What would have happened if novelist Henry James had met detective Sherlock Holmes? Granted, Holmes is a fictional character, but in The Fifth Heart by Dan Simmons, the premise of this unlikely meeting is central to the story. Simmons, who is known primarily for sci-fi, fantasy and horror, combines elements of these genres in this narrative with historical events interwoven into his fictitious plot.
The story opens with Holmes saving James’ life by preventing him from jumping into the Seine one night. From that point on, the pair form an odd partnership that is at times akin to that of Holmes and Watson. However, James never fully believes that Holmes is really who he claims to be. Is this man who sometimes goes by the name of Jan Sigerson really THE Sherlock Holmes or is it all an elaborate ruse? What about the supposed suicide of James’ friend Clover Adams? Will Holmes be able to unravel the connection between Clover and the mysterious Irene Adler? For those familiar with the stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, there are references galore to many of the characters and plots of these detective tales.
In addition to Henry James, there are other historical figures making appearances including Samuel Clemens, Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Adams and Vice President Adlai Stevenson, to name a few. Simmons enjoys going into great detail about various events (e.g. the crushing of someone’s skull or James’ criticism of Doyle’s stories) which can either add to or sideline the central mystery of the story. For those who either enjoy a complicated mystery full of plot twists or the idea of famous historical figures interacting with famous fictitious ones, The Fifth Heart definitely has plenty of both to offer.
The days of summer are dwindling down, and all of the blockbuster movies we were waiting to see have long been released. What’s a cinephile to do when there’s not much left worth seeing in the month of August? Here are three entertaining novels that fall into typical movie genres to help you get through the rest of summer.
Looking for an edgy intergenerational dramedy? Pick up Mat Johnson’s Loving Day. Warren Duffy has returned to the Philadelphia ghetto to claim the dilapidated roofless “mansion” left to him by his recently deceased Irish American father, his black mother having died years before. Warren’s life can’t possibly get any worse, or so he thinks. He’s a not very good, not very successful comic book artist. He identifies as a black man although he’s so light complexioned he consciously overcompensates in an attempt to fit in. His marriage is over and the comic book shop his wife bankrolled for him has gone belly-up. He owes her some serious money and his only hopes of making some quick cash is drawing for hire at a comic book convention. Imagine Warren’s surprise when one of the convention attendees turns out to be the teenage daughter he never knew he had. Tal is more than surprised to learn about her racial identity, having been raised by her Jewish grandfather. She chalks up her hair and features to imagined Israeli roots. Johnson’s down-and-out protagonist retains his ironic sense of humor as he is forced to man up and become a father while exploring his own racial identity and helping his daughter to do the same. Potential love interests for both father and daughter make things interesting, especially since they stem from a special charter school at The Mélange Center, dedicated to helping biracial persons “find the sacred balance” between their black and white perspectives. Broadly comic and insightful as it comments on race issues today, Loving Day explores the dynamics of relationships of all kinds.
If suspenseful thrillers are your thing, look no further Michael Koryta’s latest. Last Words follows Florida investigator Mark Novak, a man whose wife and colleague at their pro bono legal firm is killed under mysterious circumstances. A year and a half later, a distracted and still distraught Novak is sent by his boss to a snow-covered Indiana small town to look into the unsolved murder of a 17-year-old girl, Sarah Martin. Although the case has been cold for nearly 10 years, it’s still very much on the minds of the residents of Garrison. It seems the main suspect, the eccentric outcast Ridley Barnes, wrote the firm to specifically request Novak’s services. Barnes raison d’etre is the continued exploration of the supercave beneath the town, a cave he believes is almost a living being. Barnes was the one who emerged from that cave with Sara Martin’s body after a search team failed to locate her. But Novak soon finds out that the caver isn’t the only potential suspect, and that the citizens of Garrison are not very happy to see the case revisited. Novak makes a crucial mistake heading into the case — he fails to do any research before he arrives, a decision he regrets almost immediately. Tightly plotted with interesting, well-developed characters and plenty of suspenseful action, both in the past and present, Last Words would make an excellent screen adaptation. Koryta has chosen an interesting backdrop for the potential crime, and he uses the cave and the exploration of its dark, cold, claustrophobic, labyrinthine network to suspenseful potential.
