Thriller/Suspense

BLOOD WILL TELL by Heather Chavez

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When the cops question her about the disappearance of a seventeen-year-old girl, Frankie instinctively lies. No, there’s no way someone could have taken her truck last night without her noticing. And of course she had nothing to do with it. That last part was true–for now. Because the only person who could have taken her truck was her sister Izzy, and Frankie committed long ago to always helping Izzy clean up her messes.

Izzy claims to know nothing about the disappearance of the girl, but Frankie can tell she’s hiding something. She decides to investigate on her own–to find the truth before the police–so that she knows what she’ll need to do to protect Izzy. But as clues begin to point back to the fateful night five years ago when a drunken Izzy hit a deer (hopefully it was just a deer) with her car, Frankie realizes that more happened at that party than Izzy remembers. And the key to finding the missing girl might require figuring out what happened to the girl who went missing that night five years ago.

This mystery/thriller is delightfully suspenseful and masterfully paced–slow-moving enough to be torturous (in a good way) but with so many shady characters and tantalizing secrets to make it impossible to stop reading. I was genuinely unsure who the culprit was until the very end because so much groundwork had been laid for any of several suspects. This novel will make a wonderful addition to any mystery/thriller collection and a heart-stopping read for fans of the genre.

SHE LIED SHE DIED by Carissa Ann Lynch

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Chrissy Cornwall is a child murderer. She murdered a child, and she was a child when she did it. Now, she’s being released from prison and the whole town is in an uproar. Natalie, who was also a child when the murdered girl was discovered in her family’s fields, has never been able to get the case (or the image of the poor girl’s body) out of her mind. Now a struggling true crime writer, she reaches out to Chrissy, hoping the murderer will be able to fill in some of the gaps that she never understood about that horrible night.

But Chrissy shows up with a surprise declaration: her confession thirty years ago was a lie, and somewhere in this wholesome little town, there might still be a killer on the loose. The more Natalie begins to dig into the dark secrets of the town’s past, the more she starts to believe that Chrissy might have been a scapegoat–the girl from the wrong side of the tracks taking the fall on behalf of the golden children from the right side of town. But Natalie is from the wrong side of the tracks, too, and the secrets she uncovers might just tear her peaceful life to shreds.

Propelled by suspenseful secrets and clean, strong writing, SHE LIED SHE DIED is an amateur detective mystery that you won’t be able to put down. The clues are numerous (as are the complicating red herrings), and the twists are satisfying while the eerie small-town setting and character-driven narrative create a delightfully immersive experience that will snag thriller fans as well as mystery readers. I highly recommend this one to adult fans of the genre. It would also make a great pick for book clubs who don’t mind dead bodies (in their books, of course).

FIREKEEPER’S DAUGHTER by Angeline Boulley

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Daunis has always existed in two worlds: the Ojibwe community where her father is from and the community of wealthy white people in Sault Ste. Marie where she lives with her mother. She is part of both but fully accepted by neither.

When her maternal grandmother has a stroke shortly after her uncle dies of a meth overdose, Daunis knows a third disaster is coming. She tries to prevent it by deferring her college admission–pushing off her dream of becoming a doctor so that she can stay close to both of her communities–but her presence isn’t enough to stop a shocking tragedy. With her world crumbling around her, Daunis is swept up into an investigation of drug trade on the reservation as a confidential informant, taking the place of her uncle, who she learns was likely murdered. But even though she isn’t an enrolled member of the tribe, Daunis is an Ojibwe woman, and she has her own agenda for helping the Cherokee FBI agents who have infiltrated her town. She will be searching for the truth to save her people’s lives, while also protecting their culture and traditions from meddling outsiders. Unfortunately, even in the investigation, the line between her identities is blurred, and as her secrets pile up, and the fake relationship she’s developed with the young FBI rookie starts to morph into something real, Daunis realizes that the truth has the power not only to save lives but also to tear them apart.

This stellar novel hits all of the notes for a heart-wrenching YA contemporary, a brain-teasing YA mystery, and pulse-pounding thriller. Boulley immerses readers in Daunis’s communities–from Michigan “Hockey World” to her Ojibwe nation–and crafts a stunningly character-driven mystery that crescendos gradually toward the shocking conclusion. This book satisfies me as a thriller reader and as a contemporary reader, and while thoroughly accessible for its teenage audience, the mature storytelling style and pristine prose makes it a great choice for adult readers, as well. I will add my voice for the clamor of recommendations for this truly exceptional novel.

