Don't you just love a great historical mystery? There's nothing like getting sucked into the terrible secrets hiding in the gaslit streets of Dickensian London, the adventure on the deck of the Lusitania or the deadly truths lurking in the catacombs of 1920s Paris.
For readers who just can't get enough, here are our five favorite historical mysteries of the fall:
Steeped in well-researched literary lore, A Fatal Likeness proposes an alternative history for Frankenstein author Mary Shelley, her volatile husband and renowned poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and their cohorts. Read our review.
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The Bones of Paris takes readers on a deadly journey into the boneyards and catacombs beneath the streets of Paris, sparing us nothing and introducing a killer who dispatches his victims cruelly, without fanfare and without remorse. Read our review.
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In her pitch-perfect sequel to the Edgar-nominated The Gods of Gotham, Lyndsay Faye returns to the 1840s with newly minted “copper star” Timothy Wilde once again hitting the streets as an intuitive investigator, positioned high among the ranks of New York City’s first police force. Read our review.
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Tasha Alexander’s new book, Behind the Shattered Glass, is the eighth in her Lady Emily historical suspense series and one of the more enjoyable books this reviewer has read in some time. Read our review.
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What do you think, readers? Plan to check any of these out?
Pierre Lemaitre’s American debut novel, Alex, is a dark and arresting crime thriller with a classic noir edge. The story sets off with a jolt when Alex Prévost is abducted near her apartment in Paris. She is then transported to a deserted, rat-infested warehouse and inhumanely trapped inside a wooden crate that hangs six feet above the floor. A quick-thinking, yet haunted police investigator, Camille Verhoeven, is assigned to the case, but he doesn’t have much information to work with. He barely even has a full witness account of the kidnapping. Alex’s tormentor is determined to watch her die, but as the clock ticks away, Camille becomes committed to finding her in time, especially as stranger and stranger clues come to light.
The number of twists and turns in Lemaitre’s novel is incredible. As the pages turn, the question is raised: Is Alex truly a damsel in distress—or a femme fatale?
Watch the action-packed trailer below:
Catherine Coulter's new international thriller series kicks off with The Final Cut, a globe-hopping thriller with nonstop action that introduces Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Nicholas Drummond. In his first adventure, Drummond travels to NYC to investigate the murder of Elaine York, the minder of the crown jewels on display at the Met. Then the diamond centerpiece of the exhibit is stolen by an international thief called the Fox, and it's up to Drummond to retrieve the stolen gem before it's too late.
But Coulter wasn't alone in crafting Scotland Yard's newest hero. She collaborated with best-selling author J.T. Ellison, who shares in a guest post (one of my favorites to date!) the process of collaborating with veteran writer Coulter.
A writer’s career is full of moments. Capital M moments. Writing the first line of your first novel. Finishing said work. Getting an agent, then landing a deal. Seeing your book in print for the first time, then on the bookshelf in your favorite store and your local library. That first fan letter. I could go on and on. Trust me, having moments never gets old.
But some moments are bigger than others. Rewind to May 4, 2012. I’d just accepted a three-book deal with Mira books to continue my Samantha Owens series. (I’ve been writing two books a year for Mira since 2006—my debut, All the Pretty Girls, was released in November 2007.) Decent deal, job security, all the things a writer wants from her career. I went into the weekend very, very happy.
On May 7, all hell broke loose, in all the best possible ways. I received a call from my agent who wanted to give me a heads up that Catherine Coulter was about to call me and offer me a job. Cue sheer, unadulterated panic. I knew my name was in the mix for Catherine’s co-writing gig, but so were a lot of others very talented authors, and to be perfectly honest, I didn’t ever imagine she would pick me! As pie-in-the-sky dream jobs go, this one ranked up there. I mean, we're talking about Catherine Coulter! I’ve been a fan of Catherine’s books for years—since I read The Cove, and I especially love Savich and Sherlock—and the idea of working with her on a book both scared and thrilled me. Co-writing is a big decision, for both the writers. I was immediately plagued with worry. What if I wasn’t good enough? What if I was?
