A thrilling variety — psychological suspense, spy action, cozy mystery — for this summer’s beach bag.
Of course you want a thriller for your beach bag. Anyone who says they’re rereading “War and Peace” again this summer is either lying or unaware of the pure pleasure of letting the mind relax along with the body. Sometimes you want to let go, toes sinking into the sand, brain disengaging from stress.
The six books here offer something for everyone — psychological suspense, spy-action, a cozy mystery and more. And if you get the whole stack, you’ll be ready to pass one along to that friend who’s fallen asleep beneath her Tolstoy tome.
“The Perfect Mother” (Harper), by Aimee Molloy, explores every mother’s nightmare: You leave your child with a baby-sitter, and he is taken from his crib. The May Mothers is a group of women in Brooklyn who have bonded over new parenthood and just want a night out to complain and laugh. But when Winnie’s son, Midas, disappears, the sickly summer heat becomes a metaphor for fear and suspicion. The moms (and a dad) may feel close, but each harbors a secret. Will one of those secrets turn out to be murderous? “The Perfect Mother” is a fresh addition to the psycho-thriller shelf.
“The House Swap” (Pamela Dorman), by Rebecca Fleet, has a bit of misdirection that turns into a twist at the end, but that’s not the main pleasure of this delightful work of domestic noir. Instead, it’s the business leading up to that twist that will have your skin crawling — a one-time addict husband, a creepy stalker neighbor, an ended affair. Caroline and Francis leave their life in Leeds, England, for a week in a gentrifying London suburb, but when they discover they can’t leave that life behind, each of them believes it’s for a different reason. They’re both wrong. Fatally, or … ?
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“Codename Villanelle” (Mulholland), by Luke Jennings, is the basis for the BBC America series “Killing Eve,” in which a beautiful Russian psychopath secret agent known as Villanelle runs astray of a beautiful American MI6 agent named Eve Polastri. Anyone who has watched the TV show can tell you it’s bloody but also bloody marvelous, a grand female change from spy-chase standards like James Bond or Kingsman. Jennings provides irony, pathos and plenty of surprises along with deep-insider details about Russian prisons, French fashion and British intelligence.
“Summerland” (Tor), by Hannu Rajaniemi, is science fiction, but it’s also a thriller. Here the author has created an alternative version of 1938, one of the most fraught years in world history. The British Empire and the Soviets struggle for control of Summerland, a place where the dead live on — and where control is a slippery quantity. A woman named Rachel White seamlessly operates on both sides of the divide in this smart and compelling tale. Rajaniemi, who holds a doctorate in string theory, here seamlessly combines steampunk with spycraft.
“Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), by Mario Giordano, follows a woman from Munich back to her husband’s family village, Torre Archirafi, in Sicily. Auntie Poldi is 60 and wants to retire, but this is no sweet return: Isolde “Poldi” Oberreiter intends to drink herself to death, and sooner rather than later. Despite her malaise, Poldi is tugged back toward life by, yes, a murder. The handsome police detective investigating doesn’t hurt, either. Giordano keeps the tension in check with an anonymous narrator whose affection for his eccentric relation can’t be disguised.
“The Woman in the Water” (Minotaur), by Charles Finch, is billed as a prequel but you need not have read the previous books in this series to get pulled into this delightful tale. The book takes us back to 1850, when Detective Charles Lenox is 23. After 11 Lenox novels, Finch must have been as curious about his well-born investigator’s start in the police force as readers are, and his typically elegant prose and research do not disappoint. Unlike some other Victorian mystery series, this one hews less to period details and more to character development as Lenox unravels the mystery of the murder of a woman found in a trunk on an island along the Thames.