This is the follow-up to “The Sympathizer,” a novel that won the Pulitzer, in which a Communist spy goes undercover after the fall of Saigon, then finds himself in a Communist re-education camp.
In “The Committed,” the spy has escaped and is headed to Paris, where he joins a gang of drug dealers. It’s possible to read this as a stand-alone, as I did, without having read “The Sympathizer.” Although I will definitely be going back to read the first novel now!
I read this slowly, over a period of weeks, because I needed time to digest it. This doesn’t strike me as a book you could, or should, read in one sitting. Nguyen’s writing is truly bold and unique: it includes fascinating flights of thought amidst slick espionage and the humorous and self-deprecating internal musings of the narrator.
Nguyen himself, as a child, escaped Vietnam with his family in 1975. Through his writing, he works through the experiences of refugees, as well as the failings of both capitalism, which works hand in glove with imperialism, and communism.
This novel also includes, I believe, a sentence that is over 600 words long and grittily rapturous, weaving through a violent encounter and escape that turns into a drug-fueled journey, both humorous and sublime, that metaphorically travels from the individual identity, to the collective, to a high-flying recognition of the Buddhist concept that all is one, and back again to the hardened and familiar feeling of isolation.
I can’t do the writing justice with my silly little summary, so please, just read the sentence -- and the novel -- for yourself. But please go in prepared, knowing that although Nguyen is painting with a full pallet that includes humor and heartbreak, action and suspense, this is first and foremost an exploration of philosophical notions around ideology, identity, war, memory and humanity.
Thank you Grove Press for the ARC!
Elon Green is a thorough investigator and fantastic nonfiction writer, and in his first book, he has found a way to hook you in with the hunt for a serial murderer -- who came to be known as “The Last Call Killer” -- while he pulls you through a fascinating exploration of the lives of the killer’s victims and the gay social scene of Manhattan in the late 80s and early 90s.
Green uses the stories and memories of the men and women from that era in the service of giving the reader a deeper understanding of the staggering obstacles gay men faced during that period of time. The AIDs epidemic was out of control and leading to heavy losses, and the stigma of being LGBTQ+ was so strong and potentially life-destroying that many gay men resorted to hiding their true sexuality and visiting gay bars in order to seek sexual companionship -- a tragic combination.
Worse yet, as this novel elucidates, those bars had a history of being infiltrated by good-looking undercover cops prepared to arrest gay men for solicitation. And gay men were being physically attacked on the streets, while the police and the courts turned their backs to the violence.
The unfolding of the evidence, and the chase to find the killer, keeps the tension high, and the lives of the victims are presented in such an interesting way, that it’s easy to fly right through the 230-page book and get upset that you’ve reached the end.
My assumption is that a conscious decision was made to focus only on the victims, rather than the killer, which I fully respect. But I do wonder if more exploration could have been done around the killer’s psychological profile or motivations, given that the individual is a product of both his own sexual inclinations and the zeitgeist of that period of time.
Regardless, this was a fun, interesting and eye-opening read that I highly recommend to anyone interested in LGBTQ+ rights and issues, True Crime or a historical period of time in the U.S. that, sadly, was not that long ago.
I also want to mention that Celadon is fast becoming my favorite publisher. They continue to choose smart books that elevate genres. Thank you, Celadon, for the ARC!
Jacqueline (Jack) is both a single parent with a fourteen-year-old daughter and a vicar. When she is asked to take charge of Chapel Croft, she finds herself moving to a remote village and devoting herself to a chapel with a dark history.
Centuries ago, protestant martyrs were burned at the stake there. Thirty years ago, two teenage girls disappeared. And a few weeks ago, the vicar of the parish hanged himself.
When Jack’s daughter begins to see specters of girls ablaze, it becomes apparent there are ghosts here that refuse to be laid to rest.
CJ Tudor is an auto-buy author for me because her books are fast-paced and full of surprises. She writes horror-tinged psychological suspense that includes a twisty-turny mystery and dabbles in dark supernatural underpinnings. It’s a fun blend that I’ve come to love!
This book seems to layer in a snappy, pop feel, in part because of cheekiness in the dialogue between mother and daughter, in part because of the fair number of 80s and 90s pop culture references, which lends a postmodern flair. This helps to balance out and soften some of the darkness in the story.
