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5 mysteries and thrillers new this fall

Meghan Collins Sullivan
/
NPR

It's almost Halloween — and, anyway, fall is always a great time for mysteries and thrillers.

This batch is intriguing, for sure. It includes an homage to Shirley Jackson, an examination of online lists crashing into real life, and an atmospheric look at the world of queer people in the 1950s Navy.

A Haunting on the Hill

While Elizabeth Hand's new novel might not be the same as a new novel from Shirley Jackson, it's pretty close, because Hand (Curious Toys) wittily and delicately ties her titular locale to Jackson's famed Hill House and its creepy doings. A Haunting on the Hill follows a quartet of theater people who decide to hold rehearsals at a wonderfully decrepit and disturbing old mansion. Each of the four has some kind of secret and each of the four will be triggered by things that happen during their stay; readers should understand, from Hand's previous books, that she's more interested in atmosphere and suspense than in gotchas and procedure. Her plots take place in old-time Chicago, contemporary Hawai'i, an English country house, and always play hard with juxtapositions (like placing a rock band in that country house) and interior fears and desires. Despite the misgivings of playwright Holly and her girlfriend Nisa, what happens on the Hill could be benign. It could be. But they should know that anything can happen before the curtain goes down on the play...

The Leftover Woman

Anyone looking for an of-the-moment page-turner of a novel need look no further. Jean Kwok — whose Girl in Translation and Searching for Sylvie Lee are novels that illuminate the Chinese experience in America — expands her material in a thriller about a Chinese woman named Jasmine Yang who comes to American to find the daughter her controlling husband gave away without her knowledge. Moving from teahouse to strip club to Manhattan townhouse and more, the book places Jasmine against publishing executive Rebecca — who has just adopted a much-longed-for baby, a little girl. The tension between the two, especially given Jasmine's lack of resources and Rebecca's privilege, places the idea of motherhood in stark relief. What is most important: The primal bond, or the ability to provide? While Kwok is clearly on Team Jasmine (the game complicated by the snakeheads to whom Jasmine owes money for her passage to the States), she also shows how dear the baby Rebecca has named Fiona is to her adoptive family.

West Heart Kill

Every mystery lover enjoys a closed-room/locked-door whodunnit, whether it's the on-screen "Glass Onion" or a re-read of Agatha Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. In West Heart Kill, Dann McDorman sets a murder mystery at an upstate New York hunt club on a dark and stormy night in the 1970s. Author McDorman, an MSNBC news producer, doesn't stint on the murder in murder mystery; as club guests who have gathered for Fourth of July celebrations shrink in fear, three corpses pile up in four days. There's lots of clever ripostes and wordplay involved, including quotes from and allusions to lots of great crime writers — the aforementioned Christie, Dashiell Hammett (a Knopf author, like McDorman!), and even Shakespeare, who should be better remembered for his crime writing (Ghosts! Witches! Sleepwalkers!). Since the story takes place in the 1970s, there's lots of substance use and some adultery, all of which ratchets up the suspicions the tony guests have about each other. Since the novel is published in 2023, the author bakes in some choice about the ending, sheer catnip for readers raised on the "Choose Your Own Adventure" model of interactivity.

The List

The young, beautiful, and on-the-go journalist Ola Olajide, about to marry the love of her life, Michael, comes crashing down to earth when Michael's name appears on a list of sexual predators that's making the rounds of social media. How can the "the king and queen of #BlackLove" get past this? Author Yomi Adegoke, who actually started her own magazine for young Black women, makes the brilliant choice of having Ola and Michael narrate alternating chapters. Ola tests her faith in her fiancé against her belief in women's stories and Michael furiously tries to think of who might have accused him of "harassment and sexual assault." Anyone who's ever been part of a whisper network will recognize the misogyny in the worlds this couple inhabits, and anyone who has watched "The Morning Show" will recognize that there's going to be a big showdown, although the accusations might surprise everyone. Adegoke does not disappoint and, in fact, has already got a series underway that she's creating and executive producing.

The Bell in the Fog

The second Detective Evander "Andy" Mills again takes place in 1950s San Francisco, this time in the world of the United States Navy, where anyone queer remained closeted and closemouthed about their identity. Lev AC Rosen's first Mills novel, Lavender House, ended with Andy's firing from the San Francisco Police Department when he was outed. Now, Mills has his own office, and when an old lover walks in asking for his help, he takes the case despite his broken heart. That old lover, James Morris, is a USN captain who is being blackmailed; as Det. Mills searches for the incriminating photos and the young man who holds them, readers will take a tour of the era's gay and lesbian clubs, in many cases the only venues where queer San Franciscans could be at ease and among friends. Rosen has told readers that there are at least two more books coming in this series, and readers who love lively, authentic, historical P.I. stories will not want to miss them.

Bethanne Patrick is a freelance writer and critic who tweets @TheBookMaven and hosts the podcast Missing Pages.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bethanne Patrick