RaveCriminal Element... there’s an ever-escalating tension as Wren, Adam, and Bailey all seek their vindication. The resultant game of predator and prey—but just exactly who’s who?—doesn’t simply apply to Wren and Adam but to Wren and Bailey, each of whom needs the other to accomplish what they’ve set out to do. Lisa Unger continues to impress with the quantity and quality of her work. Last Girl Ghosted is a deeply resonant cautionary tale about dating in a digital age. Equal parts clever and creepy, it’s also imbued with keen psychological insight and hard-won wisdom. While each reader will find their own takeaway(s), perhaps one worth mentioning is this: that the more plugged in we are, the less connected we become—both to our inner selves and each other.
Hank Phillippi Ryan
RaveCriminal ElementRyan nimbly alternates perspectives and timelines throughout the narrative ... there’s a dizzying game of cat and mouse afoot in which neither the cat nor the mouse is clearly defined. This limbo state is nicely mirrored by the author’s rendering of Boston in March, when a pervasive sense of volatility reigns. The First to Lie is another standout for Hank Phillippi Ryan, whose impressive pedigree lends itself brilliantly to authentic, nuanced storytelling. While big pharma provides the jumping-off point, this is, at its core, an intimate tale of deception and duplicity: the lies we tell ourselves and others—and what we’re willing to do, and who we’re willing to become, to reveal the ultimate truth. Be forewarned: Do not pick up this book if you have imminent plans to do anything but read.
RaveCriminal ElementThe narrative unravels through multiple viewpoints that encompass both central and periphery figures. This is an effective tool for rich character development and the escalation of tensions, as even bit players are given their due before meeting their (potential) demise. The author excels at inhabiting the gray areas that exist between good and bad, right and wrong; consequently, ethical and moral dilemmas abound, the complexities of which underscore political power in and around the aptly named Purgatory Bay ... an eerie, evocative thriller that succeeds as both a standalone and a continuation story. Gruley combines the instincts of a journalist with the intuition of a novelist, skillfully contrasting the timeliness of technological advancements with the time-tested provocations for murder and martyrdom. This one is hard to put down—and even harder to forget.
PositiveCriminal ElementThe build-up to the (all but inevitable) finale grows increasingly intense as Conway and his successor circle closer to one another. Bryndza offers some truly chilling moments that underscore the darkness and depravity of human nature (as well as some quieter ones that add levity). While the dynamic between the two is an obvious nod to Thomas Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs, it’s more allusion than imitation—and the resulting sense of familiarity might have the effect of lulling readers into a false sense of security. But the book’s true gravitas comes from Kate’s desire to do right by her son ... With Nine Elms, Bryndza proves that he’s got another blockbuster saga on his hands. Kate Marshall is a bona fide superstar—an appealing mix of strength and vulnerability who shows that the damage of our past doesn’t need to define us or defeat us but that it can spark our determination to be smarter, stronger, and singularly successful. That’s a hero, and a notion, worth rooting for.
RaveCriminal ElementPer usual, Gardner infuses her narrative with timely and topical social issues that deserve a closer look; here, the abuses and limitations of the foster care system come under the microscope, as do other matters including dependency, exploitation, gang violence, and PTSD. So too the struggles of working mothers like D. D. Warren, who endeavor to balance their personal and professional lives without compromising either. It’s these elements that ground the author’s propulsive plots in a sense of realism despite their fictional flourishes ... a worthy addition to Lisa Gardner’s outstanding oeuvre. Twenty books in, she continues to evolve her style and sensibilities, crafting stories that are as evergreen as they are urgent. As much about the whys as the whos, this is a thought-provoking thriller that will creep under your skin and inside your heart.
RaveCriminal ElementMost of the story is told through Marissa’s first-person narration, which showcases her unique, and uniquely compelling, voice while also exposing her inner feelings of isolation despite being surrounded by a veritable throng of Hollywood heavy hitters and freeloaders alike. Shorter segments in the form of podcast transcription are interspersed throughout; these bits offer color commentary from secondary characters (and Marissa herself) while allowing Little to poke fun at tropes of true crime, where—much like the entertainment industry at large—everything is expected to be the same… but different. It’s a fitting format, given the toxicity of Tinseltown, where attractive appearances often belie darker realities ... Like the best of cinema, Pretty as a Picture seduces with its surface charms only to ultimately sustain you with the depth of its subtext ... Told with biting humor, keen intellect, and detailed precision, this is both a meta mystery and sharp satire that solidifies Elizabeth Little’s place among the genre’s most compelling and original talents. It’s been a long wait, but some things are worth it—and this is one of them.