The burning of effigies (aka, the burning girls) -- is based upon the actual history of Mary I (Bloody Mary) burning protestants alive at the stake in the 1500’s, which has led to real-life traditions in present-day villages of having monuments and burnings to commemorate those victims.
The relationship between Jack and her feisty daughter feels real, alternately tense and loving, as they struggle to shoe-horn their big-city lives into a remote countryside and deal with some of the strange and possibly dangerous townsfolk. I also appreciated Jack grappling a bit, even as a vicar, with her own faith, as she attempts to bring a more modern outlook as a “wo-man of the cloth.”
The thing that blew me away about this book is that there are a ton of characters and a large number of mysterious subplots, some of them taking place in the present day, some of them stretching back to the past, yet somehow Tudor does a brilliant job helping you -- the reader -- keep it all straight. She is just so adept at sneaking in reminders, dropping down breadcrumbs, crafting twists and doling out reveals.
And everything else is there, too. Strong, bold characters. Great, snappy dialogue. All of the descriptive elements that keep you feeling chills while you read.
As a trigger warning, this does include issues around bullying and child abuse.
Thank you Ballantine Books for the ARC!
Ambrosia (Amb) receives an invite for her ten-year college reunion along with a note that reads, “We need to talk about what we did that night.” She soon finds herself leaving her carefully-constructed present to attend the reunion and revisit a past she’s tried to not only move beyond but shove deep down into the dark places no one will ever see.
Amb’s attempts to navigate the present-day reunion are nearly as harrowing as her attempts to survive freshman year. Back then, her desperate need to be liked drew her in like a dysfunctional tractor beam to the worst influence possible -- a beautiful and wild classmate named Sully.
While Amb explored her dark side with Sully, she did something that had deadly consequences. And it becomes clear - at the reunion - that someone is seeking to out her and seek revenge.
She realizes that the games she played back in college, under Sully’s watchful eye, may soon become matters of life and death.
This book shocked me a lot, shook me a bit and had me thinking about it long after the last page. It’s a psychological thriller with a dash of psychological horror and a pinch of social commentary.
The story is told through the alternating timelines of Amb’s freshman year of college (then) and her current life and attendance at the reunion (now). It’s impossible not to relate, at least to some extent, to the youthful angst, insecurities and difficult social dynamics these female characters endure. The desperation and power jockeying is heightened for dramatic effect in the book, but those exaggerations are grounded in some painful truths.
For a gender that has suffered the pressure of always being polite, sweet and not too ambitious (*eye roll*), sometimes it’s cathartic to experience girls being the very opposite of that. And personally, I love stories that explore the darker side of human nature, so that we can recognize it within ourselves. As Jung wrote, the more you become familiar with your own shadow side, the less you project it onto others. Okay, Jung said it way better than this, but you get the gist.
If you liked Mean Girls or Girl, Interrupted or anything else that is dark and wicked fun, you’ll love this!
If you don’t like any of those titles, then ‘f*** me gently with a chainsaw,’ I give up.
(Bonus points to those who know what bad-girl movie that quote is from!!)
This hits the shelves March 9!
Thank you NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for the ARC!
Florence Darrow knows she's destined to be a famous writer, so when she stumbles into a job assisting a brilliant novelist known as Maud Dixon — whose true identity is a secret — it appears the universe is finally providing Florence her chance. But when she wakes up in the hospital after the two of them are in a terrible accident, with no memory of the previous night — and no sign of Maud Dixon — she’s tempted to upgrade into a bestselling life.
THIS is exactly what I want in a psychological thriller. The work of Patricia Highsmith came to mind as I was reading it, because Florence Darrow is the type of dysfunctional and unsettling main character she might create. Specifically, it has some The Talented Mr. Ripley vibes!
Florence is a black hole inside, unsure of who she is, painfully neurotic when it comes to how she is perceived. She becomes obsessed with the identities of others and inserts herself into their lives, adopting their way of thinking and behaving.
She isn’t just unreliable. She is CREEPY.
I was frustrated with her for engaging in self-destructive behavior, yet she was likable enough that I wanted her to make the right choices - or at least the smart choices - and succeed.
