Please take a moment to review Hachette Book Group's updated Privacy Policy: read the updated policy here.

July’s Mystery & Thriller Must-Reads


 

Novel Suspects editors line up the best new mystery and thriller novels that we want—no, need—to read this July.

 


 

 


Jamie Canavés is a Book Riot contributing editor who always has a book in one hand. She writes the Unusual Suspects mystery newsletter, never says no to chocolate or ‘80s nostalgia, and spends way too much time asking her goat-dog “What’s in your mouth?!” Tweets: @Oh_Dinky.

 

I Just Read Every Megan Abbott Novel (And You Should, Too)


Megan Abbott has become a queen of writing crime, especially in her ability to portray real girls/women and their desires, obsessions, relationships, and rage. Her words have a quiet, energetic pulse that beat through every page, ultimately finding a way to bury deep under your skin. Her work is just a wealth of great novels that fit many reading moods, and I recommend them all. Seriously, how many authors do you get to say, “Yeah, just read all of their work. All of it!” But if you’re looking at the list of titles and not sure where to start, I’ll break them down based on the reading mood you may be in.

 

Your Heart is Dark and Noir:

 

 

 

Give Me More Obsession But In Present Day, Please:

 

How About Friendship:

Need Some Hysteria And Secrets:

But What If I’m In the Mood for a Graphic Novel, you say?

 

Want the newest Megan Abbott novel?

 

I am actually jealous of all the readers who have yet to discover Megan Abbott and are just sitting down to commence their binge—I’ll be over here waiting for another title and only slightly creepily looking over your shoulder to vicariously read her words again for the first time.

 


Jamie Canavés is a Book Riot contributing editor who always has a book in one hand. She writes the Unusual Suspects mystery newsletter, never says no to chocolate or ‘80s nostalgia, and spends way too much time asking her goat-dog “What’s in your mouth?!” Tweets: @Oh_Dinky.

 

TV Movies and Evil Women

Two of the best suspense novelists working today, one lively conversation–what more could you ask for? Goodreads was kind enough to let us excerpt a portion of Gillian Flynn and Megan Abbott’s chat, more of which can be found here. And don’t miss Flynn’s GONE GIRL and Abbott’s DARE ME, both now in bookstores everywhere!

Megan Abbott: A couple years back we realized we both had been strongly influenced by watching, as kids in the 1980s, true-crime TV movies (the Golden Age for these kinds of movies). Do you have a favorite or two?

Gillian Flynn: Oh, sweet, sweet movies of the week. My all-time favorite (as in, I own it and watch it once a year or so) is A Woman Scorned: The Betty Broderick Story, a 1992 TV movie starring the sublime Meredith Baxter. It’s based on a real case: Betty Broderick, a wealthy Southern California housewife, began spiraling out of control when her influential lawyer husband left her (after she helped put him through law school and med school). She ultimately shot both her ex and his new wife while they were sleeping. The case is much more nuanced than these basic outlines, but let me say that it intrigues me because it’s about a relationship gone very toxic, escalating animosities, the perils of attaching one’s identity to someone else, and the dangers of righteousness. The movie is legitimately great—Baxter is fascinating. If you want to read about the case, check out Bella Stumbo’s true-crime book, Until the 12th of Never. It’s stunning.

That’s my long answer: And you, Megan? Your favorite, legitimately good, and your favorite guilty pleasure TV movie?

MA: Oh, what a great question! I think A Friend to Die For AKA Death of a Cheerleader with Kellie Martin and (yes) Tori Spelling would be right up there. It’s actually a very meaty tale (based on a true crime) and speaks volumes about the pressures of being a teenage girl. Second only to Small Sacrifices with Farrah Fawcett, which I haven’t seen in many years but terrified me for years (“Hungry Like the Wolf” never sounded the same thereafter…)

Gillian, what was that one with Hillary Swank we both had watched?

