Summer, that most carefree of seasons, is also a time when readers are, paradoxically, drawn to reading about murder, violence, deception and other unsavory acts. Mysteries and thrillers rank among the most popular genres for beach-time reading. Who’s to say why? Publishers, rising to the demand, have provided us with a plethora of titles to choose from. Here are nine of this summer’s best options.
It’s notable that two play to many people’s worst fear (having a child kidnapped) and one is about what might be our second- or third-worst fear (noisy neighbors). Rotten cops take their lumps, too, as do a noisome stew of international troublemakers. This is by no means a complete list — see also Denise Mina’s “Conviction,” Louise Penny’s “A Better Man” and others — but there are only so many books one can fit into a beach bag. Enjoy.
Author of the 2017 prizewinning “Quicksand,” Giolito has come up with another knockout legal thriller. Here Sweden looks less like a socialist paradise and more like a society as screwed up as anyplace else. Bumbling cops and prosecutors convict a medical researcher for the grisly murder of a 15-year-old girl he had seduced. In the public’s opinion, Stig Ahlin is “Professor Death.” So when lawyer Sophia Weber looks at the paltry evidence and agrees — 13 years after the crime was committed — to help the imprisoned professor petition for a new trial, the reaction, online and among friends, is ferociously negative. Weber is a wonderfully textured creation, a poignant mix of determined braininess and nagging doubts. Giolito’s finale is a smidgen more ambiguous than some readers will want, but maybe this means Sophia Weber will be back again — a very good thing. (Other Press, 464 pp., Paperback. $16.99.)
Fans of Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie PI series won’t be disappointed with the Yorkshire ex-cop’s return in “Big Sky.” The novel is brimming with the wit and let-justice-triumph tenacity that led the series to print bestsellerdom and a popular BBC-TV series. All these years later, Brodie can’t quite remember why he quit the force in the first place. But his investigative skills are as at-the-ready as his moral outrage. A chance encounter at an amusement park Brodie visits with his 13-year-old son pulls him into exposing a grotesque international sex-trafficking ring. There isn’t a character here — major or minor — who doesn’t sashay resplendently off the page. That includes Brodie’s sometime girlfriend, Julia, who is given to pronouncements like: “The class war’s over. Everyone lost.” With Atkinson, it’s Raymond Chandler meets Jane Austen, and amazingly she makes it all work. (Little, Brown, 386 pp., $28.)
You suspect right away that the Montana forest fire on the first page of C.J. Box’s fourth Cassie Dewell mystery isn’t just there for the atmospherics. It turns out, though, that the frightening blaze is not the novel’s Chekhovian gun. That role unexpectedly goes to ex-cop-now-PI Dewell’s 14-year-old son, Ben, who is in the throes of his first teen crush. Sweet, sulky Ben is the center of Dewell’s life — her soldier husband, Jim, died in Afghanistan — and it’s rough on both Ben and his mom when she leaves Bozeman, Mont., to investigate what looks like a phony sexual assault charge in a county known to be controlled by a ruthless ranching family. Dewell barely survives the brutal Kleinsasser clan, but she gets help from a feminist law firm, a compromised cop with a conscience and an abused ranch employee out for revenge. Likable, canny, persistent, messy-haired and slightly dumpy, Dewell is also fortified — bless her heart — by Hostess chocolate-covered doughnuts. (Minotaur, 320 pp., $27.99. On sale Aug. 13)
Although the amateur bicyclists I know are generally nice people, the professionals depicted in this thriller about murder and mayhem at the Tour de France are anything but. “Cycling is battle; cycling is combat,” French racing whiz Marc Moreau explains to a police inspector looking into a series of beatings, poisonings and other attacks against participants in the world’s most famous bike race. Recruited to help the cops find the saboteurs, Moreau is not surprised to learn that among the suspects are several racers themselves. They “literally risked their lives in dizzying, nearly suicidal descents,” Moreau muses. So why “wouldn’t they be willing to kill?” Among the win-at-any-cost egomaniacs and hyper-patriots is a French coach who “was the kind of guy who, if you saw him with red eyes at a funeral, it was only because he was allergic to flowers.” Does Patterson’s shocker of a denouement inspire hope for the future of professional bike racing? Hardly. (Random House, 336 pp., $27.)
