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Clones, gladiators, art thieves, misbehaving spouses, a man swallowed by a whale. What are you waiting for? Pack that beach bag and grab those books!
PT's Summer Suspense Rec list with special thanks to our subscribers!
Sure, there are plenty of summer reading lists out there, but it’s much more fun to see what your BFFs are looking forward to reading—or have sneakily read already, sometimes in ARCform.
The recommendations that follow are from friends, by which we mean subscribers, of PRESENT TENSE. (And here’s an interesting thing: many of them are suspense writers as well!) Join the party and add your recs below.
Caitlin and I will go last, and we won’t sneer that some of you nabbed our top suggestions. No problem, because we have plenty more!
From Kristine Kimmel, Podcast Host, How to Survive With Danielle & Kristine
I have a giant pile of books staring at me in my TBR pile, but the one I’m eager to devour is MY MURDER by Katie Williams. This thriller slash dystopian sci-fi novel imagines a world in which the victims of a serial killer can be brought back to life via cloning. The protagonist doesn’t recall the last days of her life or her murder and is haunted by the lapse. To compound this, she’s also struggling to bond with her 9-month old baby. The NYT calls MY MURDER “one of those rare emotionally intelligent books that are also fun reads.”
From Deborah Williams, a professor at NYU at work on THE FINDING, a thriller about academics behaving very badly.
I’m looking forward to THE AGE OF VICE by Deepti Kapoor, a journalist and novelist from Uttar Pradesh. The book has been described as a combination thriller and family saga, genres I love, but I’m also looking forward to it because it’s a story set in modern-day India by someone who knows the country intimately. The novel, her second, starts with a car crash—a Mercedes kills five people “pavement dwellers,” as the novel calls them—and unspools into the complex web of what brought everyone to that point, particularly the car’s driver, Ajay, whom Kapoor describes as one of the “invisible men who cater and serve” the newly wealthy families of India. It promises to be an immersive read, perfect for summer.
From Shana Wilson, PT Contributor (see her Hamptons Whodunit guest-post conference report here)
My summer suspense recommendation is Lisa Jewell's forthcoming novel, NONE OF THIS IS TRUE, a psychological thriller about a woman who finds herself the subject of her own popular true crime podcast. Out in the US on August 8, I wanted to read it after hearing the author describe the premise as: two women, polar opposites, meet in a London pub the night they are both celebrating their 45th birthdays and one becomes fixated on the other. This unputdownable slow burn features Jewell's signature deep, twisted, and nuanced characters, and it did not disappoint. (Editor’s note: yes, Shana was lucky to read the book ahead of pub day. See footnote 1 and also, why one must bring an empty suitcase to some writing and bookselling conferences. ARCs galore!)
In Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah's CHAIN-GANG ALL STARS, two top women gladiators fight for their freedom within a depraved private prison system not so far-removed from America’s own. I've been looking forward to reading this because volunteering with my community's local women's prison for several years has been a firsthand education in how badly our country's prison system needs to be reformed; Adjei-Brenyah's book promises to be wildly entertaining even as it exposes injustices within that system. I'm also really looking forward to Megan Abbott's BEWARE THE WOMAN and Julia Fine's MADDALENA AND THE DARK (which just came in the mail this week).
From Caitlin Wahrer, PT editor and author of THE DAMAGE
Melissa Adelman's WHAT THE NEIGHBORS SAW has a classic domestic suspense setup: young-professional parents overextend themselves to move into an affluent neighborhood, only to have the neighborhood go to hell when a man is murdered on the trail behind their house. What made this book different than many others I've read is how much Melissa talks about race, ethnicity, and family origin, while also commenting on the genre's familiar topics of wealth, shame, and privilege. Melissa's writing is funny and incisive, told from alternating points of view: the biracial postpartum mother who's just moved into the worst house in the neighborhood, and the white woman who's widowed just up the street, both of whom have secrets of family origin. It's a fast, entertaining read that left me thinking. (Read Caitlin and Melissa’s June interview, here!)
