There is for each of us a place where we breathe easier, feel safer, and are most alive. It may be a quiet cabin in the mountains, a high-rise apartment in the city, or a cottage in the woods. Sonia’s place is The River House, a once beautiful three-story home along the Thames River in London. It is in this house that Sonia keeps her heart, her dreams, and her dark secrets in Penny Hancock’s Kept in the Dark. Other than sessions with her voice clients, Sonia spends much of her time at home alone. Her daughter has gone to university and her husband travels for work. It takes her by surprise when fifteen-year-old Jez, the nephew of her friend and neighbor Helen, arrives asking to borrow an old record album of her husband’s. Jez’s youth and beauty awaken memories that Sonia has worked hard to bury deep down, painful memories from her own youth. Long days spent on the river with her first love, Seb, come rushing back, and Sonia reacts by impulsively drugging Jez’s drink and holding him captive. Soon all of London is looking for the missing boy, never suspecting lovely, normal-looking Sonia. Long ago, Seb was taken from her, first by distance and then by a tragic river accident. This time, she will do whatever it takes to keep her young man safely with her forever.
Setting plays an essential part in Hancock’s writing, and both the house and the river are characters in this disturbing tale of obsession. Told alternately from the points of view of Helen and Sonia, we get a sense of the emotional instability of the human psyche as well as the various reactions people have under extreme stress. Like a horrific accident you cannot tear your eyes away from, Hancock dares you to look away as the many secrets unravel. Fans of Sophie Hannah or readers looking for the next great dark thriller after Gone Girl will devour Kept in the Dark.
For best-selling authors like Jo Nesbo and Dennis Lehane, even if the adage “crime doesn’t pay” is true, writing about it most certainly does. Nesbo offers up Phantom, the ninth book in his police detective series, while Lehane continues his Boston-based Coughlin family saga with Live by Night. Joe is the baby boy of the Coughlin brothers, introduced to us in The Given Day. All grown up and despite coming from a line of Boston Irish policemen, Joe chooses the gangster life of the Prohibition-era 1920s. Moving between rival mobs with bloody street wars and after a stint in Boston’s infamous Charlestown prison, Joe ends up with a promotion to expand Maso Pescatore’s “family” businesses in Florida, including hooch distillation and prostitution. Cuban immigration, evangelical tent revivals, the love of women both good and bad, and some rather snappy dialogue (along with a plethora of weaponry) illuminate Joe’s struggle to balance his humanity against his choices. Better known for the psychological thrillers Mystic River and Shutter Island, Lehane shows his versatility as an author in Live by Night.
Nesbo is the Norwegian author of the Harry Hole (pronounced Hool-eh) books. In Phantom, Hole, having been dismissed from Oslo’s force, is working independently to prove Oleg Rauke, the drug running son of Hole’s former lover, innocent of murder. Nesbo has a “sins of the father” theme running through this book; as he is dying, the victim addresses his dad as part of the ongoing narration while Hole’s motivation stems in part from his guilt at abandoning his paternal role in Oleg’s upbringing. The Harry Hole series is tightly written and often weaves politics and institutional corruption into its intricate plots. Fans of Stieg Larsson and Nelson DeMille won’t want to miss Jo Nesbo and Phantom.
Benjamin Wood’s debut novel The Bellwether Revivals begins with a mystery: a crime scene with two people dead and a third barely alive. But what happened prior? The rest of the book is about the events leading up to that moment. Oscar Lowe is a working-class twenty-something who makes a living as a care assistant at a nursing home. Eden and Iris Bellwether are ambitious siblings from a privileged background who both study at Cambridge. A chance meeting brings Oscar into their elite circle, which he soon finds is convoluted and laden with social traps. Oscar begins a relationship with Iris but finds that threatened by the increasing eccentricities of Eden, who believes himself capable of healing through hypnosis and the power of his music. Eden is also the clear leader of their group of friends, which begins to take on cult-like characteristics as Eden’s delusions become more grandiose. When Eden starts to feel he’s losing control of Iris and his parents, real tragedy ensues.
A classic story in one sense of the clash between the haves and have nots of society, this is also a gothic tale which delves into diverse topics such as mental illness, social isolation and music theory. Moreover, it is an intergenerational story, where those who were once young and charting the pathway to new innovations are now dependent upon and look up to the younger generation of today. Similar to The Talented Mr. Ripley or School Ties, Wood paints a picture that shows that being wealthy isn’t all it is cracked up to be. Fans of British novels and psychological drama will enjoy this story of complex relationships and intrigue.