PositiveCriminal ElementMunier does an admirable job of portraying such a plight with sensitivity; indeed, she showcases Henry’s extraordinary abilities (mathematical prowess and photographic recall among them) rather than focusing solely on the things that make him vulnerable, though the latter certainly enhance the story’s overall sense of urgency. The ongoing flirtation between Mercy and Troy, and the ill-timed reemergence of Troy’s estranged wife, add an element of romantic suspense that further complicates their halting relationship. And then there’s the picturesque New England setting, as seductive as it is savage, its seeming splendor belying the harsh realities of hunting season ... on target with the promise set forth with A Borrowing of Bones. While the story should stand alone adequately for new readers, the progression of characters (both human and canine) and circumstance will appeal to loyalists who’ve been anxiously awaiting a follow-up. Bottom line: If Paula Munier isn’t yet on your \'must-read\' list, she should be.
Jessica Fletcher and Jon Land
RaveCriminal ElementDespite the exposition, narrative urgency seldom falters; indeed, an escalating body count and the impending reunion of Appleton faculty and staff ensure forward momentum and a fortuitously frenetic finale ... It’s an ambitious premise and one worthy of the occasion at hand. In addition to double doses of murder and mystery that are interconnected by character and circumstance, readers are made privy to a backstory that’s only been hinted at previously. The real treat, however, is how this melding of timeframes allows Land to incorporate beloved-if-bygone characters from the television show ... a reverential-yet-unrestrained ode to the enduring Murder, She Wrote legacy, both as a television show and literary canon. Though Land’s sensibilities (which tend to favor the former) have proved divisive among some longtime readers, there’s no denying his attempts to bridge these two worlds. This book represents his most successful effort yet and strongly reaffirms Jessica Fletcher’s status as a hero for the ages.
PositiveCriminal ElementA heightened sense of peril, which tones down the cozy vibe and ratchets up the tension; this is a notable departure, but not altogether surprising, given Land’s reputation for propulsive thrillers ... Like all change, it takes some getting used to—but the effort is worth it, not only by virtue of the author’s merits but for the sustained literary life (and relevancy) it provides our beloved Jessica Fletcher and friends.
RaveCriminal ElementRiver Bodies by Karen Katchur is a dark, gripping mystery where a brutal murder unearths old secrets that should have stayed buried ... The narrative shifts timeframes and perspectives, effectively hastening the collision of past with present while also mirroring Becca’s retrieval of memories from her childhood, which prove integral to the case at hand. Further enhancing the story’s thriller elements is the palpable sense of claustrophobia and isolation that Katchur creates, both in terms of external setting and internal conflict. But beyond conventional genre fare, it’s a study of broken families and a meditation on grief, which has the power to both cripple and galvanize. Consequently, only by confronting her haunted history can Becca overcome it—or die trying ... River Bodies is an astonishingly evocative and emotionally resonant novel.
RaveCriminal ElementButton Man may just be Andrew Gross’s most ambitious and accomplished novel to date. It’s one that shows the true scope of his storytelling talents, melding fact with fiction as history comes breathtakingly alive on the page for readers, who are reminded that our collective past is every bit as immediate and pressing as the complexities of contemporary life.
Hank Phillippi Ryan
PositiveCriminal ElementAs Trust Me opens, readers are introduced to bereaved Boston journalist, Mercer Hennessey, who has put her career on hold in the aftermath of an auto accident that killed her husband, Dex, and young daughter, Sophie. Reclusive by choice, she is tempted to take her first tentative steps back into the immersive world of work when her former editor, Katherine Craft, offers her the opportunity of a lifetime: to write a blockbuster book chronicling the trial of party mom Ashlyn Bryant, accused of killing her two-year-old daughter, Tasha Nicole ... Trust Me is a taut psychological thriller that puts a fresh, fiendish spin on the unreliable narrator gambit—an accomplishment in and of itself.