For the thrill of a satisfying psychological horror film, it’s hard to top Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts. As the book begins, 20-something Merry is returning to her family’s former Massachusetts home (now fallen to ruin and up for sale) to meet with a bestselling author. Merry has a fascinating story to tell, one that continues to permeate all aspects of her life. Fifteen years earlier, the Barretts were struggling. Their father had been out of work for some time, and they were in danger of losing their house. Teen Marjorie had begun acting strangely. The stories she has always told 8-year-old Merry have taken on a sinister tone, and she delights in upsetting her. Strange things start to happen. Is it mental illness or something supernatural? While their stressed mother takes Marjorie to a therapist, their father opts for visits with a Catholic priest with ties to the media. Soon, the cash-strapped Barretts foolishly agree to allow their situation to become a reality television show, The Possession, as a way to pay the mortgage. Tremblay builds suspense and tension by telling the story through present day Merry, 8-year-old Merry and a snarky horror blogger named Karen who is deconstructing The Possession 15 years later. A Head Full of Ghosts is funny, clever and thoroughly chilling. Tremblay brings in plot elements from many famous horror movies, even as he pays homage to Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s famous short story of madness “The Yellow Wallpaper” and Shirley Jackson’s classic gothic chiller We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Could Marjorie have been faking the whole thing, or was she possessed a la The Exorcist?
Looking for the perfect book to take poolside, distract you on the plane or transport you from your backyard lawn chair? Lose yourself in The Wrong Man by Kate White or Lili Anolik’s Dark Rooms, each story filled with suspense and misdirection.
In The Wrong Man, Kit Finn just ended a staid relationship and feels like she is treading water. On a buying trip to Florida, the interior designer resolves to shake up her life and chance stepping outside her comfort zone. Chance presents itself as Matt Healey, a hot and handsome fellow New Yorker who arranges to keep this new romance going once they return to the city. But when Kit shows up at Matt’s door for dinner, she finds instead The Wrong Man; it’s the real Matt Healey and he is not the man Kit met in Florida. As Kit tries to figure out this case of misrepresented identity, she’s drawn in to a web of deceit and corporate corruption which just might turn deadly. Author Kate White, who served as editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan for 14 years, writes a snappy, sexy mystery which keeps the reader guessing till the last pages.
Author Lili Anolik is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair. Her debut novel, Dark Rooms, tells a chilling and somewhat seamy tale. Posh Chandler Academy is an archetypal New England prep school brimming with wealth and privilege. Grace is a graduate of Chandler, her parents on its teaching staff, but she’s dropped out of college and is living at home while she focuses on solving the shooting death of her charismatic younger sister Nica. Nica’s death has unraveled the family — former good girl Grace is popping pills while her father drowns his sorrows in alcohol. The girls’ mother, a photographer who both favored and obsessively photographed Nica, decamped to an artist commune, effectively abandoning what’s left of her family. Grace’s refusal to accept the official story — that an alienated student smarting from unrequited love shot Nica and hung himself — helps her discover her own strength and independence as she unearths the grim secrets sheltered in Chandler’s ivy-covered towers.
For other twisty thrillers, try Disclaimer by Renee Knight or Where They Found Her by Kimberly McCreight.
University chums meet to celebrate the wedding of one of their friends in Ann Cleeves’ Thin Air. Lowrie and Caroline want to start married life in the Scottish tradition, with a hamefarin’ on the most northerly Shetland Island of Unst. After the bridal march, friends of the bride and groom serve the celebration supper. It’s a time of joyous celebration, of new beginnings and old friends. That is, until Eleanor disappears, and Polly receives a text message, “Don’t bother looking for me. You won’t find me alive.”
Detectives Jimmy Perez and Willow Reeves investigate. They discover that Eleanor was desperate to have a child and had lost a baby late in her pregnancy. Before she disappeared, Eleanor claimed to see the ghost of a local child who drowned in the 1920s. Did Eleanor commit suicide? What is the meaning of the apparition? Is the mystery of the child’s death linked to Eleanor’s disappearance?
We become a part of the old college crowd, living through the evolution of their relationships and their personal development from students to adults in a competitive world. We are privy to the maturation of the investigative team as well, as they resolve personal as well as professional challenges. Through it all, Cleeves’ tale has as many twists and turns as the cliff paths on the Shetland Islands. The stark remoteness of the Shetland landscape hints at undercurrents that ebb and flow with the tide.
Ann Cleeves’ body of work has been long-listed for the Crime Writers Association’s Dagger in the Library Award. This is the 6th entry in the Jimmy Perez series. The other titles are Raven Black, White Nights, Red Bones, Blue Lightning and Silent Voices. Her Jimmy Perez and Vera Stanehope characters are the basis of the television series Shetland. Fans of Peter Robinson, Elizabeth George and Stephen Booth will find a deeply satisfying mystery with an ending you won’t see coming.