GF: Dying to Belong! Hilary Swank’s friend joins a sorority, is hazed by the evil queen bee (Scrubs’s Sarah Chalke) and mysteriously falls to her death from a clock tower. Hilary investigates. I remember girls writing mean things on freshmen pledges with magic marker (am I making this up?) and also Hilary Swank and Mark-Paul Gosselaar riding a lot of bikes to the tune of Sophie B. Hawkins’ “Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover.” This is starting to sound like a fever dream.

MA: Oh gosh, that’s totally right. They markered all over their body parts, telling them where they were too flabby. I never forgot that. If it’s a fever dream, it’s one that returns, like malaria!

GF: Megan, speaking of the evil girls do to each other, it reminds me of that fantastic line in DARE ME, “There’s something dangerous about the boredom of teenage girls.”

Did that line come to you as you were writing, or was that a guiding theme early on of DARE ME?

MA: It came to me as I was writing, though originally it was buried later in the book. It kept sticking in my head, so I knew I had to move it forward.

I wonder with you about the notion of the “Cool Girl,” which is one of the most memorable passages in Gone Girl. (It begins: ““Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping…” and is quoted in full here.

Was that an early idea? When I read it, I nearly gasped it was so perfect, so incisive.

GF: I actually had a lot of trouble getting Amy’s voice and nailing her down. In the final version, she writes quizzes for women’s magazines for a living, but originally I had her as a columnist. So to figure her out more, I wrote a lot of her columns in her voice—just as an exercise. But that one I liked so much I couldn’t bear to get rid of it, so I worked it into the book.

Reader Question:: It seems like the “evil” female keeps cropping up this summer. Before I read Gone Girl, I happened upon Serena by Ron Rash. Now that’s an evil anti-hero(ine). I keep hearing selfish women in my music as well. Could this be a manifestation of frustrated feminists, not satisfied with women’s true roles?

Serena is a beautiful, haunting novel, isn’t it? Fear any woman who has a pet eagle.

I like to write about evil women because I think truly frightening women are under-represented in literature. Not campy villainesses but truly dangerous, evil-minded women. For me, I suppose it is in a way a feminist statement: I get weary of the idea that women are naturally good and nurturing. I think women struggle with evil as mightily as men do. I don’t want that struggle to be dismissed. I want credit for it!

MA: Evil is such a subjective word. I admit I never really think of any of my characters (or yours) as “evil.” One of the things I find so compelling about good crime fiction is it shows the complexities behind people behaving badly. That actions may be destructive or even cruel but as the book unfolds the picture gets more complicated. What do you think?

Like this conversation? Read it in its entirety on Goodreads.com.

Summer Reading

Sunny readingI seem to be on a cycle in which I finish books in early summer for a late fall release. It happened again this year – much, I’m sure, to my editor’s frustration. I’ve just finished up my next novel The Black Box, blowing all kinds of deadlines in the process. The frustrating part for my editor and copyeditor is that the longer I take, the less time they have to work their magic and make the book better.

But I have no worry this year or any year. The team that works on these books is the best and the book is in very good hands.

What’s been nice for me is that it turns summer into a real vacation for me. I don’t want to start my next book, even though I am thinking about it all the time, until all the editing and polishing of The Black Box is finished. That gives me time to catch up on books and movies and other projects. So then, here is an update on how I spent my summer vacation.

First, reading list. Most people think that because I write books that I must be reading books all the time. Not true. On one hand, you have to always be reading. It refills the tank, stimulates ideas and inspires. It’s important. The only problem is it can be intrusive to your own work. So when I am writing I am usually reading sparingly. I am lucky in that I get sent a lot of books to read. I look them over and put the one I want to read to the side for later. That is, if I can wait. Sometimes I can’t wait to jump on a book as soon as I pick it up at the store or it comes in the mail.

This has been a good summer for me. Reading both old and new books and even new old books (I’ll explain later), I have not been disappointed. Continue reading “Summer Reading”

What Happens Next?

Noir sp

A recent, controversial  New York Times article by Stanley Fish uses the results of a 2011 psychological study to argue readers and viewers experience no negative effects from knowing the ending of a story in advance. We asked a few of our friends what they thought–check back regularly today for their responses.