Before I could spin myself into a frenzy, the phone rang again. It was Catherine, and all worry was laid to rest. The first thing that struck me was her laugh. She has the most wondrous, wicked sense of humor. She said some very nice things about my writing, and how complimentary our styles were, which turned out to be hugely important down the road, laid out the plan for the books, what she wanted to do, how she wanted to do it, the characters, the series, everything. I was so impressed by how smartly she’d planned all of it. She knew exactly what she wanted, and I knew immediately we were going to have a good time, and I was going to get an education. So I accepted on the spot.
And suddenly had five books under contract over the course of three days. Moments that turn momentous, indeed.
After a fine bit of juggling with my editors and agent, Catherine and I made arrangements for me to fly to California to meet with her, plot out the book and generally get to know one another. Happily, we found out we have so much in common, so many congruous interests and opinions, that a friendship blossomed immediately.
And that friendship got us through the first few months, when we made pretty much every mistake possible. The Final Cut was my 12th novel, but it felt like my first many times as we sailed into uncharted territory of joint creation. As similar as our writing styles and work ethic are, we still had differences, and we needed to get used to those. Which we did, of course, ultimately parlaying our differences in style into the book’s strengths.
My biggest issue was writing in another author’s voice. I found it an incredible challenge. Catherine’s funnier and lighter than me—I’m a naturally dark, introspective writer—so I had to work twice as hard to both draft the story and find her voice. But find it I did, and the book came together quickly after that. There was a moment (see, they crop up everywhere!) toward the end of the first revision of the book when we were on the phone literally writing together, each contributing words to the sentences, and it was sheer magic. Magic I think comes across quite clearly in The Final Cut.
You have to have a lot of faith and trust in your co-writer to do this, and from the moment I met Catherine, I knew I could trust her, and I know she feels the same. She’s a writer’s writer, which I greatly respect. We have a similar work ethic – there’s no nonsense, no prevaricating, we just get down to it every day and make the words flow, and I think that was a big part of our success with The Final Cut. You absolutely can’t have a successful collaboration if you put a Type A writer with a Type B writer. You’d drive each other crazy.
This experience has been incredibly rewarding. One day, when I have 70 or so books under MY belt, I hope to repay the favor by doing the same thing, bringing another writer along for the ride. For now, I know our moment is just beginning. And I can’t wait to see where it leads us.
Thanks, J.T.! Readers, The Final Cut is on sale today!
This fall's publishing season has a lot of abduction thrillers, an especially creepy trend considering the real-life stories of the three women in Ohio who were found this year after being held in captivity for a decade. One of the best of these abduction thrillers is Carla Norton's debut, The Edge of Normal, the story of a former kidnapping victim who uses her experience to help a fellow victim.
Norton is also the author of the true crime bestseller Perfect Victim: The True Story of the Girl in the Box, which details the true story of Colleen Stan, a 20-year-old girl who was kidnapped and tortured in captivity for seven years. Norton's true crime expertise and research into a real kidnapping situation set her apart from most other authors of abduction thrillers, so I hoped a Q&A with Norton would help illuminate the "why" of this trend.
Check out my Q&A with Norton, where we discussed the nature of evil, the process of writing true crime vs. fiction, the exploitation of victims and much more. Norton didn't hold back:
Do you look at the world any differently after writing these books?
I suppose writing about crime heightens your paranoia. And while some of my characters may not like certain legal institutions or members of law enforcement, I have tremendous respect [for] those who give up their time to do their civic duty and those who risk their lives in law enforcement. When a killer comes through your window, who do you call? Who is going to come to help? Seriously, those people face dangers we don’t even want to see on the page.
Also, true confession: I keep a copy of Perfect Victim in my car. When I spot the occasional female hitchhiker, I offer a ride on the condition that she’ll read the book, and then I lecture sternly about the perils of hitchhiking.
It’s often said that a writer must have compassion toward all of their characters, but Duke is a villain of the vilest sort. How were you able to write about a person who will elicit absolutely no empathy from the reader?
