There are two authors whose work is so consistently excellent I don’t add them to my best of lists anymore, but I can tell you that William Kent Krueger’s prequel to his Cork O’Connor series, Lightning Strike, is beautifully written, felt and told; and Louise Penny’s The Madness of Crowds, a sly look at devotees of a flawed charismatic leader, is a beautiful read. Both writers have a quality of heart and spirit that give their books an extra something, and their main characters, Cork O’Connor and Armand Gamache, are beloved by readers. Soon to join these two are Elly Griffiths and Ann Cleeves, both of whom turned in stellar reads this year (see below). I invite readers to cast their reading nets a bit wider and consider some of these other fine titles. These are all books that stayed with me and left me thinking after I finished them.
This book will be published on September 14.
Hank Phillippi Ryan’s story telling style is so smooth, her books fly through your reading fingers faster than you can think, almost. This novel may be the most emotional, heart felt story in all of Ryan’s books. It’s the alternating story of big sister, Cassie, and little sister, Lily. While the book opens with Lily telling the reader how perfect her sister is, it fast forwards in time to Lily’s life, which does seem actually perfect.
Hank Phillippi Ryan was on the cutting edge of the new wave of what I think of as “fem jep” with a psychological edge. Other writers like Gillian Flynn and Sophie Hannah were also early, excellent adopters of this formula. I read many of these books – they’re a blast – but I got to thinking recently, what sets one apart from another? Almost all of them have an insanely clever hook, and Ryan is no exception to this particular trope.
But what really, really draws me into Hank Ryan’s books is her pure empathy for her characters. Maybe it’s her years of working as a reporter, listening and taking in other people’s stories, but however she comes by this quality in her writing, it’s an extraordinary one, and one that’s often missing from similar fem jep thrillers. It makes you completely invested in her characters and to me, also amps up the suspense, because if you truly care about the people you are reading about, bad things happening to them are that much worse.
What makes a thriller good? What makes one stand out from the pack of – let’s be honest – the many, many books at the moment about women in jeopardy who have lost their memories or are unreliable narrators or have terrible husbands? Let’s start with the main character. Lawyer in training Rachel North has none of those problems. Her memory is intact and her husband seems like a doll in a Red Sox cap. She seems reliable and balanced. She’s just – in a situation.
Thrillers need to be plotted like clockwork, without the gears showing to the reader. So someone as gifted as Hank Phillippi Ryan can introduce many characters onto her canvas, turn the wheel of the plot, and a previously introduced character will unexpectedly show up where you least expect it. Gears at work here, but not on display. Masterful.
Black and White Ball, Loren D. Estleman, Deep into a now 80 book and counting career, and 27 in to his iconic Amos Walker series, what is Loren Estleman going to come up with that might be new? You might be surprised. In this novel Walker crosses paths with one of Estleman’s other characters, Peter Macklin, who hires Walker to look after his ex-wife. The meet up of these two classic characters delivers true energy and snap to this tight, well written novel. Paced perfectly, set in a gritty yet realistic Detroit, and sporting the truly lovely prose and incredible dialogue that are an Estleman trademark, this is a great addition to a classic series by the greatest private eye writer at work at the moment.