Here's something that's definitely not normal: a serial killer as a sort of bumbling hero. Maybe "hero" is too strong, but the unnamed protagonist in British author Cameron's debut is, outside of kidnapping and murdering girls, darkly funny and even likable. His lifelong killing spree kicked off when he took out his bad dad, and now he's moved on to prostitutes and other girls, sometimes killing them and burying them in the woods, sometimes keeping them in a cage on his property. Add in some real, non-sociopathic feelings about a few of his victims, plus cops circling about a disappeared hooker, and you've got one strange story on your hands.
Erica regarded her new cellmate with a mixture of elation and disdain. Whilst a problem shared is a problem halved, she clearly wasn't overjoyed at the prospect of sharing hers with a bleeding, screeching harridan.
The hooker had told me that her name was Kerry. Then again, she'd told me that she was clean in every respect, where both her profession and her trackmarks suggested otherwise.
I'd picked her up a mile from Jeremy's house on a foolish and immediately regrettable impulse fueled by raw adrenaline and the sheer bloody-minded need to catch something, so to speak. She'd directed me to a remote riverside picnic area on the south side of the city, and had been only too eager to jump into the back of the van, the false promise of mattresses and pillows offering a welcome relief from the repeated prod of a gearlever in the sternum.
Until that point, this, in a nutshell, was the reason I never interfere with ladies of the night: it's just too damn easy. It's a game for impotents and bed-wetters. These women queue up to get in the car with you, for Christ's sake. They actually expect you to take them somewhere dark. That they exercise free will in putting themselves in harm's way only makes obligingly slaughtering them all the more cowardly.
What are you reading?
Fans of best-selling author C.J. Box expect a lot of action and suspense, delivered in clear prose and paced expertly. The author has won a number of awards for his satisfying high-country thrillers, including the Edgar for Best Novel (Blue Heaven, 2009), but his 15th Joe Pickett novel, Endangered, is a cut above. It's darker, tighter and proof that even though Box's a seasoned thriller writer, he's still a writer to watch.
Joe is out surveying a field of massacred, engangered sage grouse when he gets a call about a woman found in a ditch. She's alive, but badly beaten. The victim is Joe's adopted daughter, April, who ran off with a rodeo rider in Stone Cold. Joe's ready to hunt down the rider—until an anonymous tip points Joe toward survivalist Tilden Cudmore as April’s abductor. All this is going down when Joe's old pal Nate Romanowski, who has just been released from prison, is found dead. And the twists just keep coming.
Blunt force trauma.
The very words were brutal in and of themselves, Joe thought as he and Marybeth trailed April's gurney down the hallway. He could hear the helicopter approaching outside, hovering over the helipad on the roof of the hospital.
April was bundled up and he couldn't see her face. He wasn't sure he wanted to. Joe was grateful Marybeth had positively identified her earlier.
He was unnerved by the number of suspended plastic packets that dripped fluids into tubes that snaked beneath the sheets. An orderly rolled a monitor on wheels alongside the gurney. Her body looked small and frail beneath the covers, and she didn't respond when the orderlies secured her to the gurney with straps.
Joe reached down and squeezed her hand through the blankets. It was supple, but there was no pressure back.
"Let me know how it goes," Joe said to Marybeth, raising his voice so as to be heard over the wash of the rotors.
"Of course," she said, pulling him close one last time before she left. Her eyes glistened with tears.
Joe watched as the gurney was hoisted into the helicopter. A crew member reached down from the hatch and helped Marybeth step up inside. Seconds, later, the door was secured and the helicopter lifted.
Joe clamped his hat tight on his head with his right hand and silently asked God to save April, because she'd suffered enough in her short life, and to give Marybeth the strength to carry on.
What are you reading?
Till now, Judith Flanders has confined herself solely to nonfiction as one of the foremost social historians of the Victorian era and the best-selling author of The Invention of Murder and The Victorian City. With her debut crime novel, Flanders takes on the cutthroat publishing industry and spices it up with a bit of that Victorian-style macabre.
