Your guide to nail-biting summer reads

Killer zombies, Middle Eastern murder, political intrigue: Seven smart and suspenseful books for your beach season

Topics: Summer reading, Fiction, Books,

Your guide to nail-biting summer reads(Credit: Charles Plante)

Summer’s arrived, and that means you’re probably getting ready to pack some choice crime fiction and thriller offerings into your bag or onto your e-reading device for that long-haul flight or scorching stay on the beach. But why not venture beyond the big names — like Stieg Larsson, Janet Evanovich and Lee Childs — this season, with some nail-biting books by underrated or emerging writers?

Here are seven great smart and thoroughly entertaining crime novels and thrillers to consider for your seasonal-reading pleasure. They’ll transport you to exotic locations, help you travel back in history — and, most important, take you far, far away from your days of multitasking at the office.

“A Fierce Radiance” by Lauren Belfer (June 8)

Nearly a decade has passed since Belfer made her literary thriller mark with “City of Light,” a meaty historical mystery set in turn-of-20th-century Niagara Falls. “A Fierce Radiance” is similarly bursting with period detail, moving from tony Fifth Avenue townhouses to Greenwich Village cobblestones to late-night laboratory sessions at the Rockefeller Institute in World War II-era New York City. Belfer’s focus this time is penicillin. The wonder drug came too late for Life photographer Claire Shipley’s long-dead daughter but could be the springboard that will allow her love interest, James Stanton, to graduate from local experiments to leader of secret government projects. Their romance develops against the backdrop of a war that puts the United States on shaky ground, at least until the country recognizes the usefulness of medicine growing from green mold. “A Fierce Radiance” is a feast of storytelling wonders, mixing corporate greed, murder, espionage, fraying family ties and irresistible descriptions of old New York (not to mention a deliciously catty walk-on by playwright and congresswoman Clare Booth Luce) in a morality tale about one drug’s power to save lives — and how ordinary humans aren’t necessarily equal to that daunting task.

“Ice Cold” by Tess Gerritsen (June 29)



At first it seems counterintuitive to read a thriller set in the thick of a snowstorm in the middle of nowhere during the summer, but what better way to create the illusion of escapism than to reverse weather course? The publication timing of Gerritsen’s newest novel featuring Boston cop Jane Rizzoli and her friend (and city medical examiner) Maura Isles has more to do with the July 12 premiere of the TNT show (starring Angie Harmon as Rizzoli and Sasha Alexander as Isles), but “Ice Cold” works well as a series introduction. The normally staid, buttoned-up Isles — nursing romantic difficulties with her boyfriend, who also happens to be a priest — indulges in an impulse wilderness trip with an old high school acquaintance while playing hooky from a medical conference. The snow accumulates, stranding Isles & co., but Gerritsen has several more tricks up her sleeve, raising the suspense stakes with a secretive cult, home-brew surgery under the most appalling circumstances, and the possibility that Isles might not make it home. Gerritsen paces “Ice Cold” with surgical precision but doesn’t neglect her main characters, even if Rizzoli’s trademark fire doesn’t kick in until the second half of the book.

“Inside Out” by Barry Eisler (June 29)

Eisler’s newest thriller probably doesn’t qualify as escapist reading per se, not with a storyline revolving around missing torture tapes and a closing speech on corporatocracy that, frankly, comes off as a downer. But that’s the point of “Inside Out” (also made in Michael Gruber’s “The Good Son”): American politics, as relayed by the media, can only convey part of the story, and comes at the mercy of the agendas of competing government agencies, judicious leaks and public relations games. None of this is new (especially for readers of War Room or Glenn Greenwald), but Eisler, thankfully, packages them into a superior example of fast-moving entertainment.

Enter Ben Treven, the private security operative tasked with finding the missing torture tapes (all 92 of them, or perhaps even more) and prying them from the hands of a long-rogue colleague in secret tradecraft with a serious ax to grind against his superiors, and some serious secrets he himself needs to protect. Treven’s task is ordered by a man who nearly had him killed. He’s partnered with an FBI agent whose chain of command is hardly clean-cut, and as the chase continues, Eisler’s mission becomes a search for uncorrupted American idealism.

