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Thrills and Chills

New and Notable Novels of Crime, Misdemeanors and Suspense for Spring / BY Nathalie Atkinson / April 28th, 2021

Escape to France, tune in to a true-crime podcast, go back to school and discover a lost gem in our pick of the season’s best books about murder and mayhem, where intrigue, danger and duplicity stay safely on the page.

Obsessive Book Buyers: Zoomer editors have carefully curated our book coverage to ensure you find the perfect read. We may earn a commission on books you buy by clicking on the cover image. 


1The Passenger Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz

Written in four weeks immediately following the terrifying events of Kristallnacht, this newly recovered and revamped novel was published in 1939 as The Man Who Took Trains. It’s a breathless and harrowing thriller that follows a Jewish man and wealthy Berliner who is trying to flee Nazi Germany by crisscrossing the country, taking train after train. “What Boschwitz saw clearly was the utter despoliation of one’s identity, of one’s trust in the world, and ultimately of one’s very humanity,” New York professor André Aciman writes in the preface. A German Jew, Boschwitz moved to England in 1935, but died in 1942 on his way home from a prison camp for “enemy aliens” in Australia when a German submarine sank his ship.

2The Haunting of Alma FieldingKate Summerscale

Summerscale excavates the late-1930s story of a working-class wife and mother who appears to be haunted by a poltergeist, and is put under research surveillance at the International Institute for Psychical Research in London. Is it trickery? And if so, what are the unconscious triggers? The non-fiction lens encompasses the zeitgeist of similar phenomena – Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca is published at around the same time, for example – and Surrealist art emerges to echo the theme. It’s a richly atmospheric and psychoanalytic account, the London author’s best since The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher.

3A Man Named Doll Jonathan Ames

Happy Doll, aka Hank, is a U.S. Navy veteran and ex-LAPD private investigator who moonlights as a security guard for a spa to make ends meet. Ames created the droll HBO series Bored to Death, in which Jason Schwartzman writes for a publishing tycoon played by Ted Danson while moonlighting as an amateur gumshoe in New York. Ames’ noir novel, set in the sardonic stomping grounds of Los Angeles, is similarly offbeat – Lee Child calls it “quirky, edgy, charming, funny and serious.” Let’s hope it kicks off a series.

4Girl, 11 Amy Suiter Clarke

In this buzzy debut from an Australian writer, Elle Castillo, the obsessive, investigative host of a true-crime podcast, begins a series on the unsolved case of Minnesota’s Countdown Killer, which reawakens memories of her childhood trauma and sparks a spate of new disappearances that seem to be from the same perpetrator. She fields tips from listeners and consults on the new cases as her series unravels in real time. A riveting thriller.

5Madam Phoebe Wynne

When Rose (who, like English author Wynne, is a Classics teacher) arrives at the elite Caldonbrae Hall, students are reluctant to discuss what happened to her predecessor, whose presence still looms. Rose soon finds herself exploring the institution’s odd goings-on to unearth what she suspects is a dark secret. Set at a girl’s boarding school perched on the Scottish cliffs, this is intense, modern Gothic fiction. (May 18)

6The Revelations Erik Hoel

The self-destructive protagonist of this swirling literary debut is a promising neuroscience researcher who becomes obsessed with investigating the sudden (and of course, mysterious) death of a colleague. Hoel – who has a PhD in neuroscience, works as an assistant professor at Tufts University in Massachusetts and was on a Forbes 30 under 30 list – weaves explorations about consciousness and ethical questions, as well as theoretical debates facing scientists (around mind control, for example, and animal testing), into his pacy, high-minded thriller.


7Lady Joker, Vol. 1 Kaoru Takamura

This literary magnum opus, translated in English for the first time, was inspired by the unsolved 1984 industrial-extortion case perpetrated by the mysterious criminals known as “the Monster With 21 Faces.” This Japanese novel has been a cultural touchstone since it was first published in 1997, and it’s been adapted several times for the screen and taught in school. Beginning in 1947, Takamura uses the sprawling kidnapping and blackmail plot (a cliffhanger – watch for volume 2!) to examine contemporary Japanese society across the decades since the Second World War.

8Transient Desires Donna Leon

In Leon’s 30th entry in her international bestselling Commissario Brunetti series set in Venice, two young American women are badly injured in a boat accident while joyriding with a couple of locals and left at the door of a local hospital. Figuring out who the men were and why they abandoned their companions leads Brunetti to unravel a much larger case involving maritime transport and inter-agency co-operation (or lack thereof).

9The Day She Died S.M. Freedman

As the story begins, Eve Gold survives a car crash. When she celebrates a birthday, Eve reflects on her past and the nature of her relationship with her childhood best friend, Sara, and Sara’s older brother. Her head injuries, however, make her memory as unreliable as this novel is twisty. The psychological suspense shifts to Eve’s past while attempting to make sense of her present, and Freedman, a former Vancouver private investigator, pulls of some genuinely startling reversals.

10The Granite Coast Murder Jean-Luc Bannalec

Francophiles craving a trip should pick up this breezy, charming and escapist mystery about an astute detective who works in and around Brittany (see also M.L. Longworth’s Provençal mystery series). It’s full of gorgeous scenery and good food, as Commissaire Dupin surreptitiously investigates murder while on holiday, and between meals with his girlfriend at a beach resort on the coast famous for its rose-coloured rocks.

11The Savage Instinct M.M. DeLuca

It’s 1873 and housewife Clara has just been released from the mental institution where she was forcibly committed by a cruel husband after a stillbirth, where she received traumatizing treatments instead of psychiatric care. At the same time, all of England is enthralled by the trial of prolific, Victorian-era poisoner Mary Ann Cotton, one of England’s first female serial killers. British-born DeLuca, now living in St. Boniface, Man., once studied creative writing with the late Carol Shields. Here she uses true crime and a fictional protagonist to explore the treatment of women in the 19th century.

12A Lethal Lesson Iona Whishaw

The eighth book in the Lane Winslow Mystery series is a winsome cozy set in the Kootenays in 1947, and investigates the sudden disappearance of a schoolteacher during a Canadian winter. Whishaw’s female detective is a former British intelligence officer now married to a police inspector, and the setting is inspired by the author’s childhood in a small community she fictionalizes here as King’s Cove, B.C. Her previous book was shortlisted for the Bony Blithe Award, awarded to the most entertaining and fun-to-read Canadian “light mystery,” and it’s the perfect series for fans of Miss Fisher and Maisie Dobbs.


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