By G. Robert Frazier
Summer may be over, but these five stories of mystery, intrigue and horrific happenings are just ripe for cool October nights.
What begins as a fun, relaxing getaway at a New Hampshire lake for 7-year-old Wen and her dads, Andrew and Eric, turns into a terrifying ordeal of survival in The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay. When the trio is visited at their cabin by four mysterious strangers—Leonard, Adriane, Redmond and Sabrina—their familial bond is put to the ultimate test. “We are not going to kill you, Wen, and we are not going to kill your parents,” promises Leonard, the smooth-talking leader of the visitors and an alleged bartender from the Chicago area. He goes on to explain: “The four of us are here to prevent the apocalypse.” But to ensure that happens, Wen, Andrew or Eric has to die, and they must choose among themselves who it will be. The unusual deal thrusts the family into a tense moral dilemma that tests the limits of their love. Tremblay won the 2015 Bram Stoker Award for A Head Full of Ghosts and may be on his way to a repeat with the chillingly good The Cabin at the End of the World.
Read my Q&A with Paul Tremblay.
DON’T DIG TOO DEEP
What secrets do a mother and her son keep, and how far are they willing to go to protect those secrets? These are just two of the questions facing Lydia Fitzsimons and her son, Laurence, in Lying in Wait, set in 1980s Dublin. Lydia explains on page one that her husband, Andrew, “did not mean to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it.” It’s off to the races from there. Within short order, 18-year-old Laurence—who recently had sex for the first time with his girlfriend and endures bullying every day at school because of his excess weight—discovers Annie’s body buried in their backyard. As Laurence wrestles to learn what happened and how his parents could have done such a thing, Lydia goes about her business as if nothing happened. Elsewhere, Annie’s twin sister, Karen, begins a meticulous investigation into her sister’s disappearance. Events cascade toward a collision as the trio’s stories unwind in alternating chapters. Author Liz Nugent, whose debut novel, Unraveling Oliver, earned high critical praise, has upped her game here with a darkly twisted tale of murder, lies and secrets best left buried.
AND THE CREDITS ROLL
Sibling rivalry and Hollywood obsessions collide in young adult novelist Jennifer Wolfe’s adult fiction debut, Watch the Girls. From the start of her acting career, Liv Hendricks (formerly known as child actress Olivia Hill) has been pushed at every turn by her domineering mother, Desiree, and has lived in the shadows of her successful sisters, Miranda and Gemma. Then Liv’s career reaches a dead end when Miranda goes missing. Years later, after a bout of alcoholism and being ousted from a reality series, Liv decides to reignite her career by filming her own detective web series. Her first case: find the missing daughter of auteur Jonas Kron, whose horror films have earned him a cult-like following. Liv follows the trail to Kron’s California hometown of Stone’s Throw, where fans are converging for an annual film festival in Kron’s honor. With bitter townsfolk, a none-too-helpful sheriff and Kron’s crazed followers to contend with, Liv discovers that finding the truth will be a challenge. When Liv’s younger sister Gemma also goes missing in the haunted woods of Stone’s Throw, the stakes intensify. Wolfe incorporates text message exchanges into the more traditional first-person narrative to create a novel that reflects today’s social media-obsessed world. Fast-paced and fraught with suspense, Watch the Girls unravels like a perfect summer-night movie.
WELCOME BACK TO CAMP
Riley Sager, who made a splash with last year’s Final Girls, returns this summer with another tense thriller. Whereas Final Girls followed the plight of the sole survivor of a horror movie-like massacre whose past comes back to haunt her, The Last Time I Lied follows Emma Davis in her quest to find her friends, who disappeared in the dead of night during a camp outing 15 years ago. Emma, who has become an accomplished New York artist, is invited to return to Camp Nightingale as an art instructor and sees it as an opportunity to learn what really happened that night. The past has a way of repeating itself, and it isn’t long before Emma suspects she and her new camp companions may be in as much danger as her lost friends. The tension ratchets up with each chapter, leading to a suspenseful showdown. Like Final Girls, The Last Time I Lied has all the earmarks of a campy Friday the 13th-type horror flick, but Sager elevates the story with a strong lead character and a grounded, realistic threat.
MONEY WON’T SAVE YOU
In case the previous thrill-a-minute reads are a little too intense, or readers are looking for a more intellectually stirring, sophisticated mystery, The Banker’s Wife by Cristina Alger may fit the bill. A former financial analyst and corporate attorney, Alger brings her real-world experiences to bear in this novel about the world of global finance, insider trading and corruption. After Swiss banker Matthew Lerner’s private plane bound for Geneva crashes in the Alps during a storm, his wife, Annabel, is left to piece together her life and, perhaps more importantly, the mysteries he leaves behind—namely, an encrypted laptop and a client who doesn’t want Matthew’s secrets getting out. At the same time, journalist Marina Tourneau is enlisted to obtain a USB drive containing highly sensitive materials from a Luxembourg courier that may reveal the whereabouts of long-thought deceased financial schemer Morty Reiss. Along the way, Marina discovers a financial web with far-reaching implications, inevitably bringing the two storylines together. With global settings, covert government agencies and intricate plotting, The Banker’s Wife reads like an old-fashioned international espionage thriller. But Alger’s talents keep the plot digestible for readers while her female protagonists provide strong, smart alternatives to this typically male-dominated genre.
This article was originally published in the July 2018 issue of BookPage.