Even though fall doesn’t start officially until September 23, it’s not too early to begin thinking about what books to gather round you in front of the fire as the days grow shorter and the nights longer. It’s no longer beach-read season but that doesn’t mean you can’t still find a thrill or two between the pages.
This month sees the reintroduction of forgotten voices, with Sarah Weinman’s Women Crime Writers anthology as well as the return of genre favorites like Karin Slaughter and Catriona McPherson. In a twist on the normal list of new series installments, many of these September recommendations—half, in fact—are standalones by authors with long-running series. Others, like Chris Holm’s The Killing Kind, introduce a new character that readers will definitely want to see again in future books.
Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels from the 1940s & 50s
Edited by Sarah Weinman (Library of America, September 1)
In her second anthology, following 2013’s Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives, Weinman reminds readers who may associate mid-century crime writing only with men like Chandler, Hammett, and Cain that there were strong women who picked up the pen as well. The two-volume set contains eight novels from eight different authors, some of whom, like Patricia Highsmith, may be recognizable to many readers, while others, such as Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, may be new. In the 1940s installment, there’s Vera Caspary’s noir classic Laura, which was the basis for the perhaps better-known 1944 film adaptation directed by Otto Preminger; Helen Eustis’s The Horizontal Man; Dorothy B. Hughes’s In a Lonely Place, also the basis for a well-known noir film, this one from Nicholas Ray; Elisabeth Sanxay Holding’s The Blank Wall. The 1950s volume includes Charlotte Armstrong’s Mischief; Patricia Highsmith’s The Blunderer; Margaret Millar’s Beast in View; and Dolores Hitchens’s Fools’ Gold. The set is a must-have addition to any crime fiction fan’s bookcase.
Mark Pryor (Seventh Street, September 1)
Taking a break from his Hugo Marston series, Pryor delivers a clever standalone full of suspense and presided over by a deliciously unreliable narrator named Dominic. The British transplant in Texas is a successful prosecutor who’s strapped for cash, especially after being transferred to the Juvenile Justice Center. Normally, those who are sworn to defend the law and spend their days arguing whether or not someone else broke said law are not the ones involved in elaborate payroll heists with a group of friends. Not so with Dominic, who becomes embroiled in what should be a simple robbery but ends up going horribly wrong (think double homicide). The twist—which, of course, won’t be spoiled here—is worthy of the very best crime films, and fans of Pryor’s previous work will be pleased with this one-off.
The Child Garden
Catriona McPherson (Midnight Ink, September 8)
While McPherson’s series featuring the wealthy Dandy Gilver in 1920s Scotland is lighter in tone, her standalones (As She Left It, The Day She Died, etc.) are decidedly darker. This latest one is no exception, featuring a former school-turned-institution that has a tragic history. Eden, once an alternative school that was forced to shut down following the death of a student, is now a care home for children. Gloria Harkness’s 15-year-old son is there, comatose due to a neurodegenerative disorder. Gloria is shocked when an old school friend, Stephen “Stig” Tarrant, comes to see her unexpectedly. Stig is still hung up on the drowning death of another boy at Eden, which caused the school to close. When he and Gloria decide to take a closer look at Eden after another mysterious death, they discover that they’ve only just scratched the surface of the school’s dark history. It seems as though the students who were present when the boy died all those years ago are systematically dying themselves, either from supposed suicides or mysterious accidents. McPherson’s ingenious plot turns will keep even the most astute of crime fiction readers guessing until the last page.
The Killing Kind
Chris Holm (Mulholland, September 15)
The hero of Holm’s gripping thriller (Dead Harvest etc.) is a killer and his name is Michael Hendricks. But don’t worry, that’s not a spoiler. Hendricks is a unique killer in that his targets are exclusively other killers: he’s a hit man who hits other hit men. After one such hit, he draws the attention of the Council, a shadowy group comprised of the leaders of the biggest American crime families. The Council retains the services of Alexander Engelmann to deal with (read: kill) Hendricks, setting up an eventual showdown of killer versus killer, though unlike Hendricks, Engelmann revels in torture and causing the most pain possible before killing his victims. There’s also an FBI agent, Charlotte “Charlie” Thompson, who’s on the trail of both men, which raises the already high stakes even more. As the hit men close in on one another, Hendricks must decide how much of his past he wants to revisit, since everyone in his former life—he’s ex-Special Forces and fought in Afghanistan—thinks he’s dead. An adrenaline-packed read from start to finish, this first installment in what we hope is a new series is a must for thriller fans.
Those We Left Behind
Stuart Neville (Soho Crime, September 22)
First introduced in The Final Silence (2014), Detective Chief Inspector Serena Flanagan takes center stage in Neville’s moving psychological thriller that’s also a crack police procedural. Seven years after confessing to the brutal murder of his foster father, Ciaran Devine, now 19, dubbed “The Schoolboy Killer,” is free. Flanagan worked the case as a younger, less experienced cop but she always believed that Ciaran confessed to protect his manipulative older brother, Thomas, now 21, who was charged as an accessory and received a much lighter sentence. Now the brothers are reunited and Ciaran is under the supervision of probation officer Paula Cunningham. When violence seems to follow the Devine brothers, Cunningham consults Flanagan about Ciaran and Flanagan looks back at the original case. The investigation becomes official when a significant corpse shows up and it’s clear that the boys’ past is anything but behind them. Neville metes out equal doses of suspenseful cop story, as Flanagan’s case expands and becomes more complex, and stirring family drama, as Ciaran and Thomas struggle to come to terms with the past, the present, and each other.
Karin Slaughter (Morrow, September 29)
In Slaughter’s riveting standalone (after Cop Town), characters prove time and again that it’s the people we think we know best who turn out to have the most twisted of inner lives. Claire Scott thought her husband, Paul, was simply her loving spouse, an architect whose substantial paycheck made it possible for her to live a comfortable life in Atlanta. But then he’s stabbed to death in an alley and the dark underbelly of his life is exposed. Turns out his less appealing qualities are what drove Claire and her older sister, Lydia, apart 18 years ago, when Lydia accused Paul of attempted rape. Claire sided with her new husband and the sisters stopped speaking. Already shaken by the disappearance years earlier of their older sister, 19-year-old Julia, who vanished from her University of Georgia dorm, the accusation against Paul and Claire’s reaction permanently fractured the family. In the wake of Paul’s death, the sisters gingerly begin to reestablish a bond when it becomes clear that Paul’s dark proclivities may be linked to Julia’s disappearance and likely death. In true Slaughter fashion, this is a decidedly dark tale with myriad twists and turns, populated with equally twisted characters.
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