It’s spooky szn, but what really is spooky szn when we have been living in a real-life horror show for the past 10 months? I don’t know, but I’m the type of person who is finding comfort from reading murder mysteries and other similar thrillers in these trying times. What does that say about me? It’s unclear. Have I uttered that exact phrase before? Probably, it’s been a long year. If you, like me, seek comfort from IRL horror in more fictional horror, then these are the spooky reads you need to check out this October.
‘The Inugami Curse’ by Seishi Yokomizo
August 18, 2020
This classic murder mystery features Japan’s best-loved detective and is by one of the country’s top crime writers, so you can trust it will have you on the edge of your seat. It’s set in 1940s Japan after the head of the wealthy Inugami clan dies. As his family awaits the reading of the will, a series of strange and gruesome murders begins. Detective Kindaichi has to, obviously, figure out WTF is going on. That pursuit of the truth will uncover forbidden liaisons, hidden identities, and more.
‘Winter Counts‘ by David Heska Wabli Weiden
August 25, 2020
When the American justice system consistently fails you and your people, you become a vigilante of sorts—or at least, that’s what Virgil Wounded Horse does for the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. But it gets personal when heroin enters into the reservation and finds its way to Virgil’s nephew. So what do you do? Infiltrate the dealers, find the supplier—I mean, find out where the drugs are coming from and make them stop. As Virgil starts to put the pieces together, he’s forced to come to terms with his own demons and grapple with his identity.
‘Don’t Ever Forget’ by Matthew Farrell
September 1, 2020
Farrell’s last novel, I Know Everything, came out in 2019, and I still think about it, that’s how much the ending shook me. So I had to include his latest, Don’t Ever Forget, on this list. Police investigator Susan Adler is called to the scene of a roadside murder of a state trooper. Dashboard cam footage leads her to a nurse, who has been missing for days along with an elderly patient. A peek inside the elderly patient’s house reveals evidence from two cold cases involving missing children. Talk about a rabbit hole. Of course, nothing is as it seems, people turn up dead, and it’s a race against the perp, who does not want to be discovered.
‘One Step Behind’ by Lauren North
September 1, 2020
And now we’ve reached the “me recommending authors I’ve recommended before” section of this article. But hey, if you know something is good, then why stray from it? Best to lean in. I first got into Lauren North with The Perfect Son, a twisty tale about a woman stuck in the hospital, racing to figure out what happened to her son, who’s gone missing on his 8th birthday. In One Step Behind, Jenna—wife, mother, doctor—is the victim of a stalker. Sh*t gets crazy when her stalker is brought into the ER and Jenna has to treat him. Hold up, do they not have procedures in place to protect against that kind of thing? In any case, Jenna is desperate to understand the man who’s been making her life hell, and when she goes through his phone, she finds some startling images that lead her down a winding road of destruction.
‘When No One Is Watching’ by Alyssa Cole
September 1, 2020
Yes, I’ve written about this before, yes I’m featuring it again! It’s been written about everywhere, so you really need to add it to your list. It follows Sydney Green, a girl who’s born and raised in a Brooklyn neighborhood that’s rapidly gentrifying. She meets her neighbor Theo, and the two become interested in the neighborhood’s history. That leads them to realize that maybe the push to “revitalize” their community might be more deadly than it seems… or have they completely lost it? Can Sydney and Theo find out the truth before they too “go to live in the suburbs”?
‘The Sundown Motel’ by Simone St. James
September 1, 2020
Author of the chilling The Broken Girls (2018) has a new thriller out in paperback this September. It takes place in the small town of Fell, a town that seems to have a problem with girls winding up dead. There was the murder of Cathy Caldwell, who was found under an overpass, and Victoria Lee, who was killed and found along a jogging trail. A similar crime brings Carly Kirk to Fell: the disappearance of her aunt Viv. Carly is determined to return to Fell, stay in the same Sun Down Motel her aunt Viv worked the night shift at, and find out what happened to her. You’ll be on the edge of your seat with this one.
‘GROWN’ by Tiffany D. Jackson
September 15, 2020
I literally still think about Jackson’s 2018 thriller Monday’s Not Coming, so I simply must add her latest to the spooky season reading list. GROWN tackles themes like abuses of power and the dark sides of the entertainment industry. In this ripped-from-the-headlines mystery, legendary R&B artist Korey Fields plucks Enchanted Jones from obscurity, promising to make her a star. Until Korey ends up dead, and Enchanted finds herself with no memory of what happened and his blood on her hands—literally. Did she kill Korey? If not, who did?
‘And Now She’s Gone’ by Rachel Howzell Hall
September 22, 2020
Grayson Sykes has been tasked with finding Isabel Lincoln, who may or may not want to be found. Is she missing, or is she just trying to start over? P.I. Sykes attempts to figure this out while tracking down Lincoln. Her search uncovers a number of secrets that become more dangerous at every turn—not to mention, Sykes has secrets of her own.
‘Dancing With The Octopus’ by Debora Harding
September 22, 2020
This is actually just true crime, so I included it for the real fans. Harding’s memoir is being compared to Tara Westover’s Educated, and it starts in 1978, when Debora Harding was abducted at knifepoint from a church parking lot at just 14 years old. Harding was then thrown into a van, assaulted, held for ransom, then left out to die during an ice storm. Miraculously, she survived and led police to her attacker. Decades later, she did something even more unbelievable: she met her attacker face-to-face in prison.
‘The Nesting’ by C.J. Cooke
September 29, 2020
I don’t even tend to like supernatural thrillers, but this one pulled me in right away. It has a little bit of everything: Norse mythology, ghosts, an element of fraud, and more that I don’t want to spoil. In it, Lexi, a young woman battling her own demons, becomes a nanny in rural Norway for a family who just experienced a devastating loss. Lexi is hiding her own secrets, as is the house she and the family are living in, and soon she’ll discover that maybe the tragic family loss wasn’t what it seemed.