Chosen by librarians for the February 2015 Library Reads list, A Murder of Magpies is a darkly funny romp that takes readers between London and Paris in pursuit of a potentially libelous manuscript.
But how did Flanders make the leap from Victorian crime to contemporary crime fiction? As she reveals in a guest blog post, it's just more fun. (And now we know never to get on Flanders' bad side . . .)
Fiction has some definite advantages over nonfiction. I’ve been writing nonfiction for nearly 20 years now, specializing in Victorian Britain. I truly can’t complain: It’s a great job. As with every job, though, there are some days that are just a slog. At one point I was writing about a fire along the river Thames in 1861, and I wanted to incorporate an eyewitness’ description of seeing the fire from a train. To do that, I needed to say where his train was heading. It took me nearly a week in the library to find that out. Even though it was one of those boring little details that nobody reading my book would care about, still, I had to get it right.
If I had been writing a novel, I grumped to myself, I could have just made it up. And then I bumped into an ex-colleague in the library, someone I’d worked with years before. And I remembered how much I disliked her. (The feeling, I believe, is mutual.) So, to relieve the boredom of researching trains, I began to imagine ways of killing her. From making up train stations, to making up murder methods, I moved on to just making things up.
And before I knew it, I’d started to write a crime novel. Sam Clair is an editor in a publishing house. I worked in publishing for 17 years, and publishing is full of people that belong in a novel. The 20-something editor who thinks he knows everything? Check. The last remaining Goth in Britain, who loves commercial women’s fiction? Double-check. And of course then there’s the general murder and mayhem. After all, there isn’t an author alive who hasn’t wanted to murder her editor, and vice-versa.
With my nonfiction hat on, I wrote a book on 19th-century murder and how real-life crimes were used for entertainment purposes: Where today we have films about the Boston strangler or whatever, they had plays and novels and even puppet shows. What struck me was that real-life murder was, on the whole, not very interesting. Thug A hits Thug B over the head, fighting over a few pounds. Thug B dies. That was the pattern, over and over.
Crime was dull. Crime fiction, however, now that was fabulous. From Dickens to Dracula, authors everywhere found themselves invigorated by these very ordinary, very ugly events. They took the dull stuff—Thug A, a railway station, a fire—and turned it into magic.
Publishing can be dull, too. Like a lot of glamorous jobs, on a day-to-day level it’s often just paperwork: admin and schedules and budgets. But if you make things up, you can liberate the routine, turn it into magic, too.
So I decided that I’d give myself a break from researching train stations, or even Thugs A and B. Instead I would take the ridiculousness that is publishing, and the magic that is making things up, and see what happened.
Thank you so much, Judith! Readers, A Murder of Magpies goes on sale tomorrow!
Judith Flanders author photo by Clive Barda.
Actor, writer and onetime Oscar host James Franco has been tapped to star in TV streaming service Hulu's adaptation of 11/22/63 by Stephen King. Franco will play Jake Epping, an unassuming high school teacher who travels back in time to kill Lee Harvey Oswald.
King has an executive producer credit for the adaptation, which was optioned by J.J. Abrams' production company and will air as a nine-part "limited series." This is the highest profile original program to date for Hulu, which has yet to have a breakout hit like Netflix's "House of Cards" or "Orange Is the New Black." Though previous adaptations of King's work are definitely hit or miss, they're always high profile, and the hook of 11/22/63 is an attention-grabber. Will you watch it?
Paula Hawkins has something to smile about. Her novel, The Girl on the Train, will top this week's New York Times bestseller list. That's quite a feat for any author, let alone an unknown: This is the first time that a debut novel* has made the #1 spot in its first week on sale since Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian was published in 2005. According to the publishers, Riverhead, more than 300,000 copies are in print, and the book is being sold at unconventional retail outlets, including Urban Outfitters.
