A monthly roundup of favorite mystery and thriller reviews from the biweekly Unusual Suspects crime newsletter, highlighting some great new releases and backlist mysteries that shouldn’t be missed.
I read so many great mysteries & thrillers in July that deciding which to include for the roundup was really hard. I have a great selection, from new releases including Southern lit, PI, Scandinavian, and horror to backlist titles from Japanese crime to the novel being adapted to series starring Chris Evans as a lawyer dad defending his son.
The Best Lies by Sarah Lyu
This was a page-turner for me that opens with you knowing the crime: Elise shot and killed her best friend Remy’s boyfriend. We get Remy in the present talking to her lawyer, and a police detective, as she explains what happened that night. And we get the recent past where we see Remy meet Elise and Jack, separately, and how their relationships evolve. Adult and YA toxic friendship novels are not new, and I’ve read a ton of them, but this one could have taken many turns it didn’t, and surprised me with the ones it did in a good way. It felt thoughtful. It explored quite a few things while always keeping the suspense and tension of the why threaded through—especially when we learn Remy is lying…If you like a whydunnit and toxic friendship novels this was a really good read. (TW child abuse/suicide attempt)
The Gone Dead by Chanelle Benz
I took a Southern lit course in college that I loved, so I gravitated toward this one really fast. Billie James returns to Mississippi for the first time since childhood after her mother’s passing, which left her her father’s property. Her father was a poet and activist who died when she was four years old and there’s always been a strange mystery surrounding his death. Her return will dredge up the past—of course—thanks to neighbors who used to own her family, seeing relatives she hasn’t seen since she was a child, and a researcher looking to write a book on her father. James will have to question everything she knew at the time of her father’s death and since, while also coming face-to-face with the racism of the past and present. This character-driven, past mystery is a great read for fans of Southern lit. And—this really should have been the lede—Bahni Turpin narrates the audiobook. If she narrates I will listen! (TW past child abuse/suicide/dog harmed—you’ll see it coming and it’s skippable)
Theme Music by T. Marie Vandelly
This started out completely bonkers—sole survivor of a family massacre moves back into her childhood home where the massacre took place—and turned into a great exploration of trauma. Dixie Wheeler was a baby when her father murdered the entire family with an ax before turning the ax on himself. Now, a grown adult, she impulsively decides to move into the childhood home where the event occurred and finds herself suddenly questioning if maybe her uncle, the only person who believed her father was innocent, wasn’t on to something…With the house appearing to be haunted, Dixie hearing her long dead family members, her boyfriend having none of her new antics, and her aunt furious she would move into that house, Dixie starts digging into the case, starting with finding the now retired detective who’d worked on it. This one works really well for fans of dark mysteries, psychological thrillers, and horror—you’ll be kept on the edge of your seat and on your toes the entire time. (TW suicide, including murder-suicide and assisted/graphic violence/stalking)
The Stories You Tell (Roxane Weary #3) by Kristen Lepionka
This continues to be a series that makes me anticipate the next read and keep up-to-date with. If you’ve yet to start this one, and are a fan of PI stories, go pick up The Last Place You Look, because you should really read from the beginning to see Weary’s character growth. This time around she’s more settled, including with her ex-girlfriend, now girlfriend again—they’re even double dating. Anyhoo, while Weary is trying to focus on a case about a business owner trying to track down counterfeit merch, she ends up really having to figure out what happened to the woman who disappeared from her brother’s home…This series, and book, works great if you’re a fan of PI stories with thrilling endings, family drama, struggling characters you root for, good twisty mysteries, and a modern facelift to the comfort of PI genre tropes. Look how many things there are to love! (TW suicide/discussion of eating disorder)
A Nearly Normal Family by M.T. Edvardsson, Rachel Willson-Broyles (Translation)
This is another crime drama that blends a few things well: family drama; courtroom trial; whydunnit; told in three sections from three different points of view. We start with a pastor, husband, father, whose 18-year-old daughter is on trial for murder. Then we get Stella’s story from jail as she meets with her lawyer, tells us about her parents, her best friend, and the man she was dating. Finally, we hear from Stella’s mother, who is a lawyer, as the trial comes to its conclusion. This was another great audiobook that had a different narrator for each character’s section. (TW rape on page, statutory/domestic abuse/partner abuse)