‘Goodnight Beautiful‘ by Aimee Molloy
October 13, 2020
When I tell you I couldn’t predict the ending of this one, that should say something. This novel had at least three twists that caught me completely off-guard. Sure, I could be going soft, or Molloy could just be that good. Dr. Sam Statler, a hot therapist, has gone missing after a storm. But let’s rewind: we begin with Annie Potter, who isn’t super thrilled to leave her life in NYC behind to move with her husband Sam to his hometown upstate. Especially because she has nothing to do while he sees (mostly female) clients all day. Little does Sam know, every word of his sessions can be heard from a room upstairs. Just when you think you’ve got this book figured out, it will throw another curveball at you, and even the most avid thriller readers won’t predict these surprises.
‘Scavenger: A Mystery’ by Christopher Chambers
October 13, 2020
In Washington, D.C., a Black man living in a homeless camp near the Smithsonian is framed for the murder of two of his closest friends. He faces life in prison. But when he meets an ex-Homeland Security Secretary, things start turning around. Sort of. He can avoid the life sentence—if he helps the former government official find a missing woman using the network of the streets and the underground world of undocumented immigrants.
‘A Will To Kill’ by R.V. Raman
October 20, 2020
This one is a fun, suspenseful read that’s perfect for fans of Knives Out or Agatha Christie. Aging Indian patriarch Bhaskar Fernandez wants to reunite his relatives (who all low-key hate each other), so he invites them out to a remote manor that’s rumored to be haunted, and where a few people have suddenly met an untimely death. The fun part? Bhaskar knows his family wants him dead so they can inherit his fortune, so he prepares two wills—the one he uses depends on how he dies.
‘Plain Bad Heroines’ by Emily M. Danforth
October 20, 2020
This queer gothic horror comedy brings the spooky without keeping you up at night. This story-within-a-story begins in 1902 at a cursed all-female boarding school in New England, where two students, Flo and Clara, start a private club called the Plain Bad Heroine Society. They are later found mysteriously dead. Over the next five years, three more people are found dead on the property, and the school closes for good. Over 100 years later, the school ends up back in the collective consciousness when a writer publishes a book celebrating the “haunted and cursed” school. That book becomes a movie, and the actresses cast revisit the school to start filming… which is when weird things start happening.
‘Little Cruelties’ by Liz Nugent
November 10, 2020
Already a #1 bestseller in Ireland and a most-anticipated thriller by CrimeReads and Crime by the Book, Nugent’s upcoming novel is one you’ll want to pick up. It begins with a funeral: all three Drumm brothers are there, but one is in a coffin. Which brother is dead? Who is guilty? If you liked Succession, you’ll get sucked into this cautionary tale of how sinister impulses can corrupt a family.
‘Little Threats’ by Emily Schultz
November 10, 2020
Fans of Andrea Bartz’s The Lost Night and Megan Goldin’s The Night Swim will find a perfect match in Little Threats, because of the blackout-induced amnesia plotline and the meta true crime elements. You’ll see what I mean: Kennedy and Carter Wynn are two rebellious twin sisters whose lives are torn apart as teenagers when their best friend Haley is found murdered after a night of partying. With no other leads, Kennedy enters a guilty plea and spends 15 years in prison. Once she gets out, a crime show host comes around asking questions, believing Kennedy may not have committed the murder. *Oprah voice* so what is the truth?
‘The Lady Upstairs’ by Halley Sutton
November 17, 2020
As someone who has gone on too many bad dates with men, the premise of this book is a littleeee too relatable for me. It’s centered on Jo, who makes a living blackmailing the skeeviest and most powerful men in LA—think dirty cops, handsy Hollywood producers, you know the type. Jo is eager to prove herself to her enigmatic boss, known only as The Lady Upstairs. When one of Jo’s targets is murdered, Jo finds herself on a short list of suspects. To avoid prison time she has to pull off one last job—her biggest target yet.
Images: @greystorm / Unsplash
If you’ve read one thriller, you start to feel like after a certain point, you’ve read them all. We get it: the main character had amnesia all along. Two sisters switched places. It gets repetitive. So if you are getting a little fatigued of the same old twists, Emily Liebert’s new novel, Perfectly Famous, out June 2, 2020, will be a breath of fresh air, because it’s honestly kind of meta: after famous crime novelist’s Ward DeFleur’s daughter goes missing, the author is in the wind. But one journalist isn’t content with letting Ward remain in obscurity, and she becomes obsessed with finding her. This harrowing tale of one woman’s infatuation and another woman’s fear is full of explosive surprises, perfect for fans of The Night Olivia Fell and Then She Was Gone.
Emily Liebert is the USA Today bestselling author of Pretty Revenge, and Perfectly Famous will be her sixth novel. Perfectly Famous doesn’t come out until June 2, but Betches readers can get an exclusive first look at this gripping novel right now.
Fame is like a flame. A small flourish of light that’s ignited with good intentions and kindled with aggressive aspirations. But as those dreams are stoked, the flame grows fiercer, often too hot to pass your finger through. Fame can spread like a blazing rash, infecting everything and everyone in its path. The flame is inexorable. It can’t be stopped. It won’t be stopped. Until it’s extinguished.
Of course, some notoriety cannot be snuffed out. The force of it is too robust. People covet that fame. They envy it.
Those people become increasingly resentful as their small spark remains just that. No one—they think—deserves to shine forever, to eclipse all the others who are just as worthy of recognition.
Because only one other outcome is possible when a flame refuses to be choked.
It will explode.
CHAPTER 1: WARD
SIX MONTHS AGO
The smooth rhythm of jazz music drifted from the radio as I gazed out the window at the cookie-cutter McMansions with their rambling green lawns, glistening blue swimming pools, and soaring oak trees in a kaleidoscopic of colors. This time of year, the air is crisp but not cold. Children frolick outside until just before bedtime. Doors are left unlocked.
It’s safe here in Connecticut.
Ten minutes passed, as we traveled out of the suburban cocoon and through town, until the car pulled to a stop. I checked my reflection in the makeup compact I’d slipped into my purse at the last minute and allowed myself one final swipe of red lipstick, to match the cover of my new novel, Mysterious Stranger. Then I took a deep breath, trapped the air in my lungs for a few seconds longer than usual, and exhaled before the driver came around to open my door.
