Excellent book-centric mysteries and thrillers always hit the sweet spot for big whodunit readers. This year has given readers several standouts, from creepy authors to cozy bookshop owners:
Finders Keepers by Stephen King
"King has long been interested in literary obsessions, and the divide between author and fan or creator and creation—think Misery, The Dark Half or Secret Window, Secret Garden. Finders Keepers continues to explore these ideas and adds another dimension: Pete and Morris are both willing to do a lot to hold on to Rothstein’s works. At what point does the hero become the villain?" Read the rest of our review.
Antiques Swap by Barbara Allan
"The mother-daughter writing and sleuthing team in Antiques Swap may share genes, but their methods are poles apart. Fans of the Trash'n'Treasures Mystery series will recognize the entertaining way level-headed narrator Brandy Borne’s sensible tone clashes with her mother's cheerful disregard for the rules." Read the rest of our review.
Pride v. Prejudice by Joan Hess
"Semi-retired bookstore owner Claire Malloy is back with her signature snark in this witty 20th installment of Joan Hess’ series. Though the distractible Claire can’t be bothered to address the alarming rate at which her bookstore inventory walks out the door on its own, she is more than willing to throw herself into a murder investigation when the prosecutor makes a grievous error: He humiliates Claire in public." Read the rest of our review.
Don't Go Home by Carolyn Hart
"Best-selling author Alex Griffith has mined his childhood home, Broward’s Rock, for all it’s worth, fictionalizing the island’s secret affairs, dirty deals and suspicious deaths in his novel Don’t Go Home. The golden boy is out of ideas, though, which is how he lands in the hands of bookstore owner Annie Darling." Read the rest of our review.
The Truth and Other Lies by Sascha Arango
"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." Read the rest of our review.
Disclaimer by Renée Knight
"It seems the reading world can't get enough of these psychological thrillers starring deceptive, unreliable female characters. Knight plays with our allegiances in this juicy domestic noir, already in the works to become a film with 20th Century Fox. Her debut tells the story of Catherine, a successful documentary filmmaker who receives a manuscript that describes in excruciating detail a day from her life she has tried so hard to forget." Read more, plus an excerpt from Disclaimer.
Coming soon: Trust No One by Paul Cleave
Cleave's new novel, coming August 4 from Atria Books, stars a well-known crime novelist, Jerry Grey, who has early-onset Alzheimer’s. As the disease progresses, the line between reality and fiction becomes fuzzier, and soon he's convinced that his novelized murders actually happened.
It’s Private Eye July at BookPage! All month long, we’re celebrating the sinister side of fiction with the year’s best mysteries and thrillers. Look for the Private Eye July magnifying glass for a daily dose of murder, espionage and all those creepy neighbors with even creepier secrets.
Historical mysteries work double-duty, entertaining readers with whodunit twists while transporting them to another time. But there's something especially enjoyable about a book that includes real-life historical figures—especially when those fictional portrayals feel authentic and exhaustively researched, as with historical fiction by Paula McLain and Nancy Horan. This year's crop of historical mysteries star a number of real-life people, in roles big and small. Check out a few of our favorites:
The Harvest Man by Alex Grecian and I, Ripper by Stephen Hunter
It seems that Jack the Ripper may haunt us forever through literature. The serial killer is a secondary figure in the newest in Grecian's Scotland Yard Murder Club series, but you can dive deep into his twisted, bloody mind in Hunter's standalone. Read our reviews of both novels.
The Fifth Heart by Dan Simmons
What if Henry James, author of The Turn of the Screw, teamed up with one of literature’s most beloved characters, Sherlock Holmes, to solve a murder mystery in turn-of-the-century America? It's a fantastic mix of history and literature, including a cameo by Clover Adams, granddaughter-in-law of John Quincy Adams. Read our review.
Too Bad to Die by Francine Mathews
In real life, author Ian Fleming was an assistant to Britain’s director of naval intelligence; in the new novel from the author of Jack 1939, he's caught up in a plot to assassinate all three Allied leaders at a conference in Tehran. Read our review.
Second Street Station by Lawrence H. Levy
Brooklyn's first woman detective, Mary Handley, finds herself tangled in a mystery in the late 19th century, just as the notorious Edison/Tesla feud over the electricity market unfolds. Go Behind the Book with Levy.
Leaving Berlin by Joseph Kanon
To clear his Communist past, Jewish writer Alex Meier must clear his name by becoming a spy stationed in Berlin. You can expect major doublecrossing and bloodshed in this stellar espionage thriller—as well as real-life characters such as poet/playwright Bertolt “Bert” Brecht. Read our review.
