7 books you’ll want on your summer thriller reading list
On the Shelf
Summer's Most Anticipated Thrillers
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Summer’s here — a time for mystery readers to chuck their cozy armchairs for sun umbrellas and venture beyond their living rooms, pandemic permitting. No matter how far you’re physically roaming, the summer’s crop of mysteries, recent and forthcoming, seem custom-made to take you places. All our most anticipated chillers explore territories beyond the everyday, crossing boundaries both geographic and psychological in search of the next hot thrill.
Four summer breakouts
Two Nights in Lisbon
By Chris Pavone
MCD: 448 pages, $28
Over the course of four international thrillers, Pavone has honed a singular style that mixes female protagonists, deliciously twisted plots and thoughtful explorations of modern relationships. Here, Ariel Pryce is a 40-ish escapee from a former life now ensconced in a farmhouse on an un-tony plot of Long Island. She wakes up one hot morning in the Portuguese capital to find her new husband, John Wright, missing. Ariel’s search for her younger spouse will have her crossing paths with the Lisbon police, the American embassy and a coked-up reporter before the kidnappers make contact, demanding a 3-million-euro ransom.
What transpires — most importantly, who Ariel taps for the money and why — is revealed in mystifyingly well-constructed layers of flashback and forward thrust. While there’s a frisson of recognition in the Easter egg that name-checks another Pavonian woman on the run, “Two Nights in Lisbon” stands on its own as a dynamic and wholly original story about privilege, power and the price women pay so that others can maintain it.
Even the Darkest Night
By Javier Cercas
Translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean
Knopf: 337 pages, $30
The next stop on our summer jaunt is Catalonia’s Terra Alta, an olive- and wine-growing region that was the site of one of the most consequential battles of the Spanish Civil War. The first in a new series by Cercas features Det. Melchor Marín, a man with a hidden criminal past and a love for Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables,” who has been transferred from Barcelona after he thwarted an Islamist terrorist attack. Married to a librarian, father of young Cossette, Melchor is four years into a stint as a detective in a place where, his colleague swears, “nothing ever happens.” Then he’s called to the home of the elderly Adells, owners of a paper products manufacturer — the biggest business in Terra Alta.
The elderly couple have been tortured, murdered and mutilated beyond recognition. Why would someone off the devoutly religious and profoundly generous owners of a business that employs half of Terra Alta? The answer torments Melchor, and when the case grows cold he takes matters into his own hands, with disastrous results for both the investigation and Melchor’s own life.
Using Hugo’s convict-turned-businessman Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert as touchstones, “Even the Darkest Night,” winner of Spain’s most prestigious literary prize, asks big questions about justice, revenge and whether literature can change lives. The last question is addressed in Melchor’s early years when he asks a fellow inmate if Hugo’s masterpiece is any good: “Depends on you,” he responds. “The writer supplies half of a book, the other half comes from you.”
By Denise Mina
Mulholland: 304 pages, $28
In a sequel to Mina’s bestselling “Conviction,” podcast partners Anna McDonald and Fin Cohen duck out of a disastrous blended family vacation in southwest Scotland to search for Lisa Lee, a YouTube filmmaker and urbex aficionado. Lee went missing shortly after documenting her exploration of an abandoned French chateau full of religious artifacts, including a small silver casket rumored to hold proof of the Resurrection.
Amid the clamor of an auction for the rare artifact, Anna and Fin turn their search for Lisa into the second season of their podcast “Death and the Dana.” It’s a great setup for another mind-bending, wise-cracking adventure across Europe and beyond. Aided and abetted by a rogue’s gallery of religious zealots, Christian billionaires and lethal hangers-on, Mina packs in a dizzying (and sometimes confusing) array of surprises. By and large, though, in these two books Mina has mastered the intricacies of metafiction, not to mention edge-of-your-seat storytelling.
By Amina Akhtar
Thomas & Mercer: 330 pages, $25
Closer to home, a former fashion editor brings to her second novel — after 2018’s darkly comic “#FashionVictim” — a gimlet-eyed view of Sedona, Ariz.’s wellness pretensions and a wicked way with one-liners. Her protagonist is the self-effacing Ronnie Khan, orphaned at a young age and abused through adulthood by a controlling Pakistani auntie, who escapes to Red Rock country with her life coach and BFF, Marley Dewhurst.
Marley is manifesting her desire to be the biggest healer in Sedona. But the transition from Forest Hills, Queens, isn’t so easy for good Desi girls who don’t tan. “There were so many ways the desert could kill you,” Ronnie says. “Every new step into the wilderness (or a well-worn rail that was packed with people most days) meant more chances to die.”
Rattlesnakes and scorpions are the least of the pair’s concerns: The area is teeming with charlatans, who have been sussed out by not only Sedona’s longtime residents but also the area’s ravens; the latter share their POV in telling chapters. These birds see Ronnie as an ally, but they’ve also been “communicating” with another woman, egging on her mission to “get rid of everyone ruining this little slice of paradise.”
First on the birds’ naughty list is Matt Ford, whose remains Ronnie and Marley find on a popular hiking trail. Next is Fiona Healer (née Lawrence), another piece of work whose body is covered with honey for the animals to devour. Marley, sensing a media opportunity, forms a Safety and Citizen Patrol — motto: “We want our Sedona back” — and pulls away from Ronnie, latching onto a new friend more supportive of her ambitions.
You don’t need to quote ravens to know this isn’t going to end well. But the surprises Akhtar has in store upend assumptions about trauma, healing and the motivations of those who helicopter into lands they claim to hold sacred.
And three series to catch up on
Anthony Horowitz is a screenwriter (“Foyle’s War”) and author best known for his Magpie Murders and Hawthorne and Horowitz series (”The Sentence Is Death”). But he’s also been tapped by Ian Fleming’s estate to flesh out new James Bond novels from unpublished material. “With a Mind to Kill,” the third in the series, kicks off two weeks after the conclusion of Fleming’s 1965 “The Man With the Golden Gun,” pitting Bond against a group of former Smersh agents who brainwash him and program him to kill M. Horowitz ably follows the Bond recipe but adds a dollop of professional self-doubt that strengthens Bond’s character and legacy.
In “Wild Prey,” the second installment in Brian Klingborg’s Inspector Lu Fei series set in rural northern China, the Raven Valley township police inspector is embroiled in two seemingly unrelated cases — a hunt for the suppliers of exotic animals for notorious wet markets and the search for a missing teenage waitress at a club in nearby Harbin. Going undercover, Lu follows both trails to a warlord in Myanmar. Klingborg ratchets up the tension as Lu uncovers a deeper conspiracy. The taut thriller on a topical theme is perfect for readers longing for an au courant successor to Eliot Pattison’s Inspector Shan Tao Yun mysteries.
In “Good Night Forever” (June 28), Times foreign and national editor Jeffrey Fleishman has crafted a fitting conclusion to the Det. Sam Carver series, which across three books have cast Los Angeles in fresh shadows of neo-noir. From the moment the LAPD detective arrives at the home of fellow cop and lover Lily Hernandez — which is now a crime scene — he knows it’s the work of his nemesis Dylan Cross, a woman who was embroiled in a double homicide from 2019’s “My Detective.” The Hernandez investigation produces a suspect, but the broken and grieving Carver knows better. His final confrontation with the beautiful Cross is definitely not the stuff of standard police procedure, but it’s as noir as you can get. “I am here in the night at the tip of her fork,” Carver says, “knowing that the betrayals we allow ourselves are, in the end, what define us.”
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