“Ready, Ms. DeFleur?” He extended his hand, and I accepted it, grateful for the support.
“Yes,” I spoke softly and stepped onto the glossy pavement, as pellets of rain struck the umbrella he was holding. One foot in front of the other, I reminded myself. I’ve done this before. Twelve times. And I’ll do it again. I hope.
“Here we go.” He hoisted me to standing, and I noticed that a bead of water had tainted my red silk flats like an inkblot in the Rorschach test. I never wear heels. When you’re five foot ten, it’s hard enough to go unnoticed. “I’ll keep you dry.”
“Thank you.” I nodded and raked my fingers through my thick, tumbling waves of auburn hair.
The line was already wrapped around the side of the building, a buzzing procession of anticipation. Instinctively, I looked behind me. As expected, the parking lot was crowded with sedans and SUVs jockeying for an open spot. To see me. Even after so many years, it’s still hard to believe.
Once we were inside, fear rose in my chest. I scanned the troop of men and women, mostly women in dark elastic jeans, stiletto boots, and flowy blouses cut to expose just enough of their assets. The landscape was dizzying. I thought about a quick pivot. I could make it back to the town car before anyone reached me. But I didn’t move.
“Hello, everyone,” I said louder than I’d expected. I sounded confident. Unlike myself. I smiled appreciatively at the light applause.
“Fabulous, you’re here.” My publicist, Gwen, swooped in, placed one hand on the small of my back, and cupped my elbow with the other. “Let’s get you settled. The signing doesn’t officially start for another twenty minutes. We can go over some important items.”
“Okay, sure.” I allowed her to cart me off.
“In here.” She thrust me into a small room with a green tweed couch and a cluttered wooden desk. “Make yourself comfortable. How are you feeling?” She motioned to the couch, dragged the metal desk chair over, and sat down on the edge of it, facing me. Her dark brown eyes were dogged. She’d rimmed them with far too much black eyeliner. And her knee was trembling. Probably from that high-octane coffee-in-a-can she drinks all day.
“Good,” I lied.
“Great, I mean. Definitely great,” I qualified.
“That’s better. Because tonight has to go seamlessly.” She maintained eye contact. “This is the first appearance in your fifteen-city tour.”
“I know.” Between my agent, my publisher, my editor, my editor’s assistant, Gwen, Gwen’s assistant, and all the other people at Lyons & Wilder responsible for launching my books, I’ve heard fifteen-city tour more times than my brain can metabolize.
“What I’m saying is that tonight sets the tone.” She leaned in closer and searched my face for mutual understanding. “There can’t be any . . .” She paused, careful to select the least offensive word. “Issues.”
“I get it.” It wasn’t hard to decipher what she meant by issues. I chose not to mention that it felt like the walls were closing in on us or that I was sweating through my blouse. “Don’t worry, it’s not my first rodeo.”
“Exactly. So here’s the plan.” Gwen lifted her chin and checked her watch. “I’m going to head out there now and make sure everything is under control and that everyone’s ready to roll. You’re going to stay here, have some water, have some fruit.” She signaled to a platter of neatly arranged slices of pineapple, mango, and cantaloupe, and a few bottles of Evian on the desk. “Then I’m going to come back and get you, and we’ll go in together. As always, there’s a table set up for you to sign at. There are plenty of Sharpies. We’re doing red for this book, as discussed. And clearly your fans are here in droves.”
“They never disappoint.” I smiled, pleased by my readers’ unwavering support.
Anxiety aside, I do realize what a gift that is. There are plenty of authors who write well-received novels, one-hit wonders that skyrocket to the top of the New York Times bestseller list and sell millions of copies. Unfortunately, their sophomore efforts frequently pale in comparison. There are other authors who write five, ten, fifteen books that all do adequately enough to turn a profit and keep their contracts coming. And then there are authors like me, whose audience has doubled, tripled, quadrupled with each new release. Thankfully, so have my advances. But above all that, I feel truly fortunate because my readers are the best readers. They communicate with me, and I communicate with them, from the very safe haven of my home office. Unseen. For that reason, among many others defined by my publishing house, I feel it’s my duty to show up for them. In this case, fifteen times over.
“And they never will disappoint,” Gwen assured me. “Just keep on being you. That’s all you have to do. They love you. Happy, authentic, engaged you.”
“Thank you.” I’ve worked with a lot of “Gwens” over the years, some grittier than others. This Gwen is a straight shooter, which I like. We both know that her little pep talk was a warning not to screw things up tonight. “I’ve got this.”
“Excellent.” I thought she was going to exhale, possibly reveal a hint of relief that her star thoroughbred was ready to race. But she’s still terrified I’ll break a leg.
She can’t be blamed for that. It has happened before, so to speak. It’s lore among the young girls who’ve passed through the halls of Lyons & Wilder. I’ve seen the way they size me up. They think I’m fragile.
Ward DeFleur sat on a wall.
Ward DeFleur had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men.
Couldn’t put Ward together again.
Not on Gwen’s watch, though. I guarantee she’s got an Ace bandage and a tube of Krazy Glue in her purse. She’ll repair me if it’s the last thing she ever does.
“Sit tight. I won’t be gone long.” She stood up and clipped her walkie-talkie to her belt.
“One question.” I raised my index finger.
“Shoot.” Gwen barely looked up from her cell phone. She was already sending a text, probably to my agent, Stephanie, who couldn’t be here tonight because her sister is getting married. Apparently, she asked her sister to switch the date and was horrified that she wouldn’t. In turn, I was horrified that Stephanie even asked in the first place.
“Is there security?”
“There are guards at all three doors. We’re in constant contact.”
“Just in case,” I added, so as not to seem dramatic.
“Ward,” Gwen said with intention. “You’re completely covered. Absolutely nothing will go wrong.” We locked eyes. “This is your night. Enjoy it.” She walked toward the door, turned the knob, and paused. Then she glanced over her shoulder and smiled. “Lucky number thirteen.”
“Lucky number thirteen.”