It’s like the lit crit version of “If you, foolish child, still believed in Santa Claus, it’s not my fault I ruined it for you.” It seems instructive in terms of that perpetual false paradigm of “literary fiction vs. genre fiction.” There seems a real desire to diminish or dismiss “suspense” as being a shallow  or “dirty” thing. The subtext is: If we are feeling the thrill of “what next? what next?” it can’t be good literature. While Fish clearly sees immense value in Hunger Games (and his piece on it isn’t a review, after all, so I can see why he was surprised that readers considered him a spoiler), he still seems resistant to admit that suspense–sensation–is a worthy thing. He seems to view it instead as the shallow aspect we must dismiss to mine the story for more “significant” aspects. But what could be more significant about the reading experience, about stories themselves, than that sensation of: “What happens next? How will it end?”

Megan Abbott is the Edgar Award-winning author of five previous novels. She received her Ph.D. in English and American literature from New York University and has taught literature, writing, and film studies at New York University, the New School, and the State University of New York at Oswego. She lives in New York City.

Dare Me, which Rosamund Lipton calls “arresting, original and unputdownable,” is coming from Reagan Arthur Books in July 2012.

On Mildred Pierce: A Conversation with Laura Lippman

Both Laura Lippman and myself are ardent, perhaps obsessive fans of the James M. Cain novel, Mildred Pierce. For just that reason, we both had been avoiding watching the HBO miniseries starring Kate Winslet and Guy Pearce and directed by Todd Haynes. Finally, with the series now on DVD, I surrendered and watched it, as did Laura. Below, expanded from an attenuated Facebook thread, are our thoughts on the experience, which ultimately led to the question, as Laura poses it on her blog: what happens when someone has a “deep, mad love for a book”? Is any adaptation of it doomed?

—MA

LL:  In the final episode of the five-hour plus adaptation of Mildred Pierce, I began to wonder if it just might be quicker to read the audiobook. Not quite, not at all—it’s 10 hours. But whatever happened to pictures being worth 1,000 words? Stranger still, the last two episodes seemed rushed. It was almost as if someone at HBO said, ‘Oh my god, we authorized how many hours? Pull the plug!’ (Full disclosure, I know and admire/like Cary Antholis, who oversees miniseries there, so I know this couldn’t be the case.)

I know the book so well that I wasn’t sure I could give the miniseries a fair shake. But two things strike me. First, James M. Cain, as a former newspaperman, knows how to write very tight compressed scenes. He violates the principle of ‘show, not tell’ over and over again—and the book is better for it. Take, for example, the scene of Mildred and Monty’s jaunty banter, en route to Lake Arrowhead. It zips by in the novel, written indirectly.

“Going through Pasadena, they decided it was time to tell names, and when he heard hers, he asked if she was related to Pierce Homes. When she said she was ‘married to them for a while,’ he professed to be delighted, saying they were they worst homes ever built, as all the roofs leaked. She said that was nothing compared to how they treasury leaked, and they both laughed gaily. His name, Beragon, he had to spell for her before she got it straight, and as he put the accent on the last syllable she asked: ‘Is it French?’’’

Put in straight-forward dialogue, this exchange loses so much of its charm and breeziness.

The second problem is that it’s a very internal novel. Mildred can’t express her feelings and she often doesn’t understand them. All credit to Kate Winslet for trying to play this literal, humorless character. I think she was miscast. I think almost everyone is miscast, except for Guy Pearce, who made me see Monty’s charm at last; Mare Winningham; Melissa Leo; and maybe young Veda.

I will say I’m convinced that Todd Haynes loves the novel. Continue reading “On Mildred Pierce: A Conversation with Laura Lippman”

You Will Have to Know Life

Megan Abbott’s much-praised novel THE END OF EVERYTHING (Reagan Arthur Books) which Tana French calls “taut, unflinching and very hard to put down” hits bookstores today. Here, we present a piece on the oddities of suburbia from the author Laura Lippman calls “one of the most exciting and original voices of her generation.”

