Page-turning thrillers late into the night

These six thrillers will take you from New York to Copenhagen, and points in between, and are sure to keep you turning pages late into the night.

nine livesPeter Swanson (HarperCollins, Canada, 336 pages) Peter Swanson is becoming the king of the classic mystery revival. His last two books, Every vow you break and Eight Perfect Kills, have been deservedly best-sellers and have received numerous awards. His latest work, nine lives, up to it all and more. It is his best book to date.

The principle is close to perfection. Nine people receive a list with their names on it. No other information is included. Shortly after, two of the people die. A much-loved local elder drowns in Kennewick, Maine, and a family man is shot while jogging in his quiet suburban Massachusetts neighborhood. Nothing connects the two except that they are both names on the list. It’s clear that someone, somewhere, is a serial killer with a plan. But the names are in places across the country. The people apparently have nothing in common and range from an oncology nurse to an FBI agent named Jessica Winslow. But Jessica is excluded from the investigation because she is seen as a victim. Yet she puts her talents to work in search of any clue as to what connects her to the other eight people on the list. It is clear that the secret lies in the life of the nine. How and why the list is compiled is the heart of this novel, and Swanson never lets the reader down. As Jessica searches, small clues are revealed and eventually the solution appears. While playing, however, you won’t be able to stop. Save this one for the weekend, you don’t have to do anything but read. You won’t ask it.

the hereticLiam McIlvanney (Europa editions, 528 pages) Those of us who have read McIlvanney’s first novel, The Quaker, were eagerly awaiting this sequel and it delivers the goods. This chapter in the life of Glasgow detective Duncan McCormack is as good, if not better, than its predecessor.

We are in 1976, seven years after the events of Quaker where McCormack brought down a bunch of corrupt cops and politicians. He has been in London as part of the Metropolitan Inquiries Unit, but is now back in Glasgow, head of the newly created Serious Crimes Unit with its own investigative team. But there are those who have not forgiven him for spreading the dirty laundry of the force. The first two investigations on his plate involve a vicious local crime boss and a corpse on the trash heap. Then there are the killings in the city’s poorer neighborhoods, people few mourn.

A sin Quaker, Glasgow itself is part of the story. The city is transformed, explodes: the highways cross the districts; old Victorian buildings give way to more modern and expensive shopping haunts. Across the pond, The Troubles are flaring up in Ireland, a place closer to the heart of Glasgow than many care to admit. Against all these changes and upheavals are the police, who have their own secrets and crimes to bear.

All of these plots, characterizations, descriptions, and backgrounds make this 528-page book a long read, but I found it fascinating. McIlvanney is a superb writer with a simple, elegant style that lends itself to what is now called “Black Tartan”. Can’t wait for the next episode of Team McCormack.

The portKatrine Engberg, translated by Tara Chace (Scout Press, 342 pages) From Tartan Noir to Scandi Noir, we move on to Copenhagen and the third novel starring Anette Werner and Jeppe Korner. We now know that Engberg’s storylines revolve around family secrets and psychological suspense. The port delivers on all counts.

It’s late spring and Werner and Korner are enjoying a day off when they are called in because of a missing child. Oscar Dreyer-Hoff is 15 years old and disappeared overnight. At first, Werner and Korner are skeptical. Children – especially teenagers – fall asleep but often come back. But, with a strange message left for them, the parents are convinced that something dangerous is going on. Werner and Korner call the troops and the hunt for Oscar begins.

Engberg fans know secrets will emerge from the family’s seemingly perfect setting, but this time it’s a little different. There are many family secrets, but the clues to Oscar’s disappearance are external. We also get the final episode in the lives of Korner and Werner and their families. It’s an essential piece of his books and I always look forward to it.

The long weekendGilly Macmillan (HarperCollins, 342 pages) Three couples, a remote Northumbrian farmhouse, a weekend away from work, children and worries – this is the setup of what seems to be in store for Jayne, Ruth, Emily and their husbands. But the plans go wrong. The men have last-minute delays and the three women leave alone. Once settled in Dark Fell Barn, with a heavy storm rolling in and without internet or cell service, the women are greeted with a package and a message: One of their husbands will die tonight at the hands of Edie, an old friend whose husband, Rob, recently drowned. Edie’s message plunges the three women into turmoil. Emily, young, beautiful, egocentric, wants to be away from this place and these two women she barely knows. Ruth, a new mother, lets her serious drinking problem get out of her restraints. Ex-Army Intelligence Jayne has her own demons to hide. All three are about to explode and we still don’t know who or why anyone died.

The plot, which owes a bit to the old film A letter to three wives, let each of the women expose their fears and weaknesses. The men, restrained for most of the book, are seen through the prism of their marriages, which can be perfect harmony (Emily) or serious fears (Ruth). There’s a twist in the first third, which means Macmillan has to resort to a lot of tricks to keep the suspense going. I found it boring but I continued to read anyway. I think you also.

Our American friendAnna Pitoniak (Simon & Schuster, 336 pages) If Melania Trump ever decides to hire someone to write her biography, she should turn to Anna Pitoniak first. Our American friend is fiction but Melania’s sphinx gaze is there, leaving us to wonder what she’s really thinking (or if she’s thinking at all). but serves as a heavy load of imaginary backdrop to the old unlamented POTUS.

The narrator is Sofie Morse, once a small cog in the Washington press corps. We are opening in Croatia because Sofie resigned from her post when President Henry Caine was re-elected for a second term. Caine is a repulsive character who deserves nothing but contempt. Sofie considers her options when she receives a surprise statement. Caine’s wife, Lara, an inscrutable Russian émigré, wants her to write her biography. It’s a chance that no writer refuses (well, some would) and Sofie returns to the White House. Lara’s only request is that the story begin “from the beginning”, meaning in Paris in the 1970s, where she is the pampered daughter of a high-ranking KGB spy.

Part of the plot here is what Lara has in mind for the book and why she chose Sofie to write it and, although there isn’t much review, Pitoniak’s images of a woman caught between two worlds are a fun story. I didn’t find it overly exciting, but I found Lara’s story engaging and, from first loves to the White House, it kept the story moving.

vladimirJulia May Jonas (Avid Reader Press, 256 pages) Although this book is presented as a mystery novel, it is more of a psychological thriller, not a real mystery. Still, the opening caught my eye. A young man is restrained in a sleeping chair. Why he is there and what is happening is unknown. The narrator reflects on her love for older men and yet here is this beautiful specimen of youth. How and what?

From the prologue we move on to the real tale. Our narrator is at a life crisis. She is a professor of literature at a university in upstate New York. Her husband, head of the English department, has been accused by a number of former students of serial sexual harassment. The narrator does not care about his debauchery. They had an open marriage for decades. She is furious with women who show up and enter her cozy world. How dare they? As the crisis deepens, she drifts into a romantic daydream about Vladimir, a young author who is writer-in-residence with his wife and child. She tones, polishes, tans, ready for the day when Vladimir will be hers.

It’s all done in lively prose that made me laugh despite my utter disgust with the narrator and her self-centered life. I was surprised to find out that this is a debut album by Jonas, who lives in New York but is originally from Whistler, BC. He’s a writer to watch.

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Calvin W. Soper