Wife, mom and CIA agent Kate Moore from Chris Pavone’s trippy first thriller The Expats has a cameo in his entertaining new novel The Accident (Crown, digital galley), but her boss, Berlin operative Hayden Gray, has a star turn. He’s trying to squash — by any means necessary — an anonymous manuscript before it can be published and its secrets revealed. New York literary agent Isabel Reed has the only known copy, a thick stack of pages titled “The Accident,” and she’s aware that she’s holding a future bestseller and a likely bombshell. The biography of global media mogul Charlie Wolfe alleges a Chappaquiddick-like accident in his past, a cover-up involving his best friend, and ties to covert U. S. intelligence operations. Before Isabel gives it to her old friend, editor Jeffrey Fielder, she swears him to secrecy, as well as her assistant. But copies of the manuscript soon begin to proliferate — a sexy sub-rights agent reads it on a flight to LA, where she’ll pitch it to a movie producer; a publisher trying to hold on to the family business sees it as a ticket to success, but he wants a veteran copy editor to fact-check it asap. All of these people are in grave danger; some will die. Meanwhile in Zurich, the anonymous author is pursuing his own agenda, including plastic surgery and hidden bank accounts. Pavone, who previously worked in publishing, offers a clever secret agent/book agent tale that benefits from his insider knowledge. But pay attention. As in The Expats, he’s quite the trickster. The body count is high.
If you’re missing the rural noir of HBO’s True Detective or wishing Gillian Flynn would hurry up with a new thriller, check out Laura McHugh’s first novel, The Weight of Blood (Spiegal & Grau/Random House, digital galley). Set in the secluded “hollers” of the Ozark Mountains, the novel focuses on the close-knit Dane family — teenage Lucy, her father Carl, his older brother Crete — and the mysterious disappearances of two girls a generation apart. When the body of Lucy’s old school pal Cheri turns up creekside near Dane property, Lucy feels guilty for not having been a better friend, and she begins asking questions of the locals after finding a necklace in a trashed trailer. At the same time, she wonders about her mother Lila, a lovely outsider who disappeared 15 years ago. She might as well poke a nest of snakes. Secrets begin slithering out. McHugh shifts the narrative voice among the main characters in the present and Lila in the past; eventually, they intersect. Lila proves the most riveting storyteller, but others such as midwife Birdie provide local color and perspective. It’s Birdie who tells Lucy: “You grow up feeling the weight of blood, of family. There’s no forsaking kin. But you can’t help when kin forsakes you or strangers come to be family.”
When plastic surgeon John Taylor dies in a Palo Alto hotel, his secret comes out — he had three different wives in three different cities. In Alice LaPlante’s character-driven A Circle of Wives (Grove Atlantic, digital galley), the narrative rotates among the three women who loved the charismatic and compassionate Taylor and the young detective investigating Taylor’s suspicious death. Detective Samantha Adams has to fight her superiors to keep her on the case, but she’s certain the wives — or at least one of them — was responsible for the good doctor’s death. Was it status-conscious Deborah, the first wife who knew of her husband’s bigamy and even assisted in his complicated living arrangements? Or is it Mother Earth-type MJ, with an affinity for gardening and a troubled brother? Or pehaps it’s Helen, the most recent wife, a reserved pediatric oncologist with a secret? Sam’s investigation casts a shadow on her own so-so relationship with graduate student Peter, and then everything changes when a glamorous woman comes forward claiming that she was Taylor’s fiancee, for whom he was willing to disavow all his wives. LaPlante crafts a satisfying puzzle.
Crimes of the past appear to bleed into the present in Elly Griffiths’ intriguing The Outcast Dead (Houghton Mifflin, digital galley), which is often the case with forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway. After uncovering the grave at Norwich Castle of the notorious Victorian murderess Mother Hook, hanged in 1867 for killing orphans in her care, Ruth is asked to participate in a TV series “Women Who Kill.” Ruth is reluctant — she’s decidedly not the put-together TV star type — but she’s persuaded by the program’s history consultant, an attractive American professor. DCI Harry Nelson, the married father of Ruth’s toddler daughter, doesn’t much like the professor, but he’s involved in two disturbing cases. One is a mother suspected of killing her infant children under the guise of crib death; the other a kidnapper known as “The Childminder.” One of these plots would be enough for most writers, but Griffiths deftly ties them together, along with the mystery of Mother Hook, and ratchets up the suspense when a child close to Ruth and Nelson is kidnapped.
A kidnapper is also at work in Brian McGilloway’s Little Girl Lost (Harper Impulse, digital galley), the involving first entry in a new series featuring police detective Lucy Black of Derry, Northern Ireland. The title could refer to the shivering girl found in the midst of a snowy midwinter woods with someone else’s blood on her hands. Traumatized by her experience, the unidentified child bonds with Lucy, who would rather be working the McLaughlin case. Teenage Kate McLaughlin, daughter of a local real estate tycoon, is another missing girl, apparently kidnapped. The police force is concentrating all its efforts on finding Kate, even though Lucy suspects the cases are connected. But Lucy, at heart, is also a little girl lost, coping with her divorced dad’s dementia and her conflicted feelings about her mother, who is not just her boss but boss of the force. Two more Lucy Black thrillers are on the way. I’ll read them.