The portion set in Morocco allows the country to come alive on the page, which is fun. But most importantly, my thriller-lovers, the twists and turns throughout are many -- each one is unexpected and oh so satisfying. The plotting, pacing and reveals are exceptional and downright Hitchcockian.
And I LOVED the ending.
I couldn’t put this down and basically read it in 24 hrs.
Okay Ms. Alexandra Andrews, I may be envious, but my hat is off. I will read whatever you write, and if this doesn’t become a bestseller, there’s no flippin’ fairness in publishing.
Get this book! Start it on the weekend or a day you have off and need an escape from reality. It’s a fun, fast-paced, tight and twisty roller coaster!
Thank you NetGalley and Little, Brown and Company for the ARC!
Clarissa is leaving her husband after a stinging betrayal, and she’s found the perfect apartment in a newly completed building very close to the Eiffel Tower, which was destroyed in a terrorist attack some years ago. She’s accepted as a tenant under a program that allows a certain number of artists to live and work in the building for a discounted rate, under the agreement that they will be monitored at all times.
Cameras are on and watching. An AI, which she ends up naming Mrs. Dalloway, will communicate with her and follow her commands, much like a futuristic version of our contemporary ‘Alexa.’ And ‘they’ -- whoever ‘they’ are -- will always be listening. While Clarissa tries to discover the truth about the new place she is living, she grapples with coming to understand her husband’s betrayal, as well as her own memories and grief.
I enjoyed the thoughtful, near-future imaginings brought to life in this novel. Clarissa has sadly become accustomed to advanced global warming, which wreaks havoc on all facets of life, causing issues with everything from food production to air travel. And technology has become invasive: I thought the exploration of advanced technology and its ramifications on Clarissa and her husband was fascinating.
This reads more like literary fiction with a sprinkle of suspense and sci-fi. It’s billed as a mystery and thriller, and I fear that may end up frustrating certain readers. This is not a heart-pounding thriller with twists, but rather a thoughtful, dreamy and haunting meditation. It reminds me a bit of the movie ‘Her,’ directed by Spike Jones, or Jonathan Lethem’s latest novel, ‘The Arrest.’
Do NOT go into this expecting an explanation for everything that happens, as you may be disappointed. This is one of those stories in which things are left open, and it’s more about the journey than a reveal.
I’d recommend this for someone who enjoys literary fiction with a bit of suspense and sci-fi woven in.
Thank you NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for the ARC!
Kieran Elliott's life changed forever on the day a reckless mistake led to devastating consequences. The guilt that still haunts him resurfaces during a visit with his family to the coastal community he once called home. Kieran's parents are struggling in a town where fortunes are forged by the sea. Between them all is his absent brother, Finn.
When a body is discovered on the beach, long-held secrets threaten to emerge.
This takes place in a small coastal community in Tasmania. Along the shore are caves with long tunnels running through them that can only be accessed when the tide is low. If you get caught inside these caves during high tide, you will never walk out again.
I’m not gonna lie, this setting made my gothic-loving heart sing! It’s the best thing about this book! The plotting and pacing are both also nearly perfect for a mystery, and the story held my attention fully from beginning to end.
I did wish for more specificity in the characters. They didn’t seem to have quite enough personality, and their dialogue and behaviors weren’t distinctive enough to stand apart from one another. I could certainly feel for them, and there were many evocative moments, but the people inhabiting this book seemed a bit more 2D than 3D. This became problematic because there are a large number of characters, in part to have a greater number of suspects, and I struggled to keep them all straight while reading.
Despite this, I found Kieran’s relationship with his mother and father incredibly moving, and the depiction of them all dealing with his father’s dementia was both sad and haunting.
I found the end to be sort of mediocre. Kind of interesting, but not all that surprising.
This is a solid book, but not something I would call a stand-out. Still, it’s an enjoyable mystery to curl up with on a cold winter day.
It hits the shelves Feb 2!
Hannah’s husband was murdered in their home ten years ago, and a man was charged for the killing. But when a popular true crime podcast focuses on the murder, the past gets stirred up and new questions are raised.
As Hannah, her boyfriend and everyone they know listen to the podcast, it is revealed that the man who has been in prison for the murder may have been wrongfully convicted. This means the killer may still be out there, roaming free. And with horror, Hannah realizes that suspicion of guilt may be turning directly towards her.
