Our unnamed narrator and his beautiful wife, Millicent, have found a great way to spice up their 15-year marriage: they murder young women and then devise ways to get away with it.
The couple has a nice house in the Florida suburbs. He’s a tennis pro, she’s a realtor. They have a son and a daughter. And both Millicent and her husband are stone cold in their own ways. Yet, since we’re in the husband’s head the whole time and hearing the story from his point of view, his necessary charm and ease come across really well, and you see why he’s so good at his half of what he and his wife are up to.
I don’t want to give away too much of this plot, because so much depends on surprises and twists and turns. I was enthralled the whole way through, and, as I said, the narrator is great–totally absorbing and convincing, and oh so charming, so good at appearing sympathetic. And so twisted.
The dynamic of their marriage is a fascinating one to read about. The husband projects so much onto Millicent, makes her into an almost other-worldly creature rather than a human woman, that you are left wondering what she’s really like. It’s another nice, unsettling touch to an already unreliable narrator.
The pace of this thriller is fantastic. It’s compelling all the way through, rockets through the last third, and the ending is a punch. Downing keeps up the suspense and never bogs the story down. Every detail is well-placed and the writing itself is very evocative, filled with mounting tension. There’s some great family detail as well, though, and some well-placed black humor. It’s not gory or explicit, either.
If you like Gillian Flynn’s books, give this one a try!
I haven’t shared a book with you in over a month! A shame, because I’ve been reading some good ones:
1861: The Civil War Awakening by Adam Goodheart
I’ve been telling everyone about this engaging and timely examination of the cultural moment in the United States just before the Civil War. What was the political situation like? How did people really feel about the pressing issues of the day? I found a lot of parallels between 1861 and today, which is both comforting and frightening. A really great read!
Looker by Laura Sims
Our narrator lives next door to a famous actress. Our narrator has just been through a messy divorce and is sort of obsessed with the actress. Our narrator is bonkers. Taut and disturbing, but not without some dark humor! For fans of The Woman Upstairs, The Woman in the Window, and A Kind of Intimacy.
Kitchen Yarns: Notes on Life, Love, and Food by Ann Hood
I really like what I think of as “cozy food writing.” The kind where the author talks about their families and the people they cook for, the food they grew up with, and the dishes that strike an emotional cord for them. Hood delivers all of this in Kitchen Yarns, alongside wonderful descriptions of food and cooking.
Not bad for a month’s work. My apologies for not keeping up with blogging about them!
If you’re the type who likes to curl up with a twisty, suspenseful Hitchcock flick on Halloween, here’s a novel you should try!
Anna Fox lives as a recluse in her New York City home. She spends most of her time watching Hitchcock movies, drinking, and spying on her neighbors. Then one night she thinks she witnesses a murder in the house across the street. From there it’s a downward spiral into trying to decide what’s real and what isn’t, who’s lying, and what Anna actually saw that night.
Anna isn’t very likeable, nor is she very reliable, but she’s compelling to read about. The Woman in the Window is a page-turner of a thriller, with quite elegant writing and an absorbing narrative voice. The twists and turns and reveals of the book are a slow build, and there’s a constant air of uncertainty and menace as events unfold.
The references to Hitchcock movies and other thriller/film noir pieces abound, and the book really does have the feel of a black and white psychological suspense film. Perfect for unsettling you on a Halloween night!
Hal is down on her luck–in serious debt and unsure of where to turn. So when a letter arrives telling her that she is the beneficiary of a will, she finds the opportunity difficult to pass up. Never mind that the letter was clearly sent to the wrong person. She’s never heard of a Mrs. Westaway, and there’s no way she’s a long-lost granddaughter.
But when Hal shows up in Cornwall at Trepassen House for the funeral, she finds a family with a lot of secrets and a lot of baggage–and more than a little of it just might have to do with her. Uncovering the truth, however, might prove fatal.
I like how tight the writing and focus of the story are. The narrative goes back and forth between Hal and entries in a diary that she finds, but we spend most of the time with Hal. Her moral quandaries and her desire to finally learn the truth about herself are the driving forces of the narrative. Her strong bond with her mother plays a huge role, as well. All of the characters are interesting, and there’s a feeling of looming threat and mystery. It’s a wonderfully atmospheric story, too–it’s always cold and raining or snowing in this book, lending a bleak and isolated kind of feel.