This might be the biggest difference between writing fiction and nonfiction. I found Duke very entertaining, so maybe it’s not a question so much of having “compassion” for your characters as it is enjoying some aspect of them. Hannibal Lector would have been repulsive in real life, but he’s fascinating on the page.
While you wouldn’t personally want to spend time with these people, you want to create fearsome villains to drive the story. Character is revealed through conflict, so you want to set your protagonist in opposition to a frightening antagonist—a David-and-Goliath-type dynamic—and that’s what I was aiming for with Reeve and Duke.
Read more here. The Edge of Normal is out today! Will you check it out? Do you read abduction thrillers?
John Rector, author of Already Gone and The Cold Kiss, has started to make quite a name for himself in the suspense genre. Already Gone was nominated last year for an International Thriller Award, and after his novella Lost Things won the 2013 Thriller Award for Best Short Story. In a guest post for BookPage, Rector introduces his newest thriller, Out of the Black, and discusses his climb to writing success.
I was at a convention once where I heard a writer tell a group of people that publishing a novel was similar to what Lewis and Clark must’ve felt when they crossed the Rocky Mountains for the first time. They believed that once they passed that first line of mountains, it would be downhill all the way to the Pacific. But when they got to the top and looked out, all they saw were more mountains, an endless blue stretch fading out toward the horizon.
I don’t think writing a novel is quite the same as the Lewis and Clark expedition, but I understand the analogy.
When you’re a working writer, there is no end goal, only an endless string of peaks and valleys. You climb one, and there’s another one right there waiting for you. All you can do is keep writing, keep moving forward. Scale the peak in front of you and try to survive the desert valley on your way to the next.
This constant struggle isn’t a bad thing. It’s exactly how it should be, but it can be shocking for a lot of newly published writers who, having climbed that first impossible peak, naively believe they’ve arrived.
At least that’s how it was for me.
My first peak came in the spring of 2009 when I got a call from my agent telling me Tor/Forge had made an offer to publish my novel, The Cold Kiss. I’d written one previous novel, The Grove, but it hadn’t sold. Publishers told me that it was too in-between genres, that if chain stores couldn’t figure out where to place it on their shelves, they weren’t going to buy it.
It was disappointing, but I didn’t see any reason to cry about it. What I did instead was write another book, this time with a specific genre in mind. I started working on a bleak, claustrophobic noir tale about a young couple trapped in a roadside motel during a vicious Iowa blizzard.
The Cold Kiss was a suspense novel with heavy noir overtones. When I finished and read through what I’d written, I was worried it would be too dark. Fortunately, that fear was unfounded, and after an excruciatingly long wait, Tor/Forge bought the rights to The Cold Kiss and agreed to publish the book in the U.S.
A few weeks later, Simon & Schuster stepped in and bought the rights, along with The Grove, and a third, unwritten novel, to publish in the U.K.
I was thrilled.
I’d reached that first peak, and for a while things were perfect, but it didn’t take long to realize that the mountain I’d scaled was nothing more than a crowded jumping off point. The real challenge was still ahead.
My focus immediately shifted from getting published to staying published. The problem, as I saw it, was that I had no following, no readers, and a strong aversion to social media and self-promotion. But I also felt that I was coming into the industry at the perfect time. New players and new technology were opening doors for writers that didn’t exist a few years earlier. And while this experimentation made me nervous, all I had to do was look around at the path I was on to see that it was littered with the corpses of talented writers who’d come before me, but who were unable to find an audience. It wasn’t difficult to figure out what my future held if I didn’t try something new.
When I finished my next novel, I turned down a good offer from Tor/Forge and signed a deal with Thomas & Mercer. I’m still with them, and I’ve never looked back.
So far, three of my books have been optioned for film, and my third novel, Already Gone, hit the top ten on the Wall Street Journal bestseller list. Already Gone was also nominated for an International Thriller award in 2012. I didn’t win, but the nomination was a wonderful validation.
I followed Already Gone with a dark, Hitchcock-ian novella called Lost Things. I liked the book, and readers seemed to like it, too, but it was short, and I didn’t expect much.
