Mysteries and thrillers to keep you guessing

Image: Pixabay

I read some good mysteries and thrillers this year, some debuts and others by established authors. Great for seasoned readers of this genre and everyone in between! Take a look:


Back of Beyond by C. J. Box

Tense murder mystery set in Yellowstone National Park, with a suspended investigator on the heels of a wildnerness adventure tour, sure his son is in danger.


Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke

A conflicted Texas Ranger is in hot water with the force for helping out a family friend facing murder charges. Forced to turn in his badge, he goes rogue with a new investigation.


A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd

Entertaining historical mystery, set in England during World War I. The first book of the Bess Crawford Mysteries, introducing Bess as a highly skilled young nurse aboard the doomed HMHS Britannic.


The Escape Room by Megan Goldin

When Vincent deVries of Stanhope & Sons summons his Wall Street investment banker team to a compulsory meeting, the last thing they expect is to be trapped in an elevator, meant to be the setting for an escape room activity.


Frog Music by Emma Donoghue

Fictionalized account of the 1876 murder of Jenny Bonnet, an enigmatic free spirit in San Francisco, who dressed like a man and earned a living catching frogs for restaurants.


The Glass Room by Ann Cleeves

Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope has another crime to solve when her neighbor, Joanna Tobin, goes missing and an influential professor is murdered. Could Joanna, who is off her meds, be responsible for the professor’s death?


Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

Debut novel and a mystery/courtroom drama in which a young mother stands trial for the murder of her 8-year-old autistic son.


The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

Alicia Berenson does something strange after she kills her husband. She stops talking. The only clue to explain her actions is a self-portrait, painted a few days after the murder.


Those People by Louise Candlish

On the problem of despicable neighbors, here’s a new book about a couple that moves into an idyllic and award-winning neighborhood in South London and drives the families to desperation.


What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman

It’s 1975 when two sisters disappear from a busy mall outside Baltimore, Maryland. They separate at the mall and never come home. Thirty years later, a mysterious woman returns and claims to be one of the missing girls.


Did you read any good mysteries or thrillers this year?

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Coffin Road by Peter May

Coffin Road
by
Peter May

Rating:

(and a half)

When a man washes ashore the Isle of Harris and a fellow islander asks what happened, he remembers and recognizes nothing. His only clue is a map in his pocket with a highlighted line up the island’s Coffin Road.

His neighbors know him as Neal Maclean, an author who is writing a book about the mysterious 1900 disappearance of three lighthouse keepers on one of the Flannan Islands. In conversations, Neal plays along, reluctant to admit he knows nothing and hoping his memory will soon return.

It isn’t easy to pretend, however, and after searching through his house, looking for anything to jog his memory, he comes up short. And it isn’t long before his life is in obvious danger. What is up on Coffin Road and what does it have to do with Neal?

In a fast-moving atmospheric mystery set in Scotland’s spectacular Outer Hebrides, where landscape, sky and winds contribute to the story’s mood and effect, Neal rushes to find answers to his ever-increasing list of questions. When a body is discovered on one of the Flannan Islands, he soon becomes entangled in a murder investigation. Is there a connection too, to the unsolved Flannan Island mystery from years ago? (For more about the Flannan Island lighthouse keepers, check out the movie The Vanishing, an excellent psychological thriller.)

Meanwhile in Edinburgh, Karen is a rebellious seventeen-year-old, angry at the world and trying to understand her father’s suicide. Her mother is moving on, but something isn’t right and Karen is determined to understand why.

I’ll stop here in describing the plot, because any more would give away too much, but readers should get ready for a much broader story, with global conspiracies and clandestine efforts that point to an environmental disaster.

I enjoyed this standalone novel from 2016 by Peter May, who is a former script writer and editor for British television. I read and liked The Lewis Trilogy (The Blackhouse, The Lewis Man, and The Chessmen) and was excited to read Coffin Road. I always like a good memory loss story, so Neal Maclean’s mysterious circumstances fit the bill.

