Warning: These new books will keep you out of the pool, hiding under the beach umbrella and then up all night to finish.
Photo: Oprah.comGone Girl
By Gillian Flynn
"You could imagine the skull quite easily" is just the kind of sentiment you wish serial killers would keep to themselves. It's also one of the first things Nick Dunne--the handsome, smarmy, admittedly dishonest narrator of the opening chapter of Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl-tells us about "the finely shaped head" of his wife, Amy. Make that his missing wife, Amy, who just happens to disappear from their Missouri home on the morning of their fifth anniversary, fueling a small-town melodrama--complete with middling cops, fame-hungry neighbors, and cable-TV news crews--in her wake. As the story unfolds in precise and riveting prose, alternating between Nick's voice and Amy's diaries chronicling their relationship, it quickly becomes clear that theirs was not the happiest marriage, and that Nick, "a big fan of the lie of omission," is hiding information not only from the police, but also from readers. Still, even while you know you're being manipulated, searching for the missing pieces is half the thrill of this wickedly absorbing tale.
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Photo: Oprah.comThe Empty Glass
By J.I. Baker
Marilyn Monroe is dead...by suicide. So why does all the evidence suggest that she was murdered? Los Angeles County deputy coroner Ben Fitzgerald's relentless search for answers leads him down a dangerous path away from his sanity--and takes readers along with him. The story is filtered through his clipped, Bogartesque narration, as well through entries of Marilyn's diary--a totally credible imagining of her uncensored speech: breathy, sparingly punctuated and a little bit lost. The two voices interweave throughout the book. One minute Marilyn speaks, the next Ben narrates his movements in the days following her death, and then he argues with a doctor, who, it becomes increasingly clear, is questioning him . As Ben's mind unravels, the threads of the story pull together ever more tightly. The characters may be, as Marilyn recounts, "slipping, which is what I feel a slow slipping," but Baker is totally in control, and watching him lead his hero along a precarious tightrope of reason is scary--and totally exhilarating.
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Photo: Oprah.comThe Dark Monk
By Oliver Potzsch
If you enjoy an unlikely hero, look no further. The Dark Monk comes with three, all living in the same 17th-century Bavarian village. Jakob Kuisl is the town hangman, shunned because of his profession. Magdalena is his daughter, and suspect due to her studies as a midwife. Medical-school dropout Simon Fronwieser is just too darn curious about everything--most especially about the murder of a kindly priest. Interestingly enough, their adversaries turn out to be a band of monks who poison townsfolk at will and seal a live man into a sarcophagus. But why? In this subtle, meticulously crafted story, every word is a possible clue, and the characters are so engaging that it's impossible not to get involved in trying to help them figure the riddle out.
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Photo: Ben Goldstein/ Studio DPeople Who Eat Darkness
By Richard Lloyd Parry
Give us a well-told true-crime story over a traditional thriller any day. People Who Eat Darkness, Richard Lloyd Parry's account of a British-born bar hostess in Japan who goes missing, is 400-plus riveting pages of painstaking reconstruction, astute observation, and insightful cultural commentary centered on a crime. In 2000, 21-year-old Lucie Blackman moved to Japan to work as a drinking companion for wealthy men in a Tokyo nightclub, a job requiring plenty of submissive behavior (listening to the sexual fantasies of drunk salarymen wasn't even the worst of it). Parry delves into Lucie's pre-Japan life and meticulously pieces together her last days; he also, over many years, gathers and analyzes information from Lucie's family and friends, other hostesses and their customers, and, of course, the police. Most impressive is Parry's ability, after going on two decades as the Tokyo correspondent for two newspapers, to explicate the differences between Eastern and Western attitudes toward sexual behavior, social class, and the law. He articulates the pressures on Japanese men and the yearnings of Western women, though neither group comes off as particularly sympathetic or kind. Copiously detailed, Parry's book tells the truth not just about the violent end to one young life but about the ways gender and culture affect us all.
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Photo: Ben Goldstein/Studio DKingdom of Strangers
By Zoë Ferraris
When a bedouin retrieving a sheep in the desert finds a female body buried in a sand dune and the coroner's main concern is that no man should commit a "virtue crime" by touching the corpse, we know we're not in Kansas anymore. In fact, we're in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, with Katya Hijazi, a lab technician whose lofty career aspirations hardly befit a pious Saudi woman. In Zoë Ferraris's third Hijazi mystery, Kingdom of Strangers, the makeshift grave actually contains 19 bodies, all of them women, mostly Asian immigrants, shot execution-style and missing their hands. The suspenseful unraveling of clues dating back ten years mixes with an insightful look at Saudi social politics. Example: The police inspector, Ibrahim Zahrani, confides to Katya that he has been conducting an adulterous affair (punishable by public beheading) with Sabria Gampon, the beautiful Filipina housemaid who has disappeared. Meanwhile, Katya is ambivalent about committing to her fiancé, the devout Nayir, who is struggling to accept her unconventional behavior. Thanks to Ferraris's watchful eye, we see how both men and women are isolated within their culture and how severely they're punished when they break the code.
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By Therese Bohman
Most thrillers conclude by exposing a killer. Drowned, on the other hand, ends with a larger, more upsetting truth: how we expose ourselves. Young, lost Marina has left her student life in Stockholm to visit her exquisitely beautiful sister, Stella, who just happens to live a life of pastoral bliss with her brilliant artistic older boyfriend. Each day of summer slides by, languorous walks through the gardens and greenhouses filled with orchids and evenings in the living room "like a jewelry box." But when Stella's boyfriend begins to look at Marina--in that way that's just not kosher--a disquieting atmosphere takes over the house. Author Therese Bohman could be lumped in with the other Scandinavian authors who have taken over the mystery world since The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but her story is more quiet and nuanced, her writing lush enough to create a landscape painting with every scene. No shoot-outs, showdowns or explosions end this story, but be prepared to gasp all the same, not with fear, but with understanding.
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