WHO ARE YOUR PARENTS, REALLY?

A couple of new mysteries/thrillers explore the question of what we really know about the people closest to us, the people who, for better or worse, shaped us: our parents.  In Allison Brennan’s new book, Abandoned, as well as in Caz Frear’s Sweet Little Lies, adult children are brought face to face with the lies and deceptions of their parents (a mother in one case, a father in the other), and have to use their professional skills to get to the bottom of the biggest mysteries of their pasts.

Maxine Revere, the protagonist of Abandoned, has built a career for herself as an author and the host of a true crime television show involving investigations of cold cases.  She’s very successful, but there’s one mystery that’s haunted her all her life: what happened to her mother, Martha, who dropped her off with her grandmother when Max was 9 and then never returned?  For six years, her mother would keep in sporadic touch, mostly with a postcard around Max’s birthday, but then she stopped the postcards, stopped taking her allowance from her trust fund, and disappeared off the face of the earth. Seven years later, she was officially declared dead, but no body was found, and Max never felt any real closure.  So when she finds information about a car her mother was using that was found, abandoned, shortly after all communications from her mother ceased, Max sets out to investigate, using all the skills she’s honed in her professional career. She knew her mother had been involved with one Jimmy Truman, a con man, and that Martha had been joining in his grifts and cons with great pleasure.  Could one of those cons have turned deadly? Max starts asking questions and digging into the records of this town in the Chesapeake Bay area where the car had been found, and where Jimmy Truman’s brother is still living. The brother is a man of substance, married with children and a good reputation, and he is not interested at all in digging up anything about his disreputable brother or his brother’s girlfriend.  The F.B.I., however, seems interested in this very old case, and Max joins forces with the FBI agent to find out what, exactly, happened to Martha and why.

Cat Kinsella, the London policewoman who’s the protagonist of Sweet Little Lies, is estranged from her father, who’s running a pub in London.  She starts investigating the murder of a young housewife who was strangled not far from her father’s pub, and is deeply disturbed to receive an anonymous message linking this murder to the disappearance of a young woman in Ireland 18 years before.  That particular disappearance has haunted Cat for years. She met the victim, Maryanne, with her family just before Maryanne’s disappearance, and even though her father swore he’d never met the girl or knew anything about the disappearance, Cat knew he was lying at the time. Charming and dissolute, her father was not a man to be trusted, and Cat learned that when she was quite young.  But there’s a big difference between being a liar and a philanderer and being a murderer, and now that the old case has been brought back to her attention, Cat feels she has to find out, once and for all, whether her father might have murdered Maryanne, and might have murdered this victim as well. Digging into the past is always a dangerous endeavor, especially when you have some reason to suspect you’re going to find a buried crime in your digging, but it’s worse when you’re a police officer.  Cat throws ethics and rules to the wind in her eagerness, her desperation, to discover what really happened in both these cases, though she may not be happy with what she ends up discovering.

 

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WHEN ACTING BECOMES TOO REAL: BELIEVE ME

What an intriguing premise for a thriller: Claire,  the main character in Believe Me, by J. P. Delaney, is a British woman in America who, trying to make a living as an actress and needing to make money, takes on a job acting as a decoy for divorce lawyers.  Her job is to catch cheating or would-be cheating husbands. Stop right there and consider what kind of job that would be. Yes, it probably would pay well, and it would be a way for Claire to hone her acting skills (though not necessarily roles she could list on a resume), but by the same token it could be quite dangerous, no matter how careful she and her employers are.

Naturally there are rules she has to follow.  She can’t entrap; she can’t seduce. She’s only allowed to be obviously available to the would-be cheater and see what he does. If the person is innocent, then nothing happens and there’s nothing for her to tape. If the person tries to seduce her, then she’s got evidence which the law firm can use on behalf of the “victim” wife, in negotiations or legal proceedings.

All goes well until the wife of one of her targets is murdered, and naturally the prime suspect is the husband Claire has been working on.  The police come to Claire and ask her to continue with the husband, in an effort to get him to confess to his crime so they can arrest him before he kills again.  

It shouldn’t be too hard for someone as experienced as Claire. She’s good at putting on fake accents, creating fake stories, fake personalities. She’s dealt with a number of different kinds of men, cheating and otherwise.  Getting a confession is a little different from getting someone to hit on her, but she believes, at least at first, that it’s something she can handle.