A bit formulaic and with a couple incongruous situations, particularly at the end and regarding Karen’s plot line, I didn’t think this was as good as The Lewis Trilogy. A few typos and a grammar mistake (the old “I” instead of “me” no-no) took a little bit away. I don’t think this is the same publisher as his other books, so maybe it’s related to that. In addition, the environmental story line and implications were interesting, but I didn’t think they fit well into Neal’s mystery. But it was a fun read, always good during a busy time, and I’m looking forward to reading other books by May.

If you’re interested in The Lewis Trilogy, check out my reviews here:

The Blackhouse
The Lewis Man
The Chessmen

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The Passengers by John Marrs

The Passengers
by
John Marrs

Rating:

When eight self-driving cars suddenly change course, counter to their pre-programmed destinations, their passengers don’t know what to think. Soon, they are told that “it is highly likely” they will be dead in two and a half hours: their cars are set to meet in a fiery crash.

What to do? They have no control. No steering wheels, no brakes. They can’t open the windows or doors and their Internet has been hacked. Cell service is out and their only communication is with the hacker.

Meanwhile, Claire Arden has been called for jury duty, of sorts. She’s the only civilian member of the Vehicle Inquest Jury, formed to decide who’s at fault in a fatal crash involving driverless cars. “Either man or machine is to blame, and you will decide,” she is told. As the debate unfolds, the jury is suddenly alerted to the situation on the roads, which has gone wild, first on social media and quickly picked up by all news organizations. Camera feeds from each car reveal the hostages inside, and their images are plastered for the world to see, and comment on, of course. And it isn’t long until the jury is charged with a new task, an impossible decision.

Set in London, sometime in the near future, citizens are living in the time of a Road Revolution, in which there will be a ban on non-autonomous vehicles within ten years. But there is something more sinister going on, slowly revealed as the story develops.

In addition to his commentary on social media and the overreaching role of government (for this is a dystopian story), Marrs covers many themes, including religion, racism, mental health, sexuality, marriage and parenthood.

Although far-fetched and a little preachy, I enjoyed the original and modern premise of The Passengers. Marrs writes a fast-paced story, matching the frantic efforts to avert disaster. There are many shocks and several interesting sub-plots, including a possible romance, which kept me interested in the story’s outcome. Characters are slightly one-dimensional and stereotypical, however, and Marrs seems to include one from every category. The finish is wild and implausible, but maybe that’s part of the genre. All-in-all, I enjoyed reading The Passengers, which is an easy read and escape when the rest of your life is busy.

While I thought it was a pretty good read, lots of book bloggers loved The Passengers, so be sure to also check out these selected reviews.

The BiblioSanctum
Book Reviews | Jack’s Bedtime Reading
Dee’s Rad Reads and Reviews
Diary of a Book Fiend
Stephen Writes

Have you read The Passengers? Leave a comment and tell me what you thought.

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Books with commanding titles – a new trend?

Nobody Move. Do Not Become Alarmed. Find Me. Give Me Your Hand. You Don’t Know Me. Forget You Know Me. Don’t worry, I’m not ordering you around – these are book titles!

I like thinking about book publishing trends and how important covers and titles are in grabbing the reader. I don’t about you, but these commanding titles certainly make me want to read what’s inside! Some of these books are new this year, one is from 2017 and one is due out next year.

Here’s a quick description of each (all from Goodreads):


Nobody Move by Philip Elliott (2019)

“Eddie Vegas made a terrible mistake. Now he has to pay the price. After a botched debt collection turned double murder, Eddie splits, desperate to avoid his employer, notorious L.A. crime boss Saul Benedict, and his men (and Eddie’s ex-partners), Floyd and Sawyer, as well as the police. Soon he becomes entangled with the clever and beautiful Dakota, a Native American woman fresh in the City of Angels to find her missing friend—someone Eddie might know something about. Meanwhile in Texas, ex-assassin Rufus, seeking vengeance for his murdered brother, takes up his beloved daggers one final time and begins the long drive to L.A. When the bodies begin to mount, Detective Alison Lockley’s hunt for the killers becomes increasingly urgent. As paths cross, confusion ensues, and no one’s entirely sure who’s after who. But one thing is clear: They’re not all getting out of this alive.”


Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy (2017)

“When Liv and Nora decide to take their families on a holiday cruise, everyone is thrilled. The ship’s comforts and possibilities seem infinite. The children – two eleven-year-olds, an eight-year-old, and a six-year-old—love the nonstop buffet and the independence they have at the Kids’ Club. But when they all go ashore in beautiful Central America, a series of minor misfortunes leads the families farther and farther from the ship’s safety. One minute the children are there, and the next they’re gone.

What follows is a riveting, revealing story told from the perspectives of the adults and the children, as the once-happy parents – now turning on one another and blaming themselves – try to recover their children and their lives.”


Find Me by André Aciman (2019)

“A follow-up to Aciman’s 2007 Call Me by Your Name. In Find Me, Aciman shows us Elio’s father, Samuel, on a trip from Florence to Rome to visit Elio, who has become a gifted classical pianist. A chance encounter on the train with a beautiful young woman upends Sami’s plans and changes his life forever.

Elio soon moves to Paris, where he, too, has a consequential affair, while Oliver, now a New England college professor with a family, suddenly finds himself contemplating a return trip across the Atlantic.

Aciman is a master of sensibility, of the intimate details and the emotional nuances that are the substance of passion. Find Me brings us back inside the magic circle of one of our greatest contemporary romances to ask if, in fact, true love ever dies.”


Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott (2018)

“You told each other everything. Then she told you too much.

Kit has risen to the top of her profession and is on the brink of achieving everything she wanted. She hasn’t let anything stop her.

But now someone else is standing in her way – Diane. Best friends at seventeen, their shared ambition made them inseparable. Until the day Diane told Kit her secret – the worst thing she’d ever done, the worst thing Kit could imagine – and it blew their friendship apart.

Kit is still the only person who knows what Diane did. And now Diane knows something about Kit that could destroy everything she’s worked so hard for.

How far would Kit go, to make the hard work, the sacrifice, worth it in the end? What wouldn’t she give up? Diane thinks Kit is just like her. Maybe she’s right. Ambition: it’s in the blood . . .”


You Don’t Know Me by Sara Foster (2020)

“Lizzie Burdett was eighteen when she vanished, and Noah Carruso has never forgotten her. She was his first crush, his unrequited love. She was also his brother’s girlfriend.

Tom Carruso hasn’t been home in over a decade. He left soon after Lizzie disappeared, under a darkening cloud of suspicion, and now he’s back for the inquest into Lizzie’s death – intent on telling his side of the story.

As the inquest looms, Noah meets Alice Pryce on holiday. They fall for each other fast and hard, but Noah can’t bear to tell Alice his deepest fears. And Alice is equally stricken – she carries a terrible secret of her own.

Is the truth worth telling if it will destroy everything?”


Forget You Know Me by Jessica Strawser (2019)

“When a video call between friends captures a shocking incident no one was supposed to see, the secrets it exposes threaten to change their lives forever.

Molly and Liza have always been enviably close. Even after Molly married Daniel, the couple considered Liza an honorary family member. But after Liza moved away, things grew more strained than anyone wanted to admit—in the friendship and the marriage.

When Daniel goes away on business, Molly and Liza plan to reconnect with a nice long video chat after the kids are in bed. But then Molly leaves the room to check on a crying child.

What Liza sees next will change everything.”


I like books that are about relationships and hint at secrets and suspense. There’s some of that in all of these books and I know I’ll be putting them  on my ever-growing list. Have you read any of them? Are any on your list?

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Fool Me Once by Harlan Coben

Fool Me Once
by
Harlan Coben

Rating:

Here’s a fast and easy-to-read mystery/thriller about a tough-acting female veteran who is battling Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from tours in the Middle East and is caught in a twisted story of power, corruption and murder.