This feverish thriller about child kidnappings is one of those pop novels that keep you snickering over how preposterous it all is, and yet you can’t put the thing down. Two sociopaths, a brother and sister, set up a horrifying “well-oiled machine” in which the desperate parents of abducted youngsters must not only pay ransom via the dark Web, but they must also kidnap somebody else’s child, who will then be ransomed after yet another kid is grabbed and hidden away. And on and on. It’s the “Uber of kidnapping with the clients all doing most of the work themselves.” Implausibly, the ghastly “chain” goes unbroken for many years until insecure but spunky divorcée Rachel Klein joins her heroin-addicted brother-in-law Pete to track down and obliterate the greedy sadists who run the operation. The wild shootout finale is the type of scene that — if this were a movie — would have audience members in the adjoining theater wondering what all the racket was about. Wait — this just in! Paramount has acquired film rights to “The Chain.” Hang on to those ear plugs. (Mulholland, 368 pp., $28. On sale July 9.)
In this absorbing exercise in literary chutzpah, Silva brings his Israeli spymaster Gabriel Allon back again for more bloodletting and realpolitik chicanery on behalf of Israel and the Western Alliance. In an author’s note, Silva says he wrote this one in 3½ months, and it almost feels as if he had one eye on cable news as he typed at high speed. That’s the up-to-the-minute feel of this turbulent tale about a coldblooded Saudi prince plainly based on Mohammed bin Salman. The 12-year-old daughter of Khalid bin Mohammed, as he’s called here, is kidnapped and held for ransom, the demanded payoff being not money but the prince’s abdication. The plotters also want Allon involved in the rescue so they can kill him. The novel is jampacked with both historical background and breaking news. Among the suspects in the abduction are Iran, Qatar, Saudi extremists and an additional assortment of Saudi royals. Allon, however, eventually figures out that it’s another malign “foreign power” pulling levers from outside the region, and anybody who reads a daily newspaper will see what’s really going on even before Allon does. (HarperCollins, 496 pp., $28.99. On sale July 16.)
The prizewinning Clark, a 59-year-old retired Virginia judge, has been compared to Carl Hiaasen and Nick Hornby. I would add “Better Call Saul,” with its satisfying blend of satire and humanity. Clark’s appealingly imperfect hero, Kevin Moore, is less of a mess than Saul Goodman but just as unlucky. A brief and uncharacteristic cocaine binge leaves the young lawyer disgraced, divorced and disbarred — and set up to be the fall guy in a multimillion-dollar insurance swindle. Moore has scant faith in the criminal justice system he knows so well. “We can handle fistfights, killings, shootings, knife scrapes, larcenies, heterosexual divorces, boundary-line disputes and drug sales . . . but a well-done hustle as rare and layered as this will usually overwhelm a creaky contraption built by bewigged rustics who’d never heard of penicillin and would ooh and ahh at a lightbulb.” Nice summation. (Knopf, 352 pages, $27.95. On sale July 9.)
While few of us actually worry about a Hannibal Lecter nibbling on our memory centers, we can all imagine living next door to “neighbors from hell.” That’s what happens on pretty, becalmed Lowland Way in South London. One week the residents are winning prizes for their Sunday neighborhood fairs. The next week Darren Booth and his moll, Jodi, move in, set up a used-car lot on their lawn, toss up rickety scaffolding on their half of a semidetached, and blast “thrash metal” rock through the suburban night. A “charm offensive” is met with expletives. Officialdom is unhelpful. A B&B loses clients. Marriages cleave. Em and “Ant” Kendall’s baby boy must wear earmuffs and a protective helmet. Then there’s a — what else? — violent death. And apparently another, and just about everybody is a suspect. Happy ending? Not exactly, but the whole bordering-on-believable novel is beautifully modulated and terrifically suspenseful. (Berkley, 368 pp., $26)
The best thing about this alternative take on the Clutter family murders made famous in Truman Capote’s 1965 true-crime classic “In Cold Blood” is Masterman’s meticulous look inside the head of a heartless psychopath. After retired FBI agent Brigid Quinn meets Jeremiah Beaufort for the first time, she is shrewd enough to see that “he’s trying really hard to be what he imagines is human. It makes him nervous.” Extrapolating from what she considers unexplained holes in Capote’s account, Masterman adds a third killer to the Perry Smith-Dick Hickock duo hanged for the horrific crime. In this version, Beaufort killed two of the Kansas Clutters as well as a Sarasota family of four. A final bloody confrontation with the ex-con Beaufort is unconvincing. But both before and after that, there’s lots of thoughtful grown-up repartee between Quinn and her husband. He’s a philosophical ex-priest who is uncomfortable with his wife’s knack for leaving miscreants on the living room floor writhing in agony. (Minotaur, 320 pages, $27.99.)
Richard Lipez writes the Don Strachey PI novels under the name Richard Stevenson. “Killer Reunion” is the most recent.