But it seems there’s a difference between dealing with a would-be adulterer and a possible wife-murderer, and as Claire goes deeper into her role, she begins to wonder what the difference is between a decoy and prey.

If you’re a fan of the unreliable narrator thrillers which are so hot right now, or if you’ve read The Girl Before (Delaney’s last book) and enjoyed it, then check out Believe Me and prepare yourself for a twisty thriller.

MOTHER AND DAUGHTER: THE BOND THAT KILLS

What’s more beautiful than the bond between a mother and child?  What’s more celebrated in our culture? Isn’t mother love the foundation for a person’s whole outlook on his or her future life?  

But what if there’s something wrong with the bond between mother and child?  As any honest parent will admit, there are times when that particular bond is strained by the behavior of even the best child, and the notion of the demon child is also rooted deep within our culture.  If you’re ready to see the horrific possibilities of a mother-child bond gone wrong, then check out Baby Teeth, by Zoje Stage, an award-winning playwright and filmmaker, for a domestic thriller that will give any new mother (or older mother) pause.

Suzette Jensen, the protagonist, knew from the outset that having a child would be difficult for her because of her fragile health, and that she didn’t have much of a role model when it came to being a good mother.  But she and her husband, Alex, decided to bring a child into the world anyway, and when Hannah was born, both parents were delighted.

However, Hannah was not the sweet, loving, or easy child Suzette hoped for.  As a matter of fact, Hannah turned out to be an extraordinarily difficult child. When the book opens, Hannah is seven years old, willful and aggressive.  She can read and write, but she refuses to talk. She’s already been kicked out of kindergarten because of her behavior toward other kids, and Suzette is forced to home-school her. The battle of wills between Hannah and Suzette worsens over time. Hannah resents her mother’s rules and any attempts to discipline her, and she makes her feelings clear.

To Alex, Hannah is a strong-willed, precocious child, his perfect darling, and Hannah really loves her father and is happiest when she’s with him. He can’t see anything wrong with her, and he thinks his wife is exaggerating when she complains about the way Hannah is behaving.

Suzette knows Hannah hates her and is jealous of her.  She believes Hannah is trying to come between her and Alex, and maybe wants Suzette out of the picture altogether. But is anyone going to believe Suzette or take any action before it’s too late?

 

CHILL THRILLERS FOR HOT DAYS

Want to be distracted from the heat and humidity of summer, which always seems to find us around the 4th of July?  Try one of our newest thrillers, sure to send chills down your spine and get you so involved in turning the pages faster and faster that you won’t even notice the temperatures outside (or inside).

The Last Time I Lied, by Riley Sager (the author of Final Girls) even involves a summer camp, so there’s a connection to the heat and humidity right there, though this is not the kind of book that would make a parent want to send a child to summer camp. Fifteen years ago, Emma Davis went to Nightingale sleepaway camp for the first time, and became friends with four other girls who shared her cabin.  They played games together, including Two Truths and a Lie, and then one night Emma’s four friends sneaked out of the cabin in the middle of the night, not telling Emma or anyone else where they were going, and none of them was ever seen again. Now Emma is an adult, an artist, her paintings all circling back to that camp and that disturbing night when everything went wrong.  The new administrator of Camp Nightingale sees Emma’s paintings and asks her to come to the camp to be an art instructor, and Emma, who has never come to grips with the disappearances of the other girls, jumps at the opportunity to investigate and try to find the truth. Going back to the same camp, the same cabin, even, Emma starts noticing different things, like the only security camera in the whole camp, pointed at the door of her cabin, and cryptic notes from one of the lost girls about the camp’s origins.  This might be one of those times when finding out about the past could destroy the present as well.

Or, if you’re more interested in a sojourn at a lake in Maine than a summer camp, you could try Stay Hidden, by Paul Doiron.  Ariel Evans, a writer, has been shot by a deer hunter on Maquoit Island, off the coast of Maine, and to Mike Bowditch, the Warden Investigator working the case, it seems pretty straightforward, an accidental death.  When he arrives at the island, though, what seemed simple and obvious becomes much murkier and more dangerous. It turns out Ariel was in the area to research a book she was writing about the island’s notorious hermit, only there are no signs that she made any notes or did any writing while she was there.  The deer hunter who supposedly shot her now denies having done it, and there’s evidence to back him up. So who DID shoot her, and why? As Bowditch starts delving deeper into the mystery, who should return to the island but Ariel Evans herself, very much alive and very much interested in figuring out who might have wanted to kill her (and who got killed instead of her).  The erstwhile murder victim teams up with the investigator, but neither one of them realizes that they’re being hunted by a killer who’s ready to do just about anything to hide his crimes.