As an army helicopter pilot in Iraq, Maya Stern Burkett always made smart, calculated decisions, until one went horribly bad. Now she’s back in New York, trying to keep it together, but she has a lot of problems. Her sister, Claire is dead and she’s just buried her husband, Joe, the victim of a Central Park shooting. On top of that, debilitating nightmares about her final mission wreak havoc on her mental state. Maya’s only comfort is her two-year-old daughter, Lily.

As Joe’s widow in the ultra-wealthy and powerful Burkett family, Maya’s position has changed. She hadn’t questioned their involvement in Burkett family controlling decisions, including hiring Isabella as a nanny. But her suspicions rise when a disturbing image appears on the nanny cam.

Police are also investigating the murders and wonder if they are connected, while Maya digs in rogue style, always packing a concealed weapon. This mystery is full of slowly revealed secrets, some from happenings at Joe’s elite Main Line prep school outside of Philadelphia. It’s not sorted out until a showdown in the final pages, keeping true to the genre.

While Fool Me Once is not a heavy read, Coben explores serious issues, including the jarring difference between serving in the military and returning home to a normal life. He raises questions about how best to treat PTSD and other mental illnesses, noting that these are not things a person can just “shake off.” In addition, through Maya’s character, a serious gun-lover, he explores the hotly-debated subject of Second Amendment rights.

Coben introduces many suspicious side characters to the story, making it hard to guess where the plot will go. I like this technique because it gives the reader a lot to think about. Coben’s books are normally set in the New York and New Jersey and, having grown up in that area, I enjoy the references to towns and places I know. He also throws little nuggets of local knowledge into his stories, like where the good malls are, and I like this humor.

I thought Fool Me Once was entertaining, but in the end, just okay, due to many unbelievable plot developments. The movie is also in the works, starring Julia Roberts. I would recommend it as a good book to read on an airplane or on vacation or as a light read when you’re curled up on a couch. This is my fourth standalone Coben book. He also writes the Myron and Mickey Bolitar series, which I have not read. I still enjoy Coben as an author and will likely read more.

Have you read any books by Harlan Coben? Have you read his series? Leave a comment and check out these Harlan Coben reviews:

Caught
Run Away
Tell No One

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Two Nights by Kathy Reichs

Two Nights
by
Kathy Reichs

Rating:

Sunnie Night has retreated to a solitary life. After a violent altercation, she has voluntarily stepped down from her military cop job. Nursing a damaged eye and a deeply scarred past, Sunnie lives on the isolated Goat Island off the coast of South Carolina. Her only companion is a pet squirrel named Bob.

But her foster father, Beau has been keeping an eye on Sunnie and he pays her a visit with information of an investigative job he’s sure will help her escape the past.

The case involves a bombing of a Jewish school in Chicago. Opaline Drucker’s daughter and grandson were killed in the bombing and her granddaughter, Stella, is missing. Chicago police investigated for a year, with no solid leads. With a fat stipend, Sunnie heads out to see what she can find.

With an attitude that cuts through steel, Sunnie is an ace investigator with an uncanny instinct and she knows how to handle the bad guys. But she’s not as good dealing with colleagues and superiors who don’t appreciate her sarcasm and attitude. While painful memories often get in the way of her decisions, her sharp instinct saves her from many dangerous encounters. Needing extra support, she calls on her twin brother, Gus to help solve the case. Gus knows what he’s doing and he may be the only person who completely understands Sunnie.

The investigation soon uncovers a religious cult, determined to exact revenge on anything related to Islam. Sunnie is sure they have kidnapped Stella. She won’t stop until she finds her and brings closure to her own similar history.

I enjoyed reading this fast story, but in the end I thought it was just okay, with unremarkable characters. I also found it hard to follow the clipped dialogue and felt that many of the scenes and clues were unrealistic. Maybe that’s the case with the first book of a likely series.

Kathy Reichs is best known for her Temperance Brennan series. Her heroine, Brennan, is also portrayed in the popular Fox TV show “Bones.” Reader comments and reviews say this series is excellent and very different from Two Nights.