Joyce Carol Oates
PositiveCriminal ElementThe anthology is marred by a few stylistic shortcomings. While I consider myself a fan of the author’s liberal use of parentheses, what tantalizes in moderate measure can become tedious ... Ultimately, however, Night-Gaunts is another vehicle that showcases Oates’s expansive storytelling ambitions, not to mention the seemingly boundless breadth of her talents. Though united by tone and temperament, each piece succeeds singularly even as the totality of the work (mostly) exceeds the sum of its parts.
RaveCriminal Element...a propulsive novel that’s part love story, part detective story, and part supernatural thriller that makes keen and powerful observations about human connection ... Caroline Kepnes made an indelible mark on the literary world with 2014’s You—a book that earned rave reviews ... She makes a much-anticipated return with Providence, which showcases the diversity of her storytelling talents ... Admittedly, there’s a lot going on within the narrative—but everything is anchored by heartfelt emotion, including the subtle supernatural flourishes ... Regardless of genre, it’s the inimitability of her voice, the depth of her characters, and the underlying sense of realism that will continue to speak to readers around the world.
PositiveCriminal ElementGerritsen continues to surprise with the depth and range of her storytelling ambitions ... there’s complex villainy, a distortion between appearance and reality, and a third-act plot twist that will both surprise and satisfy.
RaveThe Criminal ElementPer usual, Gardner infuses her narrative with timely and topical social issues that deserve a closer look; here, the abuses and limitations of the foster care system come under the microscope, as do other matters including dependency, exploitation, gang violence, and PTSD. So too the struggles of working mothers like D. D. Warren, who endeavor to balance their personal and professional lives without compromising either. It’s these elements that ground the author’s propulsive plots in a sense of realism despite their fictional flourishes. Look for Me is a worthy addition to Lisa Gardner’s outstanding oeuvre.
RaveCriminal ElementPer usual, Gardner infuses her narrative with timely and topical social issues that deserve a closer look; here, the abuses and limitations of the foster care system come under the microscope, as do other matters including dependency, exploitation, gang violence, and PTSD. So too the struggles of working mothers like D. D. Warren, who endeavor to balance their personal and professional lives without compromising either. It’s these elements that ground the author’s propulsive plots in a sense of realism despite their fictional flourishes. Look for Me is a worthy addition to Lisa Gardner’s outstanding oeuvre.
RaveCriminal ElementThe story is set against the backdrop of Bonsecour—a fictitious stand-in for Beaufort, South Carolina. The antebellum architecture, live oaks, and dripping moss are as much characters in the book as the people that populate its pages; not only does this serve to create an atmosphere of charm and gentility but also one where suspicions often go unspoken and are routinely hidden under the guise of good manners. Beyond scenic flourishes, Ephron excels at depicting the dynamics between ordinary women thrust into extraordinary situations. While she’s often told tales of mothers and daughters, this is her first three-generation saga, and the result is a poignant portrayal of how tragedies often have a trickle-down effect, blighting everyone they touch despite the degrees of separation. You’ll Never Know, Dear is a worthy and irresistibly readable addition to the author’s impressive arsenal.
RaveCriminal ElementSlaughter brilliantly alternates chapters between time periods and perspectives, methodically doling out crucial pieces of information that often shatter long-held assumptions (and the inevitable resentments that accompany those beliefs). Not only does this serve to balance the tension of both storylines, which are grounded as much in emotion as they are in action, but it keeps her characters—and her readers—in a constant state of unrest. The author’s endgame is at once surprising and satisfying, and you can’t help but marvel at the precision of her plotting. The pain of it all is pervasive but also utterly profound—and, at times, poetic. The Good Daughter is a stunning work of psychological suspense that will undoubtedly, and deservedly, rank among the year’s very best (crime) novels. Karin Slaughter has an inimitable style that lends itself to complete immersion, and the absolute sense of realism that she captures within her narrative is both awe-inspiring and gut-wrenching. This one will break your heart a million times over and then put the pieces back together again—or at least some of them.