Girls Like Us by Cristina Alger
I really enjoyed Alger’s previous novel, The Banker’s Wife, and was thrilled to discover that this one, while totally different, is also super good. It hits a lot of notes for different crime fans: return home; FBI agent on leave; murder mystery; procedural; thriller ending. A thing I really liked about this novel was that it set up a lot of things that are tropes for the genre but never took the worn path. For example: the main character, Nell Flynn, is an FBI agent on leave after being shot who returns home for her father’s funeral. You think she’s going to be self-destructive and angry but she’s not. And I say this as someone who loves a hot mess, self-destructive woman character—it’s just nice to get something that feels different in the current trends. Flynn ends up assisting a local detective, her father’s last partner, on a murdered woman’s case and quickly finds herself in over her head when things start pointing at her father, leading her to question what she actually remembered from the long ago night when her mother was murdered…If you like mysteries with thriller endings, past and present mysteries, and a main character you root for, don’t miss this one. And while it’s a great stand-alone, I’d love for it to be the start of a series so I can get more Flynn. (TW addiction/PTSD/statutory rape/suicide mention with detail)
In the Miso Soup by Ryū Murakami, Ralph McCarthy (Translator)
If you’ve been listening to me blab about crime books for a while, you know my love for Japanese crime novels, and here’s another great one. Once again we have a crime novel that doesn’t use guns, is dark, explores Japanese subculture, and compares U.S. and Japanese societies. This one is a quick read that starts with an American in Japan hiring a tour guide for the sex industry in Tokyo. But from the beginning Kenji starts to feel like something is off with Frank, and while he doesn’t care at first, as the night continues he starts to question whether he’s in danger and you start to feel his dread…This one also works for fans of psychological thrillers, since as the night progresses we’re really in Kenji’s mind, and it works for horror fans who like the exploration of a killer’s mind. (TW rape/past suicide attempt/graphic violence/statutory relationship)
Defending Jacob by William Landay
This is one of those solid mysteries from beginning to end that follows an assistant district attorney working on a murdered teen boy case when his son is arrested for the crime. I know! It takes you through the whole thing, which procedural fans will appreciate, as Andy Barber works on the case—from interviewing fellow students of the murdered child to harassing a pedophile he thinks is responsible—then follows as he has to hire a lawyer for his son’s defense case, that case, and him being a witness in court. You get a lot of good court scenes, an entire book of “did he or didn’t he,” and a look at how something like this affects and changes a family. I’m really looking forward to the upcoming Apple streaming adaptation of this book, which will have Chris Evans playing Andy Barber—so very much here for his “my kid didn’t do it” portrayal. And Michelle Dockery will play the wife, whose character I loved; she’s fantastic in Good Behavior, so really we’re about to find out how good Apple is at adaptations. (TW child murder/discussion of statutory rape/pedophile/homophobia/fat shaming/suicide)
Girl Waits with Gun (Kopp Sisters #1) by Amy Stewart
This one straddled a line between historical mystery and cozy mystery with a dash of crime novel and family drama—and I loved it. In the early 1900s, Constance Kopp and her sisters live together, unmarried, since their mother’s passing, when they find themselves in a buggy accident. When Constance tries to get the man who caused the accident to pay for the damage, she sets off a chain of events that puts the sisters in danger and also places Constance on the path of trying to find a missing child. You get to know the sisters, especially in a past storyline, while following as Constance navigates a tough world for a single woman who needs to find a way to make a living. This really sets up how she comes to be in a position of working in law enforcement, and it’s based on the true story of one of the first woman deputy sheriffs in the U.S. I especially recommend the audiobook narrated by Christina Moore, who also narrated The Spellman Files, if you like to feel like you’re friends with the character as they tell you their story. (TW brief mentions of news headlines containing rape and suicide)
Hope you’ve found your next favorite crime read!