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A Trio of Thrillers
Three great suspenseful reads today. Joyce Maynard bases her latest on a true crime spree that took place in the 1970s, the “Trailside Killings”. Her young teen narrator and her even younger sister decide to help their detective father catch the serial killer. The father-daughter relationship is a highlight of this one. Maynard created a video about where she found the idea for After Her.
On a side note, Maynard is also the author of The Usual Rules, about a Brooklyn teen who loses her mother on 9/11. Though published for adults, it was quickly adopted by teen librarians for their collections. The Usual Rules did not win an Alex Award, but the 2004 BBYA committee made it a top ten by unanimous vote. It is well worth seeking out if you or your teens haven’t read it yet.
A Tap on the Window by veteran thriller writer Linwood Barclay takes place in small town upstate New York. Private investigator Cal Weaver’s teen son Scott died under the influence of ecstasy. Now, a couple months later, Cal lands himself in more trouble than he knows trying to help the mayor’s daughter. Maybe Griffon isn’t such a nice town. Maybe it is full of full of secrets and lies.
Mary Miley won the 2012 MWA/Minotaur award for Best First Crime Novel for The Impersonator. The pace is not break-neck. Rather its appeal lies in an excellent depiction of time and place, the Pacific Northwest during the Roaring Twenties. It also benefits from a smart, sympathetic main character, Leah, who is a traveling vaudeville actress. Yes, she’s agreed to work a con, but she’s also alone in the world and suddenly out of a job. She convinces the reader that joining forces with the unsavory Mr. Oliver is her only option. Teens willing to take their time with a good mystery and a strong, lively protagonist who knows how to take care of herself will savor this one.
MAYNARD, Joyce. After Her. 320p. Morrow. 2013. Tr $25.99. ISBN 9780062257390; ebk. $13.99. ISBN 9780062257413.
Adult/High School–Part mystery, part thriller, part sisterhood story, and part coming-of-age, After Her opens with Rachel telling readers that at some point she will be confronted by a killer and her younger sister will save her. The consistent suspense and tension of this knowledge makes an interesting balance to the ordinariness of family drama. Rachel tells of her childhood with Patty in rich detail. The girls spend their days playing in the wilderness, though their bucolic life is tinged with sadness–their absolute freedom comes from benign neglect from their mother and the divorce of their parents. And when murders begin occurring regularly on the mountain, their childhood innocence is lost forever. Not only is a serial killer on the loose, but the girls’ father is also the detective who can’t capture the murderer. As months go by, more women are killed and the public begins to criticize her father, and his inability to apprehend the killer who is so physically near his children eats away at him. Teens will be strongly drawn to Rachel, especially her relationships with her father–adoration followed by slowly coming to terms with his imperfections–and her sister. Patty is the bedrock of her life, but even this relationship is threatened during the tumultuous year of the serial killer. Maynard captures the feelings and unwise choices of a 13-year-old very well. Recommend this to teens who liked Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones and to those just looking for a book that will keep them hooked from beginning to end.–Sarah Debraski, formerly at Somerset County Library System, NJ
BARCLAY, Linwood. A Tap on the Window. 512p. NAL: Penguin Group (USA). 2013. Tr $25.95. ISBN 9780451414182.
Adult/High School–Scott Weaver’s dad is a private detective, and this is his story; it is also the story of his son who died while high on ecstasy; his wife, who can’t stop drawing pictures of their lost son; and of their troubled relationship since Scott’s death. One night there is a tap on Mr. Weaver’s car window, and it is a pretty 16-year-old stuck in the rain. Normally it would be a bad idea to give her a ride, but she is drenched and the first thing she says is “Aren’t you Scott Weaver’s dad?” This is the start of a nerve-racking and intense series of events that involves murder, deceit, corruption, under-age drinking, and police brutality all wrapped into this novel about one family’s struggle with grief, another family’s dysfunction, and the story of a town caught in a ring of corruption and struggles for power. It turns out that the girl in the rain is Claire, the mayor’s daughter, and she needs Scott’s dad more than she knows. Teens will be drawn in to Claire and Scott’s stories, and because the truth about them both is revealed one surprising and scary layer at a time, they will devour this book that not only thrills and surprises, but also breaks readers’ hearts with the grieving and torture of one man’s soul. Expect this one to appeal to both boys and girls on a variety of levels. –Jake Pettit, American School Foundation, Mexico City
MILEY, Mary. The Impersonator: A Mystery. 356p. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. 2013. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9781250028167; ebk. $11.99. ISBN 9781250028174. LC 2013013931.
Adult/High School–Leah Randall has been a vaudeville actress all her life. In 1924, she’s crisscrossing the country as one of the Little Darlings when a Mr. Oliver intercepts her after a performance in Omaha, certain that she is his niece, Jessaym Carr. Jessie disappeared 7 years before, at the age of 14, and Leah is her spitting image. The next night Oliver reappears and proposes that Leah impersonate his niece until her 21st birthday, when she is set to inherit the Carr fortune. He will prep her for this role of a lifetime and then share the resulting windfall. Leah is appalled, but when she loses her gig the next day, she has few options. Like Jessie, Leah was orphaned young, and she lives hand to mouth. Oliver demonstrates the finer points of etiquette and gives her a crash course on the Carr family, and soon she is on the coast of Oregon living in luxury at Cliff House. Her quick wits and stage talents–observation, listening, improvisation, and an understanding of human nature–serve her well. Jessie’s grandmother becomes an ally, as do her two young cousins, Caroline and Valerie. Her slightly older male cousins are much less welcoming, scrutinizing her every move. Leah begins to suspect that Jessie was murdered by someone close to her, and more than one attempt on her own life is made. Leah feels increasingly guilty for conning the Carrs. At least she can find out who killed Jessie and make sure the murderer faces justice. Leah, a strong, smart young woman with loads of gumption, enlivens this Prohibition-era mystery even while playing within the rules of the times. –Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City
About Angela Carstensen
Angela Carstensen is Head Librarian and an Upper School Librarian at Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City. Angela served on the Alex Awards committee for four years, chairing the 2008 committee, and chaired the first YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adult committee in 2009. Recently, she edited Outstanding Books for the College Bound: Titles and Programs for a New Generation (ALA Editions, 2011). Contact her via Twitter @AngeReads.
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