One of the most vibrant and plentiful genres of crime fiction now is the psychological thriller, which also goes under the alias of the domestic thriller or psychological suspense novel. These books, once denigrated because they were written by and for women and thus lacked gravitas (unlike hardboiled fiction or espionage, for example), have undergone a renaissance and a revival in recent years given the success of a couple of extremely clever and popular titles (with girl in them). So in a now crowded field we thought we would select the best psychological thrillers of each month. Prepare to cancel your plans, ignore your family, and question the foundations of your life—or just read.
The Suspect, Fiona Barton (Berkley)
Barton’s ace reporter Kate Waters, who also appeared in her worthwhile previous books, The Widow and The Child, is back on the story in The Suspect. Two young women on a gap year take off for Thailand and disappear into the world of backpackers and drug tourists. Her police contact, Bob Sparkes (also a recurring character), asks Waters to get the story from the frantic parents. But before long Waters becomes personally involved in the investigation, as her son, Jake, who has been drifting around southeast Asia after leaving college, was one of the last people to have contact with the missing girls.
An Anonymous Girl, Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen (St. Martins)
Hendricks and Pekkanen wrote the astute bestseller The Wife Between Us, which interrogated how differently people can process a shared experience. In Anonymous, a makeup artist named Jessica joins a psychology study conducted by Dr. Shields, a charismatic and commanding figure. Jessica is there for the money and gets a little anxious when the questions in the survey demand that she tell some uncomfortable truths. It takes her longer to catch on to the long game Dr. Shields is playing with her, and when Jessica finally figures out what’s going on her life has been irrevocably changed, and she’s not the only one involved in this so-called experiment.
The Au Pair, Emma Rous (Berkely)
If you like vaguely gothic books set at big rambling estates on the English coast, the Au Pair is the book for you. Twins Seraphine and Danny are twins who along with their older brother, Edwin, will someday inherit Summerbourne, the luxurious home where they spent most of their youth. There is tragedy, though, associated with the twins’ birth and with Summerbourne, as their mother flung herself off the cliffs soon after she gave birth. When Seraphine finds a family photo of her mother holding only one baby, she begins to investigate exactly what happened that day, and her family’s lives and lies slowly unravel.
Freefall, Jessica Barry (Harper)
The fun of Freefall is in the thriller’s split point-of-view, with each narrator telling a story that gets more nuanced as the book progresses. Allison Carpenter, a young woman raised in Maine and now living in San Diego, is the only survivor of a private plane crash in the Colorado Rockies, which claimed the life of her wealthy pharmaceutical CEO fiancé. Her goal is to find civilization and stay alive. Ally is estranged from her mother, Maggie Carpenter, but as soon as Maggie hears about the plane crash she is determined to find out more about both her daughter’s life and her supposed death. This tightly paced thriller also deftly examines the complexity of the mother-daughter bond.
As Long as We Both Shall Live, JoAnn Chaney (Flatiron)
Chaney’s first book, What You Don’t Know, didn’t really grab me, but As Long is a much more sophisticated psychological thriller. Take the opening line: “If you try to kill your wife without a plan, you will fail.” The book is centered on a married couple, Matt and Marie; while they are out for a hike Marie falls off a mountain and drowns. But did she really fall? And how does Marie’s fate jibe with Matt’s first wife’s, who also died suddenly?