Paperback Fiction Short Take: What She Saw – Gerard Stembridge

You can recommend this stylish thriller to fans of Chris Pavone. In it, a heroine in the throes of a manic episode takes a trip to Paris, telling herself that as long as she stays on her meds everything is under control. Staying at the historic Hotel Chevalier, she impulsively follows a young woman she has just in the hotel’s bar and sees the young woman being assaulted by an older man who turns out to be a famous French politician. What should have been a vacation turns into a cat-and-mouse game as she tries to uncover the truth behind what she believes she saw. Author Stembridge is also a screenwriter and it shows in the story’s page-turning pace.

Librarians loved this one and singled it out as a LibraryReads pick.

Writer and director Stembridge creates an indefatigable protagonist, emboldened and energized by her mania, in a chase through the vividly portrayed City of Lights. A thoroughly entertaining mix of suspense and setting.”
Booklist

“A satisfyingly twisty 24-hour thrill ride through the heart of contemporary Paris. Lana Gibson, an American living in Dublin, decides on a whim to fly to Paris…. At the posh Hotel Le Chevalier, she talks to a beautiful woman in the bar. An hour later, the impulsive Lana slips into the hotel’s private elevator, which she knows goes up to a private suite. When the elevator doors open, she spots the woman from the bar resisting the advances of a naked older man… [who] turns out to be…an important French politician…. The secondary viewpoint of a frustrated small player in Fournier’s organization adds complexity and raises the tension.”
Publisher Weekly

What She Saw (9780062568984) by Gerard Stembridge. $15.99 trade paper original. 5/23/17 on sale.

 

New Fiction: Brighton – Michael Harvey

Harvey writes the kind of suspense I find particularly rewarding: Steeped in a sense of place, rich in character and motivation, the plots seem to develop organically toward a tragic denouement. The NYT has called him “One of the best…in the game.”

His last six books have been a Chicago-based series. With Brighton, Harvey returns to his native Boston for a story about two working class kids—the one who got out, the one who stayed behind, and the childhood crime that comes back to haunt them. This will likely appeal to readers who loved Dennis Lehane’s Mystic River. It’s already been optioned by the Oscar-winning producer of The Departed and The Town–a guy with a knack for identifying a good Boston-based suspense story.

Sharp as the blades used to gut the guilty and innocent alike, Harvey’s fierce stand-alone is a blood-soaked tribute to finding your past and living with the consequences.”
Kirkus (starred review)

“This gritty standalone…focuses on two childhood friends who have gone in dramatically different directions as adults. Kevin Pearce starts life as an intelligent young man born into poverty and a brutal home life in 1970s Brighton, a hard-bitten section of Boston. Kevin’s best friend, Bobby Scales, is a violent urban Huck Finn who’s also capable and loyal. After Kevin’s grandmother is murdered in a grisly home invasion, Kevin and Bobby ambush and slay the killer…. Harvey crisply evokes the dark side of the Boston urban underclass inhabiting a fractured neighborhood in a constant state of casual violence and brutality. An intense, twist-filled climax caps the unremittingly gloomy but moving story.”
— Publishers Weekly

“Masterful. . . . With a gritty atmosphere, extraordinary characters, and several stunning twists. . . . Strongly recommended for fans of Dennis Lehane.”
Booklist (starred review)

Brighton is the f***king bomb! I loved it.”
— Stephen King

Brighton (9780062442970) by Michael Harvey. $27.99 hardcover. 6/14/16 on sale.

Fiction Short Take: Girls on Fire – Robin Wasserman

Wasserman is a well-known YA author making her adult suspense debut with this tale of two teens negotiating the treacherous territory between girlhood and adulthood in the early 1990s. With two love triangles gone violently wrong, Kirkus calls this a story of “[g]irls behaving very, very badly.”