Ostland by David Thomas
Equal parts police procedural and courtroom thriller, this novel is based on the horrifying true story of Georg Heuser, one of the Holocaust's worst Nazi war criminals. It's a truly fascinating mix of fact and fiction. Read our review.
Nobody does interactive picture books like French artist Hervé Tullet. Following the success of his 2011 bestseller Press Here, Tullet has become a bit of a picture book sensation, encouraging the littlest readers to poke and shake books that seem to respond to their command. The dots from Press Here return on September 16 in Mix It Up!, but this time they've got something to show us about mixing and creating colors.
Tullet's Help! We Need a Title! came out in May of this year and took his interactive elements to a metafictional level, subtly provoking questions about what a book is. What's an author, and where do ideas come from? The scribbly, mixed-media characters in Help! seem to come straight from a child's mind, but when the book opens, they're all completely unprepared. Surely the reader expects a story . . . so what do you do when it hasn't been written yet? (Who's in charge around here, anyway?)
This fall's crop of picture books includes several more metafictional titles, encouraging fearless and unfettered creativity while challenging the relationships between readers, listeners, authors and characters.
Before snuggling down with this book, I highly recommend fixing yourself and your lap listener some PB&J sandwiches, then sit back and let the giggles begin. Everything starts out as planned in Louie's story—"Once upon a time, little Louie went skipping merrily along."—but a messy reader ruins everything. First a glob of jelly plops right in Louie's way, and then peanut butter lands on his face . . . and as the book gets dirtier and dirtier, Louie gets more and more upset with the reader/offender. Fortunately Louie and the reader come to an understanding. Perfect's boring anyway. Coming October 7.
This time, the reader is hero, not villain. The gutter of this unexpected adventure has a mind of its own, and when Bella's dog disappears between the pages, she finds herself in an escalating conundrum reminiscent of the events in Jeffers' Stuck. Soon the gutter has sucked up everyone in the book, and it's up to the reader to set them free. We're asked to shake the book—keep shaking!—until everyone reappears . . . almost as good as new. Coming September 30.
Just as you'd expect, Novak's debut picture book has absolutely zero pictures—not even an author photo on the jacket flaps. This innovative story is not really a story so much as a challenge to parents, to drop the ego and get silly. The concept works, though, as it calls into question the real balance of power in the relationship between reader and listener. When a reader has to read what is written—no matter what is written, no matter how ridiculous or how little it makes sense—things can get very, very silly. Coming September 30.
It seems to be the year of the mother-daughter mystery. I'm not talking about cozy mother-daughter sleuthing teams, solving crimes amid witty banter and little squabbles. No, these ladies are about as trustworthy as any Gone Girl character, and it's rare the reader knows what they've got up their sleeves.
It's the multigenerational bad girls club, and it's easily this year's hottest mystery trend.
Mind of Winter by Laura Kasischke
Paranoia reaches new heights in this psychological thriller. Holly Judge wakes up on Christmas morning, suddenly convinced that there's something very wrong with her adopted teenage daughter. "Something followed them home Siberia," she thinks, and starts ticking off all the disturbing evidence. An obsessive and twisted tale where reality threatens to slip away. Read an excerpt.
I Love You More by Jennifer Murphy
Oliver Lane’s murder looks like a simple case of a woman scorned—in this case, his wife, Diana. But investigators soon discover Oliver had two more families as well. So who really killed Oliver? Multiple points of view keep this thrilling mystery from every giving too much away. The most interesting POV comes from Oliver's daughter Picasso, who has seen plenty. Watch out for these ladies, and whatever you do, don't cross them. Read our review.
Don't Try to Find Me by Holly Brown
It's not initially clear who the victim of Brown's debut is. After 14-year-old Marley runs away from home, her mother launches a public campaign for her return. But people are fickle, and soon Marley's mom finds herself the target of public scrutiny. Why did Marley leave? Who is to blame? Secrets upon secrets. Read our review.
Dear Daughter by Elizabeth Little
This book's victim is pretty black-and-white, as Janie Jenkins was incarcerated 10 years ago for the murder of her mother. She's just been released from prison on a technicality—but she's also innocent and in need of some answers. Debut author Little has a great voice, and I wish her unapologetic heroine was my best friend. Look for a review in our August issue.