Copyright © 2020 by Emily Liebert. From the forthcoming book PERFECTLY FAMOUS to be published by Gallery Books, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Printed by permission.
Maybe you watched The Stranger or The Five on Netflix, or saw the movie Tell No One. Or maybe you just read one of his many New York Times bestselling books, like Run Away, Fool Me Once, Don’t Let Go, or the renowned Myron Bolitar series. Either way, if you’re into thrillers, you’ve definitely heard of Harlan Coben, and you’ve probably been waiting on the edge of your seat for the release of his newest book (which will be his 32nd), The Boy From The Woods, out March 17.
Wilde is a man who is a mystery to everyone, including himself, having been found 30 years ago living as a feral boy in the woods with no memory of who he was or how he got there. Fast-forward three decades: A local girl goes missing in those same woods, and Wilde is tapped to help find her. He works with Hester Crimstein, a famous TV lawyer (with big Nancy Grace energy) with whom Wilde shares a tragic connection. Along the way, they’ll go head-to-head with corrupt politicians (never heard of ’em), powerful media moguls, long-lost relatives, and so much more. The Boy From The Woods comes out March 17th, but if you just can’t wait to get a sneak peek of the book, we have the second chapter right here. So check it out, get hooked, then preorder The Boy From The Woods.
The hipster pundit said, “This guy should be in prison, no questions asked.”
On live television, Hester Crimstein was about to counterpunch when she spotted what looked like her grandson in her peripheral vision. It was hard to see through the studio lights, but it sure as hell looked like Matthew.
“Whoa, strong words,” said the show’s host, a once-cute prepster whose main debate technique was to freeze a baffled expression on his face, as though his guests were idiots no matter how much sense they made. “Any response, Hester?”
Matthew’s appearance—it had to be him—had thrown her.
Not a good time to let the mind wander, she reminded herself. Focus.
“You’re gross,” Hester said.
“You heard me.” She aimed her notorious withering gaze at Hipster Pundit. “Gross.”
Why is Matthew here?
Her grandson had never come to her work unannounced before—not to her office, not to a courtroom, and not to the studio.
“Care to elaborate?” Prepster Host asked.
“Sure,” Hester said. The fiery glare stayed on Hipster Pundit. “You hate America.”
“Seriously,” Hester continued, throwing her hands up in the air, “why should we have a court system at all? Who needs it? We have public opinion, don’t we? No trial, no jury, no judge—let the Twitter mob decide.”
Hipster Pundit sat up a little straighter. “That’s not what I said.”
“It’s exactly what you said.”
“There’s evidence, Hester. A very clear video.”
“Ooo, a video.” She wiggled her fingers as though she were talking about a ghost. “So again: No need for a judge or jury. Let’s just have you, as benevolent leader of the Twitter mob—”
“Hush, I’m talking. Oh, I’m sorry, I forget your name. I keep calling you Hipster Pundit in my head, so can I just call you Chad?” He opened his mouth, but Hester pushed on. “Great. Tell me, Chad, what’s a fitting punishmentfor my client, do you think? I mean, since you’re going to pronounce guilt or innocence, why not also do the sentencing for us?”
“My name”—he pushed his hipster glasses up his nose—“is Rick. And we all saw the video. Your client punched a man in the face.”
“Thanks for that analysis. You know what would be helpful, Chad?”
“Rick, Chad, whatever. What would be helpful, super helpful really, would be if you and your mob just made all the decisions for us. Think of the time we’d save. We just post a video on social media and declare guilt or innocence from the replies. Thumbs-up or thumbs-down. There’d be no need for witnesses or testimony or evidence. Just Judge Rick Chad here.”
Hipster Pundit’s face was turning red. “We all saw what your rich client did to that poor man.”
Prepster Host stepped in: “Before we continue, let’s show the video again for those just tuning in.”
Hester was about to protest, but they’d already shown the video countless times, would show it countless more times, and her voicing any opposition would be both ineffective and only make her client, a well-to-do financial consultant named Simon Greene, appear even more guilty.
More important, Hester could use the few seconds with the camera off her to check on Matthew.
The viral video—four million views and counting—had been recorded on a tourist’s iPhone in Central Park. On the screen, Hester’s client Simon Greene, wearing a perfectly tailored suit with a perfectly Windsored Hermès tie, cocked his fist and smashed it into the face of a threadbare, disheveled young man who, Hester knew, was a drug addict named Aaron Corval.
Blood gushed from Corval’s nose.
The image was irresistibly Dickensian—Mr. Rich Privileged Guy, completely unprovoked, sucker-punches Poor Street Urchin.
Hester quickly craned her neck toward Matthew and tried, through the haze of the studio spotlights, to meet his eye. She was a frequent legal expert on cable news, and two nights a week, “famed defense attorney” Hester Crimstein had her own segment on this very network called Crimstein on Crime, though her name was not pronounced Crime-Rhymes-with-Prime-Stine, but rather Krim-Rhymes-with-Prim-Steen, but the alliteration was still considered “television friendly” and the title looked good on the bottom scroll, so the network ran with it.
Her grandson stood in the shadows. Hester could see that Matthew was wringing his hands, just like his father used to do, and she felt a pang so deep in her chest that for a moment she couldn’t breathe. She considered quickly crossing the room and asking Matthew why he was here, but the punch video was already over and Hipster Rick Chad was foaming at the mouth.
“See?” Spittle flew out of his mouth and found a home in his beard. “It’s clear as day. Your rich client attacked a homeless man for no reason.”
“You don’t know what went on before that tape rolled.”
“It makes no difference.”
“Sure it does. That’s why we have a system of justice, so that vigilantes like you don’t irresponsibly call for mob violence against an innocent man.”
“Whoa, no one said anything about mob violence.”
“Sure you did. Own it already. You want my client, a father of three with no record, in prison right now. No trial, nothing. Come on, Rick Chad, let your inner fascist out.” Hester banged the desk, startling Prepster Host, and began to chant: “Lock him up, lock him up.”
“Cut that out!”
“Lock him up!”
The chant was getting to him, his face turning scarlet. “That’s not what I meant at all. You’re intentionally exaggerating.”
