When a potential new member enters the life of an established family, the results can be fraught with acceptance or unease.
Or, in Darcey Bell’s “Something She’s Not Telling Us” (Harper, $16.99, 320 pages), with peril and prevarication.
So it is with Manhattanites Charlotte, a successful floral designer, husband Eli, a recently rich finance expert now fulfilling his dream of theater work, and 5-year-old daughter Daisy. Charlotte’s younger brother, Rocco, a recovering alcoholic who delivers produce from upstate New York to the city and who has a checkered history with women, is dating chatty, pushy Ruth.
Charlotte resents Daisy’s fondness for Ruth, while Ruth sees Charlotte as an overly protective mother with something to hide. When Ruth picks up Daisy from school and the two disappear, Charlotte is frantic, Rocco feels guilty and the siblings’ past trauma—their mother burned down the family home—seems a mere peccadillo in comparison.
“Something She’s Not Telling Us”—a domestic thriller in the vein of Bell’s début novel, last year’s “A Simple Favor”—again finds the author exploring the dangers of duplicity and the fruits of instability.
She does so with devilish cunning—picture Lady Macbeth hosting a macabre version of the old game show “I’ve Got a Secret”—richly drawn characters and exquisite pacing that keeps the reader in suspense at Bell’s story and in admiration of her talent.
SECRETS IN SEATTLE
For Seattle 40-somethings Marin and Derek Machado, life is beautiful. She owns a chain of three upscale hair salons, he’s the head of an organic food company, and both make millions. And after years of trying, they have a 4-year-old son, Sebastian.
But while Christmas shopping, Marin lets go of Sebastian’s hand to text Derek, and the child disappears, abducted by someone wearing a Santa Claus suit. And life turns ugly in Jennifer Hillier’s latest thriller, “Little Secrets” (Minotaur, $26.99, 352 pages).
Marin attempts suicide, undergoes therapy and joins a support group for parents of missing children. The growing emotional gap between her and Derek expands into a canyon when she learns he’s having an affair with McKenzie Li, a 24-year-old artist, graduate student, barista and gold digger whose real role is that of professional girlfriend to married men.
Sixteen months after the kidnapping, Sebastian remains missing. And Marin’s depression morphs into rage when she learns of Derek’s infidelity. In conversation with her former lover and current friend, shady bar owner Sal Palermo, she confides that she wants McKenzie dead, and Sal connects her with a man who can make that happen.
There ends the plot synopsis, as further revelations would shatter the wall between summary and spoilers. But know that the secrets aren’t little, and the shocks that Hillier delivers are enormous.
The author of five previous novels—all set in Seattle—Hillier excels at storytelling and characterization. Even as she creates a cast that runs the gamut from pitiable to repellent, she elicits sympathy for each as she also grips the imagination. Edgy and energetic, “Little Secrets” simultaneously burns and freezes.
For almost two centuries, the California dream has animated the American spirit. And its flip side, California noir, has chilled American bones.
It does so again in Scott Phillips’ “That Left Turn at Albuquerque” (Soho Crime, $26.95, 278 pages).
Lawyer Douglas Rigby, whose volatile blend of temper and arrogance fuels the story, has embezzled $200,000 from his only client, Glenn Haskill, a nonagenarian former television producer in poor health. But the cocaine deal Rigby counts on to restore his financial health and repay Haskill crashes when a motorcycle gang outwits him.
Meanwhile, Rigby is having an affair with Beth Warden, his late partner’s widow, and Rigby’s wife, Paula, is getting it on with a younger golf pro.
Trying to recoup his losses, Rigby is lured into an art-fraud scheme by Haskill’s personal assistant, Nina Nordmann, and learns of a potential forger, elderly Will Seghers, from Paula’s boy toy.
What follows is an intricate story that channels a James M. Cain classic. It’s leavened by examples of Phillips’ wicked humor, including a scene in which a sheepdog intrudes on a couple’s bedroom athletics and one in which a teenager seeks money to attend a rap concert at a cemetery.
Sordid and sleazy, ferocious and funny, Phillips’ seventh novel—and first in six years—takes no wrong turn.