THE WASHINGTON POST – If you don’t want to think about the pandemic any more than you have to, rest assured COVID-19 is nowhere to be found in three of this month’s most noteworthy mysteries and thrillers. The virus is a factor in a fourth entry, and in a fifth it’s the foundation for a plot too ingenious to miss. Take your pick.
FALSE WITNESS BY KARIN SLAUGHTER
Throwing a case may be the worst thing a defence attorney can do. But that’s what otherwise ethical Leigh Collier plans with the case of accused rapist Andrew Tenant. Karin Slaughter’s (the Will Trent series, et al.) latest non-series thriller, set in Atlanta at the outset of the pandemic, is cunningly conceived and written – not to mention massive; don’t drop it on an unshod foot. As teens, Leigh and her sister Callie babysat young Andrew, and he thinks – correctly – that they killed his violent paedophile dad and got away with it. Complicated? Very. But also deeply satisfying.
FELONIOUS MONK BY WILLIAM KOTZWINKLE
William Kotzwinkle, author of the cult hippie novel The Fan Man, as well as dozens of other novels, children’s stories and screenplays, brings a similar engagingly outre vibe to this tale of a conscience-stricken mob scion who finds peace as a Benedictine monk. That is, until his Uncle Vittorio, a corrupt priest, leaves Brother Tommy a fortune; others think it belongs to them. The amiably satirical novel takes place in Paloma, Arizona (read Sedona), a world gathering place for “cartoon spirituality” and New Age hustlers. It’s where the previously celibate Tommy hooks up with Cheyenne, an alluring con artist who tries unsuccessfully to exorcise what – to the monk’s bafflement – she refers to as his “slimy entities”.
CLARK AND DIVISION BY NAOMI HIRAHARA
The Ito family, at the centre of Naomi Hirahara’s vibrant suspense novel set in World War II Los Angeles and Chicago, were four of the more than 120,000 Japanese Americans rounded up by a United States (US) government gripped by racial hysteria and transported to grim internment camps. Late in the war, many of those people were relocated to cities with labour shortages. Months after smart, take-no-guff Rose Ito, 23, arrives in Chicago, she is run over by a subway train and dies. Younger sister Aki scoffs at the coroner’s verdict of suicide and sets out to uncover the ugly truth. Author of the Mas Arai and Ellie Rush mysteries, Hirahara has drawn a devastating picture of a family in crisis and a nation’s monumental blunder.
56 DAYS CATHERINE RYAN HOWARD
At or near the top of any list of superb Irish thriller writers these days is Catherine Ryan Howard, an Edgar nominee for The Liar’s Girl in 2018. Her fifth stand-alone, the masterly 56 Days, is set mostly during a 2020 COVID lockdown in Dublin and brings two vulnerable and insecure 20-somethings together for an anxious, pandemic-limited, let’s-see-how-it-goes romance. Each, however, harbours a doozy of a secret, one of them blood-curdling. Timely, surprising, emotionally alive, this is about as good as suspense fiction gets.
NOT A HAPPY FAMILY BY SHARI LAPENA
Shari Lapena’s eighth stand-alone thriller – 2016’s The Couple Next Door may be her best known – is such a quintessential “beach read”, I half expected sand to fall out of it. This one brings lurid family mayhem to the Hudson Valley. When wealthy, psychologically sadistic Fred Merton and his fretful wife, Sheila, are massacred in their mansion, their three grown children – rage-filled Dan, materialistic dermatologist Catherine and purple-haired “outlier” Jenna – are all plausible suspects. With her cascading short chapters and teasers by the dozen, you stick with Lapena eagerly despite the flavourless scene-setting and generic cops.