“Think of a Number” by John Verdon (July 6)

Puzzle mysteries and John Dickson Carr, master of the locked-room novel, are hardly read nowadays. My pet theory about both is that sustaining an “impossible crime” (where explanations only make the murder look less solvable) is bloody difficult, so writers shy away when there are other, pressing matters like developing unforgettable characters and raising the stakes with each chapter. That’s why John Verdon’s debut novel — which, at first, fixates on retired NYPD detective Dave Gurney’s adjustment to civilian life (and a more intimate rapport with his understanding but impatient wife, Madeline) before things get hairy — stands out: He’s brought back crimes of impossibility, starting with the titular parlor game trifle and escalating until we’re deep into serial murder territory. Verdon is a master at controlling pace, illustrating the story of a rich but complicated marriage, pondering what it means to be sucked back into your life’s work even if it might kill you, and demanding that the reader use his or her brain to figure out what comes next. When you’re finished, you may not trust silly parlor games ever again.

“Beautiful Malice” by Rebecca James (July 13)

Everyone knows a girl like Alice Parrie. Pretty, popular, much sought-after, touched by glamour, and the more time you spend with her, the more that dull ache in the back of your head throbs as you realize something is just a little bit wrong with her. (Zooey Deschanel played this to perfection in last year’s “500 Days of Summer.”) But Katherine Patterson, new in town and trying to shake off a family tragedy she feels responsible for, doesn’t notice the wrongness of Alice’s attention at first. She has a new best friend, someone to trust and to share confidences with. So what if Alice treats her sort-of boyfriend, Robbie, with utter contempt? So what if Alice’s world orbits only around Alice and anyone who steals that spotlight, however accidentally, will suffer as a result? With surgical precision, Australian author James draws us into the close-knit bosom of the teenage girls’ developing friendship and with equal skill, fillets it to the bone. We know Katherine will survive, but the cost she bears for trusting the wrong person provokes years-long repercussions — and signals the beginning of what should be a splendid career in suspense for Rebecca James.

“The Reapers Are the Angels” by Alden Bell (Aug. 3)

So you’ve read every last page of “The Passage,” Justin Cronin’s epic dystopian vampire tale, and need a horror fix to help you get through the wait for the sequel. May I present Alden Bell’s gorgeously written and bloody tale, which mutates from a zombie story into something of beauty and meaning. Temple was born into a cruel world filled with the living dead, and wanders, looking for a place to rest and to stay safe. The frontier Bell describes in lush detail is one of perpetual danger — and where flesh-eating beasts might be the least of Temple’s problems and pursuers. Bell (a pseudonym for Josh Gaylord, author of the Manhattan prep school novel “Hummingbirds”) clearly owes great literary debt to Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” and the Southern Gothic school of Faulkner and O’Connor, but “The Reapers Are the Angels” shows the reader that they need not settle for mere blood ‘n’ guts when horror tales can, and should, go many extra miles.

“City of Veils” by Zoë Ferraris (Aug. 9)

Finally, here’s an exemplary pick from the “crime fiction introduces new worlds” front. Ferraris’ 2008 first novel, “Finding Nouf,” opened a window for Western readers into Saudi Arabia: a country modernized by technology and science but nowhere near so with respect to the treatment of women. That theme gets explored in more detail in “City of Veils” when the murder victim in question, a woman named Leila, turns out to be a documentary filmmaker exploring the secret desires and lives of young women. The investigation, conducted by a cop experiencing difficult marital troubles, also intersects with an American woman’s struggle to stave off loneliness while her husband further embraces Saudi Arabian (and male-centric) mores. In a parallel struggle, Katya — one of a handful of female forensic scientists in the Middle Eastern country — asserts herself professionally while remaining marriage material for the right sort of husband. Tension is everywhere as Ferraris builds suspense from both domestic concerns or the grievous crime. As she describes it, Saudi Arabia isn’t necessarily a country worth visiting, but, as her book makes clear, it’s absolutely vital that Americans learn more about its people and their thoughts about the outside world.

Sarah Weinman covers the publishing industry for DailyFinance, writes crime fiction columns for the Los Angeles Times and the Barnes & Noble Review, and blogs at Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind.

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 7
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    AP/Jae C. Hong

    Your summer in extreme weather

    California drought

    Since May, California has faced a historic drought, resulting in the loss of 63 trillion gallons of water. 95.4 percent of the state is now experiencing "severe" drought conditions, which is only a marginal improvement from 97.5 percent last week.