Then, earlier this year, while working on edits for my new novel, Out of the Black, I got word that Lost Things had been nominated for an International Thriller Award. So, I packed a bag, hopped a plane, and flew to New York. But unlike the year before with Already Gone, this time I won.
The award is nice, beautiful actually, and it looks damn fine on my shelf. It’s my first major award, and the recognition from my peers means more to me than I can say, but I’ve also learned enough to know that when you’re standing on one of your peaks, it’s not the actual awards or book deals or film options that keep you going.
It’s the view.
There are a lot of good things about this job, but the great things only come around once in a while. If you’re a writer standing on the summit of one of your peaks, I can’t stress enough how important it is to take a minute to look around and breathe. Look back at where you started and what you’ve accomplished, then focus on the horizon and what’s coming next. Let the view recharge you, and then get back to work. Keep writing. Keep moving forward. Because there’s always another peak out there, waiting.
And that’s exactly how it should be.
Thanks, John! Out of the Black is out in bookstores today.
Write what you know? Many writers get their inspiration from where they know. Author Reavis Z. Wortham's Red River mysteries are set in a fictionalized version of Chicota, Texas, where he grew up. In a guest post, Wortham talks about the good people of Texas and the flavor of his Texan setting, and gives a preview of the newest book in his series, The Right Side of Wrong.
As my writing career has progressed, I’ve come to realize the setting has become just as much a character as Constable Ned Parker et al. in the Red River mystery series. I didn’t intend for that to happen, but the rural, bordering counties along the river in northeast Texas are alive and well in my memories of the 1960s. My family roots are from that area, and their stories from that time and location are the reason I began this series.
The '60s were a time of change as this country evolved from a primarily rural society to an urban environment. Though the U.S. race to the moon was well underway, a large part of the population still scratched a hard living from the ground. In The Right Side of Wrong, the small community of Center Springs is a microcosm of life and the social and civil changes going on in this country. In addition, this setting is flavored with the speech patterns that define the small community of Center Springs where American Indians, “coloreds,” and the white population struggle to co-exist in a rapidly changing world.
It was the land that defined them.
It was the rural location that encapsulated them.
It was a time between two worlds, as their rural roots withered under the tidal wave of urban change.
My first book in this series set in 1964, The Rock Hole, came about because I wanted to preserve the memory of those coming-of-age years when I was 10. The speech patterns, old words, the simple and changing lifestyle and, of course, the stories told on the porch of that little country store were quickly fading as the old folks passed on.
See, here’s the deal. I believe my mysteries hold the reader’s interest because it’s the land that makes the good, moral characters what they are. Both men and women back then were strong. They stood up for themselves and their neighbors, and they learned the difference between right and wrong from their parents, grandparents, neighbors, and in the tiny clapboard churches that called them to worship every time the doors opened.
In each of my three novels, evil is eliminated when good, honest people cross to the right side of wrong. That’s where Ned Parker comes in. He’s both a farmer and a constable, and a Renaissance man. In a world filled with bigotry and hatred, Ned is simply a decent person who surrounds himself with noble Texans, such as Deputy John Washington, the first “colored” deputy in my fictional Lamar County.
Both of these strong, caring and fair men come from old-fashioned root stock. Big John and Ned are also human, in every sense of the word, and live to defend their community against whatever may come. In their own way, they always try to do the right thing.
Ned, kinfolk Constable Cody Parker and Big John forge strong bonds as this series progresses. In Burrows, John and Cody find themselves trapped in a five story Cotton Exchange warehouse full of garbage. It is a hoarder’s world á la Stephen King. In fact, someone said it was Stephen King meets Harper Lee. To survive their horror and find a serial killer in the monstrous building John and Cody learn to rely on each other without question. It is a bond Ned and John welded years earlier, and now Cody comes into the fold.
In The Right Side of Wrong, Constable Cody Parker follows his main drug smuggler across the Rio Grande into Mexico and is thrown into a prison run by a crooked officer. Ned and John traverse the Lone Star state, and that took some doing back in 1966. When they reach the Rio Grande, a far different artery than their Red River, they find themselves in a radically different culture than their own, but at the same time, they find good people south of the border.