We weren't surprised to hear that the unexpected twists and turns of The Girl on the Train got readers buzzing—they definitely had our editors intrigued. In her BookPage interview, Hawkins talked about the difficulty of surprising readers with twists that still manage to function as an "ah-ha" moment.
“It’s all about feeding tiny pieces of information, but hopefully keeping them slightly ambivalent. You have to have different people see different things in different ways, and hold back particular pieces of information,” she explains.
Hawkins is hard at work on another book, although it is quite likely that touring for The Girl on the Train will be keeping her busy for the next several weeks—she'll be appearing at Nashville's own Parnassus Books on February 8.
Have you picked up The Girl on the Train yet?
*Hawkins has published other novels under a pseudonym—we're betting they are on the way to the printers as we speak.
Right off the bat, this debut from British writer Seskis displays impressive control and pacing. Hints are doled out at just the right time, with Seskis' excellent prose keeping her reader's attention.
Emily has run away from her husband and children and started a new life as "Cat." But Seskis isn't so careless as to allow the reader to pass judgement on this abandonment; rather, she jumps back and forth in Emily/Cat's story, as well as in the story of her parents', to reveal what's really going on. One of the first elements of the mystery that readers learn is that Emily/Cat has (had?) a twin, named Caroline, who was wholly unexpected to her pregnant mother:
The doctor tried again. "Congratulations, Mrs. Brown, you're soon to be the mother of twins. You have a second baby to deliver."
"What d'you mean?" she'd screamed. "I've had my bloody baby."
Now she lay there in shock and all she could think was that she didn't want two babies, she only wanted one, she only had one crib, one pram, one set of baby clothes, one life prepared.
Frances was a planner by nature. She didn't like surprises, certainly not ones this momentous, and apart from anything else she felt far too exhausted to give birth again—the first birth may have been quick, but it had been fierce and traumatic and nearly three weeks ahead of schedule. She shut her eyes and wondered when Andrew would arrive. She hadn't been able to get him at his office, he'd been out at a meeting apparently, and once the contractions had quicked to every minute and a half she'd known her only option was to call an ambulance.
So her first baby arrived in a gush of red and a gash of loneliness—and now she was being told to deliver a second and still her husband was absent. Andrew hadn't seemed too keen on having one baby, so God knows what he'd think of this development. She started sobbing, noisy snot-filled gulps that rang through the little hospital.
"Mrs. Brown, will you control yourself!" the midwife said. Frances loathed her, with her mean features and squeaky, grating voice—what was she even doing in this job, she thought bitterly, she'd suck the air out of any situation, even the beauty of birth, like a malevolent pair of bellows.
"Can I see my baby?" Frances said. "I haven't even seen her yet."
"She's being checked. Just concentrate on this one."
"I don't want to concentrate on this one. I want my real baby. Give me my real baby." She was screeching now. The midwife got the gas and air and held it over Frances's face, pressing hard. Frances gagged and finally stopped screaming, and as she quieted the fight went out of her and something in her died, there on that hospital bed.
One Step Too Far goes on sale in a few weeks. Think you'll check it out?
Merry Christmas! Thought today might be a good time to let Stephen King's millions of readers (a group I've been a member of since my tweens) know that the unstoppable, prolific author (seriously, has anyone considered putting King and Joyce Carol Oates in a write-off?) has a new book, Finders Keepers, coming in June 2015. And it stars the same "winning trio" of detectives he introduced in his June 2014 release, Mr. Mercedes.
Another return to theme for King: The novel's antagonist is a "vengeful reader" who is upset that his favorite author, the Salinger-like John Rothstein, is no longer writing books. Shades of Misery, anyone?
Author photo by Sean Leonard.