    A recent study published in the journal Science found that the Earth has actually risen about 0.16 inches in the past 18 months because of the extreme loss of groundwater. The drought is particularly devastating for California's enormous agriculture industry and will cost the state $2.2 billion this year, cutting over 17,000 jobs in the process.

       

    Meteorologists blame the drought on a large zone (almost 4 miles high and 2,000 miles long) of high pressure in the atmosphere off the West Coast which blocks Pacific winter storms from reaching land. High pressure zones come and go, but this one has been stationary since December 2012.

    Darin Epperly

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Great Plains tornadoes

    From June 16-18 this year, the Midwest was slammed by a series of four tornadoes, all ranking as category EF4--meaning the winds reached up to 200 miles per hour. An unlucky town called Pilger in Nebraska was hit especially hard, suffering through twin tornadoes, an extreme event that may only occur every few decades. The two that swept through the town killed two people, injured 16 and demolished as many as 50 homes.   

    "It was terribly wide," local resident Marianne Pesotta said to CNN affiliate KETV-TV. "I drove east [to escape]. I could see how bad it was. I had to get out of there."   

    But atmospheric scientist Jeff Weber cautions against connecting these events with climate change. "This is not a climate signal," he said in an interview with NBC News. "This is a meteorological signal."

    AP/Detroit News, David Coates

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Michigan flooding

    On Aug. 11, Detroit's wettest day in 89 years -- with rainfall at 4.57 inches -- resulted in the flooding of at least five major freeways, leading to three deaths, more than 1,000 cars being abandoned on the road and thousands of ruined basements. Gov. Rick Snyder declared it a disaster. It took officials two full days to clear the roads. Weeks later, FEMA is finally set to begin assessing damage.   

    Heavy rainfall events are becoming more and more common, and some scientists have attributed the trend to climate change, since the atmosphere can hold more moisture at higher temperatures. Mashable's Andrew Freedman wrote on the increasing incidence of this type of weather: "This means that storms, from localized thunderstorms to massive hurricanes, have more energy to work with, and are able to wring out greater amounts of rain or snow in heavy bursts. In general, more precipitation is now coming in shorter, heavier bursts compared to a few decades ago, and this is putting strain on urban infrastructure such as sewer systems that are unable to handle such sudden influxes of water."

    AP/The Fresno Bee, Eric Paul Zamora

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Yosemite wildfires

    An extreme wildfire burning near Yosemite National Park forced authorities to evacuate 13,000 nearby residents, while the Madera County sheriff declared a local emergency. The summer has been marked by several wildfires due to California's extreme drought, which causes vegetation to become perfect kindling.   

    Surprisingly, however, firefighters have done an admirable job containing the blazes. According to the L.A. Times, firefighters with the state's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection have fought over 4,000 fires so far in 2014 -- an increase of over 500 fires from the same time in 2013.

    Reuters/Eugene Tanner

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Hawaii hurricanes

    Hurricane Iselle was set to be the first hurricane to make landfall in Hawaii in 22 years. It was downgraded to a tropical storm and didn't end up being nearly as disastrous as it could have been, but it still managed to essentially shut down the entire state for a day, as businesses and residents hunkered down in preparation, with many boarding up their windows to guard against strong gusts. The storm resulted in downed trees, 21,000 people out of power and a number of damaged homes.

    Debbie Arita, a local from the Big Island described her experience: "We could hear the wind howling through the doors. The light poles in the parking lot were bobbing up and down with all the wind and rain."

    Reuters/NASA

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Florida red tide

    A major red tide bloom can reach more than 100 miles along the coast and around 30 miles offshore. Although you can't really see it in the above photo, the effects are devastating for wildlife. This summer, Florida was hit by an enormous, lingering red tide, also known as a harmful algae bloom (HAB), which occurs when algae grow out of control. HABs are toxic to fish, crabs, octopuses and other sea creatures, and this one resulted in the death of thousands of fish. When the HAB gets close enough to shore, it can also have an effect on air quality, making it harder for people to breathe.   

    The HAB is currently closest to land near Pinellas County in the Gulf of Mexico, where it is 5-10 miles offshore.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>