I think you’ll also find the setting in Mexico has also influenced inhabitants of that country, both good and bad. Like those on the Red River, the people who live across the Rio Grande are also defined by the land, but despite the corruption, most mirror their good neighbors to the north.
The land is in the people, it shapes them, and it provides the background for the mysteries in all of us.
Thanks, Reavis! The Right Side of Wrong (Poisoned Pen Press) is out now.
Karin Slaughter's newest thriller featuring GBI (Georgia Bureau of Investigation) detective Will Trent, Unseen, is the type of shocking, relentless thriller that Slaughter's many fans expect. As Trent tries to find crime boss Big Whitey, his lover Sara Linton seeks her stepson's shooter, and the two investigations careen toward one another in one hell of a ride.
We asked Slaughter to share three books she has recently read, and it's clear her tastes in reading are as chilling as her own writing.
I’ve always been drawn to historical fiction, and Burial Rites gives insight into a world completely foreign to me—Iceland during the early 1800s. The story (which is based on true events) follows the last days of a woman sentenced to death for her part in two brutal murders. It’s tense and riveting; as cold and unrelenting as the barren landscape.
By Mo Hayder
I’m not sure what it is about Mo Hayder that I love so much. I think it’s because she seems to visit the same dark places that I explore in my writing; yet, she brings a different perspective that would ever occur to me. Detective Jack Caffery has been in several previous novels, but he seems to have grown up a bit in Poppet. He’s more reflective and cautious, just as you’d expect a real-life detective to be after witnessing the every-day horrors of police work. The crime at the center of Poppet is much more tame than Mo generally fashions, but her trademark turning of the screw still sends shivers down the spine.
By Linda Fairstein
I’m an Alex Cooper fan from way back, and Linda is one of my favorite New York writers. She always manages to find a mysterious, new part of the city to write about. This is her town, and she knows its stories. Death Angel takes place in Central Park, which can be as beautiful as it is dangerous. Linda’s experience as a prosecutor comes full bear in this gripping chase to stop a serial killer. It’s always thrilling to see what she’s going to come up with next.
Be sure to check out all our Private Eye July coverage!
Readers love espionage mysteries for their glamour and intrigue, their far-flung adventures and impossibly cool heroes and heroines—and also for the illusion that we actually know what spies are up to.
While the genre has adapted with global changes, moving from Cold War subterfuge to terrorist plots and technology, there's something classic about espionage thrillers that involve either MI5 or MI6—probably because James Bond will always be the spy.
Don't know the difference? MI5 works in counter-espionage within the UK, preventing the leaking of secrets. MI6 runs covert operations abroad, stealing other governments' secrets. Combined, the two super-sneaky British intelligence agencies have inspired some of our favorite fictional spies. Read on to meet them.
George Smiley from John le Carré
Smiley, an MI6 (called "the Circus" here) operative, appeared in le Carré favorites such as Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Often called the "anti-Bond," Smiley is a quiet, poorly dressed, disciplined spy who lives less by the gun at his hip and more by his own wits.
Will Cochrane from Matthew Dunn
Reading novels by actual former agents always feels like the author should sleep with one eye open—isn't there a billionaire villain somewhere with a score to settle? Dunn, a former field operative for MI6, turned to fiction with his Spycatcher series and introduced us to globe-trotting master spy Will Cochrane.
Thomas Kell in Charles Cumming's A Foreign Country
All the setup for a first-class spy novel: "a world-weary protagonist; exotic locales (Tunisia and the Sinai, among others); a plot featuring intrigues within intrigues; and a bunch of good guys who might be bad guys (and vice versa)." What else could you want?
Serena Frome in Ian McEwan's Sweet Tooth
McEwan pokes a little fun at the spy game with his most recent novel. Serena Frome is a young Cambridge grad who works at MI5 in the "Sweet Tooth" program, surreptitiously encouraging writers to produce anti-Soviet fiction, only to fall in love with her assignment, novelist Tom Haley. (Oh, and it's our Top Pick for Book Clubs this month!)