WATCH OUT FOR HER by Samantha M. Bailey

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Sarah Goldman is no stranger to hidden cameras. She had two of them in their old house, nanny cams that she intended to use to keep an eye on the new 22-year-old babysitter, Holly, nanny cams that caught the footage that turned their lives upside down. Now, in their new home thousands of miles away from Holly and her secrets, Sarah had hoped that she and her husband and son could have a fresh start.

But then she finds the camera in the ceiling.

Sarah doesn’t know who is watching her, but she knows it has some connection to Holly, to the secrets she uncovered, and to the fight that drove the girl who had become like family out of their home. Surrounded by suspicious neighbors, and living with a husband she can’t quite trust, Sarah struggles to see past everyone’s facade to find the danger. But maybe the dark secrets she should be probing are her own…

A straightforward psychological thriller that leans in hard to the paranoid wife/mother trope, WATCH OUT FOR HER will find its readers among stalwart fans of the genre. Though none of the twists were shocking, the solid foundation of clues and the broad cast of suspicious characters made for a satisfying plot and ending. I’d recommend this one to fans of GIRL ON THE TRAIN and similar thrillers with possibly-crazy female protagonists.

FINDING GRACE by Janis Thomas

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Grace knows Louise will come rescue her from the mental hospital. It’s the whole reason she came to New York and stood up on that bridge in her underwear–to get her estranged daughter’s attention. Because the voices in Grace’s head are adamant. Someone is in danger, and this time, it’s the daughter Louise hasn’t seen since she was a baby.

Melanie has been happy in her latest foster home. Happier than she was in any of the others, anyway. Her foster mom is a little weird, but her foster dad is great. And so far she’s been able to hide the messages that come to her through the voice that writes in her journal using her hand. But the latest message sends a chill up her spine and makes her wonder whether it’s finally time to let her foster parents–or at least someone in on her secret.

Because… someone is coming…

This novel sits at an unusual intersection between psychological thriller and contemporary fiction (or “women’s fiction”). The early chapters of the book focus on multigenerational family dysfunction between Louise, her estranged mother, her late grandmother, and the daughter she gave up, while the nebulous and possibly fictitious danger hinted at by the voices in several characters’ heads keeps this thriller from being truly thrilling until well into the second half. As a result, this novel is most likely to find its readers among fans of both contemporary stories of family dysfunction and psychological thrillers who will find the beginning as captivating as the final third.

DO I KNOW YOU? by Sarah Strohmeyer

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Jane is a rare individual with an almost superhuman ability to recognize people after only seeing them once. It’s an asset in her job for the Department of Homeland Security. Unfortunately, it hasn’t helped her achieve the one thing she cares about: unraveling the mystery of what happened to her sister.

But when she sees the girl who she last saw with her sister–now all grown up and on the arm of the wealthy young man her sister was dating at the time of her disappearance–Jane finally has her first clue to the case. Though the powerful family warns her away, Jane can’t help returning to her hometown in search of answers. Her boyfriend thinks she needs another trip to the psych ward and the wedding-of-the-century is taking place on the wealthy family’s estate, but Jane isn’t going to rest until she finds out what happened to her sister–or dies trying.

With numerous untrustworthy characters–including the protagonist–it’s difficult to figure out the culprit behind the sinister events of this thriller. Plot drives the story, although it is light on physical action. The mystery unfolds gradually through various points-of-view, and the character we’re allowed to get closest to (Jane) is also the most erratic and in many ways, least reliable even though we’re inside her head. The alliances and motivations are so complex, I may have to reread it to untangle them all. Overall, a good addition to an adult thriller collection and a great pick for readers who enjoy plot-driven thrillers that keep you guessing.

THOSE WHO LIE by Diane Jeffrey

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Emily doesn’t know why the police are next to her hospital bed. She doesn’t even know why she’s in a hospital bed. But as the memories start to come back, she finds the explanation for the pain in her head and the questions the constable is asking about her argument with her husband. The car accident. She was driving, and Greg is dead.

