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Fall, TJ Newman (Simon & Schuster, 304 pages)
“When the shoe fell on his knees, the foot was still in it. This is the first line of TJ Newman’s debut thriller and it is the start of a terrifying, thrilling and incredibly good novel that has already been sold in 20 countries, signed for a movie deal and is destined to be released. one of the hottest books of the summer. Newman, a former flight attendant for a Phoenix-based airline, says she wrote much of the book about cocktail napkins on a red-eyed flight. If so, a number of hopeful authors will try insomnia as a tool for bestselling novels. Fall starts quickly and never stops until the last page.
The basic plot is beyond terror. You are one of 143 passengers on a nonstop flight to New York and it’s a beautiful day to fly. 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 had to continue the flight until he crashed and everyone was edge are killed. Any deviation from the orders will ensure the immediate death of his wife and children.
What makes this plot work is the details Newman puts into it until the very spooky finale. It’s a great weekend book that you won’t let go of but keep for the plane trip. You can never get on a flight again.
Dark roads, Chevy Stevens (Saint-Martin, 384 pages)
This formidable thriller – one of Stevens’ best – has several punches. The first is a plot organized around the disappearance of several young women and the second is that a pair of motivated young women try to find out what happened to them. If this plot brings back the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls of Canada, it is intentional. Stevens is originally from British Columbia and the road where young women are lost, real and fictional, runs through his home province. There is some 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 her whole life, knows the legends and the warnings: “Don’t hitchhike or stop your car. The highway is a threat to women. When her father died, Hailey was still underage, handed over to her dominant uncle, Eric Vaughn, the local police chief, known as Iceman. Amber, her best friend, disappears and Hailey decides to uncover the secrets that Cold Creek hides, but she is too young, too alone. She wants to leave town but her only way out is to go into hiding until she is old enough to live on her own. In the meantime, survival in the dangerous woods is her option and she accepts 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 idea in mind to solve the case of the missing women of Cold Creek.
Those two stellar characters and a top-notch storyline would make this book a compelling summer novel, but Stevens put another major punch – Wolf, the dog every reader will fall in love with. When I say Wolf steals history, I really mean it. I was able to read an entire book on The Adventures of Wolf without missing a page. Stevens is a solid writer but with this novel she has a knockout.
The bone code, Kathy Reichs (Simon & Schuster, 368 pages)
After months of isolation and hearing endless and horrific stories of pandemic disease and death, it seems a little strange to say that a novel about a disease – even worse than COVID-19 – would be my list of summer reading. This is, I think, the best of all the Reichs novels about Temperance Brennan, and despite its lush location on South Carolina’s beautiful Palm Island, it’s a spooky and suspicious book.
This time Tempe is summoned to Charleston. A hurricane threw up a medical waste container, which in itself is a dangerous crime. But an examination reveals much worse: two badly decomposed bodies are wrapped in wire. Tempe sees details related to an unsolved crime in Quebec and soon she travels to Montreal in search of evidence.
As Tempe hunts down old cases, South Carolina is beset by a strange carnivorous contagion.
Initially there does not seem to be any connection and Tempe, like everyone else, separates the two events, but then it becomes clear that there is something very dangerous in these bodies and that it is about a contagious disease. It is not to reveal the plot to say that genetics play a role in this story and it’s captivating, with enough real science (as always with Reichs) to keep the plot from drifting. Save it for the weekend, all you have to do is read.
The almost woman, Gail Anderson-Dargatz (HarperCollins, 281 pages)
What do you really know about the people you fall in love with? This is the backstory of this excellent national thriller from the award-winning author of The cure for death by lightning. Although she does make a few first mystery novel mistakes, it is a very good book.
Kira is a competitive runner, a survivor of a sad childhood, and the mother of a little girl, Evie, from a failed relationship. She fell in love with Aaron who is attractive, sexy, funny and great with the baby as well as a father of a teenage girl, Olive. Marriage is in the cards and Kira sees the life of her dreams within reach. The only flaw is Aaron’s ex-wife Madison, who just doesn’t want to let go. When the happy couple and the children go on vacation to Manitoulin Island in Ontario, she appears, uninvited and unwanted. Madison’s shenanigans are nasty but they’re not dangerous. It turns out that Kira has her own secrets and Madison’s revenge may be when she exposes them. Or maybe it’s Aaron’s secrets she’s hiding.
The hunt, Roz Nay (Simon & Schuster, 274 pages)
This novel by British Columbia author Roz Nay is creepy, sinister, and most importantly, it’s a great way to get back to the big world we’ve been isolating ourselves from for over a year. Nay, who has lived all over the world, put his expert travel experience into this excellent novel.
Stevie Erickson is in need of a new life after the death of his beloved grandmother, accumulating memories of further loss. So when the opportunity arises to leave her Maine home with her boyfriend, Jacob, for a distant adventure, she’s ready to take her chances.
Adventure is a job for Jacob in a seaside resort on Rafiki Island, off the coast of Tanzania. Traveling cheaply to save on costs, they spend the first night at a hostel where Stevie has a fear that leads her to believe someone is watching her. Jacob thinks it’s just a more depressed thought. When an attractive young couple join them for fun and drinks, it seems like the perfect way to start a new life.
But despite everything, Stevie is still convinced that she is being watched. Why? By who? And when these secrets are revealed, who will be left?
Retirement, Elisabeth De Mariaffi (HarperCollins, 275 pages)
Ahhh… the good old atmospheric mystery locked away as the characters die one at a time. Elisabeth De Mariaffi, a writer from St. John’s who has appeared twice in The Globe 100, has taken on one of the most difficult tasks in detective fiction and she handles it with aplomb.
Maeve Martin is a married dancer with two children who need to recharge their batteries. The logical place is a retreat, an off-season stay at the High Water Center for the Arts. But the romance starts badly after the bus breaks down and she has to walk to the Center. There are bears and other dangerous animals and the mountains are cold and snowy and although the locals in the center are decent they are not exactly welcoming. There are six other artists in residence, each pursuing their own project but then an avalanche hits and cuts the only road. Soon people start to die.
I saw this plot used recently in John Banville’s wonderful novel Snow. De Mariaffi isn’t in that league, but she has a great vibe and I can almost feel the cold of an Alberta winter at the Banff Center as a backdrop. The mystery is well done and it’s great fun to guess the clues. It’s a perfect getaway book for the chalet.