creeps, referring to the mousy, victim-like personalities of teenager Shelley and her divorced mom. The two live alone in a remote area of the country, where Shelley is now home-schooled after being brutalized by a trio of “frenemies.” You know mother and daughter are not going to simply be living happily ever after, and the tension builds to a breaking point as an intruder shatters their sense of security and they decide not to be victims any more. In this age where bullying has become such a huge issue, this is an important and thought-provoking book.
I can always count on Gregg Hurwitz for a fast-paced ride full of twists and turns, and You’re Next is up there with his best. Just when Mike Wingate – raised as a foster child after being abandoned by his father at age four – is settled down with a wife and child and life is good, his past comes back to haunt him. Mike is such a real character and his dreams and fears are so easy to relate to, I was horrified at what was happening to him. I literally couldn’t turn the pages fast enough, and was tempted to start skimming because I couldn’t wait to see what happened next!
Elizabeth Brundage blurs the line between movies and reality in A Stranger Like You, the suspenseful story of an aspiring screenwriter who decides to show the producer who rejected his script that the ending she called “implausible” is actually possible. He locks her in the trunk of her car and leaves it in the parking lot at LAX, setting off a chain of events that brings together a young soldier, an Iraqi exchange student and a runaway girl in a powerful climax that would make a great film.
Hollywood also takes center stage in Marcus Sakey’s The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes, which is so well-written, it will make your brain hurt trying to guess what’s going to happen (which, by the way, you won’t). A man wakes up, naked and alone, on a desolate beach in Maine and can’t remember anything. He finds a BMW containing clothes that fit him and a California car registration in the name of Daniel Hayes, and all he knows is that he feels a deep connection to an actress he sees on a hotel room TV. He sets off to Malibu to try to find her – and himself. The story deals with ethics and crime and identity and love and loyalty, and the writing is so, so good.
Christine Lucas can’t remember who she is, either. The narrator of S.J. Watson’s Before I Go To Sleep loses her memory every night, waking up each morning in unfamiliar surroundings to a strange man who says he’s her husband. This psychological thriller kept me on edge until the last page, and had me changing my mind regularly about who she should trust and who she shouldn’t. This is a book that will keep you up at night and that you will definitely remember long after you’ve finished it.
Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante may be the most devastating book of the bunch. It, too, is about a woman who has memory problems – this seems to be a recurring Baby Boomer theme – but hers are due to Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Jennifer White was a world-renowned orthopedic surgeon until dementia took over. Her best friend has been murdered and Jennifer is the prime suspect, although she has absolutely no recollection of the fact that Amanda is even dead. This is a harrowing story, told from the raw and often-confused point of view of Jennifer herself, which left me hoping that one day soon Alzheimer’s will no longer be a mystery.
For a list of books that are thrillers in their own way — they’re all about the mysteries of marriage and motherhood! — click here.