There are a couple of nods to Rebecca, which suit the atmosphere well. That would actually be a good readalike for The Death of Mrs. Westaway, as would some of V.C. Andrews’ early work. There’s a wonderful classic feel to this book, even though the setting is contemporary. If you enjoy Gothic tales of family secrets, old manor houses, and long-buried crimes, give this one a look!
I always want to read thrillers and suspense in late winter. It’s a great time of year to hunker down with books, and something about the cold and dark lends itself to darker stories. I’ve been reading a lot of Minette Walters, as well as re-visiting Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad books.
Here are two thrillers that got me through some dark and snowy afternoons recently!
In Tips for Living, Nora has finally gotten her life back on track after her husband’s affair and their subsequent divorce. But then her ex-husband and his new wife move into Nora’s adopted small town. Shortly thereafter, the two are found murdered in their home. Even worse, Nora is a sleepwalker suffering a relapse, and cannot remember her whereabouts on the night of the murders. Nora has to clear her name while all the while wondering if, in fact, she did commit the crime.
As a bonus, I think anyone who lives in a small community with a large summer population will totally understand a lot of the snarkiness displayed in the newspaper article subplot of the book (the “Tips for Living” of the title). There’s great small-town atmosphere, that sense of community that’s sometimes claustrophobic and insular.
Ruth Ware’s The Lying Game is less of a who-dun-it mystery than Tips for Living, and more of a thriller with many layers of deception. It’s about four friends who have been hiding a secret for years, only to have it come back to bite them. The scene-setting is great and the characters are interesting–Ware has a talent for atmosphere and dialogue. If you like Paula Hawkins and S.J. Watson, you might like Ware’s books.
Though I enjoy whiling away winter afternoons with thrillers, I’m definitely looking forward to springtime and being able to read them with more sunshine and an open window!
This French thriller is a slim, quick read, but it packs an emotional punch. The story is about a nanny named Louise, hired by a French couple to care for their two children. Over time, and via flashback, it becomes clear that Louise is not as wonderful a find as her employers supposed.
This novel is quite understated and character-focused. Readers who are tired of rote police procedurals and lots of heinous crime will likely find the style and tone refreshing. The reader is also aware from the first page of both the crime and who did it, and the narrative does not focus on an investigation nor the gory details. Instead, we get a glimpse into this family and into Louise’s life, and can intuit the reasons behind the tragedy that opens the book. The story is compelling and unsettling, with lots of dark corners.
The Perfect Nanny has less to do with a crime and investigation than it does with motherhood and with caregiving, and how oppressive those roles can be even as they bring a lot of joy. Slimani also examines the tensions of class. Readers who enjoy intensely focused, character-centered novels should give this one a look! I’d also suggest it to readers who enjoy old-school domestic thrillers.
While working on his property, landscapers uncover human remains in Jason Getty’s yard. Jason is horrified, but also confused–neither of these bodies are the one that he buried himself.
Years before Jason committed a murder. He never reported it, and he buried the man at the edge of his property. He thought he’d covered for himself pretty well. But now detectives are swarming, and Jason just knows they’re going to find the third grave eventually. So he has to decide what to do before his crime is uncovered.
There’s also the mystery of the identities of the two bodies eventually found in Jason’s yard. A team of detectives, Bayard and Watts (along with faithful dog Tessa), are working to figure out what happened to them and why. Watts and Bayard were my favorite characters in the book–they both come across as dedicated, kind guys who are good at their jobs and have great instincts, as well as being great friends with each other. Their interactions are great to read.
Jason is fascinating as well. I like how Mason crafts his mindset. It takes a while to discover how off-kilter he really is, and it’s a nice build.
Three Graves Full reminded me of a darkly comic “The Tell-Tale Heart,” with some police procedural thrown in. It’s a fast-paced read with entertaining characters and really well-done action sequences. If you like mysteries with a slightly different angle with lots of threads that come together at the end, you should give this one a try!