Forget about the heat and humidity for a while: stay cool with our newest thrillers here at The Field Library.

FAR AND AWAY THRILLERS

A good thriller can do more than just keep your pulse up and keep the pages turning as you rush to figure out what happened and whether something worse is going to happen soon.  It can also introduce you as a reader to another time, another culture, without reducing any of the tension. Two new thrillers take us to unique and unusual times and places, so if you’re interested in the wilds of Montana in the present time or Iceland during World War II, you’re in luck.

A Sharp Solitude, by Christine Carbo, is set in the gorgeous and very wild Glacier National Park in Montana, and the setting is an essential part of the story.  A journalist, Anne Marie Johnson, was staying near the Canadian border in the wilderness of the Glacier National Park, researching for an article about a canine program where specially trained dogs help do scientific research.  She was interviewing Reeve Landon, owner of one of the dogs in the program, just before her murdered body was found, so Landon is obviously one of the main suspects in her death. Landon contacts his former lover, the mother of his child, FBI investigator Ali Paige, and asks her to help him.  Of course she’s not supposed to be working on this case at all: the crime appears to have been committed outside Federal land, and her relationship with the chief suspect would disqualify her even if the FBI had jurisdiction. But that doesn’t mean she can turn her back on Landon, and so she starts working to find out who really killed Anne Marie, as Landon runs deeper into the wilderness to hide from the tightening noose, at the same time feeling he might deserve this persecution because of a terrible thing he did when he was younger.  The book switches back and forth between his viewpoint and Ali’s, as the characters discover that even in the vastness of the Montana country, no one can truly outrun his past.

Arnaldur Indridason’s The Shadow Killer takes place in 1941 in Iceland, where the British army forces are leaving the island and being replaced by American ones.  A man is murdered in a small apartment in Reykjavik, shot through the head with an American weapon, the blood drawn into a swastika pattern. Two people, neither of whom has much experience investigating murders, are brought together to investigate what happened and who’s responsible.  Their investigation begins with difficulty, as the main suspect, the murdered man’s roommate, is nowhere to be found, and things get more complicated as people who might be suspects include the dead man’s former girlfriend, who had left him to fraternize with the soldiers, and some of the soldiers stationed in the city.  The more the investigators dig into the background of the roommate, the more unsavory it seems, especially his involvement with a Nazi experiment on young children. There are too many secrets people are keeping in this environment of spies and counter spies, locals and foreigners and the background of the war complicating everything, and the question becomes more than just who committed this crime, but encompasses the whole changing world of wartime Iceland.

 

HOW CAN YOU BE SURE? NEW THRILLERS

If you’re in the mood for a thriller that not only keeps you guessing about who did what but also about whether what you’re seeing really happened at all, then you’re in luck, because we have two new thrillers here at The Field Library which each, in its own way, plays with our expectations of what’s actually going on.

Michael Koryta’s How It Happened starts off with a seemingly familiar trope: a person of dubious credibility comes in to the police to confess to her role in a crime, and people, for the most part, don’t believe her because of that credibility problem, but one officer does believe her. In this instance, the person doing the confessing is Kimberly Crepeau, well known in her Maine community as a snitch, a liar, a heroin addict and a generally no good human being.  However, Rob Barrett, the FBI investigator listening to her confession, has long suspected she had something to do with the killings of two prominent people in the community, whose bodies were never found. His expertise is in telling truthful confessions from false ones, and he is convinced that this is one of the true confessions. Except that the bodies are found 200 miles away from where she said they’d be, killed in a different way than she described, and with a different person’s DNA over them, which would seem to be proof Kimberly was, once again, lying. Barrett is disgraced and reassigned, but the father of the murdered woman doesn’t consider the case closed, and Barrett finds himself drawn back into the matter, into Kimberly’s confession and how the murders actually happened, in the interests of comforting a grieving father and seeing justice done once and for all.

