Expand your mind and build your reading list with the Books newsletter. Sign up today.
Falling, T.J. Newman (Simon & Schuster, 304 pages)
“When the shoe dropped into her lap, the foot was still in it.“ That’s the opening line from T.J. Newman’s debut thriller and it’s the beginning of a terrifying, thrilling, awesomely good novel that has already been sold in 20 countries, signed for a film deal and is destined to be one of the hottest books of the summer. Newman, a former airline flight attendant, based in Phoenix, claims she wrote much of the book on cocktail napkins while riding red-eye flights. If that’s so, any number of hopeful authors are going to be trying sleeplessness as a tool for successful novels. Falling starts fast and never lets up until the final page.
The basic plot is beyond terror. You are one of 143 passengers on a non-stop flight to New York and it’s a lovely day for flying. What you don’t know is that 30 minutes before you took off, the pilot was informed that his family had been kidnapped and that he is to continue the flight until he crashes and all on board are killed. Any deviation from orders will insure that his wife and children die immediately.
What makes this plot work is the detail Newman puts into it right up to the very scary finale. This is a great weekend book that you won’t put down but don’t save it for the plane trip. You may never board a flight again.
Dark Roads, Chevy Stevens (St. Martin’s, 384 pages)
This terrific thriller – one of Stevens’s best – packs several punches. The first is a plot organized around the disappearance of several young women and the second is that a pair of driven younger women are trying to find out what happened to them. If that plot draws to mind Canada’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, it’s intentional. Stevens is from British Columbia and the road where young women are lost, real and fictional, cuts across her native province. There is truth behind the story and it hurts.
The fictional setting is the aptly named Cold Creek Highway and the village of Cold Creek. Hailey McBride has lived in Cold Creek all her life, knows the legends and the warnings: “Don’t hitchhike and don’t stop your car.” The highway is a threat to women. When her father dies, Hailey is still a minor, handed over to her controlling uncle, Eric Vaughn, the local police chief, known as the Iceman. Amber, her best friend, disappears, and Hailey decides to find out just what secrets Cold Creek is hiding but she’s too young, too alone. She wants to get out of town but her only way out is to hide out until she’s old enough to live on her own. Survival in the dangerous woods in the meantime is her option and she takes it.
Then, another young woman arrives, with another quest: Beth Chevalier is in Cold Creek for her sister – Amber. Beth and Hailey, two women with different but related skills, team up with one thought in mind, to solve the case of the missing women of Cold Creek.
These two stellar characters and a first-rate plot would make this book an irresistible summer novel but Stevens has put in one more major punch – Wolf, the dog that every reader is going to fall in love with. When I say that Wolf steals the story, I mean it. I could read an entire book on The Adventures of Wolf and not miss a page. Stevens is a solid writer but with this novel, she’s got a knockout.
The Bone Code, Kathy Reichs (Simon & Schuster, 368 pages)
After months of being isolated and hearing endless and horrific tales of pandemic illness and death, it sounds a bit eerie to say that a novel about a disease – even worse that COVID-19 – would be my summer reading list. This is, I think, the best of all of Reichs’s Temperance Brennan novels and, despite its lush location on South Carolina’s beautiful Isle of Palms, it’s a scary, wary book.
This time out, Tempe is summoned to Charleston. A hurricane has tossed up a container of medical waste, which is in and of itself a dangerous crime. But an examination reveals far worse: two bodies, badly decomposed are wrapped in wire. Tempe sees details that connect to an unsolved crime in Quebec and soon she heads to Montreal in search of evidence.
While Tempe trolls old cases, South Carolina is beset by a strange flesh-eating contagion.
Initially there seems to be no connection and Tempe, like everyone else, separates the two events but then it becomes clear that there is something very dangerous in those bodies and that this is a contagious disease. It’s not giving away the plot to say that genetics plays a role in this story and it’s gripping, with enough real science (as always with Reichs) to keep the plot from drifting. Save it for the weekend you have nothing to do but read.
The Almost Wife, Gail Anderson-Dargatz (HarperCollins, 281 pages)
Just what do you really know about the people you fall in love with? That’s the backstory of this excellent domestic thriller by the award-winning author of The Cure For Death by Lightning. While she makes a few first-mystery novel mistakes, this is a really good book.
Kira is a competitive runner, a survivor of a sad childhood and a mother of an infant daughter, Evie, from a failed relationship. She has fallen hard for Aaron who is attractive, sexy, funny and great with the baby as well as a father to a teenager, Olive. Marriage is in the cards and Kira sees the life of her dreams within her grasp. The only flaw is Aaron’s ex-wife, Madison, who just won’t let go. When the happy couple and kids go off to holiday on Ontario’s Manitoulin Island, she appears, uninvited and unwanted. Madison’s shenanigans are nasty but they aren’t dangerous. It turns out that Kira has her own secrets and Madison’s revenge may be when she exposes those. Or perhaps its Aaron’s secrets she’s hiding.
The Hunted, Roz Nay (Simon & Schuster, 274 pages)
This novel by B.C. author Roz Nay is creepy, sinister and best of all, it’s a great way to get back into the big world that we’ve been isolating from for over a year. Nay, who has lived all over the world, has put her expert travel experience into this excellent novel.
Stevie Erickson needs a new life after her beloved grandmother dies, churning up memories of other losses. So when a chance comes to leave her Maine home with her boyfriend, Jacob, for a faraway adventure, she’s ready to chance it.
The adventure is a job for Jacob at a resort on Rafiki Island, off the coast of Tanzania. Travelling on the cheap to save on costs, they spend the first night in a hostel where Stevie has a scare that leaves her believing that someone is watching her. Jacob thinks it’s just more depressed thinking. When an attractive young couple join them for fun and drinks, it seems like an ideal way to begin the new life.
But under it all, Stevie is still convinced she’s being watched. For what? By whom? And when those secrets roll out, who’ll be left?
The Retreat, Elisabeth De Mariaffi (HarperCollins, 275 pages)
Ahhh … the good old locked-in, atmospheric mystery as the characters die off one at a time. Elisabeth De Mariaffi, a St. John’s author who has twice appeared on The Globe 100, has taken on one of crime fiction’s most difficult tasks and she manages it with aplomb.
Maeve Martin is a married, mother of two dancer who needs to recharge. The logical place is a retreat, an off-season stay at the High Water Center for the Arts. But the idyll starts off badly after the bus breaks down and she has to hike to the Center. There are bears and other dangerous wildlife and the mountains are cold and snowy and while the denizens of the centre are decent, they’re not exactly welcoming. There are six other artists in residence, each pursuing his or her own project but then an avalanche hits and cuts off the only road. Soon, people start to die.
I have seen this plot line used recently in John Banville’s wonderful novel Snow. De Mariaffi isn’t in that league but she gets the atmosphere right and I can almost feel the chill of an Alberta winter at the Banff Centre in her backdrop. The mystery is nicely done and it’s a lot of fun to guess the clues. This is a perfect getaway book for the cottage.