“Lock him up!”
“Stop that. No one is saying that.”
Hester had something of a gift for mimicry. She often used it in the courtroom to subtly if not immaturely undermine a prosecutor. Doing her best impression of Rick Chad, she repeated his earlier words verbatim: “This guy should be in prison, no questions asked.”
“That will be up to a court of law,” Hipster Rick Chad said, “but maybe if a man acts like this, if he punches people in the face in broad daylight, he deserves to be canceled and lose his job.”
“Why? Because you and Deplorable-Dental-Hygienist and NailDa-Ladies-69 on Twitter say so? You don’t know the situation. You don’t even know if the tape is real.”
Prepster Host arched an eyebrow over that one. “Are you saying the video is fake?”
“Could be, sure. Look, I had another client. Someone photoshopped her smiling face next to a dead giraffe and said she was the hunter who killed it. An ex-husband did that for revenge. Can you imagine the hate and bullying she received?”
The story wasn’t true—Hester had made it up—but it could be true, and sometimes that was enough.
“Where is your client Simon Greene right now?” Hipster Rick Chad asked.
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“He’s home, right? Out on bail?”
“He’s an innocent man, a fine man, a caring man—”
“And a rich man.”
“Now you want to get rid of our bail system?”
“A rich white man.”
“Listen, Rick Chad, I know you’re all ‘woke’ and stuff, what with the cool beard and the hipster beanie—is that a Kangol?— but your use of race and your easy answers are as bad as the other side’s use of race and easy answers.”
“Wow, deflecting using ‘both sides.’ ”
“No, sonny, that’s not both sides, so listen up. What you don’t see is, you and those you hate? You are quickly becoming one and the same.”
“Reverse this around,” Rick Chad said. “If Simon Greene was poor and black and Aaron Corval was rich and white—”
“They’re both white. Don’t make this about race.”
“It’s always about race, but fine. If the guy in rags hit the rich white man in a suit, he wouldn’t have Hester Crimstein defending him. He’d be in jail right now.”
Hmm, Hester thought. She had to admit Rick Chad had a pretty good point there.
Prepster Host said, “Hester?”
Time was running out in the segment, so Hester threw up her hands and said, “If Rick Chad is arguing I’m a great attorney, who am I to disagree?”
That drew laughs.
“And that’s all the time we have for now. Coming up next, the latest controversy surrounding upstart presidential candidate Rusty Eggers. Is Rusty pragmatic or cruel? Is he really the most dangerous man in America? Stay with us.”
Hester pulled out the earpiece and unclipped the microphone. They were already headed to commercial break when she rose and crossed the room toward Matthew. He was so tall now, again like his father, and another pang struck hard.
Hester said, “Your mother… ?”
“She’s fine,” Matthew said. “Everyone is okay.”
Hester couldn’t help it. She threw her arms around the probably embarrassed teen, wrapping him in a bear hug, though she was barely five two and he had almost a foot on her. More and more she saw the echoes of the father in the son. Matthew hadn’t looked much like David when he was little, when his father was still alive, but now he did—the posture, the walk, the hand wringing, the crinkle of the forehead—and it all broke her heart anew. It shouldn’t, of course. It should, in fact, offer some measure of comfort for Hester, seeing her dead son’s echo in his boy, like some small part of David survived the crash and still lives on. But instead, these ghostly glimmers rip at her, tear the wounds wide open, even after all these years, and Hester wondered whether the pain was worth it, whether it was better to feel this pain than feel nothing. The question was a rhetorical one, of course. She had no choice and would want it no other way—feeling nothing or someday being “over it” would be the worst betrayal of all.
So she held her grandson and squeezed her eyes shut. The teen patted her back, almost as though he were humoring her.
That was what he called her. Nana. “You’re really okay?”
Matthew’s skin was browner than his father’s. His mother, Laila, was black, which made Matthew black too or a person of color or biracial or whatever. Age was no excuse, but Hester, who was in her seventies but told everyone she stopped counting at sixty-nine—go ahead, make a joke, she’d heard them all—found it hard to keep track of the evolving terminology.
“Where’s your mother?” Hester asked.
“What’s the matter?” Hester asked.
“There’s this girl in school,” Matthew said.
“What about her?”
“She’s missing, Nana. I want you to help.”
Excerpted from THE BOY FROM THE WOODS. Copyright © 2020 by Harlan Coben. Reprinted with permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.
The author of 2019’s My Lovely Wife, Samantha Downing, is back with her second book, He Started It. Her first thriller was hailed as “a dark and irresistible debut” by PEOPLE and “Gone Girl, except better” by yours truly. He Started It follows a family of grifters on the road trip of a lifetime (and I mean that quite literally), out April 28 by Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, but you can start reading He Started It right now, exclusively on Betches.
Three siblings. Their spouses. Dear old Grandad’s dead body in the trunk. Such begins He Started It, a fast-paced novel about a dysfunctional family on a road trip—only things are a lot darker and more twisted than your average family vacation. That’s because instead of a feel-good getaway, this family of three grifters, liars, and cheats (plus their spouses) are on a quest to scatter their grandfather’s ashes so they can collect his inheritance. But exactly like on your family road trips, nobody wants to share.
Samantha Downing’s debut novel, My Lovely Wife, earned her a nomination for an Edgar Award—a big f*cking deal in the thriller world. Her follow-up doesn’t come out until April 28, but it’s already generating buzz, and you can read an exclusive look at the first chapter below.
You want a heroine. Someone to root for, to identify with. She can’t be perfect, though, because that’ll just make you feel bad about yourself. A flawed heroine, then. Someone who may break the rules to protect her family but doesn’t kill anyone unless it’s self-defense. Not murder, though, at least not the cold-blooded kind. That’s the first deal breaker.
The second is cheating. Men can get away with that and still be the hero, but a cheating wife is unforgivable.
Which means I can’t be your heroine.
I still have a story to tell.
It begins in a car. Rather, an SUV. We sit according to our rank, the oldest in the driver’s seat. That’s Eddie. His wife sits next to him, but I’ll get to her.