In The Hollow Man by Oliver Harris, we are introduced to London police detective Nick Belsey. Even at the start of the novel, we know things are not going well for Nick. He awakens on Hampstead Heath after having wrecked a squad car, he is still drunk, and has lost his I.D. and phone. A detective on the skids, he must think fast in order to not lose his job. Back at the station, he sees a missing persons report for the reclusive millionaire Alex Devereaux. It is easy to convince his bosses to let him investigate the crime, and when he enters the mansion he is able to find a fresh set of clothing to wear, a set of keys to the home, and plenty of food to eat. Having no place to live of his own, Nick decides to stay at the Devereaux mansion and take his chances. But what exactly did happen to Alex Devereaux? Suddenly he begins to realize what sort of man he has decided to impersonate and how much trouble this man was in. Soon Nick finds himself playing a dangerous game, swapping between the man he is, and the man that he is pretending to be.
Oliver Harris has created a terrific thriller with The Hollow Man. It is intricately plotted with enough twists and turns to satisfy the most die-hard thriller reader and the suspense builds and builds to a stunning conclusion. Although Nick is a bit of a rake, he is a compelling and interesting character and the reader will enjoy having his company throughout the novel. Harris has positioned himself among the great thriller writers of today, and will be a writer to watch to see what he comes up with in the future.
The Playdate is a terrific psychological thriller from debut author Louise Millar. The story is told from the points of view of three very different women. Each has events in their pasts that they are trying to hide from one another. Pasts have a way of creeping up on you though, often in terrible and unexpected ways.
Callie is a single mother raising her daughter Rae, while Rae’s father is away in Sri Lanka with his new girlfriend. Callie is feeling alienated from her old friends and longs to return to work as a sound effects editor. She has become close friends with a neighbor, Suzy, but feels that Suzy can be intense, almost clingy with their friendship. Suzy is facing troubles of her own, raising three sons with almost little or no help from her husband, Jez. Jez is emotionally distancing himself from Suzy, and this makes her desperate to find a way back into his affections. Debs has recently moved to the row home right next door to Suzy. Debs is older than Callie or Suzy and is used to living life on her own, and she is adjusting to life with her new husband. Debs also has little tolerance for noises of any kind. Airplanes flying overhead, a neighbor flushing the toilet or even vacuuming can create in her a sense of madness.
The Playdate is an incredibly tight thriller. The reader is aware that something unpleasant is going to happen, and as the novel progresses and secrets are revealed, the action intensifies. The story barrels forward to an intense conclusion, making The Playdate a gripping read.
National Book Award nominee Scott Spencer tackles the emotionally charged world of fertility treatments in Breed, written under his pseudonym, Chase Novak. Alex and Leslie Twisden lead the ultimate in charmed lives with wonderful jobs, a beautiful home on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, and a loving marriage. The only thing missing in their picture perfect world is the pitter-patter of little feet, and each unsuccessful infertility treatment ratchets up their desperation for a baby. When they hear of a miracle doctor in Slovenia named Dr. Kis who has helped other couples with his fertility enhancement, they immediately hop on a plane. Alex and Leslie don’t think twice about undergoing the treatment which turns out to be an unusual and painful procedure. That pain is quickly overlooked, when Leslie becomes pregnant with twins and their family is complete. But at what price?
Fast-forward ten years, and we meet Adam and Alice, the adored twins, who are much loved but are also becoming more aware of some strange goings-on in their house. They are locked in their rooms at night and hear disturbing and violent sounds coming from their parents' bedroom. Fear leads the twins to run away and find out what is really happening to their parents. They are on a quest to find Dr. Kis and get answers to their questions. But even as they seek to discover what really happened during that fateful time in Slovenia, their family and very existence are threatened.
This fast-paced story is sometimes gory but always thrilling, and readers looking for more will be happy to learn that Spencer/Novak is hard at work on a sequel – Brood. To get a sense of the high creepy factor throughout this book, check out Entertainment Weekly’s exclusive look at Breed’s book trailer here.
Geiger, a troubled and complex man, has one special talent – he is able to immediately discern a lie. This skill comes in handy in his work as an information retrieval specialist, a euphemism for professional torturer. In The Inquisitor, Mark Allen Smith creates a unique, flawed character in this sometimes grisly, but always thrilling story that follows this one-named man in a dark world of intrigue.
Geiger and his partner Harry enjoy their work in the torture business, and while Geiger has complete focus on his craft, he does have one unbendable rule that he will not hurt children. Geiger himself has no memory of his life before he woke up on a bus when he was 19 or 20. He is working with a counselor to unlock some of the repressed memories from his traumatic childhood in an effort to eradicate the debilitating migraines which have been occurring more frequently.