Paper Ghosts, by Julia Heaberlin, by contrast, involves two main characters who may or may not be what they claim to be.  One protagonist is a young woman who’s become obsessed with the murder of her sister, researching every detail of her sister’s last days, training herself to find and deal with the man who killed her sister. And now she believes she’s found him, found him and lured him out of the halfway house he was in by claiming to be his long-lost daughter. The man in question was a documentary photographer in his day, and took some eerie, haunting pictures around scenes where unsolved crimes were committed. Now he claims not to remember anything about that past, and doesn’t recognize his supposed daughter either, but he goes on a road trip with her through Texas, to the sites where he took those pictures. He denies being a serial killer; she doesn’t believe him. He claims to have dementia, and seems to have some degree of dementia; could he be faking it?  Is she what she claims to be? Is she the grieving, haunted sister of a murder victim, or is she a con artist with her own agenda? As the road trip progresses, neither one of the main characters seems completely trustworthy, and the question of what’s really going on becomes slipperier and slipperier.

 

A PARENT’S NIGHTMARE: THE PERFECT MOTHER

There are always going to be thrillers about world events, about spies and high powered people preventing wars or shaping the future of the world, and there’s certainly a place for books like that (for one thing, they make good movies). But there are other kinds of thrillers, too, the kind focused much more narrowly, featuring people like us, the readers, who are thrown into nightmarish situations that we could only imagine too well, and those are the kinds of thrillers I like to read myself.

A new example of that kind of thriller is The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy. The setup couldn’t be more ordinary, more relate-able: a group of new mothers, all of whose babies were born in the month of May, get together twice a week in Prospect Park to share their stories and to remind themselves that they’re not ONLY mothers, that they have lives outside of their all-demanding babies. What mother, especially of a first or only child, hasn’t felt the urge to do something like that?  

So one Fourth of July night, the mothers get together at a local, hip, bar.  Winnie, a single mother, was kind of reluctant to leave her six week old son with a babysitter, but the other mothers persuaded her it would be fine.  What could go wrong?

Naturally — this is a thriller, after all — something does go wrong.  The baby goes missing. This is the worst fear of any new parent (and of older parents, too), and now Winnie has to find her baby.  Time is running out, secrets are being revealed, marriages are being tested, friendships destroyed, and readers are kept on the edge of their seats, not because the fate of the world is at stake, but because it’s personal.

For a nail-biting book of suspense, check out The Perfect Mother.

 

WHEN MEMORY FAILS: THRILLERS

Three new thrillers have just arrived at The Field Library, all turning, in one way or another, on the question of memory. Hard as it is to solve a mystery when you have all the pieces available to you, it’s logarithmically more difficult to solve the mystery when you yourself have serious blank spaces in your memory, and those blank spaces could be where the most important information resides.  

Police officer Doug Brock, the protagonist of David Rosenfelt’s Fade to Black, suffers from traumatic amnesia.  Shot in the line of duty before the book begins, Doug is trying to rebuild his life, retrieving some of his memories and joining an amnesia support group to help him work on getting the rest of his memories.  So it makes sense to him to try to help another man from the amnesia group who has made a most disturbing discovery. In Sean Connor’s attic, he says, he’s found a scrapbook of a murder victim, but he has no memory of the girl or why he might have put that scrapbook together. Doug takes the matter to his chief and reopens the closed case of this girl’s murder, only to discover that he himself had a personal connection to the case (a surprise to him).  As he investigates, the case causes him to question everything he knows about Sean, about the case, and about his own past.

Cassandra Bowden has few excuses for her own lack of memory in Chris Bohjalian’s The Flight Attendant. She’s a binge alcoholic, and has many times drunk herself into complete blackouts, which are starting to interfere with her job as a flight attendant. However, what happens when she wakes up from a bender in a Dubai hotel is much worse than any hangover she’s ever encountered before. The man in bed beside her is dead, clearly murdered, and Cassandra has no memory of anything having to do with the man, how she got there, how he got there, what might have happened to him.  She then makes a disastrous decision: she doesn’t call the police, but begins to lie about what happened. She lies to the people she works with, she lies to the people she’s serving in First Class, and, most dangerously of all, she lies to the FBI agents who are waiting for her in New York. With so many lies and so little memory, Cassandra has put herself into a position where it may no longer be possible for her to tell the truth, even if she could figure it out. Who killed the man?  Could she have done it? If she didn’t, how did she end up in bed with a murdered man?