The middle seat is for the middle child, and that’s me. Beth. Not Elizabeth, just Beth. I’m two years younger than Eddie and he never lets me forget it. I’m okay to look at, though not as young or thin as I used to be. My husband sits next to me. Again, later for that, because our spouses weren’t supposed to be here.
One seat left, way in the back, and that’s Portia. The surprise baby. She’s six years younger than me and sometimes it feels like a hundred. With no spouse or significant other, she has the whole seat to herself.
In the very back, our luggage. Stacked side by side in a neat single row because that’s the only way it fits. I told Eddie that the first time. Our handbags and computers bags go on top of the roller bags. You don’t have to be a flight attendant to figure that out.
Under the bags, there’s the trunk compartment. One side has the spare tire. In the other, a locked wooden box with brass fittings. This special little box in this special little place, all by itself with nothing else around, is to hold our grandfather. He’s been cremated.
We aren’t talking about him. We aren’t really talking at all. The sun beams through the windows, landing on my leg and making it burn. The A/C dries out my eyes. Eddie plays music that is wordless and jazzy.
I look back at Portia. Her eyes are closed and she has headphones on, probably listening to music that is neither wordless nor jazzy. Her black hair is long and has fallen over one eye. It’s dyed. We all have pale skin, and we were all born with blond hair and either blue or green eyes. My hair is even lighter now because I highlight it. Eddie’s is darker because he doesn’t. Portia’s hair has been black for a while now. It matches her nails. She’s not goth, though. Not anymore.
The music change is abrupt. I didn’t even see Krista move. That’s Eddie’s wife. Krista, the one with olive skin, dark hair, and brown eyes with gold flecks. Krista, the one he married four months after meeting her. She used to be the receptionist at his office.
I continue to stare out the window. Atlanta is long gone. We aren’t even in Georgia. This is northern Alabama, past Birmingham, where the population is sparse and skeptical. If we were trying to rush, we’d be further along by now. Rushing isn’t part of the equation.
That’s Portia, her voice groggy from her nap. She’s sitting up, headphones off, wide-eyed like a child.
She’s been milking that baby-of-the-family shit for a long time.
“You want to stop?” Eddie says, turning down the music.
“Let’s stop,” Krista says.
My husband shrugs.
“Yes,” Portia says.
Eddie looks at me in the rearview mirror, like I get a say in the matter. I’m already outnumbered.
“Great,” I say. “Food is great.”
We stop at a place called the Roundabout, which looks just as you imagine. Rustic in a fake way, with the lasso and goat on the sign, but naturally rundown with age. Authentic but not—like most of us.
We all climb out and Portia is first to the door; Krista isn’t far behind. Eddie is the one who takes the most time. He stands outside the car, staring at the back. Hesitating.
It’s our grandfather. This is our first stop of the trip, meaning it’s the first time we have to leave him alone.
“You okay?” I say, tapping Eddie’s arm.
He doesn’t look at me, doesn’t take his eyes off the back of the car because Grandpa’s ashes are everything to us. Not for emotional reasons.
“You want to stay out here? I can bring you a doggie bag,” I say. Sarcasm drips.
Eddie turns to me, his eyes wide. Oh, the shock. Like if I had just told him I was leaving my longtime partner for someone I met two months ago.
Oh wait, he did that. Eddie left his live-in girlfriend for the receptionist.
“I’m fine,” he says. “You don’t have to be so bitchy about it.”
Yes. I’m the villain.
Inside the Roundabout, everyone is sitting in a semicircle booth. It’s twice as big as it needs to be. The seats are wine-colored pleather. Krista and Portia have scooted all the way to the center of the booth, leaving Felix on one side. That’s my husband, Felix, the pale one with the strong jaw and white-blond hair with matching eyebrows and lashes. In a certain light, he disappears.
“We probably should get something settled,” Eddie says. He looks like our father. “We’re going to be driving for a while. A lot of gas, food, and motel rooms. I propose we take turns covering the expenses. More than anything else, let’s not argue about it. The last thing we need to do is fight over a gas bill.”
Before I can say a word, my husband does.
“Makes sense,” Felix says. “Beth and I will pay our fair share.”
Only a spouse can betray you like that. Or a sibling.
That leaves Portia. Given that she’s doesn’t really have a career, the deal isn’t fair.
Oh, the irony.
She yawns. Nods. In Portia-speak, she’s agreeing for now but reserves the right to disagree later.
“Great,” Eddie says. “I’ll get this one.”
He takes the check up to the register, because that’s the kind of place this is. Felix goes to the restroom and Portia steps out front to make a call. That leaves Krista and me, finishing those last sips of lukewarm coffee.
“I know this must be terrible for all of you,” she says, placing her hand on mine. “But I hope we can have some good times, too. I’m sure your grandfather would’ve wanted that.”
It’s a nice enough thing for Krista to say, if a little generic. Given the circumstances, I expect nothing less and nothing more.
Still. If everything falls apart and we all start killing each other, she goes first.
You think I said that for shock value. I didn’t.
No, I’m not a psychopath. That’s always a convenient excuse, though. Someone who has no empathy and has to fake human emotions. Why do they do bad things? Shrug. Who knows? That’s a psychopath for you. Or is it the word sociopath? You know what I’m saying.
This isn’t that kind of story. This is about family. I love my siblings, all of them, I really do. I also hate them. That’s how it goes—love, hate, love, hate, back and forth like a seesaw.
That’s the thing about family. Despite what they say, it’s not a single unit with a single goal. What they never tell us is that, more often than not, every member of the family has their own agenda. I know I do.
From HE STARTED IT by Samantha Downing, published by Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright (c) 2020 by Samantha Downing.
We live in a world that is streaming-obsessed. I know this because my credit card statement every month is nothing but Netflix, Apple TV +, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and Disney + (and Seamless, and some more Seamless, and then a little Uber Eats so the Seamless people don’t judge me, I’m sure you understand). I basically get berated at work all day so that I can afford to watch High School Musical on repeat when I get home. And lately, the only thing streaming that people want to talk about is You. It seems all my friends are really into psychopaths, which now that I know this, makes a lotttt of sense. I mean, I thought they were into psychos, you know, like men who dip their pizza in ranch dressing, but it turns out they’re just turned on by good old-fashioned murderers. Cool. Never going to your boyfriend’s houses, though! I haven’t watched You yet, and the reason why is because I read the book You by Caroline Kepnes years ago and I have not slept ever since. It’s been fun!
