What’s that in the bushes? Look out behind you! Is it a murderer? A psychopath? An evil clown? No… it’s new novels! The new thrillers in this week’s book club will each take you on a fascinating ride, whether it comes from the masterful manipulations of a so-called “best friend,” the turbulent world of high-stakes art, or even a questioning of reality itself. Read on for enough intrigue to last you for days.
1. The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine ($26): Envy is a tricky thing. Sometimes, it spurs us to great heights, challenging us to do better. Other times, it produces an evil, choking bitterness that ruins lives. Anyone who has ever asked, “why her and not me?” may be able to identify at least a little bit with Amber Patterson, resident nobody, who hungrily looks into the wealthy town of Bishops Harbor, Connecticut. Nondescript and unhappy, she’s obsessed with the life of rich, beautiful Daphne Parrish, who has everything she could possibly want — looks, power, a gorgeous husband named Jackson — except for a real friend and confidante. Well, Amber’s happy to oblige.
“Amber Patterson was tired of being invisible. She’d been coming to this gym every day for three months — three long months of watching these women of leisure working at the only thing they cared about. They were so self-absorbed; she would have bet her last dollar that not one of them would recognize her on the street even though she was five feet away from them every single day. She was a fixture to them‚ unimportant, not worthy of being noticed. But she didn’t care — not about any of them.” Amber’s cold, calculating personality is revealed by the novel’s constant foray into her inner thoughts as she plays Daphne like a stolen Stradivarius; gleefully malicious, she has barely a shred of sympathy for the woman.
Making up a deceased sister with Cystic Fibrosis to match Daphne’s own, she insinuates herself into the woman’s life, and closer and closer to her husband. Like many who haven’t been betrayed often by life, Daphne is painfully trusting, and Amber learns her secrets, including the fact that the marriage is slightly strained over the complete lack of male children Daphne’s been able to produce. Now Amber has a new, terrifying plan. Whether you love Amber or love to hate her, watching her set the wheels in motion is a pulse-pounding delight.
2. The Appraisal by Anna Porter ($16): When Geza Marton’s family was fleeing the horrors of the Holocaust, a starving refugee bartered away the family’s treasure: a Titian painting now worth extravagant sums of money. Now in his 80s, Marton wants the painting back. He hires art appraiser Helena Marsh to authenticate the painting, procure it, and get it to Toronto from Budapest, Hungary; no small feat, as “Old Masters” paintings aren’t allowed to leave the country. Helena finds that even buying the painting is going to be difficult, as it’s not just a matter of money. There are others who want the painting, particularly some Ukrainian criminals, and they’ll stop at nothing to get it. Helena’s going to have to rely on her arsenal of disguises, her artistic expertise, and possibly even some martial arts training to stay alive and free from prison:
“She opened her black canvas holdall and arranged her clothes over the bedcover: black pants, a grey woollen sweater, black T-shirt, a black hoodie, faded black Nike running shoes, thin skin-coloured pantyhose, a short white cardigan, a small-brimmed foldable hat, five cell phones, black leather gloves, dark-rimmed glasses, a long pearl-grey linen jacket with a high collar, a raincoat, a cross-strapped navy bathing suit, four passports, a clear plastic bag containing a black wig with a fringe and a light-brown one, a small Revlon makeup case, a vial of face cream, the photograph Kis had given her, a foldable flashlight, wire cutters, a pocketbook, a Nikon Coolpix 16MP, a suede sheath containing a long-handled straight knife with a thin blade, a snub-nosed SwissMiniGun with six bullets.”
None of this is going to be easy, as Helena’s being tailed by Attila Feher, a retired Budapest police officer who takes on freelance detective work. As if things couldn’t get any worse, a body is found in Helena’s hotel room. It’s a race to discover the shady connections, get the painting, and clear her name. And why does her employer seem to have connections to Stalin’s prison camps? The Appraisal is not just a simple thriller but a detailed work with scholarly elements informed by the author’s research into art and Hungarian history.
3. Infinite Ground by Martin MacInness ($26): Most thrillers just leave you questioning whodunit, or who’s going to survive. It takes a special kind of investigation to get you to question the very nature of existence. When the hero of Infinite Ground, an unnamed detective, takes on the case of a missing man named Carlos, his (and the reader’s) perception of the world might change forever. Carlos gets up from his family dinner in an anonymous city in Latin America, and he never returns. The trail to find him gets more and more confusing, around the city, and into the rainforest. No person the detective questions is as he or she seems.
“The inspector found it a little confusing to begin with, going over his questions with the people concerned — family, friends, the staff at La Cueva, adjacent diners on the evening Carlos — as their answers seemed labored, artificial. People responded to his enquiries without any evidence of thinking. They spoke, almost to a person, in the manner of a performance.” The company the missing Carlos works for, supposedly nameless due to a merger, turns out to be a front for something else that might not actually exist. People are hired to be false workers, as workers paid to pretend to work tend to work harder than actual workers. Even the missing man’s mother might be a planted actress.
Further discombobulated by the oppressive heat and transit strike, the inspector finds himself less and less certain about what is real, particularly when confronted with the nameless corporation’s attempt to occupy land that is supposed to belong to indigenous people. The novel asks questions about memory, perception, and the stories we tell ourselves and others based on that perception. Rated best of the year in The Guardian, The Irish Times, The Herald and The Scotland on Sunday, it promises to be a thoughtful meta-thriller with a side of philosophy.
What books thrill you? Tag us in your next tense read @BritandCo.
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