Jane Shemilt has created a taut psychological thriller that explores the deepest desperation of a heartbroken mother in The Daughter. Jenny has a better-than-average life. She’s a general practitioner, wife and mother of 17-year-old twin sons and a 15-year-old-daughter. Her husband is a neurosurgeon whose star seems to be on the ascendancy. Her children are on the university track, her sons play sports and her daughter has landed the lead in the school play. Every peg is in its place, every role is in its compartment — until Jenny’s daughter Naomi goes to school and doesn’t come home.
This gripping chronicle of a crumbling family alternates between the time of the disappearance and one year after. Jenny is filled with self-recrimination, endless uncertainty and fear. As the events in the wake of the disappearance unfold in flashbacks, we are introduced to a mother who refuses to passively accept what her family, friends and the police tell her. Through the tumult of her emotions she sifts through every piece of potential evidence and every possible witness she can unearth. Was it a crime of opportunity, or was someone seeking revenge? If so, was it personal or professional? Did Naomi leave of her own free will, or was she taken? As Jenny delves ever deeper into her own actions and those of her family, she will discover tragic truths and an unimaginable outcome. The perfect image she had of her family never truly existed.
First-time author Shemilt is also a full-time physician. The Daughter was shortlisted for the Janklow and Nesbit award and the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize. Fans of Liane Moriarty’s The Husband’s Secret and Rachel Joyce’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry will appreciate this journey to self-revelation.
Two lives, seemingly unrelated, converge in unforeseen circumstances in Lou Berney’s The Long and Faraway Gone. Two events haunt their victims: the brutal murder of six movie theater employees, and the disappearance of a beautiful young woman. The ghosts from the past simply will not let go of the living.
Wyatt, the only survivor of the movie theater massacre, escapes Oklahoma City through his work, moving from one state to the next. Infamous for that single event, Wyatt changes his name and becomes a private investigator. A favor for a friend will start him on a path to the past to confront the one question that was never answered: Why was he spared?
Julianna worshipped her older sister, Genevieve, who took her to the fair and then disappeared forever. Genevieve left Julianna with $10 to buy food and told her she would be back in 15 minutes. In many ways, the now-37-year-old Julianna is still sitting on the bench at the fair waiting for her sister to return. Julianna is willing to sacrifice her career, her security and even her life to discover what happened to her sister that day.
As Wyatt works to discover the identity of a vandal determined to destroy his client’s business, he also uncovers the layers of denial that have dominated his life. As Julianna risks her sanity to uncover her sister’s fate, she must explore the demons that drove Genevieve to leave her that night.
Told in alternating voices, Berney twists his tale of obsession and corruption, of power and greed. Thoughtful, complex and absorbing, this character-driven novel is sure to please fans of intrigue. Berney’s unique plotting intertwines the characters’ stories deftly, proving that we can touch one another’s lives in wholly unexpected ways.
Ten years after an assassin’s bullet takes her husband’s life, Diane Fairmount champions the cause of his fledgling political party, The Common Way, in Brian Freeman’s suspense novel Season of Fear. Attractive, popular and topping the polls, it looks like Diane is destined to become Florida’s new Governor. When an insidious voice echoes from the past, Diane turns to her best friend Tarla Bolton, whose son is former FBI agent turned private investigator Cab Bolton. Cab explores beneath the hype and unearths dirty tricks, long-buried secrets and political machinations. There are right-wing extremists, covert political operations and the murder of a young political operative. Has Cab revealed a right-wing terrorist, or is it a shrewd plot to lead him off target? Teaming with political researcher Peach Piper, Cab must race against time to stop the killer. For there is another havoc on the horizon – a hurricane is bearing down on Tampa, Florida, and it just might permanently bury the evidence.
Brian Freeman has created a cross between Jack Reacher and Richard Castle; handsome, wealthy and dynamic. It’s impossible not to root for Peach, a deeply troubled young woman determined to avenge her friend’s death. Part complex political thriller, part intense police procedural, Freeman weaves a web of intrigue that will leave you gasping for air. Move over Virgil Flowers, and make room for Cab Bolton.
Brian Freeman is the internationally best-selling author of psychological suspense novels, including The Cold Nowhere, Spilled Blood and the The Burying Place. Brian's debut thriller Immoral won the Macavity Award and was a nominee for the Edgar, Dagger, Anthony, and Barry awards for best first novel. Cab Bolton first appears in The Bone House.
