New Psychological Thrillers – The New York Times


Thrillers
In Gilly Macmillan’s new novel, “The Long Weekend,” a country holiday goes very, very wrong.
Credit…Doeun Choi
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Erica Ferencik, who writes evocative novels set in extreme landscapes, has placed the hauntingly beautiful GIRL IN ICE (Scout Press, 291 pp., $27) at a research station in the remote reaches of the Arctic Circle. Here a tiny band of scientists studying the ravages of climate change appear to be growing mad — and who could blame them?
Val Chesterfield is a brilliant linguist specializing in extinct Nordic languages whose twin brother, Andy, apparently committed suicide at the station. Wyatt Speeks, the chief scientist, enlists her help in trying to make sense of a shocking discovery: a small girl found frozen in the ice who turns out to be very much alive, and who speaks an unknown language. How long was she frozen? And did Wyatt have something to do with Andy’s death?
Like Peter Höeg’s “Smilla’s Sense of Snow” and Ted Chiang’s “Story of Your Life,” “Girl in Ice” uses the subtleties of translation to draw us into different worlds and ways of thinking. It turns out that the word for “climate change” in Inuktun, a language of northern Greenland, translates to “a friend acting strangely,” which is sad and apt.
As Val attempts to communicate with the girl, it becomes clear that much is at stake, possibly even the fate of the earth.
In THE LONG WEEKEND (Morrow, 337 pp., $27.99), the British writer Gilly Macmillan serves up the ingredients for a perfect night from hell: a remote farmhouse with patchy cell service; a vicious storm; a group of terrified people; a mysterious threat. When Emily, Jayne and Ruth arrive a day before their husbands for a supposedly fun weekend break, they find a jaunty note. “Hi ladies!” it says. “By the time you read this, I’ll have killed one of your husbands.”
It’s clear the note is from Edie, a widowed femme fatale with a suspiciously cozy relationship to their own husbands. Surely it is a sick joke that will get cleared up when the men arrive? But there’s no end to the horrifying series of events in Macmillan’s increasingly fraught and sometimes overwrought drama. Watch as the bonds between this group of friends begin to fray.
Macmillan writes with verve and emotional acuity. Even her preposterous twists, like the sudden demise of an ancillary character I was sure planned to kill everyone, are well executed. If she has over-egged the pudding — at one point, three characters in three separate locations appear to be in mortal peril — the final meal is rich and satisfying.
Reading THE GOLDEN COUPLE (St. Martin’s, 326 pp., $28.99) is like arriving at a crime scene in which the criminals have left some fake clues just to mess with your head. This latest book by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen teems with red flags that are sometimes red herrings; the trick is to figure out which is which. As Avery, an unorthodox marriage counselor, muses to herself in a session with Marissa and Matthew, the titular couple, “Every single person here is concealing something.”
That includes Avery, whose sketchy methods extend to spying on her clients and appearing unannounced at their offices, and who is apparently being harassed by shadowy representatives of a conglomerate whose corruption she exposed after a patient revealed it in a session. Meanwhile, the sharks circling Marissa and Matthew’s shaky marriage include Matthew’s hot ex-girlfriend, Natalie, and the couple’s old friend and Marissa’s new lover, Skip, who is possibly a psychopathic stalker.
Who is crazy and who is merely flaky? Is there any connection to the terrible thing that happened when Marissa, Matthew and Skip were teenagers? What is Avery’s real game? The narration further disorients us by alternating between Marissa’s third-person and Avery’s first-person perspectives. Not everything tracked, but I am happy to say that the ending made total wacky sense — and was a complete surprise.
Alex Segura’s wittily original SECRET IDENTITY (Flatiron, 368 pp., $27.99) succeeds on so many levels: as a homage to classic noir, a love letter to New York in the seamy 1970s and an immersive tutorial in comic-book publishing of that era. It features Carmen, secretary to the head of a barely afloat comic-book publisher, who longs to write her own comics. Unfortunately, her boss is a chauvinist dingbat.
But luck (sort of) smiles on her when she teams up with a co-worker and helps produce an electrifying new series featuring a brooding heroine named the Lynx. (Bonus: Some of its pages are included in the book.) But then the co-worker is murdered. And no one knows Carmen wrote most of the story — her name isn’t mentioned as an author.
Trying to dodge her volatile, on-and-off married girlfriend, find her professional footing and solve her colleague’s murder while keeping ahead of the police proves challenging. But there are compensations, like a wild night at CBGB’s featuring an electrifying new band, Talking Heads.
Witty and wholly original, the book is also surprisingly moving. It’s a delight to see Carmen push back against the casual sexism of the era. “You’re a grown man. You have two dollars,” she says, when a friend of her boss tosses a couple of bills at her and demands that she fetch his breakfast. “Go get it yourself.”
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