“The story unfolds as a maddening tease, with shocking events waiting around every corner-and an ending that will leave readers stunned.”
Booklist

Girls on Fire will utterly terrify you — in the best way possible…. A dark, chilling story of secrets, violence, and female friendship, Girls on Fire will burn in the mind long after you finish reading.”
BuzzFeed

 A book so wonderful, so terrible, so nightmarishly compelling that I hardly knew what to say when I finished reading it. Wasserman has wrapped up a love story inside a murder mystery, a promise and a testament inside a confession—and has a title ever been truer? The reader comes away singed.”
— Kelly Link

“A chilling mix-tape of love, girl crushes, secrets, and revenge… Read it on vacation; read it on the train; read it at the beach; read it at a campfire just about to burn out—but don’t miss it.”
Ploughshares

“This book would not let me go. Wasserman crafts a love so sharp and utterly insatiable that the edges separating one body from another blur. This is the story of Hannah and Lacey, whose need for one another is nothing short of parasitic. Girls on Fire is neither a testament to the power of female friendship nor is it a story of first loves. It is a foray into the realm of propulsive desire, and an unsettling answer to the question, ‘who am I without you?’”
— Tara Bagnola, Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, MI

Girls on Fire (9780062415486) by Robin Wasserman. $25.99 hardcover. 5/17/16 on sale.

New Fiction: Wilde Lake – Laura Lippman

I’m not surprised that Lippman is a LibraryReads pick for May. She’s one of those reliably rewarding authors that readers come back to time and time again. If you like suspense, you know you’ll get satisfyingly twisty read. If you’ll read anything as long as it’s got a good story line and some substance, Lippman pretty much always delivers a thoughtful treatment of social issues wrapped up in a page turner.

This time out, she pays homage to Harper Lee with a plot that will look very familiar to fans of To Kill a Mockingbird. Publisher’s Weekly not only gives it a starred review but one of its rare boxed reviews. Booklist also gives it a starred review.

Luisa “Lu” Brant, the heroine of this richly plotted and emotionally devastating standalone…has been newly elected as state’s attorney of Maryland’s Howard County. She’s back in her hometown of Columbia, where she and her brother, AJ, eight years her senior, were raised by their widowed father, Andrew Jackson Brant, a formidable prosecutor with an Atticus Finch sense of justice and morality…. When Lu takes on her first murder case as state’s attorney—a woman is found beaten and strangled in her apartment—she has no idea that the defendant, a mentally unstable drifter, could be connected to a larger pattern of darkness stretching back to her childhood. Lippman plays with the concept of truth and expertly homes in on the question of whether there are some truths we never want to know.”
Publishers Weekly (starred, box review)

“Lippman’s latest ensnaring mystery is a cunning variation on To Kill a Mockingbird. In the present, Lu is a young widow who has just followed her father’s footsteps to become the county’s first woman state’s attorney….As shocking secrets are revealed, the reader realizes that nothing and no one can be taken at face value in Lippman’s brainy, witty, socially conscious, and all-consuming inquiry into human nature and our slowly evolving sense of justice and equality.
Booklist (starred review)

“Lippman as always treads the fine line between certainty and amazement.”
Kirkus Reviews

Wilde Lake (9780062083456) by Laura Lippman. $26.99 hardcover. 5/3/16 on sale.

 

Fiction Short Take: 300 Days of Sun – Deborah Lawrenson

My bad, I missed the on sale of this and it’s in stores now. If it’s not on your display table, you might want to grab it off the shelves and give it a shot. Our marketing folks sent me a copy this week and it’s got a lush, irresistible cover that says “summer reading.”

Lawrenson’s debut, The Lantern, led more than a few reviewers to recall Daphne DuMaurier with the WSJ noting that this new novel delivers another “escapist mix of mystery, romance and murder.” The plot involves a sunny Portuguese town with a shadowy past where two women—four decades apart—work to uncover dark secrets haunting the inhabitants. As a Harper colleague wrote: “beautiful setting, romantic suspense, a storyline that shifts between present-day and WWII era – and orphans!”

Nice advance reviews, too.