The book I am most anticipating at this moment is WHALEFALL by Daniel Kraus, in which a man is swallowed by a whale and needs to find a way out. I get chills just thinking about it. It's out on August 8 and I'm legit so excited about it. I love monster movies; I love shark movies and that stupid Meg movie and basically any horror based in water; I love being scared; I just can't wait to read this terrifying sounding book. (I also love Sadie Hartman's Instagram, and she called WHALEFALL one of the best books she's read in the last ten years. Sadie also has a substack!)
And on your radar for later this summer, which I read and loved: Erin Flanagan's third novel, COME WITH ME, is out on August 22nd. It perfectly captures the hypnotic nature of the too-close-too-fast-friendship, when two interns reconnect as professionals. I'm not sure I'm smart enough to make this comment, but I THINK Erin might be writing Midwestern gothic. Is that even a thing? I know Southern gothic and New England gothic. I'm talking about how the whites of someone's eyes are the color of "cat pee on an old sheet." Her enigmatic antagonist gets "an honest-to-goodness snot bubble" while she's crying. These are not flat, perfect women who look beautiful while miserable. COME WITH ME is funny and stressful and a great way to spend your reading time.
And now from Andromeda (that’s me), PT editor and author of the forthcoming THE DEEPEST LAKE (May 2024)…
Last month, my advance summer reads included THICKER THAN WATER by Megan Collins (July), and THE SPARE ROOM by Andrea Bartz; high-five shout-outs to both page-turners, and they’ll be featured in upcoming PT interviews. I’d say more if I weren’t planning to say a whole lot very soon!
Angie Kim was the author who helped deliver me out of early pandemic brain fog with her poignant debut novel, MYSTERY CREEK; I’ve been waiting for her follow-up ever since. Early reviews suggest she’s hit it out of the park again with HAPPINESS FALLS (August), about a Korean-American family whose lives are upended when their husband and father goes missing. The only witness to the crime, son Eugene, has a rare disorder that makes it impossible for him to speak. I expect a tight and suspenseful plot, but it’s the promise of a multigenerational family drama, authentically rendered and laced with reflections on language and ethnicity, that convinced me to pre-order my copy earlier this year. (P.S., here at PT we especially love proof that a “sophomore” novel can be as good as a debut!)
I mostly steer clear of stories about toxic love relationships and lovers who play cat-and-mouse-games, except when those stories are written by Samantha Downing, who writes about deranged people with more wit, linguistic panache, and delightful creepiness than any suspense novelist I know. Downing’s debut, MY LOVELY WIFE, terrified me, even though it had no depictions of actual violence. (It did, however, feature a husband and wife who enjoy murdering people. Waaah!) Her July release, A TWISTED LOVE STORY, is about a misbehaving couple whose darkest secret is on the verge of being discovered. I expect to be disturbed.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had recurring nightmares about bodies buried under cement basement floors (even before I read Ian McEwan’s 1978 oddity, THE CEMENT GARDEN). I also have nightmares about selling a house and having its secrets unearthed at moving time. No wonder, then, that this next book feels like it was plucked out of my own dark subconscious. THE QUIET TENANT by Clemence Michallon is about a serial killer who needs to move house. (Those psychopaths are just like the rest of us!) Trouble is, he has a captive he needs to move without alerting his family. Previews suggest this novel focuses less on the evil protagonist than on the women whose lives have been impacted by crime, which brings to mind last year’s must-read, NOTES ON AN EXECUTION by Danya Kukafka.
Wait, are we done? Hey Caitlin, can we add one nonfiction new release to the mix? I promise that it’s suspenseful!
Journalist Michael Finkel, who happens to be an old friend, has a new book just selected as IndieNext’s #1 pick for July: THE ART THIEF, a true tale of obsession, about the world’s most prolific art thief. Finkel’s last book, THE STRANGER IN THE WOODS, also featured a cunning, isolated, and incredibly fascinating individual. In addition to the phenomenal reporting, what I love best in Finkel’s books is his compassion for these individuals whose twisted genius has landed them in strange, dark places.
Have you read or ordered any of these? What appeals to you? What did we miss? Don’t you think of leaving without commenting! And don’t forget to share this post so other readers can discover Present Tense.
Did you know that you, too, can get *advance reader copies* (ARCs) aka galleys of books if you are the type of reader who regularly posts reviews or interviews?