Alafair Burke's new stand-alone thriller, If You Were Here, finds crime reporter McKenna Jordan investigating a mysterious heroine who clearly wants to keep her identity a secret. The unknown woman saved a boy from an oncoming train—and then vanished. However, the woman's face, caught in a brief snippet of video, resembles McKenna's former best friend—and McKenna just can't let a mystery like that go.
Many fans love Burke for her Samantha Kincaid and Ellie Hatcher series, so we wanted to know what makes McKenna Jordan stand out. Burke's answer, plus some fascinating insight into the real world of criminal investigation, can be found in our 7 questions interview:
"McKenna, in contrast, endures more trauma and drama than most people experience in a lifetime, which allows her to make enormous discoveries about herself in one little book. She's also incredibly tenacious, for better or for worse."
Reddish blond hair pulled into a ponytail at the nape of her neck. Long-sleeved white sweater, backpack straps looped over both shoulders. Despite the train's lurch, she typed with two hands, stabilizing herself against the bounce with her core strength.
Maybe that should have been a sign.
He stepped one foot into the car, grabbed the phone, and pivoted a one-eighty, like he had 50 times before. He pushed through the clump of angry riders who had followed him into the car and now stood before him, all hoping to secure a few square feet on the crowded train before the doors closed.
Had he known what would happen next, maybe he would have run faster for the staircase.
It wasn't until he hit the top of the landing that he realized he had a problem. Somehow he heard it. Not the sound of the shoes but the sound of surprised bystanders reacting.
What the . . .
You lost your shoe, lady!
Oh my God, David. We have to leave the city.
Nicky sneaked a glance behind him to see the woman kicking off her remaining ballet flat as she took two steps at a time in pursuit. She had looked sort of average middle-aged through the subway doors, but now she had a crazy look of determination on her face. In her eyes. In the energy of her forearms as they whipped back and forth at her sides.
Stay tuned for lots of mystery coverage throughout Private Eye July!
Throughout Private Eye July, the editors of BookPage share some of their favorite mysteries and thrillers.
Jonathan Lethem's debut novel, Gun, With Occasional Music, is a book that just can't sit still: It's a cross between noir (with classic, crackling dialogue to match), sci-fi and a dystopian trip, and I'd recommend reading it twice to get it all straight. Follow it with Lethem's fifth novel, Motherless Brooklyn, another of my favorites, for a look at how Lethem's detective novels have evolved.
Detective Conrad Metcalf lives in a near-future California where genetically engineered, talking "evolved" animals (kangaroos, rabbits . . .) are accepted members of society. The government is of typical 1984 fare, passing out drugs and monitoring citizens' activities. When a doctor turns up dead, Metcalf is dragged in over his head and faces threats from the government and gangsters alike.
See what else is going on during Private Eye July!
Meg Gardiner's new novel, The Shadow Tracer, is an explosive thriller about Sarah Keller, a single mom and a skip tracer. But what is a skip tracer, anyway? We asked Gardiner to share some insight on skip tracers and introduce readers to the heroine at the heart of her gripping new book.
Sarah Keller is a skip tracer. She hunts down bail jumpers, debt dodgers and people evading arrest. She searches for people who can’t be seen directly, because they avoid the light. But they cast shadows. And that’s what Sarah traces.
To penetrate those shadows, she has become a chameleon. A skip tracer, she says, is a hunter, a manipulator and a professional liar. But Sarah’s more than that. She’s a guardian.
Sarah is mother to 5-year-old Zoe. The little girl came unexpectedly into her life, and Sarah has rebuilt her world around protecting her. That’s how she ends up in Oklahoma City, trying to be a good mom while chasing down deadbeats and criminals. She has become a skip tracer to learn every trick about staying off the grid—not just to catch people on the run, but to train for the day she might have to run herself.
Disappearing is hard to do these days. Going dark in the age of Facebook and PRISM takes smarts, luck and incredible discipline.
That’s what Sarah Keller needs, because she has her own secret, and if it’s exposed, Zoe will be in danger. And that’s just what happens. An accident reveals Zoe’s whereabouts, and sets some scary opponents on her trail.
With their cover blown, Sarah takes Zoe on the run across the Southwest. She scrambles for safety with only her wits, her skip tracing skills and her meager savings to rely on. She’s backed up—maybe—by a U.S. Marshal and a nun. She’s up against the FBI and a criminal clan that wants to grab Zoe for their own purposes.
It’s a chase, a game of hide and seek, with a little girl’s life at stake. And at bottom Sarah is fighting to keep Zoe from being grabbed by her father’s family. The clan will do anything to get hold of Zoe. Sarah’s every brave and desperate move is designed to save Zoe from them.
Sarah considers herself half shepherd, watching over Zoe, and half wolf, running down rogues. But when push comes to shove, Sarah’s a hero. She’ll have to be, if she’s going to survive.
Thanks, Meg! The Shadow Tracer is out now! Readers, will you check this one out?
Stay tuned for many more guest posts from mystery and thriller authors throughout Private Eye July!
Joyland by Stephen King
Hard Case Crime • $12.95
This paperback original from from the author of some of the creepiest books every written finds Devin Jones, a likeable, heartbroken college kid, as he takes a summer job at Joyland, an amusement park with a haunted Horror House and a bloody history.
Sure, you've got your spooks and your murder, but Joyland is lovely for its depiction of the dissolution of young love and the boy who surfaces on the other side. Read on for an excerpt from Devin's first day of work at Joyland:
We did as we were told, and an old man emerged from the wings, walking with the careful, high-stepping strides of someone with bad hips, or bad back, or both. He was tall and amazingly thing, dressed in a black suit that made him look more like an undertaker than a man who owned an amusement park. His face was long, pale, covered with bumps and moles. Shaving must have been a torture for him, but he had a clean one. Ebony hair that had surely come out of a bottle was swept back from his deeply lined brow. He stood beside the podium, his enormous hands—they seemed to be nothing but knuckles—clasped before him. His eyes were set deep in pouched sockets.