I have always been drawn to “suburban novels,” the tortured domesticity of Richard Yates’s Revolutionary Road and the sophisticated roundelays of John Updike. But the dominant pop cultural narrative of the suburbs mostly falls under one of two categories. First, there are those broad satires of conformity and complacency, where suburbs are little more than bland cul de sacs, the dull thump of SUVs over poured concrete, whole communities ruled by carpooling and quiet dread. And, more recently, we have seen a string of irony-leaded tales of suburban misery curdled into degeneracy—drug-dealing soccer moms, murderous housewives, satanic cults. Consuming these narratives, it seems hard to imagine the suburbs as places where real people live, with their own histories, their own still-potent dreams.

As a result, one of my pleasures in reading Jeffrey Eugenides’ 1993 The Virgin Suicides was because it cast true magic over the suburbs. And it meant all the more to me because it’s set in my own home town (and Eugenides’s), Grosse Pointe, Michigan. With its placid, Tudor-lined streets, boats clanking on Lake St. Clair, block after block of canopying red maples and pin oaks, it is place for which the term “balmy suburb” seems to be invented. When I was growing up, my parents, both East Coast transplants, always joked that Grosse Pointe feels, in many ways, perennially 1954. Changeless, pristine, inert. When I first read Eugenides’s novel at age 22, I couldn’t imagine how he could find so much dreamy sorrow in the place I had been so eager to flee for the tumult of New York City. I assured myself that it was in fact the dreamy sorrow of adolescence he had captured. That the book could in fact be set in anywhere.

We are the least reliable narrators of the places we grew up and it’s taken me nearly 20 years to write about my hometown. But now, all these years later, I can finally access Grosse Pointe in a different way. My new novel, The End of Everything, the story of a 13-year-old girl whose best friend disappears, is set in a Grosse Pointe facsimile. Writing it, I came to feel that the stillness I’d once thought of as stasis was precisely the quality that made the big moments of life, when they come, seem larger, bigger, more shocking and more moving. The more I wrote, the more I was able to telescope back, prior to my teen years of bored frustration with the suburbs, back when it was a wooded place of inscrutability and wonder.

Continue reading “You Will Have to Know Life”

The Edge of Nothing

We asked all the contributors to LA Noire: The Collected Stories to tell us their thoughts on why Los Angeles is so associated with noir. Read Megan Abbott’s story “The Girl” in LA Noire: The Collected Stories.

Available free (for a limited time) from your eTailer of choice . Amazon.com | BN.com | iTunes | Sony

Noir in both fiction and film has taken rich advantage of cities like San Francisco (Hammett) and New York (Spillane, Himes). No city—or region—truly owns noir, which is a mood, a feeling, a set of universal principles (no sin goes unpaid for; desire will doom you).

But, for me any many others, its deepest roots lie in the lush turf of Los Angeles. No other place evokes, with such extremity, noir’s foundational opposition: that there are two worlds, the world of daytime—of family, respectability, business, progress—and night—of crime, corruption, danger.

In his book City of Quartz, Mike Davis terms this opposition “sunshine vs. noir,” capitalist utopia and urban nightmare, land of “milk and honey” and city of “seduction and defeat.” And, maybe most of all, no other city has Hollywood. From Sunset Boulevard to L.A. Confidential to L.A. Noire itself, noir offers up countless tales of failed starlets and shattered dreams. Not a physical location, not even an industry, Hollywood stands as a bright symbol of limitless promise that gives way to decadence and ruin.

Los Angeles is, by geographic fate, the dropping-off of the American frontier. Manifest Destiny at its endpoint. You reach your dream here or you’ve lost it forever. Raymond Chandler, L.A. noir’s founding father, once said, “I have lived my life on the edge of nothing.” The edge of nothing: that is where Los Angeles sits, precarious, beautiful—a femme fatale waiting for her kiss.

Megan Abbott is the Edgar-award winning author of five novels. She has taught literature, writing, and film at New York University, the New School and the State University of New York at Oswego. She received her Ph.D. in English and American literature from New York University in 2000. She lives in New York City. Her new novel The End of Everything will be published in July 2011. Start reading on Facebook and follow Megan on Twitter.

