One of the great tropes in thrillers and mysteries is the person who is not what she or he appears to be. When someone you think you know well turns out to have a secret past or a different life, it can feel as if the earth has moved under your feet, and that’s a great place for a thriller to go. Several new thrillers came out this week that touch on this theme, coming from different directions, so come to the Field Library and check them out.
Watch Me Disappear, by Janelle Brown, seems, at the beginning, to be a book about how people deal with the loss of someone close to them. A year ago, Billie Flanagan, a Berkeley woman who seemed to have an enviable life all around, went on a hike and disappeared. Nothing was found but her shattered cell phone and one hiking boot. In limbo, her husband, Jonathan, drinks too much and is working on a memoir describing how wonderful his wife was. Her daughter, Olive, is withdrawing from her father and from her friends at her all girls’ school. But then she starts getting visions of her mother, alive, which Jonathan believes at first are signs that she’s suffering a mental disturbance. However, he begins to change his mind as he digs deeper into Billie’s past and finds that he didn’t know her nearly as well as he thought he did, that maybe she was someone completely different. Jonathan and Olive delve into Billie’s life and disappearance, though what they find might not be what they hoped to find.
Nicci French’s Dark Saturday also turns on a tragedy in the past. Ten years ago, the Docherty family was murdered, all but Hannah, the 18 year old daughter, who was obviously responsible for the killings of the rest of her family. An open and shut case, it appeared, and Hannah was obviously mentally ill and not legally responsible for her actions, so she was locked away in a psychiatric hospital. Now psychotherapist Frieda Klein is sent in to do a psychiatric evaluation of Hannah, but she is shocked to see the difference between the woman she expects to meet and the real Hannah she meets. Far from a psychopathic killer, Hannah comes across as tragic and aged before her time, and maybe, just maybe, as much a victim of the events in the family house as the rest of the family. Frieda starts wondering if Hannah might even be innocent, but as she starts investigating, Frieda discovers there’s someone out there who has a strong interest in keeping the truth hidden, even if that means killing anyone who comes too close to the truth.
It’s very unusual for an Amish man to kill someone else (in fact it’s against everything the Amish believe in), but Joseph King, an Amish man who was seen as “fallen” from the community, was convicted of killing his wife and sent to prison for it before the beginning of Linda Castillo’s Down a Dark Road. Kate Burkholder, the local chief of police, was herself brought up as Amish and knew and had a crush on Joseph King when they were both younger. When she finds out that he has escaped from prison and headed for Planter’s Mill, where she works, she and the rest of the police are worried, and when Joseph brings a gun and takes his five children hostage at their uncle’s farm, things go from bad to worse. Kate is on the scene to try to defuse the situation, and Joseph begs her to help him prove his innocence of his wife’s murder, and lets her go. He’s killed in the standoff, but Kate finds herself haunted by his story, by the apparent change between the young man she thought she knew so well and the supposed murderer, and when the facts don’t line up the way the official story says they should, she can’t help trying to discover what really happened, who really killed Joseph’s wife. It’s an investigation that’s more dangerous than she knows, pitting her against some of her fellow police officers as well as shadowy figures who really don’t want the truth to come out.