The Good Girl by Mary Kubica
This is another high-intensity thriller than unfolds through multiple points of view, but I can promise you'll never see this ending coming. The story jumps between events before and after Mia Dennett's abduction, when she was held in a cabin in the woods by a guy whose motivations don't quite make sense. Mia's mom is in on the investigation, and that's all I'm going to say about it. Look for a Q&A in our August issue.
Are you set for vacation reading this summer? If not, we're here to help! Follow the flowchart below to your ultimate summer read. Click on the graphic for an interactive version that will lead you more information about each book, or download it here.
What are you reading this summer?
It starts with one teenage girl—the severe tics, the twitching. Then it spreads to another, then another, then another. Is it a virus? Anxiety? Are the girls faking it? Soon, a dozen or more girls are twitching, and mass hysteria has an entire town in a panic.
I could be talking about the notorious Salem Witch Trials, the girls in LeRoy, New York, in 2012—or the two novels coming out this summer, one for adults and one for teen readers. Both novels were sparked by the mass hysteria in 2012 and tell the same general story—with some key differences. Both blend the thrills of a plague narrative with the psychological tension of paranoia and guilt.
We'll never forget how Megan Abbott addressed the cunning powerplays and precarious hierarchies of high-school girl world in her dark and twisted novel, Dare Me. In her next adult novel, The Fever, coming June 17 from Little, Brown, teenage girls fall one by one to unexplained seizures, sending the town into chaos. There's something distinctly sexual about the girls' twitching, and Abbott's dreamlike prose gives these events a haunting, disturbing quality.
YA novel Conversion by Katherine Howe, coming July 1 from Putnam, heads in a more supernatural direction and makes the satisfying connection between past and present twitching. Howe is a direct descendent of two of the women accused of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials, which has inspired her before. Conversion moves between Salem Village in 1706 and an all-girl's high school in Danvers, Massachusetts, in 2012. When girls start twitching and people start panicking, a parallel is drawn: Danvers was once Salem Village.
It seems the mass hysteria narrative is catching. I suspect we will see several more novels featuring twitchy girls before the end of the year.
Though William Shakespeare's exact date of birth went unrecorded, it's typically observed on April 23, the day he died on 52 years later—a neat piece of symmetry for such a literary life.
In the years since, the scant biographical facts available about the poet have combined with his singular status to ignite countless imaginations. This spring brings three additions to the lengthy list of Shakespearean tomes.
How did the son of a glovemaker rise to the heights of literary fame? This question has engendered many hypothetical answers over the years—including the well-known assertion that Shakespeare did not, in fact, write the plays he is credited with. Historical novelist Jude Morgan comes up with his own Bardic backstory in The Secret Life of William Shakespeare (St. Martin's), which opens in 1582, shortly before Shakespeare meets his wife-to-be Ann Hathaway. Morgan's Shakespeare adores his father and has a close relationship with his sister, Joan. He also feels a genuine passion for Ann, one that competes with his calling as a poet.
In Dark Aemilia (Picador), we move from investigating the source of Shakespeare's genius to unveiling the inspiration for the "Dark Lady" of his sonnets, the mistress whose "hair is nothing like the sun." Author Sally O'Reilly posits that the woman in question is a real-life contemporary, Aemilia Lanier—the fourth woman to ever publish a book of poetry in English. Lanier's biography is as sketchy as Shakespeare's own, leaving O'Reilly plenty of room to weave in a tumultuous romance with fellow poet Will while he's out and about on the London theater scene.
Finally, for those who don't take their Shakespeare too seriously, there's William Shakespeare's The Jedi Doth Return, the final Star Wars/Shakespeare mashup from Ian Doescher. The first, Verily, a New Hope, was a surprise hit back in 2013, and fans can't seem to get enough of the Star Wars story told in iambic pentameter.
If none of these suits your fancy, hold on until 2016, when Hogarth books will launch the "Hogarth Shakespeare Collection," a series that allows modern-day authors to turn several of Shakespeare's most popular plays into novels.
Those who prefer a "just the facts, ma'am," approach might try Germaine Greer's 2008 biography of Ann Hathaway or Stephen Greenblatt's National Book Award Finalist Shakespeare biography, Will in the World.
What's your favorite Shakespeare-inspired work? Or do you believe the play's the thing?