It's not often that the wife of a Mormon bishop acts as an amateur sleuth in contemporary crime fiction, but Linda Wallheim finds herself wrapped up in a woman's disappearance in The Bishop's Wife, which was inspired by an actual crime and written by practicing Mormon Mette Ivie Harrison. Linda's search leads her to question her church's troubling patriarchal structure and secrecy, and themes such as gender roles, the pressures and expectations of motherhood and the limitations of faith and religion surround the central mystery.
The press conference with the Westons appeared on local television (on Mormon church-owned KSL, of all stations) at noon the next day. The two parents stood together in a picture of marital harmony in front of their local church, which looked much the same as ours. Aaron Weston did most of the speaking, as he had at our house. Kurt was at work, and I was sure he was fielding plenty of calls there, but within minutes of the end of the conference, I had to deal with the frightened women of the ward who suddenly thought Jared Helm was a danger to them.
The truth was, Jared Helm wasn't a danger to anyone, except perhaps his own daughter. The real danger to the women in the ward was the same danger they had faced yesterday and the day before that, and ever since they were married: their own husbands.
What are you reading today?
The year's best mysteries and thrillers took us from 1970s Atlanta to 1880s London, strung us along with flawed detectives and impenetrable cold cases and left us hungry for more. We picked our Top 10 of the year, but we'd love to hear yours! Browse all our Mystery and Suspense coverage here, and share your 2014 favorite in the comments below.
Slaughter's first standalone novel takes readers to 1970s Atlanta, an era she first explored in 2012's Criminal. Veteran patrol officer Maggie Lawson and her new rookie partner Kate Murphy face harassement, sexism and racism from the boys' club police force—all while searching for a serial killer who is targeting cops. Complex characters, the realistic and retro setting and a gripping plot make Cop Town one of Slaughter's best ever.
Read our interview with Slaughter for Cop Town.
"He-said, she-said" thrillers are so popular these days, but Smith left us spinning with this conspiracy-laden tale. When Daniel visits his aging parents in rural Sweden, he discovers a web of distrust that could upend everything he knows about his own life. We love the fantastic, award-winning historical thrillers of Smith's Child 44 series, but this first-person psychological thriller has taken our admiration to the next level.
Read our review of The Farm.
The Salem witch trials continues to fascinate us hundreds of years later—but it's extra creepy to realize people can still fall prey to hysteria. Inspired by the real-life “mass hysteria” outbreak in Le Roy, New York, in 2012, the new novel from Abbott (Dare Me) got under our skin, especially with those disturbing, slightly erotic depictions of the girls' creepy seizures.
Read an essay by Abbott about the story behind The Fever.
Former Chief Inspector Gamache has retired to Three Pines—but there's no such thing as rest for beloved fictional investigators, is there? He steps in to help his neighbor Clara Morrow, whose husband has disappeared after a year away. His quest takes him far from Three Pines and deep into the mind of the missing husband, a tortured artist who may have gone to extreme lengths to recover who he once was. As always, Penny's brilliantly drawn characters are the book's greatest delight.
Little did we know how badly we wanted a new sleuthing team! Kasasian’s debut mystery delivered while walking a fine line between charming, cozy fun and gruesome, gory crime scenes. Set in 1882 London, the first in a new series introduces 21-year-old March Middleton and her guardian, the celebrated and curmudgeonly P.I. Sidney Grice. It's sharp, witty and packed with unforgettable secondary characters.
Read our review of The Mangle Street Murders.
After a five-year hiatus following a near-fatal car accident that resulted in the amputation of part of his right leg, Iles is back, and he brought Penn Cage back, too. Natchez Burning kicked off a new trilogy starring the Southern lawyer and former prosecutor. It's pure Southern noir gold: a little "Breaking Bad," a little "True Detective" and a whole lotta Faulkner. So good.
Ellroy kicks off his second L.A. Quartet—which is actually sort of a prequel to the first Quartet—with this ambitious historical thriller, set on the American homefront of World War II. The plot itself is pretty straightforward—L.A. cops investigate a Japanese-American family's murder that occurred the night before the bombing of Pearl Harbor—but this subversive novel goes beyond its central whodunit. Emotions are running high on the precipice of war, and it's all conveyed brilliantly through alternating character perspectives and Ellroy's classic, punched-up writing style.
