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Summer Thrillers: Our Top Titles

The best new novels deliver suspense with a twist. Here, the four that surprised us—and the one we’re anxiously awaiting

The book: Visitation Street by Ivy Pochoda (Dennis Lehane/Ecco)

What’s different: It’s set in an unsung NYC neighborhood.

Why you should read it: This is the second book that the great Dennis Lehane has selected for his imprint (the first was Attica Locke’s The Cutting Season). In Lehane’s works, the city of Boston is as much a character as any of the humans; in this novel, the gritty Brooklyn neighborhood of Red Hook plays a central role. It’s the summer of 2006, and two 15-year-old girls, Val and June, decide to take a flimsy raft out on the East River one steamy night. The next morning, only Val is found—she’s unconscious, washed ashore, and with little recollection of the night. Jonathan, a washed-up-musical-prodigy-turned-music-teacher, is the one who discovers her.

Still, the book is less about what happened to Val (although don’t’ worry, that’s explored) but more about what happens to a diverse and appealing group of characters—in particular, a Lebanese bodega owner, an African-American kid from the projects, a mysterious graffiti artist with a criminal past—in the wake of the incident, how the accident brings some together and drives other apart. In 2006, Red Hook is a neighborhood in transition: The crack wars are over; hipsters and artists are moving in, as well a cruise ship terminal and a supermarket; an uneasy divide exists between those who live in the projects (mostly African-American) and the working class people (mostly white) who live in the houses in the area. It’s a moody, tightly written thriller that transports readers to a time and place in New York when everything and everyone is teetering on the brink of change.

 

The book: A Treacherous Paradise by Henning Mankell (Knopf)

What’s different: It’s a moral page turner.

Why you should read it: Most people know Mankell because of his superb Kurt Wallander novels, which are set in Sweden, but those picking up A Treacherous Paradise and expecting another Scandinavian noir will be disappointed. However, that feeling should fade as soon as readers get drawn into his mesmerizing world of colonial Africa at the turn of the 20th century. Heroine Hanna Renstrom, 19, leaves her poverty-stricken family in northern Sweden and gets a job as a cook on a ship sailing for Australia. She never makes it Down Under; instead, due to a tragic loss, she gets off in the town of Lourenco Marques, a Portuguese town in what is now Mozambique. Through a series of events, she ends up running a lucrative brothel where she’s attracted, repelled, intrigued and confused by the black African women who work there. While a murder does occur in this novel, the suspense lies in finding out how Hanna will respond and whether she’ll give in to the casual racism and brutality and moral laxity of the town’s expats.

 

The book: The Curiosity by Stephen Kiernan (William Morrow)

What’s different: It’s a thriller with an old-fashioned love story at its core.

Why you should read it: Scientist Kate Philo and her team find a body encased in an iceberg in the Arctic Ocean. Thanks to their cutting-edge methods, they’re able to bring that human to life. He’s Jeremiah Rice, a Massachusetts judge who fell overboard in 1906. The man backing the scientists is Erastus Carthage, who immediately sees Jeremiah as a means to fame and fortune. Kate tries to protect the bewildered Jeremiah from being exploited and ends up falling in love with him. Will their relationship survive? And because the technology used to revive him is so new, will he survive? The Curiosity has something to please most readers: it fuses romance, science, ethics and philosophy, with some media criticism thrown in. P.S. If this all sounds like it’s straight out of a movie, you think just like a Hollywood exec: Film rights have been sold to 20th Century Fox.

 

The book: A Delicate Truth by John Le Carre (Viking)

What’s different: Only a master like Le Carre could tackle incredibly complex 21st century subjects—among them, extraordinary rendition, the outsourcing of warfare, governments authorizing shady activities in the name of national security—and make them so darn readable.

Why you should read it: In 2008, a group of American mercenaries, acting on behalf of the U.K., attempt to capture some terrorists in Gibraltar. Instead, a woman and a child are killed. A few years later, Toby Bell of the Foreign Service, who’d known about the questionable Operation Wildfire but kept his qualms to himself, decides to uncover what really went down and hold those behind it accountable. It’s classic Le Carre, in which his characters, whose idealism has been submerged for some time, rises to the surface and they take on the corrupt and powerful. His writing is elegant, his aim is unerring and his implications are unsettling.

 

And here’s one more thriller to look forward to, dropping August 20th.

The book: Night Film by Marisha Pessl (Doubleday)

What’s different: The story is told via lots of oddball extras—like websites, transcripts and newspaper stories—in addition to the usual narrative.

Why you should read it: It’s an exceptionally well-constructed, compelling story about a doomed young girl, her cult filmmaker father, the fans who are obsessed with him, and the truth about how much life imitates (truly disturbing) art.

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