Although the book continues to keep me up all night, I was incredibly impressed by how well Kepnes captured the ramblings of a psychopath. Now that I think about it, she was almost too good at it, and I’d like to request the police do a wellness check on her spouse, just in case. Sorry if they break down your door, Caroline! But you brought it upon yourself! If you’ve watched the show AND read the book, you’re probably looking for some new material to make people slowly back away from you at parties. Thankfully, I would rather read a book than engage in actual relationships with a real person, and I’m ready to share my knowledge with you, my fellow anti-socials. So, if you’re craving more books like You, here are seven that I’d recommend you start reading as soon as possible. Before you start making human connections!
The New Husband by D.J. Palmer
The first book is called The New Husband, and, frankly, any number of husbands is a terrifying thought, so sign me up. In this book, Nina Fitch’s second husband knows all her favorite foods, movies, and her son adores him. Definitely a psycho. Nina is a little gun shy because of what her first husband did to her (See! Husbands are terrifying!) so she decides to do a little digging. Sure, Nina. I can call stalking digging, too. When things aren’t adding up, the story gets more and more tense, twisty, and of course, there’s a shocking reveal. I shrieked! You have to get your hands on this one when it comes out on April 14, 2020.
The Sunday Girl by Pip Drysdale
Contrary to popular belief, The Sunday Girl is not about a twentysomething woman who goes to brunch with her girlfriends, gets day drunk, and orders a $40 uber home before passing out at 5pm. I know! I was also confused. The Sunday Girl is actually about a woman in an abusive relationship, who gets dumped by her boyfriend, and then he posts a sex tape of her online. I think we can all agree at this point he deserves what’s coming to him. And, what’s coming to him is a revenge plan straight out of The Art of War. Girl, I am SOLD. Find out what happens *please say she cuts off his balls, please say she cuts off his balls* when The Sunday Girl comes out on May 5, 2020
The Last Woman in the Forest by Diane Les Becquets
You is told from the point of view of Joe, the psychopath serial killer. But what if it was told from Beck’s point of view? In The Last Woman in the Forest, Les Becquets flips the script when her heroine Marian starts to believe that her recently departed man, Tate, was a serial killer. Marian goes on a mission to prove to herself that she was not, in fact, banging a dude who preferred his women in a ditch in the woods, but as she gets further along, sh*t starts getting terrifying and it’s possible Marian will end up as a skin suit for a different freak. I’m not going to reveal what happens, but I will tell you that Diane Les Becquets is an incredibly talented writer, who dedicated a lot of time to creating realistic and nuanced characters. This is not your run-of-the-mill thriller, it’s more of an intense, slow build that ratchets up the terrifying as it goes on. Just like life!
A Good Man by Ani Katz
A Good Man! Ha! At least the title is funny, even if the rest of it makes you dependent on melatonin for the rest of your life. A Good Man is about Thomas Martin, a rich dude from Long Island working in Manhattan, who commits a horrific act and then when he can’t take it back, tries to convince himself that all he ever tried to do was be a good man. Ha! Funny again! Coincidentally, that’s what my ex said when I found him literally on top of another woman. He was also, in fact, not a good man. Another pro for this book is the fact that it has a pull quote on the cover from Caroline Kepnes, aka the author of You. If it’s endorsed by the woman who thought up Joe Goldberg, you know it’s the perfect kind of creepy.
My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing
Okay, if you thought you liked one attractive, charismatic psychopath in You, you are going to be thrilled when you meet the most f*cked up couple of all time in My Lovely Wife. Is the husband a murderer? Sure is! Is the wife a murderer? You betcha! Do they do it together as some kind of twisted sex game to keep the spark alive? Yes, ma’am! Should they have just gone to therapy? Probably, but it’d be less fun! This book is slippery though, so you never really know what’s going on until the very end, and that’s just how I like it, much like murdering young women is how the couple in this novel likes it. My Lovely Wife came out last March, and the best part is, if it really turns you on to murderous families, Downing has another thriller coming out on April 28th called He Started It.
Darling Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel
So, yes, Darling Rose Gold is definitely more similar to The Act than it is to You, but I figure to us crime fiends that’s basically tomayto, tomahto, am I right? Plus there are plenty of murderous people in this, so you’ll be fine. Growing up, Rose Gold believed that she was seriously ill. Turns out, her mom Patty (YOU WOULD, PATTY), just did everything she could to make people believe that, even intentionally making Rose Gold sick. Patty went to prison, but now she’s out and Rose Gold takes her in. Such a sweetheart! Or is she? In this book, you can’t tell who is lying, and you can’t tell who is winning their little cat-and-mouse murder game until the very end. And who among us hasn’t wanted to kill their mother every once in a while?! (Not me, mom! Please still pay for that trip to Ireland!). You’ll have to wait until March for this one, but I promise you it’s worth the wait.
The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule
The Stranger Beside Me is the OG book about a handsome and charming man who preys on young women. And all you sickos are just as thirsty for him as you are for Joe! I know this isn’t a novel (it’s true crime, FYI), but I’d put all my money on the fact that Ted Bundy and Joe Goldberg are distant relatives. Let’s get these two on Ancestry DNA!
The Stranger Beside Me is written by Ann Rule, and her writing style is so sweet and sincere, you’ll feel like your mother is telling you a comforting bedtime story, except that bedtime story includes the dates and times that dozens of women were murdered. The Stranger Beside Me has been out since 1980, so while you’re waiting on some of these other books to be released, you should definitely spend your time with this master class in true crime. And just remember, Ted Bundy is dead so you can’t send him nudes in prison, FOR GOD’S SAKE.
