Most readers probably imagine their favorite author as thoughtful and deep—someone bursting with insight into life and empathy for all creation. From the outside, that’s what Henry Hayden appears to be. Modest despite the five-and-counting bestsellers that bear his name, he seems to be devoted to his wife, loyal to his friends and eager to sign books for the fans who travel to his remote village just to meet him. But he’s a fraud: Every word of his novels was written by his publicity-shy wife, Martha.
“I was too angry to take my own life,” muses the protagonist of Sharon Bolton’s Little Black Lies. “Unless, of course, I could take Rachel’s first.” Readers expecting a conventionally likable heroine may be taken aback by Catrin Quinn, a woman too consumed by grief to feel much empathy for anyone around her.
Of the dramatic plot twists that routinely occur in suspense fiction, one character in Harriet Lane’s Her complains that they are “unsatisfying . . . nothing like life, which—it seems to me—turns less on shocks or theatrics than on the small quiet moments, misunderstandings or disappointments, the things that it’s easy to overlook.” Lane’s novel, in which a vengeful woman infiltrates the life of an old acquaintance, features many potential shocks. But Her eschews cheap drama, instead building suspense by shedding light on two women’s inner worlds.
Rafe Solmes is a Bath, England, literature professor who has just finished a book on fairy tales, but his interest in gruesome stories like “Bluebeard” and “The True Bride” is far from academic. When Clarissa, a university assistant, lets him walk her home one night, she discovers a sinister side to this seemingly harmless scholar. An obsessive master manipulator who won’t take no for an answer, Rafe is soon everywhere she is—lurking outside her apartment at all hours, sending increasingly threatening gifts and even turning her friends against her.
There’s a stranger in Claudia Morgan-Brown’s house. The Birmingham, England, social worker has what should be an enviable life: Newly married to a wealthy naval officer, she lives in a palatial house and is step-parenting his adorable twin boys. And after a string of heartbreaking miscarriages with her ex, she’s finally expecting a baby girl of her own. But there’s a problem: the new live-in nanny, Zoe Harcomb.
“Cryptography involves one genius trying to work out what another genius has done—it results in the most appalling carnage,” observes one Decoded character. In this debut novel from Mai Jia, eccentric math prodigy Rong Jinzhen is plucked from his studies at N University and recruited to China’s top-secret Unit 701.