Now Available LA Noire: The Collected Stories

Today is the publication date for LA Noire: The Collected Stories a series of short stories some of which are based on characters and cases from the world of L.A. Noire, Rockstar’s new magnum opus of video gaming.

Throughout the day, we will be posting short vignettes by the contributors to the collection. Contributors include Megan Abbott, Lawrence Block, Joe Lansdale, Joyce Carol Oates, Francine Prose, Jonathan Santlofer, Duane Swierczynski and Andrew Vachss.

For now, download the collection for free from your eTailer of choice. Amazon.com | BN.com | iTunes | Sony

The Deep Bottom Drawer: A Conversation with Lois Duncan

shadowy figuresI’m just beginning to realize the flickering presence Lois Duncan’s books still play in my imagination, decades after discovering them.

Most of my reading life, age nine to twelve especially, seemed to be in search of books that somehow conveyed for me, as movies did, a world as dark and tangled and mysterious as the one I glimpsed in my fevered girl head. These were books of shadows, books where the every day—banging school lockers, fights with siblings, sprawling out on the carpet and watching TV—could, at any moment, give way to darkness, beauty, terror, a Grimm’s fairy tale of precipice-peering and descent. The same things I found, and clung to, in true crime and noir.

It was not until a few years ago that I discovered her non-fiction recounting of her daughter’s (still officially unsolved) murder and its aftermath, Who Killed My Daughter?, which is wrenching, unforgettable book. It’s hard to talk about such a personal book, written by a grieving mother, in objective terms, but, to try, it’s also a fascinating book as Duncan undertakes her own investigations, both traditional and untraditional, including working with a psychic.

Now, with the reissuing and updating of ten of Duncan’s YA books, including my favorites, I was fortunate enough to interview the author herself. On a personal level, there’s something deeply satisfying and more than a little uncanny about it because, as with so many interviews, I came to feel I was revealing (or at least realizing) as much about myself (maybe more) as the author herself was. Most of all, though, I came away feeling deeply inspired by her path as a female author with such a long career in a famously punishing business. The author of 50 books, she has endured countless “revolutions” in publishing and never let any of it stop her from creating, from experimenting, from, well, telling the stories she wanted to tell.

Speaking via a series of emails, we began by talking about the new editions. She told me how exciting it was for her to update the new editions, adding, “I’ve been astonished to realize how well the characters and plots have transcended the years. All I really had to do was tweak the stories in order to change hair styles and dress and give my protagonists access to the technical toys of today—cell phones, computers, digital cameras, etc. That gave me a sense of power. It was like rebirthing my children and being able to provide them with wings.”

Megan: I am a tremendous fan, and have been since I first found your books in the early 1980s, as a young girl in suburban Michigan. It’s a big thrill to see these reissues and to get to revisit these wonderful books and also, somehow, the 10-year-old me who so savored them.

One of the things that strike me now, re-reading them, is how they managed to mingle the everyday (family chores, pesky siblings) and identifiable with the strange, the paranormal, darkness itself. I think it can speak to young girls’ sense that they want to be invited into a book (e.g., a heroine they feel is like them), but they also want to visit murky places. Explore, uncover the unknown. Was that “mix” one of your aims when you wrote them? How could you be sure the darker themes would be speak to readers?

Lois Duncan: I wasn’t sure. And, at first, my editors weren’t either. A Gift of Magic (my first novel that involved ESP) was rejected seven times before Little, Brown daringly published it. The other publishers were certain that young readers would not be interested. I get great satisfaction from the fact that the book, originally published in 1971, has never gone out of print and becomes more and more popular.

As far as my style goes—I think the fact that the books involve “normal” kids in “normal” life situations creates a realistic format that the average reader easily relates to. As paranormal events begin to occur, the viewpoint character finds them just as bewildering as the reader. Then, as that character begins to accept them, the reader does so also, because he or she is following the same thought process.

Continue reading “The Deep Bottom Drawer: A Conversation with Lois Duncan”

We use cookies to enhance your visit to us. By using our website you agree to our use of these cookies. Find out more.