Bustling cities and a mountain village are the backdrops for three intriguing new thrillers. Cozies they are not.
If awards were given for best book title then Jane Corry’s debut thriller, My Husband’s Wife (Pamela Dorman/Viking), would have a lock on the win. The novel’s plot is as provocative as its title, and the book nicely fits into the psychological suspense genre that’s riding a slipstream of popularity, thanks to the success of “Gone Girl” and “The Girl on the Train.”
Set mostly in London, this twisty-turny tale begins in 2000 and chronicles early days in the marriage of Lily MacDonald, a 26-year-old lawyer, and Ed, her budding-artist husband. Just back from their honeymoon, the couple is already neck-deep in marital difficulties. Tension builds when they offer to babysit for their manipulative 9-year-old neighbor, Carla, who becomes Ed’s muse. But the MacDonalds must sever their relationship with her and her mother after a shocking confrontation. More than a decade will pass before Carla comes back into the MacDonalds’ lives. That’s when this novel’s seemingly unending trove of delicious disasters and deceits meld to reveal what all these characters are hiding.
The vengeful Carla dons the mantle of a homewrecker — she learned how to manipulate men at her mother’s knee — and in Corry’s capable hands, this ubiquitous plot device comes off as fresh and new. Lily, still struggling with the aftereffects of a nightmarish incident from her childhood, must face the truth about her brother’s death, the loathsome reason Ed married her and her love/hate relationship with a man who appears to be stalking her. The addictive “My Husband’s Wife” is populated with messed-up yet sympathetic misfits who remind us that the past can maintain a stranglehold on the future. The ending is weirdly outrageous, but satisfying.
There’s nothing like a good crime story to heat up a long winter’s night, even when the action takes place on the northern coast of Iceland in the middle of winter. That’s where Icelandic author Ragnar Jonasson sets Snowblind (Minotaur), a chiller of a thriller whose style and pace are influenced by Jonasson’s admiration for Agatha Christie. So great is his passion, he has translated 14 of her novels into Icelandic.
“Snowblind” is set in the fishing village of Siglufjordur, closer to the Arctic Circle than to Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital. Its damaged hero is Ari Thor Arason, who leaves the capital to begin his career as a police officer in a snowbound town where, allegedly, crime is nonexistent. But when a famous author is found dead and a young woman is brutally attacked, Ari Thor’s mettle is tested. It’s all the more challenging as Jonasson cloaks Ari Thor in a chokehold of claustrophobia brought on by endless snowstorms and the perpetual darkness of winter near the top of the world. Like Christie, Jonasson serves up a village’s worth of suspects, all of whom may have motives for committing mayhem.
It’s an Icelandic tradition to give books as gifts on Christmas Eve and then to spend the night reading. The new year has begun, but it’s never too late to pick up “Snowblind.” It’s good enough to share shelf space with the works of Yrsa Sigurdardottir and Arnaldur Indridason, Iceland’s crime novel royalty.
Jonathan Moore’s The Dark Room (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) opens after midnight in a California cemetery where a body buried 30 years before is being exhumed. That scene sets the tone for this atmospheric novel that, if it weren’t for the ever-present cellphones, might very well have been written in the 1940s. Moore channels the moody intensity of Raymond Chandler’s crime fiction and saturates “The Dark Room” with the brooding cinematic qualities of the mid-20th century’s black-and-white film noir genre.
Two bizarre plotlines wreathe around each other in “The Dark Room.” In one, San Francisco Mayor Harry Castelli is sent incriminating photos of a woman who looks like Lauren Bacall in “The Big Sleep” accompanied by a note telling him to kill himself. In the other, a young woman’s body is discovered inside the casket of a boy who died decades before. The cases may be connected, and both are in the capable hands of a very intense city homicide detective, Gavin Cain, who appears to have graduated from the central-casting school for investigators whose alumni include Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe. Always present, as Cain and his team look for links between Castelli and the unidentified body in the casket, are the fog-coated, gray-toned days and nights in San Francisco. This brooding story could not be set in sunny weather. “The Dark Room” will prompt readers unfamiliar with Moore to seek out his other works, including “The Poison Artist,” which Stephen King describes as electrifying.
Carol Memmott also reviews books for the Chicago Tribune and the Minneapolis Star Tribune