Have you read any books by Kathy Reichs? Have you watched “Bones?”

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The Escape Room by Megan Goldin

The Escape Room
by
Megan Goldin

Rating:

When Vincent deVries of Stanhope & Sons summons his Wall Street investment banker team to a compulsory meeting, the last thing they expect is an escape room activity in an elevator. They grudgingly put their plans on hold. Sam has missed his flight to Antigua and his wife is livid. Sylvie might still make her flight to Paris to meet her boyfriend, but she hasn’t packed. And Jules has downed a couple whiskeys on his way over. The group has intense, cutthroat relationships with each other and there are rumors of looming layoffs. Each knows they can’t afford to miss the meeting, which by the way is in an unfinished office building. Even Vincent, their boss, is unsure who really called them together.

In a locked and stalled elevator, the group goes to work on the cryptic clues, encouraged as they advance to the next levels. But soon they suspect they are trapped and begin to turn on each other. As time passes, dynamics between Vincent’s team deteriorate, leading to shocking power plays. What kind of life or death exercise is this?

In alternating chapters, we meet Sara Hall, a former Stanhope banker, who tells of joining Vincent’s team and enduring the grueling hours and impossible deadlines that are part of the ultra-competitive banking scene. Sara’s story advances as the elevator exercise deteriorates, and the reader must wait for the big reveal.

I enjoyed this modern and original setting that uses a tried and true dynamic – forcing people who hate each other into dangerous and confined situations and seeing what happens. I’ve always been a reader who likes to simply go along for the ride, instead of working out the angles, and I like how the conflicts between Sylvie, Jules, Sam and Vincent develop. I think the author does a great job showing how Vincent continues to try to lead the group, despite the hatred between its members.

Although the finish was a little far-fetched, I was otherwise satisfied with how the author tied up the loose ends and I liked reading about the double-edged flash and glamour of the investment banking world. I recommend The Escape Room to readers who like mysteries and thrillers in which characters are pushed to the extreme.

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Those People by Louise Candlish

Those People
by
Louise Candlish

Rating:

On the problem of despicable neighbors, here’s a new book about a couple that moves into an idyllic and award-winning neighborhood in South London and drives the families to desperation. Straight away, Darren and Jodie annoy the neighbors with dramatic home renovations in a style that doesn’t fit their picture-perfect street. Darren hacks away at walls and uses loud power tools and construction equipment, but that’s only the beginning. The couple also runs a used car business out of their driveway, and the unsightly vehicles soon take up spaces on the street. Tension grows when Darren refuses to move the cars for the street’s weekly Play Out Sunday, when neighbors clear the street of cars and traffic in order to let their children play safely. At night, even louder music and partying keeps the neighborhood awake, especially their direct neighbors, Ant and Em Kendall and their brand new baby.

This is a street of upwardly mobile families, who are used to getting what they want. They quickly organize a multi-pronged effort to either stop the new neighbors’ low class and unacceptable behavior or drive them out. Surveillance cameras, tough talk and complaints soon spiral out of control. Of added interest is a look at the families on the street, their marriages and relationships to each other. Each is nursing a private beef with a spouse, partner or neighbor and these inner conflicts cause them to make wildly irrational decisions, leading to a shocking fatal accident.

As inspectors investigate the accident, readers begin to wonder whether the author’s title refers more to the new neighbors or the rest of the group. I enjoyed reading their statements and interviews with the police and seeing how they dig themselves deeper into the pit of suspicion. These reckless behaviors lead to a second tragedy, muddled by the neighbors’ escalating dread of being implicated.

This is also a story chock full of unlikable characters, and not just Darren and Jodie. Candlish tells the story from different points of view and I liked trying to understand the neighbors’ thoughts. Some readers may not find that relatable, but I would much rather experience these people in the pages than on my street!

There are many red herrings and an abrupt open-ended finish, leaving the reader to imagine what may happen. I like this kind of ending and think it would be a great book club book. I recommend Those People to those who are looking for a quick read and enjoy vicarious conflicts!