Last week, the New York Times published a piece in the Sunday Review from Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld based on their new book, The Triple Package, a study of why different immigrant groups succeed or fail in America. Though the book has been criticized for being "soft science" and/or measuring things that are very difficult to quantify (something the authors point out themselves in the Times piece) one statistic stood out to me:
Immigrants from many West Indian and African countries, such as Jamaica, Ghana, and Haiti, are climbing America’s higher education ladder, but perhaps the most prominent are Nigerians. Nigerians make up less than 1 percent of the black population in the United States, yet in 2013 nearly one-quarter of the black students at Harvard Business School were of Nigerian ancestry; over a fourth of Nigerian-Americans have a graduate or professional degree, as compared with only about 11 percent of whites.
Those are some astonishing numbers…but perhaps they're less so if you've been paying attention to literature lately. Although writers of African origin have been having a moment in recent years, it's not an exaggeration to say that Nigerian emigré authors are taking center stage. Don't believe it? How about Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Teju Cole, Chris Abani, Okey Ndibie, Uzodinma Iweala,* Helen Oyeyemi, and Taiye Selasie,* most of whom are now based mainly in the U.S. or U.K.
Anyone looking for more perspective on the Nigerian immigrant path should pick up Adichie's most recent novel, Americanah, which comes out in paperback next month—its heroine, Ifemelu, goes from cash-strapped immigrant student to an acclaimed academic.
*not Nigerian-born, but of Nigerian descent.
While reading an interview with Eleanor Catton in The Guardian after her recent Booker win, I came across this interesting quote:
It is the peculiar constellation of her age, gender and the particular nature of The Luminaries that has, she believes, provoked "a sense of irritation from some critics–that I have been so audacious to have taken up people's time by writing a long book. There's a sense in there of: 'Who do you think you are? You can't do that.' "
Think Elizabeth Gilbert's The Signature of All Things (512 pages), Kate Atkinson's Life After Life (544 pages), Nicola Griffith's Hild (560 pages), Amy Tan's The Valley of Amazement (604 pages), Marisha Pessl's Night Film (624 pages), Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch (784 pages) and Minae Mizumura's A True Novel (880 pages).
Here's your nifty visual aid:
Writing a long novel not only asks a lot of the reader, but is also a mark of ambition—something that is not always looked on kindly when coming from a woman. But if this year's output is any indication, female writers aren't letting themselves be held back.
What was your favorite long novel published this year?
A couple months ago, I commented on the creepy timeliness of Koethi Zan's debut thriller, The Never List. Coming July 16, The Never List tells a graphic, terrifying story with details similar to the real-life situation experienced by the three Ohio women who were rescued after being held prisoner for 10 years. Read our review of The Never List!
But as I look into the fall mystery titles, it's clear that The Never List was just a starting shot to what looks to be the most disturbing trend of the year: abduction thrillers. In September alone, three blockbuster thrillers bear distinct resemblance the terribly sad stories of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight. Each imparts graphic, intimate details of the mental and physical state of a woman held captive by a sadistic predator.
Alex by Pierre LeMaitre • MacLehose Press • 9/3
When Alex Prévost is kidnapped, beaten and trapped in a wooden cage hanging from the ceiling of an abandoned building, her only hope of escape is Police Commandant Camille Verhoeven. As Camille struggles to find the girl and her captor, he uncovers Alex's unusual past. With a 150,000-copy first printing, this is positioned to be a big one.
The Edge of Normal by Carla Norton • Minotaur • 9/10
Norton's true crime bestseller Perfect Victim: The True Story of the Girl in the Box was placed on the FBI's Behavioral Sciences Unit reading list. Now she steps into fiction with the story of Reeve LeClaire, who escaped her kidnapping six years ago. When she's asked to mentor another girl who experienced a similar situation, it's clear that the girl needs much more than guidance—she needs a protector from the villain that still watches.
Others of My Kind by James Sallis • Bloomsbury • 9/10
From the author of Drive comes the gritty, almost desensitized story of Jenny Rowan, who at age 8 was abducted and kept for years in a box underneath a bed. Years after her escape, a detective comes to her home and asks for her help with another young survivor. Of the four, this one might be the toughest.
Trends like this remind me of when I interviewed Therese Anne Fowler, who began writing Z, her novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, long before Jazz Age tales were back in vogue. Fowler had called it "radio waves in the zeitgeist," but this sadistic kidnapping thriller trend, coupled with coincidental recent events, pricks the spine.
Readers, I truly want to know your opinion: Why do you think all four of these authors—and probably many more—wrote on such similar topics? It this just a residual response to the popularity of last year's Room?
Do you think you'll be checking out any of these books?