“Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground”—James Taylor, “Fire and Rain”
After the crash comes the nightmare, one that Jessica Barry chronicles with panache in her début thriller, “Freefall” (Harper, $27.99, 368 pages).
When the private plane in which she’s a passenger slams into the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, Allison Carpenter survives. The pilot’s body is quickly identified as that of her fiancé, Ben Gardner, the head of Prexilane, a San Diego-based pharmaceutical company whose flagship product, the antidepressant drug Somnublaze, neutralizes postpartum depression.
The authorities conclude that Allison also died in the crash, despite the lack of a corpse.
Convinced that someone is out to find and kill her, Allison—injured, in pain and short of supplies—begins a treacherous trek through wild country with the eventual aim of reaching the home of her estranged mother, Maggie Carpenter, in Owl’s Creek, Maine.
Meanwhile, Maggie clings to her gut belief that Allison is alive and sets out to investigate.
Alternating chapters between the two women, Barry seizes the reader from the first page, slowly raises the temperature—and the tension— to the boiling point, and maintains interest through Allison and Maggie’s physical, emotional and mental journeys.
With expert pacing, gradual reveals and cinematic storytelling, Barry scores on multiple levels. She delivers a stunner that even astute thriller fans are unlikely to foresee and offers a fiery read for a frigid night.
SURPRISING, SINISTER STORY
In 1966, a Time magazine cover asked the provocative question: “Is God Dead?”
Playing on that theme and with an identical design, the magazine’s April 3, 2017, front demanded to know “Is Truth Dead?”
It’s on life support in Thomas Christopher Greene’s stand-alone thriller “The Perfect Liar” (St. Martin’s, $26.99, 288 pages).
When teenager Phil Wilbur runs away from a dead-end life, he lives on the streets with others of his ilk, until Maxwell Westmoreland, a South Carolinian from a prominent family, picks him up hitch-hiking on Interstate 95 and takes him to the family “camp”—most would call it a mansion—in upstate New York. There, lured by the promise of an easier life, Phil kills Max and steals his identity.
He reinvents himself as Max W, weds Susannah Garcia, a widow with a teenage son, Freddy, and becomes an artist and coveted speaker. When he wins a position at a university in Burlington, Vt., they move there.
But then the notes begin appearing on the front door.
The first: I KNOW WHO YOU ARE.
The second: DID YOU GET AWAY WITH IT?
Frightened that the good life is about to be snatched away, he takes steps to ensure that it doesn’t. But Susannah also hides secrets. And a third note is yet to come.
Greene, the author of five previous novels, manipulates the reader like a marionette as he builds his story toward three twists that alter the trajectory of his tale. A surprising and sinister story, “The Perfect Liar” propels the reader on a journey that ends with two sentences that chill the blood and spark admiration for its talented wordsmith.
CREEPY, CREATIVE WHODUNIT
A birthday ending in 0, or an anniversary in 0 or 5, or simply a reunion of relatives or friends often requires a special setting.
The one in Catrina McPherson’s latest stand-alone novel—“Go to My Grave” (Minotaur, $26.99, 304 pages)—is exceptionally appropriate: a tony, seaside bed-and-breakfast in the Galloway region of Scotland, where Sasha Mowbray and his wife, Kim, will mark their 10th anniversary with six of Sasha’s cousins.
Trouble is, the site, then a private home, is where the group—minus Kim— gathered for Sasha’s 16th birthday in 1991, and where drunken revelry led to a tragedy that caused the teenagers to vow eternal silence.
Flash forward 25 years as someone plots revenge and McPherson constructs a whodunit with multiple clues: a perfume-soaked party hat, a Photoshopped image from 1991, a flimsy nightgown and more. As she builds the suspense with various twists, she keeps the reader on edge until the shocking conclusion.
Creepy and creative, ingenious and irresistible, “Go to My Grave” is unlikely to let the reader go to bed with this riveting mystery unfinished.