Summer is really prime time for psychological thrillers, and May is the beginning of the high season. This month there are a couple of excellent offerings from writers penning their first books in the genre—Michael Koryta and Anna Pitoniak—and two much anticipated second novels from writing team Liv Constantine and new Irish favorite Dervla McTiernan. We round out the list with something cool and Scandinavian, Agnete Friis’s second solo novel (Friis is best known for her thrillers featuring nurse Nina Borg which she wrote with Lene Kaaberbøl).
Anna Pitoniak, Necessary People (Little, Brown)
The center of Necessary People is a complicated friendship between the rich Stella and the up from rags Violet. Violet is an achiever and a hard worker, and she’s making her mark at the cable news station where she landed an internship as a producer out of college. Flighty Stella is off cavorting with minor royalty and dissolute aristocracy as the novel begins. When Stella returns, however, she also develops a taste for working at the cable station, but she wants to be on-air talent. Pitoniak is a shrewd observer of female attachment and ambition, and Necessary People both delivers interesting ideas and chronicles a shocking murder.
Michael Koryta, If She Wakes (Little, Brown)
In a departure from his usual straightforward action-thrillers, Koryta tries his hand at psychological suspense with excellent results. Tara Beckley is a student at Hammel College in Maine who has a job escorting visiting professors around the idyllic campus. After a car accident kills the professor she’s chaperoning and leaves Tara with the horrific condition of locked-in syndrome (think the Diving Bell and the Butterfly), Tara is sure the collision was not an accident and someone wants her dead. But who could it be, and how can she investigate when the only movement she is capable of is blinking?
Dervla McTiernan, The Scholar (Penguin Books)
McTiernan’s The Ruin put her on the rich list of contemporary Irish crime writers, earning comparisons to grand dame Tana French. The Scholar again finds McTiernan writing about a hit-and-run near Galway University. The victim is found carrying the ID of Carline Darcy, heir to the significant Darcy Therapeutics fortune. The pharmaceutical company is involved in everything from university research to political campaigns. The body of the young woman is discovered by professor Emma Sweeney, whose boyfriend, garda (detective in Irish) Cormac Reilly, is tasked with investigating the incident—which is far more complex than it initially seems.
Agnete Friis, The Summer of Ellen (Soho)
Jacob is a middle-aged architect living in Copenhagen, drinking far too much as a result of a savage divorce. An unexpected phone call from his great-uncle Anton, a man in his 90s who lives with his brother Anders on a farm in rural Jutland, leads to Jacob going back to the farm where he spent time as a teenager. The question that haunts them both: Whatever happened to Ellen, a beautiful hippie who left the local commune to stay on the farm with Anton and Anders? In returning to Jutland and looking into both Ellen’s disappearance and that of a former classmate, Jacob finds that the tragedies are still vivid in his mind, and difficult to penetrate.
Liv Constantine, The Last Time I Saw You (Harper)
Liv Constantine is the name of two sisters who write together. Their debut, The Last Mrs. Parrish, was a humdinger of a psychological thriller exploring femininity, social class, and the ways of the very wealthy. The same issues come to play in this follow up. Kate English is grieving her beloved mother, Lily Michaels, whose death has shattered her world and their upscale community. In her grief heart surgeon Michaels reestablishes a bond with her former best friend, Blaire Barrington (one of my favorite rich people names of recent novels). It’s Blaire Kate calls on when she starts receiving troubling messages. Was Lily murdered, and, if so, is the killer now after Kate?