Author, journalist and former editor Judith Flanders has recently released A Murder of Magpies. This cozy London-based mystery has Flanders trading her more typical nonfiction writing for a witty whodunit novel.
Sam, an editor for a publishing house, finds that her pleasantly humdrum lifestyle has been turned upside down when her favorite gossip writer brings her a salacious manuscript. The book cites the illicit behaviors of the rich and famous. Shortly after receiving a copy, Sam’s life takes an unexpected turn for the worse.
When a bike courier is run down while carrying a copy of the manuscript, Jake, a handsome detective, seeks out Sam to see how the two are connected. After someone close to Sam goes missing, she puts on her sleuthing hat and works with Jake to find the culprit. Between the heat of adrenalin and the time together spent digging for clues, a romance ignites between Jake and Sam. Will Sam save her friend and get her banal life back?
A Murder of Magpies captures an even mix of effortless wit and downright detective spirit that will have you trying to figure out the mystery — if you pay enough attention, you just might. The novel is a colorful mashup of Bridget Jones and Sherlock Holmes.
Famous for her taut, gripping, forensic thrillers, Tess Gerritsen once again leads us to the edge in Die Again.
Seeing a dog in the window of a home with a human finger in his mouth, a mailman immediately contacts the police. Boston homicide detective Jane Rizzolli and forensic pathologist Moira Isles discover the body of a big-game hunter, trussed hanging upside down, and ultimately the victim of a large cat. Leon Gott has hunted big game and is considered the finest taxidermist in the business, but it looks like the animal kingdom has decided to redress the difference. Isles believes this case is tied to a series of suspicious incidents involving hikers in remote areas. All of those killings involved big cat attacks, and some were dismissed as unfortunate encounters with nature. The investigation leads to a link between the taxidermist and a group on safari in Africa victimized by a leopard.
Six years previously, a group of vacationers seeking a unique African experience joined a safari. Expecting exotic adventures, fabulous sights and romantic evenings by the fire, they instead fought for their lives in a world that was ruled by “eat or be eaten.” Told through the eyes of Millie Jacobson, a London bookstore owner, we travel alternately between the murder investigation in Boston and the growing horror in Botswana, as each vacationer is attacked and dragged away, one by one.
Gerritsen is a master at weaving grisly details into her forensic science, and the result is a suspense-filled trip through terror. The writer is also ably adept at drawing believable, deeply human characters who struggle with the normalcy of daily life while facing the worst human nature can provide. The complex relationships among the investigating team as they struggle to unearth the truth and unmask a killer add to the realistic portrayal.
Fans of Kathy Reichs, Patricia Cornwell and Jeffery Deaver will find this a deeply satisfying read. There is also a television series featuring Rizzoli and Isles. Just remember, this trip is not for the faint of heart.
Paula Hawkins debut thriller, The Girl on the Train, delivers a suspense-driven plot filled with complex characters exploring memory and meaning, fantasy and reality.
Rachel could be like any commuter, scanning the scenery from the train as they slide by, aimlessly viewing the same landscape day after day. Except that Rachel has created a whole other world out of the window — finding a favorite house on a favorite block of Victorian homes, creating an entire persona around a golden couple she names Jess and Jason. They are the couple that Rachel and Tom used to be, before the alcohol, the scenes and the recriminations. They are everything Rachel had, until she turned to cocktails to dull the pain of infertility. Jess and Jason live only a few doors down the street from the house Rachel and Tom furnished with so much anticipation. Only now, Tom lives there with his new wife, Anna, who is pregnant with their first child.
The fantasy couple are really Megan and Scott, and they have problems just like everyone else. Megan is emotionally scarred by two tragic events she can’t reconcile. Scott senses she is hiding something, possibly another man, and his jealousy scars their relationship. Rachel sees Megan kissing a man that is not her husband, and shortly after, Megan disappears.
This book is told by three narrators: Rachel, the obsessed, delusional alcoholic struggling to make herself heard; Anna, the new young wife consumed with creating a perfect family; and the ill-fated Megan, propelled by the past she can’t relinquish and a future she can’t embrace. Gripping, suspenseful, an irresistible read, The Girl on the Train explores all facets of human nature, our understanding of the past and our perception of the present. Hawkins is a master storyteller, weaving a tale that is as compulsively readable as it is electrifying. If you enjoyed Gone Girl, hop on board. You are in for the ride your life.