While you’re resigned to stay indoors through the sporadic April showers, let an excellent thriller keep you company. Jon Land has seven fantastic suggestions.
I have no idea how Lisa Scottoline does it, turning out book after book that tugs at our heartstrings while pulling a rip cord to unleash the adrenaline that defines her nonstop thrill rides through the suburban nightmare niche she’s carved out for herself. Look no further than the stunningly executed Someone Knows (Putnam).
The classic setup is pure gold: five high school friends have been hiding a deadly secret that twenty years after the fact may or may not have caused the deaths of one of them. That’s what one of them, Allie Garvy, desperately seeks to uncover, even as she and the other survivors realize they’re in danger as well. And unraveling the mystery in the present means coming to grips with the truth behind the one hatched two decades before.
The ambition of Someone Knows is exceeded only by the masterful execution Scottoline brings to the story. And the result here is a tour de force, stunner of a thriller in which “knowing” becomes a wholly subjective term.
And, in point of fact, Neon Prey features one of the series’ finest, and most chilling, villains in Clayton Deese, a two-bit thug who turns out to be a serial killer of prodigious proportions. Davenport takes up the chase in Deese’s native Louisiana. Deese is neither as polished nor as charming as Hannibal Lecter, but he’s far deadlier, burying enough bodies in the swamp-rich land to fill a small cemetery. And if Davenport loses the cat-and-mouse game aimed at bringing Deese to justice, he just might join them.
Sandford’s matter-of-fact writing style serves his story well through the procedural mechanizations that define this series much as it does Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch books. Neon Prey glows very brightly indeed, outshining his many competitors and imitators in crafting a tale as chillingly effective as it is riveting.
There’s so much to like about D. J. Palmer’s Saving Meghan (St. Martin’s Press), I’m not sure where to start in describing this bold and bracingly original tale that marks a peak crescendo in Palmer’s career arc.
The Meghan who needs saving is a fourteen-year-old girl suffering from one inexplicable illness after another, the blame for which may well lie with her own mother’s intent on making her daughter appear to be sick or, even, make her sick. Good thing stalwart physician Zachary Fisher is the father of an only child too, giving him a heartfelt perspective into Meghan’s plight, the truth behind which is anything but what the doctor ordered.
Saving Meghan is a masterwork of form and function that blends the dark familial underbelly from William Landay’s Defending Jacob with the power-packed suspense of Robin Cook’s Coma. Tense, terrifying and terrific.
The splendid anthology Down to the River (Down & Out), edited by Tim O’Mara, features twenty crack crime stories centered around rivers with an eye toward preserving America’s waterways. Kind of like a Go Green version of the old Alfred Hitchcock Presents collections I grew up on.
But since these are crime stories, expect some red sprinkled in for good measure, as is the case in the fabulously titled and terrific “Blue Song, Edged in Woe” by Bruce Desilva and Patricia Smith. Featuring two characters amorphously called Girl and Boy, this lyrically-etched, gothic tale of a violent sexual encounter and its aftermath rings of John Hart in wondrously depicting the costs of impulse. Or Reed Farrel Coleman’s “The Righter Side,” which chronicles a dark world that has none. Then there’s Charles Salzberg’s “No Good Deed,” classic post-modern noir featuring no good at all around New York’s East River.
Down to the River features seventeen more tales that share varying levels of moral morass rising from the very waters around which they’re set. An early candidate for the best crime-mystery anthology of the year.
Sometimes truth really is stranger, and scarier, than fiction as demonstrated by investigative reporter M. William Phelps’ Where Monsters Hide (Kensington), a chilling, real-life tale of murder and madness that reminded me of Fatal Vision.
Like that Joe McGinniss classic, the focus is on murder, this time two, actually. Or is it? Because the focus of the story centers around the disappearance of a man who would never just disappear. Such is the conundrum faced by dogged Michigan detective Laura Frizzo who ultimately hones in on a (potentially) murderous couple willing to kill each other if it means avoiding capture.
This is narrative nonfiction of the highest order, a sumptuously scintillating tale that greets us in fact with the character types we’re used to seeing in the fiction of Lisa Gardner, Harlan Coben, or Lisa Scottoline. Superb in all respects.
Reading Elizabeth Heiter’s emotionally bracing K-9 Defense (Harlequin) I couldn’t help but think back to reading Jack London’s The Call of the Wild as a kid. Once again, a relationship between man and dog takes center stage.
Once again that stage is the vast wintry wilderness of Alaska, only this time the action revolves around battle-scarred veteran Colter Hayes and his K-9 companion Rebel, who’s dealing with PTSD of his own. Redemption and recovery for them come in the form of finding a woman who’s gone missing in the middle of a nowhere occupied by a killer as well, a killer ready to finish the job an ambush in Iraq started.
There’s no shortage of dog-themed thrillers out there, but K-9 Defense stands out not only for its superb, on-point research, but also for the pathos of watching damaged souls, man and animal, helping to heal each other. A one-sitting triumph of a read.
In the exceptional Ambush (Thomas & Mercer), the third book to feature railroad cop and former marine Sydney Parnell, Barbara Nickless raises the stakes and expands the canvas of this blisteringly original series.
The tale’s centerpiece comes in the form of a missing eleven-year-old Iraqi boy being stalked by a fiendish killer known only as Alpha. Malik’s been targeted for a reason or reasons unknown, somehow pertaining to something he knows that holds dire ramifications for bad guys galore. Sydney wants to save him and Alpha wants him dead, so the race is on through Mexican City and elsewhere well away from her typical railroad haunts.
Supplemented by a K-9 partner as well, Sydney’s trail cuts through her own past in stitching a wholly satisfying, rollercoaster ride of a thriller that features one of the genre’s truly most original heroes.