Alice Feeny’s Sometimes I Lie involves a protagonist with even more serious problems than Doug or Cassandra.  Amber Reynolds is a victim of shut in syndrome. She’s in a coma; she can’t move, speak, or even open her eyes, but she can hear everything that’s going on around her. The people around her don’t know she can hear and understand them, and there’s nothing she can do to make them aware of her conscious state. If this isn’t nightmare fuel by itself, there’s more.  She can’t remember what happened to her, but she has a suspicion her husband, who no longer loves her, had something to do with her present state. She goes back and forth in her mind between her scary present situation, the events of the week before her accident, and childhood memories from 20 years before, trying to find the truth in a world of lies and half truths.

DAVID MAMET’S PROHIBITION ERA CHICAGO

There might be a better person to write a novel about Chicago in the 1920’s than David Mamet, famous for his screenplays for the movies The Untouchables  and Wag the Dog and his Pulitzer Prize winning play, Glengarry Glen Ross, but it’s hard to imagine who that might be.  Mamet’s new book, Chicago, is his first novel in decades, and it’s set in the rich and dangerous world of Prohibition era Chicago, like The Untouchables.

The protagonist is Mike Hodge, a veteran of World War I, currently working for the Chicago Tribune. As a newspaper writer, he’s got a front row seat to observe all the corruption and crime, all the aspects of the dark underbelly of the city.  He should have known better than to fall in love with Annie Walsh, since he knew perfectly well that her family was involved with organized crime.  But he did fall in love with her, and when she gets murdered, he’s not about to let her go unavenged.  And so begins a tale which interweaves Mamet’s vivid and hard-boiled characters with real life figures, including the legendary Al Capone.

If you’ve seen Mamet’s plays or movies, you have a pretty good idea of what to expect from his novel: dense, quick moving dialogue, plots involving crosses and double crosses, and compromised characters. If you’re a fan of David Mamet, all you need to know is the name of his new book.   If you’re interested in 1920’s Chicago, and you enjoy witty, hard-boiled dialogue that does most of the heavy lifting in telling the story, this is a don’t miss book for you, too.

WOMEN IN TROUBLE: NEW THRILLERS

This week we have some new and exciting thrillers at The Field Library where women are the focus, as witnesses to crimes, as investigators of crimes, as potential or actual victims of crimes.

Christina Dodd’s new book, The Woman Who Couldn’t Scream, starts off with an intriguing (and somewhat disturbing) title. Merida Falcon, the protagonist, lost her voice due to a traumatic accident in her past.  After the incident, she was married to a rich, elderly man who treated her as a trophy wife, there to adorn his arm and do his bidding without question.  After nine years of marriage, her husband died, and she deliberately moved, changed her name and set out to reinvent herself, with the unspoken goal of finding and getting revenge on the man she’d loved who betrayed her.  Disappearing, though, isn’t as easy as she’d thought: it turns out that the sheriff of Virtue Falls, her new home, is someone Merida knew in her school days, and a former lover is searching for her.  More disturbing, someone is stalking and slashing women in the town to death, and she’s beginning to wonder whether this person might have something to do with her injuries, and if he or she is out to get her now, when she doesn’t know who, if anyone, she can trust.

Have you ever considered going for a hot-air balloon ride?  Well, if you have, you may change your mind after reading Dead Woman Walking, by Sharon Bolton.  The story begins with Jessica and her sister, Isabel, among a group of people taking a ride on a hot-air balloon, which Jessica chose as a special treat for her sister.  As they’re riding on the air currents, the people in the balloon witness a man on the ground below beating a woman and then shooting her.  Jessica actually takes pictures of the murderer, and he sees her doing so.  When the balloon crashes, killing everyone on board except Jessica, the thrills really begin.  The killer knows she’s still alive, and he wants to eliminate the last remaining witness. Both the police, investigating the crash, and the killer, responsible for the crash, are looking for Jessica, and she’s trying to keep alive, but can she actually trust anyone in these circumstances?  

Milly, the protagonist of Good Me, Bad Me by Ali Land, also has some issues with trust, which are perfectly natural in the circumstances.  Milly’s mother is a serial killer.  Milly realized she was the only one who could stop her mother, by informing on her, and ultimately testifying against her at her trial.  For her protection, Milly is given a new name, a foster care placement with an affluent family, and a spot in an exclusive private school.  But things aren’t simple or straightforward even in these circumstances: her foster sister bullies her, one of her teachers betrays her trust, and her new friend tempts her to behave badly, and, with the trial coming up, Milly has to wrestle with her situation: is she bad by nature, or by nurture?  Does she have the ability to be a good person or is she in fact her mother’s daughter?