Geiger’s client, Richard Hall, is supposed to be bringing an art thief to him, but instead shows up with the thief’s twelve-year-old son Ezra. Rather than torture Ezra to discover his dad’s whereabouts, Geiger takes the boy and goes on the run. His protective instinct triggered, he also begins to develop an unexpected emotional attachment to Ezra. Hall and his cronies pursue the duo and the chase is on! Unfortunately for Geiger, his resources pale in comparison to Hall’s who seems to have unlimited power and contacts in high places. In fact, as Geiger soon learns, there is much more at stake than a stolen painting. This fast-paced thrill ride with a compelling protagonist makes this a memorable debut which ends too soon. The good news is that Geiger will be back as Smith is hard at work on the sequel.
Who knew that the world of high school cheerleading could be so fascinating? Dare Me by Megan Abbott is a chilling tale that needs to be read in one sitting. Abby Hanlon is lieutenant to cheerleading captain Beth Cassidy. The two women are used to the status quo, the hierarchy of high school. Things change as their coach leaves and is replaced by Colette French, a young coach who begins to push the girls to their limits, turning them into champions. She gathers the young women into a cohesive unit, urging them to work together to go farther and fly higher. Colette presents herself as a mentor and a friend to the girls. She invites them to her house, often neglecting her husband and daughter. She supplies them with alcohol and berates them about weight issues. Colette sees no need for a team captain, which doesn’t sit well with Beth, who is used to being top dog. Beth becomes sullen and resentful, and Abby seems caught in the middle. Then an apparent suicide rocks the town, threatening to reveal squad secrets. A power struggle ensues that threatens to tear apart the squad, and the reader wonders who will survive the fallout.
Though the setting of Dare Me is high school, the intense theme makes it a book for older teens and adults. Abbott captures the cheerleading world perfectly. She describes the moves and tricks, the training, the blood, sweat and tears. She explores what happens when you are no longer accepted by the group, and the darkness and desperation of the human heart. Dare Me is a journey that is not easy, but once begun will need to be read to its intense conclusion.
Kill You Twice, the fifth book in Chelsea Cain’s Gretchen Lowell series, is sure to keep readers up all night. This series of gory, fast-paced thrillers follows Portland detective Archie Sheridan who was kidnapped and tortured for 10 days by Dr. Gretchen Lowell, the Beauty Killer. Gretchen is both terrifyingly violent and undeniably magnetic. Even now, years after the attack, the two of them have a strange bond. No matter how hard Archie tries to stay away from Gretchen, he will never truly escape her influence.
In Kill You Twice, Archie is investigating a gruesome murder when he receives two cryptic pieces of information from Gretchen who now is locked away in a state mental institution: Gretchen has a child, and Archie should investigate someone named Ryan Motley. Kill You Twice gives readers a surprising glimpse into Gretchen’s past while pulling them deeper into her latest game of cat and mouse.
This riveting suspense series will remind readers of The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris. It isn’t for the faint of heart, but fans of horror and suspense will be drawn into Gretchen’s web. Readers new to the Cain’s thrillers should start with Heartsick, the first novel in the series, which provides insight into how Archie and Gretchen’s dark, twisted relationship developed.
FX recently announced that the network has begun development on a new TV series based on the Gretchen Lowell books. The first season will follow Heartsick. Cain is thrilled with the news. She wrote on her blog, “FX makes some awesome TV. Justified. American Horror Story. Sons of Anarchy. These people clearly buy fake blood in bulk and know how to use it.” Will Heartsick be the network’s next big hit? Cain’s fans certainly hope so.
The Maya calendar counts down to the end of the fourth age of man. Doomsayers believe that this means the end of the world is coming in December 2012. The novel 12.21 by Dustin Thomason is a thrilling story that will have many wondering if we all aren’t just a twist of fate away from the end of life as we know it.
In 12.21 Dr. Gabriel Stanton is experiencing a typical day in his lab at the Center for Disease Control in Los Angeles when he receives a shocking phone call from a local hospital. A patient has presented with the symptoms of Prion disease, an extremely rare, highly contagious, and rapidly-progressing sickness. What follows next is a tense and exciting tale as scientists race the clock to determine the origin of the contamination and how it is transmitted. The main symptom is insomnia, which after several days leads to seizures, dementia, and death. Those infected have no hope of survival, as there is no cure. Ultimately the entire city of Los Angeles is quarantined.
Meanwhile Chel Manu, an expert in Mayan antiquities at the Getty Museum, is made custodian of an ancient codex. The dealer who acquired this artifact also develops symptoms of the disease and Gabriel and Chel work together to determine if there could be a connection to the devastating outbreak. With so much technological advancement, could the answer to the epidemic be found in a fabled lost Mayan City?
This is Thomason’s second novel, having co-authored the international best-seller The Rule of Four with Ian Caldwell in 2004. Thomason has also been the executive producer for multiple television series including Lie to Me. 12.21 is a fantastic story that readers will not want to put down until the last captivating page.