Maggie Hope from Susan Elia MacNeal
MI5 secret agent Maggie Hope started out in the steno pool, but her cleverness and talent for code-breaking makes her one of wartime Britain's most powerful weapons. Maggie's adventures unraveling plots and sneaking behind enemy lines during WWII make for a fun read.
Readers: Do you have a favorite MI5 or MI6 spy?
Throughout Private Eye July, the editors of BookPage share some of their favorite mysteries and thrillers.
Lisa Gardner’s most recent Detective D.D. Warren novel is one that still has me looking around corners a year later. After three days, I found myself with a sink full of dirty dishes as Gardner’s Catch Me delivers a twisted thriller that completely immerses readers in the streets of Boston. Intertwining cases and an unreliable narrator left me stumbling and clueless until the very end.
Charlene Grant is convinced she is going to be killed in four days, and she wants Detective D.D. Warren to investigate her murder. Charlene’s two best friends were both murdered a year apart on January 21, and she believes her murder will be next. As D.D. investigates, she begins to search Charlene’s past and finds more questions than answers.
See what else is going on during Private Eye July!
Save Yourself by Kelly Braffet
Crown • $25 • ISBN 9780385347341
On sale August 6, 2013
Kelly Braffet's third novel unfolds through the dual perspectives of Patrick Cusimano and Verna Elshere, both solitary figures trying to find their place in the world. Both have their families to thank for their outcast status: Patrick's father's hit and run has left the entire community wary of all the Cusimanos, and Verna's goth sister and fundamentalist parents make starting high school a nightmare. In their individual searches for solace—Patrick in his brother's girlfriend, Verna in her older sister's "freak" friends—they head down a dark road where disaster is inevitable.
For the first half of Save Yourself, Braffet compassionately but honestly portrays engaging, confused characters in light, uncluttered prose. But a sharp turn keeps this from being a simple meditation on grief. This is a probing and emotional read that does not rest easy.
Read on for an excerpt from Patrick's opening:
It had been Patrick, after too much of this, who went to the garage and saw the dented bumper; Patrick who smelled the hot gasoline-and-copper tang in the air; Patrick who stared for a long time at the wetness that looked like blood before reaching out to touch it and determine that, yes, it was blood. Patrick who realized that the tiny white thing lodged in the grille wasn't gravel but a tooth, too small to have come from an adult mouth. It had been Patrick who had realized that somebody somewhere was dead.
Up until that point, there were two things that Patrick could count on to be true: the old man was a drunk, and the old man screwed up. And as far as Patrick was concerned, the first priority was fixing it. When he worked the morning shift at the warehouse you woke up before he did so you could make the coffee and get him out the door. When he passed out on the couch you took the cigarette from his limp fingers. When he ranted—about the government that wanted to take his money, about the Chinese that wanted to take his job, about the birth control pills that had given Patrick's mother cancer and killed her—you kept your cool and had a beer yourself, and you tried to sneak away all the throwable objects so that in the morning there'd be glasses to drink from and a TV that didn't have a boot thrown through the screen. You took evasive action. You headed disaster off at the pass. You made it better. You fixed it.
Staring at the bloody car, Patrick thought, wearily, I can't fix this.
Inside, Mike, his eyes wide with panic, said, No, little brother, hang tight, we can figure this out. Just wait. Even though there was nothing to figure out. All through that night into the gray light of dawn and on until the shadows disappeared in the midday sun, the three of them hunkered down in the living room, the old man sniveling and stuttering and saying things like Jesus, I wish I still had my gun, I ought to just go ahead and kill myself, and Mike—who would not even got into the garage, who point-blank refused—trying to force the reality of the situation into some less horrible shape. The longer they sat, the more it felt like debating the best way to through themselves under a train. Patrick, it seemed, was the only one who realized that there was no best way. You just jumped. That was all. You jumped.
Will you check this one out? What are you reading during Private Eye July?