The suspicions of the police follow her home, along with the confusion from her memory loss. What were she and Greg arguing about when the car crashed? Is it possible she did it on purpose? The only memory that lingers is that they were talking about her abusive father, who died over a decade ago, for whose murder (or voluntary manslaughter) Emily has already served her time. But when Emily begins getting messages from a dead man, she begins to wonder if someone is stalking her–or if maybe she’s losing her mind–again…

This psychological thriller is a page-turner! I wouldn’t call it twisty, but the narrator’s constant withholding of information–and the protagonist’s possible mental illness–keep the suspense high throughout. The timeline jumps from present to past, but dates at the start of each chapter as well as a change in tense help you keep track as you read. I’d recommend this novel to fans of psychological thrillers.

THE LAST GOODNIGHT by Kat Martin

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When they pull Kade’s estranged wife’s car from the lake, old wounds reopen. It’s been eight years since she was murdered, and the cops have given up on solving the case. But no matter how painfully their marriage ended, Kade can’t live knowing her killer hasn’t been brought to justice. Though his last attempt at hiring a PI went nowhere, he hopes new evidence from the recovered vehicle could revive the cold case. But he didn’t expect the PI to be a woman–an attractive and charismatic woman who makes him feel things he swore he’d never give into again.

Eleanor was eager to take the job at Kade’s ranch and confident that she could find his wife’s killer. But she soon realizes she made a mistake. She’s still confident she can find the killer, but she’s not confident she can resist her employer. Her lust is reciprocated and the two soon fall into a torrid affair. But as a mysterious enemy begins a violent assault on the ranch and Eleanor’s resolve to stay emotionally detached falls victim to Kade’s charms, she doubts either one of them will get out of this unscathed…

This suspenseful, lust-at-first sight romance will satisfy many fans of the genre. The majority of the tension and conflict in the plot comes from the external dangers while the relationship faces only superficial and easily-overcome obstacles. For romantic suspense readers who like their characters to have to fight as hard for their love and personal growth as they do to survive, this novel will fall short. But for readers who like a thriller plot with a hearty dose of steamy sex scenes, this new series-starter is a solid pick.

THE UNHEARD by Nicci French

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Tess and her ex have been effective co-parents since they split. He is happily married, and Tess is content in her relationship with Aidan, even if she’s not comfortable letting him spend the night yet. (At least not when her three-year-old daughter is home.) But when Poppy comes home from her dad’s house with a drawing of a woman being pushed out a window–and the cryptic message “he did kill and kill and kill”–Tess begins to fear that she witnessed something terrible. The police dismiss her as paranoid, but when a woman that Tess met at a cafe who claimed to know her (and Poppy) is murdered in the exact manner of her daughter’s drawing, Tess is certain that it must be connected. And if the murderer is someone that Poppy knows, then all of the men in Tess’ life are suspects–and she and Poppy are in very real danger.

Fans of psychological suspense won’t want to miss this mystery with a possibly-crazy narrator and an edge-of-your-seat climax. The protagonist gives us every reason to mistrust her judgment–and yet as we know there’s a murderer on the loose (and we are reading a thriller), we are left to calm our own anxieties over whether one of her many male acquaintances is truly a villain, or whether her obsession is blinding her to another lurking danger. Another triumph for Nicci French, and an excellent addition to any collection of adult mysteries and thrillers.

HER DARK LIES by J.T. Ellison

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Claire’s wedding to Jackson Compton, heir to the Compton business empire, will be the event of the century. But things start going wrong before they even reach the family’s Italian island. When an intruder breaks into Claire’s home, she wrestles away his gun and shoots him in self-defense. Jack persuades her to lie to the police, saying that the bodyguard killed the intruder, but the trauma of the incident follows Claire to Italy and worsens as unexplained events continue to disrupt their plans. It all seems to relate back to a visit from an art dealer who bought one of Claire’s paintings a week earlier. The problem: that particular art dealer died six months ago. As events on the island take a deadly turn, Claire is forced to wonder whether their stalker could really be a ghost–or is it merely the family’s dark secrets that have come back to haunt them?

With murders, secrets, spies, and even ghosts, this thriller never slows down. I didn’t find the twists particularly surprising in this one, but it definitely kept my heart pounding. The relationship between Claire and Jack and the secrets they keep from each other was a major element that kept me turning pages, as well as the question of whether the ghost was real. Overall, a good pick for thriller fans!

Her Dark Lies: A Novel (9780778388302): Ellison, J.T.: Books