Do you like comedy, angry wives, sneaky secretaries, despondent mothers, or depictions of prison life? If so, there is a psychological thriller for you in February. And even if none of those things are your particular bailiwick, these are still solid psychological thrillers. If I were forced to recommend just one it would be Harriet Tyce’s impressive debut, Blood Orange, but all of these books are solid choices for your reading pleasure.
The Next to Die (Morrow), Sophie Hannah
Stand-up comedians are having a moment in psychological thrillers: last month we had Amy Gentry’s Last Woman Standing, which was set in the world of Austin and LA comedians, and now veteran psychological suspense writer Hannah has set her latest in the UK comedy world. Kim Tribbeck, a minor but successful comic who makes most of her money touring the country, has been given a small white homemade book. This is part of the M.O. of a serial killer whose victims are best friends. Kim is confused because she doesn’t have a best friend, but the police are certain she’s a target. But who else could be next?
The Night Olivia Fell (Gallery Books), Christina McDonald
The Night Olivia Fell eases you into its world and then turns that world on its side again and again. The plot twists are remarkable for a debut. The book starts with a shock: single mother Abi Knight gets a phone call from a hospital. Her teenage daughter, Olivia, fell of a bridge and is now brain dead as well as being pregnant. Abi and Olivia’s story is told in alternating chapters, which reveal that before she fell Olivia was digging into Abi’s past. Did she find something so shocking it led to the fall—and was the fall an accident or intentional?
Blood Orange (GCP), Harriet Tyce
Tyce’s debut is an excellent psychological thriller, so good it could be one of the best of the nascent year. Young lawyer Alison is defending in her first murder case. Her client, a quiet housewife accused of killing her husband, is indeed guilty of stabbing him, but as Alison investigates the case she finds there might be more to the story than a lover’s spat. Meanwhile, she’s having a blistering affair with a senior attorney at her firm which threatens her own happy family life—and someone bent on destroying her knows her secret.
The Secretary (Harper Collins), Renee Knight
Christine Butcher is the secretary of the title. She works as a high-powered assistant to supermarket heiress Mina Appleton, who is also a TV host and media personality. It’s a fruitful relationship for twenty-plus years, with Mina giving orders and Christine eagerly doing everything to smooth out Mina’s life. But when Mina is accused of wrongdoing, Christine is forced from the background into the public eye, since Christine must have known about, if not participated in, Mina’s malfeasance.
The Dead Ex (Pamela Dorman/Viking), Jane Corry
Corry is good at so many things it’s hard to isolate what makes her books so compelling: it’s some combination of well-drawn characters, keen plotting, and realistic relationships. As in her excellent debut My Husband’s Wife, Corry puts her personal experience working in prisons to use in Dead Ex, which chronicles the lives of an eight-year-old girl, her drug addicted mother, and an aromatherapist with memory trouble whose ex turns up dead.