Hannah is an unreliable narrator (my favorite type!), and it’s fun to experience, right along with her, the revelations of the podcast that is focusing on the murder of her first husband. The book moves between past and present, slowly unwinding the backstory of their relationship leading up to his death. I found their relationship to be incredibly specific and unique. There’s also a nice complexity to the relationship between Hannah, her new boyfriend and her daughter.
I wouldn’t describe this as a propulsive and tight thriller. It’s more of a free-form, complex and sophisticated form of psychological suspense. The tone is haunting and creepy, the writing style fluid and elegant. For an avid thriller reader, the middle may seem slow, but I still found it captivating. It also includes a creepy old mental institution, which is sort of like book catnip for me. Is that a saying, book catnip? Oh well, it is now.
This hits the shelves on Feb. 9!
Thank you St. Martin's Press and NetGalley for the ARC!
Frankie Elkin is a recovering alcoholic with more regrets than belongings. But she spends her life doing what no one else will--searching for missing people the world has stopped looking for.
A new case brings her to Mattapan, a Boston neighborhood with a rough reputation, to search for a Haitian teenager who vanished from her high school months earlier. Frankie will stop at nothing to discover the truth, even if it means the next person to go missing could be her.
Frankie reminded me of a real person named Lissa Yellow-Bird Chase, who I learned about some time ago on a This American Life podcast (ep. 706: A Mess to be Reckoned With -- I highly recommend you give it a listen!!) Chase is a tough-as-nails woman who stops at nothing to find the missing. It turns out that Gardner read a BBC article about Chase and was influenced to write this novel based on people like her, amateurs who seek out the missing.
Frankie Elkin is a tough female character who doesn’t just move the needle forward for feminism, she blows up the whole damn record player. She reminds me of what Ibsen did with Nora in “A Doll’s House” back in the late 1800s: shocked us with a completely different view of how a woman can live her life. Or Frances McDormand’s character in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, who showed us that a woman can be flawed and not what the patriarchy might define as ‘nice,’ yet be a heroine because of her sheer determination to make sure that justice prevails.
This is the type of company that Frankie keeps, and she MAKES this book for me. This character is bold and rebellious and *everything*
I also love the way the densely packed and diverse urban communities within Boston come alive on the page.
This is a fast-paced and heart-pounding thriller that had me hooked from beginning to end.
You should get this if you like thrillers with strong female characters or gritty crime dramas.
It hits the shelves Jan. 19, 2021!
Thank you to PENGUIN GROUP Dutton and NetGalley for the ARC!
Sera is obsessed with one particular true crime podcast, listening to it morning, noon and night, as she attempts to escape a life filled with disappointments. The host of the podcast, a young woman named Rachel, lives and records on her parent’s ranch in a remote area of Northern California, until she suddenly vanishes.
Sera gets into her car and travels to the place Rachel was last seen, determined to discover what happened to her. But the more Sera learns about the isolated ranch, the more uneasy she feels about what may be happening there. Rachel may not have been the first woman to disappear from the ranch, and she may not be the last...
This book had me from page one! The last book that hooked me so quickly was “A Stranger on the Beach” by Michele Campbell, but for very different reasons. This immediately pulled me into the dysfunction of Sera, revealing how obsessed and subsumed she is by the podcast, to the point of teetering on the edge of reality. Her mixture of desperation and neuroticism reminds me of characters in the stories of Shirley Jackson, who I sort of consider the queen bee of psychological fiction.
What struck me most about the book is how evocative the writing is. There’s an enormous amount of figurative language weaved into the prose, which lends a great deal of specificity, setting it apart from other books in the genre.
I got a slight “House of Leaves” feel while reading this, which is interesting because the story isn’t similar at all. I think what I was responding to was a mix of playful formatting (the story is peppered with former podcast episodes and quotes), as well as Sera’s unrelenting sense of isolation, which is mirrored in the setting.
One theme it explores is the feeling of seclusion versus connection, including the ways in which we muffle or mute ourselves to become what we think others would like us to be in order to fit in. Or, on the extreme end, how we may even give over control of our own lives, at times, to relieve ourselves of the weight of responsibility.
I recommend this for any fans of psychological thrillers, true crime or mysteries!