Age looked at youth, and youth's applause first weekend, then died.
I'm not sure what we expected; possibly a mournful foghorn voice telling us that the Red Death would soon hold sway over all. Then he smiled, and it lit him up like a jukebox. You could almost hear a sigh of relief rustle through the summer hires.
Have you checked out the newest from King? If you haven't, you can enter to win it in this week's book giveaway!
It's all murder and mayhem for the next four weeks as BookPage celebrates its first-ever Private Eye July! There's plenty to look forward to, but the best way to enjoy a month of thrillers, smoking guns and literary misdeeds is by reading!
But what to read? That's the thing about mysteries—there's something for everybody, so we're kicking off Private Eye July with the ultimate summer reading selection guide for mysteries and thrillers:
For fans of police procedurals: The Summer of Dead Toys by Antonio Hill
Don't you just love a troubled cop? Head to the sunny streets of Barcelona, where Inspector Hector Salgado has just returned from a leave of probation. His first case back is a big one, as a young man's "suicide" quickly unravels the secrets of Barcelona's high society.
For fans of tough female protagonists: Loyalty by Ingrid Thoft
Fina is the black sheep of her Corleone-esque family, as she went the P.I. route rather than join the family law biz, and she rocks the male-dominated world of Loyalty. When her brother's wife disappears and the cops start circling, Fina's talents are called in, and her digging reveals a little more than just family drama.
For fans of espionage thrillers: Masaryk Station by David Downing
In the last book in his series, double agent John Russell walks the line between American and Soviet intelligence. Rising Cold War tension makes this one a real page-turner, but Whodunit columnist Bruce Tierney recommends starting this series from the beginning with Zoo Station and enjoying the whole ride.
For fans of historical mysteries: The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian
In 1943, the noble Italian Rosati family live safely in their ancient villa—until two soldiers arrive and disrupt their illusion of peace. In 1955, Investigator Serafina Bettini has been assigned to the case of a serial killer targeting the Rosatis, a case that traces back to questions of Nazi collaboration. This is a tale of exceptional suspense set in an idyllic historical setting.
For fans of literary mysteries: Visitation Street by Ivy Pochoda
One night in the gritty Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, two girls take a raft out into the bay, but only one returns. In this urban mystery, the girl's disappearance touches the lives of so many of the complex, solitary characters that reside in Red Hook.
For fans of domestic thrillers: Close My Eyes by Sophie McKenzie
Geniver Loxley never stopped mourning her stillborn daughter Beth. When a stranger knocks on her door and tells her that Beth was born healthy and was stolen away, Gen begins to hunt for the truth—but her husband seems oddly reluctant to join the search.
For fans of techno-thrillers: The Abomination by Jonathan Holt
The first book in the Carnivia trilogy reveals two Venices: one, the real beloved city; the other, an online replica. When a woman is found dead, dressed in the robes of a Catholic priest, Captain Kat Tapo begins an investigation into the Church, the CIA and the streets of Venice—both real and virtual.
For fans of psychological suspense: Until She Comes Home by Lori Roy
Family secrets and suburban facades crumble in 1958 Detroit when the neighbors of Alder Avenue suspect that the disappearance of mentally disabled Elizabeth may be connected to the death of a black woman at the factory. The men begin a search and the women keep their secrets to themselves.
For readers who love a little humor with their murder: The Fame Thief by Timothy Hallinan
Junior Bender, a P.I. and former burglar, is hired by Irwin Dressler, a movie king and former mob boss, to solve a Hollywood cold case. Flashbacks to old Hollywood, a dead starlet and hilarious writing? Yes, please.
For fans of romantic suspense: The Loner by Lindsay McKenna
When two escaped convicts target Deputy Sheriff Shelby Kincaid, former Navy SEAL Dakota Carson finally has a reason to leave the seclusion of his isolated cabin in the Tetons. Dakota, haunted and suffering from PTSD, will stop at nothing to protect the woman he loves.
For fans of hardboiled crime fiction (or readers who don't worry about what they read in public): Never F__k Up by Jans Lapidus
Sweden’s best-selling crime novelist knows how to keep us on our toes. The raw, energetic second installment of his Stockholm Noir Trilogy finds three men drawn together when a murder leads them down to the Stockholm underworld.
For fans of supernatural thrillers: The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes?
A time-traveling serial killer finds his victims through a portal in a dilapidated House in Depression-era Chicago. Kirby Mazrachi is the only girl to ever survive one of his attacks, and now she's on his trail to discover his secret—and seek retribution.
For fans of detective fiction: Unseen by Karin Slaughter
Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent Will Trent is undercover, seeking out the identity of Big Whitey in Macon, Georgia. Sara, Will's love, is cut off from him, so she has no idea what she's getting herself into when she starts investigating the shooting of her stepson. The two storylines collide with brilliant effects.
How are you celebrating Private Eye July? Plan to check any of these out?
List not long enough for you? No worries—stay tuned for lots of mystery and thriller coverage throughout the month of July.
Welcome to BookPage's inaugural Private Eye July! Join us throughout the next month as we celebrate the darkest side of fiction—all the murky motives, sadistic serial killers and sweet little neighborhoods with all their many secrets. It's a veritable murder extravaganza, with readers curled in their chairs as the good guys and bad guys figure it out among themselves. Every single day throughout the month of July promises exciting mystery features!
Just a small preview of what you can look forward to:
Get excited, crime fiction fans!