“A deeply satisfying novel, a rich story with a strong feeling for time and place and the expert pacing of the best thrillers. Readers will appreciate Lawrenson’s ability to combine stunning atmosphere with a fascinating historical backstory.”
Booklist (starred review)

“Merges past and present, doubling identities and events to dazzling… effect. Set against the lush but corrupt coastal resorts of southern Portugal, the novel’s shadowy deeds seem only more dangerous in this sunny clime…. Sure to please those who relish the untangling of crimes in exotic locales.”
— Library Journal

300 Days of Sun (9780062390165) by Deborah Lawrenson. $15.99 trade paper original. 4/12/16 on sale.

Short Take – Suspense: What Remains of Me – Alison Gaylin

Gaylin’s first hardcover novel is preceded by several bestsellers in mass market. She’s won a Shamus Award and was an Edgar Award nominee. So she arrives with a fan base ready for more of her top-notch twisty psychological suspense.

This standalone is a tale of the secrets and betrayal behind lives of Hollywood glamour. It’s got a great set up: In 1980, seventeen year old Kelly Michelle Lund shoots and kills an Oscar-nominated director in his home making her an instant media sensation. But Kelly goes to prison keeping her secrets to herself. Flash forward 30 years to her release. Another Hollywood heavyweight is found dead, killed the same way as the director, and of course Kelly is the prime suspect.

Constructing the tale in both the past and present proves a tantalizing way to tease out the connection between these dead men and details of Kelly’s story. Per the requirements of this genre, there’s a great twist at the end.

Gaylin is excellent at reproducing the TMZ-style blog posts and news articles that surround sensational crimes. Also strong are the flashbacks in which former misfit Kelly starts hanging out with cool kids Vee and Bellamy, learning how to do drugs and cruising around in their fancy cars with a perfect 1980s soundtrack. A rich read.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Gaylin smoothly alternates between past and present in this melodramatic Hollywood whodunit.…The path to the truth—both about Sterling’s murder and McFadden’s—takes many surprising twists….”
— Publishers Weekly

What Remains of Me (9780062369857) by Alison Gaylin. $25.99 hardcover. 2/23/16 on sale.

New Fiction: The Good Liar – Nicholas Searle

This stylish, clever debut is already on sale in England and garnering reviews like this from the Daily Express: “An incredibly dark, taut thriller…. Think of Ruth Rendell morphing into John Le Carré.” It reminded me of early Ian McEwan—books like Amsterdam and The Innocent—twisty works of psychological suspense and character.

The plot involves the popular suspense device du jour, an unreliable narrator. And a warning to readers who must like their characters: Roy Courtney is creepy from the get-go. Moreover, you quickly start to realize he’s not just creepy; he’s a very bad man. The suspenseful unfolding of Roy’s past and how the author reveals it is one of the pleasures of the book. Then it all ramps up late in the book with a plot twist that would be literary malpractice to hint at.

I think the reviewers offer just enough to tempt the many fans of this genre…

At the start of British author Searle’s engrossing debut, octogenarian Roy Courtnay is looking forward to his lunch with Betty McLeish, a wealthy widow he’s met online. The apprehensive Betty has her grandson, Stephen, drive her to the appointed restaurant in an unspecified locale she and Roy have agreed on, where he waits outside in the car, prepared to rescue her if need be. Roy and Betty hit it off, and he soon moves into her cottage in the English countryside, where he sets about to bilk her of her fortune….Equal parts crime novel and character study, the tale is itself an elegantly structured long con. The pace is almost maddeningly deliberate, with details about the characters and their schemes doled out like a controlled substance, but patient readers will be rewarded with devastating third-act twists and a satisfying denouement.”
Publishers Weekly

 “A gut-clenching cat-and-mouse game…. This debut novel is a well-crafted, complex tale that will appeal to fans of psychological thrillers.”
— Booklist

“[A] fantastically assured debut…..A neat, clean structure alternates between sections written in the present tense, as Roy’s heart races at the thought of getting his hands on Betty’s assets, and past-tense accounts of key scenes from the lives of the trickster and his associates.… Searle nicely paces the dropping of details that explain what made Roy the person he now pretends to be…. The Good Liar makes you want to experience Nicholas Searle’s next trick.”
— The Guardian

“As the tension mounts, the reader is kept guessing….The final denouement is a real cracker… Added to the fiendishly clever plot, Searle’s writing is both drily amusing and elegantly crafted.”
Daily Mail

The Good Liar (9780062407498) by Nicholas Searle. $27.99 hardcover. 2/2/16 on sale.