It’s time to grab some fuzzy slippers, wrap yourself in your warmest blanket and hunker down with a mystery novel packed with dark moods, red herrings and white-hot revenge. And whether they’re victims, suspects or pursuers of justice, the women in these four novels will heat up cold January days with their desperation, determination and bravery.
The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian (Doubleday; January 5, 2016)
You can always rely on Chris Bohjalian, the author of 18 smartly written bestsellers, to deliver a devilishly good story. And this suspenseful crime novel, imbued with violence, bad decisions and families torn apart, may be his best one yet. The Guest Room begins with a bachelor party that investment banker Richard Chapman is hosting in his Bronxville, N.Y., home for his younger brother, Philip. Two young “escorts” are part of the entertainment, but the at-first-glance harmless party with strippers quickly descends into debauchery, betrayal and, shockingly, the deaths of two men. As much a story about how Richard must find a way to get back into the good graces of Kristin, his wife, and Melissa, his 9-year-old daughter, this is also a raw exposé on the sex-trafficking of young women and the suffering they endure. It also casts a calculating eye on what defines a murder, how friends and acquaintances can become deadly enemies and how Kristin, an amazing wife and mother, fights to defend her family as well as the young Armenian sex slave who spent time with Richard in the guest room of the Chapman home on that terrible night.
Excerpt: “His brother was going to have an awful lot to explain to his fiancée, Nicole. (Of course, Nicole’s brother was not innocent either. Eric had been among the men who, separately, had disappeared into some dark corner of the house with the blonde for who knew what sort of carnal satisfactions.) He wondered if their engagement could survive this. He wondered if his own marriage would survive this. He told himself that Kristin’s heart was forgiving and big, and they had over a decade and a half together – because pure and simple they loved each other – but he had screwed up. All the men had.”
After the Crash by Michel Bussi (Hachette; US release: January 5, 2016)
One of January’s buzziest and bogglingly delicious mysteries has already sold more than a million copies worldwide. Now that it’s available in English, it’s no wonder that a critic for The Sunday Times in the UK boasts “I doubt I’ll read a more brilliant crime novel this year.” French author Michel Bussi begins his harrowing tale with a plane flying from Istanbul to Paris that crashes into the Alps leaving just one survivor, a baby girl. But there were two female infants on the plane and the novel, which begins in 1980 before reliable DNA testing, follows a detective who spends his career trying to determine the identity of “the Miracle Child,” who may be Emilie Vitral or Lyse-Rose de Carville. She’s renamed, at least temporarily, Lylie, a blending of both names, when her identity can’t be proven. Lylie’s tough-as-nails grandmothers and Malvina de Carville, the deranged young woman who may or may not be Lylie’s sister, are the tinder that set fire to this story about what it means not to know who you are.
Excerpt: “Mouchot, the young fireman, was convinced that what he had discovered was a corpse: after all, the baby had been covered with snow for more than an hour. And yet, when he bent over it, he saw that the child – its face, its hands, its fingers were hardly even blue. The body was lying about a hundred feet from the blaze. It had been kept warm by the protective heat of the burning cabin.”
I am Your Judge by Nele Neuhaus (Minotaur; January 12, 2016)
In this latest mystery from the bestselling German author who is making a name for herself in the U.S. – readers and critics embraced Snow White Must Die and The Ice Queen – indomitable Frankfurt police detective Pia Kirchhoff and her partner Oliver von Bodenstein desperately seek the identity of a killer dubbed the Taunus Sniper. Tapping into our obsession with gun violence – in Germany the incidents of murders that involve guns are relatively low – Neuhaus rolls out a revenge-driven, classic police procedural with Pia at the wheel. Other women also fuel this story including Kirsten Stadler who died under suspicious circumstances 10 years earlier and whose organs were transplanted when her family was tricked into donating them, and Karoline Albrecht, whose mother is shot by the sniper. Karoline is determined to find her mother’s killer and uncover her father’s possible role in the killing. Neuhaus laces this highly complex novel with horror as frightening as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as Pia investigates the murders and their links to a shady transplant industry.
Excerpt: “Before Pia knew it or could react, he was holding a pistol to her head. She could feel the cold muzzle of the gun on her temple. “Put your service weapons and cell phones on the kitchen table. His tone of command was unmistakable. ‘Now!’ ‘What’s this about Mr. Thomsen? You’re only making things worse for yourself,’ Bodenstein protested. But Pia took her weapon out of the holster and placed it with her cell phone on the table. Her hands were trembling, and her pulse was racing. Thomsen didn’t give the impression that he would hesitate for even a second before firing.”
River Road by Carol Goodman (Touchstone; January 19, 2016)
If you’re looking for a mystery that has all the sensibilities of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man, then look no further than Carol Goodman’s latest novel about Nan Lewis, a professor at fictional SUNY Acherson, who ends up the prime suspect in the hit-and-run death of one of her students. Tragically, the accident occurred at the very same spot on River Road, north of Poughkeepsie, where Nan’s young daughter Emmy was struck and killed seven years before. Nan is an unreliable narrator —“Could it have been Leia I hit?” she wonders. But she’s a flawed and sympathetic heroine as well. She’s almost positive she hit a deer that night, yet there’s evidence to the contrary. This novel, set during an icy cold winter packed with blizzardy blasts of wind and snow, is saturated with guilt, false accusations, multiple suspects and scenes of death and bloody violence that will leave you shivering. It’s also a very human story about healing, forgiveness and starting over.
Excerpt: “It was on that blind curve just before Orchard Drive. Everyone takes it too fast. I, of all people, should have known that too, but I was distracted and my vision had gone blurry for a moment. I’d lifted my hand off the wheel to wipe my eyes and something hit the bumper. A horrific thump I felt in my chest. Then something white scrolling upward like a long scarf unraveling, its body weirdly elongated like one of those cave paintings from the South of France, a hunter’s dream of a spirit deer flying across the cosmos — But when it hit the windshield it was meat and blood and broken glass …”