Read our review of Perfidia.
Mosley’s impressive 13th Easy Rawlins mystery is packed with all those goodies you'd want in a story set in L.A. during the height of the Vietnam War: hippies, drugs, radical politics, revolutionaries, etc. Because Rawlins is black, L.A. cops think he'll be able to deal with black ex-boxer Uhuru Nolica, who has kidnapped the daughter of a weapons manufacturer. With equal parts social commentary and suspenseful entertainment, Rose Gold stands out as one of the best installments in this excellent series.
Read our review of Rose Gold.
You could call it a classic police procedural, but that wouldn't quite cut it. Sure, you've got your down-and-out detective Frank Parrish, recovering from his partner’s death, wrestling with his father’s legacy and investigating the murders of some petty criminals—but that's just the beginning. Frank's personal demons run bottom-of-the-ocean deep, and the crimes he's investigating are worse than you can imagine. The history of Mob corruption in 1980s NYC is alone worth the price of admission.
The secrets of teenage girls have never been as disturbing as in the newest Dublin Murder Squad mystery. Sixteen-year-old Holly Mackey, a student at a posh girls' school in Ireland, finds a note that reads "I know who killed him," referring to the cold-case murder of a former student at the boys' school next door. Alternating between the voices of the present-day detectives and the teenage schoolgirls pre-murder, this novel is nearly impossible to put down—a cliche, sure, but still true.
Readers, what were your favorite mysteries of 2014? Share in the comments, or vote in our survey for the chance to win 10 great books.
We know who the killer is (or do we?) in the new thriller by Japanese author Nakamura (The Thief), so the question at hand—it would seem—is why. But even that doesn't really sum it up, as this dark and twisty thriller dives to nightmarish depths to explore the ugliest parts of the human mind.
Photographer Yudai Kiharazaka has been sentenced to death for the murders of two women who were incinerated in two fires. After becoming fascinated by one of Kiharazaka's photographs—of black butterflies obscuring a possibly female figure—the story's narrator sets out to write a book about the murders. The story unfolds through letters from Kiharazaka to the narrator and to his sister, and through the narrator's eyes.
When reading Last Winter, We Parted, it feels like I'm exploring the minds of characters in Truman Capote's In Cold Blood or Werner Herzog's documentary Into the Abyss. It's a creepy feeling. An excerpt from one of Kiharazaka's letters:
I would look away from the butterfly. For that instant, the butterfly was no longer mine. Or when I photographed it from the right side, I couldn't capture its left side. That's why you think it would make sense to film it, right? Wrong. What I wanted was a single moment. I Wanted a single moment of that butterfly. Yet for the butterfly, that moment was one of countless moments. And there was no way that I could capture all of them.
I spent entire days clicking the shutter at that butterfly. I must have fallen in love with it. I don't know. I put it in a cage and kept it, but I was in despair over the fact that I could never completely possess the butterfly. Well, actually, it was probably despair about the way that the world itself works. Why, when a "subject" is right in front of us, are we only capable of recognizing, of grasping, that one small part we see? That butterfly was the reason I was hospitalized the first time. I don't remember, but apparently I wouldn't stop taking photos—not even to eat—and when I collapsed, my sister was the one who took care of me. Then I went to the hospital. I was given a psychological diagnosis. Anxiety neurosis, I think it was. In the medical field, I guess they like to be able to put a name to it when people deviate from the norm.
I wonder if I've made myself clear about the fact that I have no interest in butterfly specimens. I don't understand why those guys like to collect and mount them. I mean, they kill their butterflies, thereby preventing any further possibility of their motion. Which means they will never possess the butterflies in their beautiful flight . . . Do you know what I mean?
What are you reading?