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Run Away by Harlan Coben

Run Away
by
Harlan Coben

Rating:

Simon Greene is desperate to find his daughter Paige, who has dropped out of college, is addicted to drugs, and on the run with her user boyfriend, Aaron. Acting on a tip, Simon sees her in Central Park and is sure he can save her. But Paige runs and Simon may never catch up.

Harlan Coben’s latest action thriller looks at a seemingly normal family with highly successful parents and smart children as they struggle with one daughter’s addiction. How right it had all seemed when Paige went off to college! Now the future is anything but bright.

Before long, Simon and his wife, Ingrid are deep into trouble and surrounded by highly dangerous people. Murder, conspiracies, family secrets, paid assassins and a cult cloud and threaten their search for Paige and before long, Simon is packing a weapon.

I enjoyed this fast-paced story, with a plot that’s hard to explain without spoilers. Coben gives the reader a view of a happy marriage that comes close to crumbling and a family that, like many families, isn’t what it seems. As in the two other Coben books I’ve read, I like the author’s references to New Jersey and New York, an area where I grew up.

Run Away is entertaining, but the reader will need to accept several far-fetched plot developments. I was okay with them, but did not feel the story was as good as the other Coben books I’ve read (see below). Despite this comment, I would recommend Run Away to readers looking for a fast-paced, not-too-deep summer read and, since summer has just begun, the timing is right!

Looking for other Harlan Coben books? Try Caught and Tell No One

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Book Club Mom’s summer recommendations – grab a book and some fresh air!

Image: Pixabay

Summer reads have a certain feel about them and grabbing the right book can take you back to when you had long lazy days stretching out in front of you. Now, for many of us, it’s more a matter of creating the mood of an endless summer. So steal an hour, find a nice place in a park, in your yard or even at home with the windows open, and dig into a book that will grab you right away. Here are some recommendations to help you choose:


Dig Right In

The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin – light, entertaining historical fiction during the late 1800s when billionaire American families match their daughters with cash-poor dukes and princes in need of American money.

The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer – set in Greenwich Village, NY, Greta discovers her 1985 self living in two other time periods, one in 1918 and one in 1941.

The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin – historical fiction and fascinating portrait of Truman Capote and his distinct sides, as both pet and confidante to the New York upper class, and serious writer.

Things We Set on Fire by Deborah Reed – great story about a mother who believes she is doing the right thing, but can’t see its impact until decades later.


Family Dramas

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler – a complicated family from Baltimore, full of secrets and an unacknowledged division between its members.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett – great family saga that begins in the 1960s with six kids from two different families, thrown together because of an affair, a divorce and then a marriage.

The Vacationers by Emma Straub – light beach read about a dysfunctional family on a trip from Manhattan to Spain for some forced family vacation fun.

When I Found You by Catherine Ryan Hyde – a man goes duck hunting and finds an abandoned baby boy in the woods, changing his life in unimaginable ways.


Historical Fiction

Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín – classic tale about post-war immigration from Ireland to America.

The Hours Count by Jillian Cantor – set in NY in 1950 during the Red Scare, the story of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, arrested for spying for the Russians.

Miss Emily by Nuala O’Connor – biographical novel about Emily Dickinson and a fictional coming-of-age story about her young Irish maid.

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain – a look at Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Elizabeth Hadley Richardson and their six-year marriage, spent mostly in Paris.


Secrets and Suspense

The Dry by Jane Harper – atmospheric thriller set on the edge of the Australia’s bushland during a devastating drought.

Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey – an old woman on the edge of dementia falls into a confused world of memories and suspicions, certain that her friend Elizabeth is missing.

The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian – a flight attendant wakes up after a night of heavy drinking and discovers she is in bed with a man who has been brutally murdered.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart – Young Adult story about mysterious events of one summer, forcing a family through painful changes.


I hope you find a good place to escape for a bit. What will you read?

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