And those are my recommendations! If you read any of these, please let me know what you think. And if you think you’re not a reader, just throw one of these in your bag to check out on the subway just in case. Candy Crush will still be on your phone when you go to the bathroom later!
Images: Beth Dubber/Netflix; St. Martin’s Press; Source Books; Berkley Books (3); Penguin Books; WW Norton
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At a certain point, you start to feel like if you’ve read one thriller, you’ve read them all. The characters bleed together, even the most “shocking” of twists can be seen from 200 pages away, and if you have to read one more word in the first person narrative, you’ll scream. I know because I’ve thought this many a time. Even the titles of every thriller are the same. The ____ Girl. The _____ Wife. Are we as a society just out of new ideas? Fortunately, no. I’ve rounded up the best thrillers I’ve read this year with an ending you actually won’t see coming. And I promise, no spoilers. Stock up just in time for Halloween, because these reads will seriously haunt you.
‘The Starter Wife’ by Nina Lauren
I know, I know The ____ Wife. I was suspicious myself because the title is so overdone, but let me tell you, this is nothing like the Debra Messing USA original series of the same name. It’s kind of like Gone Girl but not (you’ll see why once you read it). But, even though the ending of this book was one I’ve read before, the ride was not predictable. This one’s about Claire, who marries hot English professor Byron. Claire is seemingly happy with her husband, but finds reminders of his late first wife, Colleen, everywhere. When she suddenly gets a call from Colleen, she tries to find out what exactly happened and how deeply implicated her husband is.
‘I Know Everything’ by Matthew Farrell
I Know Everything was seriously haunting, and even though the twist itself has been done before, I promise you haven’t seen it done in this way. Also, there were so many twists that even if you predicted one of them, there’s no way you figured out every single one. When a rich woman dies in a car accident, it seems like an open-and-shut case for Detective Susan Adler. But then details start emerging about the accident, and the woman’s husband, who stands to gain everything from her death—and suddenly, things aren’t so simple. I can pretty much guarantee you that you won’t solve the murder before Detective Adler. Warning, though: do not finish this book at night, or else you will not be able to sleep.
‘A Stranger on the Beach’ by Michele Campbell
In this tale of alternating perspectives, you’ll be constantly questioning who’s telling the truth and who’s an unreliable narrator. In this novel, rich Caroline hooks up with blue-collar Aidan after finding out her husband is lying to her, and possibly having an affair. To Caroline, her affair with Aidan is just physical, an escape from her marital problems. But Aidan falls hard and fast—and doesn’t want to let go, either. How hard will he hold on?
‘The Perfect Wife’ by JP Delaney
So I read on the back that this was about A.I. and I was like “ugh, pass,” but then I gave it a try and was really pleasantly surprised. The book opens with Abby Cullen-Scott waking up in the hospital—only to quickly learn that she’s not actually Abby Cullen-Scott, but a robot made in her likeness to replace the real Abby Cullen-Scott, who died in a mysterious accident. Or did she? A.I. Abby has to race against the clock to find out what happened to Human Abby before the same thing maybe happens to her.
‘The Runaway’ by Hollie Overton
If you want a thriller that feels more grounded in reality than others, pick up The Runaway by Hollie Overton. Taking place in LA, it toggles between the POV of Ash, a formerly homeless foster teen, and Becca, her soon-to-be-adoptive mother who also works as a psychiatrist for the LAPD. All seems to be going well until Ash up and disappears, and it’s up to Becca to find her, with or without the LAPD’s approval or help. What at first seems to be a normal expression of teenage angst quickly reveals the dark underbelly of life on the streets.
‘Tell Me Everything’ by Cambria Brockman
Protagonist/narrator Malin starts college at an elite private school, and finds herself friends with a pretty diverse group of kids who all seem fun, but they all have their secrets. At the end of the book, someone will wind up dead. Throughout the book, you’ll discover what everyone in this group that seems to have it all is hiding. There are so many surprises in Tell Me Everything that I’m pretty sure it’s mathematically impossible for anyone to get them all.
‘The Perfect Son’ by Lauren North
Following her husband’s tragic death, Tess Clarke wakes up in the hospital after her son Jamie’s 8th birthday. She knows he’s gone missing, but nobody believes her. Nobody is there for Tess except her best friend Shelly, who suspiciously became a huge part of her life right after her husband’s death. Alternating between the past and the days leading up to Jamie’s fateful 8th birthday, Lauren North takes the reader on a race against the clock.
‘Lost You’ by Haylen Beck
Libby has wanted a baby for as long as she can remember. Her dreams finally come true when Ethan arrives, even though it’s at the expense of her marriage. A hardworking and dedicated mother, Libby never gives herself a break. But when her friends convince her she deserves a vacation, she thinks “why not?” and books a trip with Ethan to a resort. The first few days of the trip go great, until the end of the third day, when Ethan is kidnapped. Libby’s worst fear has officially come to life. But she can’t find Ethan without confronting her past and risking losing him forever.
‘The Swallows’ by Lisa Lutz
This isn’t a thriller in the traditional sense, but there is mystery and intrigue and by the end of the novel, someone ends up dead. Also, Lisa Lutz is one of my favorite writers and wrote one of my favorite thrillers, The Passenger, so I’m going to show her some love here regardless. Anyway. The Swallows takes place at a New England prep school that has a secret underground subculture fueled by misogyny. Sound familiar? But the girls at the school are getting tired of this system. When a new teacher comes, she gives the women hope that they can finally end this gross culture once and for all. But where there’s a boy’s club, there are generations of men who have benefited from a system of misogyny, and they don’t want to give that up without a fight. And boy, is there a fight—and, like I said, someone winds up dead.
‘Take It Back’ by Kia Abdullah
Take It Back is more of a legal thriller than a true thriller with, like, murder, but there’s plenty of suspense and mystery nonetheless. In this classic tale of she-said-they-said, the victim is a teenage girl with facial deformities, and the accused are four good Muslim boys from hardworking immigrant families. The quest for justice becomes the trial of the decade. As the accuser’s story unravels, readers are left trying to figure out what the truth is.
Images: Clever Visuals / Unsplash; Amazon (10)
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